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Save the Sunrise

(by Dan Anderson ) The gays are taking over my restaurant. It’s my own fault, I guess, for putting my daughter in charge of hiring the waiters and busboys. She hired good-looking guys that dress like they came from the slums but have college degrees and straight teeth. They’re the reason, she tells me, why the gays started coming. Now I have to stop them.
My restaurant is a breakfast place that fills to capacity on Saturdays and Sundays with coffee drinkers and the hungover. I started it when I was 28 and single and now I’m 48 and divorced with the daughter that hired the pretty boys. It’s called the Sunrise Café and I’m stuck behind the counter from five to four and it’s all I know. I’ve never even thought about selling it. For now, I just have to make sure the gays don’t take over my breakfast place like they did the bakery around the corner. They took it over and now I get croissants from a Korean by my house. I don’t want my regulars to have to find somewhere else to get coffee and pancakes and corned beef hash. This is their place as much as it is mine. Stuff like this is probably why my parents told me not to move to California.
Ray is a friend that helped me out financially when I failed college and had enough of life as a line cook. I hated the restaurant where I used to work. It was an Italian place and I hate Italian food. It was bella this and primo that. The owners were so into themselves and celebrities. They thought it made them famous to serve bruschetta to Bo Derek. If Warren Beatty came in they’d talk about his love life for a week. Ray helped me out of there. He gave me money and I opened on a part of Sunset that’s low-rent (if that’s not an oxymoron). He believed in me. I paid him back after fifteen years of hard work. That meant we could be friends again.
I call Ray, after a long Sunday shift where half the booths had boys with dyed hair sitting with older men. I convince myself he’s the one guy that can help me out of this situation. Ray’s not home when I call from the restaurant. I tell my daughter I need a walk and drop in on the old bakery around the corner. It’s swarming with them. I hold my breath and open the door and walk to the counter. “Is Joseph here?” I ask after breathing again. The answer is no, Joseph doesn’t work weekends anymore. “One croissant, please,” I say. The guy gets me a croissant and I walk out of there with my eyes on the floor tiles. As I walk the block and eat the best croissant I’ve had since I stopped going to Joseph’s bakery I figure the situation out. This is business and this is a hostile takeover. I will not be a victim, I tell myself. I will fight and I will win.
The phone conversation Ray and I have that night is reassuring. He tells me that it is illegal to discriminate in hiring but not in serving. He says to be careful because this could backfire and I could lose customers. He says he’s heard of that happening at a crepe place on Melrose. I tell him it’s worth the risk. “Ray,” I say, “you have to come in next Saturday and see the way they act and the way they talk. They order no yolks.” Although Ray says he’s going away with his wife and kids and can’t come in, I know he’s with me. Having a smart person like Ray on my side gives me confidence. It will begin Monday morning, I tell myself.
Nicole, my daughter, and I drink coffee and eat eggs with toast each morning before we open. I tell her my plans and she opposes them. I tell her it’s my way or the highway. She’s in. I finish eating and then make a sign and post it on the corkboard in my office where everyone clocks in. The sign says, “Before you start working find me.” I take the sign back down and write my name on the bottom so the boys will know who to find. Then, before I put it back up, I write in all caps, “SAVE THE SUNRISE,” so they know it’s important.
The meetings go fine with the two waiters and I have them put on their aprons and flip the switch for the neon sign outside. I tell them each in private to monitor the other for signs of weakness. The waiters are happy I’m doing something because they don’t like the new clientele either. They tell me they’re great tippers but creepy-eyed. They’re fine with a few dollars less. They tell me they just want to be comfortable again.
There are only two tables of customers by the time the busboy gets there. I’m excited and waiting for him to read the sign and find me in the kitchen making hash browns. The busboy comes out from the office with his gray plastic tub and apron already on. He sees me cooking and walks over. “You needed to talk to me?” he asks. I turn from the griddle and tell him I will not let this place change. I tell him it’s bad for business. I deliver the game plan. “I’m gay,” the busboy says.
“You’re what?” I ask.
“I thought you knew,” he says. I’m about to knock the empty tub from his hands and ask him to turn over his apron when I remember Ray telling me about no discrimination in California.
“Right, right, of course I knew,” I say. “I just want everyone that works here to be on the same page.” I’m lying.
“Isn’t this illegal?” he asks.
“I have the right to refuse service to anyone. It’s on the sign in the window,” I say.
“Except the blacks.”
“Why not the blacks?”
“Rodney King,” I say. I had had enough of this guy. I tell him to get back to work and thank him for letting me burn the hash browns. He leaves and I chastise myself for involving a busboy in the fight. What does he have to do with anything? I evaluate things and update the plan in my head. Do not include busboys, I tell myself. So, the plan stands at Nicole giving the gays the worst tables and the waiters giving poor service. I will take forever making their precious food and make mistakes when I get around to it. “I just have to do this,” I say and put more hash browns on the griddle.
The week goes by and everyone important on payroll knows the plan. I accept that the other busboys figure it out too. I realize that the lunch crowd is cool and that the weekend is the only real problem. Saturday morning is going to be the real test. I wake up early on Saturday and wait for my weekend breakfast cook to arrive. He’s Mexican and speaks broken English. He cannot understand what I’m talking about when I explain the plan. Then, after a few hand gestures and some Spanish, I know he’s onboard. He goes to get his ingredients ready and I fill coffee filters with grounds in preparation for the rush. I arrange the filters in a row beside the coffee machine. The tables and booths are full by eight and the gays arrive by nine. Nicole sits the first gay party in a makeshift table at the end of a hallway by the bathrooms and exit to the dumpsters. I stand behind the counter, like I do on weekends, and take orders and fill mugs with regular.
One walk around the room and I realize the cook’s not making the gay food bad enough. I go to the kitchen with an order from two guys wearing eye makeup and let the cook make their blueberry pancakes and hobo omelet. He puts the plates on the metal counter above the griddle and I cover the bell with my hand before he can hit it. “Watch,” I say. “Mira.” I take the two plates down and cut an X with a knife in the pancakes and mess up the hash browns and a corner of the omelet. I throw the orange and parsley garnish away. “Comprende?” I ask. The cook nods and smiles. “For the Mariposas,” I say. Nicole told me she thought the Spanish word for butterfly meant gay and I think she is right because the cook laughs. But, I realize, the cook has no way of knowing which orders are cool and which aren’t. I leave him and walk around the room telling the three waiters and Nicole that an X in the corner of the ticket means the ticket is special. I wink after I say this. They all understand what I mean and I return to the counter. By the end of the Saturday breakfast rush, around two in the afternoon, I can see that the plan is in motion. This is a one-way street, I tell myself as I survey from behind the counter. I can’t turn back.
The next week and Saturday go as planned. The regulars, Nicole tells me, thank her for the shortest wait and best service in months. On Sunday I can see the enemy loitering by the door and sitting six people to a four-top each time I look up from the counter. Sometimes, I even go to the griddle and help the cook make my people’s food extra special with a little cheese or some slices of avocado. I sprinkle so much powdered sugar on a gay’s French toast it looks like a plate of flour.
The gay busboy finally turns in his apron Monday morning after I brag about the success of the plan. The next Sunday Ray comes in, by himself, and I tell Nicole to give him the best booth at the windows and tell his waiter his meal is on the house. Before he leaves, Ray comes to the counter and tells me his food was great. He says we should think about remodeling. He says loudly that this is the best-looking clientele in L.A. Later that day an old gay gets in my face and tells me he knows what I’m doing. He tells me I make the best eggs benedict in the city and he’s not leaving. I say I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I hear Denny’s has better. He storms out and I can feel the eyes on me from the bad tables. They’re the ones with designer t-shirts and burned waffles. They’re the ones that should be stared at.
I think the gays spray-painted an upside-down pink triangle on my dumpster. It’s there and it won’t come out with any of my cleaners. I call the garbage company and they ask me if it’s so annoying why I don’t just paint over it. They don’t care like I do. But weekdays are still weekdays and the lunch crowd is still hungry. Weekends are better now that most of the gays are gone. The rich movie gays still eat egg white omelets and drink green tea. They ask for soy milk sometimes so I’ve stopped carrying it. I tell myself they’re okay but then realize that if I let them stay they’ll tell their people my defenses are down and the whole group will come again. Another gay confronts me. This time it’s in the hallway when I walk past the new table by the bathrooms. He is tall and muscly and wears all black. He tells me I’m old and shop at Goodwill. He barges out without paying.
The pink triangle is back. It’s there the day after I painted over the first one with brown paint. There’s another one on the wall in the alley. Someone let the air out of one of Nicole’s tires. She doesn’t like coming to work anymore and enrolls in massage school and only works at the Sunrise part-time now. I hire a new hostess—she’s understands the policy—but she’s not as pretty and charismatic as Nicole. Even though the regulars still come, the waiters complain that the tips are really down and that there are only ugly people in the restaurant. They liked it, they tell me in the office sometimes, when soap stars and screenplay writers eat bacon and ask for their headshots. They tell me they used to get offers and might bartend if the money still stinks next month. Nicole hired such prima donnas. I don’t ego stroke, I tell them. It’s my way or the highway, I tell them.
I guess the highway is pretty nice because a few leave and now I’m stuck with Mexican busboys. Ray comes in again to collect rent. I pour him coffee and he tells me he’s leaving his wife one Sunday afternoon. “It’s gonna cost you,” I say. “I’ve been through it. I was just lucky enough to have a cheating whore of a wife that wasn’t allowed to take all my money and my Nicole with her to Phoenix,” I say. Ray agrees that he’s going to be out some money. He says his properties are making him enough and he barely works as it is, but he’ll have to live in some one-bedroom apartment in North Hollywood for awhile. He says he can’t imagine dating again. I ask him if he notices the gays are gone. He tells me he doesn’t care about the gays. I tell him they’re gone.
I’m being audited and Nicole tells me I need an accountant to get through it. She tells me I work so much I don’t have time to beat the IRS. I have to remind her that money is too tight for an accountant since I fought the gays. She knows. I tell her Ray raised the rent after the divorce. The community property laws gave his wife half the money and half the properties, I think. “But you paid him back already,” Nicole says on the phone.
“I did, but that was the loan he gave me when I started. Ray owns the building. I pay him a little rent each month,” I say.
“Really?” she asks.
“It used to be little. He wanted a restaurant where he could eat for free,” I say.
“Really? You never told me that,” she says.
“Well now the rent’s a lot more and I’m not really making much money and I don’t think I can beat the IRS,” I say.
Nicole finishes massage school after a year and Ray and I have a serious sit-down. He tells me he is going to try and find a new tenant. He tells me his kid wants to start a restaurant and thinks my spot is perfect for it. I ask him if his kid is gay, because then it really would be a perfect spot, and he tells me his son is straight. “Yeah right,” I say to him. He ignores me and decides then and there that I will no longer be his tenant come the end of the month. “Whatever,” I say. But, of course, I have to agree with him and he takes down my calendar in the office and draws an X on the 31st. I take it to mean that’s the final day of my restaurant. I lock up with my keys and drive home. Ray’s just an ungrateful rich guy that wanted free food, I tell myself.
On the last day of the month, Nicole and I open the restaurant early and have our coffee and eggs together. We remember the times when she would draw pictures with crayons at the counter after school. She tells me her mom is okay with the new guy in Phoenix and the massage business is the place to be. I tell her I’m not going into the massage business. I’m a restaurateur. She asks how much my house sold for and can’t believe a two-bedroom in the Valley is worth so much. I explain real estate to her for awhile and that I can take all that money and pay off the mortgage and pay off the IRS and get out of L.A. for good. “I can go help my parents or live out in the desert and start another restaurant,” I say. She doesn’t know I’m moving and gets upset. She’ll miss me and asks me to stay. I tell her she better give me some grandkids to visit. She says that’ll be pretty hard considering she doesn’t even have a boyfriend. We sit and stir our coffees and I tell her I won’t be too far away. I tell her I’ll just be where money goes far and the gays know better than to mess with a guy like me.
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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