When I started working at the Diner, I was lucky that Kissy was on vacation. Not one to get along well with others, he was known to scare away new help. But, once every year, he would travel as far as he’d ever been – Jacksonville, to participate in some crazy big flea market/antique fair. It was the only seven days of the year he ever missed work unless, on rare occasions, someone died.
Titled “Head Dishwasher,” mainly because he was the only full-time dishwasher, Kissy was best known as the boss lady’s “pet.”
A native Floridian, Kissy was a genuine southern woodsman. As backwoods as they came, he was also as clever as a fox, as strong as an ox, and as loyal as a little boy’s puppy. The boss lady loved him with all her heart and treated him like family. She was also the only one at the Diner that could calm him down once he got into one of his moods. Every once in a while, for absolutely no reason, Kissy would snap. It could be toward a coworker or customer. It could be with the service guy dropping off the soda delivery or the produce man asking where to put the case of tomatoes. You never knew what would trigger him. But everyone at the Diner knew how to fix it lickety-split. Just call the boss lady.
Kissy had worked for the family for decades. He worked his regular hours at the Diner, and he and his mom ran a thrift store owned by the Diner’s owners. Any free time Kissy managed to find, he went to garage sales and real estate sales to find anything and everything he could resell.
He drove an old beat-up van that looked like a homeless person was living in it, which he used to cart around all the stuff he bought and sold from one place to another. Not to mention, the outside of his 30-year-old vehicle screamed wash me! Mainly because Kissy lives somewhere out in nowheresville.
Seriously. Kissy had his mail delivered to a PO box within the city limits. He lived where no man should reside – in an unincorporated county area not represented by modern technology, more or less by the Postal Service. Getting from the Diner to Kissy’s house, the property his family had owned since before the Civil War, was insane.
First, you had to drive on a paved US Highway before you’d get to a gravel road leading to a dirt road. Then, the dirt road led you to a narrower dirt road that guided you to a painted rock that marked the red sand road you had to turn on to get to Kissy’s actual street. Then, you still had to drive through the woods on the sand with no signs of life and no phone service for at least another mile or so before you finally got to his property line.
Too much for this Jersey girl. Even as a child, I never really hung out in the woods, so I definitely didn’t see myself opting to live somewhere in the middle of the Ocala National Forest.
I was purposely hired at the Diner on Kissy’s first day of vacation. My boss hired me that morning, and because I had so much experience and availability, she handed me a menu and a book of guest checks. She told me to try my best in the slowest section of the restaurant. I have been waitressing since I was a child. I just never served breakfast. It seemed easy. It was all about keeping coffee hot and getting customers in and out quickly. Early mornings were all about feeding them and getting them back on their way, so they could get to work on time.
My first week of shifts went well, especially seeing I never received any training. They just threw me in, and I ran with it. Carol Ann, also a Jersey girl, was the Diner’s veteran opening server, so I had a new buddy in case I needed help. Everyone seemed friendly. Sure they made fun of my Jersey accent, but they had been razzing Carol Ann about hers for years. I didn’t mind. I’ve been picked on for less by my own peeps.
So it was the first day of my second week at the Diner. I entered the restaurant looking a bit frazzled, holding my apron in one hand and my purse in the other and barely holding on to either. “I almost overslept,” I said to Carol Ann as I dropped my stuff down on the table at a booth the employees used. “I don’t do mornings!” I pouted.
I reached for a large styrofoam cup and began to concoct my new morning medicine. I poured in some chocolate milk and hot, freshly brewed coffee before adding four, five, six swirls of sugar. I never drank coffee, but I am also not a morning person. Something had to change. Coffee worked. It was free, and it was legal! What more could a girl ask for?
I took my first gulp, and as I did, I swung around quickly without any thought. Boom! I twirled right into this rather large, kind of scary-looking, really hairy man. “Oh my gosh,” I thought.
This poor man was now not only wearing the coffee I just tossed at him from my cup, but he was also dripping from the mouth full of coffee I just spit at him when he scared the living crap out of me. I never realized anyone was standing behind me. How could someone get so close to me without me even sensing someone was there? I thought. “Oh my,” I repeated as I watched my mouth full of coffee drip down his shirt.
Speechless and highly embarrassed, I blurted out, “I’m so sorry.”
Unaffected, the man wiped his chest with the back of his hand and oddly stood there staring at me. Before I could say another word, Carol Ann walked over, surveyed the situation, and said, “Well, Kissy, I see you met the new girl.”
After that, I had a new friend for life and someone to guard my back forever.
In loving memory. Godspeed.
Laugh on. Peace out!
Lisa DeMarco is a columnist for Villages-News.com