I was always looking for a quick way into the easy writer’s life. A romantic set-up, where I could write in the morning and spend the remainder of the day driving around, but I feared the fate of the homeless men with facial tattoos who ran up and down Sunset between La Brea and Laurel: I feared the urgency of their mission, and I was terrified of joining their ranks. They’d force me to start at the bottom—one cock at a time—so I got a job as a waiter at the build-your-own gourmet burger restaurant in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

The build-your-own gourmet burger concept was conceived by an ambitious couple from Newport Beach by the name of Goodel. The Goodels were selling the concept to Chinese hospitality billionaires from Cancun to Dublin, and of course, being complete fools, desperate to jump on the whole gourmet burger bandwagon, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (now owned by a Chinese conglomerate) wanted in. To be clear, anybody with adequate capital can start their own build-your-own gourmet burger restaurant but the Goodels had it down to a science. They were regularly seen at the Roosevelt Hotel but, for some reason, never at the same time. So, clearly, all was not well.

The Goodels had paid their dues in the restaurant business: Lisa Goodel in the front, greeting each customer with a truly open heart. She clearly loved to feed the people and feed them she did. But we mustn’t forget about Sammy, in the kitchen, sweating like a pig, manning the flat-top, working his burger magic.

Now, having made a few million, they were taking a well-earned break. Both looked miserable and overweight. They’d worked so hard to get out of burger hell—AKA the day-to-day drudgery of running your own high-end burger joint in Huntington Beach— and having sold the concept (they didn’t have to flip burgers or greet customers.) They were left with a cavernous burger-shaped void in their lives. And in Lisa’s case this hole or void needed filling. I guess that’s where I came in. 

As for me, I was in top condition, very lean and tan; I was taking orders and pouring stiff ones in Hollywood, just trying to keep that street cock out of my mouth. And, as mentioned, I was looking for a way into that easy writer’s life. So, I was willing to become whoever I thought you needed me to be. As for Lisa Goodel, she was hardly perfect but there she was, dining alone. It was time to make her love me but she had terrible taste in clothing. Both the Goodels dressed in very expensive low-quality threads. Since coming into all that custom burger money, they were big on the Melrose Ave/Ed Hardy scene, and they’d even commissioned their own Ed Hardy pattern: a pattern that blended Hardy’s fun-loving SoCal morbidity aesthetic with the wild gourmet burgers that had made the Goodels rich and miserable. This build-your-own gourmet burger pattern could be found on everything the Goodels wore, from the overalls to the tracksuits.

But there was Lisa, all alone. She liked a special booth in the back of the restaurant. The honoree mayor of Hollywood, a man known simply as Johnny, also liked this booth. For 30 years Johnny had taken his breakfasts in that booth. But the Goodels were night owls. They never crossed paths with Johnny. Not that I really knew Johnny, but I did start out on the breakfast shift, the burger-less shift, so I had some interactions with him.

He had presided over the Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies. He made those stars official so he was quick with the Hollywood lore. The waitresses, my supposed coworkers, were, naturally, very protective of him: they wouldn’t let me wait on him. 

“Stay away from Johnny.” said the aspiring television starlet who was always changing her hair and talking about some acting coach who called her out (in front of everyone) by questioning her commitment to the craft. From that moment on she’d been “all in” with Hollywood. She was done with theater; she was going to get on TV.

Once, while the aspiring starlet was distracted, I warmed up Johnny’s coffee and as I topped him off, Johnny rubbed my little bottom and whispered into my ear: “A lot of people figure Boggy was a black coffee man. And wherever he went they’d bring him a cup of Joe, dark as night. Boggy lost it every time. He demanded it be taken away. I miss him so much. I’d love to tell you more.” But, sadly, I never made it up to Johnny’s suite as his health was on the decline. He was dead a few days later. When the waitresses found out that Johnny had died, they were enraged. Apparently, he’d been bedridden for days but, for some reason, no one had bothered to inform the waitresses who faithfully served him breakfast every morning. If they’d known Johnny was dying, they would have rushed to his bedside. After all, Johnny lived in the Hotel and the Chinese management certainly knew of his condition, but failed to share this information with them.

When the waitresses caught wind of Johnny’s passing on the local news, they were livid, but I was an outsider in all this as I had only started working at the hotel a month earlier, and, unlike them, I had never truly known Johnny. After his death, the breakfast waitresses didn’t do much work; they just hung out in the back and whispered to each other as they sipped large glasses of orange juice. I picked up the slack and tended to their tables, and I was soon promoted to the dinner shift (the burger shift).

The breakfast waitresses were in the midst of a prolonged grieving process. The hotel management had deprived them of closure. If only they’d witnessed Johnny’s final moments, all would be well; and, of course, there was so much they needed to tell Johnny. But it was too late. The management expected them to carry on as if nothing had happened. Which, in a roundabout way, is how I ended up waiting on Lisa Goodel.

Lisa Goodel often dined alone in the deep corner booth that was normally reserved for larger parties as she had plenty of pull around the Roosevelt and she needed her privacy. She was, at her core, a classy lady with Midwestern roots, but the burger money and her San Diego-born husband had tainted all that. Still, she liked her burgers simple. She had 35 cheeses to choose from but she always went with white American, extra mayonnaise, cooked medium-well. In addition to the build-your-own choices the menu featured three curated options, each with a vast array of toppings that broke all the rules. These were her hubby’s creations. That said, I never saw her eat one but she must have, early on, tasted them all.

Somehow, Sammy Goodel had gotten it right. This opinion was shared, for once, by the who’s who of A-list Hollywood as well as the LA food press. These curated options were the real commodity of the concept. This is what Roosevelt LLC, Shanghai based, was paying for. But Lisa liked her burgers simple, and I didn’t question this. She was taken aback by my indifference to her simple selections. I guess she’d gotten a little push back from the waitresses when she asked for American. After all, it wasn’t even on the menu. I’m sure those bitches said something like “Sorry, but we actually don’t have American.” Those globalist sluts knew good and well that we had American.

Clearly, Lisa had once been a great beauty, but the burgers and the late nights with Sammy had sullied all that. One night I asked her where she was from and she told me Appleton, Wisconsin. Despite never having never completed college, I’m a bit of a small-college expert so I knew Appleton was home to a place called Lawrence College, and I moved right in on that one. 

“I studied poetry at Lawrence.” I stated.

This was a complete lie. I was just looking for a way in with Lisa, and it worked. She began to reminisce about her old Appleton haunts: Geoffrey’s soda shop, The Spit and Spackle, The Mill. I just nodded. 

“Have you been back to Appleton?” she asked.

“It’s a wonderful place,” I responded

“Except in the winter,” she jested. 

“Life’s all about contrast,” I said. 

I quickly excused myself. I got drunker than usual that night and worried about what I’d potentially lost on account of my awkward observations regarding contrast and winter: they seemed to strike the wrong note. Things had been going so well with Lisa; we had landed on the perfect topic: a lovely little Wisconsin college town, a place that meant so much to both of us. For a moment, I had her in the palm of my hand. She could have been my way out of this disgusting restaurant worker business and into the easy writer’s life. But I’d blown it.

The timing couldn’t have been any better. Her marriage was on the rocks, and she seemed to be looking for a fresh start. She’d get half of everything in the divorce settlement, including the points on the burger concept. That kind of money would go a long way in Appleton. Back in Wisconsin she’d stay away from burgers and maybe she’d lose some weight, I didn’t really care: I’d write in the attic like Cheever, and I’d slowly get used to the sight of Lisa’s naked body. It wouldn’t be a sexless marriage. I’d clock in and out of that massive pussy: I owed her that much, especially after she un-pieced my little white lie about studying the verse at Lawrence College.

But we wouldn’t head back to Wisconsin immediately. The early days of our courtship would be spent in an Irvine courtroom, fighting Sammy tooth and nail for Lisa’s share of the burger empire. At the end of those long legal days, she’d find sweet relief in the fast oral and the slow ride at the JW Marriott but she’d finally get what she was owed. A massive judgment.

Once settled into my little Appleton attic/writer’s studio, I’d succumb to all my old weakness: I’d sneak downstairs for quick nips and overhear Lisa on the phone in the pantry, talking about me: “All he wanted to do was make love and cuddle but since we’ve been in  Appleton, he won’t even look at me. He hardly leaves the attic. I asked him what he was doing up there. I mean nobody writes around the clock. He told me he was meditating and that I should do the same.”

It was easy to envision this wonderful new life that could have been mine. But my days at The Roosevelt Hotel were numbered. Soon I’d be involved in my own litigation with my former employer. After that conversation with Lisa, I refused to wait on her. After all, it would soon be the one-year anniversary of Johnny’s death.

— Calvin Atwood has written two novels, Banned from Laguna Beach and Banned from Bob’s Island. He also has a collection of short stories called Louis Armstrong Cured my Sex Addiction. You can find more of his writing at Expat, Misery Tourism and Forever Magazine among other places. He lives in New York City. 

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