There used to be a punk rock and old school diner called Deli Haus in Kenmore Square, Boston. I had toast and coffee and smoked butts there almost everyday in the early nineties.
Kenmore Square is a mere few blocks from Fenway Park but a whole different world than the ballpark. Next to Deli Haus sat a rock club called “The Rat.” You could smell the booze just walking by and there was always cool stuff like puke on the sidewalk out front. Between Deli Haus and the Rat was a used record store, a real one, not like Amoeba. I forget the name. Kurt Cobain used to hang out there when he came to Boston (and was still having sex with that girl Mary Lou Lordes who played guitar and sang on subway platforms.) Courtney Love apparently would call that store obsessively looking for Kurt when he would come to Boston – they were not yet a hot item. They were still in their, “This crazy woman is stalking me phase.”
Anyway, I know, Kurt Cobain is not ‘punk rock’ and just because he liked a store didn’t make it cool. I’m painting a picture here of a street, and it’s titled, “Opposite of Frat Houses.” I know, people in frat’s listened to Nirvana, but just let me finish!!!
When I was a senior at Emerson College I took a job at Deli Haus. I was amazed that they even hired me because I felt like I wasn’t old enough or cool enough to work there. I had a really short haircut, like it was fuzzy in the back, like a crew-cut with a handful of romaine lettuce amount of hair on top, sort of on the crown of my head like a starfish. Deli Haus served your basic eggs, grilled cheese and then things like the Guinness Float (Guinness bear with vanilla ice cream.) It was open until 3am. The clubs in Boston close anywhere from 12:30am-2am. It was slammed at Deli Haus on weekends after midnight. Mainly the Goth kids would come in. And not dorks like me who liked The Cure, real Goth people, cutters and stuff.
Except for the suicidal Goths working during the late shift was fun! We got to play any music we wanted and play it loud. We could wear whatever we wanted, be in any sort of mental state as long as we didn’t fuck up the register, it was fine.
But then there was the fact that I actually had to work. The mats behind the counter were always slippery and I almost fell a dozen times. The short order cooks were short tempered and got so pissed when you didn’t pick up your order right away. And they’d scream about it in front of everyone. But as a waiter you had to make your own salad and no vegetables were ever ready and so you had to go to the back and dig around and you can’t hear anything, so of course I’d be making some dork a salad while my grilled cheese pick-up got cold. I wasn’t a bad waitress like they always show on TV in a glamorous way. I wasn’t spilling wine or coffee on anyone or just getting “frazzled.” I would forget to bring my pad and paper and try to memorize an order. And I would memorize it, until I got to the cook and then I’d write it down wrong. And when I went to pick up the hamburger w/out cheese, I’d stare at the cheeseburger in front of me and realize, “Oh.” Then I’d hand it back to the chef and they would rail, not on me, but behind my back.
I worked with a couldn’t-be-bothered gay guy who was in his 40’s. He always wore a shirt that said Queens 69. I loved this guy. One time my boyfriend came in to pick me up. Some people thought that my ex, Brent, looked sort of mouse-esque. Gay guy said, “Here’s your rat. Should we get him some cheese?”
I worked with a guy who really was the spitting image of Brad Pitt and when he took your order he’d stand defiant asking, “Is there anything else?” He meant not, “Can I get you anything else?” But, “Don’t you think you should tell me that I look like Brad Pitt?” When girls would blush and tell him so, a dark cloud would pass over his face and he’d say, “I get that all the time.” He frightened me because I didn’t know men could be that pretty and I figured he was probably going to make fun of me or think I was a boy.
This other dude who was really quiet – well only around me it seemed – worked there with his girlfriend. I feel like they were always making out or breaking up. And when I had to work the late weekend shifts with them, I felt very left out. I was such an insecure person that I didn’t understand that you don’t always have to be 100 percent in the same life as the person next to you to fit in. What, was I going to be there girlfriend?
When people would say, “Jen can you pick the music?” I would get very shy. I would so desperately want to play “Innervisions” but I didn’t want to look obvious. I always wanted to play Zeppelin but I didn’t want to be annoying. So I would always decline.
I felt very confident working the morning shifts with the less experienced wait staff and less punk rocked out. I’d pick the music then and not feel self conscious. I only had one customer. She would come over after her visit to the Methadone clinic. “Don’t get wrapped up in this stuff, Jen” she’d warn me. Actually I think she was talking about waitressing.
Every night before the night shift I’d think to myself, “Tonight I’m going to be cool. I’m going to walk in and start giving Brad Pitt shit. I’m going to say to The Couple, ‘Why don’t you guys break up already?’ I would outwit the Gay Guy and have the cooks laughing.” I don’t know why I gave myself such impossible goals. But I’d always end up covered in pickle juice and listening to Innervisions thinking, “I would have put this on too!”
The bathrooms at Deli Haus were notorious. For what, I couldn’t imagine. People falling asleep in the bathrooms, having orgies, selling drugs, changing genders, etc. I couldn’t imagine those scenarios on my own. It wasn’t until years later that someone hipped me to why the bathrooms were infamous. Every night when I would refill the toilet paper and I’d knock on the door and hear a moan or a grunt come – I’d wait, 5, 10, 15 minutes for a dude to get out of the men’s’ room. What is taking so long? And I’d say to my waitstaff, “He must have had the Guinness Float. I think the dude is taking a shit and is waiting in there for it to stop smelling.” I remember the staff laughing at me. And I felt like, “I’m in!” It didn’t dawn on me until almost recently that the bathroom was for junkies. I hate feeling like I’m being laughed at – even if it’s 10 years later. That makes it worse.
I was so naïve. How could I not know what was going on in the bathrooms? Why couldn’t I have stayed late drinking with everyone even once? So what if the sun was coming up? I thought I fit in so well when I was a customer. But I was just a poseur with my stupid dirty nails attitude.
My parents showed up one day to have lunch and even in the daylight with the less seedy staff around, they were horrified. Is this where I worked? I saw Deli Haus through their eyes. I saw myself through their eyes. What was I doing? Was this the place I was going to go the day after I got my diploma? It was. And I was having fun but I knew in my heart it had to end. I knew that I was just a wanna-be and always was. I have the heart and soul of a rebel but I have no guts or confidence to carry it out. Now I think I do, but it’s wholly inappropriate and I don’t have the energy to dress fucked up. I quit that job to go work at Boston Ballet as a ticket sales person. I showed up on my first day in a sleeveless vintage velvet black dress (it was August.) My conservative boss (who my God was only 30 – that’s how old I am! She seemed so matronly) Becky told me that I looked too “weird” and that I should invest in some work clothes.
I got some appropriate work ‘outfits’ and sold tickets by day and ran to have coffee at Deli Haus. I didn’t fit into either world but I felt safe knowing that I was just visiting.
Deli Haus is now no longer. I’m not sure what is there because it’s too painful to look. The Rat closed and Kenmore square is beginning to resemble the 3rd Street Promenade. (If you’re not from LA, think ‘outdoor mall.’) Sadly the only ones in the area who kept it real, are the Fenway Folk. Jocks are the new punk rock.