He has said his name is Bill.
He is a small man, bow legged, with a dirty sheen, a crack addict smile of rotten teeth and fingers caked with black. A fugue of cigarette smoke surrounds him. It announces his presence even long after he has left.
“I work on hot water heaters; the Hurricane made my year.”
The waiter does not think he works on hot water heaters.
He wears dark blue track suits, and white Adidas sneakers. If he owns other clothes it is hard to say. He is never in anything but this uniform.
This is the uniform of the Fifth Avenue Diner Troll.
The fifth avenue diner is a finer diner, as according to its menu. Eight tables and a bar dotting the walls are pictures of the neighborhood going back 100 years . The diner is famous for offering killer cheesecake, best late night burgers in the entirety of Park Slope, hot coffee and soup served all night long.
Cops, sanitation workers, drunks and prostitutes make up the regulars on the overnight shift.
Out of them all, Bill the Troll makes the late night guy the most uncomfortable.
The troll will comes when the troll comes. He pull up out front on fifth in his sky blue Mercedes. He lingers in the driver seat. He will sit and look, twisting his head from side to side taking everything.
Getting out he will sit in the booth by the door and says goodbye to other diners as they leave. Like he is the owner, like he is important. The diners look at him, uncertain, he could be the owner, he could be important, he could be connected. Its Brooklyn nonetheless. It used to be dangerous here. Maybe it still is they wonder in their gentrified manner.
Sadly Bill is not the owner.
The troll orders, “a cup of coffee, please,” in a French accent that makes no disguise of his Broklynese and then asks that four large cups be set to go, “But when I am ready to leave.’ After a pause, ‘You know how I like it.” He will say, whether he intended it or not, slightly flirtatious.
The late night guy turns and leaves before Bill tries to start a conversation, this much he knows, he will try and talk.
Usually about nothing that interests the waiter.
The waiter does not like how he behaves when the troll enters the diner. It ruins his night instantly. He is not absolutely certain as to why, but has narrowed it down to a few things. Topping the list is the man’s voice, a voice easy to imagine roughened with gravel and razor blades and blown through the mouthpiece of a bull horn.
Impossible to ignore.
Impossible to forget.
The night waiter hopes he comes during a rush, easier to ignore, but regardless of the amount of business in the restaurant he knows the troll will stay long after the rush is over staring and staring and staring.
On this night, for a two dollar tip, the night waiter pours four large cups of coffee leaving room for Half and half, he adds the fatty milk until the black fluid is colored a light tan almost blond color. He grabs eight single packets of Splenda and adds one to each of the cups and clips the plastic tops in place. With the second set of unopened Splenda he places them in the bag after the coffees and carries them back to farthest booth occupied by the troll.
It’s four in the morning. It has been a long night for the waiter. Two more hours and freedom will be earned. He is hoping the troll will take the coffee and go. He has done it before. If it does it tonight his irritation will be undeserved and the book he brought to read can be picked back up and his place found and his reading begun again. Best of all he will not have to feel those eyes digging into the back of his skull.
He puts the paper bag containing the to go coffees down on the table and quickly utters, “give me a sec to total your check,” and turns to walk away.
Usually he would ask, “anything else?” If being interviewed about this moment later he would claim, I felt the smaller the interaction would yield to a no troll situation. It was a risky gamble and unfortunately, no such luck.”
Like a penny stepped on in a New York City public bathroom The Troll can’t be shook loose, either got to pry it off, or leave it alone until it falls off on its own.
“Thinking soup tonight. What you got?” Bill says his voice grating every nerve in the waiter’s body like sharp metal on soft curd cheese. Just mashing it around and doing nothing to it that will make it edible or usable in a recipe.
He stops and turns back to the table.
The Troll knows what the diner has. It’s either veggie, lentil, pea, beef with barley, Yankee bean or Chicken every night and before he can help himself he says with attitude dripping from the words, “you know what we have, tell me what you want.”
every night it’s the same question and tonight he just cant, the effort to call off those six options is too much.
It’s not as if the order will be a mystery, on the nights he orders soup he asks for, “A bowl of the daily.’ And then he will ask for, ‘More crackers, please.” Always more crackers no matter how many little cellophane packets are piled next to the soup, more, more, more.
Leaving no mystery as expected the troll orders just that, daily soup and crackers.
The late night guy goes to the kitchen and pours the soup nodding to the yawning Mexican cook and heads back to the diner’s farthest table.
“There ya go.” He says with mock sincerity as he lays the bowl and crackers down in front of the troll and turns and walks back towards the counter knowing the guy will call out for something needed.
But he doesn’t. Nor does he say thank you.
And all through the eating after spoonful spoonful of slurped lentil the man seethes.
The waiter notices.
The waiter wonders if he had gone to far.
The troll’s face has grown red. He seems to be getting more soup near the opening of his thin lipped mouth then actually into it.
And he is glaring.
Just out of the corner of his eye the waiter can catch the look. But if he looked towards Bill the little man looks down at his soup quickly.
A sense of oh shit was bubbling when two sanitation workers came through the door. Wearing green and looking far cleaner than any sanitation worker should. The waiter yells out, “have a seat wherever,” and happily grabs two small glasses and fills them with water and ice, realizing as he did that he never brought the troll a glass of water.
Looking over at the man shoulders hunched up around his head shoveling soup into an open and closing maw, feral was the word that popped in the waiter’s mind.
The sanitation workers order burgers, fries and a couple cokes.
Javier grunts at the work and slides the frozen pink patties onto the open faced grill and sets the fries into the fryer the oil quickly bubbles around them hissing and popping.
The waiter pours Bill a glass a water. Walks it back to his table. Lays it down and Bills face opens in a happy smile.
“Thank you so much,’ his face scrunches into a grimacy smirk, ‘could I get some more crackers?”
The waiter scowls looking down at the mostly empty bowl of soup.
Oh man! Why is this terrifying and sad at the same time?