The Cheesecake StoryExcerpt
The first time I was in a Cheesecake Factory I was in the Fifth Grade (and I always feel like I have to capitalize Fifth Grade, like how every school year (for me) was such a sentimental outfit that I had to turn it into a proper noun); like how Fifth Grade, or Sixth
Grade, or Seventh Grade (for everyone) was a way to capitalize and emphasize their own timeline (how each new school year started with its own, private rituals) every year until you’ve graduated (the end of the road) and suddenly, the thematic system to categorize your life shifts into months and years; like how every New Year’s Eve is the definitive moment (you watch that clock switch to that next number) and it feels less like a worthy moment and just like another one (a hurried push into that next year (set in stone with time and dates)); and you feel that year turn (with work the next morning) rather than realizing it over the cool month of September, when you see all your friends again and feel optimism (a clear, self-prophesied optimism that solidifies itself over the course of that same old schedule (like crop rotation) when the leaves fall and whose class is whose (a matter of learned familiarity)); opposed to that first day of that New Year, in a place, like, the Cheesecake Factory, where the people in it aren’t congruent to the parents who live nearby, but are rather, just the type of people who need a job at the Cheesecake Factory). When I was 25, I had to get a job at the Cheesecake Factory.
So it’s New Year’s Eve at the Cheesecake Factory but at least it pays well. Statistically, out of all the waiting jobs in the country, the Cheesecake Factory has the best salary and the best benefits (health care, insurance, a union). So the Cheesecake Factory usually attracts employees who are independent adults, paying their bills with that money (Cheesecake Money). Everyone lives off Cheesecake Money and besides me, they’re all men in studio apartments (just a couple cul-de-sacs away) or moms with children, eating leftovers on their lunch break (in Tupperware with a spoon). Working here, I make sure to not make the mistake I usually make (smoking weed with one of them). I hope not to get close to any of them, so that I don’t end up (like usual) feeling normal enough to smoke weed with one of them. Regardless, I’m high at work on New Year’s Eve and I can’t believe that there are actually people here. It’s mostly families and small children (together of course). Some babies are too big for the high chair (asking for the dessert menu). A girl’s on her bare knees going upright, eating ice cream (hot fudge and vanilla (a cherry smushed inside the glass)).
Besides them, there’s a man at the bar sitting alone in between a bunch of young men. They surround him on both sides and they all look about my age. They’re all ordering drinks and watching the ball drop, smacking each other on the folds of their dress shirts (smacking as hard as the TV’s sound). Some are wearing their hats backwards while the others aren’t wearing any hats at all. They all look like they’re law school dropouts (getting drunk on Trulys over the glossy, mahogany Cheesecake Factory bar).
I’m just standing there in my apron while my co-worker (Finch (who’s an acquaintance at most)) is cleaning some glasses with the towel out his apron.
“Hey, Finch,” I point to the guy at the bar. “Did they all walk in together?”
He looked over and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said.
Silence and seconds passed until he stood up and walked over to the bar, going towards the guy. I thought he was going to ask him my question. Instead, he just went down and grabbed his plates.
Finch went back to the kitchen (holding the plates while the cooks are all greasy with food (and the walls near the dishwasher sweat like the rest of them)) and I followed him. Finch fed them the Hobart and then he scoffed. “Melna botched my shift again. That bitch. I hope she knows what she’s doing” (we’re walking out of the kitchen). I don’t respond.
“I mean, have a little humility for chrissakes!” He continued. "The amount of times I’ve told her I need more hours and she just won’t give them to me?”
We’re leaning on the high-tops now (where no one sits) by all the wine bottles (stacked up behind us). Finch kept talking about our manager.
The conversation was starting to defrost my brain.
“Like,” he continued. “It’s not fair. Like, are you kidding me?”
“What do you need them for again?” I asked. “The hours, I mean. Something about a bike?”
“Yeah man, so, I told my girlfriend I wanted a bike and she was like, ‘No way you’re getting a bike...’” He slapped his leg. “I told her, You don’t believe...”
I zoned out. “What kind of bike?”
“A Harley-Davidson,” he said. “Six speed.” He showed me pictures on his phone (different angles of the same side). They were from a Craigslist ad, taken by someone who was going to scam him (but Finch had a goatee and a neck tattoo). The bike had decals (blue flames and a purple galaxy).
He accidentally swiped too far and I saw a picture of his girlfriend. Her hair was blue (very bright) and she had an arm tattoo. “That’s Tracy,” he said, putting his phone away. “Not like you’d care”
I didn’t ask if Tracy was his girlfriend. It could have been anyone (a sister, a friend, someone he had just screen-shotted off Instagram). “She’s pretty,” I said, stretching the plastic of the conversation a little bit.
He looked away.
I stopped stretching. It gave him the time to notice something happening in thecorner (the corner booth). He was the first one to notice Melna walking over to that table. They’d spilt cheese on the floor (a lot of it). Melna and Randy, dressed in all black (the same color as the walls, fading into the low ambiance) were trying to scrape and wipe all this cheese up (strange patterns and chandeliers loom over everything (squiggles and circles in the wallpaper (they cast shadows and highlights over every puckered cushion in the store-bought interior))).
The Cheesecake Factory: (constructed and jutting out of this shopping mall) it’s basically one long room in here (a sub-level) that when you stand at one end, you can see each hot lamps hovering over every brown table, reflecting light on each surface the way muddy puddles do in the sun (and down at that far end, there’s this one table now (they’ve spilled cheese on the floor (it’s melting, sticky) and it looks like its come from on top of the cheesecake, still on their table). Outside the restaurant, the weather was recently rainy. The sun had just set. You could see the moon through the clouds but the sky was more grey than black. Finch and I were by the wine bottles still, watching The Great Cheese Incident of 2018 unravel before us.
Owen Carry is a writer, artist, and associate editor at Know Your Meme, living in New York. You can read The Cheesecake Story in full here.