“Look, this is what you need to understand.” Sitting beside me, a fresh-faced young woman was schooling me on a subject near and dear to her Gaelic heart. Her auburn hair was pulled back with a couple of clips; her green eyes, framed by high and rosy cheekbones, glistened in the dashboard lights as she spoke.
“When you’re Irish,” she explained, “you wake up on St. Patrick’s Day and you just want to go out and celebrate. You know — get a Guinness in you. It’s bigger than, like, Christmas.”
“Kristy, tell him about your mom,” her friend suggested from the back seat.
“Oh, yeah — good one, Amy. So, my whole life, every St. Patty’s Day, my mom wears this awful four-inch troll right on her left boob. Pins it right up there. She, of course, calls it a leprechaun. Me and my sister always fool around about it, like, ‘Please don’t tell me mom’s wearing the frickin’ troll again.’”
I interjected, “I’ve heard that a troll is just a leprechaun that’s gone bad.”
“That sounds about right,” Kristy agreed. “So, first thing this morning — I’m talking maybe 8:00 — mom calls from Medford with the holiday greeting. So, I’m, like, are you wearing the troll and she says , yeah, if you mean the leprechaun. So, I tell her the thing is, like, horrid, and she says tough luck ’cause she’s wearing it anyway. And, you know, I actually thought that was very cool of her. Of course, I’ll never tell her to give her the satisfaction, but still.”
We were on our way to Colchester Village, and I was glad to be driving some people who were not entirely blitzed. Typically, the folks who hit the downtown bars in celebration of this holiday don’t go half the way. These two girls were clearly lubricated, but they remained coherent; that’s a plus when a customer is intent on conversing with you for the entire ride.
As we scooted up Route 7, I thought about the giant-amoeba-shaped city of Colchester. For years, I used to wonder, Where the heck is the heart of this town? Even the smaller Vermont hamlets contain a stretch identifiable as the town center. Finally, an old-timer broke it down for me: Winooski was Colchester’s downtown. In 1922, the folks living around the falls seceded — I guess would be the word — and formed their own municipality. Yup, they tore the heart out of Colchester.
As the dashboard clock clicked to 1 a.m. I asked, “So, what time did you guys get started?”
“We were out around 11 this morning,” Amy replied from the back, “but then we had, like, a four-hour break.”
“Yeah,” Kristy continued, “we had to go into work for the dinner shift. I waitress, and Amy bartends at Koto. You know, the Japanese steak house on Shelburne Road?”
“Sure,” I said. “Didja at least make some money?”
“OK, well here’s the thing,” Kristy said. “It was super slow, and we really wanted to book. You know, to get back downtown. So, I’m, like, lobbying the manager, but he’s, like, no way. So, I’m on one of the hibachi tables — ”
“Is that where the chef sets up at table side slicing and dicing, with the flying shrimps — all that business?”
“Yeah, all that stuff. It’s theater, you know. Anyhow, at the hibachi table the checks are higher, but you got to tip out the cook. And, also, the turnover is slower.”
“Kristy, you’re drifting, honey,” Amy attempted to rein in her voluble friend. “Let’s not bore this cabbie to tears.”
Kristy wheeled in her seat in a pretend display of umbrage. “Anyway,” she said, dragging out the word, her eyes fixed on Amy. Turning back to face me, she continued, “But, out of nowhere, we had this unexpected rush for the next couple of hours, and I made over 100 bucks. Woo-hoo!”
“Well, all right,” I said, lifting my right arm from the armrest and making a fist. Kristy reciprocated with a curled fist and we pounded.
She said, “Dude, that’s, like, so cool! I can’t believe you pounded me. How old are you, anyway?”
I looked over at my seatmate, who had to be closer to 20 than 30. Smiling, I said, “Old enough to be your father.”
Kristy said, “My father would never know to pound me. If I threw up a fist, he’d just be, like, perplexed.”
“The next time you see him,” I suggested, “why don’t you give it a try? Maybe the old man will surprise you.”
“Maybe I’ll do just that,” Kristy said.
“And while you’re at it,” I added, relishing my new role as surrogate uncle to this feisty, green-eyed, Irish-American waitress, “you might want to say something nice to your mom about her little troll.”
“I don’t think so, bud,” she said with a laugh. “That’s where I’m gonna have to draw the line.”