79. Heart Wrenching Fever

I’m feeling the need to recap slightly.  

Seven and a half years have now passed since I left my island home of Fiji to settle in America.  I’m feeling desperate to see my family.  I needn’t reiterate the hefty price tag attached to this desire of mine.  

A seed planted in my brain way back in my youthful Fiji days came to mind.  There was a friend of mine who had told me, “If you want to see the world, work on a ship!”  He worked on the SS Mariposa and if you can recall I did actually take his advice.  More to the current situation I previously stated the possibility of my working on a Merchant Marines ship going in that direction.  

This would make the visit a reality and at the same time I’d earn money for the support of my children as my family is my first and foremost dedication.  I’m seeing it as a win, win!  C - theatre dtlaSusan and Lisa right next door made it extra comforting.  Then Diana wouldn’t feel lonely and she’d have help with the children; the family is there for one another.  So let’s pick up from there.  

During this time, I asked around to people who may have worked or are currently working on passenger/cargo ships.  

I was advised to take a trip up to San Francisco where the Seafarers’ Union was located.  They would help me land a job on a ship a lot easier than if I tried without the Union in the Los Angeles area.  That was the word at the docks.

Again Diana and I had a serious discussion to reiterate my determination and what all would be involved.  The plan was made to go up north and clearly I would be taking this trip on my own.  I would move around faster and get straight to the points, not to mention financially, it would be easier.

As fate chose to have its way, a couple of days prior to my leaving for San Francisco both of our sons somehow became very ill and with rising fevers.  

We took them to the family doctor who after looking them over and in all his current wisdom made his diagnosis,  “… so keep them cool and be sure they take in as much clear fluids as possible.  Constantly check their temperature and if it doesn’t break bring them immediately to the emergency room!”  It was pneumonia and he wrote a prescription.

We returned home with the boys and their prescribed medication.  I prepared a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water, putting in some face towels.  We placed the cold towels on their foreheads and patted down their little bodies in hopes of relieving their fevers.  

For whatever reasons, this wasn’t working; Diana and I didn’t hesitate for a moment in getting them to the emergency room at Saint John’s Hospital.

Straight away they took in both of the boys.  Amar our eldest, was placed into a bath of ice cold water in hopes of reducing the fever swiftly.  They had taken the younger Alok into a different room.

The emergency room staff’s efforts with Amar worked and soon after, his fever broke.  They would release him after a couple of observation hours.  Diana and I were to say the least, relieved in that good news.  In the same moments we were being informed of their efforts with Alok in that, they were not so successful.

Of course we knew it was absolutely necessary to keep Alok in the hospital overnight at the very least, he simply must win this battle with the unrelenting fever which reduced itself only ever so slightly.  

We quickly talked it over and Diana took Amar home while I stayed in the room with Alok.  His tented bed was oxygenated and at the same time would keep out any nasty germs.  I promised my wife I’d call before bedtime and update her of his progress.  

I was so completely distressed to see my little baby boy lying there, knowing that I was helpless to do anything more but pray.  In light of my traumatic heart ache a few years back, I admit, I was scared.

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58. Someone Is Really Watching Over Me

Keeping quiet wasn’t too difficult for a while longer because I was making a decent take-home wage between the two restaurants.  Eventually it would resurface, mainly in wondering what I could do about it.

In the meantime winter had passed and spring was in the air, mild as it was but that’s the city by the bay for you.  It was now April and much to my surprise Bill and Jack wanted to celebrate my 24th birthday there at the restaurant.

Wow!  They suggested I could call over a few friends if I wanted and we’d all make a good time of it.  How generous; perhaps it was a stroke of appreciation for helping their business to grow.  Either way it was very nice of them.

Now down the road a ways there was one particular man (let’s call him Sam) who came in a couple of times and he did seem to enjoy exchanging dialogue with me.  We spoke casually and he managed in conversation to get some information from me about my working conditions.  I thought absolutely nothing about it.

Sam started the first time we met by asking me a little about the history of the restaurant.  There was no yarn spinning here, I shared with him what I knew.  That was about the sum of it.

He then returned the next week.  Sam remembered my name and in greeting, he told me he had enjoyed the food last time and then from a friend he had heard about the ‘Jadoo’ stating it’s what brought him back in.

I took his order and then brought out his appetizer basket and a glass of  ‘Jadoo’ he was intrigued.  I told him I am the one who introduced it to the owners.  In the course of the evening in between servicing his table and the others in the dining room -I am the only server- we talked a little about me.

He enquired a little as to my personal history, what brought me here and how did I end up working in this little Indian restaurant.  When pressed for time believe it or not I can tell a piece of the story briefly enough!

Anyhow the chat led to how was I doing for pay; was it enough to live off of?  Sam didn’t seem to think it would be.  Here’s where it got sticky though I didn’t realise how sticky it would become.  

I told Sam straight up about our agreement, the one between Jack, Bill and myself.  Business certainly had picked up but the promised set wage had not yet begun.  ‘And to top it off, they are taking half of my tips every night,’ I plainly said to Sam.

His mouth fell open in surprise no doubt. “It’s one thing not paying you a set wage, you knowingly agreed to that but to actually take money from you?”  Sam was clearly upset. “No, no, this will never do!”  I felt a little comforted knowing that someone else beside me didn’t approve of it.

All of this discussion took place during a few rounds between tables of course.  Sam knew I was allowed a meal every shift and that’s alright but they, to not beat around the bush, were stealing from me.  He seemed as though he would make sure I didn’t stand for it any longer.  

“I say Blue, go to the Union and see what they have to say about this.”  I hadn’t told him I was already a member, see I never gave much thought about what the Union really meant for me.  And even after he mentioned this, I quietly listened to his opinion about the whole thing.

Over the next couple of days, still going in to work of course, I pondered the whole thing over.  At last I made the decision to go into the office.  First they asked me to show my Union member card which I had safely tucked into my wallet.  “Okay let’s get started!”  

I gave the initial summary of why I was there and shortly afterwards, I was taken into a back office.  There the full details surfaced based on the questions I was asked.

I was told not to speak of my visit to the Union to anyone and not to worry about anything.  “You did the right thing addressing the issue to us.  We’ll handle everything from here.”  a Union representative assured me.

He also told me that a field agent would be visiting the establishment to observe.  I of course wouldn’t know this person from Adam and that was just fine by me.

Confident that I did the right thing, I returned to my normal days and nights.  Also I was very glad and most grateful at least I had the other job where there was a steady, reliable wage and I did pretty darned good in my daily tips.  Another perk was I was fed both breakfast and lunch at the Italian joint.

Best as my memory has served me, it was about a week, maybe 10 days before a change was noticeable.  One evening as dinner was close to the end, some men came in and went back into the kitchen. The big and small of it?

Bill and Jack were told the restaurant was under investigation under the Labor Department and would be closed until further notice, pending such investigation and its findings.

They would wait till all the customers had left and the restaurant was closed immediately thereafter.  A sign was pasted up on the window facing the street, stating such but without personal embarrassing details.

This was my last night there too.  Honestly though I had felt just a little sad that it all had to go this way.   This is also the one night Bill and Jack didn’t help themselves to half of my night’s tips.  I was safely sent out into the night.

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57. Magic Wine & Tip Snatching

I began waiting on tables in this little Italian restaurant Mondays through Fridays and just like the sign said, from six in the morning until two in the afternoon.  After a little over a week I was an official member of the Union.  I opened my first American, well really first ever, bank account.  I did this at Bank of America.

I was doing fairly well and so I started to send money home for the family.  My leaving Fiji left the full financial load once again upon my brother and it was only right that I should continue helping any way I could.  

After about a couple of weeks working at this Italian place and secured in the Union, I went back over to the Indian restaurant and offered to take them up on their previous offer of employment.  In all honesty it now would better suit me, timing being what it was and all.

Jack and Bill were still most interested and accepted me into their business; same offer as before, no wage only tips and food, until such a time as business steadily picked up.  I know they were confident in my eager attitude and my seemingly endless brain of ideas.  

I did not reveal to them that I was a member of the Union, I honestly didn’t think about it, nor did they ask.

Perfect!  I had a pretty good set-up I thought:  I worked the breakfast and lunch shifts at the Italian joint and went home in the afternoon for a little rest.  I’d freshen up and go to work the dinner shift (3-4 hours in the evening) at the Indian place.  Not bad for a single guy in a new world.

Now to make things happen for the Indian restaurant.  I thought to pay a visit to the Indian Office of Tourism for travel posters and anything else they’d like to spare which spoke of India, turning to the Consulate for extras.  I would display these in the restaurant to lend some ambiance to the scene.  I had some other plans too of course.

As I had walked along the streets of the city, I noticed some men lying about on the sidewalks quite literally, some propped against a building wall, sipping bottles of wine most usually.  And so after a couple of weeks working in the Indian restaurant I found myself with what I thought to be a brilliant idea.

Having seen what I had while walking sometimes, I remember thinking that in my experiences up to now, on the average a person of supposed middle class standards would dare never to touch a cheap bottle of wine.  Maybe they’d even turn their noses up at it; and then perhaps only if someone was watching.

Okay never mind all that.  One day I decided to buy an inexpensive bottle of wine to conduct an experiment.  I took it in to the Indian restaurant that evening.  Amongst other helpful suggestions I lent to the owners of this place such as complimentary lite appetizers, this could prove to be useful.

I put some wine into 3 or 4 glasses and dropped different food coloring into each one.  The basic colors of blue and yellow; red obviously wasn’t called for.  It turns out the blue/yellow combination of green worked the very best, it had a jewel-like quality to it.

Mind you this is basic white wine that anyone can pick up for under a buck and a half.  I showed the colored wine to Jack and Bill and their quick comeback was, “Oh no, we can’t sell that here!”  I suggested they taste it and then comment.  I hadn’t yet told them what I’d done.  

They tasted it and said it was pretty good.  Then I gave them each a taste of the white wine in its original form and they both said it tasted the same.  Well of course it did.  I then suggested we charge 50 cents per glass.

They pondered this over for a couple of days.  Bill and Jack both agreed to start selling the wine in the restaurant, maybe they realised the profit margin?  Jack suggested to serve it up in chilled glasses.  Yes chilled wine glasses, Bill and I agreed.  

And so I introduced it in a teasing form to the patrons as they sat down at their tables.  ‘Would you be interested in trying a little glass of house wine?’  Most everyone replied yes and so along with the little basket of appetizers I brought out, a sample of the wine came too.  

The guests were naturally fascinated by the coloring; they would sip it conservatively.  “Hey that’s pretty good,” most of them would say.  “What is it called?”  I would smile and reply, ‘Jadoo.’   Being asked what that meant, I told them it means magic, which it does.  The two proprietors quickly added it to their menu.

Customers came in more often, drank more, ordered/ate more and my tips grew along with the clientele for this dinner restaurant.  Bill and Jack would buy the wine in a box, we wouldn’t run out.

In fact some of the customers brought in their own empty wine bottle to fill with ‘Jadoo’ so they could enjoy it at home.  The restaurant decidedly charged them $3.50 for that.

Now these customers were telling others about their experience at this little Indian restaurant which of course brought in more people for dinner.  Needless to say what the owners had hoped for their restaurant, was now happening for them.  But they didn’t keep their word.

The effort was never made to pay me a set wage now.  Instead they noticed when I’d cash in smaller bills for bigger ones at the end of the night, I was generally pulling in about $30-40 per shift working so few hours; they began helping themselves to half of my tips!

For a short while and only a short while I kept quiet.

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