“So I went to this really cool Spanish restaurant last night,” I told my parents at the dinner table one evening. I scooped some broccoli out of the communal bowl before returning it to the center of the table. “It was named Santiago.”
“Santiago,” my mom repeated, helping herself to some broccoli as well. She turned to my father. “Didn’t your sister Elsa use to work at a restaurant called Santiago?”
He frowned as she passed him the bowl. It took him a few seconds to realize what she was talking about. Her memory was never that good. “Not Santiago. The Santi Supper Club. I worked there too.”
“You did?” She asked, surprised.
My dad cut off a piece of his steak before nodding and replying, “Yeah. It’s because of Mr Santi that I met you.”
“Really?” I asked leaning forward with interest. I’d never heard this story. Apparently, neither had my mother, who joked dryly, “I always figured it was just misfortune.”
My dad wasn’t listening. His eyes lit up with nostalgia as events from 35 years ago found their way back into his consciousness. He began to tell his story, “Elsa was a hostess there and she got me the job as a busboy. There were these two Guatemalan brothers who were dishwashers, and we were friends.”
He paused to take another bite of his steak. “One Friday night, the brothers showed up late, probably by about 10 minutes. They tried to explain to Mr Santi that there was a huge subway delay, but he wouldn’t listen to them. He was a real hot-headed guy. He just said, ‘you’re fired!!'”
“Another Donald Trump,” my mom interjected. She took a sip of her wine.
“Worse. Terrible old man. Then he turned to me and said, ‘you! Go on dish!'” My dad paused for dramatic effect, and more food. “But I said no. I wouldn’t have minded going to dish, I’d work anywhere, but I didn’t think it was right. I didn’t like how he was treating my friends.”
“And you didn’t have a wife or kids to take care of, so you weren’t worried about mouthing off to your boss.” My mom mused. She stood up to grab the bread out of the oven in the adjoining kitchen.
“Yeah, so I said no and Mr Santi told me, ‘if you don’t do dish tonight, don’t bother coming back tomorrow.’ So I told him, ‘if I’m not coming back tomorrow, then I’m not working tonight!'” My dad smiled proudly at his youthful rebellion. I wondered how he would have reacted if I had come home telling that story. I’d sure dreamed of walking out on my job at The Tap Steakhouse, but I never had. I never could. I confirmed, “so you left?”
“Yeah, I left! Elsa begged me not to go, she was worried he’d fire her too, but I just walked out and went home.”
“So what does that have to do with me?” My mom asked. She passed me a slice of buttered bread. “I thought you were going to say you went to the dance club and met me that same night.”
“No, that was the next night,” my dad explained. “But if it hadn’t been for that subway delay that got those guys fired, I wouldn’t have had the Saturday off.”
“So you guys met at a club.” I pieced together. I already knew that part, but it never ceased to sound bizarre to me.
“Well, that same night, I had a dream of dancing with a girl in a red dress, but I couldn’t see her face.” My dad remembered. “So the next night I went to a Latin dance club.”
“I wasn’t wearing a red dress.” My mom argued. She was a true contrarian. “It was more of a burgundy.”
“Whatever,” my dad rolled his eyes. “Then we danced and -”
“No! You didn’t try to dance with me at first, you tried to dance with my friend Cora.” My mom protested, pointing her fork accusingly at him.
“Yeah, maybe I tried to dance with her first,” my dad conceded, using his bread to off clean his plate. “But I was never actually interested in her. She was way too tall, taller than me! It wasn’t about her, she wasn’t the one wearing the red dress. And you and I did dance that night.”
“We did,” my mom agreed. “But I didn’t give you my number that night, remember?”
I watched as my dad remembered. He nodded slowly, “I remember.”
“So how did you guys see each other again?” I wondered, as I finished my salad.
“At a stadium, the next week.” My mom recalled, “I went to go watch a local soccer game and -”
“-and I was playing for one of the teams,” my dad cut in. I wondered momentarily why I wasn’t interested in neither dancing nor soccer, considering this narrative. And my heritage.
“You played on that team?” My mom repeated incredulously. “Then what were you doing in the stands that day?”
“I had played for my part of the game, and when I was on rest, I saw you buying a hot dog. So I went to meet you -”
“- on the stairs.” My mom finished. A smile crept slowly across her lips. “And we talked. And you asked for my number again, and that time I gave it to you.”
And the rest was history.