Power Lunch, 1961

Brady, the black full-time guy, and I, the white part-timer, gaze
                through the kitchen’s little windows
into the dining-room of the Yale Law School commons. I’m a grad
                in Russian Lit, where money’s tight.
When a moment opens, Brady and I examine the future attorneys
                as if they were an alien species.
But there are days I feel like a submariner squinting through a periscope
                at superior numbers. Brady and I stink
from the heat under the hood of our dishwasher, and from the simmering broth
                in the soup kettles and the splattering fat
in the frying pans. The manager spaces the tables so the tweedier regulars won’t notice
                people like Brady and me,
Brady with his damp conked hair glued to his head by a drenched do-rag,
                me in my greasy khakis.
As usual, the Swiss chefs hiss at us in German and English to position ourselves
                by the machine. A bell rings,

and the plastic tubs of dirty dishes arrive on the carts the bus boys maneuver,
                forks and glasses clinking.
Brady loads the silver; I the china. We wrestle the wooden crates to the conveyor belt;
                rubber hoses spray and drain,
spewing clots of steam. I tug my canvas gloves on, grip the metal handles like barbells,
                heave the forty pounds to the counter.
Three minutes to sort and stack. Last year, a double rack of dinner platters
                bearing the Yale motto—
lux et veritas—toppled onto the big toe of Brady’s right foot. The break mended crooked;
                his toe resembles a cork screw.
All I’ve ever suffered is an infection that spread from my thumb to my elbow,
                leaving a star-shaped scar.
Six more months for me; I’m drafting the final chapter of my thesis. In June I defend,
                when many on the other side of the pane
will head to Wall Street. Brady limps, dips snuff, traps rats, scrimps for his kids,
                calls me Sparky.

—Richard Merelman, Madison, WI