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A Bad Night for Fame

It was two a.m. and William Major wasn't invisible. He felt reasonably sure, anyhow. But if that wasn't it, then there had to be some reason he wasn't getting served. He had been in the Le Sabre all-night restaurant for ten minutes now, and he hadn't received a menu, a cup of coffee, or even so much as a glance in his direction.

It wasn't that the place was busy. There were only about four tables occupied and the waitress on duty didn't seem to be over-burdened. She had passed William several times, but didn't even deign to notice him. Now she was over by the register talking to a man in short sleeves who was probably the manager. At one point, William saw the man look at him. They could have been talking about him. Well, that made sense. Maybe he'd get some service finally.

The waitress nodded at something the man said, then picked up her green and white order tablet and crossed to William's booth. She looked at him closely. "I'm sorry... I didn't see you there," she said. "Have you decided yet?"

"No," William said with just the slightest hint of irritation, "I haven't got a menu..."

"Oh, gosh! I am sorry! I'll be back with one in a sec..."

The waitress turned and scuttled across the floor and snatched up a glossy menu, brought it back and placed it in front of William.

"I'll be back in..."

"That's OK," William said, lifting up the menu. "Just give me a plate of scrambled eggs with hash browns and coffee."

The waitress frowned and scribbled on her pad. "Is that all, sir?" she said.

"Yes, that will be all," William said.

The waitress started to leave but then stopped and said, "Sir, you have money to pay for this, right?"

It took a second for William to weather the shock of that statement, and then he looked up and said, "Yes, I have plenty of money. Now eggs."

"Yes sir," the waitress said, and took his order back to the cook.

She came back with the coffee.

"I'm sorry," she said. "About what I said before..."

"It's O.K.," William said, stirring in some sugar. The waitress nodded and went to another table.

As he drank his coffee, William considered how strange it was that the waitress hadn't recognized him. In fairness, he was not in his stage clothing, but still, there had not even been a spark of cognizance.

But then again, maybe she was outside of the realm of paparazzi. Maybe she didn't watch TV like everyone else and know him for the international star he was.

William surveyed the tables around him. Directly ahead was a couple, a man and a woman. They were in their late twenties and had brightly colored ski jackets piled on top of the seat. They were drinking tall German beers and eating gyro sandwiches. They looked like lovers.

Behind them was a portly, middle-aged man with most of his head void of hair. He was eating a piece of pumpkin pie and staring out at the street traffic.

Across from this man, to the side were two women involved in a loud conversation punctuated by frequent outbursts of laughter. Once, one of them had looked over at William, but evidently didn't recognize him either, since she didn't get right up and scramble over for his autograph.

Other than that, there was only one other person in the restaurant dining, an elderly lady dressed completely in black. She had a very grey pallor and abnormally bright blue eyes which she kept locked on the dirty fish tank beside her.

So, with everyone so occupied, it really wasn't a surprise that no one had recognized William and rushed over to express their admiration. He considered, too, that not everyone liked him even though he was a celebrity. Maybe he had been recognized but for some reason, these people just didn't care for him or his show.

He decided to find out if the waitress knew of him. When she came with his large plate of food, William looked her straight in the eye.

"Here you are, sir, sorry for the wait..." she said.

"That's all right," William said. "Come to think of it, could I have three pancakes as well?"

The waitress hesitated.

"Um...yes, sure, she said. "I'll just go and tell the cook."

"Thank you," William said, giving her the full benefit of his face, which still didn't make an impact.

The waitress went over to the grill, and William saw the manager stop her before she lifted the paper slip over the counter. They exchanged some words, and again William got the impression that they were talking about him. The man kept his eyes trained on William even though he was talking to his employee.

Well, now I know I've been recognized, William thought. They're going to be right over to apologize for the bad treatment I've been getting.

Just then a couple of drunks came in tilting and swaggering and took a table in the corner near the washroom. The waitress shot past William and slapped down menus in front of the two men. On her way back, she gave William a hard stare. William smiled and nodded at her as if to say, "It's me all right!"

A few minutes later she came over with the plate of pancakes.

"Here you go, sir, the syrup's on the table..."

"Thank you," William said around a mouthful of food. The waitress started to step away. William called her back.

"Oh," he said, "can I have a beer as well? I'll have one of those green beers..."

"A St. Pauli Girl?"


The waitress stiffened. "Listen, sir," she said, "this isn't a free lunch counter."

William stopped chewing. "What?" he said.

"I mean, sir, that my manager thinks he recognizes you and he says..."

"He should recognize me," William said. "I'm on TV after all. I've got my own show: ‘The William Major Show.'"

The waitress's face condensed. "Well sir, he says that he's pretty sure he saw you before and you left without paying."

William stared balefully at the waitress. He was aware of the manager's eyes upon him from a distance.

"It's obvious then," he said slowly, "that your manager has a drinking problem."

The waitress stood still and chewed her lip.

"St. Pauli?" she said finally.


A minute later she returned with a frosted mug. William looked at her through the narrow slits of his eyes. "Listen," he said, "do you know who I am?"

"Um...I forgot. You told me...."

"William Major." He said each word distinctly.

"William Major...," the waitress repeated in a dreamy tone. "Nice to meet you."

" ‘The William Major Show'?"

The waitress smiled painfully. "Sorry."

"ABC!" William suddenly shouted, slamming his fist on the table and rattling the silverware. "I'm on ABC!"

Everyone in the restaurant looked.

The waitress backed away from the table and exchanged glances with the manager. She went to refill some coffees.

William glared at her. "ABC...," he said.

The manager looked on from the register, his face like a crumpled paper bag.

The two drunks were giving William angry looks, and the lovers had turned around, but the old woman in black and the man eating pie hadn't moved.

The lovers got up to pay. As they walked by, William stuck his chin up so they could get a good look at him. "Don't you want my autograph?" William said to them.

The woman clutched at her boyfriend's elbow and ignored him.

Well, William considered, it's just a bad night for fame. Every day can't be roses.

Just as he was finishing up his meal, the manager appeared before him. His eyes were like hot coals. "Meal was good, yes?" he said.

"Satisfactory," William said.

"Eat well and now you're full, yes?"

"I've still got my beer," William pointed out.

"Yes, I see it," the manager said, "and you will pay for it over there before you leave." He pointed to the cash register.

"Of course I'm going to pay for it! What do you take me for?"

The manager fixed William with a look and cleared away a couple plates.

The nerve, William thought. Such treatment for a celebrity. They don't even deserve my money.

William watched the manager go behind the counter with the plates. Quickly, he guzzled down the remainder of the beer and then made for the door.

The manager lit up like a pack of firecrackers.

"Damn you!" he shouted. He threw down a towel and took off after him. "I knew this!" the manager yelled, flying out the door.

William made it a few meters down the block before he was tackled from behind on the hard pavement. The manager was on top of him, shaking him from the collar.

"You sit at table four! You no pay!" he yelled. "Number four! No pay!"

William's head bounced like it was attached by a spring. The manager thrust his hands into the pockets of William's army jacket and pulled out a tattered Velcro wallet that had the words "Rich and Famous" written on it in pink lettering. As the manager stood to look inside for money, William took the opportunity to run.

"I'll kill you!" the manager screamed. "I will kill you!"

Clara, the night waitress was standing at the door when Salvador got back.

"What happened, Sal? Did you get him?"

"He is not served here anymore," Salvador said.

He handed Clara the wallet. She opened it. It contained an expired bus transfer, a calendar the size of a business card, and a folded-over picture of a woman modeling underwear from a store catalog. Other than that, it was empty. No money, no ID, nothing.

Copyright © 2003 John H. Matthews.

John H. Matthews has had short fiction published in Prairie Light Review, Strong Coffee and Red Shoes Review. He is currently seeking a publisher for a short story collection entitled Modern Carnivores and working on a screenplay about tattoo artists. He lives in Chicago.