Man, how I hated that waitressing job. It was in a coffee shop on Mulholland Drive. I mean, looking back now, it doesn't seem so bad, but that doesn't matter, does it? Not when you're there, when you're in the moment.
So, sure, I can laugh at my younger self now, whining to my new-found mentor, Josie.
“Why is it the richest guys give the meanest tips and are most likely to hit on you?” I'd say to her.
“At least they still hit on you, honey,” Josie would say, and laugh that big, wheezy laugh. She didn't own the coffee shop, but she might as well have. The real owner gave her the run of the place.
“Look and learn, listen and learn,” she'd tell me. She was about fifty, a big woman who made the best pancakes I've ever tasted, but it was the way that she picked up things about the customers that fascinated me.
"Those two are having an affair," she told me one day, after a couple left the cafe. "Pure and simple. Both got out of the same car, but two sets of car keys on the table. Why would you bring your own car keys when your husband's drivin' you?"
Sure enough, a few minutes later, the woman drove past in a different car. Josie looked at me sidelong with those eyes of hers. "Dangerous waters, Venus, dangerous waters."
There was no triumph in her voice, just a kind of sadness. Later, she told me about her own times in those waters, and I understood. Two messy divorces, and a whole lot of heartache. You could have written a whole album of songs just about her love life.
I don't know why I gave the coffee shop my stage name when I applied for the job. I guess it was a point of pride, a gesture that meant if I kept using it I'd soon be up and out of this crappy job that was such a cliché, waiting tables in L.A., waiting for the big break.
I mean, didn't they know about So Said The Clown? I hated that song, almost as soon as it became a hit. Every so often it would come on the radio in the coffee shop, and I'd feel myself go tense, maybe drop something. And I'd feel Josie's big brown eyes on me, knowing more than she needed to.
I learnt a lot from Josie, but not very much of it was to do with waitressing. I got flustered if I had more than one customer to deal with at once. I spilt milk over Paul Newman once, and you could have heard a pin drop. And then he laughed, and said it was time he changed that shirt anyway, and fixed me with those baby blues until my knees went weak. He was a perfect gentleman, unlike quite a few I could mention.
Luckily for me the coffee shop wasn't that busy that often. I used to bring my guitar in and sing a song or two to Josie when the shop was empty, or it was just one or two of our regulars.
“Who wrote that one?” Josie would say, then act surprised when I said it was one of my own. “Get away,” she'd say. “It was kinda good, too.”
One day, I came in and sang her one of the songs that ended up on the first album. It was called She Sees Round Corners.
“You know,” she said quietly, when the regulars stopped clapping, “that's the first song I've heard you sing that's not about you.”
She was right, of course. And it wasn't her way to say she knew who it was about.