In my youth, I supplemented my living with the occasional art commission. Once I was asked by a student named Paul to do an India-ink drawing of a coyote femur. The drawing would appear in his master’s thesis.
I arranged to meet Paul at a coffeeshop called Piper’s. This was before all such meetings were carried out in Starbucks, or, for the politically correct, Peet’s. Piper’s was a pleasantly dim place full of suits of fake armor and welcoming booths covered in red “leather.” The waitstaff was almost entirely composed of battle-hardened, middle-aged women whose pancake makeup and turquoise eyeshadow appeared to have been applied by a road crew. You could imagine these ladies spending their leisure hours bench-pressing twelve large china plates of veal cutlets and Salisbury steaks.
Here I was, at Piper’s, with Paul and his coyote femur. To my great surprise, a waiter appeared to serve us. He was a doe-eyed, willowy young man with a soft voice and polished demeanor. A new employee, he seemed anxious to prove himself a worthy addition to the troop of peroxide Valkyries. Paul and I ordered pie and coffee, and our waiter was wonderful. He was attentive but did not hover — in all ways a pleasure to deal with.
The details of my commission were settled, and I obtained possession of the coyote femur, which I placed beside my plate. The waiter brought the check, eyed the bone lying before me and, without missing a beat, inquired if I would like a doggie bag. To honor his sangfroid, I accepted and left him a generous tip. I felt certain that he possessed sufficient steel within his velvet glove to carve out a niche at Piper’s.