Income $21,000 (1999)
Health Insurance none
Victor Morales, 23, was standing in Belgo wearing his 1950s eyeglasses and a severe black monk’s habit with a lot of strings in back. It is his official outfit, which he has to wear to serve the mussels, the fruit beer, and the frites in the Belgian theme restaurant where the gray tubular interior looks like an MRI machine, but glamorous.
“My roommate and I completely forgot about paying the phone bill. It’s been happening a lot lately,” he says. He lives in Williamsburg. “I think we’re too worried about other things, like life in general.”
Morales, a short-story writer, works at Belgo around 40 hours a week, averaging $120 a night, and the manager loves him, though “I’ve been late so many times, they made me write a contract that I won’t be late anymore. I’m either oversleeping or at home worrying about the future.”
It’s not money he is worried about. It is that other anxiety: “about notbeing in the circle, like there’s nothing going on and your life is standing still. “The feeling that if no one asks you to star in a movie or if the phone does not ring for five minutes you could have a breakdown.
Morales, who grew up in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico -his stepfather was a baker – and then Miami, where he helped his mother raise his brothers and a sister and studied sound engineering at Miami Dade Community College and “sold German import CDs in a booth in a store” and opened a club” for one night in the back of a cheesy Philippine restaurant, “remembers a period of unrest not long ago. He was sitting in his Brooklyn apartment with the dusty orange walls and “apuke – cream – colored couch with like bamboo print and like green leaves and gold trim” and “I had just quit my job at Mars 2112. You know it’s on 50th and Broadway and you come through this door and it’s pretty much like you’re flying to Mars. You get loaded up into this spaceship that rattles you around for about a minute. When you get out you’re in this red rock formation and we waiters, like 50 of us, are standing there in Martian jackets and we have to say, ‘Hello, Earthlings.’ “Anyway, Morales remembers being on his couch and staring at his roommate, “who’s running around and doing all this stuff. He had just got a bartending job for 300 bucks a night and like he was completely booked up directing one play, acting in another, and he had a casting for a movie and I was just like, I really had nothing to do except wash clothes.”
Then there was the night at Belgo when a portobello mushroom came out too oily. “Though the food is really good here. I had a table of 10 really annoying people. I had to return the mushroom. I grabbed one of the plates and slammed it into the dishbin and I broke it. It was just frustration. I was standing at the computer. I’d be like thinking, ‘What am I doing? This is so sad.’ ”
But serving mushrooms is not forever. “I’ve written five shortstories – enough for a book. I definitely want to get it published. “When he is not having a gin and tonic in Pyramid, Downtime, Liquids, or Tribe, he is reading Camus and Miller and Bukowski and Welsh(Trainspotting) and writing stories about dream states. “Mine are about how there’s like always a twisted side to every story. “He is determined to write at all costs. “Even if every thing goes out the window, I’m still going to be writing. Even if I have 10 books out and no one reads them. “He looks out over the bowls of moulesmarinières at Belgo. “Whether people read them or not, I’ll write them!”