Rives - "Black Magic Women"

Jul 25, 2014
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


Next, one of my personal storytelling heroes. Please put your hands together for Rives.


RIVES: Hello Ann Arbor. I worked my way through college as a waiter. The last place I worked - this upscale bistro in Los Angeles - is where I met my oddest table ever and I had a hex put on me.


RIVES: It's a Friday night. We'd just opened for the evening and two ladies walk in together - two very pale ladies, wearing very dark lace dresses. Whatever the plural of Stevie Nicks is, that's what we’re talking about.


RIVES: I'm going to call them black magic woman one and black magic woman two. They sit down on table 20 and they do not have a good meal. A lot of complaints - with the casserole, with the herbal tea selection - and they are acting really spacey. But they're my only table at this point so I do the usual - I give them, spacey notwithstanding, genuinely solid service. Still, when they leave I notice - they don't tip me - at all. Yeah. They stiffed me, which by the way, don't.


RIVES: It's no big deal, it's not even a bad omen for the night. I'm still going to make great money this shift, right? So, you know, let's do that. A good two hours go by - the restaurant's really hopping now. I'm back in the prep area and the manager approaches me with this weird, stern demeanor and he says OK buddy, hand over those keys. I say well, what are we talking about? My manager says I'm messing with you. Those two cranky ladies from table 20 earlier are back. This time, they say they left their keys behind and that you've got them. They're telling me it's a key ring with a pewter merlin figurine on it...


RIVES: ...It's not in lost and found. Do you want to talk to them about it? I say well, no, just tell them I don't have their keys. And he goes off to do that and I go off to do my job - I'm really busy. About five minutes later, I'm at the ordering terminal in the dining room and black magic woman two sort of materializes just right beside me. She says you must listen. The reason we did not tip you is because we felt you gave us inferior service. But that does not justify you taking our keys. My friend is in communion with very powerful forces and you already have a hex on you. The only way to remove this hex is to return those keys. So I shoot my manager the save me face. He hurries over and black magic woman two says did you search this waiter's pockets? And I volunteered - right there, let's do this - apron pockets, pants pockets, front, back, no keys. Black magic woman two consults with black magic woman one, comes back over and says, my friend has had a vision.


RIVES: And be aware, my friend has solved many crimes for the LAPD with her psychic gifts. She says that this waiter has put the keys in the trashcan of the employee break room. Did you look there? Which my manager sort of jumps and says I didn't look through any garbage for your missing keys. But I'll tell you what, if I let you do it, are we good? Either way, you find the keys, you leave. You don't find the keys, you leave. And the women agree. And so my manager takes them both back past the salad station and the dishwashers to our grungy little employee break room. And I'm so curious, I pretend to get a cheesecake out of the walk-in refrigerator so I can witness this. Black magic woman one overseeing from the doorway, while black magic woman two paws through the garbage in the employee break room trashcan. And this is where events have gone too far - have certainly turned uncanny and where I have wound up truly, uncomfortably edgy because I did take the keys.


RIVES: I took the keys. But when I took the keys, I had zero intention of keeping them. None, I promise. It's just that people stiff you all the time. And people leave things behind all the time, but never in my experience both like these ladies had done. And I guess I just wanted them to have to encounter me once more before I handed the keys over - smooth and gallant even - oh, you're back. Bet you're looking for these, there you go, drive safe, was the plan. But when my manager approached me instead of the ladies like I had been imagining - plus, he seemed to be bluffing about something - I freaked.


RIVES: And I hid those keys underneath the trashcan of the employee break room. Five minutes later, I'm out there on the floor pantomiming innocence. And now, I'm standing with a cheesecake I do not need and I am shaking in my waiter shoes because it does not matter where you land on the intuition to superstition spectrum - black magic woman one's coordinates are pinpoint.


RIVES: If black magic woman two lifts up the trashcan, we will all see a pewter merlin figurine holding a little pewter staff with a little fake sapphire at the tip. But she does not. And so black magic woman one and two leave the upscale bistro - possibly forever. And you know who comes into the bistro? This is much later, things have died down in the restaurant - in my rib cage - it's a Los Angeles police officer. He's got this warm, tolerant smile on his face. He says I know you know why I am here. I just need to hear your side of the story with this key business. So I tell him my side of the story and the cops says well, it's funny. I'm sure that woman seems pretty kooky to you but I know her - we all know her down at the station. The stuff she does for us, it's amazing. I mean, she's not always right. But when she is, she is spot freaking on. It would blow your mind. But it's not a science, right? So hey, try not to be offended. And I say no, I mean yes. I will try not to do what you have said to me.


RIVES: And that was it. That's all. Half an hour later, we closed up the restaurant and I walked with those keys just baking in my pocket to a bus stop on the corner - my bus stop - and that's where I put the keys. I put them right under an oleander bush. Those keys were not noticeable to the average passerby. But I hoped - I certainly told myself - they were obvious enough if you knew where to look.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.