A few months before I turned sixteen, I found a summer job at the Ocean Breeze Hotel, just a half a block and across one street from my house. That first year, I was the relief switchboard operator and the relief counselor, giving me three shifts to work and leaving lots of time to go to the beach, a block away from the hotel.
One of the waitresses, an old timer named Irene, had the best station and got better tips than anyone else at the hotel. She must have been in her sixties or older - to me, at fifteen, she looked a hundred, her hair dyed flame red, a cigarette perpetually dangling from her painted lips, the ashes falling wherever. One of Irene's secrets, one of the reason why her tips were more than anyone else's, was her coffee.
"You don't want to drink that mud," she'd say, referring to the coffee the poor folks on everyone else's station had to drink. "Let me get you some of Irene's coffee." With that, she'd whirl around and head straight for the kitchen. She'd take a coffee pot off the shelf, fill it from the same urn that everyone else used, bring it proudly to the table and fill the cups of her lucky customers. Moments later, she'd reap the rewards, cash pressed gratefully into her waiting hand.
Like Irene's happy customers, my dogs have special water. The regular bowl, filled from the tap, is in the kitchen. The special bowl, also filled from the tap, is in the office bathroom. Most often, after a walk, the dogs will rush by the kitchen bowl to get to the one in the bathroom, to the special one. I think of it as "Irene's water." And I know in my heart that if they were the sort to tip, I'd make out like a bandit.