prose

Gordan Nuhanović: The First and The Last Punker

Gordan Nuhanović (1968, Vinkovci) was a longtime reporter for multiple, well-respected Croatian journals and newspapers. He has written four collections of short stories and three novels.

Cafés are so prevalent in Croatia that it is genuinely difficult to walk more than a few blocks in any city without seeing at least one. Ask any city resident what their favorite café is and they will have a ready answer. Serving up all kinds of coffee and alcohol, they are considered a hub of social life. So it follows that waiters serve an invaluable function in Croatian society and tend to witness a wide spectrum of humanity on a daily basis.

Nuhanović’s short story, which is equal parts quirky and clever, steps into the shoes of one such waiter whose boss has an unusual fixation on keeping a certain segment of the population out of his café at all costs: the punks.

Read Nuhanović’s The First and Last Punker below.
Translation by Julienne Eden Bušić.



 

The First and Last Punker, by Gordan Nuhanović

Translated by Julienne Eden Bušić

 

Exactly at noon, I started working the first shift of my life.

 

“The coffee machine always has to be clean and plugged in,” my boss, Bato, warned me. Old Gaggia, as it was called, was to be turned off at 10 p.m., even if bullets were flying outside. This was a direct quote from Bato. “The machine doesn’t get turned on for anyone once it’s turned off, is that clear?”

 

I drank in Bato’s every word. “And if someone has a complaint about it,” he said in a raised tone so that everyone still in the café could hear, once and for all, they could just come to him, Bato Vozetic.

 

“And one more thing,” he remembered, lowering his voice. “If a punker comes in, you serve him whatever drink he orders, but call me on the phone immediately, is that clear?”

 

“Sure, Bato,” I answered, after which Bato lit his cigarette with great gusto, using the Zippo lighter on which was written: US Army. It worked during hurricanes and under water, and would spark up even if it was out of lighter fluid, because Bato’s Zippo US Army lighter had a false bottom with a secret tank.

 

“That’s it,” he concluded as he chugged down his Ballbuster; actually, two shots in one. I held the metal tray just the way Bato had taught me, from the bottom, resting it on the tips of all five fingers of my left hand, placed a cloth over the clean ashtrays, and by the time you could say “boo” I was strutting among the booths, taking my first orders. I felt Bato’s eyes on my back. What he wanted was a waiter as dependable as his US Army Zippo lighter—a waiter who would notify him posthaste at the first sight of a punker. He gave me three percent of the day’s earnings, an extra hand from 7 p.m. on, two free drinks during my shift, and the key to the jukebox.

 

“So,” he asked me as I was leaving. “You remember what I told you?” 

 

A lot of stuff was filtering through my head at that moment.

 

“Punkers,” he repeated. “My number’s on the coffee machine.”

 

Oh, yeah, that, of course…I gave him the high five as he left the bar. He could depend on me to make that call. 

 

Read the rest here 

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