Photo by Tenaya HillsIt happens Monday through Friday—sometimes Saturdays—outside the Seventeenth Street IHOP in Santa Ana, the one at Lincoln Avenue: mild-mannered busboy Peter Guzman—not hisrealname—becomes Suzie the pancake.
He takes off his apron and slides into the costume: wide smile, golden-brown exterior, pink-checked pants under a matching skirt, and a pink bow with ripe strawberries atop his round, delicious pancake head. And she goes outside to greet traffic, waving with both arms, posing with children for family pictures, commiserating with customers as they leave, strutting down the sidewalk, gyrating in jive-talk fashion, busting dance steps, occasionally running backwards in bionic slow motion. Her pancake eyes, permanently looking left, seem vulnerable under long dark lashes, hinting at the secrets they hide. He won't give us his real name: the manager, Alex Ruiz, says "Peter" lives in the area and doesn't want his extra duties to be known.
It's understandable: who among us would put on a rsum that he once paid rent by moonlighting as a griddle cake—a girl cake at that? This is a tall tale—but not the kind that makes a good story in a bar, not the kind you'd tell anyone before reaching the age of, say, 35. "Peter" is in his early 20s.
He has to pay bills. And he has to pay his dues, so he wears the pancake head with the bow, the pink pants and the skirt. And he waves. And he's popular. All the waitresses know who he is; much to his chagrin, one retrieved him from the kitchen for me. He didn't want to talk, so I sent him back to finish cleanup and get dressed again.
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And when I left, "Suzie"—the "name" on "her" "uniform"—was back walking the beat: kicking up her heels on the sidewalk, rocking to her own imaginary beat, hailing the hungry. Making kids smile.