"Before you do, why are you doing this?" asked Anise.
"A few reasons," I told her. "Look, you two are chasin' your fuckin' dream, right? Maybe you went to culinary school, maybe you just always had people telling you what great cooks you are. You saw a niche and decided to fill it. I'm guessing at first it was just you two, catering small dinner parties. Shit took off, and you got this space and the vans and employees and gigs for two hundred people lined up.
"You know what? I'm a goddamn capitalist, and I think what you've done is awesome. Seeing you two get fucked over by a bunch of pot-smoking jackoffs in Che Guevara shirts pisses me off. Tell me, how democratic is a commercial kitchen?"
Paul frowned and said, "Well, the considerations of---- "
"WRONG!" I yelled. "A restaurant kitchen is the most regimented place this side of North Korea! It has to be: the chef knows what needs to be accomplished, and how it should be done, and what the results should be. Simply, chef say, you do. Period. No, it ain't fucking fair. It's not supposed to be fair. It's supposed to put out food that matches the chef's vision, over and over again.
"And culinary students know this. Yeah, they all want to be chefs.... But they gotta cut the mustard as cooks and sauciers and even fucking dishwashers first. They know the chef is in charge, and if the chef says to stir the hollandaise sauce with your dick, that's how you do it.
Why am I here and why do I give a fuck? Coming in here was like lifting up a rock and finding all the creepy-crawlies underneath. You can't ignore 'em, otherwise they'll spread everywhere.
"Besides, urban hippies piss me off. I can't think of a better way of spending this afternoon than telling a bunch of them that they're fired. Is eliminating a very expensive problem worth a hundred bucks to you?"
They looked at each other and said, "Well.... I suppose so.... What's it for?"
I smiled and said, "Muscle."
I had three people it was imperative to get a hold of, one sooner than the others. I needed The Roadie to start working on vans, I needed Mimi to guide the restaurant, as it were, and I needed Seth to start working on the destruction of hippies' minds. Seth was more urgent so I went to work on him first.
He was at work, and on the phone in under two minutes. (Steel fabrication warehouses are big places.) "Whozzis?" he yelled over the din of his job.
"Yo Seth! Lenny!"
"Wanna make a 'C' for giving hippies a hard time in the City?"
"Fuck yeah! Who'm I hurtin'?"
"Don't think nobody, not planned anyway.... But this place I'm at is gettin' rid of all the assholes they hired, and some might be stupid. Lookin' 4:30, ya make it?"
"Shit yeah! I'll clock out early, they fuckin' owe me for long days I done as favors. Hey, can Reba come along?"
"Still only be a 'C'."
"Hey, that's square. She can clean up any bitches that are a problem, and hey, a hundred for some laughs? Fuck yeah I'll be there! When and where?"
I gave him the time and the address, he said, "Fuckin' cool, see you there!" and hung up.
This had all happened over speaker-phone, to the increasing distress of Paul and Anise.
"That was my friend Seth," I said calmly. "He's tough, but very intelligent. As you heard, his girlfriend Reba will be joining him at no extra charge. I will warn you now: any jokes or comments about Reba MacIntire will result in bloodshed. She works as a dancer and booth girl at a couple of the meat-boxes in Mid-Market, and is probably the only booth girl in the world to be sent home for having scabbed, bleeding knuckles. Like the guys would notice."
"Why does she do that for a living?" asked a vaguely offended Anise.
"$3500 per week, and maybe twenty hours work for that money. It helps she's stunningly beautiful: she's a mix of Filipina, Thai, and Irish, believe it or not. She has the most fantastic eyes.
"But yes, with the amount of money she makes, her and Seth are planning to buy their first home in about two years, paying cash. After that they'll dabble in commercial property. Just because someone works a job you see as sleazy doesn't mean they don't have dreams, or brains."
Anise muttered, "It's still hard to believe she would---- "
" ---- exploit herself like that?" I finished for her. "If you feel like having that conversation with her, that's your choice. I'll tell you now her view of you will be one of pity and contempt: that you're too insecure and, well, gutless to work a stage or booth. Men tip her hundreds of dollars for having had the privilege of seeing her naked. Think about who's exploiting who. Or leave the subject alone completely and have a much more quiet afternoon, you know?"
Paul broke up the discussion by pointing out we should go get the vans. The student foodies were all arranged, and due at 3:30. Their initial concern of not being able to round up workers was wildly inaccurate: The school had made the announcement that a catering service needed workers that night, and the phone didn't stop ringing for a couple hours. All from a single school. They didn't bother calling the others, as not only was the staffing completely covered, there was a list of about forty or so who begged to be put on the "I'll work anytime I'm not in class" list. Having professionals in training at their beck and call was a joyous discovery for the two of them.
Paul and I took a cab down to pick up the vans, two full-size Fords. We arrived back at the kitchen and Paul said, "Ah, much better."
I said, "Yeah, it's nice not feeling like you're gonna die while driving."
Paul and Anise hit the kitchen, busting ass to get their prep together and assemble basics. There was actually time gap between events: it meant food could be loaded into one van while I drove the other back, and simply switch horses. The same would go for the new workers, who would bounce around between positions so they could get a feel for everything and judge for themselves whether they liked a position or not.
While Paul and Anise worked, I hit the phone again. First I tracked down Chuckles at his most recent job, and harassed him into giving me the cell number for The Roadie. I was in luck: The Roadie would be home tomorrow.
I rang him up. He was glad to talk to me: he'd be couch-surfing between jobs, and mostly at our place. Mine was one of the numbers he didn't have, and he wanted a consensus at a house before crashing there.
"So where you at?"
"Somewhere west of Tehachapi, on the 58. One gig in Fresno, then home tomorrow."
"Sweet. Listen, um, I've got a business proposal for you."
"Picture three vans, all identical, between four and seven years old. Completely fuckin' neglected and abused and dangerous to drive. I'll see to it you get a bit of money for examining them and presenting an estimate, and if the people who own the vans decide they're worth saving, you'll get the job of fixing 'em, so keep that in mind when you give the estimate. You follow?"
"What's your feel on 'em?"
"Getting the smell of hippie out of them will be priority one, personally. I'm amazed they move under their own power, but they do. You'll need to replace every fluid, filter and hose. I drove two of three, and they had bad tie rods, like a half-turn of slack. Brakes are bad. There's just so much shit wrong with these things it's not funny, and it's all just abuse and neglect, not normal wear. We're firing the people responsible today. Personally? They can be saved, and cheaper than buying new vans. I still defer to your expert eye."
"You're still at The Silo, right?"
"I'll talk to you tomorrow. I'll take a look and offer my honest opinion."
"Sounds good. Lates."
"Alfa Romeo, Lenny."
Call number three was to one of my roommates, Mimi. I discussed her in the story I told about why yuppies and punk rockers should never, ever fuck. Mimi is 4'10", of corresponding build, and a mind like a porno movie with lots of girl-boy-girl three-way scenes in it. Mimi feels that the world is not nearly a silly enough place, and does her part to correct that. She also attended the Culinary Institute of America and has a solid track record of turning around flailing coffee shops, making them both welcoming and hip, and creating pastries that would make Satan himself give up evil as a career in favor of fostering abandoned kittens, so long as he gets just one of her bear claws each morning, along with one of her lattes. At coffee shops who contracted out for their baked goods, she had no compunction about showing up (by appointment) at the bakery, announcing, "Hi cuties, I'm Mimi, I masturbated three times in the shower this morning, and you're doing things all wrong around here." She'd then pull on an apron and prove her point, hectoring both employees and management into producing far superior products compared to what they were cranking out. She would pass the time by hitting on members of both sex, demanding they become shorter so as to facilitate make-out sessions. It was hard to take offence; it was like having a Cabbage Patch Doll complimenting your tits.
Naturally, she's who I first thought of when it came to having a general manager. That, and she had a running car, which she'd need.
Mimi herself picked up on the third ring, answering, "Yuppledy - duppledy!"
"Hey Mimi, it's Lenny."
"Hey cutie! How does it swing?"
"At the moment, to the right. Tell me, are you bored with that part-time gig you have right now?"
"Oh! Lenny!" she wailed. "I am so bored. Frog-bitingly bored. Lizard-lickingly bored. I'm so bored I'm considering a career involving both pornography and coffee grounds, which sounds painful, but I'm willing to suffer for my art. Lenny, I am not entertained any more."
"Okay, don't hold your breath, this may come to nothing, but.... What would you thing of G.M.'ing an organic catering service?"
"I wouldn't care if they ran the opposite direction and forced me to get the Monsanto logo tattooed on my forehead, so long as things happened to amuse me."
"Well, I don't know how entertaining it would be, so--- "
"Oh, dear naive Lennastroid, after the guests all have four or so glasses of wine in them, catering is always entertaining. I've worked catering before. We once worked a wedding where it was clear the two families didn't get along, and the mother of the bride --- who was hot for her age --- her and I found an empty classroom and had some absolutely mind-blowing sex. My goodness gracious, she ate me like a pecan pie, we took turns making each other come until we were both soaked from the neck up."
"Holy.... Oh my god! Are you serious!?"
"No. Not at all. I made it all up. A falsehood from beginning to end. But I bet you're turned on now though, right?"
"To an extent, yeah. And I know you are too!"
"Sort of. Now I have a built-in fantasy for the next good-looking older woman I meet. I like to stockpile them, keep them sorted depending on body type and situation."
"Damn efficient, Mimi. It's why I thought of you for this job: your pragmatism. One thing though, you may have to kinda burn your current employers, 'cos this place needs you now. You wouldn't be able to give two weeks."
"I don't think they'll break down in tears. Really, I'm an expense to them. After I completed my contract, they hired me on as a manager --- which they didn't need --- then dropped me down to part time. I'd be doing them a favor by quitting."
"Well, this place has never had a real G.M., so it'll take a couple days for them to adjust to the idea. I'm gonna sell the shit out of you, so make a good impression when you meet them. If you meet them."
"Wait, you're going to sell the shit out of me? That's Mookie's line of work!"
"Ugh. I asked for that."
"Cutie, you begged for that. I'll talk to you tonight, Lennafennaling."
I went into the main kitchen to apprise Anise and Paul of what I'd accomplished.
"Okay, a friend of mine who's usually on the road with various bands is actually getting a break of two or three weeks, plenty of time to fix the vans. He'll go over them and give you an estimate, along with a concise list of what all is wrong with 'em. For that, he'll be happy if you buy him lunch and just throw some cigarette money his way.
"One of your big problems, if I be so bold, is that you leave your staff unsupervised. I got that covered too: a roomie of mine, a Munchkin named Mimi, is a C.I.A. graduate and has spent lots of time rescuing drowning shops. She knows food, and she knows both business and restaurant management. She's bored with her current part-time gig at a coffee shop --- she rescued the place, and made it so efficient she worked her way out of a full-time job --- and would like to talk to you about a G.M. position here."
"How would she do that? Sometimes we have four events going at once."
"She's got a car, a classic old Vista Cruiser. She hops from venue to venue and makes it clear to everyone that they are being watched, you know? Gives advice, corrects mistakes, and generally makes sure each ship is sailing smoothly."
Paul was shaking his head, staring at the floor. "I don't know. We always told ourselves we wouldn't lean on our employees."
"Paul, look where it's gotten you! Three murdered vans, and.... You know what? I wanna make a bet with you. I will bet my first two paychecks that your food costs drop through the floor after the little band of elves you currently got are gone. Intuition says they've been stealing from you constantly, robbing you blind. You have beer and wine here?"
"Of course, about six different brands and styles of beer, and some basic varieties of wine, for when the customer either forgets or can't make a decision."
"Well, I couldn't say off the top---- "
"One paycheck says you're short at least five cases of beer and three of wine. I'd say to count 'em now, but we got shit to do. Who signs the paychecks?"
"I do," said Anise.
"It's almost two now, you should start cutting final checks. You want those hippies gone from your life."
"Why don't we just pay them on their regular payday?"
"Oh boy. Because you're giving them the sack, that's why. State law says when you fire someone, they get their final check then and there. Not the next day, not that afternoon, but right then. Safer for everyone. You don't have to argue about the hours on that last day, and you don't have a pissed-off ex-employee coming back to your place. Me, Seth, and Reba will hand them out."
"It's quick enough. I just enter their hours on the computer, and the printer spits out the checks."
"Too sweet. You print, I'll stuff envelopes."
As we slaved over a hot printer in the office, Anise told me, "I feel like a terrible person doing this."
"What, you want me to run the printer for a while?"
She giggled. "No, no, just.... Firing my whole crew like this. I don't even know you, but I'm following your instructions like you were.... Oh, what's his name...."
"Exactly! I mean, you came in for a driving job, and six hours later we're re-doing the way we run our business. Who are you, anyway?"
"I'm a guy who got pissed off when he saw what had happened to your equipment. Then I found out who your employees are, and I knew you had some major troubles. When they aren't wrecking your vans, they're robbing you blind. And they always want a raise, too, for their stellar work.
"I think you and Paul are a couple who got too big, too fast, with their business. You needed employees quick, but didn't know where to find 'em. Now you do. But you ended up with a herd of thieving, entitled scumbags who believe in their hearts that the world owes them lunch, y'know? They ever wear Che Guevara t-shirts?"
"Figures. Che Guevara was a murderous piece of shit. He'd kill villagers for not being communists. The villagers would say, 'We have no interest in politics, it means nothing to us, please, we have work to do,' and Guevara would kill 'em, just like that. And the hippies think he was Christ returned.
"That's one of the biggest complaints about hippies I have: willful ignorance. If the facts don't match their preconceived notions, they'll dick around with some non-facts until the story sounds right. Really, the hippies should get along with televangelists quite well, who've been doing the same thing with the Bible for years."
"You seem to have quite a grudge against hippies," said Anise.
"Yeah, my father's village was attacked by hippies, that's when it started." I made a silly face at her, and we both laughed.
Then I straightened my face out and said, "But seriously! Anybody who thinks Che fuckin' Guevara was a hero is either deluded, a wannabe revolutionary --- they just lack the balls --- or a power-worshiping chump who wants to be the one with the assault rifle, terrorizing anyone in his path. Wear one of those Che t-shirts in my presence, and all your doing is saving me the time of figuring out you're an idiot: you got the proof on your chest."
"And who are your heroes?"
"I'll assume Frank Zappa doesn't count as a political hero, so I'll say 'none'. Overall? Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Two men who were geniuses, who could impact their audience just by placing words in a certain order."
I licked the glue on the final envelope and looked at the clock. "You're about due for a passel of foodies. You've done training before?"
"Ummm.... A little....?"
"Later on, we can talk about my friend Mimi. If she's having fun, she really doesn't care about money at all. I think she could have fun with catering. I'll warn you, though, she can be a little.... Odd, at times. She feels the world needs more silliness in it, and contributes on her own. And if she's training a crew, they'll remember everything she said, because she held their attention so well.
"Anyway, I'm gonna watch for my friends. When your ex-crew gets here, things might get a little noisy, but we will avoid violence. It'll be on them if anything unpleasant happens."
Seth and Reba showed up a half-hour early. They politely introduced themselves to Paul and Anise, explaining that they "understood the situation" and were merely going to make sure things went "smoothly." A fair enough assessment: The first idiot to try and disagree with Seth or try to go inside the building would learn that Seth had a right jab that broke the sound barrier. Reba harbored the same loathing of hippies Seth and I did; she'd consider some girl's dreadlocks a convenient handle to hold on to while systematically caving in some hippie chick's face. Of the three of us, I was the weak link so far as brawling went, but could hold my own, and could convince recalcitrant former employees to leave well enough alone.... And besides, it's hard to complain and bitch after a couple good gut-shots. The three of us versus sixteen San Francisco hippies? No contest. Hell, just the sight of Seth laying into someone would guarantee good behavior: especially against people who talked big but wouldn't back it up, seeing Seth drop somebody with four or five shots in three seconds would have a calming effect on the rabble. Seth wouldn't even have an arm up to block.
As I said, Seth and Reba were polite and deferential to Anise and Paul. Still, there were two problems. The first was that basic human manners dictate smiling at someone you've just met. This gave Anise and Paul a view of Seth's broken-picket-fence teeth. There was no question how he'd lost those teeth, just by the pattern and the ones that had broken halfway up, instead of coming out. Seth smiling at you gave the message of, "This is a man who has taken quite a few shots to the face, and came back for more. Tread gently."
Reba seemed to be dressed to spread erections like dandelions. Her look was a cross between standard issue punk rock girl and $500 an hour hooker. Who knows, maybe all the guys being fired would be in too big of a shock --- their blood having flowed from their brains and into their pants --- to realize what had just happened. Reba had me frightened, in that she was turning me on. While Seth wasn't super-protective or insecure, no way in hell would I greet Reba with more than, "You're looking nice today, Reba." She could be nude and I'd say, "So, how 'bout them Raiders?"
With time to kill --- and then some; we'd been assured no one ever showed up early or even on time --- and with the workers from the culinary school merrily cooking away, we took a quick walk down the hill a bit to observe home, Oakland, from a different angle than we were used to. This was Seth's home town, and for better or worse, he would always live in the central East Bay. Oakland made him who he was. (Given his anger management problems, I couldn't help but wonder if a lawsuit was appropriate.)
The hippies began showing up on time, i.e., ten minutes late at the best. Seth, Reba and I had already worked out a plan. As people arrived, we'd call out to them, "Hey! What's your name?" With that information, we'd reach into Seth's old cop car and pull out the correct envelope, which contained their final paycheck and a "We Regret To Inform You" letter. They would then be instructed to go home: Paul and Anise were busy with their new (competent, well-trained-already, respectful, grateful-for-the work) employees. Any communication should be conducted by mail. Any personal belongings, as claimed in letters, would be mailed to the claimant. And by the way, California is an at-will employment state, meaning we can sack your ass at any time for any reason, and there's not much if anything you can do.
The car-poolers were the most entertaining. Used to protest marches, they assumed that being collectively noisy would make them get their way. In this situation, all they were doing was delaying the receipt of their checks while the three of us smoked and laughed at them. I told Seth, "If they launch into 'We Shall Overcome,' I'm mowin' 'em down with your Crown Vic." Seth laughed and handed me the keys, "just in case."
Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement by one of the death-trap vans: someone was geting in. I told Seth to keep his eyes peeled in that direction, and yanked some doofus out of the passenger side door. On the floor was a bag of weed.
I grabbed the bag and I grabbed him. "That's mine!" he bleated. "Then why is it in this van, eh?" I opened it up, smelled it.... Then poured it on the asphalt, and ground it in.
"You.... You...." was his only response.
"See, this is why y'all getting fired. You're all dumb as shit."
"Fuck you, you damn goon!"
"Fuck me? No, I think I could do much better than your scrawny hippie ass." He turned and began stomping down the hill.
Reba was the only one to see any action. Some girl was yelling, "I want my damn check now!"
"No problem," Reba told her. "Your name?"
"Bitch, gimme my check!"
"Sorry, there is no 'Bitch Gimmemycheck' listed. Would it be under another name?" asked Reba.
The girl lunged for the open window of the Crown Vic. Reba grabbed her by the neck with one hand, by the back of her jacket with the other, and threw her backwards, making the girl catch a bit of loft before landing on her ass. There had also been a loud clunk as the girl's head connected with the door frame. Reba then went and stood over her and said, "I asked you politely already. Now then, what's your name, you silly cunt?"
The girl sniveled briefly, then answered. Reba grabbed her envelope and handed it to her. "There. Wasn't that easy, you silly cunt?" Then she walked back to the Crown Vic while Seth called "Next!"
One guy threw a temper tantrum, yelling how he was gonna sue, he was gonna sue their asses, he'd own the damn company. I politely told him the realities of of "at will" employment, that they could fire anyone for no reason at all.
Seth threw in, "It's true, little man. When I was nineteen, I got fired from a gas station job for being ugly on a sunny day. I thought I had a case, because I could prove it was overcast, but it didn't matter." Reba and I busted up laughing. No one else was in a jovial mood.
Many of those departing did so with extended middle fingers.... From a great distance away. One carload of hippies did a couple loops through the parking lot before leaving slowly with rude gestures out the windows. What the hell, why not....
"Seth!" I yelled. "Can I use your car?"
"No problem. One piece though."
I fired it up and had just dropped it into Drive when Reba jumped in beside me. "This I gotta see!" she cried.
No contest. An old Taurus with five hippies versus a Police Interceptor model Ford Crown Victoria. Six cylinders and a terrible horsepower-to-weight ratio versus a burly engine, tight suspension, and modified transmission. He desperately tried to run, but it was hopeless. I first gave him a tap with the push bar, then Reba said to pull alongside. I did, and she smiled at them, returned the gesture, and then lifted her top and bra, providing a view most people have to pay a lot of money to see. The driver's jaw dropped and he took his foot off the gas.... A good thing, since he went into the curb and bounced out behind us. I spun the wheel and jammed the brakes, swinging the ass-end around in a one-eighty, then stomped the gas. In the rear view, I could see the Taurus moving slowly and wobbly down the street: he'd tweaked a rim, or a tie rod, or the suspension. Well, he'd probably been practicing on the vans, so it made sense.
As we made our way back to the kitchen, I told Reba, "I gotta say, if I had those, I'd make a living with 'em too." Reba laughed and laughed.