Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Failing to the Top (Part 4)

"Lenny!  How ya doing, cutie?"
"Um, I'm okay, but a bit confused.  Why wouldn't you talk to the owner?"
"Lenny, I can't work there.  No way.  There may as well be a cross in lamb's blood on the door."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"It's their staff!  All scummy little hippies, fucking human cess-pits, worthless in life and in a kitchen.  Grapevine info I got from friends says Stone Soup will be lucky to last another six months, mostly due to the slime they have as crew.  Every other catering crew in the Bay Area hates working with them: they 'borrow' equipment and utensils, they're loud, they swear in front of guests, they put out their own tip jar instead of pooling it like protocol dictates, they'll be stoned on jobs, and they'll bail on collective clean-up, leaving the other one or two companies to cover their work.  Basically, working for Stone Soup  is announcing 'I'm an asshole!' to the great wide world of catering in the Bay Area.  The company is eventually gonna run out of customers who don't know who they are."

"Oh yeah?  Well, you can tell the grapevine the slime and scum have been power-washed from Stone Soup, sprayed away like so much cum on the floor of a porn theater.  We've got a new crew, students we shanghai'd from one of the schools.  You can mold 'em like Play-Doh, girl!"
She was silent for a few moments, then sighed and said, "I need to think about this a bit first, okay?"
"Yeah, no problem.  See you tonight."
"Later, cutie."
We hung up.  I turned  to Anise and Paul and started to say, "She's not---- " and the phone rang again.  Caller ID showed it being my house.  I hit the speaker button and said, "Buenos nachos, el munchkino!"
Mimi replied, "Okay, I have given it long and hard consideration, weighing the pros and cons, judging what I have heard about Stone Soup versus your confidence and assurance it will be a hippie-free environment.  And I ate the last bite of my sandwich.  Fuck it, I'm in, if they'll have me."
I turned to Paul and gave him the thumbs up with both hands, while smiling widely.  He smiled and rolled his eyes, and said, "Hello, this is Paul, the man you wouldn't speak to before."
Anyone else would have expressed some contrition.  Not Mimi.  "Hello Paul!  Yes, some god-like creatures I came across in an old Marvel comic have assured me that you are both righteous and helluv rad.  So let's talk.  To start, would you like a free employee for your next three shifts?  Consider it a mutual feeling up--- out, feeling out, to make sure we can mesh and not clash."
Paul said, "That sounds fine to me.  Lenny sings your praises as a manager, leader, trainer, and general professional in the kitchen."
"He left out my adaptability.  Within fifteen minutes I'll know your place like I know my own genitals."  (If Paul's eyebrows went any higher, they'd have come loose from their moorings and landed on his neck.)
I said, "And not Steve's genitals?"
Mimi squeaked and said, "Lenny, my pet, is there the tiniest smidgen of a chance we're on speaker phone?"
"Fine, I'll get it out of the way and over with: shit piss cunt fuck cocksucker motherfucker and tits.  So what time shall I be in tomorrow, Paul?"
"Ten in the morning.  It's gonna be a long day."
"Will I be bored for stretches of it?"
"I doubt it.  We have five events, ranging from forty to one-thirty."
"Then we shall have fun, and so shall the food and the guests and the utensils.  Meet you tomorrow, cutie.  Lenny, I'm squirting at least three bottles of Astro-Glide in your bed before you come home."
"Any accompaniment?"
"I'll dig up that horrible yuppie object from South Bay, and lock her and Mookie in there alone and drunk."
"Do that, Mimi, and you'd better be prepared for one thing."
"What's that?"
"Getting it all on video tape.  We could make a mint with that rumble.  Nighty-nite."
"See you later, cutie."
I turned around.  Roadie was quietly laughing (he knew Mimi, and knew what to expect).  Paul and Anise were staring at me wide-eyed, mouths agape.
I said the only thing that made sense.  "Well, that was a relief!  I was afraid she'd say something weird over the phone."
Anise, still looking shell-shocked, said, "She sounds like.... An interesting girl."
"Interesting.... Yes, that is an excellent euphemism.  We'll stick with 'interesting.'"
The Roadie piped up.  "Our paths have never crossed work-wise, but she's held some major high-powered positions.  Yeah, she'll give the impression of being loopy, but I guess if you put her in a kitchen and simply say the word 'help' to her, she's a superhero, she can get things done faster and better than any five people."
"Nine people, if you take size into consideration," I said.  "Mimi is four-foot-ten and lightly built.  When she wants, she can confuse and flummox people twice her size."
Paul asked, "Why did she ask about being bored?"
The Roadie and I looked at each other and laughed.  I explained, "A bored Mimi can be an amazing thing, a fun thing, a frightening thing, or a creative thing.... And you never know which one you'll get.  In a kitchen, she may create some fantastic new dish that ends up a popular staple on the permanent menu.  She may also, in a single day, sexually harass every single staffer, regardless or age or gender.  She could roll out some bread dough into a long thin ribbon and claim she's Wonder Woman, and the dough is her lasso of truth, and begin wrapping it around peoples' necks.  Or she may simply turn off the radio, if there is one, and begin singing pitch-perfect renditions of songs from 'Paint Your Wagon.'"  I laughed.  "At least you don't have her as a roommate.  Anything that small and gymnastic, that odd, and that oversexed definitely keeps you on your toes."
Anise quavered, "The sexual harassment worries me.  Are you sure we should...."
The Roadie held up a hand.  "She won't get you in legal trouble.  She's just.... She has a libido with afterburners on it, and she burns off that energy with her boyfriend.  And bisexual girls her and her boyfriend can share (the lucky little bastard)."
I threw in, "Yeah, when she's acting like that, it's like having a TeleTubby flirting with you.  Impossible to take seriously.  She's clownin', everybody knows she's clownin', and she does it in a way that nobody gets offended or their feelings hurt.  Dudes don't think they're gonna score with the GM: it'd be like hitting on a nine year old, 'cos of her size.  Girls know they're getting hit on, but in such a bizarre way they're not bugged at all, because it's obvious she's not serious.
"But yeah, keeping Mimi busy --- with something valid --- is always the best course of action.  With some luck, it won't be long before you need a new van and more employees.  Were we on speaker phone for both calls?"
"No, just the second," said Paul.
"Oh!  Um.... Yeah.  This isn't easy to say."
"Go ahead."
"Mimi already knew who Stone Soup was through friends in catering.  She didn't know about the mass firing of course, but you're supposed to be belly-up in six months."
"Whaaat!?" chorused Paul and Anise.
"You guys work events with other catering services, right?"
"Your former crew did not endear themselves to the other services.  I believe 'antipathy' would be the right descriptive."
"What did they do?" asked Anise.
"Do you really want to know?  Can I simply assure you that neither fire or nudity were involved, and we can leave it at that?"
"We put so much trust in them...."
I had heard Anise say that sentence at least twenty times in the few days I had been around the place.  It was her lament when the subject of the old crew came up, and I was sick of it.  Beyond sick.  I snapped.
"God dammit, Anise, stop saying that.  I heard you the first couple dozen times it fell out of your mouth, and it's still pointless and idiotic.  Hey, here's a concept that may help prevent you from getting fucked over in the future: trust is something that's earned.  They didn't earn it, you just gave it to them, and surprise surprise, they fucked you over.  Anyone else would have seen that coming, but you didn't, and that scares the shit outta me.  I mean, Jesus Christ, technically I don't even work here, and I'd still worry about my paychecks bouncing.  I mean, how'd you meet that herd of feebs anyway?  At a Noam Chomsky reading salon?"
There was silence.  I shouted, "Answer me!"
Paul muttered, "We met a couple of them at a Sarajevo anti-war rally.  We were just getting to the point where Anise and I couldn't handle everything by ourselves, and we wanted to take larger events...."
"They seemed like truly good people...."
"Uh huh.  And they were fucking you in the ass, no lube.  They weren't good people, they were good actors, that's all.  They played to your sympathies and partied at your expense.  You know, it really is a miracle you two haven't been sued yet.  Jesus, I need a cigarette or nine, I'll be back."

I paced in uneven figure eights in the lot.  I was on my fifth cigarette, lighting fresh ones from the butts of the old ones, and drinking from a bottle of Mountain Dew that was the same temperature as the rice in a bad Chinese buffet.  I was feeling sick of the species----
No, that's not true, just chunks of it.  After all, inside the building forty yards away was a man who I greatly respected, whose company I would always enjoy, who found beauty in creating the balletic moving of machinery.  Roadie made me want to cry and to hold him, and figure out the correct combination of words to let him know that yes, he was a good person.  Roadie was not his parents, he was himself, and no one could take that from him.
And I'd just got off the phone with a girl who could rent herself out for $50K a day to rich households as entertainment and preparation of meals.  Mostly the entertainment.  Her humor may get her in a bit of trouble, depending on the age of the kids ("Mommy, what are Kegel muscles?") but would probably inspire them to throw away their TVs afterwards and embrace spontaneous in-house comedic performance.  Mimi is what happens when you're blessed with a natural comedic sense of drama, and remove all the filters in your brain which determine what constitutes normal public behavior.  Why shouldn't a person use the hand-hold bars on a BART train as gym equipment, while loudly singing the 'Spiderman' theme.... And get other passengers to join in with the singing?  Why shouldn't picnics, and nice ones, be held in parking garages in downtown Oakland?  They paid the hourly rate, and weren't cooking, so what's the problem?  You, sir, the gentleman dressed in some sort of homosexual parody of a police uniform, try one of these California rolls; wasabi and soy sauce are right there....

And they brought me joy because their intelligence, their wit, prevented them from ever getting bored... Or getting suckered.  In that same small building were two perfectly intelligent nice people who were starting to seriously ride my nerves.  They were nice people, perfectly pleasant and earnest in their wish to make the world a better place.

And it made me want to slap them.

Paul and Anise seemed destined to go to their graves thinking Great Important Change was just right around the corner.  They couldn't grasp that the world has been run by assholes since the species first began to organize into groups, shortly after leaving the trees.  The invention of organized religion pretty much put the cinch on Homo Sapiens: the fear of death and the unknown is a great way to keep people herded just the way you want.

What also made Paul and Anise so slappable was their ability to find good where there was none.  They simply couldn't process that the world is loaded with eighteen-carat assholes: people who steal not out of necessity, but spite, a vandalistic urge.  The guy three doors down who'd get drunk and hospitalize his wife didn't need to work through his anger, find the incidents in the past that made him act like that: he needed to be pushed out of a helicopter from 300 feet and ten miles out.  No amount of therapy would change him, because he's an asshole.
And the fetid pile of human garbage we'd recently disposed of?  Lying, cheating, thieving, whining, manipulative, stoned-out dog-fuckers who really did deserve anything terrible that happened to them in life.  Like all urban hippies they were total hypocrites.....

(.....Like the hippie chick I knew in San Diego who would blow me for single hits of MDMA.  She dropped her bag once, spilling its contents; I saw two different Andrea Dworkin books, plus some Catharine MacKinnon.  I pointed out the inherent contradiction between our little arrangement and her choice in feminist theorists.  She replied that I'd probably would have demanded it from her anyway.  I pointed out that our oral-sex-for-Ecstasy deal had been her idea, that she'd pretty much pleaded for it (to the point of doing a partial striptease for me, to the song 'Airhead' by Thomas Dolby) .... And me getting my dick sucked didn't pay the rent.  She made some impotent (see what I did there?) angry noises and vowed to never darken my doorway again.... Until the next weekend, when she wanted to score.  She had no cash, so she got no MDMA.  No more deals.
The funny thing was, she was the only girl I did that with, and it confirmed my suspicions that such arrangements are a bad, bad idea......
.... And yeah, she swallowed.)

   ..... Who would wrap up an animal rights march by going to Burger King for lunch.
So coming across Paul and Anise was a dream come true for them.  They knew which social and political buttons to push, they knew that Paul and Anise were not businesspeople and could be stolen from at their leisure, and that for whatever reason --- I'm still trying to suss that one out --- Paul and Anise would give them free rein, as a gesture of "trust."

What it amounted to was two idealistic, somewhat naive would-be entrepreneurs getting saddled with a crew who did not return the trust with any respect, or even decent work.  Almost none of them had any food experience beyond pouring a bowl of Fruity Pebbles.  Neither Anise or Paul knew how to train, so newer hires picked up their "skills" from the four or five staffers who had something resembling a clue.  The destruction of the vans was not open hostility towards Anise and Paul, it was more like little kids destroying their toys.... And when you ask them why, you just get that stupefied blank look and the words, "I dunno," which justifies corporal punishment.  ("Boy, this is gonna hurt me than it hurts you.... Eventually.  I'm probably gonna end up spraining my wrist beatin' on your ass.")

I think that was what was pissing me off the most.  The Dog-Fucker Contingent would fuck up, and would only receive a pat on the head, be told to not do that again, and sent back to work.  I've never had a job where, if I pulled the shit they did, I'd not be greeted the next morning with a final check and a copy of a restraining order (500 yard minimum distance) from the local constabulary.  Paul and Anise got played for suckers and saps by the Dog-Fuckers, which bothered me in several directions....
.... First off was the possibility, and a strong one, that they really were saps.  They were both active Green Party members, which I considered a warning sign at the time.  Second was that they weren't exactly showing signs of learning from how they'd been fucked, taking notes, and moving on: hence my bad reaction to hearing the "so much trust" line too many times.  And lastly, they were nice people, and despite their naivete, I did kinda like them and didn't want to see their dream get washed down the sewer.  They just didn't deserve it.
Which is why I had spent the last week trying to get them to stop fucking around with their own business.  I had no excuse whatsoever: I wasn't an employee, or a contractor.  I was just some aging thug who showed up every day and helped solve problems as they came up.  Their food was fantastic, they had that going for them.... But why was I the one who suggested contacting culinary schools for staff?  Okay, The Roadie was a bit of a gift, you can go your whole life and never meet a man like him.... But they didn't have any contingency for vehicle maintenance and repair, even if the vans had been treated right?  Seth and Reba kept the Dog-Fuckers from getting inside the kitchen and wrecking the place (albeit in a lame, limp-wristed manner).  Okay, I can see Anise and Paul not knowing anyone who can throw a punch, but they could round up a half-dozen friends, a card table, and some ugly facial expressions: line the little assholes up and hand them their checks, one by one.  Uh huh, fuck you too, move 'cos your holding up the line.  The friends would keep the line in order.  With their brand of social activism, they'd just need some people who'd done escort work at women's health clinics.  (You have to resist the urge to punch the noisy Bible-waving jackoffs on general principle, but if any of them puts a hand on you or the woman you're escorting.... Well, shucks, I dunno, the dude must've tripped and fallen, eight or nine times, without putting his hands out to block the fall.  Happens in jail all the time.)

Gathering my thoughts was like using a push-broom to sweep marbles into a pile, on a linoleum floor.  What was I doing here?  They needed a van driver, and I could do that.  It was marginally more complicated than driving a cab.  So why am I walking in circles in their parking lot five hours before their first engagement?

I was waiting for something, and I didn't know what.  It was a feeling of being needed, in some way, and soon.... But for what reason I had no clue.

Then the clue showed up.  It was blue and it wobbled.

I stepped in the door of the kitchen and said, "Trouble coming."  Roadie immediately grasped what I meant and grabbed his duffel full of tools.  He pulled out a spanner the size of a baseball bat and said, "This?"
"I gut-shot, something lighter," I told him.  He handed me a 3/8" socket drive handle, which went in my back pocket.  Roadie kept the spanner for himself.  Then he turned to Paul and said, "You?"
Paul looked distressingly confused.  Whaa...?"
I rolled my eyes and said, "Your old friends are back, and I doubt they're here to apologize so grab something heavy to swing and get outside!"
"Wait," said Roadie.  "It just occurred to me that they don't know me.  Keep the door propped open and let me handle this."
"You sure?" I asked.
"Not really, that's why I want the door open."  He tucked the spanner in the back of his belt and walked outside.  The Taurus was just sitting there, and no one had gotten out: there was possibly a loss of nerves among the occupants.  Roadie made as if he were headed to the broken vans, then changed direction and walked up to the Taurus.
"Help you?" he asked.
"Who are you?" came a voice from the back seat.
"I'm a mechanic.  I'm here to repair some vans that got trashed by some assholes that used to work here."
"That so?" somebody smirked.
"Yep," Roadie smirked badk.  "In fact, if I ever met the people responsible, I'd probably end up killin' 'em.  Just use something nice and heavy, like this--- " he pulled out the spanner  " ---and  beat them to death."
Smiling, Roadie explained himself.  "Some would be lucky: I'd cave their heads in.  Yeah, a half-dozen shots to the skull with this and a person would still be alive, but would have lost control of their bodily functions and muscle control.  It's actually kind of funny to watch, someone shitting all over themselves while they convulse on the ground like a epileptic break dancer.  And they don't scream, they jabber.  They're beyond hope at that point, medically speaking, so it's kinder to crush their skulls completely.  Did you know brains look like cake batter?
"'Course, the mean way to do it is shots to the neck and throat.  Crush the occipital bulge at the back of the neck, and they lose control of half their body.  Man, nothin' funnier than watching somebody trying to crawl for safety only using their left arm and left leg; the other half just get dragged along, scraping on the asphalt.  They can't feel anything on that side so they don't realize they're scraping chunks of their own flesh off, leaving a streak of blood and skin behind them.
"To finally kill them, it's best to put a foot on their chest and crush their adam's apple.  After four shots, blood starts to spurt out of their mouths, and by seven, you've got quite a little geyser going with every swing...."
One of the guys in the back seat suddenly bolted out and dove for the hedge along the road, where he began hurling his guts out.  The driver, rather green himself, said, "Uh, we gotta go...."
"Wait."  The roadie held the spanner against the driver's throat and smiled.  "You never said why you came here."
"Oh, uh, we were looking for a friend, but I don't see his car, so we'll catch up with him later."
"I know they fired a bunch of people a few days ago, so he may never be back.  You probably shouldn't try to find him here.  Ever."  Roadie moved the spanner away.  "He must be at home, don't you think?"
The driver, greener than ever, agreed that yes, their friend would probably be at home and they'd check there right away.  The puker staggered back to the car and got in, rasping, "Guys, I can't.  No way...."  The Taurus moved to the driveway and then into traffic.
We had heard none of this.  When asked, Roadie simply explained that he had told them upsetting things.
"Like what?" asked Paul.
"Sir," said Roadie, "you really don't want to know."


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