Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Failing To The Top (Part 5)

"Lennerestra!" cried Mimi, doing a forward flip and landing in my arms.
"Mimi, darling!  It's been ages!  Why, we haven't seen each other since.... Well, breakfast, forty-five minutes ago." I responded.
"The years, they do fly by," sighed Mimi.
We walked over to a van which seemed to have puked random parts in every direction.  "Roadie!" I called.  "Our favorite sex dwarf is here!"
"Please, Lenny.  I prefer the term 'erotic munchkin.'"

The Roadie zipped out from underneath the van on his wheeled board and flashed a big smile at Mimi.  "I'd give you a hug and kiss, but, well...."  He held up his grease-soaked hands.
"Perhaps later, after you've soaked your hands in gasoline for several hours.  Anyway, I should probably go in and meet my prospective new bosses."
"A good idea, although you might scare them.  While their new crew is prompt, they still haven't adjusted to the idea of employees being on time, much less fifteen minutes early.  And I see you'll only terrify them with your hair, and not your clothing."  She was wearing jeans and a rather tight Winnie the Pooh t-shirt, and possibly the tiniest pair of Doc Martens made.  She also had a tri-hawk, with each stripe a different color: pink, red, and blue.  The important part, I suppose, was that she didn't look threatening, and didn't look like a hippie: I'd overheard a bit of conversation between Paul and Anise earlier, which included things like "white idiots with dreadlocks,"  "rigorous interviewing,"  and "not letting emotion get in the way."  Music to my ears.  Now it was time to convince them that Mimi was truly the right person for the job.

And Mimi had come prepared to do some convincing.  She had a folder with her containing an overall resumé, a longish list entitled "Successes," and a single sheet with the heading of "Failures."  Since everyone loves a train wreck, Paul and Anise went over her resumé briefly, asking a few questions, then picked up the sheet labeled "Failures."  It took guts to include that list, but it also made sense: since Mimi's specialty was turning around failing coffee houses and bakeries, usually in the space of three to six months, not every business could be saved.  Most were rather situational, such as those who tried to open upscale cafés in locations like East Oakland and Richmond; the entrepreneurs responsible for those were trying to start with a skin-tight budget and simply sought out locations with dirt-cheap rents.  A few others fought any changes Mimi tried to implement tooth and nail, despite that contradicting the very reason she'd been hired.  And a couple were almost actively being sabotaged by the owners: rich idiots who opened coffee shops as a hobby, and viewed all incoming cash as an ever-replenishing piggy bank, and screw the bills.  (These last Mimi had simply walked away from, advising them to take some basic business courses before trying again and also to go fuck a brick.... And it said so in the description, "Advised owner to go fuck a brick; left moments later.  Shop closed in two months.  Brick remained un-fucked.")
Her successes came from owners who watched, learned, and followed advice: sack incompetent managers, re-train employees (with a machete in one hand, if necessary), improve ambiance of the dining area, improve the products, and replace the sacked managers with innovative, experienced bakers and baristas who would keep the customers interested and coming back for more.  With baking as a specialty during her time at the Culinary Institute, she was able to get both head bakers and grunts looking forward: steady execution, yes, but also a willingness to experiment after the day's rounds were done; she would teach shortcuts that would allow baking staff to finish early, meaning they had spare time to spend in the kitchen playing.  The most dough-whompin' grunt was encouraged to take an hour or so at the end of the day and just.... Play.  Any ideas that had come into their minds were encouraged to be tried.  Some were genius, some stunk, and there was no telling who would create what.  Ideas would come to fruition and passed around for sampling.  (On her first day at a job, she recommended the staff buy running shoes, because if she wasn't getting the staff fat, she wasn't doing her job.)  When all was said and done, she took a lot of businesses out of the doldrums (or out of a deep pit) and turn them into successful ventures with lines out the door.   She would sometimes receive $500 bonuses from shops who'd done a near-180 within months of her moving on.
A couple occasions she flatly insisted the owner/managers fire themselves: they were the root of the problem, and there was no working around it.  In her summaries, she would describe the scenario as "Base staff performing well.  Managers/owners handling job with the grace and common sense of a hamster trying to fuck a football helmet.  With much-warranted trepidation, attempts will be made to either re-train or fire owners.  If I find myself at Big 5 buying helmets, then at the porn shop purchasing Astro-Glide, my decision has been made."

Another sign of both her confidence and her nothing-to-lose attitude was that she provided contact information (as best she could) for both the "Successes" and "Failures."  She felt that a potential client, after reading her summary and then speaking to the owner of a "Failure" would have a better grasp as to why the business went belly-up....  Usually due to the recalcitrance of the owner.  One young gentleman, having been gifted his bakery/coffee shop by his uber-rich parents, preferred keeping his face on a bong to working.  Since everyone --- from grunts to owners --- were expected by Mimi to take part in the restructuring (and this was laid out beforehand), the 28 year old "owner" was an obstacle to improving the place.
Mimi finally solved the problem at the root, at  least temporarily.  She walked into the owner's office one morning, which already smelled like a Massive Attack concert, picked up his bong, and said, "Oh wow, nice Graffix!  Can I see it for a moment?"  The owner said, "Yeah, $200 for that beauty!  Go ahead!"  Mimi picked it up, walked outside, and shattered it against the curb.  She went back in (holding the stem and the bit that hadn't shattered near the top), set them down on the desk, and said, "There.  Now that I'll be able to hold your attention, we can discuss the problem with over-baking.  Too much loss because of too much product being made; the 'Day Old' basket should never be more than half-full.  What you need to do is monitor what's moving, in what amounts, day by day, and set your bake schedule accordingly...."
This place showed up on both the "Successes" and "Failures" pages.  Richie Rich freaked out over the destruction of his bong and fired Mimi on the spot, swearing she'd never get a fucking dime in pay from  him.  What Richie was forgetting was two things: his parents had hired Mimi and already paid her fee, and he didn't legally own the place to begin with: his parents did.  Mimi called Richie Rich's parents to let them know she'd been fired --- and why --- and that while she found them to be charming and erudite people, their son was as flaky as a twelve-pound croissant and she would not work with him under any circumstances.
Four months later she was back, working with a new manager-"owner," in fact, one of the line bakers who Mimi had commented in the past on having shown great intelligence and initiative.  For Mimi, it was as much of a business course as anything else: she'd already covered production, control, and creativity in product.  Piece of cake.  (Richie Rich was finally given the boot from his parents' house, basically being told it was time to paddle or die.  Rumor had it he ended up working at a used tire place in East Oakland and renting a room from friends.  He had shelter, he had income, he had food.... Welcome to the world, bucko.)

A couple entries in the Successes section confused Paul and Anise (and me too): The name, address, contact information.... And the only notes were two words: "Pointless Endeavor."  When asked, Mimi simply explained, "There was no real point in me being there, they were doing fine.  They had a skilled happy crew and the business end was tight.  They were newer places, and the owners expected business to take off much quicker than any sane person would expect, like lines out the door every day, from day one.  I simply had nothing to do, beyond help brainstorm promo ideas.  My ideas involved nudity and gunfire, and were rejected for the most part...."
"For the most part?" I asked.
"They desperately wanted to work my idea comparing a good latte to orgasm into something printable.  They may still be at it.  'Did You Just Come, Or Eat A [So-And-So]'s Croissant?' would be attention-grabbing, but since they were doing a lot of door-to-door flyering, a bit risky.  I'll never understand why orgasm is considered a touchy conversational subject.  It's a common experience among adult humans, it's a beautiful experience, and really, wouldn't you be intrigued by food that says it's comparable to coming?  You'll try it at least once."
I said, "Yeah, you could hand out little flyers to go along with the food, explaining it's best to eat the croissant slowly at first, then speed up near the end, if eating one with a friend it's really awesome if you both finish at the same time, how cream or fruit-filled pastries can get your face sticky but that's okay, just revel in the moment...."
"Alright, alright...." said Paul.
Anise said to Mimi, "I've noticed that sex eventually gets worked into every conversation you have.  I s this by design, or just coincidence?"
Mimi pondered briefly, then smiled and said, "Yes!"
"Please explain," said Anise, looking nonplussed..
"I cannot lie: sexual activity, in all its myriad wonderful forms, is always lurking around in my head.  I would refer to it as nymphomania, but that implies a lack of control, a lack of discretion.  I'm just, well, turned on all the time, to one degree or another.
"I also hold the view that sexual activity should be a normal topic of conversation, not something to be danced around or avoided or played coy with.  It is too large a part of the human condition for it to be such a touchy subject.  I honestly believe that it should be natural for me to say, 'So, how was your's and Paul's evening last night?' and for you to smile and give me a fairly objective response.  Maybe you two had a great time: then I'd want advice.  Maybe things didn't go so well, and so I'd offer you advice.  But it's not a subject that that should be forced into a small cubbyhole, where it gets covered with cobwebs and no one wants to touch it.  People who are afraid of sexual expression don't make me angry, they make me sad.  They're missing out on one of God's greatest gifts.... Usually because they think God doesn't want us to use it, for some reason."
Anise raised her eyebrows and asked, "Do you believe in God?"
"I don't know," Mimi replied.  "It changes.  Sometimes an omniscient being makes complete sense to me, other times I rate God right up alongside the Easter Bunny.  So I have no idea if I believe in God or not.
"But enough about God and fucking and the Easter Bunny, please, show me around your facility.  There's the tiniest chance that, through no fault of your own, you're doing everything completely wrong.  Nothing to be ashamed of, even God got things completely wrong.  Why else would we have stinging jellyfish, women with inverted nipples, and Texans?"

Twenty minutes later we were back at the counter.  Mimi had spend much of the time muttering to herself like a street looney and drawing what seemed to be random lines on a piece of paper.  I figured out the lines on my own: they were paths of egress between cooking areas, work stations, fryers, etc., and how well one could get from one place to another.
Even I knew the ergonomics of the place sucked: I'd seen too many near-collisions in pathways between work areas.  The clash of racks was a constant.  Mimi was going to fix all that, like, right now.
"But our crew starts arriving in ninety minutes, and we have four events tonight," said Paul.
"Well!  We'll have to work quickly then!" replied Mimi.
So, we began playing a Chinese block puzzle game with salad stations, salamanders, bread prep tables, chopping blocks, utensil racks, and various other pieces of equipment.  Some things could not be moved, like the flat tops, the grill, and the deep fryers.  They were all against the back wall anyway, so they'd have to go hang.
"This way, you can move the racks in a straight line --- mostly --- and have them ready to go, organized by each event that night.  Racks that need to hit the walk-in just get rolled along the south wall where they aren't in anyone's way.  Also, there's more room to move for the preppers; they can keep a rack next to them and load it where it stands, then move it to whoever actually needs it.  What we need are some smallish white boards to hang above the different corrals of racks, just write the event name on 'em and there's no confusion.  Higher speed for getting set trays onto the correct racks, and if someone says, 'Oh shit, we forgot such-and-such for the Kowalski wedding,' you already know where the wedding racks are.  By my clock, I'll be explaining the set-up again in about fifteen minutes, so if you missed something..... Ask me now, because all the chefs-in-training will be arriving shortly and they'll be curious about the tiny object that's suddenly telling them what to do and how to do it.  They've been learning how to do various jobs correctly, and I'm gonna teach them how to do it right.  Paul, Anise, remember that while I did attend the rather pricey school, I focused on baking and pastry.  You two will need to cover my ass with the sauciers, savories, veg, and the like, while I'm probably gonna stick with breads and desserts tonight and tomorrow.  If I'm over your shoulder, it's not me being nosy, it's me mentally refreshing my skills at stuff I've been trained in but haven't touched in several years.  Jesus, I haven't even looked at the menus for tonight, I have no clue what we're pushing out of here, sorry, major error on my part...."
Anise put her hand on Mimi's shoulder and said, "You've been busy with other things, dear, you can't cover everything."
Mimi replied, "But if I G.M. this place, everyone will expect me to.  You've never had a G.M. in the past?"
Paul said, "We never thought we'd need one."
Mimi picked up the menus and instructions for all four events and read them over.  "Yikes and a half, cuties!  You were just floating events like this, just hoping everything got where it needed to go, at the right time?  Um, cuties?  God takes care of fools and little children, and you aren't kids any more.  So is this a busy night, slow, average, what?"
Anise replied, "Busy, just because of the volume at each event.  I'd go so far as to say I don't think we've ever had a night with four hundred-plus seats.  So four events in a night is standard, but usually we're covering,say, a thirty, a forty, a seventy, and a single hundred-plus.  We advertise a one-forty maximum, and we've never done an event that size."
Mimi nodded and said, "From what I've heard about your former crew, just as well.  They needed flogging."
Anise found a spot on the wall to focus on and spoke the truth.  "We were.... Naive.... When it came to hiring.  It ended up costing us a lot, in a lot of ways.  We honestly thought that hiring people whose political and social views aligned with ours would mean we would have a lot of mutual respect.  Instead, we ended up with a crew who would rather get stoned than work, and what work they did accomplish was shoddy.  I'm assuming you've heard about the vans."
"Oh yes.  Being throttled by their own dreadlocks would be an appropriate reaction to how you were treated.
"And if you'll allow me to indulge my own ego.... I'm here now.  A catering service is new to me, but I've spent several years now pulling bakeries and coffee shops out of deep holes and making them profitable, turning them into spots where people want to be, not just a place to grab a muffin and a cuppa.."  Mimi smiled.  "I think I can have a lot of fun here.  I won't get bored, not for a while."
"Aw, phooey," I threw in. "Does this mean no more 'Clothing Optional' days?"
Paul's face simply said, Lord deliver me.  "Shall I bother to ask?"
"It was quite simple," said Mimi.  "Anyone ordering coffee to go got a 50% discount if they were naked.  To encourage the right mood, I was wearing my whites top and nothing else... Well, shoes, and that's it.  It worked so well that a couple days later we did the same thing, with a twist: if you were both naked and shaved you got a 70% discount.  That one was a mistake: I should have been paying more attention before, 'cos too many damn people in Berkeley wax or shave.  Still, it was fun, and our street cred shot through the ceiling.  Even one of our local shopping cart looneys made some good money out of the deal."
"And.... How so?" asked Anise, in a worried tone.
Mimi picked up on the tone and assured her, "Nothing distasteful.  People were leaving their clothes --- and their keys, and cell phones, and other possessions --- in small piles along the edge of the building.  Jiving Jim, as he's called, promised to keep an eye on their stuff for a dollar, and I don't think anyone turned him down.  Jiving Jim isn't a drunk, he's just crazy, so anyone trying to steal someone's stuff would be confronted by a crazy dude and his pit bull.  He probably made $150 over those two days, which beats panhandling by a long shot.  Jim could put a face to a pile of clothes, and would help people locate their stuff: 'Let's see, you had a green shirt, chinos, and expensive Nikes, plus your keys and a Walkman.... Right here, sir.'  People were tipping him for his good service!"
"Sounds like this Jim person was making better money than you, especially on the second day."
"Oh, almost certainly," Mimi beamed.  "But us making money wasn't the idea.  It was strictly promotional.  That night people tell their friends about the wild shit that was going on at Java Monster, and more people start hanging out more often, and for longer, in case more shenanigans happen to break out.
"We also had three girls from Oakland Tech singing old R&B tunes in tight harmony at one of the tables.  I told them, 'Keep singing and I'll give you twenty bucks each and all you can eat and drink.'  They hung around for a couple hours, belting out Marvin Gaye and Al Green, eating scones, and drinking our house coffee.... And by the end of the first hour we were packed in.  People who were already there didn't leave, just kept ordering drinks and food.  Other people walking by heard the music and stepped inside, then ordered their own drinks and food.  I set it up so these three girls --- who were just having fun --- would show up Monday and Thursday afternoons, they'd get a little cash and some snacks, and most importantly an audience.  What little they cost us in cash, coffee, and scones we made up for at least fifteen-fold by everyone who wanted to hear them: they really did have beautiful voices, and they chose songs which would be a bit familiar to their white-bread audience.
"All good things must come to an end.  In their case, they graduated high school and had to find real jobs, to help with the family budget.  I hope they still sing, even if it's just in a church choir."

"In your guys' case, though, don't worry about entertainment or silliness.  Your concern is damage control."
Anise said, "Damage control? What--- oh.  Oh yeah."
"And that's what has me puzzled," said Mimi.  "Nobody you worked with from other catering services tipped you off that, hey, your employees are a herd of drunken wildebeest?  Nobody asked why you kept that gaggle of fools and dingbats around when it was obvious they were creating bad feeling among both attendees and the other caterers?"
Paul looked genuinely confused.  'Why would we be socializing with our competition?  What good could come of that?"
Mimi stood up so quick it knocked her chair over.  It's hard to imagine something as cute and sweet as Mimi looking enraged, but she pulled it off.  "Because, you---- "  She stopped mid-yell, and in a calm voice asked me, "Lenny, cutie, would you possibly spare a cigarette?"
"Driver's door, map pocket, unopened pack of Marlboros.  Bring 'em in when you're done."
"Thank you."  She stomped out towards the Honda.
"Why on earth is she so upset?" asked Anise.  "I do not want to hire a prima donna, to be frank."
I chuckled and told Anise, "And you won't get one.  Whatever is upsetting her, she is serious about it, it will directly involve the operation of your business, and she will explain what's on her mind when her head's in the right place again.  I have my own guesses, but guesses are all they are, so I'm keepin' my mouth shut, ya know?"
"Lenny, please!" protested Paul.
"Okay.... And remember, this is strictly a guess.  I think she's bugged by your attitude towards what you consider competition.  Yeah, the other caterers may get gigs you may not have, but at the same time, you're all in the same racket.  There shouldn't be any actual hostility between catering services; if anything, y'all should be getting together for drinks after events.  The competition between caterers is on the surface only.  Deeper down, you all have the same job, and can share the collected knowledge you have.  Your old crew wasn't doing that, which was bad enough, but if other catering services were picking up the same hostility from you and Anise?  Shit, no wonder all the other companies think you suck: you've been acting like you're hot shit, too good for everyone else, and what they witnessed showed you weren't, because of how your crew behaved.  That's my guess.
"You're used to chucking the responsibility for an event at a senior crew member.  Guess what, you are that senior crew member now.  You need to actually work the events, at least for a while.  Between you, Anise, and Mimi, you've nearly got tonight filled.  So you draw straws as to who hops between events.  And for chrissake, you've gotta shake some hands and kiss some ass with the crew leaders from the other companies.  Let 'em know the scumbags are gone for good, that you apologize for any inconveniences in the past--- "
" --- And it won't happen again.  God dammit Lenny, I had a whole 120 decibel rant set to go, and you call out the problem while I'm still stomping around the parking lot.  I'm using four bottles of Astro-Glide in your bed this time," said Mimi, who'd been standing behind us for a while.
"Been back there long?" I asked.
"I got out to your car and remembered I don't smoke.  I just felt silly standing there with an unlit cigarette in my mouth, so I came back inside."
"You only should feel silly if you have the wrong end in your mouth."
"Does the brown end face outwards?"
"Then I shall feel retroactively feel silly.  Look, Lenny kinda nailed it.  Bad enough having a crew that alienates the other services, but if you're doing it too, well.... If you run into trouble at an event, and all the other caterers regard you as ambulatory donkey snot, you're screwed in an unhappy way.  Like a 'I just remembered she has the nickname 'Clap Queen' sorta way.  Yes, everybody's in competition, but they're all in the same trade, so there's a lot of mutual respect involved.  The competition landing gigs is one thing.  But there is no competition once you're all on the floor and in the prep area, you're all pretty much one big team.
"That's why Stone Soup is so loathed.  Your old crew had a hostile attitude towards everyone else, which is completely unprofessional.  Nobody from the other companies were getting stoned in the parking lot, and understandably frowned on those hippies at Stone Soup who insisted upon it.
"And the worst thing?  The real turd in the punch bowl?  Your old crew were openly contemptuous of the other crews for taking their work seriously.  Honestly, they thought all the foodies were suckers for doing their jobs and working hard.  McDonald's workers put more passion into their jobs."  She gestured at Anise and Paul.  "Since you two were never around, they acted any way they felt like, damaging the reputation among both the customers and the other caterers.  Those hippie pieces of shit put out their own tip jar.  That's like showing up to a funeral with a bunch of shiny red helium balloons: it's a sign of utter disrespect and contempt.  The guest of honor may not know the difference, but the people around you sure do, so don't be surprised when you get treated like you're wearing a swastika armband."
Anise frowned.  "How do you know all this?  You've been working in bakeries and coffee shops for, what, five years?"
"Six," corrected Mimi, "and two ways.  First, I have more than a few shifts under my tiny little belt working for a friend's catering service.  That was helping out a pal I knew from the C.I.A.  Also, two other friends from C.I.A. have gone on to consider catering their full career, at least for now.  They're in busy kitchens and working ten to sixteen events daily.... And they're having a blast, and making bank.  Heh, maybe at  some point they'll get a chance to enjoy some of their money, when they're not working ninety hour weeks."
"Good lord!  Why do they work so many hours?"
"They started their own businesses.  Just like you.  They work those hours for the same reason a lot of self-made entrepreneurs push themselves like that: they just can't imagine the business surviving without them.  They'll train people to do their jobs with the announced intention of taking a vacation.... And it never happens.  Or if it does, it's in the form of a week-long stay in an ICU, following their first cardiac event.  They usually figure it out at that point and spend some time someplace very quiet, like the southern Oregon coast, where your hardest decision each day is what manner of clams you'll have for dinner that night."
"If you don't mind me asking, what's the name of the companies?"
"One is Gables Catering, here in the City.  They have two kitchens, are looking at opening a third so they don't have to turn down as many events, and began offering health insurance to their employees last year.  Cory's a good guy.  He already had a professional and loyal staff, and figured offering insurance would be a good incentive both in hiring and retention, so now anyone who wants it can get on Kaiser's HMO plan.  Not bad for a guy who's not yet thirty."
"Wait.... You know the guy who owns Gables!?" squawked Paul.  There was a hint of panic in his voice.
"Yeah, we went to school together, and were pretty good friends.  He'd bring me on as staff when my coffee shop resuscitation service is slow.  He was the first guy I called when I was trying to figure you guys out."  Mimi paused briefly.  Umm.... He does not hold a high opinion of Stone Soup, Incorporated."
Mimi cleared her throat.  "Anyway, the second is a smaller one, an Asian-fusion place in Portland.  Talk about a hiring nightmare; trying to find four sushi chefs who were unemployed, capable, and blazing fast.... And could work other areas of a kitchen, and were willing to.  I know she did some headhunting to fill out her staff, offering pretty hefty cash bonuses to chefs just to sign on to a ninety-day contract.  But she pulled it off: over three years in now, a four month booking advance, constant praises and awards from the local press for her food --- she has people begging her to open a regular restaurant --- and her high-end staff are still with her.
"I went up for a few weeks, part vacation.... Hah! .... Partially an excuse to catch up with an old friend and lover, and partially to learn the basics of a trade I'd never known.  I picked up more knife skills in those three weeks than I did in two years at the Culinary Institute of America.  It was a good thing it was kind of their slow season then.  We were both between boyfriends and girlfriends right then, and we, uh, missed each other more than we thought.  She met me at the airport, we took a cab back to her place, and the cab driver kept yelling at us to stop that.  She's always been a bit disappointed that I like boys as well as girls, but she accepts it, and likes my boyfriend Steve.  Don't you hate that, the uncomfortable feeling of introducing a former lover to a current one?  Like, Mia had been with boys in the past, would she want to go three ways with me and Steve?  Would it be awkward to bring up the subject?"
Paul and Anise muttered in sync, "I wouldn't know."
Anise asked, "How old are you, anyway?"
"In human years?" responded Mimi.
"Um... Yes."
"I'm twenty-seven.  No, I haven't outgrown the urge to have a tri-hawk.  Yes, I still go to punk rock shows.  No, there's nothing I'd rather be doing than restaurant work, in one form or another.  And yes, I consider myself to be extremely professional at what I do.  I've worked twenty hour days at some places: I made myself a bed out of bagged coffee beans, the big sacks, so that I could catch a few 'Z's, plus a few other letters, before starting back in.  The owner and I were up very late going over invoices trying to figure out where we were leaking money.  One of his two managers was duplicating checks on orders from suppliers: he'd wipe the second check and put it in his own account, then just watch for it to come back in the monthly statement and destroy it.  A clever ruse, which the thieving hobgoblin pulled off for about six months.  Still --- and this is just a personal opinion --- the nine grand he came out ahead wasn't worth the four years in Susanville he got when we caught him out.  Risk prison time?  The whole building should be missing."
"You.... Sent him to prison!?" gasped Anise.
"After two nights of sleeping on coffee beans?  Damn right!" exclaimed Mimi.  "I actually offered that as a plea deal: he wouldn't have to go to prison, so long as he had to spend the next five years sleeping on bags of coffee beans, no pillow, no sheets, and his jacket at a blanket.  The judge and district attorney didn't go for it.  By the way, you sound surprised he went to prison."
"It just seems.... A little severe."
"No, lopping off a hand is severe.  Hanging is severe.  Some prison time in the Sierras for someone who was stealing from an already-struggling shop, a sole proprietorship, that ain't severe.  The little asshole knew how badly the owner was struggling, and stole from him anyway.  To hell with him; I hope he makes somebody a nice girlfriend.  Besides, for a non-violent offense and with good behavior, he's looking at maybe eighteen months.  I just hope his boyfriend gives him a good name, like 'Boopsie' or 'Hoover.'"
"Why 'Hoover'---  Ooohh."
"Hup hup!" cried Mimi, looking at her watch.  "The rabble shall arrive any minute now.  Shall I open with my best dominatrix routine, or the joke about the biker chick whose thighs are turning green?"
"Why not just.... Introduce yourself?" said Paul, rubbing his temples.
"Exactly.  Oh, I know, the joke about the three lesbians and the magic frog!"
"All right.  I can't remember the punchline to that one anyway."  She looked out the window.  "And here they come.  Take your places and place your bets."


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