Two days later, the final van was repaired, the two other lifts had been installed, and a terrible human being was no longer in our employ. It would have taken less time, but the Big O Tire place in Serramonte was running behind by hours, and there was no way to put the last van on the road without fresh rubber at all four corners. Roadie was sidelined, but was prepared: he had a greasy Terry Pratchett novel in his jacket to kill time ("I've had this same 'hurry up and wait foolishness at the Arizona border, while they check for illegal fruit").
I was concerned about how much sleep he was getting. He'd insist he needed to take care of "a few things" at the warehouse after we got into Oakland, and insist upon being dropped off with a bottle of Mountain Dew (which we both shared a passion for). When I got up in the morning, he would already be gone, off to the warehouse again to continue fabrication --- because welders are sooo safe to operate when you're underslept --- and to go over his specs yet again with Rice, quintuple-checking that everything looked right. Rice finally told him, "You already built one, right? Just do the same damn thing two more times! It's fine!"
The real fun was when Marissa got fired. By Mimi. With the assistance of Reba.
We were hanging around in the "office," a space they'd managed to wedge a desk and a file cabinet into. Overall, it was about the size of a two-holer San-O-Let, give or take a few square feet. Anise wasn't there yet, and Paul had agreed to do his paper-shuffling at the counter. There was a note on Marissa's work station instructing her to go into the office immediately.
When the chefs-in-training arrived in their usual herd, Marissa read the note and headed straight in: she was enough of an egotist she probably though she was being promoted. Her face fell when she saw me, Mimi, and Reba.... Who wasn't dressed for work, but in a red leather mini, fishnets, blue Docs, a 'Teengenerate' t-shirt, a spiked leather belt hanging around her hips (this was before you could buy them at K-Mart) and her leather. Missing were any dangly earrings or high heels; these were in her duffel bag with her work clothes.
The three of us were amusing ourselves by making up excuses for East Bay Rats bike failures: "My #2 cylinder is off by .0037 micrometers!" "The wind was against me!" "I was running on 87 octane [regular] gas!" "My tread is misaligned!" .... and on and on.
Marissa flounced in, ready for the good news.... And froze up when she saw three East Bay punks in the room.
"Please cutie, close the door, but don't sit down. No sense in wasting the time in having you sit down when me saying the words 'you're fired' take but a second or two. Marissa, Marissa, Marissa, Marissa, Marissa.... You're fired. There, that was easy! Here's your final check and letter of severance. I'm not much into hate-fucks, but I swear I came twice writing it."
"Hate fucks have their uses," said Reba, giving a predatory grin to Marissa.
"The letter explains that while California labor law says we can sack you just 'cos we feel like it, you were a special case: you repeatedly referred to a contractor as a 'nigger'--- "
"And I hope you do so again, in my presence. Nothing would make me happier," Reba stated.
" ---you are routinely antagonistic with other employees, your use as an employee is negligible, and if you're not off the property within three minutes of having received your check, you will be considered to be trespassing and escorted off the property."
"That's where I come in," said Reba with a psychotic giggle.
"Any questions? I haven't started the timer yet."
"Yeah, fuck you weirdo cunts from East Bay!!" Marissa shouted
"That's not a question. I suppose I'd better start the timer. We wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors, blah blah blah, boilerplate boilerplate, leave the building or we either have the police or Reba take care of you. The police will take much more time, but will be more pleasant."
"FUCK YOU!!" she screamed.
"Not on a bet. I'm afraid being a racist slime might be passed on in a venereal manner. Not even a hand job, dearie," I said.
"I'm one of your best employees! I'm always on time, and I work hard!" she protested.
Mimi said, "Both of which place you in the status quo, not exemplary, status. You all arrive to work on the same bus, so if you wanted to impress me, somehow arrive earlier than the rest of the crew. The ability to warp space and time is usually considered a positive trait in any job, particularly pizza delivery. And you do your job, no less, no more. You've displayed no initiative beyond your own tasks. This store just got rid of a herd of crumbs who were champions at occupying space. They're trying a different tack, by having employees who look for things to do when they're idle, helping out other workers.
"But all this is just the glaze. The meat of the problem is your insistence on using racial slurs to describe a particular contractor, one who has rescued the vehicle fleet here, and also took the initiative to design and build devices which will save the company countless hours every month in labor. The lifts. I wish he was in food service, I'd hire him in a second. Roadie is the epitome of a positive work ethic. And you insult him in front of other employees. That's a big fat squealing no-no, do you follow me?"
"So what, are you all getting fucked by that nigger? Why do you give a shit about him?"
"I'd say the three minutes are up," I chimed in.
"In-deedly-do, yes they are. Please take your check and leave the building," said Mimi
"You know the way out, right?" asked Reba.
Marissa stared at Reba while snatching up her check and letter. "I don't take shit from East Bay whores," she muttered. Reba just snickered. "I don't take shit from any of you; you're gonna pay, but bad." She went out the door.
Something about her tone and the look in her eyes had my hackles raised. I said, "Reba, maybe trouble, follow me," I followed Marissa out the door, and guessed right. She had gone to Matt's meat-cutting station, where he was merrily removing fat and gristle from chicken breasts (they'd already been boned) and snatched up a fillet knife.
"Watch it," I called to Reba, "blade on her right." Matt had figured out what was going on and had jumped up on his prep table.
"I can fade that," said Reba, removing her belt. I in turn had taken off my denim jacket and wrapped it snugly around my left arm, allowing me to block with one arm and swing with the other.
For those of you unfamiliar with fillet knives, they are long, light, flexible, and razor sharp. Skilled meat cutters like Matt used the flexibility to route the blade around bone or gristle while still keeping a smooth cut: you didn't have to saw at a cut of meat to achieve the shaping you wanted --- it's aesthetics, but that's a biggie in catering --- hence its sharpness. There was always the chance that Marissa didn't know this and would try to stab Reba or me, which would have little effect. A slashing motion could reach down to bone, if she knew what she was doing.
She knew. She sliced at Reba at the same time Reba swung for her wrist, both actions negating each other. She came after me next, aiming a downward stroke at my neck. I blocked with my jacket-wrapped arm, grabbed her arm below the elbow, and shot my boot into her shin.
I thought it was over. No such luck: she had too much rage and adrenaline pumping through her to let a swollen, bleeding shin slow her down. She was barely coherent in her hollering, the phrase "Kill you, cunt" being the most legible fragment. For whatever reason, she focused on Reba as her primary target, slashing away with the blade. Reba kept swinging with her belt, making contact most of the time and putting small gouges in Marissa's face. Like her shin, Marissa didn't seem to notice, even with blood dripping in her eyes.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught a small, brightly-colored object scurry at knee-level between the work stations. Then suddenly Mimi was standing behind Marissa with a sauce pan in her hands. She drew back and swung like Jose Canseco into Marissa's head. Marissa hit the ground like a wet towel.
I checked her briefly: she had a pulse and was breathing steadily on her own....Which meant we only had a couple of minutes to secure her (Mimi already having called the cops). I was about to go see if Roadie had something when Reba produced a pair of handcuffs, which sent Mimi into a giggle fit, as they were fur-lined.
"Don't fuckin' laugh, they're doin' the job, alright? I had a hunch."
"It's not that, it's just.... I own the same pair."
Two minutes before the cops showed up, Marissa came to and started screaming and trying to get up. Reba and I knelt on her back to keep her in one place; she nearly had us off a couple times. The adrenaline was still pumping good and strong, despite the headache she must have had. She'd be getting a CAT scan of her head before they put her in slam.... And she might not go there, given how she was behaving. More likely someplace with straps on the beds and Thorazine for dinner.
"It's weird," said one girl,"she lives in Cow Hollow, nice ten million dollar house with her parents. Somebody ought to call them." The cops assured her they would, and soon.
The cops wanted to interview everyone; Paul persuaded them to do the interviews while they worked: just three small events that evening, but we still had a schedule to meet. They focused, mercifully, on Mimi, Reba, and me.... Also Paul, as he was the owner (and hadn't seen a thing from where he was working).... And Roadie. Marissa kept screaming in the cruiser how she hated that nigger, gonna kill that nigger. Roadie, being the only nigger available, was assumed to be involved somehow. The cop hive-mind had already decided it was a lover's quarrel between Reba and Marissa, with Roadie at the center. He finally convinced them that while he and Reba were close acquaintances in Oakland, he'd never spoken a word to Marissa in his life. If he was needed, he'd be putting the finishing touches on the van outside, mounting the lift.
Paul confirmed what Mimi and I had already told them: Marissa was in the process of getting the sack. Reba? Gosh, she was just a friend who was hanging out and sampling food before she went to work at Thrills on Market Street. Nothing to do with Marissa's freak-out, nope, not at all. She just happened to be in the same room. That was our story, and we stuck to it.... Just like we had with Paul.
After the cops left, Mimi got everyone's attention. "Thank you all for keeping your cool through that. We've still got three events to get out tonight, remember. And while you're working, try to think if you know of any sauciers who need some work. The requirements are they can be neither racist or insane. Bring 'em in tomorrow if you've got someone in mind."
The next day was also slow-paced, and just as well, since the seventeen foodies who showed up to interview kept Mimi busy in her office for three hours. A cheery, heavyset blonde was the sweepstakes winner. And she thought the geeky black guy, the one with the black horn-rimmed glasses and the bleached streaks in his hair, was very, very cute. You could hear the gears in her brain churning as she made plans to have her car break down....
Four days later, Roadie left for good, off to actually relax and enjoy his break between tours. He'd worked hard, and had profited from it: Including what they gave him as a bonus, he made $1300 for repairing all three vans. They also gave him $650 each for the lifts (Paul held onto his notes should something go wrong, but we doubted it). At first all he wanted was the $190 each for the hydraulic tubes, the rest was free, but I yelled at him until he took what they offered. He got his week in a nice quiet motel (with ice machine) and a hefty bonus to his bank account. Like a lot of other people, I had to remind Roadie that being paid for one's labor is a sign of dignity and honor.... So you're gonna take the fucking money, stop insulting Paul and Anise like that, and enjoy yourself a bit. Call up one of the women you've met on the side of a freeway and take her to dinner, then bowling, then your motel room. He finally saw the wisdom of my words.
He kept coming back those four extra days just to "check on his girls." He wanted to make sure he had missed nothing, and what he'd fixed was staying that way.
"Roadie, they'll be fine," I told him. "You know how I know? Because you were the guy working on them, capiche? Go. Have. Fun."
"But maybe I should--- "
"NO! Those vans aren't just fixed, they're pristine. Take it from the guy who drives them for a living. We set up a maintenance schedule, they're in perfect condition now, there's nothing left to be done. Please trust me, I drive 'em. They're beautiful."
".... Okay. Maybe I'll stay at the Ramada or the Campus for a few days, I've been feeling kinda tired."
"Exactly. Get some rest before you hit the road again. Take it easy. You won't do them any good if you're burned out starting the tour. Kick back and chill, talk to girls on the phone, order pizza delivery. Relax."
And bless him, he took my advice. He paid for a week at the Campus, and spend the first three days sleeping and eating. Then he spent the next four days engaging in one of his favorite hobbies: shooting pool at the billiard hall on Shattuck (he was a shark) and relieving frat boys of their money in the process, chatting up sorority girls, and bringing one back to his room if he felt like it. Not "if he was lucky," but if he felt like it. Let's face it, he was a sorority girl's parents' nightmare: intelligent, well-spoken, polite, educated.... And black as the ace of spades. Makes his living fixing cars and going on tour with punk rock bands, has no address except a post office box; he just sleeps on his friends' sofas when he's not on the road. I can't wait for you to meet him, Mom. Here's a picture of us outside this place called 924 Gilman, here's a picture inside, the place is really wild! But he has a lot of friends there so I was safe. If he's free, can I bring him to Thanksgiving?
And I left a week later.
Two things affected my decision. First, a hotshot courier service I'd applied to a couple times let me know they had a vacancy. The work matched my style better: get paid to drive like hell all over Northern California, with my own vehicle and as a contractor (I could work as much as I wanted, so long as the phone was ringing through to dispatch), and the money was damn good. My previous courier gig was kind of flexible on their hours, but cut you off at ten of twenty-four. This was all Class 'C' work, so I wouldn't have the CHP barking up my snorkel if I ran fourteen hours in a day. I could handle anything they threw at me, especially for their pay percentages.
Second was a feeling of, "Well, I guess I accomplished what I was meant to." I'm not superstitious, but I couldn't get over the feeling I was at Stone Soup Organic for a reason, because I was needed there.... And the need was taken care of. Their vans ran like tops, they now had a General Manager who was more than competent, the old employees were gone and replaced by good ones, and the owners had grown some balls: they weren't about to get jerked around by their own employees again. It was time to pull down my cowboy hat and say, "Well, my work is done here...." With Anise running after my car shouting, "Shane! Come back, Shane!"
Paul and Anise regretted my leaving, but I don't think they were too sorry to lose me. Their lives had be thrown into chaos within a half hour of my walking through their door. They'd never had to deal with kamikaze vans, herds of angry hippies (and extremely dangerous punks who were happy to get rid of them), sexually-hyperactive munchkins, pathological engineers and inventors, employees getting into fights with fearless punk rock girls.... And the business thrived.
And that was the question: with all the chaos I inadvertently caused, was the chaos a boon or a coincidence?
I don't know either. I had fun though.