Smoking Hangover

    Woke up after a full night’s sleep with a brutal headache. I only had a martini and a couple beers the night before, so it shouldn’t have had anything to do with that.

    Indeed, it was probably because Southern California is on fire. The sky was gloomy and orange. It smelled like there was  a pile of leaves burning right inside the house. It was also much warmer than normal (in the 80s).

    It was almost noon, so I decided to get up anyway. Having coffee whilst reading the paper, the tension kept knotting up on the back of my neck. I’d stretch it, get a few low cracks, and it would creep back again. I had half a sandwich and almost couldn’t keep it down. So I went back to bed and slept for another hour and a half. I felt about 70% better.

    Even now, at 11:05 p.m., there’s still a 5% headache. Unusual for me. And if it had been a hangover, it would definitely have been gone by now. I don’t even have 24 hour hangovers in Vegas.

    Went to Carney’s at 4:45 to open the restaurant. The car was covered with grey and black ashes. I put my AC on Recirculate to keep the noxious air out.

    I walked in the door at 5 p.m. and immediately there were three tables waiting to be seated. What the hell? The earliest reservation was 5:30. Did these people forget to set their clocks back a couple weeks ago?

    So ensued the familiar waiter drill of scrambling to get caught up. Two fortunate things: 1) Carney’s Corner runs like a machine and, 2) Primo is a superb busser, so he did more than half of my opening sidework for me. Quickly enough, I had all three orders in and the other waiters had shown up.

    As the opener, I was the first to go home. I left about 9:15. I had brought in $238 for the tip pool. That’s pretty good for the weekend opener. Usually, the two later servers bring the bulk of the cash. So with my head start, I predict we’ll do over $200 after tipping.

    Carney was in her usual tizzy when she arrived at six o’clock. She’s not a mental giant; she’s terrible under pressure; and she’s supremely insecure. Add it all up, and you get tension when a busy night is on the books.

    What probably happens is that when she’s home on her break (she works in the day, takes a few hours off, returns for dinner), her husband, Harry, harangues her mercilessly about all the shit she needs to be taking care of back at the restaurant. Yes, Harry is one of those. He’s supposedly just as ‘responsible’ for the running of the restaurant, but in reality, most of his work consists of:

  1. ‘Opening’ the bar/restaurant at 7 a.m. in order to get started on his Bloody Marys. ‘Opening’ is in quotes because the place doesn’t actually open until 11 a.m. Variously, he and Carney like to propagate the idea that he is cleaning, doing inventory, performing maintenance, going over the books, reviewing the previous day’s tickets, counting the ‘drop’ (which is the money that is ‘dropped’ into the floor safe – a common term in restaurants, and maybe a lot of businesses), or poking out Hershey’s Kisses that had lodged in the floor mats. No kidding on the last one. However, multiple eyewitness accounts have actually found Harry doing little besides pouring himself a couple of Bloody Marys, before segueing into his blizzard of 10-20 Budweisers during the lunch hours, before segueing into the ‘put-me-to-bed’ run of 5-10 vodka tonics to finish off the afternoon. After which, he drives home to harangue Carney about what she needs to be doing at the restaurant when she gets back.
  2. Figuring out new ways to increase business. Like the previously mentioned $10 discount on the bone-in rib eye. Like the as-yet-to-be-adopted-by-the-servers 25% discount on bottled wine for diners with an 8:30 or later reservation. Or the old standby, 2-for-1 Oysters. All of these and more are accompanied by no promotion. So anyone who orders these items is not expecting any discount – they’re ordering because they want them, at the regular price. Further, they are at Carney’s knowing the price structure. Net effect is taking profit from Carney and Harry.
  3. Yelling at and micro-managing the day staff. He’s famous for pointing out every time a customer has an empty glass, a wet napkin, might be ready to order, might want to move to another table, might want their check. A lot of ‘might’s.’ He doesn’t mess with me. Partially because I only work nights, and he’s already gone when I arrive. Partially because I’m a guy, and also very competent.
  4. So Carney came in . . . it’s difficult to describe the dynamic here. She’s on edge. She wants the night to go smoothly. But she also has a vested emotional interest in believing that she herself is responsible for things running smoothly. She also has a strange need to make a show of convincing us that she is the one responsible for it – even though we can see it’s not true. In a similar way, she desires to psyche us out that she and Harry are in complete control of the place – which obviously they’re not. Yet at the same time refusing to acknowledge that we know she full of shit . . .

    See? I said it was hard to describe.

    As owners, Carney and Harry are not out of their league. They keep it together. They ‘get’ a lot of stuff. My opinion, regarding what I just outlined, is that they are stuck with their previous paradigm, the one that got them through their previous restaurant/bar ventures (4 – 10 of ’em, depending on how much they’re trying to impress you with their restaurant experience) and the first 7 years of Carney’s Corner. They are used to sub-professional help. What they have now is a staff of adult professionals. She’s also fortunate that we’re all honest (maybe not Frank the Bartender), as well.

    We just roll our eyes when she walks away. As when tonight she told me that she reconciles all the charge vouchers against the hard copy tickets to make sure it all balances out, and that she’s always tracking down a missing dollar or two – that’s why she spends so much time working on the books.

    Right.

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