Staying Off The Booze With Cocaine

My last post about my Fourth Waiting Job at the Rusty Pelican was kind of a set piece. I got lost in the reverie and unloaded. Meantime, the last ‘regular’ post was early July. So there’s a lot of catching up to do.

There have been two great developments at Carney’s Corner.

Frank the Bartender – previously known for his pious 6-year AA status, his Vicodin habit, and his slutty wife – has a new calling card. This one comes courtesy of his slutty wife. We’ll just call her Tara Reed, as homage to the actress with the similar name, because she didn’t take Frank’s name when they married, because she has a not-bad body, and because all she does is party and skank around.

TARA REID: 33. SO THE RELATIVE AGE IS OFF. FRANK IS 52, HIS WIFE IS 48

Tara (Mrs. Frank the Bartender), generally makes nightly visits to Carney’s to have a free drink or two and then head off to some other bar or club to meet her various boyfriends. Sometimes we waiters at Carney’s speculate that Tara picked Frank as her husband based on a rigorous qualification showdown. What are some of the things Tara needs to support and facilitate her lifestyle? As a major heading, she needs a

Reliable Hard Worker who is So Desperate and Insecure:

  1. He works his five shifts week in and week out. When he takes a ‘vacation’ it will really be just an extension of an existing holiday, with an extra day off or two tacked on.
  2. He, in order to illegitimately maximize his income, diligently rips off his employers week in and week out.
  3. He has a non-negotiable work schedule locked in for the evening, club-going, cheating hours. From 5 p.m. till midnight (or later) Frank will be in exactly one place: behind the bar at Carney’s.
  4. He is absolutely never going to come home early and surprise her. The bar closes late, and Frank is always there.
  5. He is a non-drinker who can pick her up from various bars where she has gotten too hammered and needs a drive home.
  6. He will willingly suspend all disbelief that she is cheating on him, because he can’t stomach the improbability of his getting another woman.
  7. He will pretend there’s nothing unusual about the fact he works his ass off while she doesn’t have a job (not counting breeding her dog) and yet parties every night.
  8. He is the one who actually does all the work breeding, caring for, and cleaning up after the dogs.
  9. He has a job which puts him in contact with various sources of drugs and who can easily ‘trade out’ for those drugs, or for better deals on them.
  10. He is pliable, forgiving, and clueless. He has no spine. He will adopt her hobbies. He will adopt her vices. He will adopt her rationalizations.

So back to Frank’s new calling card, besides Vicodin, etc.

It’s been a developing story with Frank, Tara, and Vicodin. We knew plenty about the Vicodin addiction, how his connection would come in and hand him a batch, how Jacqueline (another waitress) would hold some of his stash for him so he wouldn’t fiend it all away in one night, how Frank would be so flushed from his early-shift dose that his head looked ready to explode . . .

Ciera, who’s no stranger to drugs and anything else completely- or semi-sordid, had been saying for the last several months that she thought Frank was doing cocaine, not (just) Vicodin. We didn’t put much stock in her take on the thing. We thought it was just knee-jerk critique about a guy who was wigging out.

But. Ciera is friend and customer to Slick, the dealer who is Frank’s main connection – a bald guy with CIA-level clearance who made most of his bones doing foreign soil top-dollar construction work for the government because so few people were qualified at his level. Slick, says Ciera, is mostly a small-timer. He dabbles in the drug dealing enough to pay the bills; he’s mostly in it for the chicks and the social life. Ciera says she knows from Slick that Tara has become a regular customer for coke. A friend of Tara’s likes it a lot and had come into some money because her octogenarian millionaire ‘husband’ had finally died, leaving her (35 years old) the estate. Of course the Family had something to say, so she didn’t get everything – actually more like a few percentage points: a couple hundred thousand. But I digress . . .

So because of this background knowledge, Ciera is increasingly suspicious/convinced that Frank is doing not Vicodin, but cocaine. When we say, ‘Frank’s on his Vicodin frenzy right now,’ Ciera would counter with, ‘Or else a coke rush.’

Frank had no compunctions about hitting up Ciera for a Vicodin. One time she told me about him, jaw quivering, pleading if she could lend him a Vike? . . . she said she found one in the crease at the bottom of her purse. It was snagged with lint, there was even a pen mark. ‘He didn’t complain at all. He just thanked me,’ said Ciera.

Well, it finally happened. The other day Frank sidled up to Ciera and said, ‘Hey, you don’t have bump, do you? I could really use it right now.’

Of course, for the unfamiliar, ‘bump’ is slang for a snort of cocaine. Like, wanna do a bump?

Mr. AA. And he still is. No alcohol . . .

* * * * *

The other biggie is that Schotz, the well-to-do electrician who is friends with the owners of Carney’s Corner (Carney and Harry), dropped a bomb on Carney last Sunday. And all of us waiters want to find his address, go to his house, and shower him with gifts, flowers, kisses, and free drinks.

But first a little background.

Schotz is an extremely pleasant and affable guy. He’s part of the core buddy crew for Harry and Carney – those who’ll sit in a booth playing dominos for four hours. Schotz is also one of their go-to guys. Whenever they need some serious electrical stuff done, they call on their ‘friend.’

For instance, when Carney and Harry had to replace their old dishwashing machine, they took the opportunity to blow out a decaying and poorly-wired and -plumbed wall in the dish station area. They had Schotz in and he did all the electrical heavy lifting, delivering a first-class, up-to-code product. In this case and others, he politely refuses money (as a master of his craft in an upscale locale, his real rate would probably give them a heart attack), so Carney and Harry will give him restaurant gift certificates as compensation.

However, the only time Schotz and his wife eat anything at Carney’s is when they come sit in the dining room to redeem a gift certificate. They never even buy a quick bite in the bar. Which proves the gift certificates mean nothing to them – or else they’d be eating at Carney’s all along. To his credit, when Schotz and wife get their free dinner, he often tips 100%. Great guy.

Carney and Harry are extremely underdeveloped socially. Carney lives a life of rigidly-constructed delusion to protect her from feelings of severe inferiority. Harry is a late-stage alcoholic who drinks from sun-up till early evening, when the bedroom TV goes out of focus and his brain and liver finally surrender to the booze and THC.

They are not competent to have friendships outside of their controlled domain: the restaurant. Invitations to weddings, funerals, dinner, drinks, or miscellaneous outings like a movie or concert are rebuffed with excuses about how busy they are, how hard they work, how Carney has to have another colonoscopy the next day, or how Harry has to get another test on his prostate cancer.

(Incidentally, this fatal disease syndrome has been going on and on since I started there five years ago. And, no, they never have anything. Carney only regales us with tales of their medical woe. Ironically, the only thing honestly plausible – Harry contracting cirrhosis of the liver – has never been mentioned as a life-threatening ailment.)

Further in this direction, the owners absolutely refuse to allow any employee (or probably customer, for that matter) to have worse circumstances than their own.

‘How was your day off, Carney?’ I’ve asked many times. The restaurant is closed Mondays. ‘Hope you had some time to relax.’

‘Oh, no. Busy, busy. We were here at 7:30 waiting for the new air conditioner. Then when they were installing it, they knocked out a breaker, and Harry spent the next three hours fixing it. They got it in, but it wasn’t working in the front so . . .’ etc.

Or other times she might ask how I’ve been?

‘Pretty good,’ I’ll say. ‘I kind of had a stomach ache three days ago, thought I was coming down with something, but I guess it passed ’cause I feel great today.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve had diarrhea for three days running . . .’

Well, so, anyway. It’s Sunday. Schotz invites Carney and Harry over to his place for evening cocktails on Monday.

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Carney said, ‘we’ve just been working so hard lately . . . we just really need that day off to rest. Otherwise we wouldn’t make it through the next week.’

Schotz said, ‘You know what? I’m getting fucking sick of always hearing how hard you two work. I asked if you wanted to come over for a drink. Just answer the fucking question.’

It’s just so great because Schotz is such a beautiful guy, even Carney and Harry can’t spin that he’s just a jackass. One of the nicest guys in the world unloaded on her about their self-aggrandizing, selfish dishonesty, and for a change there was absolutely nothing she could say.

My Fourth Waiting Job

[There was a prelude to this account. I felt it was necessary to set the stage for this turning point in my career/life. Click to read about How I Got To My Fourth Waiting Job.]

THE ACTUAL RUSTY PELICAN WHERE I WORKED

Were things in 1986 so much different than nowadays? I don’t know.

I moved up to NoCal with about $1000. Most of that was allocated to rent/deposit and the cash needed to set up my new residence: utility bills, washer and dryer, perhaps some really bad furniture beyond the slightly-better furniture donated by local friends and relatives, a mattress for my bedroom floor, and a chair and desk for my radical (Apple II clone) Franklin Ace OMS (Office Management System) computer and dot matrix printer.

I didn’t mention that I had a job waiting for me.

That’s because I didn’t.

For some reason, I considered my 8-month résumé (Red Robin, Baxter’s, Olive Garden) impeccable. No problem getting a good serving job with a history like that, right?

Pretty stupid in retrospect, but I didn’t know any better.

At the same time, it worked out just as I’d stupidly expected. I hit the pavement right away searching for work – best places first – and luckily got hired at the best place. The Rusty Pelican.

Contrary to the funky coffee mug graphic, this location was very state-of-the-art, top-level – at least in NoCal. Although it was 1986, the restaurant was only a couple years old and was very modern. There were multiple levels, pillars and pond-like divisions made of hedges and walls of big stones, burnished wood furniture, brass and glass in the walkways, and all of it with great lighting. It was a grotto on a sea of perfect carpeting.

And then there was the bar, on a separate side of the building. As in, walk in the front doors: Hostess Desk at center, dining room to the left, bar to the right. There was a stage for live music, and an extensive patio. As you might expect, there was a back connection between the bar and the kitchen.

My second interview was with manager Tom. There were three of us, and we walked well, apparently. I didn’t know it at the time, but later, manager Tom told me he always had new hires ‘Do the walk. I don’t let them follow me into the kitchen – I make them go ahead so I can watch the walk.’ From his tone and the smile on his face (when he told me this) I took it to mean he mostly wanted to see the girls’ bodies. But to be fair, knowing if an applicant was athletic, graceful, balanced and confident would be good information to have as a manager. I assume you believe that . . . hey, it was the ’80s! Anyway, we all got hired.

The initial deal was lunches only. The Pelican didn’t hire directly for dinner shifts; they filled openings in the dinner schedule with promotions from lunch. The path was lunch waiter to expediter at night to dinner shifts. It was Monday through Friday, no lunch on weekends. I usually worked all five days.

But first there was Training.

You must understand the lofty position The Rusty Pelican occupied in the restaurant business for a period seven or eight years. Each store offered 20-30 varieties of fresh (never frozen) fish each day, prime rib on weekends, a New York steak, Australian lobster tails, and the usual variety of fresh seafood appetizers. I was not any kind of experienced diner at that time, so I’m sure there were comparable or better restaurants in places – especially in more established areas like Orange County, where the chain started. But as the company expanded and put stores in Brea, Woodland Hills, Portland and my town in NoCal, these stores were a healthy cut above the best those areas previously offered. Do you remember when you first entered a TGIFriday’s (or am I dating myself even more?) and looked around at all the crazy, eclectic décor, the massive menu, all the fun cocktails, and the lively atmosphere? Didn’t you think, Wow! This place is cool. This place is going to be really busy.

That’s the effect a new Rusty Pelican had on its clientele, but at the high-end dining level, not casual dining. And that’s what happened. Lunches were just average – there wasn’t a serious concentration of businesses to provide the customer base. But dinner and the bar was crazy busy. People drinking sophisticated wines like Beringer Chardonnay. Or the king of them all, Grgich Hills Chardonnay . . .

What did I say at the start? Was it a different time? Yes, it was. I’m not sure younger readers will understand how mind-boggling it was that people were spending $40 for a bottle of wine. This was the first step out of the White Zinfandel era. What we take for granted today about guests’ awareness about and willingness to order wine, was just getting started. And The Rusty Pelican was at ground zero for this as it reached the masses in California.

Not to mention all the ‘flown in daily’ fresh fish. Twenty-five varieties, all fresh! I came in on the second wave, where we had to ‘spiel’ five charbroiled fish, five sautéed, and the swordfish Malia (name of the executive chef) and blackened Mahi-Mahi. The first generation was responsible for reciting every single fish and stating how it could be prepared.

So training was going to be a bitch. First day, we received 8″x11″ training manuals that were two inches thick. That was the food and drink knowledge manual. There was another manual half the size dealing with policy and systems.

Every fish had 3-5 adjective descriptions. We had to know the ingredients in everything from the clam chowder (both Manhattan and New England) and salad mix, to the Teriyaki Chicken dish. We had to know how to make Prime Rib and how long to broil a fish on each side. We had to learn how to make every classic drink, including garnish. Yes, we’re talking Mai Tai, Old Fashioned, Long Island Iced Tea, Tom Collins, Martini, Manhattan, Sours . . . pretty much anything famous and popular. We even had to know what glasses each drink came in (names like Fiesta and Hurricane). We had to learn general descriptions of the various varietals of wines (Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, etc.), and what to pair with them. We had to understand (and answer questions about) after dinner drinks like cognacs and ports.

Our head trainer told us that once we finished training at the Rusty Pelican, we could wait tables anywhere. He was right, at least as far as mechanics and fundamental restaurant/product knowledge went. If the whole of possible waiter knowledge is (an unattainable) 100% and I’m at 90% today, I learned 80% at the Rusty Pelican.

The test was tough. The food and service sections, though long and detailed, were pretty easy because we had actually done the service and seen/eaten the food. So there was a tactile memory there to help. But the Rusty Pelican was dead serious about the bar test. No joke, every single one of those drinks and their components was on that test. And, of course, we didn’t have the benefit of tactile memory in this case.

Regardless, I passed. I’ve always been good at tests.

It was kind of tough doing the job at first because, like a lot of restaurants, the training is focused on the dinner experience. After all, that’s usually where the house makes the big money – and its reputation. The pitfall being that lunch is a different experience and it attracts a different diner. I spent all that time learning drinks and no one’s asking me about them (or ordering them – even worse!). I’m just filling iced teas and placing orders for seafood sandwiches and shrimp salads. And obviously the pace is way quicker than I was led to believe.

I remember my first complaint. Though I was green, it really was not my fault. It was a classic scenario. Four women having a ‘leisurely’ lunch. They ordered White Zinfandel, and actually sent a bottle back. Oddly enough, it really was sour – actually a bad bottle. But what are the odds? Anyway, they refused to place an order: ‘Oh, we haven’t even looked yet!’ I finally got the order about an hour into their visit. The food came promptly. They ordered another bottle of wine. The meals were fine. I cleared the table promptly. They declined dessert and coffee, wanting only to finish their wine. I brought the check. For the next 20 minutes, they sipped their wine and ignored the check presenter entirely. I looked in on them at 3-4 minute intervals. I check on them one more time . . . no progress. I go in back to continue my side work. Within 90 seconds, a manager is back in the kitchen holding the check, calling my name. ‘Where were you? This lady came up to the desk and said she wanted to pay but their waiter wasn’t around.’ The ladies got a few free appetizer cards for their outrage.

Remember that old classic Irate Customer gambit?

Early on I waited on football great John Elway. He was then a quarterback at Stanford and about to be drafted into the NFL. I believe at that time he was interviewing prospective agents. Also, Ronnie Lott, the famous safety for the 49ers used to hang out in the bar. That’s pretty much the extent of celebrity sightings for me in NoCal.

At any rate, my new life was now set. I was making $25-35 per lunch shift. With pay checks I was making around $600 take home a month. (I just found a letter I’d written in those days. Rent and utilities were running me $300 a month. I had a $1500 Visa bill – my only debt.) Now I had enough to be scratch-even – whew! Of course, that’s all I was. I was always crying about needing just another $50 a week so I could have some fun. This left me plenty of time to write. I wrote/finished a few short stories. I wrote letters to friends down south.

What about that romance novel I was supposed to write with my friend and new roommate, Dick, you ask? That got started okay. We spent some good hours doing a few drafts of the general plot. Then it just kinda stopped. Whereas early on I would get off work around 2 p.m. and head home to work on the book with Dick, now I was heading home to . . . play about three hours of Wiffle ball.

DON’T KNOW IF THEY COME PACKAGED LIKE THIS ANYMORE, BUT THEY DID IN MY DAY

If my other roommate was home early, he’d play too. Or sometimes other old friends would drop by. But mostly it was one on one. Our games were honed scalpel-sharp. We could make that ball dance the Charleston or drop deader than pigeon shit. I won’t get into the rules, save for the one defining refinement we added that has never been matched or improved on: the Garbage Can Lid, aka Gong.

My wiffle ball career has been played entirely in driveways, with home plate right in front of the garage door, pitcher’s ‘mound’ on the sidewalk. The garbage can lid was hung from two wires in front of the garage door, behind the batter, strike zone high. Because of the lid, there was no need to count balls – there were no walks. We still had strikes (swings-misses and foul balls). And then we had the ‘Gong’. If a clean wiffle ball pitch ever hit that garbage can lid, you were out instantly. (If you clanged on a foul-tip after the 2nd strike, you were also out.) The beauty of the Gong was that it was irrefutable and unmistakable. Even the slightest grazing of the Can Lid made a distinct bell-like noise. There was no arguing with the Can. You didn’t have to be watching to see if the pitch was good or not – your ears would tell you.

TWI-NIGHT GAME IN THE LEGENDARY SEASON OF ’86. I’M TAKING THE PICTURE. CHECK OUT THE ‘CAN.’

Dick and I played Wiff (as we called it) 5-6 days a week. Sometimes I would get home early and call him at work. ‘What the hell are you doing, you piece of buttcheese?’ I’d say when he answered (this is the way immature guys talked to each other back then). ‘Don’t you realize the grounds crew has already dragged the infield, laid the chalk, and now the ump is wondering where the hell you are?’

‘I’m out the door in five minutes,’ he’d say.

‘Well hurry up! We’re burning daylight!’

We didn’t doctor the ball beyond a single stripe of black electrical tape around the circumference. But we did customize our own bats. A little weight on the fat end was desirable to increase the centrifugal force, the whipping effect. This was accomplished in a variety of ways, from wrapping layers of duct tape around the barrel of the bat, to stuffing the barrel with things like old rags, Elmer’s glue and rice, and rubber cement with crumbled cork (the last two being my innovations). We also decorated the outside with different colors of electrical tape applied in eye-catching patterns.

Both Dick and I were good pitchers, but neither of us had unhittable stuff. As a batter, however, I caught a groove for about five weeks that almost had Dick hanging up his spikes, retiring from the game. Of course, I would have none of that. I talked him out of it with a Knute Rockne pep talk. Hell, he couldn’t quit now – I was on the tear of my life, this was too much fun for me.

We have since joked that at that time we were probably some of the best wiffle ball players on the planet.

It was either joke about it or cry. It’s embarrassing having spent enough time playing to become the best on the planet. We were supposed to be writing . . .

The Wiff was a constant, but elsewhere in life, Dick was getting serious with his girlfriend, spending most nights at her house. I segued from lunches, to expediting two days a week, to being promoted to dinners.

And the money started to roll in. Now I was making $70-100 a night. I had some money. I could actually do things.

But what was there to do? I have reread my old letters. At the time, I was outraged at the lack of beautiful girls in NoCal. I had no right to be outraged, considering what a self-centered dork I was. But at the same time, we must admit that SoCal is in some very rarefied air when it comes to beautiful women.

Being half-introvert, half-engineer mentality, half-Midwestern rube, half-writer geek – and with all that not even half a man . . . I naturally elected to spend my extra money paying off my $1500 credit card. Besides, there were only two girls working at the Pelican I really liked. One was an 18-year-old hostess who was an absolute goddess. I struggle to describe her, and the best I can come up with is that she truly could have been a Playboy model. Her body was so perfect it was almost like a caricature. She could have been a Vargas Girl model.

PRETTY MUCH LIKE THIS, ONLY MORE NORWEGIAN. AND SHE DRESSED AS A DEVIL ON HALLOWEEN.

In truth I had only an intellectual interest in her: My mind was telling me that this girl had a perfect face and body, and I appreciated that perfection in an abstract sense. Really, I’m only partly joking here. I wasn’t actually hot for her – it was more the principle of the thing, her being perfect and all. If that makes any sense.

The other girl was a cocktail waitress named Vicky Pope. She was a few years older than I, and had more of a normal-type perfect body. Plus, she was sunny and friendly. And way out of my league, with a grown-up boyfriend somewhere.

So I made no play for either of these beautiful girls, paid down my credit card, and further refined my Wiff game.

The Pelican was a thriving company. The ranking executives visited each store regularly to stoke up the staff. They threw great employee parties. The managers were cool because everyone was making money, enough even for managerial cocaine. There was even money around for a Pelican basketball tournament pitting other stores against each other. As a baller, I was recruited, along with a few cooks and three managers. We drove to Sacramento and played against three other stores in a big community college gym. I made some friends in management. I was really the only good player on our team. And in fact I was one of only two good players in the whole tournament. The other guy was my age, a 6’5″ college caliber player. He also had a pretty good all-around athlete as his wingman. We lost to them as the big guy got layup after layup on our big guy, 6’5″ General Manager Greg Kayes. Greg was probably a pretty good player 20 years earlier, but then he was in his mid-40s and far out of shape for serious full court hoop. I was able slice and dice at will off the dribble, but had trouble finishing because of the bigger guys inside and no one reliable to pass to.

Still, though we lost, the managers thanked me profusely, saying with all sincerity, ‘You saved us. We would have been humiliated without you.’

Back at the restaurant, I suddenly started getting better parties in my station . . .

There was a new crop of lunch servers shortly after I was promoted. Among them was a cute girl named Charlize Evans. I didn’t see much of her until she began the inevitable progression to expediter and on to the dinner staff. Charlize was also a very impressive looking girl. She was friendly enough to me, but I’m such a shy guy I always take female friendliness at face value, while hoping it means more. Then I’ll wait patiently to see if it ramps up to the next level. When the friendliness goes to flirting, I get happy, but, conservative as always, wait to see if it’s not just an act or folly on her part. She would next have to initiate physical contact with me, like touching an arm when talking, or punching playfully when I joke or even a tender touch of affection . . .

Yeah. Then I’d wait again. No, I wasn’t so stupid to understand what was going on. Now my problem was that I was just nervous/afraid to make a move.

It would come down to the girl making a definitive move to kiss me, or else me being drunk enough to fulfill my hunter role. In my life, a 50-50 shot which happens when the girl breakthrough occurs.

I went through those stages with Charlize and then the perfect storm evolved one Saturday night after a very profitable dinner shift.

It was summer in NoCal. The nights are delightful, with the 90-degree heat of day evaporated up into the starry skies. Mix that with the euphoria of having a massive pocketful of money, and free drinks from the bartenders . . . well, the band was playin’.

We hooked up despite my non-committal way and had a few drinks in the raging bar. It was around 11:30.

Besides a couple of beers and a shot or two, we had Portland Steamers. As is the wont with bartenders worldwide, if they don’t know how to make a drink, they’ll wing it. The Portland Steamer at NoCal Rusty Pelican was Bailey’s, Tuaca, and milk in a snifter, quickly steamed with the cappuccino machine.

So the band was cookin’, the bar was packed, we were drunk. Despite being our home turf as waiters there, the place was so busy and full, it was like actually being out in a bar. Charlize and I were alone for all purposes. The band broke out with a particularly great song (“Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh) and I grabbed her hand and rushed her into the cloud of bodies on the dance floor. Steam and sweat, and cool air from the night through the open patio doors. Some dancing, and the time was finally right. We kissed.

After that we had a couple of dates, she invited me to her place to sunbathe at the pool.

JUST SO YOU KNOW I’M NOT LYING ABOUT CHARLIZE. CHECK OUT THE ‘CAN.’ (OOPS! WIFFLE BALL CAPTION!)

We went to Sacramento to visit her mother.

That was an interesting night. Charlize’s car had died so her mom was going to give/lend her a Toyota Corolla. I was happy to lend my services for the two hour drive. It was summer and warm. We got started kind of late, and got to her mom’s apartment after dark. Her mother was a beautiful lady. She complained that since her hysterectomy she had gotten fat . . . which was weird, because she had a great body. There was some boyfriend there. They gave me a beer. The vibe was strange because, filling the void, I did most of the talking. Charlize’s mother talked exclusively to me, about me. The mother and daughter didn’t say much to each other. Then suddenly they flew into a snit with each other. Next thing we were saying goodbyes and Charlize and I were out the door, car keys in hand. The visit was no more than 30 minutes.

It was late, but Charlize wanted to stop and get some food and drink. We found a Baxter’s (remember them from My 2nd Waiting Job?), had some food and a couple of drinks. Charlize didn’t want to go right away so we went into the ‘club’ side. We drank some more, Charlize downing two Long Island Iced Teas – hey, it was the ’80s! There was nothing happening in the bar, and we could tell the town was shutting down, so we hit the road. Yeah we were both drunk, but, hey, it was the ’80s!

Charlize insisted on driving her ‘new’ Toyota, me following in my Honda. It was 1:30 a.m. and she was really weaving. Sure enough, here come some red lights and a siren, and she’s getting pulled over. The cop chastised her, came back to talk to me, then just gave her a warning and let her ride home with me. I guess compared to Charlize right then I appeared downright sober, though I had five drinks in me – two of them Long Island Teas . . . hey, it was the ’80s!

We left her car on the side of the road and I drove off as steadily as I could. Just out of town, she had me pull over so she could throw up. Back on the road another fifteen minutes, I started to lose it. I had to pull over. I could barely drive – I just wanted to sleep for a few minutes. We slept for about an hour but then Charlize woke me up and said we had to get going. I wasn’t so sure. She said, fuck it, she would drive, she was okay now. I let her, and she got us back to her apartment alive.

The sky was starting to lighten. I had a raging hangover headache as we got into bed. Charlize, puke-breath and all, wanted to kiss. I kissed her, then rolled over, saying, ‘Please don’t tell me I have to have sex with you now.’

It was crazy. We were both sick as dogs and completely wiped out. I couldn’t imagine a worse way to finally consummate a relationship – and it seemed that’s what she wanted to do right then. I thought she must understand how crummy that scenario was.

Nevertheless, it was a callous thing for me to say. I never did have sex with Charlize. And that had nothing to do with my comment. Surprisingly, she seemed to harbor no resentment about it. Maybe that’s another reason she was such a great catch.

Behind the scenes, the wheels were turning rapidly for my return to SoCal. My old running mate down there, Scott, was buying a house with his parents and needed roommates. We’d kept in touch. I desperately wanted out of NoCal, so it was arranged that I would rent a room once the house was fixed up. Move-in date was July 18th.

Writing this I wonder now what kind of an imbecile I was? You’ve got to understand how hot Charlize was. And she was very cool. And I liked her a lot. And she liked me a lot too. Talk about not taking the bird in the hand! Ostensibly I was returning to SoCal because it was boring in NoCal. It wasn’t any fun. So I would return to the L.A. area and kick up my heels and have fun . . . What exactly does that entail? Well, going out, drinking, dancing, um . . . meeting girls and getting laid . . . umm, mainly the girls. Right? The hot girls. The pretty ones. And, like, without the girls, the drinking and dancing business is pretty useless and not-fun . . . yeah. Sheesh!

The Pelican was great about transfers, so I figured I had it made. I had a manager call to arrange a transfer to the legendary Newport Beach store – but they said no. So anyway, there were a few other stores in the general area. Another call was made. I was assured a certain other store would take me.

Meantime, my last official act in NoCal was attending Dick’s wedding. Charlize was my date. She told me she was going to look super hot to impress all my friends. She did. I’ve got some pictures to prove it.

And after that it was back to my SoCal destiny.

How I Got To My Fourth Waiting Job

Fourth Of July holiday is tomorrow. As I am taking a road trip up to Ojai, then on to Carmel – total five days off – I’ll drop a post on you before I leave.

Recap of the last almost two weeks:

Carney’s Corner (week ago) weekend roundup: Fri-Sun, $169, $195, $125. Then I yesterday (Thursday) and had a great night of $185. Only tonight’s shift to go before starting my vacation.

The previous week at Michael’s was a good one. Off Monday, then on-call (and not used) Tuesday. I worked Wed.-Fri. and averaged $117 per shift. This week I got four shifts, for which I’m grateful. However it was a bad week: averaged only $50 per.

But that’s now.

This is then:

In 1986 I was everything. Fresh out of college, young, good-looking (at least, as good as I was gonna get), poor, bereft in love, motivated, excited about the future, and moving to another place.

Get In The Mood – Right-Click Image <open in another window> To See or Listen To Sledgehammer Video

Southern California had been my home after high school in No. Cal. The parents had moved, and I moved with them.

I underwent college. I emerged alive. I got a job . . . three jobs waiting tables.

Six years into Southern California, I had made some real friends. I even resurrected my sex life – my big-time high school romance back in ’79 yielded the end of my virginity, but also marked the beginning of a massive drought. The biblical seven years of blight and famine (lost virginity in 11th grade) were punctuated by a slight cough in Year Four when I hooked up with a voluptuous brunette at a Roy Buchanan concert in Palo Alto.

We went to her friend’s abandoned dorm room on Stanford campus, as it was May or June and school was over . . . but I digress. It’s easy to do when you’ve been waiting that long . . .

I only bring up my sex life because it plays a major emotional part in the move away from So Cal. My situation begged the question: Why the hell would you move away when A) you’ve finally gotten some friends, B) you’ve finally started making some decent money, C) you’ve finally finished college, and D) you’re already living in the best place in the world?

Because heartbreak knocked me into an ‘early-life-crisis.’

My romantic affairs had become just about normal for a healthy single not-unattractive man of 24 years. I say this because there was no ‘normal’ ramping up like most would experience. I had a girlfriend in high school. Then nothing. One night in 1983. Then nothing. Until finally in 1985 I started to go out, date, ‘hook-up’ if you will.

At the peak of my new-found powers, I completely flipped for a young girl. We became official boyfriend/girlfriend. We never had sex. The meaty part of the ‘relationship’ lasted about a month. But I was totally smitten. As such, and having been barren for so long, I lost it thoroughly when she disregarded me. I just didn’t understand these things. She was just a high school student.

(Yes, I was more or less innocent. I met her working as a doorman at a nightclub. Her ID was reputable – which wasn’t hard in those days – so she was 23 years old to me. After romancing her, eventually meeting her parents, and then standing/observing as her house of cards tumbled, it came out that she was a 17-year-old in her last year of high school. To be honest, at that point, I didn’t care anymore. I was in love. I guess I can say now I’m glad we never had sex, because of course it would have been highly illegal, but at the time I didn’t care in the least. I did have opportunity, had I been willing to be persuasive, but that’s not generally my nature. And anyway, I thought this was the love of all time – so I was in no hurry. When she backed out of our ‘relationship’ and eventually slept with another full-grown adult, I was brutally traumatized. I just wasn’t ready – I’d had no experience in the normal ways of dating – to handle what I considered infidelity. Of course, what should I have expected of an 18-year-old? That’s why I wasn’t ready.)

That’s why I included Peter Gabriel above and the link to his epic Sledgehammer video. This was the internal theme song of my deepest love and yearning for this girl. Sheesh!

But it’s an awesome song. And a really great video that until now I hadn’t seen in years.

So here we are in 1986. It’s summertime in So Cal. I might have love interests, but I’m obsessed with my erstwhile 18-year-old girlfriend. Driving place to place, I’m listening repeatedly to the 12″ single cut of Sledgehammer on the tape deck in my 1979 red Honda Civic. All of ripe, juicy life beckons me . . .

Meanwhile, I had kept contact with good friends from high school in No. Cal. My best friend, Dick, was/is a funny, inventive, energetic type. Through various correspondence, we had trumped up the idea to write a novel together. We hashed out the general concept of a ‘woman’s novel,’ as that was the most marketable and (we thought) easiest kind to write. We hashed out a fragile bones of a plot, as well.

Well, I wanted to be a writer. I was through with college. I had been devastated by a heathen woman (actually a naive teenager, but who’s counting?). I had no decent career. As far as work went, I was waiting tables at Olive Garden (check here for that story) and making no money, having no fun, and not even eating any good food for the trouble.

Under those conditions, moving back to No. Cal. with my best friend from high school seemed an attractive proposition. Dick was ready to move out of the family home as well, so he lined up a place (with another good friend) for us to share. Memory is hazy, but I think the rent was like $750 a month for a three-bedroom house. The master bedroom guy would pay $300 and the others would split the rest.

I know what you’re thinking, and I thought the same thing: That’s pretty freaking steep!

But anyway, I did it. I packed all my albums and other possessions into my little Honda and made the trip. Do you realize I had three fruit crates of vinyl albums? (What’s a fruit crate of albums? It was 1986. You had to be there.) That’s like 40% of the storage space in a 1979 Honda, including the body of the driver. Oh yeah. I also had an Apple II computer with monitor (actually a clone made by Franklin), and of course an amp, speakers, and a Technics turntable to play the vinyl. And my whole wardrobe. I have no idea what I was thinking, or how I did it, but me and my stuff got up there.

I remember the night I left. That car was an empty driver’s seat, with the rest of the interior packed as dense as a black hole. There were no rear sight lines besides the driver’s side mirror. It was night. Before I left home, I topped off the oil. On the way to the freeway I stopped at a mini-market on the main boulevard (coincidentally only a couple of blocks from the Olive Garden) for salty snacks and Coke. It was about 11 p.m. Walking back to the car, I saw smoke shooting out of three sides of the hood like someone had forgotten about a grilled cheese sandwich on the valve cover.

I opened the hood and discovered the oil cap was missing. Engine oil had been splattering all over and burning on the hot metal. I couldn’t believe how stupid I was. At this point, five miles from home, I didn’t know if I could safely drive back without blowing my engine. I mean, are there any guidelines on how much oil you lose when your oil cap is missing?

It would be really embarrassing and irritating (not just to me, but to my family – who were probably ecstatic I was finally leaving for good) to return home after all the hoopla of my leaving. This just had to be a freakin’ joke . . .

So, in the mini-market parking lot, I took another look at my engine . . . and saw the oil cap nestled cozily in the web of spark plug wires.

Okay, so that’s a long way to go for a false ending. But that’s actually how my trek started. 11:30 p.m., at a mini-market with a tight oil cap, but a still-smoking engine, finally on my way to Northern California.

* * * * *

. . . I’m sorry, but that’s all for now. I ran a little long in the preamble. Check the next post, probably after I get back from vacation, to get the details on my actual Fourth Waiting Job.

Have a happy Fourth!

[Here’s the link to what happened on My Fourth Waiting Job.]