Sold – Carney’s Corner!

I agree. There’s no longer a current narrative here, what with my dropping the story for the last several years. Unless you’re either a die-hard fan, or else possess a photographic memory, you’ve forgotten about Carney’s Corner, and Michael’s.

What’s that? Those names mean nothing to you? Those are my dinner and lunch jobs, respectively.

Carney’s had a big change of life recently. Carney (69) and her husband, Harry (73), sold the place. Rumor has that it went for around $500,000.

As usual, there was no drama too great or small, too absolutely insane or merely neurotic, for Carney not to partake.

More than a year ago, the restaurant went on the block, and the winning suitor was a waitress at Carney’s Corner, Marilee. She convinced her husband that it was a good deal at the full asking price of $700,000. Lots of things happened in the direction of consummating the deal: liquor license changed hands, service accounts billings were changed, cameras were installed, an employee meeting with the new owners (Marilee and hubby) transpired, managers were interviewed, and more. Meanwhile, Marilee and her husband were awaiting financing for their cash purchase. (Carney & Harry wanted to carry paper: for tax reasons, for a steady income, and for the unstated chance they could regain ownership in the event of default. Thus, the cash purchase decision, as Marilee didn’t want to risk paying for five years, then encountering an economic downturn, and losing the restaurant.)

Problem was, they were getting private financing through a friend of Marilee’s husband. The friend knew this heroic character who was a Puerto Rican guy with too much money overseas and who needed ways to get it into the country. So he was willing to lend it to them interest-free.

I’m sure this is already sounding familiar to you. Now, this is only grapevine information, but my grapevine includes two branches who are sisters of Marilee. Grapevine says the lender needed $200,000 from Marilee and hubby to match the funds, or some such mumbo-jumbo. Grapevine says they paid it.

Next comes 12 months of Marilee getting jacked around by the financier: ‘Money will be in the account next Thursday, available for wire transfer five days later.’ That’s a typical TEXT message. TEXT message. Yes, this was his exclusive means of communication. Never mind written letters. Not even an email. Marilee showed me a few of his TEXTs.

Anyway, that Thursday would come, five days would pass, and there would be some snag. Of course this went on forever. Harry and Carney were beside themselves because the fucking deal couldn’t go into escrow. Yet, they were screwed by their own greed because they stood to get 40% more than they deserved if only this pipe dream could come true.

It never did. My belief is 50-50: either Marilee got burned by the old Nigerian scam and was too embarrassed to admit it, or else that was kind of what she was letting ‘inside’ people believe. As to the last possibility, what really might have happened is that she and the hubby got advice/realized they were WAY overpaying (by $200k) and began sandbagging to weasel their way out of it in a politically correct fashion.

Either way, eventually Carney and Harry lost patience and scuttled the deal.

The next buyer was well-funded and pretty professional, having 4 other restaurants as part of their general group already. They made an offer and six months later they took possession.

They fired the entire staff.

Then rehired everyone immediately, except for a two-shift bartender who had bad blood with one of the minority owners going back more than a decade. Our employee discount was increased from 20% to 30% (big whoop). But our precious ‘shifters’ (2 free drinks at the end of your shift) were eliminated. Later, Sofiando, the new manager/part-owner, would allow shifters on Saturday. Only. Which didn’t make much sense, but considering I always work Saturday, and because I largely hadn’t partaken of shifters for five or six years anyway, I’m not complaining.

Woolly Mammoth Restaurant Dinosaur

Sofiando is a dinosaur of the Beach City-area restaurant scene. He’s 71, I believe. He’s had major stints (10 years or more) at companies like the Red Onion (going way back), at another local institution steak house in Beach City, and (prior to taking over Carney’s) at the biggest oceanfront seafood place in Beach City. In the process of being a restaurant dinosaur, he concurrently accrued status as a local bar patron dinosaur – Carney’s Corner being one of his favorite tar pits in which to get stuck. So, I’ve known Sofiando for the whole 12 years I’ve worked at Carney’s. This long relationship has at times included literally sitting down having drinks with him. And having drinks with him in other establishments. In summary, I’m in good with my new boss.

Another nice thing about a dinosaur is that he likes things the way they were the previous million years. Soooo, Carney’s Corner has not experienced any big changes under the new ownership. Nor does the new owner want to make many changes.

Philosophically, I couldn’t care less about the changes situation. But as a practical matter, I want things to stay the same until the loyal clientele feels there is nothing to worry about – Carney’s isn’t going to go downhill.

I will also admit to the common mammalian preference for familiarity vs. constant change. When things go well, as they did at Carney’s, I’m in no hurry to shake it all up.

Anyway, through 2 months, I think we’re doing fine. Here are the significant changes:

  1. Ranch dressing now offered.
  2. Sourdough bread instead of French bread.
  3. Soup of the day now offered.
  4. Dessert prices reduced by $2.

Yep. That’s all.

Business is off by about 20% these first two months, and I can’t figure out why, considering essentially nothing has changed. Probably, it’s just a psychological thing for the guests. Carney is gone, so it’s over for them (a certain subset of ‘them’).

However, the last two weekends have been busy, back to Carney-ownership levels. I’m starting to believe the dip was just something that had to happen, while we held the line. And as we continue to do so, everyone will come back. It seems to be happening.


The Joke Guy

Let’s see if I still remember how to do this . . .

There was a time in my life when I did a lot of writing. I have been directed since I was in high school towards a writing career. Let’s, for now, look past any questions of what rewards that career has brought me. Instead let’s talk about what I did with my time.

I wrote stories, screenplays, TV scripts, novels, poetry. I even tried my hand a couple of factual magazine articles. The remuneration was nearly non-existent. But I always kept plugging. I loved writing, and I loved my dream, and I didn’t mind working towards my goals. I wrote. I once wrote every day – every single day, without exception – for 1.5 years.

And then, at a summer party, I played ‘Pride And Joy’ (by Stevie Ray Vaughan) with my roommate’s band. I didn’t know it then, but that was it. I veered onto a course of concentrating my creative energies on music for the next 10+ years, playing guitar and singing in two different blues bands over that period.

I didn’t stop writing, but I cut back a lot (not willfully – it just happened). Like 90%. And I didn’t really miss it. Instead of smacking away at the keyboard for a couple hours every night, I instead practiced guitar. Or I rehearsed with my band. Or I played gigs. Or I listened to other guitarists to cop licks. Or I went out to blues jams (open mic events). Or I even wrote my own songs.

I’m telling you this because it explains, somewhat, why I’ve stopped blogging for around a year. I discussed this a couple posts (and about 12 months) ago.

For about two years, I posted 5-10 times a month. I was happy doing it, and I didn’t feel like I was running out of material. It was a pretty natural thing to do for two reasons:

  1. I had quit my band and decided not to join/start another.
  2. My marriage was in shambles. For some reason, emotional strife turbo-charges my creative juices. So it was a good way to spend some time while the Wife was not being a member of the marriage.

Then the marriage effectively ended (permanent separation) and I declared myself back on the market. Hence, dating.

I stopped blogging and started spewing my juices (figuratively, of course) in the endeavor of trying to find a new girlfriend/getting laid.

But this time I’m not as happy about it. Especially now that more than a year has passed and I don’t really have much to show for my efforts besides 100,000 words of emails, the reduction of my net worth by thousands of dollars, and the memories of 20-30 forgettable dates (wait, how can you remember something forgettable?).

Imagine if I’d instead written 100k words on the I’d probably have gotten a book deal like Waiter Rant!

Okay. Probably not. But I’d have something good. I reread six or seven of my -blog posts last night and was actually quite entertained. Either I have narcissistic delusions or I write pretty well. I tend to think the latter. But then, I’m narcissistic . . . ohhhh, I’m getting dizzy now.

* * * * *

I had a thought tonight at work at Carney’s ($232). What is it like to be married to the Joke Guy?

We all know him. He’s the one who makes a ‘joke’ about every phrase that comes out of your mouth. And also makes ‘jokes’ about everything that he says too.

‘Tonight the chef has Bacon-Horseradish Mashed Potatoes as the side accompaniment,’ I state.

Joke Guy: ‘So then it accompanies the side dish?’ He looks at me with a highly-satisfied glint in his eyes.

‘I guess you’re right. It is a side. It accompanies the entrée. You got me there,’ I say.

‘So the side dish comes unaccompanied? What kind of place is this?’ Twinkling again.

What does a jackass like this expect me to do? I can’t really start laughing, because he hasn’t said anything funny. But he thinks he has. Or is he expecting banter from me, so he can riff some more and impress his sad wife and the other couple?

‘What kind of place is this? It’s actually a Charter School. Are you the English teacher?’

But I don’t say that. I just match his bemused eye twinkle and move on.

At another point, he said, ‘One thing you’ll learn about me. I’m not always right on everything, but I’m always right on.’


Usually this bonehead has a suffering wife who spends the meal staring at her food while he excretes his gems like anal beads out of a porn actress. But every guest is different. This time, his wife seemed to think he was just hilarious. And this is no joke (pun intended) – he was ‘on’ for a solid 120 minutes tonight.

So maybe this hits tangentially with my initial thoughts in this post. Getting with the right person is nothing more than finding someone on the same wavelength as yours. Even if you’re flat-lining.

Number 100

No irony. Numbers can’t be ironic, can they? But this is post number 100 for

What? Four or five months since the last post?

Well it’s not easy being a human being. Stability in one’s life might be vastly underrated. Here’s my thinking:

You can be totally alone for years. You can be rich for years. You can be destitute for years. You can have the same job for years. You might be unemployed for years. You might be able to get the perfect pastrami sandwich from your favorite deli for years.

But everything ends. Even love everlasting.

Back to my impromptu list, any of these things can be positive or negative, right? But the thing is, you get used to it. Even bad stuff, is what I’m saying. Wherein, you have a limp because your ankle is gimpy, but after awhile you really don’t think much about it, and you just get around as fast as you get around.

On the other side, there’s a check that comes every month simply because your aunt liked you before she died. You get used to that too, and don’t think about it much.

Well, ol’ waiter here, the last number of months, has been getting a reminder dose of what it was like before he had a wife to count on.

Not to say I could count on her for all the important things. But certainly for one of the most important things: relieving me from worrying about getting and/or keeping a girl.

Eight years of marriage, and I had actually forgotten how intermittently miserable I was until I got married.

Make no mistake – I’m a generally happy and even-keeled person – when I was single or married. However, those stretches during the single years when I was chasing a girl who didn’t end up working out (and isn’t that all of them?), those were some troubling and frustrating times.

And here I am again. 🙂

Yes, that was a smiley face, something I would never have used before the breakup – because I was blissfully ignorant of the modern dating environment. But now, having been shock-and-awe initiated into the world of contemporary dating and phone texting, I find it second nature.

Oh, god, the smart phone! I hate it, and I love it so much I have to hate it. There’s no message I can receive besides snail mail (and who gets that anymore?) that doesn’t funnel down into my Blackberry. Email, texts, voicemails, Facebook notifications, and of course phone calls. It’s the cruelest of worlds when you can be tied in knots over a new love, pining if you will, and have the ‘ability’ to monitor her every communication to you in real time. You will get her call, text, email, Facebook comment – anything – instantaneously. And when you’re really hanging on that response to your important text – ‘Whazz up? :)’ – it can destroy your central nervous system if she for some reason doesn’t respond for a few hours.

And if that reason is that she’s not that into you, well, all of those unrewarded glances towards your bound-and-gagged cell phone are just the same as needle-like drops of H2O in the classic Chinese Water Torture.

But as usual, I digress. But then, maybe not. This is post #100 and the biggest topic probably should be why I’ve waited so long between posts?

Well, people, I’ve got to tell ya, chasing women is really time-consuming!

No One Said It Was Easy

There’s a Coldplay song, I don’t know the title, but the refrain goes, ‘. . . no one said it was easy . . .’

This is a waiter blog. Last post I went against general custom and I wrote about my personal life. And I’m gonna do it again.

On Monday (yesterday) the wife came to start the serious packing for her official permanent move-out. She’s signed a lease and had June 1st as move-in day. I’m off all day Monday, so I planned to be around to help her as much as necessary.

It was hard. It was sad. Really sad. I mostly just followed her around as she grabbed stuff and put it into boxes. You know, we were collaborating on the splitting of the assets. Waiters don’t have assets like Turbo Porsches and Silver Goblets and Renoir paintings. We were dividing up things we had accrued together.

It crossed the emotional line when she walked into the spare bedroom – which she used as pretty much her dressing room, what with appropriating that room’s closet as her main storage. We were just generally chatting about stuff. It was the usual casual banter of two people who are completely comfortable with each other.

I was in the hallway, she in the spare bedroom. She walked out and said, ‘I’m getting sad,’ and walked downstairs.

All of a sudden the grief and the loss hit me again. Downstairs, she was having trouble holding back the tears. I told her I was sorry. Sympathizing, not apologizing.

The night ended with a couple of drinks and sharing mac ‘n cheese. She left and there were boxes of stuff filling the living and dining rooms. Later I cleaned out my nightstand, as she would be taking the bedroom set the next day.

Today (I’m writing this Tuesday, June 01, 2010) was even worse. I worked a closing shift at lunch. When I got up, the wife was already at work doing more packing in anticipation of her movers being available at one p.m. We did some more talking like before. The grief was in the air like rainforest humidity. At one point she said she was very upset, that she was trying not to cry.

I left at 11:30 and waved to her as I pulled away. I felt heavy and dreadful.

I had one of my worst days, moneywise, at Michael’s. Which went hand-in-hand with desolate boredom as there were two full hours to fritter away after all tables were gone, side work completed (including the dinner opener’s side work, just to be a nice guy), and checkout cashed. I went and got my phone from the car and watched it obsessively for texts or emails that would distract me from my thoughts. I even logged into Facebook. Ouch.

When I got home, it was about an hour before she returned with her moving guys from their most recent run. As there were moving guys on the job, I again didn’t really have to do anything, despite trying and asking. They just grabbed boxes and loaded them. There were continuing discussions between the wife and I about what she could take (anything she wanted, as far as I was concerned) and what she’d leave for me. She eventually said she couldn’t stand it anymore and was just going to quit where she was. There was plenty left to decide about and move, but she didn’t have anything left in her psychic bank. ‘I’ve been crying off and on all day. I’m just totally wrung out now. I just want to go home, set up the bed, take a bath, and fall asleep.’

When they were loaded up, it was time for her to go. I came over to hug her. ‘I’m not going that far,’ she said, pointing out a hug was maybe overkill for the situation.

‘I know, but it’s just so sad,’ I said.

‘I know,’ she said as we hugged. We parted and she looked at me. ‘I love you.’

‘I love you too.’ And we both broke into tears.

She left, the door shut behind her, and I started wailing.

Two things.

  1. The splitting up of the ‘stuff,’ at least as we did it, was just as significant as the ‘regular’ splitting up. We created this house together. It was the figure of our dreams and aspirations. One of them. She took a framed print, and I recalled the day she came home with that picture after a day touring yard sales. She decided to leave me the stoneware, and I remembered us picking out the pattern at Macy’s after we got engaged. I looked at the present emptiness of the house and remembered all the talking and plotting and visualizing we put into filling it up the way we wanted. And now that was gone.

    A couple weaves a new fabric when they create their life together. When that ends, you can’t unravel the threads without a tremendous feeling of loss for that wonderful creation it once comprised.

  2. The wife’s admissions the last couple days about how upset she was, how she was sad. This is the most heartbreaking thing. It marks a sharp divergence from historical emotional posture. Anger, irritation, sullenness, resentment – these are emotions she was comfortable showing. But true vulnerability, such as I’ve seen the last few days, was not a luxury she could afford herself. To see her like this now touches me deeply, and it also stirs deep regret that we could never find that level of comfort while we were together. Not to say it’s comfortable to be sad and in pain, but comfortable enough to reveal yourself that way to your spouse. It was so fucking sad to see her that way. I just feel that this kind of emotional candor from her would have helped keep our marriage together when it was truly possible to be saved.

    It’s one of those things. People have different levels of urgency . . . I don’t know. I just really don’t know what to make of it . . .

And then, as I wrote this, my roommate got home and started talking to me about it. She’s friends with both myself and the wife. And I told her my sadness, and I had to stop because I was choked up, and I started again, and my eyes were teary, etc. And eventually, as I said things, and she heard me and chimed in, I started feeling better. The sadness is still out there, but my mind cleared somewhat.

So let’s end on that lesson, folks. If you’re upset, feeling down, confused, sad – talk to someone about it. It’s the best medicine there is. Just pick a good listener who loves you, tell the whole truth, and listen back. It works really well.

A Waiter Gets Divorced

Okay, blog-ites, here’s some big non-restaurant news in my life. I am getting divorced from the Wife of 8 years.

First general thought is it’s a sad thing. I didn’t marry until the age of 40. By that point I had seen my parents and half of my good friends marry and divorce. I believed I was the one who was going to do it right. I thought I had the right partner with the right values to do it for the long haul. There might be tough times, problems to work out, but we would make it through those things and have an ultimately happy life together. You know, ‘. . . richer/poor, sickness/health,’ all that stuff.

Despite my initial and ongoing perception, our marriage bond wasn’t as strong as all that. It did not make it. Tough times were encountered, and we were not able to weather them.

The sadness I speak of is contained in that failure. But also in the remembrance of the really good times, the special bond we did once have, and to a much smaller degree the time lost in an ultimately fruitless undertaking.

That is the first general thought.

To be more specific and timely, however, I am happy and optimistic right now.

As I have told the various important and marginal people in my life the news, I’ve mostly met condolence. Virtually everyone shakes their head, says some things about how difficult it is, what a shame, etc. They say they are sorry.

It’s not their fault, but it’s the wrong tack on me at this time. If it were 1.5-2.0 years ago, they’d be dead-on. That was when I was head-over-heels, but not in love – more in complete chaos and confusion. My world was completely spun off its axis: the toilet water was swirling the wrong direction, the sun was setting on the wrong horizon, and time was a snarled mess of yarn. I was annotating cell phone records, staking out her friends’ houses, triangulating time/distance/tasks to see if things added up, cruising local watering holes where she might possibly be hanging out, etc. I was in a frenzy.

And then nothing happened. The wife and I did not get divorced. We had the sporadic blow-out yelling match; we didn’t share the affection and understanding we had before things fell apart; we spent more time separate. Essentially, there was no further deterioration, but also certainly no forward movement in repairing or rebuilding a marriage.

As months passed I had two basic modes: 1) numbed and willingly staring off in the metaphorical opposite direction to avoid confronting the situation; and 2) laborious introspection into every aspect of her behavior, trying to determine what it meant and where it was going.

As more months passed, Mode 1 came to rule. As long as the surface status quo (we still lived together, shared meals, contributed to the household, and generally kept maintaining the shell of our marriage) remained in place, I was comfortable enough with it. In fact, it was kind of a welcome relief, and something of a much-needed correction in the balance of our marriage.

That might sound confusing, so let me explain. The wife is that person who is always striving for the next thing, the next rung, the achievement. This is a good thing. Forward progress is what life is about. Through our marriage, she had many such striving projects. Buying the house I live in was a very good one. She pursued and attained her teaching credential. She took teaching jobs hoping to change her/our life. She started her own restaurant.

Meantime, I had my own set of striving goals when I met her. I wanted to become a capable musician and songwriter. I was already a writer and I wanted to bridge into professional writer territory – be it novels, short stories, screenplays. I wanted also to have a family and happy marriage.

Because of a character flaw in myself and the nature of the Wife’s personality, something else developed. Gradually, I came to espouse and support her causes and goals, to the vast detriment of my own personal goals and dreams. By the time the shit hit the fan, I no longer played in my blues band, and my writing was something I was able to get fired up for about twice a year for 3-4 week periods, essentially accomplishing nothing.

Our ghost-like occupation of what once was our marriage allowed me freedom from her demands on my time and psychic energy. And I gradually started writing regularly again (this blog is a product of that). I have not joined another band, but I’ve written and recorded more than a handful of original songs. (Update: Actually, since first drafting this a few days ago, my old drummer contacted me again. He’s got a bass player, and he’s invited me to be the guitarist/singer. Not bad.)

Then one day at the end of last summer, she said she had to move out – a trial separation. It’s hard for me to believe now, but I was surprised at the time. I urged her not to do it. For some reason, I saw our growing comfort with our bad situation as progress. Which it wasn’t. I begged and argued that I didn’t think it would solve anything, when we obviously needed to communicate more, not less. But she said she already had a place lined up and she was going to go ahead with it. Try it for a month. Maybe she’d be back in two weeks, missing me too much . . .

So she moved out. And I was surprised again. I found that my missing her was more than balanced by the relief and ‘lightness of being’ from not having her around.

She moved back home a few months later, just before Thanksgiving, in order to keep up the façade for visiting family. (The separation was a secret from everyone except one of her friends. We still worked together at Carney’s, still sometimes hung out on our off days.) Things seemed a bit better. To reiterate however, there was no forward progress. It just wasn’t being a problem.

We did the holidays. If you’ve read the blog, you know she quit Carney’s in January. Then in February, she suddenly said she had to move out again. I was again taken by surprise. I guess I’m not the smartest guy in the room, as long as there’s at least two people.

This time, things changed for me. It didn’t happen precisely right away, but a switch flipped in my head. I’d long marveled, during my dating days, how women could be in love with me one day and the next they really didn’t care if they ever talked to me again. Women have that switch they can flip. Well, apparently I have one too.

I was basically over it. I felt fantastic. My luck improved. I gained a certain mojo.

One day, a little over a month ago, a beautiful young woman came into Carney’s with 7 octogenarian women. We connected. She put one of the old women up to ask me if I was single? I said yes. This gave me the confidence to ask her out. She texted me that night, we had a drink together when I got off work, and we were quickly having a romance.

This was all I needed to make the big change in my life permanent. I had to tell this lovely new woman my exact situation. Which was, frankly, not nearly settled enough for her. I didn’t blame her.

It was this that spurred me to make an appointment for the wife to come over so I could break her the news that I was finally done and wanted a divorce. I did not finally take this step so I could be with the new girl, because who knows where that will lead? But she did provide the needed motivation. She was the catalyst.

It was not easy or fun having this sit-down with the wife. She knew something was up. She came in the front door and her eyes were already welling with tears. I made my point concisely: A long time had passed. I had observed that there was no forward progress on fixing our fucked up marriage. This led me to understand that it was time to get divorced.

I put my personal spin on it. That it would be better for both of us from this very day forward, though it might not seem like it immediately, because we have taken a deliberate action. And that was so far better than just sitting stuck in the mud as we had been. I said that we could also end the charade of lying to our friends and loved ones.

She said a very nice thing to me. ‘You’re going to be hard to replace.’

That got me, and I started crying.

In all, though she cried and was sad, she seemed to take it well.

The next couple days yielded some awfully bitter and contentious phone calls from the wife. Then by the weekend, she seemed to be in a much better place. She had already found a permanent place to live, somewhat close by, and was excited doing that.

I feel relieved. It appears this will be orderly.

Thanks for reading.

My Old Friend Blackie

Here’s what happened the other day. (Not a bad approach to take with a blog, eh?)

Arrived at Michael’s at noon and was immediately assigned a table of 11. My partner was to be Blackie, the most reviled server at Michael’s.

Every restaurant has one or more Blackies. She is old, slow, an absolute cancer of negative energy and gossip. She simply lives for the rules and regulations of the job. Why in the hell would a person live for and embrace the arcane, misguided, and senseless rules of a corporate restaurant? Because it’s those rules that allow her to keep her job.

An illustrative story about Blackie:

Five years ago, when we were both starting the Michael’s gig for lunch (Blackie came from Claim Jumper and continues to work there), there was male-model-handsome bartender who started with us. Mitch wasn’t much on learning the job; he wasn’t much on performing well; he wasn’t much on showing up for work sober. But he was good-looking, charming, and always ready for a party. Well, Michael’s draws a wealthy clientele, skewering decidedly past age 45. It so happened that the well-alimonied ex-wife of a VIP took a liking to Mitch. She used to visit the restaurant in either a limousine or a Rolls-Royce. She was not a bad looking woman, for her 50+ age. Mitch was very excited when she invited him to a weekend at the track in Del Mar. It would be first class all the way: limo, hotel, restaurants, etc.

A couple of weeks after this dream weekend – and a few other dates – Mitch has given up a few shifts here and there. So now we’re speculating that he’s become a gigolo. Hell, maybe he always was. So one day in the service well, two other waitresses are watching Mitch squire (be squired by?) his benefactor at the opposite end of the bar. And as human nature will have it, they were speculating on their relationship. I knew both waitresses well, in terms of work; we were friendly.

Waitress One: Do you think he fucked her?

Waitress Two: Oh, no doubt.

Waitress One: Is she paying him off for it?

Waitress Two: One way or another.

Right then, Blackie walks up and asks what they’re talking about? Now, even at this early point in Blackie’s tenure, people already have their antenna up about her, so the girls demur.

Blackie: No, really. What were you saying?

Waitress Two: Nothing. Really.

Blackie: No, come on, tell me.

Waitress Two: Forget about it. We were just talking about Mitch.

Blackie: What? What were you saying?

Waitress One: We think Mitch is a gigolo and we were wondering if he fucked Mrs. _____.

Blackie turns on her heel and leaves. At the end of her shift, she lodged a formal grievance about ‘hostile work environment,’ citing the exchange with the other two waitresses. If you understand corporate restaurants, you know there was a colossal freak out over this that went on for more than a week. It ended up with the two other waitresses getting written up, while Blackie walked away leaving management and corporate management petrified to cross her.

That’s Blackie. And please understand that is just one glaring example of her M.O. In the same five years she’s been out on disability/injury claims five separate multi-month occasions. She has written directly to corporate offices three times with various complaints – and those are just the times I know about. She visited another Michael’s once and actually wrote a complaint letter about her server, sent it to corporate. Because he made a flippant remark about a small piece of cork floating in her glass of wine, and then didn’t replace the glass.

She hits on old (late 60s or older) single men dining in the restaurant, probably to establish Sugar Daddy relationships. I know this because one of them told me, and because of that interesting story I was able to note two other older men she gravitated towards and traded phone numbers with.

She is coffee shop trash. Most waiters start in coffee shops, and some of them belong there forever. She never stopped wearing day-glo lipstick and nail polish when the ’80s ended. Her face is beaten and weathered from sun and alcohol and bad karma.


She drones endlessly about her ‘boyfriend.’ For a year his name was Steve, but amazingly, when his name changed many times after that, he always sounded like the same person. ‘Steve’ always only calls her up when he wants sex or is out of money. He only goes on vacations with her if she’s the one paying. When he goes on a trip, it’s with the Boys. Most recently, ‘Steve’ was driving drunk (Blackie in passenger seat) and they hit a big tree trying to avoid a cat running across the road. Blackie ‘broke her back’ and ‘cracked (her) teeth in 29 places.’ This, incidentally, led to what became her summer vacation, 2009. (The other multi-month injury claims mentioned above also fortuitously happened at the height of summer.)

When the corporate brass finally thought they had a chance to get rid of her because she’d been out so long with a non-work-related injury, they notified her that she would have to report in two weeks or lose her job.

Miraculously, Blackie was able to overcome her ‘broken back’ and all those ‘cracked teeth’ (that now might not need to be replaced like she said originally), and return on the last possible day.

That’s Blackie, and now we have her back.

Okay, okay. One more Blackie story. My very first one. Our training process at Michael’s was brutal. It’s normally an intense two week deal. But three things conspired to stretch ours out:

  1. This was to be the grand opening for lunch – Michael’s was previously dinner-only. A class of 20 people was recruited.
  2. We were one of the pilot lunch programs for the entire chain, so corporate was super-involved. They even came in for their own two week training period with us.
  3. The restaurant integrated remote printers simultaneously. Previous practice was to order in the computer, collect a bunch of chits at the ‘local’ printer, then when you needed to ‘fire’ you would physically walk your chits to the appropriate location, i.e., the hot line, the pantry, the bar, etc.

Amidst this cluster-fuck, the trainers had to arrange on-floor training shifts for all these waiters. Obviously it won’t do from a guest perspective to have 20 trainees following 12 waiters around all night. It really won’t do even to have 6 following – it’s just too much traffic and it’s distracting to the guest, makes it seem like a place doesn’t have their act together. Expensive places need to maintain an air of permanence and stability, and nothing says the opposite better than a cloud of nose-picking trainees swarming around on a Saturday night.

The trainers took down our individual schedule constraints (of course we all had other jobs during this five-week process – we had to survive), and then apparently disregarded them entirely, drawing up a complicated two-week floor training schedule of 3-4 servers per shift. When this schedule was unveiled, everybody had conflicts and we all spent about a half hour at a large table bartering shifts to fix our schedules.

I was having terrible trouble with a particular Friday night shift – one week away. Blackie heard me asking around about it, and volunteered that she could probably switch it with me. Great. That was my last hurdle. She just said I had to call her two days later to make sure she was available to do it.

Six or seven calls and 6 days later, she still hadn’t committed, leaving me hanging after each phone call that maybe she’d know the next day. I finally gave up, pled my case to the trainers, and they figured out what to do with me.

That extended episode was the equivalent of being on the floor and a server asking, ‘Do you need anything?’

‘Well, yes. Could you please take two coffees to table 16? That’d be a big help. Thanks.’

‘Okay. I just have to take an order on 25 first . . .’

Huh? You just asked me if I needed help . . . If you’re gonna screw around and not do it now, don’t waste my precious time asking me and making me think about it. I’d be better off if you never asked and I handled it myself.

Incidentally, Blackie pulls this move as well. Sounds like this: ‘Nee-n-thing?’ She says it ten times a shift to each server – meaning it not a single bit. At the end of the day she has done zero favors, even when someone is stupid enough to respond that that, yes, they do ‘Need anything.’

So now we’re 1200 words in and you still don’t know what happened. Sorry. This is too long, so I’m going to have to break it into two separate posts.

Click to read Blackie Takes Down Another One.

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.]


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.