Wednesday, February 06, 2008
RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSITY
“I haven’t met many women that didn’t have to pee at the time.”
Popping me with her towel, turning on her heel and sashaying down the hall past the restrooms back to her tables, Carol called over her shoulder, “That’s your analysis.”
The pun was so perfectly bad that my appreciation of my saucy head waitress deepened yet further, even after years of her tolerating my occasional hungover mornings and reconciling inevitable mood clashes and food fights between passionate people performing panic paced prandial posts during the lunch rush. My work related appreciation of her was as an excellent buffer between me and impatient customers. Anyone who has ever worked in the service industry is familiar with the attitude assumed by all too many when being served, especially those who had never served anyone themselves; that of owner to slave. Carol knew her customers and she let them know it in terms so straightforward I recognized the brave honesty with which she dealt with her life in general and the key to why my regard was so deep at all.
When I started cooking at Shelter from the Norm the only thing Pug told me was that I wouldn’t make more than the salary I was bitching over beers about getting for running the print shop across the street, but I could have all my meals free. At that point in my evolving dematerialization food consumed a quarter of my expenses so I had only one reservation about taking this new job. “I don’t want this to be a place to expect fast food, there’s a Jack in the Box right next door. I want to have vegetarian day, and fresh seafood day and improve the daily menu beyond burgers and steak fingers.”
Pug was delighted, especially having kept the kitchen closed for over a month since firing the last cook for drinking six packs in the alley during his shift. He even initiated “shuckin’ and jivin’” on Thursday afternoon during which he and I mangled our hands opening two bushels of fresh oysters for Friday’s seafood special. All to the delight of our visiting friends’ sympathy and jibes as they waited to use the bathroom or suffer the crowded kitchen long enough for some erudite conversation and the occasional sample like gulls around the docks, just shuckin’ and jivin’. He also balked at a couple of changes, such as taking the steak fingers off the menu, which he claimed to just love as a snack between his fourth and fifth meal of the day. He acquiesced when, after eating two and a half of the little buggers slathered in BBQ sauce, he noticed that I had cut up, breaded and deep fried the corrugated cardboard in which the steak fingers had come packed.
To that point in my life preparing that menu in its cycle through its vegetarian, pasta, beef and seafood special week in and week out was the most rewarding of my varied livelihoods. I still cannot think of a more life reaffirming action than providing healthy food for those who would have it. I invented sandwiches that were tasty enough to cause people to eat food that was good for them. One, the Elfagator, got recognition from rock stars to master chefs whose ethics demanded they ask my permission to serve. Over the years the kitchen staff developed into a rare endeavor until slamming into the brick wall of fiscal responsibility.
But this isn’t about that. This is the beginning of what had often been recommended I do and I have more than once threatened to do: Tales from the Kitchen. A true account of a fictional bar and the wonderful assholes that found camaraderie within its walls through the last half of the ‘70s.
Just one more tale before I leave the rest for further installments in later posts. This involves one of those supervillians in the comic book aspect of the Shelter from the Norm. Being a laid back amalgam of west campus residents, students and professors in the school of communication, the most physical aggression manifested during the day shift was over answering Jeopardy at five. But this time he came in during the day and was recognized only when asking, after he’d been served, “ Do I have leave to reenter the empire?” Having been banned before anyone at the bar that day ever entered the first time, only Suzi, the day bartender, recognized Flame from Pug’s description in tales of his infamy. Neither Suzi or Sandy, the day waitress cared to deal with him so it was down to me to 86 him. As politely as possible I explained it was my sad duty to inform him that he was still forbidden entrance per Pug’s wishes.
I’d barely heard the words, “gauche lackey” or some such blather when the ice cubes and vodka he’d been served unwittingly got relayed, sans glass, quite wittingly to my face. He was out the door before anyone reacted, so we didn’t do anything except be glad he was gone. A few hours later he returned — with his mother, who requested that Sandy fetch me from the kitchen. When I answered her query as to his banishment with, “Because he’s a total asshole,” he slammed another vodka into the wall. The truth of the situation passed non-verbally between mom and I leaving me to only express my wishes by raising my hands palms up and sweeping them towards the door for her to drag him out by the ear. He never returned and was forever stripped of his supervillian status.