Tuesday, May 31, 2005

 

The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #4: Snack-Bar Boy (Part II)

"So where are the snack-bar girls?"

It was only an hour after I had opened the snack bar, but it was already the 20th time someone had rolled up in a golf cart and asked me the question.

Always it was some old guy (the man who was asking me right now was well over twice my age. Had to be at least, oh, 36 or 37), and always he would look around behind me, hoping to catch a glimpse of Rachel or Kim, the girls who before me had always served the men a free glimpse of cheesecake to go with their overpriced hot dogs and hamburgers.

After about the 5th time someone asked me where they were, I began to think up alternative answers to the question, such as:

"Mr. Jones, don't you recognize me? It's Rachel! I got an operation!"

or

"That hamburger you're eating? That's Rachel. No, hang on, the hot dogs are Rachel. THAT'S Kim."

or

"They're gone. But they left their bathing suits behind. Want to see one? It's five bucks extra. Want me to wear it? That's another 500."

or

"They quit after I walked into this very snack bar and saw them naked. Sorry. Sorry I didn't have a camera, I mean."

Of course, the last answer was actually the truth, but I couldn't very well admit it because I was 15 and stupid and had allowed myself to be guilted into taking over the snack-bar job after the girls had quit. The real blame lay with Michael, the bombastic Irish culinary-arts student who ran the Richman food service staff, and who had also asked me to go down the snack shack and unlock the door that fateful day. He knew what I didn't--that the girls were inside, changing out of their swimsuits. And while part of me was sort of grateful for the circumstance (which allowed me my first live glimpse of naked female) the rest of me was a little annoyed at being put in the situation. It didn't help that when the girls quit, Michael blamed the whole thing on me. And, by association, my brother, who also worked for Michael.

The upshot: He told my brother that if I didn't come and work the snack bar that weekend, it was my brother who would suffer the consequences.

I affected like I didn't care, but as I mentioned earlier, when the chips were down, my brother and I generally looked out for each other. As convoluted as this chain of events had become, one thing seemed clear to me: my brother was in trouble for my antics, and if I wanted to set it right, I was going to have to work the snack bar.

Is that enough of a recap?

I hope so. Because that's actually more than a recap: it's almost the whole story. I could write about the next several weekends, and the many afternoons I worked the snack bar that hot month. I could go on about my days of flipping burgers and retrieving wieners from an ancient steamer (that managed to keep the very core of the hot dogs frozen solid yet turn the tiny snack shack into a sauna. No wonder the girls wore their bathing suits in here!) I could reduce you to a snoring, drooling heap by sharing with you those precious, stolen moments I enjoyed when some kid would come to the snack bar and order ice cream--and I would stuff my whole upper torso into the ice cream freezer, just to feel the blessed cool air.

But I won't. We've all had jobs like that, in one way or another. And I honestly have no interest in reliving those sweltering days moment by moment, burger by burger.

As always in my life (and probably yours too), it's the jarring moments, the crazy-ass anecdotes, the sudden disruptions in my routine that I remember most clearly, and that I think are worth dwelling on. And for summer, pretty much all of the above were supplied by my new boss, Michael.

Who, not to put too fine a point on it, turned out to be, in the deathless words of my uncle, "crazier than a shithouse rat."

Which I didn't really notice at first, probably because of the high level of functional insanity in my own family. At this point in my life, my father was a mighty erratic fellow and his behavior and actions towards my mom, my brother and me are worth a few blog entries of their own. For now, let it suffice to say I was pretty well conditioned to deal with wingnuts.

But after a few weeks, even Michael's behavior was too odd to ignore. He could go from greeting you as warmly as a long-lost brother in the morning to screaming at you in front of paying customers in the afternoon. That was no big deal; I'd dealt with people who ran hot and cold like that plenty of times. But Michael also did things that made me think he might be more than just odd, but odd and violent and barely in control.

For example, he seemed to take great delight in burning himself--and anyone else in arm's reach--with cigarettes. He did this repeatedly, despite fairly vocal and unanimous protests against this behavior. The more you made it clear that it really wasn't remotely funny, the more it seemed to encourage him.

He also managed to rig the kitchen's walk-in freezer so that it could not be opened from the inside, which was a truly dangerous--never mind illegal--adjustment. There was one dishwasher in particular who,if memory serves, had claustrophobia, and made the mistake of saying so in Michael's presence. Thereafter, Michael would barricade him in the freezer every chance he got (the poor dishwasher eventually quit).

My first exposure to this behavior was my second weekend, working the lunch rush. Michael came in to supervise me, so he alleged. He ended up standing directly behind me, literally looking over my shoulder while I grilled several burgers. I figured he was waiting for me to say something, but I was busy, and my default setting was to ignore him.

After a few uncomfortable minutes of this, Michael started bumping my elbow every time I reached across the grill to flip a burger. He did this once or twice, then pushed hard, forcing the edge of my hand onto the grill and giving me a pretty nasty burn.

I whirled and yelled "CUT IT OUT!" right in his face, but he just pushed me back and looked at me with cold eyes. "You don't talk to me like that. I'll do as I fucking please." And then he left.

The moment was bad enough on its own, but then a few hours later, as I was closing up for the day, he came back, all smiles and solicitation, offering a lame apology for burning my hand, claiming it was "just a bit of fun." I just nodded and continued cleaning up. But I was thinking, You're a total nutcase.

Aside from the dishwasher, I don't know who else Michael like to antagonize, but there must have been others. When I showed my brother my burned hand at the end of that day, he looked annoyed, but not overly concerned. "Michael just likes to fuck with some people," he said. It was easy for my brother to laugh this off: he outweighed Michael by more than 50 pounds. Aside from the occasional insult or mild verbal abuse, Michael generally left my brother alone.

"Well, if he does anything like this again, I'm going to Jerry," I said. Jerry was the guy who ran all operations for Richman's food services. He was also Michael's boss.

My brother's look went from annoyance to alarm when I said this. "Yeah, well he'll just deny it. It's your word against his. Then Michael will get you back--and probably me too--for trying to get him in trouble."

That stopped me. I had no desire to make things worse, and I'm sure living my father had conditioned me against making crazy people even crazier. On the other hand, I didn't think Michael should get away with his passive-aggressive antics. And I was annoyed with my brother for trying to talk me out of going to Michael's boss. "You're such a chicken-shit," I told him and stalked out of the restaurant.

The problem was, so was I. At 15 I think I had roughly 4 ounces of muscle mass on my entire body (and most of that was almost certainly tied up with assorted sphincter functions). I weighed all of 100 pounds, and Michael was not above getting violent. This was, after all, the guy who would get drunk on weekend nights and show up the next morning with assorted bruises and stories of his various brawls. In short, I realized that if I said anything against this guy, my mouth would be writing checks my body couldn't cash.

Looking back, I'm just in drop-jawed amazement at my stupidity. This situation was never anything my brother or I discussed with my parents. I barely mentioned it to my uncle (whose advice was to lie in wait for Michael one night as he went to his car and them pummel him senseless with a baseball bat. "Then piss in his gas tank. Always piss in their gas tank," he said. It was kind of a motto with him). I never compared notes with other employees. I never did anything to remedy the situation. In short, I became a classic enabler, keeping a low profile out in my little snack shack and justifying and making excuses for Michael's behavior. It was, as you can imagine, a pretty miserable time.

So it's a good thing, really, that my tenure in snack-bar purgatory lasted only another couple of weeks.

My last day at the snack bar began innocuously enough. I was going through my usual routine of firing up the steamer and getting the grill ready, when I heard this ungodly caterwauling from up at the restaurant.

I looked out the back door of the snack bar and could see the service entrance to the restaurant. And there was Michael, yelling and howling. He was by himself--there wasn't even anyone sitting at the picnic table where the kitchen staff liked to have cigarette breaks--so I don't know whose benefit the yelling was for.

But in a second, it didn't matter. Michael spied me looking up the hill at him. He pointed at me and made a great, doglike baying sound, which would have been funny under any other circumstance. Except then Michael stopped baying and, with a finger still pointed at me, he charged down the hill making exaggerated grunting noises.

Well, I didn't want any part of that, so I slammed the door shut and locked it. Of course, Michael had the key, and he fitted it in the lock, growling all the while like some wolf-man from the movies. Every time the lock turned, I turned the latch back on my side. This went on for several seconds.

Next thing I knew, Michael was at the service window and was crawling through it, still making his rabid doglike noises. If I'd had a baseball bat then, I probably would have pummeled him. But in the surreal moment, I panicked and simply fumbled with the back door. I got it unlocked and had it partly opened when Michael clambered all the way through the window, scrambled across the floor and grabbed me by the ankles.

I went down with a yelp and tried to get back up, when Michael threw me to the floor, raised his head and howled. Then he bit my left nipple.

I don't care who you are, man or woman: having some strange guy suddenly bite your nipple is absolutely the very definition of No Fun. And that previous sentence is the very definition of An Understatement.

To this day, I have no idea what caused Michael to charge down the hill and terrorize me. Maybe in some fucked-up way, he really did think he was just having fun, messing with people's heads, and he just didn't know when to stop (such as before actually making unwanted dental contact with another man's nipple). More likely he had some kind of psychological disorder which modern therapy and pharmaceuticals could have helped (and maybe by now it has). I suppose I should have felt sorry for Michael. But I was too busy having my nipple bitten off.

Okay, to be fair, he didn't bite it off. He just bit through my shirt and sort of pinched the skin around my nipple. He didn't break the skin, but he left a very distinct bite-mark that didn't go away for the rest of the summer. The attack also left me with a very sore throat, since the moment Michael bit me, I let out a scream that must have vaporized the lining of my esophagus.

Those few seconds were a sensory blur. It started with howling, growling, then a sharp pain in my chest, followed by me screaming, and Michael laughing. Then there was a flash of metal in my field of vision and suddenly Michael was off me, yelling in surprise and holding his neck. There was a clatter of metal, then I felt a hand roughly grab the back of my shirt, and my brother pulled me to my feet. I was never so glad to see him before (or, I must confess, since.)

(What? He's my brother. You think I'm gonna get all gushy and complimentary about him? He reads this, you know)

Michael was holding his neck and looking in disbelief at my brother. For a second, I thought my brother had stabbed him with the bread knife I kept for slicing hamburger buns open. But then I saw that my brother's hand was near the grill. Near the metal spatula sitting on the grill.

"Did you burn me?" Michael asked, goggle-eyed, still clutching his neck. "Did you fucking burn me?" My brother looked down at the hot spatula, then snatched it up and began some caterwauling of his own. Michael gave him the briefest of looks--a wonderfully uncertain look of realization that he may have just met someone secretly crazier than himself. Then he bolted past me, out the door and down the hill.

My brother--who evidently had finally had enough of Michael's crap--chased after him,
roaring and brandishing the upraised spatula like it was a battle axe. I watched them go. Because of his bulk, my brother was always slow out of the gate, but I could see that with enough distance and with gravity on his side, he'd catch Michael at the bottom of the hill. Unfortunately, they disappeared behind a stand of trees before I could see that happen.

I stood there in the door for a few seconds. Then I heard someone pull up to the service window in their golf cart.

"Hey," some old guy yelled at me through the window Michael had climbed in moments ago. "Can I get a burger?"

Still in a daze, I responded automatically, going over to the grill. Then I stopped and looked around for a few seconds before it dawned on me.

"Sorry," I said. "But my spatula just ran down the hill."

Then I laughed this long, crazy, high-pitched laugh. I don't remember if I talked the guy into taking a couple of hot dogs instead, or if he just drove off in an attempt to get away from the crazy kid. Either way, that insane laughter had a marked effect on me. I suddenly knew it was time to end my snack-bar career. I closed up the grill and within a couple hours, I locked up the rest of the snack bar and left the keys on the desk in Michael's office (who had still not returned, by the way. Neither had my brother). I never formally quit, but that was my last day at Richman. I got on my bike and rode home and haven't set foot in that resort since.

If that isn't anticlimactic enough for you, how's this: To this day I don't even know whether my brother caught up with Michael or what. He came home late that night after closing. He usually finished work around 1 or 2 in the morning, after everyone in the family had long gone to bed. But this night I waited up for him. He walked in and gave me a funny look. Suddenly he raised his hand and banged the spatula down on the kitchen counter. Then, without a word, he stomped off to bed.

That night and for days--years--thereafter, I begged him to tell me what happened, but he refused.

Maybe if I'd said "thank you" he might have.

But I didn't.

So he didn't.

...

(God! Okay, okay! I know you're reading this, so: Thanks for chasing your crazy boss away after he bit my nipple.

Which I'm compelled to point out would never have happened if I hadn't taken the job to save your ass in the first place, but never mind.

THANK YOU.

All right?

Happy now?

Jeez!)

...

I do know that Michael himself left shortly thereafter. My brother ran the kitchen for the few remaining weeks of the summer and everyone was very happy with the change in management. In fact, with Michael gone one of the snack-bar girls--I think it was Kim--was willing to come back to work, which no doubt made all those leering old golfer men happy.

But I guess she had to bring her own spatula.

Because I still have the one my brother took from the snack bar.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead



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Comments:
What a tale! My childhood and summer job stories pale in comparison to those you've written about - no wonder you've become a writer!

So, come on Big Brother, we know you read this...what happened when you caught up with Michael??? Enquiring minds want to know! (sorry Shane... ;) )
 
All I can say is .. WOW!

I mean ... WOW!!!

I read the blog like 3 times and I still cant stop laughing.

You should really think about writing a book like Will. Your blogs alone could fill up one whole book.

Instead of "Just A Geek" ... you could call it "Me and My Blogs" ... :)

Way to go ...
 
You have led quite a life my friend. I think it's that steel trap memory of yours. The rest of us mentally block out trauma like that! Hysterically funny. Write the book first.....but then do the screenplay - your life begs to be written as a movie.

Please big bro - write and tell us that you went up one side and down the other on Michael with that spatula.

MM - hope you have fully recovered and are feeling much better. You certainly made my morning with that story!
 
wow that was a really sincere thanks and it only took you what? 22 years?

What else can I say but

YOU'RE WELCOME.

Asswipe.

Love,
Your Brother
 
Oh come on! It WAS sincere. And you TOTALLY come out looking like the good guy.

It's not like I was telling them about the time you shot yourself in the foot. Literally.

Just tell me already!
 
Whats the magic word?

XOXO
Big B
 
You know what? Forget it...
 
OK fine!! Fine!!!


Will you PLEASE tell me?

And before you reply "tell you what?" I'll ask again:

Will you PLEASE tell me what happened when you caught up with the crazy boss who bit my nipple?

Satisfied?
 
Yup - definitely fight like brothers. Too funny.
 
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