Sunday, March 05, 2006

Get Back to Work: Whistle in the Weeds

Here's a joint I wrote set in Little 5 Points, Atlanta -- a place I used to live/ work in about 10 years ago. Hindsight 20/20, I realize what an incredible time it was for me and how when you're young you sometimes tend to live your life so fast that you never stop and sniff on the buttercups...I'm glad I kept a journal...all of the characters in this one are based on real peeps I knew, worked/ partied with back in L5P...I'd written about my deceased homebiscuit George and the MJQ Lounge last year when I was over there, here's a couple of other people I'd like you to meet...Laters...

Ever the stickler for promptness, Dennis Carbone, a chain-smoking, hot tempered, restaurant manager was always working on a slow burn that many who knew him thought he took to Ralph Kramden proportions when he had a bee in his cap about something. He'd been waiting for the new hostess he'd just hired and she was late. "Tardy on her first day," he snorted and French inhaled the cigarette smoke curling up out of his mouth and into his nose. Never one to stand on ceremony, Carbone walked inside the Cubo-Caribbean joint he ran and prepared to start seating people himself -- then he noticed the new hostess, Allison, walking toward the front of the house. He made a note to himself to ask her to tame that wild-and-wooly mane of hair when she's on his floor -- but now was not that time. The J5 was in the initial stages of a full on dinner rush. Working his way around the room, he slid in flirtily behind the new hire, put his hand on her hips, and whispered "Hello beautiful." Alli turned to see who it was, "Oh hi, Dennis, should I get started?" The fact that he was directing her toward the punch clock while they walked through the crowd answered her question as she asked it. Nanoseconds after she'd punched in, Carbone simultaneously slapped a clipboard a clipboard/ waitlist in one hand and a seating chart in the other then grabbed her by the shoulders and pointed her toward the main entrance at the front of the building.

Though she was quite young, Allison Albrecht was already seasoned in the food service industry, so she dove right into the fray. She'd just been hired as a hostess on the previous Wednesday and after only a couple of days of training runs during the slower day shift, tonight would be her first official turn at bat -- working alone. Alli wasn't fazed - she'd had hostessing gigs every since she'd arrived in Atlanta: before this, in Mid town and and before that in Buckhead at yuppie enclaves like Good Old Days and Cafe au' Nice but she'd never worked on this part of town before. She only visit Little 5 Points to see bands play and score the occasional bag of weed or X. She walked into the J5 following a hottie she and her girlfriends spotted walking across the pedestrian commons that faced Euclid Avenue -- that's when she noted the "hostess wanted" sign and just applied for the hell of it. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." When her impromptu interview with the managar on duty ended her girlfriends -- and the cutie had long gone. As she walked towards the hostess desk, the hunky guy she'd been tailing ran right past her holding a big, steaming pot of beans with pot holders. "Comin' through, make a hole," he yelled while hobbling through the crowd of patrons and staff like a fiddler crab with hemorrhoids."Rory," she whispered to herself while reading the name stitched on the cook's shirt. "He works here?" she thought and then smiled "Guess I do too," she thought, reflecting on how fast everything went down in the past few days. She was surprised that Carbone called her back on the very night of her interview. His gruff, greasy demeanor and heavy New York accent made her reticent to accep the gig -initially, but there was something that resembled charm in the guy too. She took the gig. Impulsive as ever? Yes...but she wasn't quitting her day job just yet.

Allison began greeting the waiting patrons, seating the larger parties at the 12-tops in the back and sorting out everyone else accordingly. Dennis, who'd returned to his post outside to take a couple of puffs, watched silently -- dragging on a Marlboro while standing under the neon "Jamaica 5 Points" sign. "I sure can pick 'em," he noted, marvelling at his innate ability to hire top notch staff -- so certain was he of his on-the-spot character assessment skills that he rarely even read resumes; totally relied on his gut impulses while interviewing prospective employees. Such was the case with Allison and this other chick, Monica. He was a gambling man who took his cues from his instincts and he knew a diamond in the rough when he saw one. "Allison's kicking ass and taking names...but Monica, on the other hand," he thought shifting his gaze to the other side of the house, "she might be a whole 'nother kinda crazy -- hope she doesn't get herself into the weeds," he said to nobody and walked inside. Nancy, the head bar tender, had begun frantically waving in his direction. The J5 Grill would be soon filled to capacity, "Oh hell, here comes the goat fuck," he muttered to nobody as he zig-zagged through the crowd towards her station.

"Ms. Pritchard, 'ow might I help you this fine evening?!!," Dennis exclaimed affecting a bad British accent. "Very funny D.C." she dead panned. "Look, my register is practically out of change and the Bud keg is almost dried up, " motioning toward a red and white beer tap that had begun to pour mostly foam into the pitcher beneath it. "Don't get your knickers in a tick," the manager quipped, accent still intact, " I'll sort you out, post haste!" While walking in that quick, steady way that Manhattan natives do, Dennis pulled an oversized ring of keys out of his pocket as he bolted for the beer coolers. Looking down at the keys instead of where he was going, engrossed with picking through what the waiters called the "big O," he looked up just in time to see the new girl, Monica, coming toward him with a look on her face that he'd seen many times before. There was no way to sidestep her, he filled his lungs with a deep breath and braced himself. "Oh hell, here comes the goat fuck."

"I can't take this pressure," said the young waitress close to tears. "I'm in the weeds and nobody's helping me." Dennis looked over her shoulder and back at her station, which was comprised of five two-seat booths and one large table, the smallest wait station in the restaraunt - all five of the two tops were occupied. "Look," the manager said tersely, " I don't have time for this shit, I've got to run around to Felini's ang beg for singles. I got to help the new hostess seat guests and I got to re-keg the front bar with Budweiser before its tapped out- can't this wait?" " No it can't wait! screamed the novice waiter, I'm in the weeds, I need help! I need --" Dennis pressed an index finger over her lips and pulled her off the serving floor, through a set of swinging doors and into an empty corner in the kitchen out of earshot of the dining customers.

"Ok, spill it," he said impatiently. As tears streaked down her cheeks the college sophomore squeaked, "this is too intense, I'm not ready for this pace, just put me back on weekday mornings until I go back to school," she whimpered. " I'm sorry, I just can't do that," he said coldly and emphatically. "What do you mean you can't do that?!!" she shrieked. "I can't just wave a magic wand and make your station slow down, suck it up, it's your job," he explained. " Well I don't think I want this job, I can't handle this, that's why I'm going to school in the first place - so I don't have to work at schlubby jobs like one this for the rest of my life! I'll quit before I serve on that floor again!"

Dennis had heard enough, fed up with this barrage of neophyte gripes, he pulled a long slotted spoon out of a sink and ceremoniously gonged on a soup couldron hanging from a hook in the cieling. The earshattering clatter of the busy kitchen soon lowered as waitresses and cooks skidded in their tracks - even Clay, the laid back Rastafarian prep guy washing knives in the corner seemed to hear through his blaring headphones. The staff got so quiet, in fact, the only sound to be heard is the sizzling grill top and the bubble of hot pots on the stove. When Dennis hulked out everything stopped. Having pulled everyone's attention to him, Dennis turned on his heels like a military drill instructor and began to stride around the tiny, hot room inspecting his Friday night second shift staff; his aces. These were the hard-boiled best that his staff had to offer, they were dug in deep and moving fast, but far from overwhelmed. He likened himself to a colonel, leading his cavalry into the grip of battle. Searching for the right phrasing, Dennis strolled around, chest out, arms folded behind his back and then he addressed his small force:" Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a question to ask you. I want you all to reply by show of hands," he said slowly - "How many of you people have been to college?" The wait staff looked at the cooks, the sweaty cooks looked at each other and they all slowly begin to raise their hands - practically everyone. Totally soaked, Dave the new dishwasher looked up from behind a steam cloud rising from the dishrack and said "second year undergrad" as he pointed a soapy finger into the chest of his food-splattered apron. "Carry on, " the manager said to his crew.

The moment passed when Rory, the head cook, looked around at the state of affairs and exclaimed "ORDER UP! UP! UP! GET IT OUTTA HERE! DING! DING! DING!," while maniacally slamming a spatula on the service bell -- as if defibrulated from a coma, the rest of the staff jumped into action and resumed tearing around the small hot kitchen. As the frenzy regained momentum Amy, all tattoos and fire red hair, swooped into the kitchen and slammed a heavy tray of used dirty dishes in front of Dave. As she and the dish dog cleared the remainder of eaten meals from plates, short waitress announced in an attention K-mart shoppers tone: "walkin' in I got two veggie pattie apps, a ceviche app, a mixed grill, a 1/2 rack and dead bird salad hold the oranges!!!" Shaking his head and chuckling to himself,Ras Clay, rolled up the volume of the reggae in his headphones and continued drying his cultery. "Hey, just put that anywhere," yelled Rory when one of the waitresses drops a plate and it shatters all over the floor. Everyone laughs at the joke, even Monica.

Food is dished out and soup is ladled while salads get slapped together and decorated in a frenzied cadence. Absorbing the electric rush of adrenaline, that permeates the kitchen of any restaraunt worth its salt, Dennis stooped down a little to look at his distressed new waitress directly. With a crack of wryness traced across his face, he placed both of his hands on her shoulders and he whispered in her ear: "See if you can guess what I'm thinking right now?"
Monica looked back at her manager's craggy face with a smile of comprehension, she got it, finally. In unison they said:" Get Back to work." After he spun the waitress around in an about-face, Dennis came in close behind her, peered over her shoulder into her field of view and said "Now get real, clock your ass back in and go make some tuition money. You just got sat - a four top" and gently eased her out of the swinging doors and back into the shuffle that was the dining area. Wide-eyed over at the bar, Nan pantomimed "4" to the waitress as she poured beer and mixed drinks. In a fluid motion, Monica placed drinks on a tray and slid four menus between them while she approached her newest table. "Welcome Jamaica 5 Points, my name is Monica and I'll be your waiter this evening, would you like to hear our specials today?" behind her, the waitstaff and busboys continued working in a flurry oblivious of her recitation of that night's line up.

"I sure can pick 'em," Dennis noted while standing under a noisy overhead vent. He took a brief reprieve, stepped back into his little cave of an office and sat on a chair that was probably older than the ass that was in it. His left hand automatically began to dig into the rectangular bulge in the pocket of his crisp white shirt and he pinched out a Marlboro by the filter. His other hand met the butt in front of his face as he quickly lit it with a shiny Zippo. Although he knew he had an ever-growing list of things to do, he took a breather anyway - it could wait. "Whenever you think everthing's going to fall apart without you, it's time to go," he grumbled to the palmtrees on the calendar tacked in front of him. He sucked in a deep puff and started inspecting the cherry ashes through a briskly exhaled cloud of smoke before frenetically crushing the whole cigarette out in a rain of sparks on an ashtray, then bounded out the door. "This Bud's for you, boss," Nan screeched staring angrily at the foam oozing out of the Budwieser tap. "I know, I know, I know," Carbone groused while trotting toward the keg cooler. "Skirts," he muttered, "they never think you know what you're doing." Serving up appetizers for her table, Monica watched her manager blow past while inspecting a big ring of keys. She was getting into the swing of things. She couldn't have known it but she was feeling what Dennis was thinking in the freezer at the other side of the restaraurant -- he wouldn't have scheduledd her work on such a busy night if he thought she didn't have the minerals.

Note: this shite actually happened one night (the whole hand raising thing during a full on dinner rush on a Friday night). I learned a valuable lesson working as a cook in that joint. You gotta whistle when you're in the weeds -- when you laugh the world laughs with you. When you cry, you cry alone...let's ask Gary Coleman what he thinks ...

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