Tippy swore at me and promised revenge. He overheard me begging the night manager to leave early. I had an allergic reaction to some chocolate I’d eaten that afternoon, and now my nose ran constantly. I told Jerry, “Hey, I can’t even make a pizza without dripping into the sauce.” Jerry smelled a rat, but couldn’t deny that I looked a mess with swollen eyes, a red nose and hives breaking out on my arms. He gave me the nod.
Tippy crowded up to me as I punched out and said, “I’ll get you for this.” He and I had been scheduled to close that night, and the kitchen at that moment resembled the third circle of hell. A dinner rush raged on with no signs of stopping. The July heat topped off the hot air radiating from the ovens and turned the kitchen into a 100 degree sweat shop. Goo, cheese, and sausage scraps covered the pizza making stations, empty ingredient bags littered the floor, dunes of flour drifted up to the base of the dough mixer. Tippy knew that my replacement wouldn’t work as hard as I would, and that he’d be responsible for putting a slimy disaster back into spic-and-span order. I waved bye-bye as I danced out the back door.
The next time we worked together, Tippy told me how it took him two hours after the restaurant closed its doors to clean up the kitchen. He glared at me and said, “I had to work with fucking Dave.” I said, “Hey, I was really sick. I wouldn’t have been much use. Dave was a better deal.” Tippy scowled at me. We both knew that I was full of shit. Dave took downers and worked in slow-mo, hid equipment he was supposed to clean, and took parking lot breaks in his El Camino to sip whiskey from a flask hidden under the driver’s seat.
Tippy lived in a rathole wood frame house in East Dayton. Both sides of my family had lived in his neighborhood back in the 1930s when it had been an enclave for German Catholic immigrants. Now it was a Little Appalachia populated by the descendants of folks who had moved from Kentucky and Tennessee to work in factories during WWII.
Tippy was the first in his family to attend college. I encouraged him to stay when he confessed that he wanted to drop out of the engineering program at the University of Dayton. He felt overwhelmed by the material (“Everyone does,” I told him.) and from feeling like an outsider (“Hey, I’m the first generation in my family to go to college too,” I said. “Those snobs aren’t any smarter than you.”).
Tippy invited me, Debbie, Kenny and a cashier back to his place one night in November. We drank beer, smoked and played UNO. Folks got hungry around 2 a.m., and Tippy asked if anyone could cook. I volunteered and raided his fridge. I made omelets spiked with cheddar cheese, onions, peppers, and ham lunch meat. I toasted bread and served up breakfast. Tippy ate a mouthful of omelet, and said, “This actually tastes good. You can come by any time and make me a meal.” I asked him how much he paid.
Debby finished her third beer and began to talk about her mother. Mom had lived a few streets over until someone murdered her–robbery gone bad. Debbie knew who the man was, but couldn’t prove a thing. But she’d get him. One day. He was going to pay. But for now she had her little pumpkin, her baby boy, and nothing gave her more joy. She pulled out her wallet and flipped it open to a sleeve of photos, and little Pumpkin looked up at us and laughed with an open mouth and crinkly eyes.
We played a few more rounds, finished the food and the beer, and headed home.
Tippy stopped me on his porch and said, “Don’t you still owe me for something?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I answered. “That Dave, he’s a great guy.”
Tippy scowled and said, “I’m gonna get you for that.”