Tippy: Still Waiting for Revenge

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.”

 

 

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That’s My Daddy

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I shared my first bedroom with my brother Tony.  The walls were painted a cheerful shade of buttercup yellow, and sun streamed in on a Sunday morning and lit up a pile of clothes resting on a Danish modern scoop chair in the corner next to my bed.  My parents bustled in and out of the bathroom across the hall, and I could smell my Dad’s shaving cream.  I lay on my bed, hands under my head and relaxed.  Today was going to be a good day even if we had to go to church.

Dad hits the brakes of our old Dodge, the one with the oxidizing purple/blue paint that shimmers with rainbow iridescence in strong light.  He’s found a side path that leads from the top of the levee down to a strip of concrete and gravel on the shores of the Great Miami River.  We gingerly descend the narrow track and park.  I can see a dam farther upstream and tall buildings across the river.  Dad, Tony and I empty the trunk and carry a minnow bucket and two seine nets to the river edge.  We’ve changed into old tennis shoes and wade into the water with a seine.  The river bed is rocky, slimy with moss, treacherous.  We make several passes, water up to our knees, and snare some crawdads.  I fall twice and twist my ankle. When we have a bucket full we stow our gear and change our shoes.  My shorts are wet, but Dad doesn’t care about the car seats.  One of the blessings of driving old cars is that they become more useful the less they’re babied.

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Dad and I go fishing at Caesar’s Creek a few days later with the crawdads.  We’re not getting any bites until we set our bait at a lower depth.  Catfish are bottom feeders, and soon my line bends over double and jerks in tight circles.  I haul a ten inch catfish out of the muddy water, and Dad snares it in a net.  I’m afraid of the spiked whiskers even though I’ve never been stung, and Dad obliges me by taking a pair of plyers out of his fishing tackle box to extract the hook.  The catfish looks up at me from the bottom of the boat and croaks.  He seems to be saying, “Hey, buddy, what did I ever do to you?”

My sister Carla and I are scraping paint off the side of a wood paneled house across the street from the Delco battery plant in Kettering.  The paint comes off easily in the blistered sections, but some flecks stay embedded in the ruts and crevices of the pitted wood.  We use a wire brush on the stubborn spots and worry whether we’re doing a good enough job.  Dad’s warned us that the new paint won’t stick to the side of the house if applied over a loose layer of old.  Carla and I talk as we work to pass the time as the job is boring and nasty.  Our shoulders ache, and scraped paint sticks in speckles on our sweaty arms.  We’re grateful when Dad shows up and appears to be satisfied with our progress.  He doesn’t say anything, but carefully scans the walls, points out a few patches that need work, and nods.  We hope that he’s brought some soda–it’s a high and dry summer day with feathery clouds floating in the powdery blue sky–and he tells us to look in a cooler in the trunk.  He’s bought a cheap brand of grape, but we don’t care.

I get off work at  three a.m. from a restaurant shift that should have ended at twelve.  A late rush pillaged a practically spotless kitchen and dining room, and it took two hours to restore order after we ushered the last customer out at 1.  We’re exhausted but hungry, and five of us go to an all night coffee shop to get breakfast.  We talk, smoke cigarettes and tell a few jokes, and it’s dawn when we walk out to the parking lot.  I pull up to the house just as the front door opens.  Dad trudges out carrying his lunch pail.  He stares at me for a minute, shakes his head, and gets into his car without saying a word.  He no longer thinks that a lecture would do any good, and it’s too early for a shouting match.

I shoot a photograph of my Dad for a class at Wright State University.  He’s wearing a t-shirt and work pants, and glowers at me.  Art classes are a waste of time.  I develop the 35 mm. film and make a large print.  A class mate asks me if I took the shot in a prison yard.  I said, “No, that brick wall behind the man is the neighbor’s garage, and that’s my daddy.”

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Fast Food Work is Fun: Part I–Kenny

I worked with Kenny at a Godfather’s Pizza in Dayton, Ohio for two years in the early 1980s.  He had sad eyes and an air of dignity and stoic resignation, and went about his business without any hint of complaint.  He was about 20 when we met, was single and still lived with his mother.  He was her only means of support.  Mom had some sort of chronic illness that no one, least of all Kenny, wanted to talk about.

Most men with these handicaps would end up living, willingly or not, a life of celibacy.  Kenny, however, seemed to be able to use his disadvantages to his advantage when it came to bedding the women who worked at Godfather’s.  Perhaps his ability to carry his aura of personal tragedy with steadfast calm and easy grace brought out a feminine urge to provide comfort. Kenny also had the ability to be rather matter of fact about sex, and his straight forward approach disarmed a few of his eventual conquests.  He teased one girl by popping open her bra at inopportune times.  He would come up behind her, lightly tap the buckle through the uniform shirt on her back, and send her scurrying for a dark corner where she refastened the strap to recapture her flopping breasts.  She never got upset with him, but would laugh and say, “Oh, Kenny!”

A report to the men in kitchen about his recent activities wasn’t a boast.  It was a factual critique of a woman’s performance in bed.  He told us that one young lady, a promiscuous pizza maker who had used her sexual allure to toy with several of her male coworkers, had a vagina that was as dry and scratchy as sandpaper.  The one night he had spent with her was more than enough for him.

I liked Kenny for his easy manner and his dry humor, and respected him as a worker.  Our heaviest rushes filled the dining room to capacity, and the order tickets stacked up until we were twenty plus pizzas behind.  Kenny was one who could be trusted to pick up his speed, stay calm and help anyone who got overwhelmed by the load.  You could count on him in the heat of battle.

One day Kenny, Buford and Roy, coworkers and confidantes at Godfather’s, came up to me at the beginning of a shift.  Roy was the talker in that crowd, and he smiled at me as he told me this “funny” story:

We had one helluva time last Saturday night.  We was in this 7-11 picking up six packs and smokes when this lady comes up to us and asks us for a beer.  We drank a few in the parking lot, and she’s already far gone, and she asks us to drive her home.  She’s laughing and carrying on in the car, and suddenly she grabs Buford and shoves her tongue down his throat.  We all knew where this was heading, and when we pulled up to her house she invited us in. 

She drops her coat on the floor in her living room and starts kissing Kenny, and then she tells us that she wants to fuck us one after the other. She drags Kenny into her bedroom and they’re going at it.  (She’s a girl who makes a lot of noise). Buford and I stayed in the hall, but she left the door open so we could see what was happening.  Next thing you know this little kid comes rushing out of the other bedroom.  He’s screaming and hollering at us.  Mama just laughs like it’s nothing and Kenny finishes his business with her. 

Buford goes next, and I volunteer to hold onto the kid, who starts swearing and crying and he’s ordering Buford to get off his Mama.  The brat gets away from me, bites me on the hand, and runs into the bedroom and attacks Buford.  You should have seen the look on Buford’s face when that kid jumped on his back and started to pound on him.  Buford looks over his shoulder at me kind of confused–he wants to keep going and he wants to knock the kid off.  If he gets rough with the kid the lady might take offense.  What should he do?   I start laughing until my sides hurt and there’s tears in my eyes.  Buford’s on top of this woman, and her kid is whaling away at him, and he’s stuck in between.  Finally I decide to give Buford a break and I tear the kid off and lock him in his bedroom. 

I take my turn, and the lady’s still drunk and happy.  I have trouble concentrating because I can hear the kid  hollering for his Mama through the wall. He starts swearing again, but now he’s using curse words that a four or five year old shouldn’t even know, and it sounds so funny coming out of a little kid’s mouth that I start laughing.  Let me tell you that It’s hard to laugh and screw at the same time, but I manage somehow.  The lady is half asleep by the time I’m through, and doesn’t seem to notice when I climb off of her and zip up my fly.

The kid has gone quiet, and we figure that he fell asleep banging on his door.  We open it and he jumps out and tries to kick Buford.  Buford holds him off with one hand on his forehead, and the kid gives up and runs to his Mama.  She’s still sprawled all over the bed, drunk out of her mind, and he starts shaking her to try to wake her up.  We leave a few more beers on her kitchen table as a thank you, grab our coats and leave.

How about that for a funny story?

Roy, Buford and Kenny grinned and waited for me to laugh and congratulate them for their good fortune.  I didn’t know what to say, but  thought that they had done irreparable damage to that kid, that psychopaths were made this way.

Kenny, “sensitive” man that he was, looked away when he saw the stunned look on my face.  He appeared to realize that I didn’t find their story amusing, but didn’t fully understand my reaction.  I discovered this a few months later when Dee, the night shift manager, told me that Kenny thought that I was being unfriendly to him and his buddies.  I never went out drinking with them after work, or hung around shooting the shit in the parking lot any more.  Her tone of voice told me that she thought that I was a snob.  I didn’t defend myself.  She had cheated with Kenny on her abusive husband, and I doubted whether she would give much credit to my reasons for keeping my distance.

I gave my two weeks notice a month or so later.  When Kenny heard that I was leaving he looked up from the pizza he was cutting and told me that the place would go to hell once I was gone.  I was flattered,  pleased that he had noticed how much hard work I had put into the job. He and I were fast food warriors, comrades in arms who had survived many a supper time rush, many an insult from customers who assumed that we all were a bunch of morons, and more than a few encounters with a mean spirited manager intent on firing the next fool who crossed his path.  And I realized that at some level, against all odds and my better judgment, I still respected him and wanted to have his good opinion.