Situation Normal. Atmosphere Breathable. Brainstem Injected. Dialogue Engaged.
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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Aprons For Slaves

I was running food out to table 331 last night; about seven or eight shitsmear teenagers sat there; decked out in their new Christmas gift clothes.

One girl in particular decided to test my patience. To see if she could make me lose my temper. To see if she could crack my veneer of professionalism, my ironclad cheer.

"You know what? This looks gross. I don't want any cheese."

It was a basket of potato wedges. To be fair, once the cheddar cools and sets, it looks like a slimy orange blanket of nasty. I could sympathize. I checked with Eric.

"No, she said cheese."

I believed him, but I went and got a basket plain for her anyways. I dropped it off.

"Can I have another Diet Coke?"

Why the hell not? Eric was busy at another table, and it would take a mere moment or two for me to refill her. I did.

"Can I have another ranch?"

I got the ranch.

"Actually, I want some blue cheese."

Jesus Christ on fire. I went and nabbed a cup of queso azul from the order staging station.

"You know what, I need some water, too."

As I placed the water before her, she stared at me, playfully, searching my expression for impatience, for a frown, for pure raging hatred. I displayed none. My perfunctory impersonal polite smile stayed firmly in place. I showed no sign of weakness. I would not be broken by this irritating C student.

"Can I get you anything else?"

She looked around her table, desperate to give me another slave chore. I waited, smiling. She had nothing. She looked back up to me, her smile fading, her mouth a tight unhappy little line.

"No."

Until that moment, I was seething inside, a vast cauldron of boiling hatred. When I saw her mischievous grin evaporate, knowing I had won, that hatred disappeared. I realized she's doomed to spend the rest of her life seeking happiness through manipulation and subterfuge. I felt sorry for the sad little bitch. For a second. One flickering second.

I marched off.

Shortly before close, I entered the men's washroom to mop. I saw that some guy had lined the toilet with paper to keep his ass clean and free of microbes. You know, the old makeshift teepee ass gasket maneuver. Perfectly normal.

Problem was, he didn't lay the toilet seat down first. He was so drunk he created his sanitary butt buffer on the toilet rim. The paper was soaked stuck to it. So I guess he got a piss halo on his caboose anyways. Poor drunk bastard.

7:50 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Snow Burn

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Spark

“I’ll take a gyros with no tomatoes, well done, to go.”

“$4.94, please.”

I paid for the awful beast and settled in to wait for my food. A short Mexican with slicked back rockabilly hair, dirty fingernails, and blood red eyes walked out of the bathroom. He’d washed his hands after using the commode, but to dry them, he used his apron, which was encrusted with tzatziki sauce. He was trading shit smears for the crust of dried yogurt cucumber sauce.

His face looked familiar. Was it Jose, the screaming burger chef I worked alongside at Zippy’s ten years previous? Those pulsing facial veins drew the same map, just with deeper potholes. Jose had become even more frightening to gaze upon. The kind of man that causes children to clutch mommy’s leg and hide behind her.

“Jose?” I asked quietly, afraid I was wrong. No answer. He sat down near the sticker vending machines. So he was taking his afternoon break. I was glad somebody else was preparing my food. Despite his lack of response, I had to be sure. I paced over, faking impatience for my greasy pita sandwich. I stole another glance. Definitely him.

“Gallo Negro? Is that you, The Black Rooster?”

“Ees George, yah. You…” He wagged his finger, trying to pin a name on me. He remembered my face, at least.

“It’s me, Steve! From Zippy’s!”

He broke out in a smile. We chatted about the past; about kitchen crew that had moved on to bigger and better things; a few who got deported. The conversation eventually turned to our old business.

“Eeyou steel like-a the cocaine?”

“Fuck yeah!” My eyes lit up, my head nodded vigorously.

“I sell you some next week. I no like selling the heroin, sheet ees no good man. Fucking crazies. I try sell more yay.”

“I’m your man.”

We traded digits. I did not ask how his name switched from Jose to George. None of my business.

Fuse

My brother came to town recently.

“Me and Ricky hung out with Victor last night.”

“It’s ‘Ricky and I,’ not ‘me and Ricky.’” Wait, what? Victor?”

Victor was in jail, last I heard. I’d used him as my primary hookup for two years. He was my favorite coke dealer, a Latin King with the highest grade blow in town. When he disappeared, I was too spoiled by his product to buy the heavily cut speedy garbage sold by the silk-shirted shiny-shoed Euro fucks from the nightclubs. As a result, I dropped the hobby altogether for almost a year. If what my brother said was true, it was great news for me.

“He’s out already? I thought you said that was his third strike last year.”

“Yeah, but he has good lawyers. He still has to go back soon. I don’t know exactly.”

“Must be his sentencing coming up, or some legal technicality. I hope he gets off scott free. Can you reach him? Is he still up to the same old shit?”

“Yep, he’s dealing.”

“Hook it up, bro!”

Detonate

After two weeks testing my new diet of high grade keen, canned Pabst, and the occasional chicken wing, I’ve lost ten pounds, my nose squirts blood at random intervals, I pee out my butt, and my hearing comes and goes. Although using lots of cocaine eventually becomes vaguely unfulfilling, kind of like masturbating to exercise videos, right now I’m the happiest I’ve been in years.

5:10 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Monday, December 04, 2006

Fast Alone

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Your Halo Is In The Mail

“Young man, I’m lost.”

It was nearly midnight last Monday when she tottered into the restaurant. I was hunched over the counter, my eyes vacant, my mind leagues away. Upon her plaintive statement, I snapped back to reality and took in the owner of the delicate old voice.

Doris looked 75. She had red hair under a shawl and massive prescription glasses.

I walked around the counter and approached her.

“Where are you trying to go?”

“Naperville. I go there everyday; it’s home. Somehow I got turned around today, and I don’t know where I am!”

She was nearly in Elgin, many miles north and west of her destination.

“I can help.”

I led her to a booth, grabbed paper and a marker, and told her the way home. My instructions were too complicated and Byzantine for the flustered old bird, so I offered to draw a map and write detailed directions. I’m a superb improvisational cartographer, and my handwriting is impeccable. Ten minutes later Doris was confident and keen to hit the road, armed with my magnificent instructions.

“You’re an angel, young man. My angel. Your halo is growing brightly tonight.”

Doris waved goodbye.

Grape Nuts

“Kiss my testicles? It’s crude enough to be from you, Steve, but something doesn’t fit.”

“Damn right it doesn’t fit. I didn’t post these little notes inside the garbage cans for all you waiters to find. Not my style at all. And if I did, my message would be further off kilter than that. Mine would say ‘Kiss my middle testicle, Love Steve.’”

“You have three testicles?”

“Man, I got a whole cluster of grapes. You’d need a flashlight and a spanner to find my middle nut.”

“Jesus.”

“I’m going to investigate this. These were written on numbered tickets, I see. Time for me to start collecting examples from each of you. Whoever has the pad numbered between 482650 and 482700 is the guilty prankster.”

“You pissed off?”

“Not at all! This is brilliant. I’ll shake the perpetrator’s hand and congratulate him before I brew up my own suitably childish retribution. Today’s Thursday. By tomorrow night I’ll have acquired my target. No doubt in my mind.”

Slip Slide Smash

I’m eastbound. Thursday night’s shift has ended, and now it’s 1:15 AM on Friday morning. The snow is no longer falling in gentle flakes. Instead, it’s shooting down like sharp darts of frozen hatred.

I crack my window and light a cigarette. In seconds, my cheeks and left eye are stabbed by precipitation. I flick the smoke through the window and roll it back up. I must concentrate.

God this is slow. I wish I could go faster, but I dare not. Even the professional truck drivers are having a hell of time keeping their semis in a single lane. They should pullover and wait. They can sleep in their cabs. I must go on.

Oh shit, that guy is moving fast. Too fast. He’s coming up along side me. He’s swerving. This is bad. Maybe if I just veer into the breakdown lane a little, he can pass me without sideswiping me. Oh shit. I’m not in the snow ruts anymore. I’m in the thick stuff. I’m sliding towards the median! Brakes! Come on! Brakes! Repond! Brakes! Fuck!

KA-THOOM!

Karma Makes A Comeback

I’m running down the breakdown lane through slush. The ice darts from the sky are stabbing my hands and face. I keep slipping. Careful now. One wrong step and I’m going to splash out face first in an icy puddle.

After I collided with the sand pylon, my car spun around and halted, safely out of the traveling lanes, half in the breakdown lane, half in a construction pit. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to collect my insurance papers and some cigarettes before abandoning my new car.

If only I hadn’t left my cell phone at work. No way to get help. Even if I had my phone, the police and tow services are sure to be busy tonight. Long waits. I decided not wait in the car, choosing instead to sprint for the toll booth.

Here I am, jogging through grey slush. This could be a brutal voyage.

Two miles later, somebody is slowing down and pulling over. I can’t see inside the ancient Oldsmobile, but it’s obvious to me the car is paused alongside me to offer help. I jump in the rusty old bucket.

“Hey thanks! You’re a lifesaver. I have no phone, I crashed, and I…”

I stop to catch my breath. He stares blankly. He’s Mexican and understands nothing more than my tone, which is panicked excitement.

“What’s your name, man? I’m Steve.”

“Aurelio.”

I thank him profusely and ask him to leave me at Cumberland Station. I ask for his contact info so I can send him money and Christmas cards. He declines. Helping a loco gringo is a good deed, but inviting him to be an honorary family member? No. Aurelio doesn’t want gratitude or rewards. We part.

Cold Alone Downtown Baby

I disembark the blue line train at the Clark and Lake station to transfer to the Orange Line. I know the transit system fairly well, and if all goes according to plan, I'll be home in twenty minutes. The Orange line stops two blocks from home. This isn’t going so poorly after all.

I switch platforms. I wait. No train. I go to the info desk. The woman behind the bulletproof glass has a toothache. She's gulping Aleve pills and coffee.

“Yeah, whachoo want?”

“Orange line to Midway, I’ve been waiting for a while. Still running?”

“Naw.”

“Shit. How about the Blue line to 54/Cermak?”

“Naw. Just the Blue to Forest Park.”

A quick round of mental calculations tells me I can get as close to home as Damen & Harrison, right next to the United Center, where the circus and the Bulls games frequently clog up traffic.

That leaves only 31 blocks to trudge through the sleet and hail. With a hole in one shoe.

I Drink To Forget

On Friday afternoon I drank heavily and spent long periods of time on the telephone with the state police, a towing company, my insurance carrier, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. By the time Enterprise arrived to scoop me up, I was buzzed.

The pick-up guy was an obese black guy who ignored my feeble attempts at small talk. He pretended I was not riding shotgun, electing instead to bob his head to “Too Hot” by Kool & The Gang, which he had blasting from 95.5 WNUA. It was cold and wet outside.

Drunk and wearing my pajamas, I drove a rented Pontiac G6 back home through the evening rush hour. I did not get into an accident. (but it was a short drive)

Zoological Gynecology

“No. No way. It’ll take too long. I gotta get ready to go.”

“Where to?”

“I’m going to see my girl. I haven’t seen her since Wednesday, and not for weeks before that. I’ve been looking forward to this Saturday all week.”

“This’ll only take a half hour, forty-five minutes at most.”

“Hmm. Okay, I guess.”

My roommate is teaching himself the art of stage makeup and mask making. He sits me down, opens a massive container of Vaseline, and coats my entire head from the neck up with globs of lube.

“This keeps the latex and plaster from getting stuck in your hair. Looks like you need more on your sideburns.”

Plop.

Next, he uses a paintbrush to apply boiling latex paste to my head. It doesn’t burn too much with the Vaseline protecting my skin.

“This feels disgusting. Why do I get the feeling you’re going to ram me up an elephant’s vagina?”

“You’re not supposed to know about that. Just think about unicorns and rainbows. Everything will be fine. Relax. No facial movement. Not even a sniffle. Don’t fuck this up. Okay?”

An hour later, I’m getting impatient. He’s only getting started.

“Okay, now for the plaster strips. Time to mummify you.”

Two hours later, and it’s almost time to remove my cranial exoskeleton. I take a break from my serene stillness to check my email. With no phone, it’s my only way to communicate with my date. She’s mad. I blew her off. And not for just any date. She was going to cook me dinner at her place. I am such a fool. She’s right to be angry. I apologize.

Upon removal of my mummy mask, I head for the shower with a bag of Pillsbury baking flour in hand. It absorbs grease. I lather my greasy head with flour and rinse. Repeat. Seven times. I still have latex and oily flour clumps in a few places. I give up.

I check my email again. She’s not just mad, she’s furious. We’re finished, she says.

I drink. I wonder if Doris made it home okay on Monday.

9:00 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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