How appropriate that Tuesday night, the autumn equinox, we had our first frost and as I was walking to my car the air was infused with the smell of woodsmoke from someone's fireplace.
There is an old joke here that goes, "How do you know when it's autumn in Ruidoso?"
"The license plates turn back to yellow."
Hilarious, I know, but it's true. During the week, at least, there are almost no white Texas tags, almost no foot traffic, very little happening for a while.
Which is why I have a headache this morning. No, not because sales are down, that headache will hit next week and remain pretty constant until Christmas. I have a headache today because since Tuesday I have been cleaning and painting and generally inhaling a lot of stuff that probably shouldn't be inhaled.
No, not like that...I prefer my chemicals in liquid form.
Oh, and the staff has me about to kill. Not all the staff, not even most of the staff. Actually, just just a couple of 'em are giving me a headache lately. I mean, they all bug me from time to time...
For instance, Randy's music sucks and I constantly have to tell him to turn it down because the dish pit is right next to the dining room and folks on that end probably don't want to hear songs which, from what I can tell, are all about fucking, blow jobs, and killing Eminem. Not that I'm against any of those things, I just don't think most of the customers want to hear it.
New Kid Josh has done what most people (ok, kids) do when they get hired, which is he started off doing an ok job, leading me into believing that he'd get better, that there was hope, but has now gotten comfortable and is slacking off. So, he's gone from mediocre to shitty.
FNG Clayton, or whatever his fucking name is, did the same thing in half the time. I will switch J & C around next week, putting Josh on the floor as buser/ice cream bitch, and Clayton in the dish pit. Josh will do a better job than Clayton on the floor, and Clayton will quit, and then I'll do what I should have done in the first place: hire a Mexican who has three kids. Problem solved.
Jared is a very good friend. With Brett off at Cafe Z, Jared is now my right hand. Jared has been waiting tables or tending bars for over half of his 33 years. Due to that, Jared now hates people. We have a saying, "Fake it 'til you feel it." Jared can't fake it any more, and even when he can he has a degenerative disease that means that he is in pain every single day. It also means that he can't do any of the jobs that would get him away from the public.
He has just gotten a part-time job much closer to his home (he commutes 45 miles one way to work here) and I think he will probably quit soon. I will miss him, but I also think it'll be a good thing.
Wendy is bat shit crazy, but would do anything for anybody. When one of the kids who used to work here didn't have food at home, she bought him food and vitamins.
She is 43 and just found out she is pregnant from a guy she had already broken up with. She also has a fifteen year old son that has lived with his father for the past year since she and her son were fighting all the time. She has smoked all her life and has a raspy, deep voice and if you've ever eaten in a truck stop or old school diner (not the Denny's insta-diners), then you've had a waitress very much like her.
She also has a bachelor's in psychology and is working on her master's but says that she cannot see working in that field. She tends to analyze people too much and broach subjects you don't want to talk about. Because of this, and a couple of episodes when Wendy became "Wanda", her drunk alter ego, Sonja hates her.
Sonja is my chief line cook...I guess if I was a chef she would be my sous. I've know her since she was about 15...about nine years. She started working here then as ice cream bitch during the summer and then left to bus for her dad, he worked as a waiter in what was then a fine dining restaurant about a block away.
When I went back into police work I spent about a year taking runaway reports from her mom and dad when she'd refuse to go home for days at a time.
She came back to work here around the same time I did, five years ago, and when the then owner sent me to open a sandwich shop on the north end of town he sent her with me. There, I fired her, or she fired herself, when I sent her home after showing up late the day after she had showed up for work drunk. I didn't tell her she was fired, she just never came back. Until two years ago when I bought the cafe. I hired her then as a dishwasher and she soon moved up to pizza cook.
She is 1/4 Mescalero Apache, weighs maybe a hundred pounds, her favorite drink is Sailor Jerry's rum, she loves ska and punk and rap, if it's by a Hasidic Jew, and thinks most everything else is shit. She has absolutely no problem letting people know what she thinks of them and has very nearly gotten me into bar fights twice.
In short, she can be abrasive, but you always know where you stand with her, there is nothing fake. Natalie Portman in this video reminds me of her.
She also is working on a degree in psychology, but does not analyze, unless calling a dishwasher a choad is analyzing.
Reference the hungry dishwasher: Sonja's answer? He shouldn't spend all his fuckin' money on weed if he wants to eat.
Wendy says that she is an evil bitch.
Danny, my son, is one of my best, and I'm not just saying that because I love him. Having gotten As and Bs all the way through school, he decided a couple of years ago that he wasn't going to go anymore. Having been down that road with my oldest daughter, when all else failed, I knew that fighting wasn't going to work. So, I let him quit and put him to work full time.
In that time, I have watched him drift away, angry and devastated by his step-mom leaving, turning to drugs and drink, only to come back closer than before. He scared the living shit out of me for a while.
He is smart, articulate, and a good worker. I have no doubt that when he figures out what direction he wants to go, and he's working on it, he will be going balls to the wall.
Emily, Danny's twin, has also had nothing but As and Bs in school. Other than that, they couldn't be more different. She is headed to UNM next fall, intent on being a neurologist.
Em only works a couple of days, since she's back in school now. On Saturdays she either preps or cooks on the line, on Sundays she waits tables with Jared. She has gotten very good at both.
She is in many ways the strongest of my kids. Like Danny, she was extremely close to her step-mom, but has been able to stay close to her since our divorce.
Her last couple of boyfriends had been her age, or a little older and had both been manipulative dicks, both times she suffered through it quietly until she'd had enough and bailed. Now, she's dating a boy two years her junior, other girls at school call her a cradle robber, she answers that no, she's a couga. The other night she wanted to leave work early, I started to ask why, but then asked, "What, you gotta tuck Brady in?"
She just grinned, "Hells ya."
Before my grandpa's funeral, at the viewing, she wanted to go even though I had told the kids they didn't have to if they didn't want to. Danny didn't, but Em said that she did and she held my hand as we walked toward the flag-draped coffin which held my grandfather's remains. After grandma died, grandpa kind of let himself go, his hair was often greasy and his mustache, which had always been twisted up into neat handlebars, was shaggy and ragged.
At the viewing he was laid out in a crisp western pearl snap shirt, his mustache trimmed and neat, and his silver hair clean and combed. "He looks like a king," Emily whispered. He was.
Brianna is the newest crew member, she started as a waitress about a month and a half ago, and so far, so good. She's young, 19, but works here and as a cocktail up the street six days a week. Like so many kids, she did very well in school up 'til high school and then said, "Fuck this noise," and quit. She doesn't really like waiting tables, but is proficient at it and can work a full dining room by herself.
Elijah has been coming in with his parents since he was little. Now sixteen, he works Sundays as a buser. He is funny and walks in and immediately starts working. He is short, stocky and black. The other kids call him Black Hobbit.
And then there's Marissa. I hired her about three months ago after some fuckhead of a good Samaritan called to tell me of this poor old Italian woman who had just lost her job at this Italian place that had gone tits up.
She has worked in restaurants the 30 years that she has lived here, some of them local legends, all of them right up until they closed their doors. Sonja says that by hiring her I have doomed the Cafe.
She speaks very softly, with a very heavy accent, in a very loud kitchen. She also talks to herself. Many times I have turned off whatever noisy piece of equipment I've been using to ask, "Huh?" only to find that she was singing along to fucking Aerosmith on the radio.
She is also too weak to do much of anything, Jared would actually be able to do more, and she is constantly asking for help moving this or that, so the dishwashers hated her immediately. After three months here she still needs guidance daily on what to do.
"You want I should do the cookies, or the bread for pizzas," she mumbles.
"Gee, I don't know; we've got forty full dough trays and three fucking cookies..."
I look forward to her days off like I used to look forward to getting laid.
She never puts lids back on anything that she uses and, since there's not a fucking marked lid on any of the containers, she licks the tip of her finger and sticks it into whatever white crystals are handy to determine if they are salt, or sugar. I have told her that she doesn't need to do this, shouldn't do this. Please, don't do this. "Sugar shiny, salt dull," I say in my best cave-Italian. "Shhhhhoooogar Shhhhhhiny..." She just nods and smiles.
Even after cooking in restaurants all that time she still hasn't figured out English measurements and tells me that she doesn't use recipes, she uses her hands. This would be so charming if she were cooking in some Tuscan trattoria that I was visiting, "How quaint and charming," I would tell my imaginary girlfriend. "Look at how she cooks from her gut, the way she was taught by her mother, and grandmother." But, you want to cook that way in a restaurant? Well, you'd better own it. In someone else's kitchen, that's a bullshit cop out. This is my food, this is the way you do it, you want to do it your way then you'd better open your own place.
Sonja's probably right, we're doomed.
Now, I really should get back to my paint fumes.
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