I'll be talking with The oddball show cast of Chad Parenteau, Jason Wright and JP Lime's Scholar and Prof
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
I'll be talking with The oddball show cast of Chad Parenteau, Jason Wright and JP Lime's Scholar and Prof
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
March 3, 2017 Cambridge, Ma
Dire Literary Series, 7 PM
Out of the Blue Art Gallery
541 Massachusetts Ave.
with guests Elizabeth Searle, Vi Khi Nao and Adam Scheffler
March 7, 2017, Podcast,
The Oddball Show, 8:30 PM
Live or saved for later on Itunes
Podcast with the Crew from Oddball Magazine
April 7, 2017 Cambridge, Ma
Dire Literary Series, 7 PM
Out of the Blue Art Gallery
541 Massachusetts Ave.
with guests Alden Jones, Louie Cronin and Georgia Park
April 8, 2017, Boston, Ma
Boston Public Library National Poetry Festival, 10AM - 4PM
The Boston Public Library,
Copley Square, Boylston Street
Weekend Festival with hundreds of local and national poets
May 5, 2017 Cambridge, Ma
Dire Literary Series, 7 PM
Out of the Blue Art Gallery
541 Massachusetts Ave.
with guests Christine Reilly, Olivia Kate Cerrone and Ray K. Anderson
May 7, 2017 Salem, Ma,
Massachusetts Poetry Festival, Time TBA
Exact location TBA
Panel: The Geography of Grief: Poets and Poems of Loss
with Rusty Barnes, Heather Sullivan and Teisha Dawn Twomey
May 8, 2017 Lynn, Ma,
White Rose Coffee House, 7:30 PM
56 Central Square
Featuring fiction after a weekend of Mass Poetry
Monday, February 13, 2017
Want to sample? Read the first forty pages of Grand Slam--right here in a blog that formats like crap
then, if you like (thank-you) Purchase it
A Coming of Eggs Story
by Timothy Gager
Grand Slam © 2016 Timothy Gager. All rights reserved. Big Table Publishing Company retains the right to reprint. Permission to reprint must be obtained by the author, who owns the copyright.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, names and plot are entirely a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance of the characters or incidents in the book to real life persons or events is unintentional and purely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America
Cover Designed by:
Author Photo: Teisha Dawn Twomey
Also by Timothy Gager:
The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan
The Shutting Door
Treating A Sick Animal: Flash and Micro Fictions
Big Table Publishing Company
Thanks to Gabe Gager, Caroline Gager,
Teisha Dawn Twomey, my mother and my father,
Peg and Charlie.
Mignon Ariel King, Rene Schwiesow,
and Cheryl Devitt for their editing eyes.
Also to Colin, Bill, Gail, Dottie, Dino, Joe, Mario, and Kenny,
for two summers of food for the story.
“Don’t think we don’t know
what you’re doing, because we do.”
1. Happy Birthday from Grand Slams
Woody Geyser was born on April 17, 1965--the same year Grand Slams introduced their Double Home Run Breakfast. His full name was Woodrow Wilson Geyser, after his father Herbert’s favorite president.
His father was very much a progressive. President Wilson enacted many policies young Herbert favored: the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act, and an income tax. Child labor was temporarily curtailed by the Keating-Owen Act of 1916. Wilson also averted a railroad strike and an ensuing economic crisis through passage of the Adamson Act, imposing an 8-hour workday for railroads. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Wilson maintained a policy of neutrality.
Woody didn’t care too much about any of that. All he knew was, it was difficult to be named Woodrow, even in progressive Lexington, Massachusetts, a town known for some famous history of its own. Upon further review, Woody discovered that Woodrow Wilson’s first name was really Thomas, and Woodrow was actually President Wilson’s middle name. Who the fuck does that? he thought, considering his parents poor naming idea. Often, he wondered if his life would have been easier if he’d been named Thomas.
On his seventeenth birthday, Woody Geyser took the family wagon and headed just over the town line, to Bedford, where a Grand Slams was open 24 hours. It was midnight when he drowned his sorrows in the Double Home Run Breakfast: two pancakes, two eggs, two bacon strips, two sausages, two slices of toast, and two scoops of whipped butter. The breakfast’s name, even in baseball terms, made no sense. Who’s ever heard of a double home run in baseball? The hash browns cost extra, but he ordered them on the side because he admired the way the flannel-shirted trucker in the booth next to him sucked the thin, greasy, litmus-paper-looking sliced potatoes down his throat. Woody was served by an old, salty-looking waitress named Maura. He knew his cute-as-can-be, former high school classmate, Sugar, worked here, but she was nowhere to be found.
Instead, Maura was the server. She was at least fifty, with baggy stockings and a spare tire around her middle that Woody compared to his old stay-at-home, pretzel and beer-drinking dad.
“Is this free?” he asked Maura. “It is my birthday.”
“Of course,” Maura said, not without her cutting frown, already worried that 15% of nothing would be nothing, especially with a kid looking like Woody in front of her. “First time here?” she snapped.
Woody was nervous. In fact, his voice sounded awkward and odd. He rubbed the back of his hand against his oily face then flipped his hand over and ran it through his short, spiked hair. “Well, sort of, you know, it’s my first time out here on my own. How long have you been here?”
“I’ve worked here for twenty years,” Maura replied, pointing to the gold, racy-looking GS on her one-piece, brown polyester uniform with the number 20 centered smack in the middle of it. “Best job I ever had,” she said. Woody saw her smile.
He ordered a coffee to go. He didn’t like coffee but figured it was about time he learned to get used to it. It was some kind of horrible birthday, but it was about time he got used to doing the things that everyone else did--to try to blend in. First, he had to wash his face. He left a dollar on the table, heading to the bathroom before he left.
Woody felt the April chill of the Massachusetts weather against his still-wet face as he exited the front door of the restaurant. After five strides he was grabbed and tossed to the ground by a kid who, he would learn later, was nicknamed Kayak Kenny. The kid looked sick, with a sort of greenish-yellow tint to him, which usually means the suffering and grinding of two or more vital organs. Kenny acted strangely excited as he yelled out urgently for someone with a name that sounded like “Cheating” or something. Woody grit his teeth as Kenny’s full body weight pressed on his back, his arm twisting at a weird angle, his other hand pushed down on his dark, spiked hair.
With his skull pressed against the blacktop, all he could see was a pair of plastic-looking black shoes in front of the cement curb from the sidewalk in front of Grand Slams. The shoes reminded him of the shoes a Ken doll wears. The man in the shoes, standing above him, finally spoke, “You didn’t forget to pay for that, did you, college boy?”
Woody tried to shake his head, but the weight of Kayak Kenny’s chest on the side of his own left him immobilized while his nose filled with the aroma of fried eggs and sickly sweet syrup roaring from the skin and rank clothes of Kenny. “Tell you what,” the man with cheap shoes said. “Come back in a few months and you can have a job for the summer. How does that sound, punk?’
Woody hadn’t yet landed a summer job, and the spring semester had been rough on him, academically and financially. Without much thought about anything further, he opened his mouth and grunted out the word, “Yes,” while the bouquet of dish swill coming from Kenny caused him to dry heave.
* * *
The next day the skin on Woody’s face was raw, making it uncomfortable to the touch--which was new, since Woody always felt raw on the inside rather than the outside. It was that inner-tenderness that drove him toward the bottle and the need to experiment with other substances as he discovered the vast potpourri of kicks and tricks he depended on to change the way he felt. Despite the fact that Woody had been late to the game, not indulging in partying until much later than most kids his age, drinking made him feel warm and confident. Even if he was a little awkward, he no longer agonized over every conversation. Finally, he was granted relief from caring so much about how he was perceived, opting for playing the role of King Pig, amongst the garbage and slop.
Nights like last night reinforced how simple social interactions often went straight to hell when he was involved; how he failed at reading social cues; and how the rest of the world reacted to it. Yet somehow, amongst this inadequacy, Woodrow Wilson Geyser had landed a summer job.
2. Geyser’s Grand Slams Glossary
Bus Tub: Molded, sturdy plastic basin, with built-in side utensil
Swill-(n): The liquid or solid remnants removed from a bus tub to
the dishwashing work area. (v)-The act of washing dishes.
Swill Station: Dishwashing work area.
Bus Apron: Brown, leather-like apron worn when you’re working
on the floor, clearing tables and helping the wait staff.
Dish Apron: Green plastic apron which is waterproof, but tends to have
dish water run down, soaking your pants.
Grand Slams Top 40: Any song where the lyrics are changed, or imply
a change, by employees to reflect a Grand Slam menu item or
employee. i.e., “Sugar, Sugar” sung directly to the waitress
named Sugar or “Born to Swill” sung to Springsteen’s
“Born to Run”.
Clippie: Black clip-on bowtie, which male employees are required to
wear when assigned to the front restaurant area, unless there
aren’t any available because aforementioned employees threw
them behind the dishwasher or ice machine.
Scrubbie: (1) Sponge-like cleaning pad with rough side to rub dried egg
off dishes before placing them in dishwasher. (2) Person who
performs the job of dishwasher.
Country Club: Pool area for The Super 8 Motel, the chain attached to
Grand Slams restaurant, Store #506.
Egg Wash: Pre-prepared, ten-gallon bucket of uncooked, whisked eggs,
ready to be poured for omelets and scrambles.
Nursing Home Special: The $4.99 open-faced turkey sandwich covered in
gravy, served before 5 PM to people over aged 65 with dental
The Ayatollah or Pope: The shift’s Head Chef who wears the white,
starched, and standing tall chef’s hat.
The Giant Snake: High-pressure water hose that hangs over the dish
area to power-wash old food and crud off plates
before entrance into dish machine.
Bag and Boil: Any sauce, gravy, melted cheese, or vegetable not found
in a can which is heated via boiling water through a
The Convoy: Supply and shipment truck, full of Grand Slams food
The Drug Dealer: Driver of above truck, usually importing and
exporting recreational drugs.
Woody Geyser’s stomach and head are slow-boiling from a hangover. If only he can get through his shift, his very first at Grand Slams, he will be fine. He walks to the dish area, and the odor of grease and sulfur-smelling egg remainders, combined with that damn syrup smell, makes his stomach tighten in pre-retch anticipation. He is nearly paralyzed. It’s 6:45 AM and his peers are here early, with way too much energy for this time of morning. Bees are dormant at night, but during the day they buzz around in a frenzied turmoil, hustling to complete their tasks. This is what it feels like as two boys, about his age, swoop back to claim two brown, fake-leather busing aprons, before racing to the front of the restaurant to work. An older pock-marked man, named Marisimo, is sliding and slamming brown plastic tubs toward a large overhead faucet the size of a small showerhead. He wears a different apron, one that is stained, green, and waterproof.
“Hello, I’m Tribuno, a manager,” a stocky man with a black handlebar mustache, suit, and heavy accent says, walking up to Woody, interrupting his sickness. “I’m the Assistant Manager of Grand Slams #509, Bedford store. Let’s head over to the break area and fill out some paperwork.”
Woody imagines the break area being a comfortable, living-room-type space or a cafeteria setting, but is disappointed by the cramped area with a conference table pushed against a crumbling wall that holds a time-clock, mounted and perfectly centered. To the left and right of the punch clock are two racks with cardboard cards that have the printed and alphabetized names of each employee. Tribuno grabs a blank card and writes Geyser on it. “Punch in, like this, and sit down. I’ll bring you some papers to sign,” he says.
At 7 AM, Sugar walks in, looking to have aged between five and ten years since graduation. “Hey, Sugar,” Woody says shyly.
She tilts her head, face scrunching in a way that matches her dry, blonde, crimped hair. She is obviously trying to place him.
He refreshes her memory. “Woody Geyser. Remember we had algebra together, and I helped you during the final?”
“Oh, yeah… Woodrow,” she says dryly. “I’m late. Gotta get on the floor now.”
She looks much rougher, Woody thinks; the combination of too much makeup, the deadness of her eyes, and her inability to recognize him throws him for a loop. He suddenly realizes that during the past ten months, while he’s been away at college, she’s just been here, working. “Slinging hash,” his father might say.
“Get to work,” Tribuno returns to bark, totally out of habit.
“But I’m waiting for you to bring me papers.”
“Oh, that’s right, never mind. Here’s your W-4 Forms, a consent to be treated if you get injured at work, the Workman’s Compensation Policy, and the Sexual Harassment Policy. Read and sign.”
Woody signs without reading as Tribuno juggles a handful of video tapes. He drops the top one onto the break table along with a tri-fold pamphlet titled, Hot, Hot, Hot, which trains employees about the temperature of coffee and other hot beverages. “I’ll be back with the video player,” Tribuno grumbles.
* * *
At 10:00, the dishwasher with the wrinkled face and clothing, Marisimo, joins Woody at the table, eating a glazed muffin. He asks Woody what’s on TV, then volunteers that because he’s blind in one eye, he can’t watch. He also volunteers that he’s on a fixed income. Woody tells him the film is called, Diner Amongst Friends, but Marisimo points to his right eye where there appears to be a large, round, and bulbous cyst-like formation. The cheesy music in the video is annoying, perfect for a training video, which creates a surreal feel to the video’s portrayal, one that stresses the importance of being courteous and friendly to everyone, no matter what the circumstances. Conclusively, customer-to-server conflict resolution in the film is resolved by the Grand Slams Team with an over-the-top amount of ass-kissing.
One of the busboys Woody saw earlier hustles by with a tub full of smelly dishes, covered in a one-inch thick sludge of swill, which sloshes, left to right, as he makes a sharp turn towards the dish area. The bile in Woody’s stomach mirrors the motion of the liquid throwaways. The busboy is a large man with dark hair pushed slightly over his large forehead. “Bobby Maloney,” he bellows as he sprints by, “Nice to meet you.”
“Leave those there,” an agitated Marisimo directs, pointing to the dish station counter. “Can’t you see I’m on my break, you asshole?” he shouts at Maloney’s taillights.
On the way back, Maloney mockingly hums the music of the training video and repeats the line, “It may not be your way, but it’s the Grand Slams way, and you always want to hit a Grand Slam with your customers” verbatim. “Here it comes–the laugh. Here it is. Brace yourself for the laugh.” Sure enough, the Grand Slams Team on the video lets out a boisterous group laugh, complete with additional chummy back slaps. All is right in the Grand Slams world.
Tribuno hears Maloney and Marisimo talking and enters the back area. “Maloney, get to work. Marisimo, get to work,” he says rapid fire, then, “Geyser, there’s someone outside to see you.”
Woody pushes through the swinging doors and sees his mom at the counter. “Excuse me, sir, may I have some coffee, please?” she asks with a wink and a smile. “Just wanted to check in to see how my boy was doing on his first day,” she adds at a volume not hushed enough for Woody’s liking.
“Oh, fuck,” Woody says under his breath, easily drowned out by Sugar introducing herself to Woody’s mother and saying that she is her server. Woody is relieved, knowing that Sugar has saved his ass, and retreats thankfully back to the break area. This feeling is short lived, as Sugar comes back rolling her eyes, taunting, “Oh, Woody, dear, I’d like some coffee, please,” then to Maloney, “I just wanted to check in on my little boy….” After about the third go-around, his co-workers overhear the mocking and begin to notice what’s going on. This is not a stretch on Woody’s part, because Sugar always gets noticed. When the chuckling dies down, Woody fixates back on the video, cranking the volume, which is now lecturing new employees about proper restaurant etiquette.
Each Grand Slams employee who passes him now eithers says out loud a partial quote from his mother or gives a running commentary on his mother’s current actions at the counter. Mommy is ordering pie. Mommy is paying. Mommy has left a dollar tip. Mommy says to tell you she said bye-bye. It feels like torture, but Woody tries to remind himself, it’s all part of the work environment and all part of the bullshit he gets paid for. Just four more hours to go, he counts down, eager to be free to finally go home. He grits his teeth and mentally prepares himself for the no-nonsense lecture he intends on giving his mom.
3. Honor Thy Maura
“You know, I wouldn’t worry too much about anyone who works here. We have a strange crew,” Maura says to Woody. “Not like any other that I’ve worked with in my twenty plus years. Much less professional.” She looks down at the training video Woody is watching. “These videos are good. The workers that stick around… what I mean… good workers are the ones that take pride in Grand Slams and stick around. It’s the Grand Slams way. You getting this?” She takes a sip of orange juice from a large plastic tumbler.
Woody has his head down on the break table. “I’m on break. Check the time-card.”
“You know, I know who you are. You’re the kid that tried to run out on the check a few months back. You should be grateful you didn’t get arrested.”
“Run out on the check? I thought it was free. Isn’t that the policy on someone’s birthday?”
“You should be grateful that Grand Slams gives you another chance in life. It saved my life. You could have spent your birthday in jail and the day after in front of a judge.”
“You know, I’m just here for my summer break. I go to school at UMass.”
Sugar has stopped by, raking her bag for a cigarette. “Yes, big college man. We’re all proud of you,” she scoffs. “UMass. Great parties there. Bobby Maloney went there too.” Woody doesn’t recognize Maloney from campus, most likely because he went back to Grand Slams to work on the weekends. Sugar taps Woody on the top of his head and struts into the walk-in refrigerator to smoke, “I’m allowed….”
Maura raises her eyes at her. “I’ll talk to Mr. Keating about it. Not that he’ll do anything about it, but at least he’ll say he will. Honestly, I don’t understand why he is still here, while hard-working Tribuno is waiting in the wings, like a dog sitting loyal next to his master. Sometimes, I wish I had taken over one of these franchises. Now that place would be amazing.”
Tribuno strolls by. “Break’s over Geyser,” he says. “Did you learn anything?”
Woody pauses, shifting his gaze toward Maura. “Yes, I learned a lot about Mr. Keating.”
“No, no, from the video.”
Maura downs the rest of her juice, “He learned about how courteousness pays off, both for the company and for the employee.”
“Good. Good, Maura. You’ll have a successful career here,” Tribuno says. “Now, Geyser, watch the next one till you can answer like Maura”
“I need to get back to my tables,” Maura says. “It does pay off, remember that.”
* * *
The gold-colored metal of Maura’s twenty-year pin wasn’t made from any precious metal of any innate value, so Maura only needed to polish it with whatever was in the cleaning bottle full of orange liquid. It wasn’t the pin itself she valued, but rather what it represented, along with the number 20, inserted inside a script GS. The number could have been written on a paper towel with a green crayon for all she cared, it represented change for her–how her life had changed and how working here saved that life. She remembered the day she was hired by Grand Slams. It was the same day she’d removed the cross she’d always worn around her neck.
In the early nineteen-fifties Maura, trapped in the ideals of “the fifties”, had nowhere to go. Those values did not include someone like her, pregnant in her early twenties, living off the charity of her strict Catholic parents who were so uncomfortable with her life choices that they wanted her to disappear. The mortification of this alone caused them to struggle for breath, heavy-chested, wondering what to do with their swelling and husbandless daughter. Disowning her was out of the question, but still the facts were, sinners and non-perfectionists from their belief system stick indecent thoughts about their daughter into their heads. If they were honest with themselves, they’d realize that women like Maura just weren’t ready for life in general. It was a time in California when most young people were supposed to be free and easy. It wasn’t that way for Maura.
After Bridget was born, Maura passed a “Help Wanted” sign posted on the window of a Homer’s Donuts in Lakewood, a town of pronounced growth. At the interview, Maura was surprisingly impressed by the manager/owner Mike Homer, who would end up becoming the CEO of the entire Grand Slams franchise. She loved that the place was always open; in fact, it didn’t even have a lock on the front door. There was something comforting about a place always welcoming those who needed it, that no one would ever worry about being turned away.
Douglas Aircraft Plant was nearby and there was always a steady stream of customers and money to be made. For a single mom, who relied on her parents to watch the baby, it allowed her the flexibility to work whenever she wanted and whenever the restaurant needed her. She even filled in, when Mike asked, as a Night Porter during overnight shifts. Even Homer had to admit that Maura was second, only to him, as the hardest worker he’d ever known.
Mike was self-made, a trait Maura appreciated greatly, as she yearned to make it on her own. Maura was still there when the name changed to Homer’s Coffee Shop and, later, she was there when the name became Grand Slams Coffee Shop. This change was necessary as a nearby competing chain, Homer’s Coffee Shop, was named after its owner, Homer Jones.
Maura worked relentlessly, saving every penny, as Grand Slams grew and franchised, each building looking virtually identical to the last. This presented the opportunity for Maura to relocate, as her young daughter Bridget was approaching school age, and Grand Slams was popping up in new locations all over the country. The chance to move on and no longer feel the shame and the guilt from her parents, which was as thick as the tan gravy ladled over Grand Slams powdered mashed potatoes. It all seemed logical, the Gold Rush in reverse: moving from California to make her way to the East Coast, with all the hope in the world. Besides, her daughter, she believed, would be better off being raised by her parents anyway.
Mike had hoped that one day a solid worker like Maura would become a manager or owner of a new franchise. However, it turned out that waitressing was good enough for Maura, mostly because she enjoyed the work and she made a lot of money. There was nothing in this world better for Maura than doing something she enjoyed.
4. Keating’s Barter Economy
Based on an old method of exchange, used long before money was invented, the Super 8 always had a room available for Joe Keating. If Keating bartered items that were expendable, like Double Home Run breakfasts, he could get the things he wanted. It worked so well that sometimes he wished money had not been invented at all.
Jimmy Pudlow manages the Super 8 located no more than twenty feet from the back door of Grand Slams. Keating has no idea why the place is “super” or why it has the number eight attached to it, but that doesn’t stop him from getting a room nearly every night. Eash time he thinks of the same tired old joke about an ad campaign he might pitch: The Super 8 is the perfect place to share a super eight-ball.
Jimmy comes into Grand Slams every day Keating works, and when he gets sick of the free breakfasts, he comes for free lunch and dinner. The entire staff know Pudlow’s a customer Keating serves, which suits them fine because Keating usually sits him in a section that’s closed, or in Keating’s “executive” table in Section 1. It’s the table of utmost importance.
The Super 8 would buy into Keating’s slogan, or into the fact that a customer like Keating can call and get a room for an hour, midday, for whatever reason he wanted. Jimmy obliges Keating with the room furthest away from the closest overnight guest. It’s not that Keating would be loud; it’s just that Jimmy knows most substance abusers tend to want their lives to be under cover from the general public.
Keating is alone tonight in Room 124, having struck out with his invitations, but he is too wiped-out to drive all the way home. Cocaine hangovers are the worst. Sugar was here last night, but all they did was talk, and talk, and talk. A few times when they had fooled around, Sugar always felt bad afterward, shamed and riddled with guilt. She finally confessed to him that she felt obligated to be physical with him because he’d paid for the room as well as the other things.
Keating snorts a line and takes a spin around the channels. He stops at Scarface, a movie he’s seen before. Near the beginning of it, Al Pacino, a drugged-out gangster, takes in Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s the girlfriend of Robert Loggia. Keating can remember the actors, but keeping track of the names of the characters they play takes too much brain power. Pacino plays a power-hungry sleazeball, and Keating relates a lot more than he cares to admit, so he shuts off the TV and flips through the restaurant section of The Yellow Pages instead.
Sometimes Keating looks at the pictures and drawings of the restaurants he could be running, an activity he enjoys as much as the toothache he suffered through a few months ago. His mind wanders back to his graduation day at Endicott College, where he was the top of his Hospitality Administration class. Man, was his father proud. So, how did he fall into the grasping arms of Grand Slams? He thinks some more, with further regret, and rolls onto the opposite empty pillow and concludes that many times in his life he’s made the best of bad situations. What he’s doing now is not all that bad--a free bed anytime he needs it, a young woman, and enough drugs. Things are in control, right? He then questions the logic of all of this. Keating tosses and turns until 3 AM, but before finally drifting off to sleep, he dials Sugar’s number too many times, leaving a series of increasingly desperate messages on her answering machine.
* * *
Keating wakes up late for shift. Where is he? What day is it? He hasn’t been home in days. Who is opening today? Then he remembers. I am. Shit, I am. His panic is short-lived as he pauses to consider the schedule. Maura is there for the 6 AM shift, and she can handle anything. He trusts her more than Tribuno, anyway. Besides, Maura knows the combination to the safe, whereas Tribuno does not. What else do I need to note? New kid, the college boy, there on his first day, paired with Maloney. Sugar is on, but will pretend not to know him the way they really know each other. What else? Can I go back to sleep? Keating reaches into his shirt pocket for the triangle of paper he keeps there. He pours out some powder. Sleep is a luxury. He combs his thinning, sandy-colored hair, then pulls out his can of Lysol, giving his suit a couple of perfunctory sprays.
* * *
Forty-five minutes later, Keating saunters in like he’s feeling like a hero, smiling strange and reptilian, shouting, “Okay, everybody, I’m here… Joe Keating is here.” The black overlapping rings circling his eyes are as thick and dark as coffee-colored rings from a cup’s liquid, absorbed on a white tablecloth (a nicety you’d never find at a place like Grand Slams.) The rest of his employees never think of him in the grandiose manner; rather, they view him as slithering in or perhaps sliming in. Keating is wearing the same powder-blue suit he wore during his last shift, two days ago. At least it smells of lemon freshness from the Lysol. Sunday is the busiest day at Grand Slams, and Keating is about to swim into a pot of coffee, his sandy mustache flavored by the coffee, cream and seven sugars.
Maura shoots him a smile, but Keating can tell she is stressed out, perhaps even angry. Sugar had called in late again this morning. Keating plays it cool, as he knows Maura, after it’s all said and done, won’t mind; she’ll have picked up extra tables, making extra money. When she counts her tips at 3 PM, all will be well in Grand Slamville.
After his first pot of coffee, Keating brings his briefcase into the men’s room. He yanks down the metal flap of the paper towel dispenser to see if Kayak Kenny has restocked product. He takes a towel and polishes the GS logo embossed in the rack’s metal. He then walks into each stall. The toilet paper should have three rolls in each unit; when one is finished and the roll pulled out, a new one should drop down to replace it. In stall three, the handicapped unit, there is only one roll of toilet paper. Usually this is where he starts, stall three; being that it’s meant for a wheelchair, it’s big enough for him to settle in, to pull a mirror out of his briefcase, and to pour the powder out of the triangular piece of paper and snort it up. No need for him to carry any dollar bills, as Grand Slams supplies him the plastic straws.
His briefcase carries a cache of important sprucing items. There’s a smaller sized Lysol spray can, which he again sprays his blue suit with, some wet naps to wipe down his plastic shoes, a bottle of Secret roll-on deodorant, which Sugar left behind, and a 16-ounce bottle of Listerine, which he sloshes a mouthful of before swallowing the shot for good measure. They don’t sell beer or booze on Sundays in Massachusetts.
Kayak Kenny is in the dish room helping Marisimo. Together they do the work of half a man.
“There is only one roll in stall three,” Keating says as he whirls past with a smile pasted onto his face.
“I did it,” Kenny counters, pulling the curl of his hair, resting on his forehead, out straight. It looks like a cursive G or S hanging the way it does. “Look at the checklist.”
“I don’t care about the fucking checklist,” Keating yells. “Some guy in a wheelchair will use the last square and there will be nothing left to wipe his ass with. Kenny, complaints from the handicapped are not the kind of shit we need around here.”
Kenny looks confused, child-like, reaching back into the deepest parts of his brain, but not responding.
“Well?” Keating urges.
“I swear, I did it.”
“I swear, you’re a bit slow,” Keating says sarcastically, waiting. “Well?”
“I might not be smart, but I’m a good worker,” Kenny says, defending himself.
“You’re a good worker, huh? Well, then, fix it!!”
He follows Kenny, past the supply room where Kenny grabs only one, rather than two, rolls of toilet paper, the white wrapper gleaming against the greenish-yellow skin of his hand. They then pass the break area, where Kenny pulls a piece of buttered toast off a plate and takes a bite.
“Did you put that on your time card?” Keating says, smiles, because he knows he has him.
“I will, I will,” Kenny scowls, thinking The nerve of this guy.
Toast is not a free item, Keating thinks, but even dumb people need to feel big enough to cut corners.
“Hey, Joe?” Kenny asks.
“What? Call me Mr. Keating.”
“Mr. Keating? When I save up and buy a kayak, do you think Sugar would like to go out with me? Then we could sit somewhere after and have a picnic. Do you think if I asked her, she would say yes? I would say, ‘Hey, Sugar, would you like to go out with me in my kayak. You wouldn’t even have to paddle.’” Kenny ponders the possibility, committed to his daydream. “I’d do all that for her. I’d paddle and we’d ride around in my kayak and I’d ask her if she liked me. I like her sunglasses. Do you think she’d say yes? Do you, Joe?”
“I think she would never do that. Now can you do me a big favor,” Keating adds with a transparent sarcastic smile, “if you want to get paid, just shut the fuck up.”
5. Sugar, The Insider vs. The Outsider
What people think of Sugar is not what Sugar thinks of herself. People think Sugar is gorgeous. Sugar is worthwhile. Sugar is social. Sugar is fun. Sugar is ditzy. Sugar has got it together. Sugar lives for the attention from men. Sugar is from the South. Sugar is a “cocaine whore.” These are all false, except she was born in the South; but only lived there for less than a year. Sugar does not care what others think about her.
When Sugar pals around with her friend, the boss, Joe Keating, it’s mostly out of convenience. By staying local to her job, Sugar does not have to drive the back roads for thirty minutes to her house, but the most important factor is, she likes drugs and she likes hotels. Even motels are a worthy stretch. Even hanging out with Joe is a worthy stretch, though others think she is a bad person, just trading companionship for his drugs.
Truth is, the hours and hours of conversation she has with Joe, except for the sexist cracks he makes about her smallish breasts or anything else he can think of, are fairly interesting. Joe, after a few lines, can be very optimistic. He tells her what can be, rather than what could have been, such as college in her future. She tells him that she enjoys his optimism and that he is one of the few people who believes in her. Sugar is careful to build him up because an all-nighter, when Joe feels sorry for himself, is pure torture. What people do not see is that Joe, when he is happy, is a gentleman, and Joe, thank God, would never put a move on her when she doesn’t want it. It’s all on her, and when anything happens it’s kind of a pay-back for the money and the attention Joe gives to her. She feels bad, immediately after, and even worse the next morning when she needs a full two hours to get her shit together before she can face her co-workers. It is time needed to place her head in a space that she can convey proper swagger and attitude, the kind that people are used to out of her. It’s the only way she can survive. Without the “I don’t give a crap what you or anyone thinks” attitude, Sugar would probably stay in her bed, depressed, for weeks.
By and by, Sugar is intelligent. That’s what she reminds herself when her old classmate Woody is hired. Keating calls him “college boy,” which he uses as a deriding label, but it also cuts Sugar deep into her soul. Sugar likes to disparage Woody by calling him “Woodrow” instead.
She still wants to continue her education at some point, if only she can get out of this cycle of work, party, get paid, spend money, and so on. She never gets ahead, but by getting ahead, it would only mean working to save money and sleeping. Eating is optional. She has problems with that. Her co-workers joke that no one has ever seen her eat at the restaurant.
Last night she tried to change the pattern. She went home to her small apartment in Billerica where she lives by herself. No one questions the circumstances that caused her to live on her own as an eighteen year old. Everything has led her here.
Today she came to work late because she had to condition and blow-dry her hair. Her hair is always softer when she washes it at home because the motel shampoo is of extremely poor quality. Lately, her hair has felt brittle and harsh; a different kind of brittle and harsh than the looks Maura gives her when she walks in at 7:30. Sugar tells her friends it’s salty old Maura’s “shaming look.” Even coming from home this morning she receives this guilt-by-association stare from her connection with the boss who she knows had a rough night next door. He’d left three sad and lonely messages from the Super 8 on her answering machine. It had pissed her off. “Deal with it,” she’d spoken back to the first recording of his pathetic voice, without fully listening to the last two messages. Now Maura’s eyes are hawking her, and this morning Sugar barely can tolerate it. She’d rather deal with Maloney sexualizing her with his flirting, and shooting down Woodrow before he can start with something as simple as a “Good Morning.” To deflate a guy like Woody, it would only take one single bitchy look. She didn’t even need to put out the energy it takes to straight-up ignore him, as that simple look which she does so well, with her eyes, works exactly like her hand brushing off Woodrow like a fly from her arm.
Sugar hears Maloney and Woody’s voices on their way back to the kitchen area, stops, and softens briefly, thinking maybe she is being a bit harsh; Woody is harmless, perhaps too nice...he’d never hurt a fly or brush her off in any way.
As Maloney and Woody hustle, two hands on bus tubs, kicking open the swinging doors to the back, their dishes clamor and rearrange themselves from horizontal to vertical within the plastic tubs.
“Hey, sexy,” Maloney says, while scurrying by. Sugar and Woody share a look then, as if synchronized, roll their eyes with tight-lipped pressed grins, towards one another.
6. Woody Geyser And The Members of Grand Slams Country Club
Often when the days hit 90 or 100 degrees there’s a pool party after the 3-11 PM shift at the Country Club, a.k.a. the pool area at the Super 8. This is a club that only accepts awkward guys as members. It’s not much of a party--a few six packs shared by the members of the dish staff, maybe a waiter and Gus, the young cook who only works two shifts a week. Jimmy from the Super 8 usually discovers the party around midnight. In the past he’s tried calling Keating’s room if he’s there, to tell him to put a lid on it and break it up. This produces no result except the usual one: the party ends when it normally would anyway, fizzling out at 1 or 2 AM. The next day Keating will give the boys his usual sarcastic head tilt and a predictable jab, “Did you have fun boys? Any of you guys sneak a kiss? Because I can get you a room through my connection, you sweet bastards.”
Woody doesn’t know what to do when the boss makes gay jokes. His cousin is gay, but Woody knows he’d only stick up for him if his cousin was standing right there; and even then, there was no guarantee.
Woody also doesn’t know why he goes to the pool parties. Parties make him uncomfortable. Sure, last night there were extra supplies: a case of Miller Beer, a boom box and some weed, but Woody is free to drink alone and listen to music at his parents’ house, his place of residence for the next three months. He smokes pot on occasion, not very often, but last night he gave Bobby Maloney ten bucks for three joints because his parents are always asleep when he returns from the night shift and he is bored with nothing to do--smoking pot seems like a good idea.
Kayak Kenny shows up poolside after he finishes work, twenty minutes later than Woody and Maloney. It takes him awhile to get the end of the shift necessities completed, but he usually catches up to the others’ progress at the Country Club when it comes to drinking. Kenny can down three quickly in about a half hour. The bright light inside the pool shines through the highly-chlorinated water, casting a blue hue over Kayak Kenny, making his coloring appear less yellowy green, or more precisely, as blue as everyone else.
“Hey, I asked some of the waitresses to come over,” he grins. “But, they all said they had forgotten their bathing suits. Some said they had plans.”
“Ugh, don’t mention that you’re hanging out with us,” Gus says. “I don’t want that association.”
Maloney snorts out a laugh. “Well since it was you who asked, of course, they forgot their suits, and their plans were to do anything else but come back here.”
“Huh?” Kenny said. “They smiled when I asked. It means they wanted to. Do you think they like me?”
“I’m sure it means that,” Maloney adds, feeling a little guilty now.
Woody is sitting with his feet trolling in the water, admiring how the lights create blueish, yellow and green swirls beneath the surface. It’s the only light besides the overhead ones in the parking lot, cutting into the night. Jimmy shuts the deck lights off at 10 PM.
When Woody was in junior high, the night he took all those pills, the lights in his head, when he lost consciousness, looked almost exactly like what he’s looking at now. Then he woke up at a hospital. That was the end of the story, no questions asked by his parents, no follow up therapy, just be left with your own thoughts and go back to school on Monday, please.
“Ah, they don’t like you, as in like you, Kenny. They’re just being nice. Sometimes women can act nice just to shut guys, like you, up,” Woody reflects.
“Guys like me?” Kenny’s voice has an added incredulous trill to it. “What the fuck do you mean? You’ve only been here a week and I’ve worked here for three years. What the fuck do you know?”
“Chill, Kenny. They do it to me too, and you admitted yourself, that you might not be too smart…but you’re a good worker.”
Maloney is sprawled out across a deck chair with sunglasses on, pretending it’s daytime, the glasses splitting his face and forehead in near equal parts. “Pass the sunscreen Kenny.”
Kenny starts walking around the deck to look. “I can’t find any, Bobby.”
The boys let out a laugh and Gus says, “Keep looking, Kenny. You don’t want Bobby to get sunburn.” Then Gus turns to Woody, to needle him: “What about it, Woodrow? You sleeping with anyone?”
The hairs on the back of Woody’s neck begin to stand up, as if his instincts are kicking in, preparing him for a fight. “It’s Woody,” he says, aggravated. “No one calls me Woodrow.”
“Relax,” Gus says. “I’m just busting your chops because I’ve heard Sugar call you that. I think she’s calling you that for a reason.”
“Yeah, it’s because she’s busting my chops too. It’s her way of saying, I knew you when, and when I knew you, you were this way, so please remember what the pecking order is. Girls like Sugar want to keep the power structure from high school exactly the way it was at the time of their senior year, when they were on top of the social ladder.”
“No,” Maloney says. “It’s not about being on top and keeping the pecking order. I think it’s about preventing you from thinking you’re better than her, I mean, going to college like you are, and all. Last winter, over break, I used to talk to her all the time. She felt left behind. All her friends were in school and it made her feel bad about herself.”
“Did you guys smooch?” Kenny asks.
“No, retard. We’re friends. I see how others would find her pretty, but she’s not my type. I’m not fond of that All-American, girl next door kind of look, but perhaps with bigger breasts....”
“Yes, you, peering through the blinds into the bedroom window of the girl next door, you should know about her breasts,” Gus said, ending his own joke with what he usually ends his own jokes with--a manic laugh.
“She was, umm,” Woody stops in mid-sentence, as they all stopped to listen to him. “She was the All-American type of girl. She had everything going for her. She partied too hard and by the end of high school, she hadn’t applied to any schools except the ones she was reaching high for…the Harvards, Yales, and Dartmouths. She might have gotten into those schools if she hadn’t fucked up, but after her senior year grades she had no chance. Of course she has regrets.”
The sound of the pool filter kicking in replaces the sudden reflective silence. Kenny belches. “Anyone want to smoke another joint?” Maloney asks. Gus and Kayak Kenny walk over, but Woody stays in the deck chair. “I’m good,” he says.
* * *
Woody’s parents are asleep. He still has two joints left but he’s too stoned to smoke anymore. He hits the bed at 5 AM, too paranoid, too self-attacking to sleep. In ten hours he has to go into work again and the switching from the early mornings to mid-afternoons is tiring him out.
Maybe if he gets himself off he can sleep. He has a small window of opportunity, because his parents will be awake soon and even though he’s two floors up, the kitchen coming to life in the morning is a sound he has a difficult time blocking out. He starts having thoughts about Sugar, but not the current Sugar, his co-worker; he thinks about the one he knew in high school, the wholesome version he talked about tonight. Yes, I am a douchebag, he thinks, pretending to know all about her tonight at the pool--and to act more of an expert on women, in general.
In high school Woody had been an obvious virgin, ashamed of his thin body, which failed to reach puberty until much later than the rest of the boys in his class. Showering after gym was a nightmare, so he never did it, enduring the rest of the day covered in dried salty dodgeball sweat. He carried this awkwardness into college, and even when he had the chance to close the deal and have sex, he didn’t know what to do, so any chance he had to gain experience was missed. Most of the girls in his dorm figured it out and when Cyndi, who had slept with his roommate the week before, asked him to come over to her room across campus the night before Christmas break for a drink, he didn’t think much of it.
She had a gift for him, which he unwrapped while sitting on her bed. In a small box was a cocktail glass, with a heart and #1 printed on the side of it. She kept filling it with rum and cokes, getting him drunk, while sitting closer and closer to him, until her legs were slung over his lap, and the back of her hand was resting directly on his crotch. Her other hand was tugging at his short, dark, spiked hair. She re-gripped and pushed the back of his head; pushing him in firmly, with eyes closed for a kiss.
After the sex was over, he went to the bathroom to pee, still erect and feeling such relief that he almost busted into laughter, which once started, he would have a difficult time being able to stop. Instead he held it, and went back for four more times with her, lasting until dawn. By the time morning came, he knew he wouldn’t have a reason to ever see her again.
Woody slides his hand under the waistband of his pajamas, but nothing happens. He thinks of Sugar’s mouth and something begins to stir, but quickly dissipates, like a not-quite-dead car battery. He tries again, thinking more and more graphically about Sugar, her petite breasts and small ass, but instead all he can think about is the need to hurry and how floppy he is. He hears the frying pan bang against a sauce pan as it is pulled out of the cabinet for the purpose of scrambling his father’s eggs, and the image of Sugar disappears the way a match is extinguished when dropped into a cup of water.
* * *
Woody’s parents’ house is a nice, white-painted four bedroom house with black shutters. It has a large wraparound porch, in a neighborhood in Lexington with many other white houses with black shutters. Woody’s dad, up at 6 AM for work, moves Woody’s empty beer-can-filled vehicle to the street nearly every morning. The bottom of Woody’s vehicle has started to rot out, so his father is never sure what is making the rattle sound, the car or the cans. Woody’s mom debates on what she’ll say to her son when he wakes up. Should it be, “We know what you are up to”? or “I’m worried about you”? Perhaps it’s all because of the influence of his co-workers. She could casually mention that she doesn’t like the people he’s been hanging out with.
He’s always been a good kid, drinking “normally” with friends, never experimenting with drugs; but then there was that strange incident at age fourteen, which she reckoned was just a cry for help. A car full of beer cans is concerning to her. What if he gets pulled over with all the empties in there?
After cleaning the kitchen and wiping down the table, Woody’s mom sits with a cup of coffee, waiting. Woody is usually up after 10 AM, unless he has the early shift. When she hears the steps creaking, she straightens, preparing herself for the uncomfortable interaction. Before Woody can even say “good morning,” and before he gets into the kitchen, she blurts out, “Don’t think we don’t know what you are doing, because we do.”
7. Momma Maura Has Dreams
Waking up at 5 AM has Maura in bed by 9 every night. It’s all about work ethic and doing the right thing. It’s about getting enough sleep. The success that she is, a waitressing powerhouse, is not about partying, staying out late or dating. Not that someone her age is doing that anyway, but it’s what she has been doing ever since she started waitressing.
Sigmund Freud's theory about sleep and dreams was that your dreams are an expression of what you’re repressing during the time you are awake, while Carl Jung believed that dreams provide messages about “lost” or “neglected” parts of us that need to be reintegrated. Many dreams simply come from a preoccupation with the day’s activities. Maura dreams more than the average person.
Last night she dreamt about Mike, her first boss, returning as the new CEO of the entire Grand Slams franchise. It wasn’t a dream about Mike, per se, though she’s had some very personal ones about him that she would be too shy to admit; no, it was more a motivational speech, spoken directly to Maura, in a supervision meeting:
Maura, even though you never picked up a franchise or region here at Grand Slams, it is up to you to promote the integrity and pride of the Grand Slams Corporation. Think of the two Bobs, out of uniform…oh, not in that way, but in this one: Even when they are off duty they think, act, and promote the corporation with the sense of pride and respect that I always attempted to emulate. They know that it’s not just about profits, but instead, it’s a way of life. It’s like you, Maura–without Grand Slams you may not have had the wonderful opportunity to turn your life around and do what was best for your child. You thought of the Grand Slams way each and every time you awoke to a new day and proudly zipped up your freshly pressed, brown uniform. Someone like Keating simply isn’t who we want the company to look like. We do not barter Double Home Run Breakfasts in exchange for motel rooms and narcotics. We don’t show up for work with our mind in the gutter, thinking of which one of our employees we are most likely to pursue sexually. Likewise, the kids on college break are not company people. They are too willing to trade minimum wage work for books, beer, and other frolicsome dorm-life expenses. Employees like Sugar are clearly in transition. They are still looking for themselves, what they will truly “be” in life. Chances are, when they find it, it won’t be here, nestled soundly beneath our beloved red and yellow Grand Slams sign. The “Kennys” of the world are only able to labor in these types of jobs. They’ll be with us much longer than the rest, but only with the simple purpose of cleaning. They will never learn to love, to live the Grand Slams way, and they must be brought down.
Maura, you are a power of example. You need to continue to make the customers think seriously about their breakfast and brunch choices, inspiring within them the desire to pick Grand Slams every time. It’s up to you to take the employees, lateral to you in your job, under your wing. You must be a one-person pep rally, but do so in a reserved and prideful way, that quietly promotes others to follow your lead. Maura, you are the one I’ve chosen, same as out in California, to continue the mission of Grand Slams family restaurant.
“God,” Maura mutters, and rolls out of her shallow sleep. She immediately jumps into the present and hopes Mr. Tribuno will be there with her to open the shift and make all the coffee. She knows Tribuno works hard and he’s been someone that Mike Homer would have been proud of.
Barely awake, Maura falls through that dark fissure in her memory once again. She suddenly remembers a different scene almost twenty years ago, a scene from California, where Mike was her hero and her rescuer. It was after a shift when Mike walked in on his co-manager pressing her body against the wall, kissing her, while she, pinned, was unable to move or push him off to get away. Mike shouldn’t have been there at the overnight shift, but he had forgotten something and had come back. When he yelled at his co-manager, the piece of slime stopped what he was doing. Maura felt her skirt slide back down in position as her balled hand swing wide and hard. She felt almost nothing when her fist made contact with her attacker’s sweaty face. The contact was strong but sounded like a faint echo, not louder than the buzzing in her own head which brought the scene completely to a halt. Mike told him to leave and never come back.
Maura rolls onto her back, wishes she could get better sleep for once. She wishes she never had to think of her work history and the importance it has in her life and the various turning points. The big one was in Colorado, the first time she began slowly crossing the country to the east coast. She reaches to the nightstand and begins to polish her pin with a tissue, suddenly remembering the day that Mike had died seven years ago and how she couldn’t take time off to attend his funeral.
Maura doesn’t understand why people conduct themselves in ways that they will regret later. She thinks, Sugar doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. Keating knows what he’s doing and he doesn’t care. The college boys, Geyser and Maloney, care what they are doing, but really don’t know what they’re doing. Worst of all are people like Kayak Kenny, who doesn’t know where he is in the Universe and may never, ever. Why do they mess up, or set themselves up to be messed up?
Maura doesn’t know, because she grew up fast, but her daughter has grown up fast as well, without her. She tried to establish a relationship after Bridget’s trip to rehab. Bridget ended up there very quickly, and Maura still can’t get emotionally invested to any of that.
Maura works the early shift most every morning, and follows a set Grand Slams procedure. The only time it all gets done correctly, using the proper time and the proper precautions, is when Tribuno is working with her. On the mornings Keating strolls in an hour to an hour and a half late, looking like hell, smelling like stale cigarettes, he says such things as, “Yeah, I see everything has taken care of itself.”
Maura finds her own high work ethic is more comparable to her successful customers than to her co-workers. It’s always been that way, as Maura is always trying harder to do well, to be the most professional, and to show that when you are given lemons, you might as well make lemonade.
One of them, a return customer sitting alone, is an Egyptian man named Sayid. He is in his mid-twenties, and orders, coincidently, his usual lemonade this morning. Maura has waited on him enough times to know his name, where he works, and what he’s interested in, because Sayid, open from the very first time he sat in Maura’s section, also revealed that he is single.
Sayid works at the Air-Force base down the street. He shows Maura his base ID every time to get the 20% off his Double Home Run Breakfast, the name making no sense to Sayid for a different reason than it makes no sense to everyone else. For Sayid, it’s a language issue rather than the poor baseball terminology. Maura looked at the ID and thought how handsome he was. When he left after he had coffee, which he always orders as well, he jumped into a black BMW and pulled away, a blur through the heat rising off the parking lot. He looked to be a good catch--handsome, well-off, successful, and certainly not a screw-up.
Maura teases him upon his return to Grand Slams, musing aloud, if only she were 35 years younger, to which Sayid blushes strongly, visibly coloring his bronze complexion. For the rest of the breakfast, he appears to be unable to say another word.
On the following visit, he asks if she knew any women that he could be set up with. Maura says there are plenty of them who come in all the time, but perhaps she may know one or two that work here. Sayid, shrugged, “No, seriously,” he says. “Do you know anyone?”
* * *
On Sayid’s fifth visit to Grand Slams Maura places him in Sugar’s section so she could be the one to bring him his coffee and lemonade. Sayid is unable to bring himself to speak to the pretty waitress. He can’t even ask for the 20% off his Double Home Run Breakfast. He does say something which makes Sugar take a step backwards, and makes her eyes bulge into a large, rounder form.
“Can I see you again?” he asks.
Sugar’s actions are cautious, the question almost creepy, but then, suddenly realizing that it may be a cultural difference, she bursts out laughing. “I didn’t realize we were on a date,” she jokes.
Sayid’s face turns as red as it had when Maura complimented him a few days ago. His mouth moves, but no words come out.
“I work mornings some of the time, but mostly, I work nights–never the overnight shift. Come in any time I’m on.”
Sayid finds the invitation to be quite forward. He is not used to girls coming on so strongly, because in his country they hardly say anything--they just fall into their roles. He doesn’t know what to do about any of this, but he is both smitten and intrigued. “Yes, I will try to come in again, so I can see you. Perhaps that is what I’ll do.” Maura catches his eye from across the dining room and gives him a big-old “OK” sign.
8. Kayak Kenny
Without realizing it himself, Kenny is easily daunted. The fiber of his character is naïve, almost childlike. Those who get to know him find him harmless, but those who do not often misconstrue him as creepy.
Kayak Kenny was hit in the head with a canoe oar by his father, causing a head injury which forced the schools to hold him back in third grade for two extra years; then reluctantly they advanced him every year after. As a seven year old, before the accident, he’d loved going to the beach and watching boats. Now he watches Gilligan’s Island reruns but doesn’t understand the most basic of gags that the show promotes. His mother yells at him for being so stupid.
Residents of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts have a funny way of distancing themselves from each other. Folks who live in New England notice this when they leave the area; on vacation they think how other people generally seem friendlier and warmer. Kayak Kenny also does not understand the social nuances of the Massachusetts residents or recognize why they act the way they do. Not being able to understand this is not Kenny’s fault. Kayak Kenny hears Maura talk about the people here all the time, because Maura lived outside of Massachusetts for many years. Kayak Kenny thinks people should be nice and that everyone is trying to be nice, at all times. Kenny doesn’t believe that people aren’t nice. He interprets people as “laughing with him” not “laughing at him.” For him, simple is a good way to be and a simple smile or a hello is misinterpreted by Kayak Kenny as a show of interest for friendship, or as in the case of the female, an interest in a relationship with him.
Kenny thinks that if he saves up and buys a kayak, women will want to date him. It’s innocent enough: a trip out on the water, and a picnic. They would never want a thirty year old who washes dishes and sometimes buses the tables at a Grand Slams, but a man with a kayak is a different story.
Kenny often gets tricked into washing the dishes when he should have a turn working up front as a busboy. Maloney and Geyser always tell him that it’s their turn, not Kenny’s, and cite dates and times they recently had to wash the dishes. Truth is, it’s never Kenny’s turn to work up front, unless the old and slow Marisimo is on with him, but Keating and Tribuno never pair the two of them up on the same shift. Together they are so slow at their jobs that they can’t keep up and the restaurant runs out of dishes, silverware, coffee cups, and water glasses. Kenny often starts his dishwashing shift pissed off, because even though he is a bit slow, he’s fully aware that the closed-in dish station is the worst place to be in the entire restaurant. There are racks on his left stacked high for the dirty glasses to be placed into, and a massive, two-foot in diameter garbage disposal in front that looks like a giant serving bowl of swill. This monster is where everything uneaten gets thrown and ground up, washed down the drain. Kenny often forgets to run the disposal, which creates a river of reddish-brown stank that runs over the counter and through his work area. The color scheme is surreal and depressing; the red-brown of the dirty byproduct along with the green-yellow of Kenny’s skin, gives the appearance of a cheap color television set about to quit working.
Keating passes and with an upward sarcastic nod and smile, notes the flooded area and says, “I think you need a kayak for back there.” Kenny realizes that Keating is the only person laughing at him or at least the only one transparent enough that Kenny understands what is happening. Most of the time, near the dish area, people are laughing at or placing demands on the dishwasher--any dishwasher. It’s a natural consequence. None of that matters to Kenny. His only focus is to get his paycheck, save up a little each time for his kayak--a red one, or perhaps blue. A blue-eyed girl would look good in kayaks of that color, but Kenny seeing the complete image in his head, of him, a girl, and a kayak, is unable to understand why.
9. Keating and The Two Bobs
Joe Keating sits at a table with Dino Tribuno and two humpty-dumpty gentlemen, both named Bob and both wearing tan shirts and matching ties with the Grand Slams logo scripted about a million times on the color-coordinated fabric. Unfortunately, that is the only thing on Keating’s mind: how ugly those ties are. His is a blue Brooks Brothers, given to him on a long-lost birthday by a long-lost fiancée, which he needs to at some point get dry cleaned, as there is a series of very small grease spots on it. At one point Jimmy said that he could take it down to Super 8’s laundry, but the last time that was offered the Haitians, as Keating called them, who worked there didn’t know what to do with a silk tie and it was ruined. If this made Keating a racist, then he was a racist in the first degree.
Keating often thinks in this way. When he is overtired he’ll say those thoughts out loud; for example, the people working at the Super 8, who he refers to derogatorily as “the Haitians” also work shifts at Grand Slams, filling in when needed as night porters. Keating refuses to learn their names and acts as if their names confuse him, but they are not that difficult: Mahalia, Manouchka, and Martine, who he once called Marty (which drew a blank stare.)
Bob is a name that he can remember, which is fine when he is presented with both of the Bobs, in Section 1, shoveling in their fried eggs and hash browns at the manager’s meeting. The dirty-blond Bob is important to the chain as he oversees six Grand Slams in the New England Region. He has traveled two hours to be here. He’s all business, and Keating knows he is the wheel that needs greasing.
The other Bob, Bob Boolay, has jet-black dyed hair and makes better jokes than Keating, but then again, the bar is set pretty low. Dyed-hair Bob Boolay oversees a few very well-run stores in Holyoke and Chicopee Falls, but his main location is in Chicopee. The other day, when Geyser slipped and fell on the wet mopped floor behind the counter, Keating told him if he wasn’t careful he’d transfer him to Chicopee Falls. Then he laughed at his own joke.
“Hey, Sugar,” Keating calls across the restaurant. “Bring us some more coffee over here.”
Sugar slides in with a smile and two bulbous coffee pots, one with a brown collar for caffeinated and the other, orange topped, for decaf. Keating and the bosses take the caffeinated, while Dino requests the orange one, saying, “My wife says I keep her up all night.”
Dyed-hair Bob cracks, “She’d rather not have to keep you up all night.”
Sugar fakes a chuckle, “Good one, Mr. Boolay.”
“Call me, Bob.”
“Good one, Bob,” she says before she hurries off.
“Oh, that Sugar,” Dyed-hair Bob cackles. “I’d like some Sugar with my coffee.”
“Is that actually her name?” Blond Bob asks. “I was about to say something about nicknames on nametags, but if that’s her legal name, I guess GS Corp has nothing to say about it.”
“Right,” Keating says.
“This is what I’m getting at, Keating. We need to make sure Bedford, #509 is run by the book. We need to, as the company says, Bring the Pride. Our accountants are at wits end about some of the stuff going on at this store.” Blond Bob pushes his coffee cup forward, sloshing a little over the lip of the cup, making a small brown puddle on the table.
“Geyser!” Keating shouts. “Come get this.” Keating notices Kayak Kenny is standing much closer to them, but certainly not to be considered helping out with the Bobs here.
“Geyser, clean up the coffee geyser,” Dyed-hair Bob jokes. Keating decides to laugh, but the other Bob doesn’t, so Keating quickly silences himself.
Woody jogs in from the other end of the restaurant with a Handi-Wipe to absorb the mess. “He’s right there!” Keating compliments, yet noticing that Blond Bob does not look happy, Keating scolds him, “Now, slow down! We don’t need a Workman’s Comp.”
“Keating,” Blond Bob says, peering over a quarterly report. “This free coffee you bring us is great, but you should account for it some way, just like the occasional free meal you might give out as a perk, or even a chef error that an employee eats. It seems like the Bedford store has a huge overall produce to profit loss margin in this area. Now, I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but something needs to be cleaned up. We have the ability to tabulate each of our portion sized meats and frozen foods and the amount of eggs used, per a computer program which calculates amounts and orders. All I have to say is that your store is one of the worst in the state. It’s just one of the points I wanted to talk about.”
Tribuno rubs and pushes down his mustache with the inside of his thumb and glances over to Keating. Jimmy from the Super 8 has entered the restaurant. He also looks over at Keating, who sternly nods, indicating for him to keep his distance. Jimmy approaches the table anyway, sweaty, quick and nervous. He’s been using the same top-flight cocaine he sells to Keating.
“Joe, we need to talk about the room.”
“Not now, Jimmy!”
“Well, there is a balance.”
“Jimmy, I’m in a meeting.”
“Okay, I’ll just have my breakfast. Can we talk after breakfast?”
“Not now, Jimmy! Dammit, not now!”
The two Bobs freeze over their reports, not that they know what’s going on, but the easily-perceived slime running off of Jimmy has left them feeling uncomfortable. Blond Bob grips the papers and dyed-hair Bob doesn’t have a joke up his sleeve.
“Some folks won’t ever listen,” Keating says, rubbing over the spots on the front of his tie, before adding, “Welcome to the restaurant business.” Both Bobs shuffle the reports around in their hands, as Keating’s humor has gone flat on his critical audience. This is not going well.
“Get a new suit, Keating,” Blond Bob says. He reaches into his briefcase and pulls out the same necktie he and Dyed-haired Bob have on. “Wear it tomorrow. Make everything you wear look like a fresh start.”