Friday, August 7th, 2009
Saturday night, early, no one was able to find a rhythm. We kept getting popped, then stalled, taking five tables like BangBangBangBangBang, then nothing for ten minutes. The FNG fell into the weeds—dans la merdeeven at this stuttering half-speed. Jimmy, the owner, was antsy on expo, alternating between giggling fits and bouts of screaming obscenity. Floyd rotated the line out for cigarettes. He had a speed pourer filled with rum and hurricane mix in his rack that he sucked at like a baby with a bottle, and he jumped on every check out of the printer as if it were the harbinger of the rush that steadfastly refused to come. It was difficult to see from the grill station at one end of the line to the fryers at the other because of the wavy heat-haze—the air squirming, like staring through aquarium water.
Five o’clock came and went. It seemed to me suddenly like there wasn’t enough air on the line for all of us to breathe. I had chills. Cold flashes skittered up and down my spine while my front half baked. This being Florida and me being too young for menopause, I imagined it was malaria and stood firm, waiting for the hallucinations to kick in. With the ventilation hood going full blast, Roberto and Chachi couldn’t keep the pilots on their unused burners going so had to keep kissing them back to life—leaning over and blowing across the palms of their hands to get the flame from one to jump to the next with the gas turned all the way up. The alternative method: smacking a pan down on the grate at an angle and hard enough to catch a spark. They did it over and over again until Floyd yelled at them to quit it. After that, they fought over the galley radio. After that, they amused themselves by drinking the cooking wine (sieved through a coffee filter to separate out all the grease and floating crap and then mixed with orange soda) and pegging frozen mushroom caps at Jimmy whenever his back was turned.
At some point, Jimmy—in an attempt to catch whoever was throwing things at him, and half in the bag to begin with—spun around too fast, caught his foot on the edge of one of the kitchen mats and went down hard, his head spanging off the rounded edge of the expo table with a sound like someone throwing a melon at a gong. He was unconscious before he hit the floor.
There was an instant of shocked silence, then a crashing wave of laughter. Seeing anyone fall down is funny, but seeing a drunken fat man fall down beats all. One of the waitresses ran for the hostess (who also doubled as FOH manager), and she came at the best sprint she could manage in her stiletto heels and stirrup pants. The prep/runner crew treated Jimmy like any other heat casualty, breaking in a wing and descending like Stukas to drag him clear of the flow of service. It took four of them. Jimmy was a big man and moving him was like trying to roll a beached whale back into the sea.
They dumped him, loose-jointed, beside the cooler and calmly went back about their business. Jimmy’s T-shirt (Pantera on that day, I think, black and sleeveless, making his thick, pasty-white arms look like they were made of lard) rode up over his hairy, pony-keg belly. His eyes were closed. There was no blood, which secretly disappointed us all.
Floyd spoke to the line. “No one cops to this. No one snitches.”
He ordered Roberto to the wheel, shifted Dump, the roundsman, from second steamer (backing me) to second fryer (backing the new FNG), and vaulted the line to take Jimmy’s place at expo himself. As was only to be expected, that was when the real dinner hit finally came tumbling in. With the hostess seeing to Jimmy (and probably quietly looking to see how she could get at his wallet) the floor was left unmanaged. Waitresses double- and triple-sat their own sections in the absence of an egalitarian hand. The ticket machine began to spit. Like a pro, Roberto false-called a half dozen steaks to the grill, crabs to the steamers, and twenty-upped fries to get things rolling in anticipation of steaks going well-done and missed sides down the line, then started working actual tickets, hanging them ten at a time. The machine didn’t stop. The paper strip grew long, drooping like a tongue, spooling out and down onto the floor. On the galley radio, the DJ came back from a commercial and kicked into the Misfits doing “Ballroom Blitz,” and I—up to my wrists in meat and blood, crouching down at the lowboy trying to retrieve cheap-ass skirts and vac-pac T-bones from the dim interior—yelled that I’d kill the next cocksucking motherfucker that touched the dial. After that, we were in it, the machinery in motion.
Excerpted from COOKING DIRTY, by Jason Sheehan, published in July 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by Jason Sheehan. All rights reserved.
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