Today being the 7th anniversary of Pop’s death, along with being the eve of Tet (Lunar New Year) here in Vietnam, adds an interesting twist. The Vietnamese believe that on Tet, the spirits of their departed ancestors go to heaven to report on all family gossip, deeds, and other pertinent news. It’s the living family’s responsibility to see them off on their journeys with a fitting celebration, and reverence.
To see all the local people here in Hue, gearing up for the celebration (which peaks tomorrow), preparing for what they consider their most important holiday, has been intriguingly fun. Only to have the festivities somewhat dampened by some untimely rain in the evening. Hopefully things will clear up early enough for the rest of the celebrations to commence.
In the meantime, I’ll take this rain delay to post this fun little memory about Pop. Which, I consider to be a bit overdue.
Back when I was about 14, Pop bought a small deli-restaurant in Daytona Beach. It was actually called “The Delly”. It specialized in pretty awesome sub sandwiches, and had a full menu as well. When he bought the joint, it was quite busy. This was due to the local “clientele”. Which, not surprisingly, tended to include the immediate residents of Daytona’s Main Street. These included lowlife transients, drug dealers, addicts, drunks, prostitutes, and other less-than-glamorous folk.
Pop, knowing what he was getting himself into, decided to buy the place anyway. He had run a very busy restaurant and bar before back in Rio during his younger days, he would make it work.
His biggest challenge in running the place was keeping a reliable kitchen and wait staff. Unfortunately, due to its rather unsavory location, the place didn’t necessarily attract top-flight personnel. His employee turnover was astronomical. I’m not sure Pop took this into account when he bought the place. He often found himself running the whole place short or even single-handed, because someone didn’t show up. He soon tired of this, and decided once summer came around, he would do things a little differently. Instead of depending too heavily on hired staff, he would do what any right-thinking father of three would do. He would draft his kids into service.
Pop approached Nick and me with our new employment opportunity under the impression that we would sign right up. But it wouldn’t be so simple. First off, I had just gotten fired from my latest fast-food gig, and was hungry to work. I had no problem working for Pop. The only problem was that his pay offer was pretty low. His reasoning for that was simple. Since we were living under his roof, we didn’t merit even the meager minimum wage of the time. His best offer to me was $1.25 an hour.
I protested, of course. I cited the major advances in Florida’s child labor laws to support my position. I even insinuated the threat of reporting him to the proper authorities. Sure, it was a hollow threat. But I still didn’t count on Pop countering with the offer of not beating my ass, for making even the mere mention of the words “proper authorities”. The negotiations appeared to come to a standstill over the pay issue. Then Pop, with some kind of Jedi-ish mind trick, lured us over to the dark side. He seduced us with what he considered would bring our income well over and above minimum wage. Tips.
Nick and I were pulled into service, under some form of protest. It still felt like slavery to me. Judy managed to skirt out of duty for the most part, because she already had a job at the mall’s Sears store. She claimed that much-needed job would take up all her free time. And on top of that, she was going to be up in New Jersey for most of the summer with Mom. Who still had her jewelry store up on the shore. So for the most part Nick and I managed to score all the luck on this shady deal.
The schedule was pretty simple. we can opt to each work either lunch or dinner. The lunch shift was from 11-4, and dinner was from 5 to close, five days a week. Closing time was usually around ten. But sometimes he would stay open later. The place tended to fill up with some serious beer drinkers, who chose to guzzle away their paychecks. Even though in those days it was against state law for anyone under 18 to serve alcohol, there we were. Running back and forth from the bar with trays full of Miller and Bud draft, with Lynyrd Skynyrd blasting on the jukebox most weekend nights.
One particular July day, I was on for the lunch shift. I woke up rather late in the morning, not feeling all that hot. I had been dealing with the wrath of some nasty stomach bug that was now in full bloom. It had been terrorizing my digestive tract since the previous night. Pop was already at the restaurant, having opened up for breakfast. I called him to break the news that I didn’t think I was going to make it in. On account of my very real digestive issue that was keeping me within safe distance of the hall bathroom. Pop, to put it mildly, was not amused.
“Listen you big baby, I’m up to my ass in orders, and Sherry (the morning waitress) is once again a no-show. You better get your ass in here on time. In fact, be here at 10. If you don’t show up, things are not gonna be kosher when I get home, you got that?” He hung up.
So it was either deal with Pop now, or deal with him later. I opted to go in, and show him just how sick I am, via my various trips to the mens’ room, during the course of the lunch shift. The way I figure it, he’ll deem me useless and send me home, or just beat me senseless and put me out of my misery. Either way, I couldn’t really lose. I guzzled some pepto bismol, and got on my bike. Getting there on my bike in the condition I was in, was needless to say, a challenge. I’ll leave that to the imagination.
When I got there, it looked like the breakfast rush was about over. Everyone had already been served and/or were in the process of leaving. Pop was topping up the coffee.
“You’re late…” he muttered, not even looking away from the coffee pots he was marrying.
I looked up at the clock, it said 10:05.
“Pop, I was supposed to be here at 11. I told you, I’m sick as a dog. If I make it through the shift without my colon exploding, it will be a damn miracle..” I held my stomach for both dramatic effect, and the fact that I had a horrific cramp right while I was talking. It made me just want to curl up in fetal position and wail.
“Yeah, you and your stomach cramps, what are you, a girl? You having your period? Come on, give me a break. Get your apron on, and start bussing up the tables. Let’s get ready for the lunch rush, which is going to start soon.” He walked over to the register to close out some checks. He obviously was not going to let me go home.
At this point, I just wanted to walk out. I was feeling like shit, my abdomen felt like it was on fire. I also felt that the mere effort involved in just getting there had taxed me to the point where I couldn’t go any further. “I’ll bus the tables, clean up, and by that time, I will either have to bolt home or make a run for the mens’ room. Either way, I’m out of commission.” I thought.
I managed to finish up the bussing, while trying to ignore the gastrointestinal fireworks going on in my abdominal cavity. I got the last of the bus trays back to the deep sink. About the same time, my gut reached the point of no return. I literally had seconds to make it to the toilet. I ran around the bar, blew past Pop, who was just about to bitch at me about something I didn’t do, and hit the mens’ room door. I prayed out loud that nobody was in there taking up the sole stall. Because if so, catastrophe would ensue on so many levels I didn’t even want to think about it. Luck was on my side for once. The men’s toilet was completely vacant and at my disposal, no pun intended.
There was one nagging thing that continually annoyed me about the mens’ room at this place. It was the fact that the damn stall door either kept coming off, or would get kicked off by some drunk asshole. It happened so often, that Pop would often just give up fixing it until somebody bitched about it. Once again, the stall door was gone, probably somewhere in the back waiting to be repaired. I didn’t have the time luxury of submitting a formal complaint to Pop. That issue would have to be dealt with later.
I had been sitting on the throne for a good 10 minutes, in pure suffering. I heard the doorknob jiggle. I realized that I forgot to lock it… shit. A tall thin, shirtless loser comes in. He sees me as he heads for the urinal. “How’s it goin?” he asks with a smug smile, which now showcases a few rotting teeth.
“I’ve been better. Can you lock the door on the way out please?” I’m trying to look down and be as inconspicuous as possible.
“Sure man, no prob”… that smug, ghastly grin comes back.
He zips up and looks at me as he’s walking out the door, I hear him push on the knob’s lock button. Then, just as his arm is slipping through the now closing door, he flicks off the light switch.
“Motherf….” I sat there, gazing into total and complete darkness, while my innards did battle.
It took me a good twenty more minutes to end the torment, now in pitch black. Then it took me another five or so minutes just to find the elusive roll of toilet paper that was mounted on the wall somewhere on my right. By the time I got myself back together, I was seething mad. There was no way I was gonna let this pass.
I walked out the door back into the dining room. I am livid as I pass the first booth on my left. The shirtless asshole and his just-as-classy girlfriend were there. They were both laughing as I was walking out. This just incensed me further. I did my best to not look at them as I plotted my next course of action. I walk past a couple of solo customers sitting at the bar.
I see Pop coming around the bar with a pitcher of ice tea and two glasses. I surmise from the two glasses that the tea is for my now most hated enemy and his partner in crime.
“Hey Pop, is this for that couple at the booth?” I asked as innocently and non-chalantly as I could, hoping he didn’t see my teeth grinding.
“Yeah, you gonna make yourself useful and finish up those dishes?” Pop was still in slave-driver mode.
“Sure Pop, but first, let me serve this…” I grabbed the tray with a fake smile, before he could protest. He looks at me a bit suspiciously as I’m walking away, wondering what the hell is up. He shrugs and goes back to the beer cooler to finish stocking.
I walk up to the happy couple’s booth with their pitcher of refreshing, brewed iced tea. I paint a smile on my face, knowing I now have a perfect plan for which there is no escape.
“Iced Tea?” The simpletons were still snickering and laughing at Joe-loser’s immature men’s room coup.
“Yeah man, right here… huh-huh… ” He’s still smiling at me, trying to convey no hard feelings. It was too late for that.
I place the glasses in front of each of them, and take the pitcher as if I’m going to be pouring their first glasses for them. He’s still guffawing as he notices that the pitcher is actually being aimed above his head. The entire contents of the pitcher come cascading down over his matted, slimy, unwashed hair, along with the rest of him. Miss Simpleton is shocked, but speechless.
“You son of a fuckin bitch!” at least that’s what I thought he said. But it was reduced to an inaudible, gurgling spew. Due to the fact that his face and mouth were being inundated with Lipton’s finest.
“That’s for shutting the lights off on me, asshole!” I’m making sure the very last drips from the pitcher find their target, and slam the pitcher down on the table.
Shirtless idiot decides that he’s gotta resort to some form of violence, and haphazardly grabs my arm during the melee. He’s now standing up, and posturing to stab my arm with his fork, while I do my best to pull away. He’s now talking tough, spitting and spraying tea in the process.
Pop, who’s watching all this unfold in mere seconds from behind the bar, sees him doing this and springs into action.
“You better let him go asshole!” He’s shouting as he runs to the register counter to grab his pool-cue butt nightstick. He keeps it there for emergencies. He smacks the stick on the counter that sends a deafening clap through the place. An instant later, he’s pulling me aside, and standing in the guy’s face with the stick in swinging position. I’ve never seen Pop move so fast ever. It was particularly amazing, because at the time his weight was at a peak.
“That little shit poured ice tea all over me!” Shirtless loser is now trying to stare back at Pop with whatever toughness he can come up with. Not surprisingly, it’s nowhere near enough to phase him.
“And I’m sure that little shit had some reason to do it. In any case, that little shit is my son, and nobody fucks with my kids.” I now see the veins on his head, pounding and his eyes are flared open in a way that even I was scared shitless. He’s got the stick poised in the air, ready to strike without notice, as he has his other hand planted firmly on his shoulder. Pop’s eyes are absolutely fixated on the loser. Who is now starting to leave a puddle of tea underneath him.
“You have a choice, you piece of shit. You can sit down and finish your lunch on me. Or, in another second I am going to beat your ass and throw you out on the street, if you don’t back down right now.” Pop doesn’t even blink. I’m now looking from behind, actually hoping that the idiot will vote for the latter.
“Hey, I don’t want any trouble man…” He puts his hands up and backs away, Pop throws him a kitchen towel he had on his shoulder, and gestures him to sit down and wipe up the table.
He looks over at me, “Get this guy another pitcher of tea…”, with a slight smirk. I really couldn’t tell yet if he was pissed at me or not.
After serving the idiot a new pitcher with a smug grin, I walk back over behind the bar. Pop is watching me closely to ensure there are no further mishaps. He signals me over to where he is. I’m now thinking it’s my turn for some Pop-wrath. I attempt to explain.
“That idiot turned the lights off on me while I was on the toilet, Pop. I told you I was sick. That was bad enough, and I sure as hell didn’t need that on top of it.” I felt I needed to explain myself as quickly and efficiently as possible. It would be my only chance to stave off any major consequences.
Pop raises his hand, as if to tell me to calm down. “Listen, I knew something was up, ok? And even if you didn’t have a good reason, he wasn’t going to get very far. Anybody ever threatens any of my kids for any reason, he’s gonna have to deal with me.” He was now dead serious. “Now finish up those dishes and go home. Tell your brother to come in early.” He went to get an order from some new customers, and didn’t say anything else to me, until I left.
As I got on my bike to head home, I looked at him through the plate-glass front window, while he worked the grill. He was laughing to himself, as he flipped some burgers.