What would you do if I told you there was a city, once upon a time, where the lake is? That city was once very much alive, you know, and teeming with people…and I know, because I was one of them.
What if I told you there was once a hotel in that city, and that that hotel is now right in the center of the lake? There really was, you know….it was called The Golden Lion, and movie stars used to stay there, and presidents, and foreign dignitaries. Everyone around town loved that hotel, and everyone used to talk about it. Old panhandlers on the street always babbled about it, saying that they worked there, or knew someone that did…that’s the kind of place it was---it held a magical allure for people who thought they weren’t good enough to go there.
I got to go there---I actually did work at the Golden Lion. That was a long time ago, before the flying cats, and poor old Uncle Drew. Back before you were probably born---because I’m sure you don’t remember a time before the flying cats, or the riots and arrests, damnably common as they are nowadays.
I wasn’t anything special---I washed dishes at the Golden Lion on the night shift. Those were good times. I didn’t know they were, of course---when you’re a young man you’re plagued with concerns that seem very big---you’re waiting for your day off, waiting to hear that first bottle cap pop off the first beer you drink. You’re worried about that cutie at the wait station, and wondering if she could ever be as interested in you as you are in her.
All foolishness…happy, sunny, naïve foolishness…happy problems I’d about give my left nut to have again.
Back at that time my cohorts and I would roll into the kitchen at three in the afternoon…the time on our schedules read 3 PM to 11:30 PM, but those were universally recognized as the “Joke Hours”----it was 3 PM ‘til whenever you got done cleaning up the place. It might be one in the morning, it might be three, or it might be seven o’clock, whenever the day crew showed up. The older guys called it “Bringing your three-legged stool”, because you stayed all night and milked it. There were Clem, Joey, Terry and Bob---they were all young stoners just out of high school. Our Boss, Pete, thought the sun rose and set on those guys---he called them his “Young Turks”. They were a good bunch of guys and they were usually dependable
unless the Grateful Dead were playing anywhere within a hundred mile radius, in which case they would all collectively vanish for a week or two.
You probably don’t remember the Grateful Dead, huh?
There were the Peanuts---we called them “The Peanuts”, like the Charlie Brown characters. I know I’m just getting myself into a pickle, here, because you probably don’t remember Charlie Brown, either---the Peanuts were kids who were in high school and they usually only worked two or three days a week. That was the usual dish crew on most nights.
Pete, our direct supervisor, was The Executive Steward---you can translate that as Head Dishwasher. Nice guy---sleepy-eyed, aging party animal with a bad comb over. He suffered the same anxieties as most lower-echelon managers, I guess---he was trapped between being our buddy and being head peon to a lot of the more persnickety, upper-management-types. He would vent to me sometimes…not like there was a lot I could do to help him. I was his anchor man---I was always there, without fail, although he cut his Young Turks a lot more breaks.
Nick Armstrong was the Chef---in the kitchen, he ran everything. You didn’t want to fuck around too much around Nick---not that he was a bad guy, but he was definitely in charge, and he was there twelve hours a day, usually six days a week.
Nick had two Chefs under him, though---Fat Brad, the Sous-Chef (this meant he was The Chef underneath The Chef) and David, who was in charge of the restaurant line. David was like an old hippie----he read a lot of cool books, listened to a lot of old music and he was always shitfaced. He’d usually bring in these big water jugs that were full of Magaritas he’d mixed himself at home, and he was just peachy-keen with sharing.
We dish dogs all got along with David pretty well---Fat Brad was another story. Nobody liked Fat Brad---he was an ex-marine, although I can’t imagine anyone so out of shape being in the marines. Someone---I can’t recall who---theorized that Brad was a COOK for the marines, not an actual marine. That would make sense…he was thirty years old and he weighed four hundred pounds. Despite his hardass power trip and the Semper Fi stickers on his car, I can’t imagine Fat Brad on Paris Island. Ever.
There were a bunch of cooks who worked under the Chef triumvurate---there was Jeff, who was another old hippie…he wasn’t as cool as David…the kitchen had chewed him up and spit him out. Jeff had less patience with us dish dogs. There was Cassie, a pretty girl who was a few years older than me----she was nice. Cassie, in the time I worked with her, was involved with a whole string of guys who treated her real bad----she came to work once with a big shiner. It was awful, the thought of a good girl like Cassie being abused in such a way. Sometimes you just saw shit like that, and again, you have to remember---this was before the flying cats.
There was also Candi Whitmore---and Candi was my crush. Gorgeous little girl---she had started out right at the same time I did---she had worked part time as a brunch girl, bringing out breadbaskets to the Sunday Brunch crowd, replenishing the scrambled eggs before they turned green…I guess she had a good work ethic, or Nick Armstrong wanted to ball her---whatever the case, after she graduated high school (about a year after I did) they made her a full time prep cook. Her disposition was always so sweet---my sweet Candi, at her station, getting along with everyone, always smiling….she was my ideal. Still is, even now.
Christ, I miss her.
Last of all, there was Drew Anderson, and I need to confess, right up front, that I initially didn’t like him. I thought he was slow---maybe brain damaged, and kind of a smartass. Something about Drew put me off, but as time went on, I came to see his charm---Drew was kind of a Holy Clown…he took nothing seriously, even when other people WERE being serious, and his attitude eventually became the holy barometer for a lot of the lower echelon workers---the dish dogs and the bus boys---it didn’t matter if Fat Brad was shitting himself with rage, if Drew was laughing it off (and that was frequently the case) we were all laughing it off. He was a tallish, sleepy-eyed guy with straw-colored hair and moustache---he was usually on one thing or another and was never too stingy to share.
Drew Anderson referred to everyone as “Uncle” or “Auntie”. “How’s Auntie Candi today?” or “You better hurry up and peel those shrimp, or Uncle Brad’s gonna have himself a conniption!” He even referred to himself in the third person, as “Uncle Drew”.
One more thing you need to know about Drew was that he went around making the most alarming, hideous noise. You could hear it across the whole kitchen---“BYOOOAAAAAP!!!!!!” It sounded like a cross between a car horn, a seal barking and the world’s rustiest faucet trying to discharge water after ten years---just this infernal, throaty, ragged honk that would come out of the clamour and set all the authoritative types---most notably Fat Brad---on edge.
That’s our little cast of characters and they were all present the night everything changed.
It was somewhere between three and four in the afternoon and we were all doing the normal, preliminary beginning-of-the-night chores. For me, on this particular afternoon, the task was sorting out the silverware in the dish room. This was something that had to be done every day, or every couple of days…there were dozens of plastic tubs filled with thousands of articles of silverware and this stuff would be used every single day---during the busy season they would be used multiple times in a day…we filled great racks with silverware and ran them through the dish machine----we would do all of this in a fast and indiscriminate manner because business was booming and it needed to get done right then---and so in the wake of any given shift you needed to sort through all those racks and make sure all the butter knives were with all the other butter knives and all the soup spoons were with all the other soup spoons and anything that hadn’t come clean could be sent back to be washed again.
My companions on that day were Bob----they called him Protein Bob---I’m not sure---it had some inside joke-thing to do with him failing his army physical---I never asked---and a Peanut. They gave us our own Peanut to boss around--I can never remember any of their names….I’ll just call him “Charlie Brown” for the sake of the story.
“How many we got tonight?” I asked.
“Banquet of six hundred,” said Bob, “Tom Jones Dinner for fifty down in the Camelot Room.”
“Which reads like a dinner for two hundred, “I said. “Shit…we’re never getting outta here tonight.”
“Be just another night,” said Charlie Brown.
“Be just another night for you peanuts who have school in the morning,” returned Protein Bob.
It was right then when Candi Whitmore came around the corner. “Hey, James! Can you get me some saucers?”
My heart leapt and I felt heat explode across my face, which is what normally happened when Candi showed up and asked for something. Kind of makes me laugh, now, thinking of how transparent I must have been. “How many do you need?”
“How many you got?”
I loaded up a dish dolly full of saucers. Bob and Charlie sat there and didn’t lift a finger to help me.
“Yeah, James,” cracked Charlie Brown. “We don’t have to get this done or anything.”
I wasn’t going to be swayed in my altruism, though…and it wasn’t like I wouldn’t have bent over backward for that girl at any time.
“We can take a break in the action to exercise the better angels of our nature, “I said.”
“That’s pretty,” smiled Candi.
“Not that I can take credit,” I told her. “I’m riffing off Lincoln.”
“You know…Abraham Lincoln? Guy on the penny.”
“I don’t know who that is,” she said. “I gotta go. Thanks, James!” And away she went. Education isn’t everything…hell, the way things have gone I bet you don’t even know who Abraham Lincoln was.
“It must be a struggle,” said Protein Bob.
“What?” I asked.
“Never mind,” he said, grabbing another fistful of teaspoons and dropping them into a plastic tub with their bretheren.
“You could devote more time to this stuff, James,” said Charlie Brown, “I don’t wanna be sorting silverware all night!”
“You won’t, peanut,” smiled Bob. “You’ll be going home at eleven so you can go to school in the morning. Me’n’James are never getting outta here.” He turned his attention to me. “You know, it ain’t that hard, dude…they call her Merry-go-Round. You know why?”
I just stared at him.
“They call her that ’cause everyone gets a turn.” I just kept sorting silverware in silence. Yeah, maybe she didn’t know who Abraham Lincoln was---nobody likes to hear their intended talked about that way.
Outside the bustle of the kitchen was audible; night shift was coming on. I could hear Fat Brad saying, in his nasally, staccato voice, “hey, David---how are you this evening?”
David, in his low, blustering, cocksure voice, boomed, “go home, Brad!” I could picture him walking by Fat Brad, with that loping, careless gait, carrying that cooler full of booze. Somewhere in all the chatter, I heard Drew Anderson’s irritating honk boom out---“BWWAAYAAAOOOORP!” I laughed. Protein Bob was rattling on about transmissions, now---the conversation had gone elsewhere.
Later that night lunch breaks had come and gone and we were a little over an hour out to banquet time. I was on edge.
I took the hotel job right out of high school and it immediately bent my brain in certain ways. I developed a strong desire to be in control of my comings and goings. That was a goal that became precious and unattainable to me washing dishes nights at the Golden Lion, because you never knew when you were getting out. If my schedule said three o’clock to eleven-thirty, I wanted to be out the door at eleven-thirty---I appreciated all the overtime pay that was shoved down my throat, but I had just become bent that way.
As such, busy nights with lots of banquets stressed me out. The further behind on work we got (and that was just entropy---we were always behind) the further away I saw my idealized early departure slip.
We were taking the trash out…Jeff, the line chef, was supervising Clem and I---he and his new underling, Ricky, were taking it as an opportunity for a smoke. These things go in cycles---the work tends to take care of itself. The dishdogs could manage the task of trash dumping ourselves, but sometimes tomfoolery would occur and some middle manager would decide that we needed the supervision of a chef or a security guard in order to deal with it. It would go that way for a month or two and then everyone would forget all about it.
We had about five barrels to dump and compact. At the top of the ramp, Jeff ground out his cigarette underfoot. “I got orders comin’ in on the line! You girls gonna be much longer?”
“No, we just need to make sure it’s compacted,” I shouted back.
“Guh-hur-de-huhhhrrr!” yurched Ricky. “We ain’t got all day, Dood!!!!” I’ve always believed that “hate” is a very strong word, but I truly, deeply hated Ricky. He was a buff guy that had injured his way out of a football scholarship and so he had opted for culinary arts instead. He treated the kitchen just like he treated the halls at school.
“Tell you what,” said Jeff. “I gotta get back out there. Don’t tell anybody, but come get the keys from me and I’ll let you guys lock up.”
“I wouldn’t trust these guys with a house plant,” said Ricky. But Jeff had had enough.
“Come on, Ricky,” he said.
After they had cleared the trash run, I bitched to Clem, “I hate that guy. Like to kill him if I could!”
“Don’t waste your anger,” grinned Clem. He ran to the corner where a stairway led up to the employee parking lot and did something unprecedented. He shucked his pants and he took a dump, right on the stairs. Just pinched a loaf, right there. Then, as quickly as he’d done it, his pants were back up and he had hold of an empty trash barrel. “let’s go!”
“Dude,” I laughed. “That was above and beyond!”
“Ain’t no one gonna be talkin’,” Clem shrugged. “Think Jeff’s gonna own up to that happening on his watch?”
As we exited the trash run and came back into the back storage room, we saw Drew Anderson, Protein Bob, Terry and Bruce, a college kid who worked three or four days a week, gathered and smiling.
“Boys,” Drew called, “come on over! Uncle Drew has hit the motherlode, and he’s happy to share!”
We had to see what it was Drew was sharing this week.
“Now, if Uncle Nick or anyone else asks, I don’t know anything about this…but I know you guys are in for a rough one tonight and I wanted to give you something that might make it pass a little easier.” He unveiled a strip of colorful paper.
“Aw, shit,” said Terry, “that’s Flying Cats, isn’t it?”
Sure enough, each little segment of paper bore a happy little drawing of a pink or purple smiling cat with wings. “Flying cats?!” I asked.
Drew’s smile got a little wider. “You ever trip, Uncle James?”
“Nuh-uh,” I said.
“Well, tonight you’re gonna,” said Terry. He broke off little squares of paper and distributed them among us.
“Do we wanna get the peanuts in on this?” Asked Bruce.
“Naw,” said Drew. “I don’t need those little kids goin’ home to mama trippin’ balls and sayin’ I did it. Fuck that! You guys are cool.”
I regarded the image of the smiling purple cat in my hand. I’d never dropped acid before---a part of me was afraid to, having been weaned on government antidrug propaganda. But I knew enough people who’d done it and enjoyed it.
“Just put it under your tongue,” said Terry. “Chew on it, suck on it and let it dissolve.”
I thought, fuck it, and popped the flying cat in my mouth.
C.F. Roberts is a writer, visual artist, videographer and antimusician living in Northwest Arkansas with his wife, writer Heather Drain and a small menagerie of animals. He published and edited SHOCKBOX: The Literary/Art Magazine with Teeth from 1991 to 1996. He sings lead for the rock band, the S.E. Apocalypse Krew while also commandeering his own industrial project, 90 Lb. Tumor. He most recent publication credits are in Fearless, Paraphilia, Pressure Press Presents, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, The Birds We Piled Loosely, Blue Collar Review, Corvus Review, Antique Children, and Guerilla Genesis Press. His book, The Meat Factory and Other Stories, is available from Alien Buddha Press.