By the age of 19 I had already acquired a long list of previous employers. There was McDonald’s, where I grilled burgers in the back with all the illegal immigrants. Management must have thought I was not presentable enough to work the front with all the other English speaking teenagers. There was the telecommunications center where I answered phones calls and placed catalog orders. This proved to be an embarrassing task for a 16-year-old whose voiced had yet to change. At the end of every phone call the customer would politely say, “Thanks Ma’am you’ve been very helpful.” After about the 6th or 7th time I stopped correcting them. There was Home Depot, where I stole enough lumber to build a quarter pipe in my friend Peters backyard. There was Hollywood Video where my co-worker set up a fake account using the name of Smokey McPot, under which we rented many a dvd with no intention of returning. There was the frame shop that fired me for being too slow. There was the hair salon that fired me for not being friendly enough. And then, finally, there was Vincenzo’s.
Vincenzo’s was a local pizza place that decorated its floors with peanut shells discarded by customers. They were home of the 28 inch, 45 dollar, “Feeds your entire little league baseball team” pizza. If you went there on a Saturday night in 2003 you would find a bunch of middle aged overweight adults, small children, and one table full of 20-year-olds drinking excessively. For a 19/20-year-old with no fake i.d. it was a dream job. They had 4 tapped kegs filled with assorted beers that were never accounted for. Meaning one could grab a big stein and fill himself a mug of beer without the owner knowing. Or, one could pour himself several mugs of beer throughout the course of a couple hours without the owner knowing. One could even call 15 of his closest friends and invite them all to come join him in filling several mugs of beer throughout the course of a couple hours. Thus we had a weekly routine.
Saturday night was karaoke. A morbidly obese woman would set up her equipment in the corner and then abuse the small authority she had. Although it was in the book, we were told we could not sing the song “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors because of it’s sexual undertones. There was only one of us who really ever sang. Except for the embarrassing night we all got into a karaoke battle with a group of Junior High girls and lost horribly. I was working and fortunately did not participate in this. An awkward group of about 8 guys half singing, half mumbling the words to “Friends in Low Places” was no match for a bubbly enthusiastic group of 12-year-old girls screaming “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. They even had dance moves to go with it. It was like they were a traveling group of hustlers, going from restaurant to restaurant insidiously waiting for a karaoke challenge to be declared. The prize was a free pitcher of beer, which was actually kind of meaningless to both groups, but they ended up giving it to our table seeing as they could not legally enjoy it and their coaches weren’t interested.
The only one who ever got behind the microphone outside of this incident was Ryan Bradshaw. Sometimes it was Madonna, sometimes it was Prince, sometimes it was Tracy Chapman, but most of the time it was Tommy Tutone. What he lacked in actual talent or singing ability, he made up for in stage presence and showmanship. He would quickly finish whatever was left in his glass and take a stage that was just occupied by a 4-year-old girl singing the lyrics to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. He’d shout out a “Hey” that cued the song and would then start moving his hands and fingers around in a way that made it look like he was playing a guitar made out of air. “Jenny! Jenny! Who can I turn to!?” would be heard by all through the speakers, commanding the attention of everyone in the restaurant. The karaoke lady learned later that she needed to turn down his mic before he went up. He would mix up the tone and sound of his voice, sometimes almost whispering, then bursting back into a rock star scream when the chorus came on. He would improvise the lyrics of a song to fit the current situation. 867 5309 would be replaced with 368 2319. Jenny was now Stacey, the girl he met a few weeks ago and was trying to bang. Once finished, he would leave the stage in the same timid and shy manner that he approached it. All that remained was a room full of confused, irritated faces, and me, gasping for air, crying with laughter.
The place closed at 10 or 11, depending on the night of the week and the amount of customers there. This meant that after 10 or 11, we could continue our merry making without the annoyance of small children running around or old people interrupting our conversations. Since this seemed to be a more serious offense, promising to close down the restaurant and lock everything up, but instead party until the early morning hours, we reserved these nights for rare and special occasions. Like say, Norman Falangy’s 21st birthday. After going out to sushi and ringing up a $150 dollar tab, we decided that this whole “buying your drinks” thing wasn’t all that great. Instead we could open up Vincenzo’s and booze it up for free. This ended with Norman throwing up. It was loud, it was long, and it was all over the floor. Being all fairly drunk ourselves, nobody wanted the responsibility of cleaning up this mess. Instead we swept it under a table and threw peanut shells over it. The next day at work, a family of 5 requested to change booths, complaining that their was a foul stench of vomit coming from underneath their table.
I worked there as a driver, and I learned that in delivery, one encounters certain tipping problems that a server would never have. For example there was what I called the “Give me a dollar back” guy. This was the customer who had already decided in his head that he was going to give a two dollar tip. So when I’d tell him it’s $16.96 he would hand me a 20 and then look upwards as he laboriously tried to run the math in his head. One Mississippi. . . . Two Mississippi . . . Three Missi – “Just give me a dollar back man.” He’d finally reply. I would then imagine him doing this inside a restaurant accompanied by a date. Both of them have their coats on, she’s rapping her fingers on the to-go box as they wait diligently for the waitress to return with his dollar.
Another problem I got frequently was what I called the “ Sorry I don’t have enough cash for a tip but I can smoke you a bowl bro!” guy. This surprisingly happened a lot, perhaps because of my age and appearance. I found it irritating because I did not smoke weed, and if I did, I don’t think I would have wanted to right before I had to drive around town at night trying to find houses.
The best was the “ Leave whatever tip you would like” guy. This was the customer that paid for their order over the phone by credit card, then signed the receipt but failed to mark a zero or an X through the tip line. Thus allowing me to give myself what I felt to be a more satisfactory tip. Often times they would just give you cash. The amount I later filled out on the receipt would be relative to how much they gave me, how polite they were, and how far I had to drive. To stay under the radar I never made it more than 5 dollars.
As you can imagine the job takes it’s toll on your car. My Dad was nice enough to let me drive his 91 Toyota Corolla, which was much more fuel efficient than the 94 Ford Ranger I owned. I showed my gratitude for this by totaling his car. I know what you’re thinking, and no I wasn’t drunk. Trying to read the numbers of an address on a small receipt under the dim light provided by my cell phone, I ran a stop sign and was struck by a Porsche going about 40 mph. In the lane next to this car was a Cadillac Escalade. Had I been a second sooner I might not be here to write this blog. My car spun a full 360 degrees and I was then covered in shattered glass. A man ran to my window and asked me if I was ok. I said “I think so” and he instructed me to stay inside the car until an ambulance arrives, as I might possibly have a concussion. Hearing this advice I quickly unbuckled my seatbelt and sprung out the window.
My first thought was “I just had a near death experience. . . I am going to get some major sex from my girlfriend tonight!” But first I needed to make some phone calls. I dialed my friend and co-worker Dustin Helvig. “Hey um, I just got in an accident. . I’m fine and everything . . totally cool man. . it’s totally cool. . but um . . I dooonn’t think I’m gonna be able to deliver the rest of these pizzas dude you might need to help me out.” Expecting a moderate fender bender, he was quite shocked to see the mangled remains of what used to be my fathers car. My arms and face were bloodied from the shattered pieces of glass left by my window. The driver of the Porsche was being carried into an ambulance on a stretcher. We opened up the trunk and it never occurred to me that the pizzas might not be in the same condition they were in when I left the restaurant. It looked like someone spray painted the walls with a coat of melted cheese and spaghetti sauce. Crumbled pieces of white and red checkered cardboard were scattered about. It was impossible to tell they were once a flat square shape that could hold a pizza. ” I think we’re gonna have to replace the order” Dustin suggested.
Eventually we all turned 21. The free beer was great, don’t get me wrong, but the obese 50 year olds accompanied by their autistic children singing the Backstreet Boys was not the prime setting for partying. We found better places to go to with the compromise of having to actually pay for our drinks. It was a slow change at first but eventually I stopped asking if we were meeting at Vincenzo’s and just started showing up at T.G.I.Fridays where I knew everyone would be.