Wednesday, October 8, 2008

back at the alpine ...

the yo burger was the signature dish at the alpine in the early 1990s, and probably long before that. 12 ounces of hamburger, a single slice of sysco-grade yellowish swiss cheese product, and covered with two strips of bacon crossed to a t. bob, the doughy owner of the restaurant, spackled the buns from a tub of butter and grilled them for about 30 seconds before serving. people -- men, mostly, IBMers, cops, lawyers, construction workers, golfers, the grounds crew, retirees -- loved the yo burger. at lunchtime the line sometimes touched the restaurant's windows; cars parked at a tip into the ditch.

the alpine was located above the pro shop at a golf course on the edge of town, but could still draw ravenous 9-5ers in the winter.

bob's body was highly susceptible to gravity. it was like his chest had been squeezed by a giant fist, pushing his skin and organs and fat to a tutu that hung over his pants. his hair was grey wiry and thin, covering his head sparely, like guitar strings. his chin sagged to his chest, making it seem like his neck was frowning. tics included: finger combing, trouser adjusting, pushing his wide rectangle glasses up his nose.

bob made me promise that i could be 'perky' before he hired me.

"i swear," i giggled.
"even in the morning?" he asked.
"uh huh," i lied.
"okay, then," he said.

bob was strict. and he changed his mood more often than his apron. if you were five minutes early, you were five minutes late. any food consumed while at work had to be carefully noted on a time card so it could be deducted from your paycheck. if a till came up short, bob would damn-near hang a cashier upside down over a railing and shake quarters from her pockets. hair must be worn in a pony tail, beneath a cheaply-made black and white yo-burger cap with a cardboard bill. white shirts, black pants, black shoes. hands washed frequently enough to induce OCD. no fraternizing with coworkers of the opposite sex. that one was a fire-able offense: i saw it executed.

in the summer, bob hired college kids. specifically college-aged women. more specifically attractive college-aged women with long fawnish legs and skin that tanned easily. women who would apply lipstick using the freezer as a mirror. these girls toured the course in a cart, and weren't required to wear the yo-burger cap. in fact, bob suggested, if it got too hot out there, it was acceptable to wear a bikini.

meanwhile, the regular staff at the alpine was a incestuous collection of carnie castoffs and trolls:

lori was the head waitress. hair permed and rolled away from her face to suggest she had styled it in the wind. a throaty smoker-voice telling dirty jokes. eyes small and sneering.

rhonda was a cook, round and kind and sensitive and easy to cry, and off and on dating lori's brother bob -- a wiry asshole who looked like a car thief. some days rhonda would come in, her neck bruised and spotted with hickies; other days she would have a black eye or an arm sling or a walking boot for a fractured toe. her laugh was big and throaty and usually ignited a coughing fit.

myrna, a cook, was axl rose thin, smoked merits and had an eye twitch. she was the only employee allowed to sit on bob's stool -- which she did between orders. she was revered and catered to like an ace pitcher or the heavyweight champion of the world. none of the rules applied to myrna. she could tell bob to go phuck himself, and he would nod slowly and take it into consideration.

eric was a dishwasher and in my class. he looked like the character ray pruett, donna martin's abusive boyfriend on 90210. 'how do you talk to an angel,' i'd sing to him. as long as we didn't laugh or look like we were enjoying the conversation, bob let us talk to each other.

for a few months there was an eccentric cook who wore chef plaids and had his own utensils. he sang loudly and operatically at the grille and smelled like stale booze. he was fired when bob found him drinking a case of beer slumped against the wall in the walk-in freezer.

i worked year round: running the cash register, waiting tables during the sunday buffet, renting out cross country skis and pushing the button on the hot cocoa machine. and on the day i turned 18, bob let me serve up a ceremonial beer. it was a frothy mess of head.

once lori forced me to do my madonna impersonation for bob for his birthday. i danced around the room, waving garland from the box of christmas decorations, rolling around on the floor and doing my throaty take on 'like a virgin.' it killed. if bob were still alive, he would probably be talking about it today.

working at the alpine during the off months was like peeling back the skin and watching the digestion process, from consumption straight through to shit. the day-to-day muck of these lives pulsing and grinding and chugging. after the summer employees left, things got more cozy and bob more relaxed. i got to know his wife, his daughter and grand daughters. lori's twin sons. it was like someone left the back door open, and these people's outside lives came barging into the restaurant. heads hanging. debt woes. custody battles. health issues. bob letting out a meaty belch he had been stifling since june. literally loosening his belt.

it was my first lesson in how sometimes being acquainted with something is better than really knowing it.

bob and lori were having an affair. suddenly. one day they weren't, and the next day they were. one day lori was sitting on the stool bitching about bob while he was out running errands, the next day bob was sitting on the stool and lori was rubbing his back and kissing his ear. it was like the opposite of a magic trick. where one day there had been nothing, the next there was something.

and this something was better suited for national geographic.

my biggest question was 'why?!' and this a huge and all-encompassing unbiased 'why?' not only did i not understand what lori would see in bob, i didn't understand what bob would see in lori, either. the best i could guess, lori had a sort of subjective youth, and bob a subjective wealth. both selling points only selling points when held up in comparison to themselves.

i became an unwilling accomplice in their flirtation. bob smacking lori's butt, then winking at me; lori nuzzling against bob while i sprayed every possible surface with bleach water.

alone with her,lori would squint at me, holding a cigarette and blowing smoke from the corner of her mouth. 'you might be surprised to know that bob ...' she would say. and i would hold my face steady and not let her see my stunned repulsion.

as the relationship sputtered and coughed and was brought back to life, i became the only person who was allowed to answer the restaurant's phone:

'alpine at eastwood,' i'd say.

it might be bob's wife. it might be lori. bob may or may not be talking to one or the other. he may gesture wildly to indicate he was not available. or he would disappear for hours, with instructions to say he was busy if anyone called. or bob would talk to his wife with lori nipping at his neck like a puppy.

one time, while being grilled by bob's wife, lori dove over the counter, ripped the phone from my hands and slammed it into the cradle. one time lori called and when i told her bob wasn't there, her tone changed to a hard growl and she said 'don't lie to me, christa.'

'don't worry,' he said when i hung up, shaken. 'i won't let her do anything to you.'

the soundtrack to that specific winter was reba mcentire's greatest hits, a 1987 compilation that included songs like 'whoever's in new england' an anthem that seems to say in it's most 'honey. i know you're cheating on me. but when you're done, i'll be here.' and 'somebody should leave' about the logistics of divying up the shambles of this broken home. every story on the tape bore some faint resemblance to what was going on at the alpine. lori would play it over and over, her head propped on her hand, staring out the window.

one day bob came into the restaurant late, his wife trailing behind him. the tires of his station wagon had been slashed and his headlights broken when it was parked in his driveway the previous night. he scratched his head and wondered who did it. it was hard to know if he was being sarcastic, or if he really didn't know who did it.

sometimes lori would quit. or be fired. but she usually turned up a few days later, 10 minutes early, buttoning her white shirt and pulling her hair into a scrunchie. washing her hands until they were raw.


Sproactually said...

As I am watching the news unfold, the bailout in progress I'm thinking none of these people know what it's like needing tires for their car, or filling the fuel oil tank in the basement. To these people the $110 dollar increase in school taxes is trivial. None of these things are brutal yet to me, but I have to plan for them.

A couple of years ago I worked a holiday job at a local toys r us. More for something to do, but also for some extra money. Overtime was shutdown at work and I had a lot of time on my hands. I encountered a whole new slice of society, the working poor. People who couldn't afford a car, that had to ride the bus. They smoked, ate poorly and generally were completely unmotivated.

As I read about Bob and Lori, I ponder why people do shit like that. It's not like I'm some above average super human being, but how do things get to that point, why can't we see that happening and stop it?

It was good story.. It should remind us of what is important and what matters...

Even if it's a yellowish piece of syscoheese,

Krupskaya said...

The kids are going to be late for school because I sat and read this, but it's worth it. I love this piece.

CDP said...

Awesome story.

Kristabella said...

You have the best stories. And I loved the Ray Pruett reference.

futbol said...

fuckin great story. i smell a book. please?