Breaking The RulesbyFable©
Vanville is a small college town; small college, small town. The Van part is for vanilla. At least, that is how I viewed it during my four years there.
Being a 22 year old freshman with limited funds I needed a job and a place to stay. My guidance counselor was not much help with either so I took a room near the school and continued to look for employment.
The living arrangements were cramped and noisy. I shared a room with three other first year students, all younger than me. Having been in the service I was accustomed to barracks life where rowdy guys made lots of noise. However, I was not accustomed to having a cranky landlady pestering me and three 18 year olds hogging the bathroom and disturbing my study.
A red headed junior and I saw the notice on the school bulletin board at the same time. 'Assistant Manager, Room and Board.'
The red head wanted a ride and I said okay. On the way we introduced ourselves. He was Jerry and came from 100 miles to the east. He was 20 years old and in his third year. I gave him a run down, "my name is Phil and I'm 22, near 23. I'm a freshman from 150 miles to the north."
Tom, the restaurant owner, interviewed us separately, then excused himself. When he returned he brought us together to state the rules, "I only want to tell you this once," he said.
Rule # 1: You will keep your living quarters clean at all times. No food or alcohol is allowed.
We had been sitting in a booth, Jerry and I on one side with Tom across the table. He read the rules from a soiled sheet of paper which he had dug out of his pocket.
"You guys don't smoke do you?" Tom had asked. He was a giant, not much older than me but his weight, probably near 300 pounds, pulled his jowls down to make him look much older. His hands, I noticed, were small but they were attached to arms that resembled sewer pipes. We both shook our heads, no.
Rule # 2: No fraternization with the waitresses or female kitchen staff.
Tom's eyes had questioned our understanding of the rule, he seemed pleased with his use of the big word.
"You ain't queers are you?" He looked first to me, then to Jerry. We both shook our heads, no. I wanted to laugh but didn't dare.
Rule # 3: You will be required to check the work schedules on the bulletin board. Your schedules will be flexible and you will be expected to adjust as your work schedule changes.
Tom must have seen the expression on my face. He turned to give me a chance to speak.
"I don't know about Jerry but I've got a pretty rigid class schedule that..."
Tom waved me off, "I know all about that, hell, I went there myself, trust me, your schedule won't interfere with your classes." He had a half grin on his face to reinforce, 'trust me.'
"I don't have a car," Jerry said, tentatively, "I'll have to depend on Phil or someone else for a ride."
Tom showed the half grin again and said, "just be here when you're scheduled to work," the half grin fading. He had folded the paper and placed it back in his shirt pocket.
On the way back to school we compared notes.
"We should have asked to see the rooms," Jerry said. We were still reeling from having secured the jobs in a short time and were second guessing our decision to accept them.
"You're right," I agreed, thinking that anything would be better than the rooming house. Sharing space with the red head was bound to be better and rule # 1 sort of appealed to me. I like things clean and orderly.
"You ever work in a restaurant before?" Jerry asked.
"No," I laughed, "I pulled K.P. a couple of times while I was in the states but overseas we had locals do that sort of thing. Have you?"
"Nope, I worked part time in a shoe store in high school and summers since. You were overseas? where?" he seemed interested.
"Europe, almost 3 years," I answered.
"I'll bet he played football," I said.
"Must have been before my time," Jerry said, "I'll check."
The place was a dump. We moved in on Saturday morning and were both scheduled to work that day; Jerry from 11 AM. until 8 P.M. and me from 4 P. M. until closing time at 1 A.M.
The staircase leading to our quarters above the restaurant was accessible from the back door where deliveries were made and customers, who knew the layout, could cut through the kitchen. To the rear of the restaurant was a parking lot, shared by other tenants in the building and by the bakery, which we later discovered was also owned and operated by Tom.
The apartment consisted of an outer room that served as a wide hallway with two doors, one leading to the bathroom and the other to our bedroom. There were windows overlooking the street in both rooms. Paint on the window frames was cracked and flaking as was the linoleum covering the floors. Boards, remnants of a desk, were scattered along one wall of the outer room. There were two single beds, two dressers and one closet in the bedroom with ample space between.
We looked around and nodded our approval. It would be much better than the rooming house. Hungry, we both dumped our stuff and went down stairs to get something to eat.
Jake, a senior and the assistant manager who had been assigned to show us the ropes introduced us to:
Rule # 3a. Meals will be taken on your own time.
Jake looked at the clock before announcing to Jerry, "It's seven minutes to eleven, you don't have time to order and check in to work on time."
As it turned out, Jake was not a bad guy, he was just making a point. He motioned for Jerry to follow him to the back. When they returned Jerry was wearing an apron.
"Go ahead and order," he said to both of us. Rule # 3a, which Tom had failed to mention, applied only to before-work meals. There would be a mid-shift meal and if you were not too tired, you could eat again after your shift.
"That's one thing about Tom, he's not stingy about how much you eat," Jake said, confidentially.
"Not to look at him," I laughed, agreeing that Tom was not stingy with food.
"Careful," Jake warned me, "he's not here today but you don't want him hearing that you said anything about his weight, he can be one mean guy."
I spent the next four hours sweeping, moping and tidying up the apartment. Whoever had lived there before had left in a hurry. There were a few telltale signs that indicated rule # 1 had not been followed. I emptied a trash can full of wine bottles and beer cans. The remains of a stale sandwich was lodged near the bottom. It took about an hour to scrape off the crud that had accumulated in the shower. When 4 o'clock came I had still not made my bed.
My introduction to the restaurant business included busing tables, cleaning the pots and pans that had been used to prepare the evening meal, sweeping, and mopping the floors as the last customers left.
After work we broke Rule # 1. Jerry had gone to the apartment after his shift and discovered my handy work. He had then convinced a liquor store clerk that he was 21.
"My treat," he said as he handed me a beer. We compared notes.
Jerry recited another sub rule. We were not to enter the restaurant when it was closed. Rule # 1a: On Sunday we could eat at the bakery around the corner.
"Sounds good to me," I said, approvingly, "but the bakery closes at two and we can't bring stuff back here, rule # 1, right?
"Bummer," he said.
"How did you like Carrie?" I asked, referring to a cute waitress who had worked his shift. She was a sophomore with short dark hair and a nice body.
"Rule number 2," he reminded me, laughing, then adding, "not bad at all."
I had learned that Jake was to be our group leader until we were trained and on our own. We were to alternate week nights and both were to work a shift on Saturday. Jerry would work three week nights and I would work two the first week, then we would alternate nights the following week. With that schedule we decided that one desk would serve us both. We reassembled the loose boards, agreeing to take turns using it on Sundays.
"I've got to schedule my classes better next quarter," I said to Jerry one morning on the way to school. I was averaging five hours sleep on the nights I worked and finding it difficult to study on my free nights.
"Let me know what you come up with, I need to ride with you," he reminded me.
At the end of our third week rule number 3 was enforced, the one about adjusting to the schedule. Jake asked us to work Sunday, at the bakery.
"Both of us?" I asked. The bakery was open from 6 A.M. until 2 P.M. on Sundays and I wouldn't finish my shift at the restaurant until 1 that same morning. I had been looking forward to sleeping in on Sunday morning.
"Both of you," Jake gave no sign of wavering, "the bakers go in at 4 but you two don't need to be there until six. Set your alarm," he advised.
We were having our customary Saturday night nightcap when Jerry told me what he had learned. Tom Cupid, our giant boss, had attended the school two years and had started at offensive tackle in six games his second year. Apparently, he had left school after the football season, gotten married and bought the restaurant.
More recently he had bought the bakery and was trying to make a go of two failing businesses in an outdated business district. The run down buildings and lack of parking had chased others to new malls or to modern single story buildings.
"Rule number four," I suggested.
"What's that?" Jerry asked.
"There should be a rule against stupidity," I joked.
By 2 P.M. on Sunday I was so beat I didn't even try to study. We had served coffee and donuts to early risers, newspapers and pastries to church goers and deli meats and salads to the after church crowd. I even decorated a cake for a lady who was going to visit her aunt in a nursing home. "You're a pro at that," she had said, winking.
"You take the desk," I told Jerry, thinking, 'rule number four must apply to me, why am I doing this?'
The following Saturday when I went to work I was surprised to see Tom there. "I gave Jake the day off, that's the kind of guy I am," the big man boasted. He sat on a high seat behind the cash register where he could see the entire operation, what his employees were doing and what his customers were eating. During a slack period he called Jerry and me over.
"That was a good job you boys did on Sunday. To show my appreciation I've got a surprise for you, I sent my wife to pick it up," Tom said, beaming, watching us for a reaction.
Neither of us knew what to say. To have him acknowledge that we had worked the early shift on short notice was embarrassing to me. I had called him every name I could think of and had vowed to refuse if I was ever asked to do it again. The fact that he appreciated our work was thanks enough but having a surprise promised was even better.
"Now you'll have a place to stash your beer," he said, as if rule number 1 was being amended.
"Thanks Mr. Cupid," Jerry thought to say, which prompted me to I mumble something.
We went back to work with renewed zeal, putting more effort into each mundane task we performed. Maybe the job wasn't so bad after all, the living accommodations were much better than the rooming house had been, the money was good and free food was a bonus.
There was a tap on the front window, reverberating, attracting our attention to the most charming creature I had ever seen. Tom jumped off his seat and moved to the door as if he were protecting his quarterback from a rushing line backer.
"Who's that?" I asked Brenda, one of the few non-collegian waitresses. She was in her early thirties and brought some sanity to the place, old enough to be serious about her job but pretty enough to turn a head. I don't think she saw herself that way.
"That, my young friend, is Stephanie, Tom's wife. Now put your eyes back in their sockets," she cautioned, laughing at my curiosity.
Stephanie was stunning! The first thing I noticed were the streaks of blond in her light brown hair, tightly bound to make two short ponytails. Next were the high cheekbones and slim nose above full lips and a pronounced chin. She was wearing a black sweater. I couldn't see below where her breasts strained the black fabric because Tom was blocking the view.
"Stop watching Phil, you'll get yourself into trouble," Brenda warned me. "He's very jealous," she said, too late. Both Tom and Stephanie caught me watching them. Tom was motioning for me to come outside.
'Aw shit!' I thought to myself.
"Steph, this is Phil, he's the young man I was telling you about," Tom said to his wife as I approached. "Phil, this is my wife, Stephanie Cupid."
The gorgeous woman held out her hand and I took it. Below the black sweater she was wearing light tan slacks, loose fitting, defining her hips and legs before flaring at the ankle, hiding, I was sure, a thin chain. Her hand was not soft as I expected, her grip was strong and sure.
I heard Tom say something about the back door. By the way it sounded I was to go there. My head was still in a daze when I saw Tom move to the door and his wife open a car door across the street. I pieced together what I had missed, she was going to drive around to the back parking lot where I was to meet her.
"I saw how neatly you boys are keeping the apartment and just had to reward you," she was saying as I lifted the small refrigerator out of the trunk of her Mercury Cougar.
"Do you need some help?" she was saying, standing near enough for me to touch, to reach out and snare a handful of the aroma, her aroma. The refrigerator was not heavy, I was staggering from the closeness to her breasts, to her voice.
"No thanks, It's not heavy," I managed to say. As I backed away, not taking my eyes off her, then realizing that she had been waiting for me to move so she could close the trunk lid.
Later, when Jerry and I reviewed the evening's events, we decided our jobs were not so bad. The refrigerator was just large enough to hold some beer, perhaps a bottle of wine and some cold cuts for sandwiches.
"He didn't actually relax the rule on eating up here," Jerry reminded me.
"That's true, come to think of it, he didn't actually say we could drink beer, he said we would have a place to stash our beer if you remember correctly," I said.
We talked about the contradictions. While I was up stairs plugging in our new refrigerator, Tom had left with his wife. By the time I got back down stairs, Jake was there saying that he had only taken a few hours off to attend to some personal business and Tom had filled in.
"Why did Tom tell us he had given Jake the night off?" I mused.
Also, there was a question about whose idea it had been for us to have the refrigerator. Tom had claimed that he was giving it to us for working the previous Sunday. Stephanie said it was her idea because we were keeping the apartment so neat.
"She was up here?" Jerry exclaimed. "Shit, I better start making my bed!"
"She works here," I divulged, "Jake told me. She runs the office, it's over the bakery."
"Maybe she runs more than the office," Jerry speculated.
"You may be right, I think Jake has more responsibility than we know about too." I had no grounds for making the statement, it was just a feeling I had. Jake had told me that he lived over the bakery, next door to the corporate office. I was also wondering where Tom had gotten the money to make two unsound investments but I didn't air those thoughts to Jerry, I didn't know him that well yet.
"We better get some sleep," I said, "5:45 will be here before we know it. Jake had given us the word; we were scheduled to work at the bakery again.
We broke rule # 2. Our Saturday night review of the week had become a ritual. Jerry would wait up for me to get off work; we would exchange information as to what we had learned during the week. One such night as I climbed the stairs to the apartment I was thinking of how I could avoid our late night talk as I was tired and I had my mind set on getting some sleep. When I saw the dark hallway I was relieved. We were not scheduled to work at the bakery the next day and I was anxious to take advantage of the time off.
I shed my clothes and stumbled into bed, only to discover that I was still wound up from the Saturday night shift. Couples from night clubs and drunks from bars had come in to have scrambled eggs or a waffle with greasy meat before heading home. Maintaining order in the place had made me tense. I rolled over and thought I heard a rustle coming from Jerry's bed. That wasn't like him, he always slept soundly after a couple of beers on Saturday night.
Then I heard bare feet padding across the linoleum. Stunned, I sat up as Carrie turned toward me. She gave me a short wave as she silently shuffled toward the door, one of Jerry's T shirts covering her butt.
Nothing was said. When I awoke Carrie was gone and Jerry had already eaten so I trudged over to the bakery alone. There was a November chill in the air, chilly enough for a second blanket when I went back to bed.
Jake broke them up, or so he thought. On Monday when we got home from school there was a note tacked to our door. Jerry and I were to switch shifts. This put me with Carrie and Jerry with Brenda. For the first time since we started the job I had Saturday night off.
It was Jerry who suggested that Carrie and I take in a movie that she wanted to see. I quoted Rule # 2 which made them laugh. Jerry reasoned, "It's not like you're fraternizing, what's Jake going to do, change your shift again?"
It was spitting snow when we exited the theater. I suggested we get something to eat and Carrie said fine. My idea was to try the fare at a nearby cafe but when she took my hand and headed toward our workplace I went along. It was decided that she would go in the front door and wait for Jerry, I would go to the back stairs and up to the apartment. Much of the movie crowd had gotten there before us.
Every seat was taken and there was a line waiting to get in the front door. I had never seen it so busy. From our view through the front window, the waitresses were in frantic mode. There was no sign of Jake or Jerry. I steered Carrie to the alley and through the back door.
Jerry was working at the grill in the kitchen and an assistant cook was dishing up orders. Marsha, the dish washer, was manning the fryer. Knowing I was better than he on the grill, I asked Jerry what he wanted me to do. "Get some order at the front," he said, a quiet calmness in his voice, sounding exactly like Jake. Carrie followed me without waiting for orders from Jerry.
We learned from Brenda that there had been an accident in the kitchen. The cook had slipped and fallen, landing with his arms on the grill surface. Jake had taken him to the hospital to have the burns administered to.
Carrie took over the cash register and I cleared tables in an effort to make space for the waiting crowd so as not to loose them. As the last movie goers paid their tabs the night clubbers began to arrive.
Jake came in just as I finished mopping the floor. Everyone else was busy with closing chores. He began to clap his hands. It was then that I realized that Jake, who was about my age, was a true leader. He was showing his appreciation for a job well done.
Carrie followed the others as if to leave through the front door but when she lingered it was clear to everyone what was going to take place. Brenda, sensing that I did not want to go upstairs, asked me to take her home. Overhearing this, Jake shrugged his shoulders, said goodnight and told me to lock up.
On the way to her house Brenda told me something about herself. She had worked at the restaurant since Tom and Stephanie had bought it and had seen three sets of assistant managers come and go. Jerry and I were the forth set. When she adjusted the volume on the radio and turned her body to face me I surmised that she was going to divulge something personal about herself. "I have a child, he stays with my mother when I work," she said. There was no mention of her husband and I didn't press her. It was much later before I learned that she had been divorced for some time and that her mother lived next door.