Friday, May 29, 2009

Venetian Blind Serape's (Or How To Go Hungry Again)

Hmm... so I  was visited by someone I used to be pretty close to.  It seems he has got himself in a mess with this restaurant (well, barely a restaurant) that he unfortunately didn't know any better than to tangle with.  Let's call him Swaney.  I never met anyone with that name.  And his story is not flattering.

Swaney has what some people would call a little problem with his head.  It's not that he's slow. Just that he's excitable.  Few years ago he asked me to be his campaign manager for national office.  As is usually the case when otherwise normal people run for president, I figured he thought that was a pretty good joke.  But Swaney wasn't joking.  I told him, of course, that I was honored. 

Swaney used to be more or less OK, but as he's aged, and certain realities have set in, and his bodies gotten more efficient at utilizing food, certain forms of a normal life have, he's come to realize, escaped the orbit of easy reach.  And Swaney doesn't seek what Swaney can't find more or less immediately. 

So, while he used to pull off little jobs here and there for interesting people, and show a creative flair in a number of areas of life, more and more for Swaney, the really good times are found on the internet, wasting money, wasting time, and providing the satisfactions of winning and losing (like anyone who, say, goes to a bookie, Swaney say's he's winning, but do you really believe that?  Far sadder is the fact that it don't matter.)

So yeah, Swaney's nuts, but there was this thing.  He was going to put away some of his sadder broken dreams, and he was working at this sandwich shop.  He liked it!  It provided some structure to his life, he could vaguely imagine he owned it when he was alone, and some customers even kind of gave him a look like, "I don't know how you did it Bud, but this is a cute little place."  Swaney knew he probably shouldn't brag to people about this new thing in his life, so he just told people, "I think food service of my true advocation."  His restraint, all things considered, was admirable.

I see Swaney, not every day, but frequently, and he comes by my garden, and sometimes used to play poker with me and my friends until one night we caught him with aces in his fly (yeah, he left the barn door open.  After I pulled my friends off of him, I told him, "Hey, at least you got an ace in your pants.  I've never even met someone who could say that.")  Why anyone would cheat on a friendly game of poker for, maybe twenty five dollars (yeah, boring, but not as boring as watching TV, or going to a chick flick.) Swaney probably couldn't answer that, as when you catch him in a lie, his basic look is as if he were a completely different person than "that guy" who sometimes acts crazy, and by the way, do you really want to have unpleasant conversation?  All too often my attitude is, "Absolutely!"  So Swaney, who like I said, I and many other people as well, used to be tight with, stays away.  

Here's the thing though.  I don't even want to see Swaney sometimes.  But, when you hear someone has taken advantage of him...  When you hear that someone, maybe realized they were dealing with a lonely, chump with this Swaney twerp, and maybe they could just take a steak out of his ass...  hmm, kinda pisses me off to realize how much I like the guy after all.  He has these annoyingly angelic and hopeful perspectives.  Especially back in the day.  But even now, he's one of those guys who might have aces in his fly, yeah, but then he'll say something fairly mean, but true, about me to my face, and I'm always grateful.  Nothing I hate more than a man who's his own church, minister, choir, and public relations department, and somehow finds the time to be your friend.  Guys like Swaney walking around, and yeah, you're not gonna keep your chin up forever.  Like a balloon in a porcupine burrow.  And you're not the porcupine.

So, everything was wonderful at the crappy little sandwich shop.  Swaney didn't know good service from bad.  There were very few people who wished to endure the places product, so business was slow, not steady.  Swaney could swan around and dream.  And sometimes, every couple weeks, he could take that little check and cash it at the bank, and like the old timers say, "It was Friday night with a twenty dollar bill."  To the Internet, Swaney, and beyond.

About a month ago the owner of Swaney's little sandwich shop (who in fact owns a larger, more prosperous restaurant in town.  And yet was stupid enough to buy this failing little sandwich shop, and even stupider to hire Swaney, king of the Sandwiches.) just up and failed to pay Swaney.  Eager to prove his mettle, and show the strength of his character Swaney assured the owner, "this will not be a problem sir."  I, of course don't know, but I'm guessing the owner was mighty pleased such a fine and healthy specimen of sucker had arrived before him.  

A week later the check was still not in the mail, and Swaney was being somewhat less effusive with his few remaining friends (well, actually the people he cornered on the street) about the fantastic success he was having on the Internet.  Always a fan of the dollar store, and desperately low in his change can at home, he had asked the proprietor there one too many times how much something cost, and was the only person in history to be banned from the exclusive club otherwise known as Dollar Time.  Things were grim, but then again, was it not true that he was taking it like a man?

Meanwhile the owner of Swaney's lovely day job, was rubbing his palms together at Sam's club, trying to decide if he wanted to buy a new sign with scrolling letters (just like a bank!) or get ahead of the game with ten cases of banana peppers with the money that dimwit Swaney (who was admittedly a worthless employee, I am not denying that.) was loaning him.  Zero money down, and man, he wanted to buy everything at Sam's club.  Then again, perhaps he should slowly circle Sam's club and really try to make that two hundred dollars stretch.  

So, another week goes by, and I am clipping lettuce in my garden.  I get that, somebody is watching me feeling, which usually makes me feel kinda studly and arrogant when I am bent over clipping lettuce, but when I looked up I felt anything but studly.  

"Hi Andy," said Swaney.  His jaw was sort of out of kilter, and his eyes were very wide.  Something was amiss with his medication, so treating him like shit was out of the question.  Too bad.  Knowing his answer even as I asked it, I asked if he wanted some lettuce.

With great restraint I don't repeat his answer, here.  

"There something I can do for you, Swan?"  I said. "You need a ride, to the store, or something?"  

"Yeah," he said, "or, yeah, I guess I wish I  could go to the store."

"You wish," I said, a little more harshly then I probably should have.  "What do you mean?"

"Well, I need to go to the store, but you don't have to take me.  I have to go to my job and talk to my boss.  There has been a misunderstanding... I told him it was OK, but I'm completely broke. And I'm their best guy, I mean they wouldn't lose me, but... I'm gonna be OK, I just... how is your garden... is your lettuce doing well."

I looked at my feet and gazed upon the same lettuce patch that Swaney was staring at.  I supposed he would never know how much more I would rather talk about lettuce than his pathetic job, that only five minutes ago, I could have sworn was the best thing in his life.  Suddenly lettuce seemed somewhat irrelevant to me.  And Jesus, that was saying something.  "Swan, you know my lettuce is great.  Thanks for asking, especially since you don't even like lettuce.  Hey man, you're not alone.  Good company there.  What is going on Swan?  You saying they aren't paying you at your job?  Are you joking?"

"They promised they'd pay me," said Swaney, "and they are.  I'm just having a little trouble with money right now."  He was getting visibly more cranky, and I could tell, and wished more than a little that I was as clueless as the people on the street about his subtle tells.  Not that it ever helped when we were playing poker, given what he kept in his pants.

"Swan... calm down.  It's OK. We're friends when I'm not treating you like shit, you know that.  Everybody's got money problems, I mean look at Mr. Swank, where Rick lives. Custom house, shiny new Cadillac, and a mailbox stuffed with quarterly reports, and what's he doing as we speak?  Do you know Swan?" 

"Yeah," said Swaney, "I heard he is selling the place for nothing."  I had to hand it to him, he knew the local dirt.

"Far as I know, we're sharing that party line, Swaney.  Mr. Swank's going down on a double mortgage, half the people we know are worried about their jobs or getting fired.  I have no work three months from now, and that's not what I'd call progress.  So I know you haven't got any money.  You need fifty bucks or something, I mean Swan I don't see as much of you anymore, but we live in a small town for Christ sake.  You know you're my friend.  And I'm not going to ask for it back, until somebody finds the Lindbergh baby, OK?"

I think I saw a tear in the son of a bitches eye.  Which made me feel pretty shitty, given what a hypocrite I am about caring about marginal folks, then not even maintaining  a real relationship with this guy who is more or less lovable in small doses (and frankly I like the fact that he didn't want any lettuce, I was getting low.)  We walked down the street a few blocks to the ATM.  And while we went down there he told me the story.  It had been nearly a month, and his boss had told him originally that he had to go to some wedding, so he wouldn't make it with the money.  At first, as I said, Swaney had been proud to show his boss that he wasn't desperate for money.  But now his entire savings was gone (and frankly, I was impressed, I had been to Swaney's house and I couldn't believe his usually bare refrigerator had been able to feed him.  He was banned from the Dollar Store, I couldn't remember who told me that, but I was trying hard to not bring it up while we walked back to my house.)  

"OK, Swan, I'm glad you came and talked to me." I told him. And we said goodbye.

This was two days ago.  I have been thinking about it ever since.  I am late for my schedule to go to the Gym today, but, I had to write this just to mill through my head.  I'm probably too hot under the collar to go into the actual (bigger restaurant) and calmly reason with that pile of dog crap that was having a holiday at Sam's club with Swan's money.  For all I know, his bookie is after him.  If he's anything like the rest of America, he lost big on his big bet, and now has nowhere to turn.

But then again.  I don't think that's the case.  That ding dong boss of Swaney doesn't owe him enough money to not be able to pay.  He just found his mark, and because he thinks Swan looks like a guy without a soul in the world (Swaney's Dad is actually a hotshot at a University that will go unnamed.  Not in Bloomington, down South.  From everything I could tell over the years, his parents are just great.  It's tragic, so I'm glad I've never met them.)  But I am fairly sure there is some sort of common law rule as to pay (one it's never occurred to me to break, since looking someone in the eye and not being able to pay them has been the most limiting factor in my willingness to take risks with my business.  I will never fail at paying somebody.)  In any case, I think, pretty soon I am going to go chat with Swaney's boss.  Not to be rude.  Just to let him know, that a bunch of Swaney's friends couldn't help but notice he was having trouble eating.  We were wondering, moreover, how someone who works for a dude running a restaurant, who is unwilling to pay, never the less manages to go hungry.  I mean, surely if you aren't going to pay someone, you'd feed him at your restaurant until you were square, right?

Before I go I have to look him up at the courthouse.  It's surprising the number of business owners who think you've been going through their trash cans when you casually mention to them what you found on public record concerning them and their life. Then again a hundred bucks on the guys name on one of these pseudo legal internet info trolling sites, and for all practical purposes you can go through their trash in your underwear.  Fortunately, I am way too cheap (not cheap enough to see Swann starve, goddamnit) to bother with any of that.  And I guess it's wrong at many different levels.  I'll admit that is the main reason.  

Then again I could just call the health department, and have both his restaurants shut down.  But honestly, the proper thing to do is just to tell the guy, and maybe have Mallor, Klendenning, Grodner and Moore (the law office that I unfortunately require) write him a letter.  Jesus, I mean I'm already out fifty bucks, and something tells me the poor guy's happy days at his job are over.

The guy was making seven dollars an hour.  Welcome to the bottom Swann.  Say hi to the Carp.


No comments: