Tuesday, March 04, 2008

[from "The Hunt for Red October": an exchange between the captain and first officer of a Russian fast attack submarine who suddenly find they are very far away from, and late getting started after, a very important target]

Captain, to first officer: "Inquire of the engineer about the possibility of going to one hundred and five [percent] on the reactor"

First officer: "Captain, the engineer reports one hundred and five percent on the reactor possible, BUT NOT RECOMMENDED"

Captain: ..."go to one hundred and five on the reactor..."

So it is the end of the Valentine's Day service--newly minted in our record books as the busiest and most lucrative evening we have ever had--and I am nearer to absolute exhaustion and surrender than I ever have been before. I am sitting at the nearby late night hang-out finishing my fourth vodka and still stone-cold sober. As I call for my fifth drink, I look around to see a few of my people scattered here and there--they aren't as exhausted as I am, but they are close.

Our winter has been busier than any other on record, and I don't know why. With enough time I might theorize a little, but frankly I just don't have the time--most evenings these days I dart through the restaurant's halls on my last legs, humming the refrain from an old Christmastime cartoon about, if I remember correctly, Frosty the Snowman--"put one foot in front of the other...and soon you'll be walking out the do-oo-or...put one foot in front of the other...". When not humming, I just mutter to myself over and over, "I'm sooo fucking tired..."

As I sit at the bar and drink, I am thinking about the unthinkable. I am thinking about putting the brakes on--slowing things down by tightening the book before we have some sort of major meltdown that does the restaurant permanent harm. I can't remember my last day off, and many of my servers are ten days from their last. The cooks are bleary-eyed, many having to nap in dry storage after the shift before heading out in the cold for the dark drive home. I am doing what I swore I would never do--using my clout to cannibalize the staff of our younger, slower sister restaurant in order to fill the ever-growing holes on my team.

In this industry, when business can dry up tomorrow for no good reason, I am actually thinking about cutting our volume on purpose to save my people and myself--after all, if we don't get some rest, the traditional spring pick-up will annihilate us. Then, I hear it...

Someone has just asked this annoying little fellow a few seats down from me, who has identified himself as, "the boss of the best restaurant in the city", if he is a manager at my restaurant. I only notice because I overhear the phrase, "...the manager at blah blah blah".

The answer: "Fuck no, I don't work there!! We're brand new, and we are THE SHIT...I'm the general manager of "Asscrack O'Herlihy's"--that tired old barn [my restaurant] just became number "2" around here--as a matter of fact number "3"even, because we are going to open another new place in six months just down the street on the other side [as he says "2" and "3" he makes exaggerated finger gestures to signify the importance of those demoralizing, non-number "1" numerals.

Little Restaurant Napoleon is admitting to being the general manager of a new property that opened some distance away from us a couple of months ago. Owned by the local heir to a media fortune, it is what you might imagine Gordon Gekko's [or even Patrick Bateman's] favorite restaurant/bar might look like--a $5 million monument to stone, glass, metal, and noise. Neon backlighting, a plexiglass bar, hardwood floors, and composite chairs. It is perhaps the hardest restaurant I have ever seen, and from what I hear it gets louder than Arrowhead Stadium with only a handful of people inside. The owner was a regular guest of the restaurant, and someone I always looked forward to seeing come to dinner--when he first opened I wished him the best of luck.

He has hired a band of hoodlums to run the place. They've gotten in fights around town, are drunk every night, and have already been banned from a couple of the local bars. For whatever reason, these yahoos have convinced themselves that they are going to knock us off the top of our hill and claim the unofficial [to the point of being nonexistent] title of best/busiest/most important restaurant in town.

I frankly can't tell you what kind of impact they might be having on us so far--maybe instead of being up 32% for the year we would be up 34% had they never opened--oh, the horror!

So here I am, slumped and spent on my barstool--wanting only to drink as much of Russia as possible while dreaming of the Bahamas--and this little douchebag, oblivious to my comparatively hulking presence, won't shut up. The details of his Dos Equis [yes, dos equis for Christ's Sake] fueled tirade are unimportant--suffice it to say my ire was piqued, though more as a measure of annoyance than real offense. It was the second voice chiming in that caught my attention, because that slurring, over-served fellow was none other than the owner himself, Mr. O'Herlihy, being equally if not more disrespectful toward my property, my employer, and even toward little, old me. Two-faced cocksucker had been all smiles and back slaps up to that point.

No longer as tired or as despondent as a moment before, I got up to go, and having to walk past this brain-trust on my way to the door I caught Mr. O' Herlihy's rheumy eye. Oblivious to the fact that he had been overheard, I got the obligatory hug and demand to stay for a drink. Not being revitalized enough for a brawl, I kindly demurred and continued toward the door when he asked me why I hadn't been to his place yet and when I was coming over, "to see what all the buzz is about" [for the record and not surprisingly, the place is terribly run and pissing almost everyone off unfortunate enough to stumble through the doors].

My response, off-the-cuff and wholly impulsive was, "I'll come for the auction..."

As I left my stunned colleague behind me and headed out into the night I was not humming the Christmas song or lamenting my state of fatigue--instead, I was thinking about the possibility of going to one hundred and five on the reactor.

You shouldn't poke the old bear.