The dream always begins the same: After several years of retirement my dad decides to reopen our family restaurant in my small hometown of Vincennes, Indiana. It closed in 2006 after 55 years in business. Although I live in Miami I decide to visit and get sucked into the restaurant’s vortex.
It’s the normal Friday supper rush at the Kimmell Road location, an out-lot next to the Walmart Super Center. The place is packed with regulars. When dad reopened the restaurant he added a second banquet room to the existing one. The original banquet room along with the main dining room accommodated 430 customers; the restaurant in my dream accommodates 600. It is my birthday; friends decid to throw a birthday party for me in the second banquet room and servers are putting tables together. Why in the hell are they doing this? I am thinking. It’s Friday night, they know I can’t sit with them. I’m running through the dining room, between the front of the house and the back of the house barking orders at employees while under my breath cursing my parents for having reopened the fucking place.
I’m called to the back of the house via the public address, “Pat, you’re wanted in the kitchen. Pat, they want you in the kitchen.” I hate my name. When I was general manager years before the restaurant closed employees and customers called my name so frequently — like a child incessantly screaming for his mother, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat — that I changed it to Patrick when I left the restaurant in 1999 and moved to Miami Beach.
As I arrive back of the house the kitchen manager tells me there’s a guy at the back door that wants to speak with me. In passing I see a fry cook standing in front of six, stainless steel Henny Penny pressure fryers, each of which cooks thirty pieces of chicken in 14 and ½ minutes. He’s just standing there. All the lids are up, there’s no chicken frying. The Friday night Christians are lined along the buffet past the cashier’s desk, down the entrance hall, out the front door, and around the building. Those customers outside at the end of the line have an hours wait to get in and eat. The dining room is full and the two banquet rooms are filling quickly. How in the hell am I supposed to sit down for a birthday party?
As I pass the chicken fryers I call to the kitchen manager, “Where the fuck is the fried chicken?” Not recognizing the idle fry cook I call once more to the kitchen manager, “Who is this asshole?” The kitchen manager spins around holding a full pan of steamed spinach about to be carried to the buffet. “Holy shit! What the hell are you doing?” he asks the fry cook. The kitchen manager passes the steam-table pan filled with spinach to another kitchen employee and jumps to the fryers, practically diving headfirst into the bus-tub of chicken breading and mound of raw pink chicken parts piled upon it. I approach the back door; the person on the other side won’t stop pressing the back door buzzer. I open the door, some old codger, a local farmer perhaps, is selling spinach, homegrown spinach he says, “washed with Dial soap.”
“Get the fuck outta here!” I say, pulling the door shut by its crash bar. I return to the main dining room. I see balloons being carried in and a cake. They brought a cake?
The ceiling lights on one side of the dining room are off; customers are eating in the dark. For some reason they’re not bitching or their complaints haven’t yet reached me. I look at the light switch nearest the restaurant office and the now wannabe general manager my dad rehired — one whose best quality in the past was being my father’s shadow — leaning against the wall. Sweat is slipping from my forehead into my eyes, my short sleeve burgundy polo with Charlie’s stitched into it across my left pectoral is soaked. Meanwhile, there Dipshit leans with a smile on his face as if everything is operating smoothly. The buffet is practically empty and the Friday night Christians have become not so Christian-like.
It’s amazing how folks who walk in the light of Jesus forget His guiding tenets when there’s no fried chicken on the buffet!
I walk over to Dipshit thinking, my grandmother was right, people like him are as useless as tits on a boar. I arrive just as my father does. “What’s going on with the lights?” I ask. Dipshit hasn’t noticed.
“Oh! What’s the problem?” he asks.
“The problem?” dad asks. “Half the goddamn dining room is dark.” My dad then turns from Dipshit for a moment as a customer approaches.
“Let me check the switch on the other wall,” I say. I walk through the packed dining room between tables loaded with glasses of tea and soda, plates of salad, vegetables, meat, and bowls of cobbler and ice cream toward the light switch nearest the restaurant’s front exit. I flip them up. The lights on the right side of the dining room turn on just as the left side goes dark. So I flip the other set of switches and the right side of the dining room goes dark just as the left side lights up. This goes on for about a minute. Puzzled, I return to the light switch near the restaurant office and see Dipshit flipping the light switches up and down. “Stop!” I say. “You’re turning them off when I’m turning them on!” The customer walks away and my dad says, “Did you figure it out?”
Dipshit says, “No, not yet. But next time I’m leaning here I will.”
I stand in front of Dipshit, my feet rooted to the floor, hands on my hips, my head tilted ever so slightly, my eyes piercing his, “Well that should be any moment now.”