Print Story Deathly Hollow
By Gedvondur (Wed Jun 17, 2015 at 02:24:00 PM EST) death, chicken, peace, fear (all tags)
My first boss just passed away. Some thoughts on that job and being my terrible mid-life obsession with the passage of time. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent.

When I was 14, I was an eager beaver when it came to work. My parents had instilled into me the idea that work equaled reward, which in this case was money. I had books to buy to fuel my reading addiction, and I had my eye on a new computer. I had a Tandy Color Computer, and there was no way I was going to pay what Radio Shack (of blessed memory) what they wanted for a disk drive for it.

I had worked a couple of farm jobs, mostly bailing hay. But we had moved from the country to the suburbs and there was no longer any farm work in walking/biking range. I had picked up a few lawn mowing jobs, but they were not frequent enough to make me the money I wanted. After all, a paperback novel or a hardcover D&D book ranged from $3.25 to a whole $25.00! A fortune to my young mind.

However, a local institution, a family-style chicken dinner and banquet hall was located within a half mile of my parents new home. Furthermore, the folks who ran the place were friends of my maternal aunt and uncle and shirttail relations to boot. I went down to the Chicken Club (name changed to protect the innocent) and had a talk with the owners, Jepp and Karen.

Jepp was a big bluff man with a huge gut and a nearly inexhaustible ability to imbibe alcohol. Karen was his steel-willed wife and ran the kitchen. Jepp ran the bar and the overall business. The Chicken Club was big enough that we could hold multiple parties at once, with it’s two space-named rooms. If we took out all the movable walls, we could sit and serve 2000 people at once.

I was applying for a job as a busboy. I was scared. My first interview. I overdressed and was just a mess from the nerves. Jepp and Karen were direct, but kind. I was 14 and too young. But I was going to be 15 in a month. They hired me, with a starting date the next month after my 15th birthday. The latest in a long line of my mother’s family to work at Chicken Club. I had at least 7 or 8 other first cousins who had worked there during and after high school.

My first day was a Sunday. The Chicken Club offered family style chicken dinner to the public from 4:00pm to 9:00pm. I was given a red short-sleeve button-down shirt with the Chicken Club logo over the left breast pocket. I took my station next to the other two hall busboys, Randy and Jeff, as the low man on the totem pole. I was least senior, meaning I would spend all night busing tables into big grey bus tubs on my three shelf stainless steel cart. Slop in the top tub, dishes on the second, glasses, cups and silverware on the bottom. The other two, starting with Jeff, the most senior busboy, would go in as the crowd trailed off near the end of the night.

In the kitchen, there were clear lines. In order of seniority, the boys were busboys (senior bus, middle bus, and junior bus), front dish (it to the conveyor dishwasher), back dish (putting away the clean), instant potato/chicken runner, chicken broaster, chicken duster.

For those of you who do not know, “broasting” is a oil-based pressure cooking method. The boy with the dusting job was top man, supervising the brining of the chicken (the secret to Chicken Club’s chicken) and “dusting” it with flour. The broaster man filled steel baskets full of holes with dusted chicken lowered them into the broaster, sealed the top and set the timer. He would then take the finished product, pour it out into 2 foot by two foot steel pans, pulling apart any chicken that was stuck together. The potato man, in addition to his duties making instant potatoes, ran the full pans of freshly broasted chicken to the front kitchen where Karen and the girls would deliver them on the same kind of stainless steel carts that the busboys used.

The girls were waitresses, with their own pecking order that the rest of the boys never bothered to decipher. Over all if it in the kitchen was Karen. Woe betide any boy or girl who crossed Karen. But she looked after all of us like we were her children and was never short of a kind word or an ass-kicking of you needed it.

Out in the hall and in the bar, Jepp roamed around, being as-needed extra host sitting customers, as-needed bartender, and full time PR man with his bluff manner, but easy personality and smile. Jepp knew everyone and everyone knew Jepp. A local pillar of the community and the man who employed a significant number of their sons and daughters in the Chicken Club. And to Jepp, we were “his boys” although we clearly our job duties were almost always in Karen’s domain. Karen tolerated it and us boys knew that while we in theory worked for Jepp, it was Karen that really called the shots in the kitchen.

If he wasn’t busy, when you first saw Jepp when you came in, he’d scrutinize you for a moment, trying to determine if you were okay. If you passed this quick inspection/non-verbal interrogation he’d nod at you. If he was pleased to see you, he’d mutter your name while nodding. If he saw your parents out socially or in the Chicken Club, he was fast to tell them what a great guy you were, how hard you worked, and how he was glad to have you there, even if none of it was true.

Jepp fed us beer after work, in violation of any law. The first night I worked there, after the kitchen was clean and the waitresses were gone, the kitchen boys filed into the front bar room. We sat down, in order of seniority. Jepp stood silently in front of the oldest of us and pointed a thick index finger.

“Draft” he replied.

My brain, already taxed at being at my first job with a bunch of clearly highly regimented strangers, went into overdrive. What the *hell* was “draft?” I looked down at the bar surface. Jepp continued to walk down the line, pointing at each one. Each one then responded with “draft”. He came to me and pointed and I seized up for a moment. Race, the guy next to me nudged me in the ribs as Jepp’s thick eyebrows began to climb his head.
“Draft” I said in what I am sure was a high warbling adolescent voice, although that one embarrassing detail is lost to memory.

Jepp went to an under-bar refrigerator and put a BEER in front of us. Miller Genuine Draft, which at the time had just come onto the market. THAT’S what “draft” meant. I was astonished. So astonished that I drank my beer and walked the ½ mile home. My first beer in a bar, served by Jepp’s hand as a thank you for a hard night's work. Every Sunday night we got that beer, sometimes a mixed drink. Sometimes Jepp, already more than a few drinks in, would just wave at us “open bar” and go into the house attached to the building and presumably to bed. Those were the nights that we’d stay in the bar until 1 or 2, talking and drinking beer. We didn’t necessarily all like each other, but we were ALL part of the kitchen, all part of the team that made dinner for sometimes up to 2000 happy diners. We worked, sweated, and supported each other.

Jepp and Karen used to hold elaborate Christmas parties for us, in February when we were less busy. Open bar for us, our family (in my case my parents) and even our girlfriends. He catered in steak and chicken, a full meal. Hired DJs to put on a dance for us. On top of that, there was always a small gift under an enormous Christmas tree they put up in the largest of our two bar rooms.

I hadn’t seen Jepp in years. His family and my extended family were no longer close. He and Karen sold the Chicken Club near the end of my time there, after owning it for 30+ years. I didn’t like the new owner or the family members he brought into our kitchen family, so I left. I have never forgotten the times I had there, or the silent, gruff generosity of Jepp and the iron generosity of his wife, Karen.

I look back at those teenage days and think they were yesterday. The kitchen atmosphere hot from the fryers, ovens, and dishwashers. The radio blaring out AC/DC, Def Leppard, Boston, INXS, U2, Guns n Roses, and Bon Jovi. All of those years gone in a blink and I’m in my forties now.

I used to spend all my time trying to get older, get respect. Time seemed to crawl with each day being interminable. Now every day, every week, every month and year flies by. I see my goals not being met, my projects languishing as day to day living takes up too much time, work takes up too much time, upkeep takes up too much time.

I know it can all stop at any time. One day, sooner than I can even imagine or you can imagine I will be gone, you will be gone and there is *nothing* we can do about it. The screaming passage of time tears away at my happiness, fills me with fear, and keeps me from enjoying what I have the way I should. In nearly dying two years ago, I gained fearlessness over mortal matters, but lost all proportion in regards to my own mortality. I am afraid. I’m not sure how to stop being afraid.

I can’t say I’ll miss Jepp. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. But I feel sorry for Karen and his family. I feel sorry for me, that a piece of my past is gone. Every day my past dies and I can’t find any way to be at peace with it.
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Deathly Hollow | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)
Hmmm by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #1 Wed Jun 17, 2015 at 02:28:05 PM EST
In re-reading this it is terribly maudlin.  Sorry about that. Sometimes these black moods about time grip me.

WIPO by ana (4.00 / 1) #2 Wed Jun 17, 2015 at 02:36:35 PM EST
I'm tired. Years go by. I'm not actively self-destructive, but I'm also not particularly thrilled to be alive. Perhaps that will change.

And we were days from starvation until those missionaries knocked on our door. We made Alfred Packer stew. --georgeha

Aye by Bob Abooey (4.00 / 1) #3 Thu Jun 18, 2015 at 08:28:11 AM EST
Life is what happens to us while we wait for our life to happen.

I've lived my life in a fairly frugal/conservative manner for the most part. I've had several friends pass over the past few years and it's changed me. I'm less afraid (go ahead and buy that expensive car - you only live once! Go ahead - tell your boss what you really think - worst they can do is fire you! Etc.) and I have to say it's been a bit liberating. I only wish I felt this way 10 years ago but things have to happen in a specific order for them to make sense in our lives.

An interesting book you may (or may not) enjoy: "Falling Upward" by Richard Rohr.

He's a Franciscan Priest but it's not so much a religious book as one about life.


Warmest regards,
--Your best pal Bob

How's my blogging: Call me at 209.867.5309 to complain.

Interesting by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #4 Thu Jun 18, 2015 at 10:23:39 AM EST
I'll check it out.  I'm not religoius but I'd be a fool to turn away wisdom just because it's from a religious source.  Thanks Bob!

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Deathly Hollow | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)