Category Archives: Stories

Just the Tip

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I was not a great cocktail waitress.

My junior year of college, I worked at a bar called the Country Playhouse, and the very first guy I waited on ordered eight draws of beer for him and his friends. I scampered like an excited puppy up to the bar and put in my order, where the bartender loaded up my tray. I balanced it on my hand like I’d been taught, and moved carefully toward the man’s table, doing what I like to think of as the drunken-toddler walk. Relieved and over-confident that I’d made it, I said, “Here’s your beer!” and rather than setting down the tray, I tilted it as if preparing to shove a giant pie in his face. In my memory, I see it in slow motion, all 96 ounces of frosty suds cascading over him like the ocean waves over Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity. I soaked him, and soaked him good. As you might have guessed, he did not leave me a tip (not a monetary one, anyway. More like “Here’s a tip–give up cocktail waitressing!”)

An inauspicious start, but I got into the groove and stopped drenching customers. I loved my job, except for Thursday nights. We always had a packed house those nights, which would normally be a good thing, but this was not normal. This was Lord of the Flies the female version–the clientele was exclusively sweaty, screaming, seething, writhing women, because Thursday night was male nude dancer night.

Thursday nights generally amounted to volunteer work, because women don’t tip. You could always count on at least one bachelorette party on Thursdays, so it was 25 shots of Jack Daniel’s. Twenty-five Kamikazes. Twenty-five foo-foo drinks. With sugar and alcohol swirling in their lust-addled brains, these women transformed into pre-humanoid hunters, gathered around a hormone fire, using finger snaps and snarls to get the wait staff’s attention, grunting and hooting to “It’s Raining Men.”

And like I said, it would be packed, standing room only, moist and sweltering in there all year round. When I remember those nights, I see them through a haze of cigarette smoke and skank. The dancers were nicely built, no doubt about it. But they were glazed with a patina of grodiness that lacquers my psyche to this day. And they loved to torment the waitresses. There you’d be, trying to navigate the narrow alleys between tables with a tray of 25 tequila shots, 25 shriveled slivers of what might have once been limes and 25 piles of salt, and the “dancers” would jump off the stage and block your way in all their glistening, tumescent, herpes-coated glory. This was the only time in my life I threatened a man with the Lorena Bobbit treatment and truly meant it.

It was the ’80s, my friends, and back then we knew how to convolute the drinking experience. Some of the popular drinks back then were

  • Long Island Iced Tea
  • Wine spritzer
  • Fuzzy Navel
  • Sloe Comfortable Screw
  • Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers
  • Amaretto sour
  • Malt Duck
  • Sex on the Beach
  • Vodka gimlet
  • Strawberry daiquiri
  • Electric Lemonade
  • Bellagio, Riunite and Boone’s Farm wines
  • Everclear Toilet Bowl Punch
  • Cum in a Hot Tub

What drinks did I miss? Send me a comment with your ’80s beverage of choice.

 

Used Soap

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After college, I lived in Manhattan, Kansas, and worked at radio station KQLA-FM. During that time, I was so poor that at one point all I had to eat for six weeks was frozen English muffins. I was so poor I qualified for government cheese, but I didn’t know where to get it. I was so poor that whenever I (or anyone else) stubbed out a cigarette, I would carefully roll out whatever was left in the butt, save it in a bag, and roll my own from this righteous blend of fine tobaccos. I was so poor, my sister likes to say, that I had to buy used soap.

I was so poor…I actually sold some of my vinyl.

That’s how desperate for cash I was. It was a dark, dark day. I agonized over what I could possibly live without and finally settled on ten record albums from my beloved stacks. These I wrapped up in a garbage bag and set out for the used-record store.

Since it only got 8 miles to the gallon, my 1976 Lincoln Town Car was out of commission, so I had to walk the mile and a half with my bag o’ music in tow. This is about a six-pound bundle of unwieldiness, so I tried to hold it like a baby, but it was slippery and awkward and I couldn’t keep it up. So I stacked the albums on my head.

Now, this is not the weirdest thing I’ve ever done, not by a long shot. But from the outraged stares up and down Poyntz Avenue, you’d have thought I was dragging a burning puppy behind me. People shouted at me to cut it out and knock it off, and who did I think I was and what did I think I was doing.

Before all the stares and jeers, I’d been about to take them off my head because it wasn’t as easy as it looked in National Geographic. But once the cacophony of indignation started up, I stubbornly left the stack on my head. My neck hurt. Sweat poured down my face. My hands swelled. But I would not give these yahoos the satisfaction of acquiescing to their goofy demands.

One guy in a pickup truck took it upon himself to make me take them off my head. He drove around the block a couple of times, and then with each successive pass, he revved his engine and gunned it toward me, screeching his brakes just before hitting the curb. I must confess, it almost worked, especially that first time when I wasn’t expecting it.

I finally made it to the record store, sweaty, exhausted, sore, yet triumphant.

Then this weird thing happened. I got all shaky and hyperventilatey. I couldn’t do it. I could only make myself sell two of the ten.

After all, how many copies of The Wall does one actually need?

Wacky Anniversary

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Today is the anniversary of my arrest.

Let me explain.

My sophomore year of college, I took a semester off to work at a Colorado mountain resort so I could enjoy my latest existential crisis at altitude. I would get to live the dream: earn $3.35 an hour, sleep in what amounted to a broom closet with bunk beds, and ski during my free time.

Sometimes, after the tourists vamoosed, the staff would have keg parties up at the top of the mountain and ski down after midnight by moonlight. On sunny days, we’d ski to a top-secret clearing in the heart of the forest and stick our skis in the snow for chair backs, catch some rays and maybe imbibe a little.

In exchange for these privileges, I worked the cash register at the mountain base warming house. One Friday afternoon at the end of the shift, I went up to the office to cash out. The restaurant’s assistant manager, Fred, an oily, pornstachioed guy in his thirties, said he needed to speak with me in the manager’s office. I followed him in, impatient to get in a couple of runs before the lifts closed.

A uniformed policeman with a comb-over was in the office along with the manager, the resort general manager, the head of security and two of his lackeys, and Fred. All eyes were on me, as if I’d just jumped out of a cake.

The cop said, “I understand your drawer was short.”

Wow. They were real sticklers about reconciling their cash up here. I started to get a little concerned.

Officer Comb-Over said, “We have a sworn affidavit that says you purposely under-ring items and pocket the difference.” (Sworn out, I learned later, by a tourist from Iowa. He is the personification of why folks say that IOWA stands for Idiots Out Walking Around*.)

My jaw hit the floor.

The managers stared hard at me, nodding a little, as if they’d expected this sort of behavior out of me all along, or like they were inspecting cured meats.

Now, I’m no angel, of course, but my evil-doing is more of the self-destructive variety. I was never ambitious enough to steal, and I definitely am not mathy enough to calculate, like, numbers in my head while pulling off such a scheme.

“Would you empty your pockets, please,” the cop said.

All I had was a quarter, which, to my shame, I threw at him. By this time I was about halfway between berserk, panic-stricken hysterics and DEFCON 1, so I was swiftly losing control of my gross motor skills.

He picked the coin up and turned it over in his hand like it was the Great Star of Africa, as if this confirmed the allegations.

“The witness said you took a roll of bills out of the register, held it up and said, ‘I got a tip!’ and shoved it in your pocket.”

Incredulous. Stupefied. No verbs.

“We’re going to search your locker.”

They went through my coat and boots, and of course, there was nothing there ($3.35 an hour, remember?). We went back in the office. Once inside, Fred locked the door. Me and seven men in a locked room.

“We have a new theory,” Officer Comb-Over said, his hands clasped behind him, pacing.

A new theory. Like they have teams of detectives in a race against time to crack the code of my evil genius. One minute I’m a nineteen-year-old slacker ski bunny, the next a criminal mastermind about whom police have “theories.”

He whirled around and stabbed a finger in the air. “Who are you working with?”

If I hadn’t been slobbering, jabbering terrified, I would have busted out some 1930s underworld slang. “Me and this bird, see, was bumping gums on the blower about a box job, see, because we was out of cabbage, but I don’t want to end up in no Chicago overcoat, see…” Something like that.

“Who’d you give the money to?”

The area manager, a toothpick of a man, steepled his fingers and said, “If you’ll give the money back, we’ll drop the charges.”

“But I don’t have anything to give you,” I said, although in my delirious state I imagine it sounded more like buh ahdone havnithin duhgivya.

The seven men, my judge and jury, conferred.

“We’re going to bring a matron in here to strip search you,” the cop said.

All the air went out of me. I forgot how to inhale. I was shocked to find I hadn’t wet myself.

The matron arrived and took me into an adjacent attic-like room with no heat. I took off my clothes and she poked through them while I shivered and blubbered. (Note: this is the real reason you should always wear new underwear. Every day. Forever.)

She found nothing, and the disappointment on the gathered faces in the next room! They dismissed the matron, locked the door again, and the seven men interrogated me for another three hours. Officer Comb-Over tried to wear me down, tried to trip me up in my web of lies. Asked me the same questions over and over. Made it clear I was going down no matter what. No more skiing for me. No more college. Prison. Getting shanked in the shower as I reached for the soap on a rope. I’d watched enough teenage jail movies to know what happened Inside.

Finally, they all realized it was Friday night, time to party, and they wanted to get home, or to the bar, or to the Nautilus machines. So they told me to show up at the county police station on Monday morning for a polygraph test. If I passed it, I’d still be under investigation. If I failed, I would go straight to jail.

“And don’t tell anybody about this,” the president of the company said to me. “For your protection, of course.”

Of course.

I went back to the dorm. “You are not going to believe what happened today,” I said to the first person I saw, a stoner named Dave.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he said. “They found John Belushi dead.”

Well, that bit of news capped off this perfect day. The rock star of comedy had met an untimely end, as had my wide-eyed innocence.

I called my folks and they told me to come right home. Needless to say, I didn’t go back to my cashier job. I didn’t go back to the ski area. I went to work in a factory in Denver, assembling electronic digital thermometers, which eradicated my ambivalence about returning to college.

I sued the ski resort, the county, Officer Comb-Over, and the Iowegian affidavit swearer-outer. Three years later, I got a cash settlement, one-tenth of the original amount. But I never actually got the money, so it didn’t really matter.

But that’s a story for another time.

*Forgive me, o Iowegian friends, for pulling that one out of the sack. I know you’re not idiots. But that guy most certainly was.

Click the play button above to hear my prison-themed playlist.

  1. Jailbreak – Thin Lizzy, 1976
  2. I Fought the Law – The Clash, 1979
  3. Lawyers, Guns and Money – The Wallflowers, 2004
  4. Holloway Jail – The Kinks, 1971
  5. Follow the Cops Back Home – Placebo, 2006
  6. Police Story – Black Flag, 1981
  7. Rusty Cage – Johnny Cash, 1996
  8. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos – Public Enemy, 1988
  9. 30 Days in the Hole – Humble Pie, 1972
  10. Back on the Chain Gang – The Pretenders, 1984
  11. Prison Grove – Warren Zevon, 2003
  12. Jailhouse – Sublime, 1996
  13. Jenny Was a Friend of Mine – The Killers, 2004
  14. Hurricane – Bob Dylan, 1976
  15. The Well and the Lighthouse – Arcade Fire, 2007
  16. Jailbreak – AC/DC, 1976

Blame it on the Boomtown Rats

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In my second senior year of college at KU (long story), I lived in an ancient studio apartment building across from the Beta and ATO frat houses on Tennessee Street. It was so old it had dumbwaiters in the halls and murphy beds in the apartments. The closet was only three feet wide, and the bathroom had a claw-foot tub and no shower. Immense gleaming purple slugs patrolled the crumbling sidewalk out front. The first night I moved in, some guy had an LSD freakout and cannonballed through a window.

But once I got rid of the cockroaches* and scoured the place, I loved it. The branches of oaks and sycamores filled my windows, sunshine through the leaves painting my walls brilliant green in the spring and summer, and apricot and scarlet in the fall. In wintertime, the strong black branches cast vigilant shadows and supplied pedestals for fantastical snow sculptures.

This guy.

This guy.

I had a night class fall semester, and walking home one night, I heard a bicycle approaching me from behind. I turned to look. A forty-something dude about my height who looked like a creepier version of Michael J. Pollard was pushing the bike, not riding. Apropos of nothing, he let out a nervous, Peter Lorre-type laugh. In my mind, I heard the eerie opening strains of  the Dead Kennedys’ “The Prey.” I walked faster.

By the time I got to the front walk of the apartment building, his giggles had climbed the lunatic scale to near hysteria. My pace had escalated to a run, and he was right behind me, giggling madly. As I raced him to the door, he rolled his bicycle over three of the fat slugs, bisecting them with a wet squish, and up the steps. I sprinted down the hall and fumbled with my door key, ready to yell for help. But as I turned toward him, he disappeared down the staircase, bike and all, to the basement. I heard a door open and shut down there.

Okay, so a weirdo lived below me, who I discovered later had an equally weird Al Capone-lookalike roommate. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The rent was super cheap, it was just down Mount Oread from campus and three blocks from downtown, and it was a couple of blocks from Bullwinkle’s, a tiny dive bar that wasn’t much more than a lean-to with a tap and a kick-ass jukebox. At least my totally BA upstairs neighbor, Lori Elliott, had been followed by the bike-pusher too. We agreed to do laundry together in the basement to make the giggling and doorway-lurking bearable.

51eLoxEML+L

This one.

One Saturday night, I skipped the bars and stayed at home to listen to a Boomtown Rats album I’d just bought from Exile Records and Tapes, the local used-music and head shop**. I sat on the floor, ready to drop the needle on track one, side one. But just as I lifted the tone arm, I heard moaning directly below me. I froze and listened, the needle poised above “Mood Mambo.” The moaning voice belonged to Michael J. Lorre. I replaced the stylus in its cradle and pressed my ear to the floor.

The noise that surged from the basement sounded like the bawling of a wounded calf. And above that disturbing noise came the roommate’s voice.

“Come out of him!” shouted Al Capone Junior. “Come out of him now!”

Come out of him? Just what the actual hell was going on down there?

“Get thee behind me, Satan! I command you to come out of him!”

Holy shinola. What I was listening to was an exorcism.

And then the wild rumpus really got started. There were shrieks and shouts, dishes crashing, glasses shattering, furniture splintering. There was repeated hollering for Satan to come out, and then little Michael J. Lorre started babbling at the top of his voice. Al Capone Junior joined in.

They were, I realized, speaking in tongues. They sounded like a couple of liquored- and coked-up auctioneers having an epic rap battle. This went on long enough for me to pour two fingers of Jack Daniel’s into a glass and re-seat myself on the floor.

After one final crash, Michael J. Lorre laughed and cried with relief. I imagined ACJ untying him from a chair, and the two of them hugging and crying.

It was over. Satan had left the building.

Because this was the first Saturday night I’d stayed home since moving in, I wondered if getting in front of the devil was a weekly event in Chez Lorre-Capone. But I was too interested in unleashing Bob Geldof and the Rats to ponder this for long. I once again raised the tone arm, but my downstairs neighbors beat me to it. I heard a needle fall on a very scratchy vinyl record. And then a familiar Welsh voice silenced me and my 36-inch speakers for the night.

Tom Jones. Singing “Delilah” at top volume.

Well, of course. This explained everything. The guy who crashed through the window wasn’t on LSD after all.

He was on Tom Jones.


*Powdered boric acid sprinkled liberally around every baseboard and crack in the apartment does the trick. The roaches walk through the powder, and it sticks to their legs. They carry it back to their nests, and the boric acid dissolves the eggs. Gross but effective.

**My 21-year-old daughter Chloe was confused by the term “head shop.” If you’re also confused, it means “drug paraphernalia shop.” Back in the day, stoners were known as “heads.”


Below you can listen to a playlist with the songs mentioned in this post, as well as some extra goodies. The first one to guess why I included “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” wins a prize.

Headstone

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closeupWhat an idyllic scene. In the corner of our yard grow three mammoth pine trees, in one of which an owl roosts occasionally. Underneath it is sand, Tonka trucks and…is that a…headstone?

Well, yes and no.

You see, my dad passed away in our old house. Andy found him dead one Monday morning. Dad was cremated, but Andy wanted to make a memorial to him since there’s no headstone anywhere. So we have this.

Now, when we moved into this house five years ago, Andy placed the memorial under the pines. We had an open house and we had the same conversation over and over again with visitors.

“Hey, this is a great yard! Look at all the IS THAT A HEADSTONE?”

And Andy would say, real casual, “Yeah. You can’t imagine what a pain it was to exhume the body from the old yard and move it here.”

And people would say, “REALLY?”

And Andy would say, “No.”

Well, I thought it was funny.

Here’s the inscription at the top of the cross:

 

12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. ~Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

 

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