Denny’s on Delaware

            There are a number of establishments that figured well into Comstock lore and the surrounding mythos that orbits around that brown monstrosity. Some have been mentioned with much fanfare such as the celebrated Anacone’s, while others garnered only brief mention such as Mike’s Big Mouth, Jacobi’s, Parkside Candy, Tom’s Diner, and the Olympic. Denny’s on Delaware, although only a small part of the general Comstockery despite birthplace of the Madisons, the roost of Big Chief Strait-Jacket, and the local where Monkey Jaw kicked Dark Pistacio so hard he nearly broke his coccyx, predates them all. While the low degree of incidents in the Comstock years might make it worth a miss, as it turns out it is relevant to me personally and thus of increased interest by several orders of magnitude to the readership.

            It came to light in my junior year at St Joes that one of my friends, Ende specifically, had been seen flashing around some serious cabbage. Not the quarters and singles seen in the pizza line, but real green with pictures of big shots like Lincoln and Hamilton on the face. In most locals I would imagine that the initial suspicion would be drugs or some other illegal enterprise, but being that we were imprisoned in the citadel of Christian Brothers in the most white bread section of town, it seemed there was more of a chance that he was nicking it from his mum or some other unsuspecting source. After watching with envy as he purchased an unheard of third slice of La Hacienda on pizza Wednesday, someone finally got the stones to go over and ask him. That ballsy someone was me.

            Turns out home slice went and got himself a real job; the kind where you have to fill out paperwork with government form numbers on it, punch a card and wear shoes all the time. He was legally employed at Denny’s on Delaware as a member of the illustrious Bus/ Dish team. Being an awkward teenage doofbag I enquired none so gently as to what kind of cash one could expect to take home from that kind of high society gig. I was floored by the answer. $3.85 an hour! I quickly did the numbers. I was working my tail off doing Pennysavers (still!) and raking in a large $13.50 a week. With two weekend shifts at Denny’s, by my tax-law ignorant calculations, I could be brining home over $60 dollars a week. There was no ‘Mathletes’ sweater hanging in my closet but I was still able to tell that the Denny’s gig was more buck for the bang. I moved in for the hookup.

            Came to find out that I wasn’t the only one who was hankering for some of that sweet ass dough-ray-me; Kevin “Special K” W and Missy G also got an easy in and were already gainfully employed – one as a bus\dish and the other as a hostess. For the confused, Missy nabbed the hostess gig looking better in the dress, or so went the opinion in those old less enlightened times. A man of my standing is not one to grovel and beg like a craven cur, so I utilized the chick tactic and turned on the water works. “I’ll talk to my boss and see what I can do.” It was the best I could hope for and declined the use of his mottled hanky.

            Mike managed to score me an interview a few days later on account of his sterling reputation with management. I showed up, punctual as always, and was ushered into the back and took at seat across from Mrs Jones in the fishbowl management office. This, by the way, was my only stint of employment outside the military where honorifics were still employed; Mrs Jones, Mr. Smith, and the living breathing reincarnation of Oscar Wilde himself, Mr. Wirth. I would have liked to assume they all had first names as well, but didn’t want to presume on such a great unknown. The interview was brief and to the point allowing me to confirm that yes, I did feel that given a stream of boiling hot water I could rinse off plates and stick them into a machine that did the rest. As a bonus, I could also pick up tubs of soiled dishes; ferry things around there were needed, and not steal steaks from the freezer and pass them out the back door to some asshole in a pickup. We shook hands, I was issued two shirts, an apron, and hat which I was to wear with all the pride afforded by the office. I started that Friday eve.

            As with any first day on the job, I walked in nervous about being in a new environment and the crushing weight of responsibility I had undertaken. Mike and Kevin arrived with me, all of us walking in from Kenmore, car-less, card carrying members of the League of Impoverished Gentlemen. The position, I hoped, would allow me to rescind my membership and thumb my nose at the remaining members. The evening was filled with training videos which I watched at the break counter on a TV/VCR combo as employees actually on break loudly consumed omelets and patty melts around me, asking retardedly what I was doing. After my sponge like absorption of pearls of knowledge such as not to breath in chemical fumes, spray people in the face with the hose, and wash hands before handling foods (all flagrantly disregarded hundreds of times), I was ready to get to work.

            The value of a first job is that you can always look back and say, “thank God I don’t have to do that anymore!” it was apropos in this case… as well as 4 or 5 others to follow, be that as it may. The job was a multifaceted one which made time move faster, but also dangerous and disgusting which slowed it down to a crawl. I’ll take you through some of the highlights, after which you will have a firm appreciation for that smelly character trying to take your not quite completed meal at one of these third rate diners. Or if you read carefully enough, you will take the hint and stay home and microwave some fish sticks.

            Primacy, all things being equal, in the bus/dish world belonged to washing the goddam dishes, second billing aside. Here is how it went down. The bus monkeys would bring the brown plastic bins full of soiled dishes to the chrome counter to the left of the rinse area where they would pile up like so many dead leaves in an October windstorm. Brimming with the disgusting remains of unfinished food, beverage and empty ashtrays (ah, the 80’s when the smoking section was still half the restaurant), they never stopped coming, especially on Sundays when the old folks and churchies liked to come in and gobble down Grand Slams and Moon’s Over My Hammy. Man on point, and it was always a man; the fairer sex relegated to the front end, would extract all washable items, spray them off with the overhead hose dispensing boiling water, until only refuse was left. The sprayed dishes went into the machine, the garbage at the bottom of the bin was put into the trash can through the magnetized opening (to catch silverware), and rinsed out for reuse.

            While most of Denny’s was nicely air conditioned, the dish room was not. In addition, between the spray hose and the antiquated dish washer, humidity in that sub-local of the back generally reached about ten thousand percent. The supersaturated and superheated moisture had a side effect of carrying airborne grease and food particles that would became inextricably embedded in your clothes, hair and skin; an eau d’Garbage that would make Oscar the Grouch toss his fuzzy green cookies. After about an hour the person would be heat exhausted, shriveled like a prune, soaking, and usually burned in one or more places.

            It is hard to imagine such a position having advantages, but there were in fact a few; mostly having to do with the ability to irritate both co-workers and management. Most of the tactics employed were none too sophisticated and had to do with the hot water hose. Bringing someone to their knees with a face full of scalding water was always good for a chuckle. Another was squirting water into the garbage can so that it became incredibly heavy for the bus monkey who had to take it to the dumpster when you asked; a favorite in wintertime as making the dump always resulted in a bath. Ende truly hated this one and we once almost came to blows over it as I was a frequent abuser. Creaming your co-worker with left over coffee creamers a la “Excess Fluids” was a hoot as well, although the female staff did not take kindly to this as they usually eschewed our reindeer games, especially the gross ones.

            As no one could survive the hellish environment for very long, we tended to rotate out of the prime position and take turns as bus monkeys, cleaners and go-fers. If one had been a particular prick that day, he usually tried to hold on to the prime position as long as possible, but inevitably he would come close to collapse and end up suffering the face blasts of water and the heavy can of ultimate melancholy. The other duties were somewhat more pleasant but with a lot more walking.

            Originally, the clean cut waiters and waitresses would bus the tables and place the bins in out of the way places for us to pick up, but these prima donnas of the food industry finally rebelled and the loathsome duty was shoved on us. I’m not sure who in the Denny’s corporate ladder decided it was a good idea to have soaking, food splattered lads smelling of pungent greasy garbage roaming the floor and leaning over still eating patrons to clear plates, but it certainly took balls. The customers didn’t seem particularly amenable to this either, usually wrinkling their noses in disgust or even lodging bitter complaints when the sweat mingled juice from our shirt collars dripped into their coffee or Denver Omelet, but we were persistent and let them deter us not a smidge. On one occasion one of the fellows managed to spill an entire bucket of pancake batter down the front of him and subsequently managed to schmear the arms and shoulders of several patrons before being relegated to the back for the rest of the shift, management grown tired of providing compensatory deserts.

            Being out and about with the customers allowed us to express the more jaunty aspects of our at work personalities; a condition management both feared and resented yet remained surprisingly tolerant of. We began with the ‘mark of excellence’, a circular sticker used to denote which day of the week something was prepared and applied originally to our aprons and later out foreheads. For some reason having disheveled bus monkeys wandering about with blue or purple bindis adorning their foreheads caused fear and confusion amongst the elderly patrons who could not comprehend a condition in which local boys would be mimicking south Asian caste fashion. We were told to knock it off. Next we went with outrageously large boutonnières of dish pan parsley, usually dripping butter and syrup, and tucked into our nametags. This practice as well was eventually rooted out after one, ill fastened in place, managed to fall into some old mans eggs benny.

            The practice that really seemed to irritate the customers the most was the timing when we chose to perform vacuuming. It wasn’t bad enough that the antiquated thing set off a din loud enough to keep a whole portion of the restaurant from talking, but we actually had the impertinence to ask eating patrons to kindly move their legs as we banged the hose around under tables and even booths. It is human nature, perhaps not with present company but real humans, to not challenge someone who seems engaged in doing something productive, and so most of the time we generally got miserable looks from diners who wished to engage in some snappy dialog with their tablemates or resented having their foot banged into repeatedly by the filthy douche repeatedly going after some imaginary crumb in the far back of the booth. Some, however, were pushed beyond endurance and requested we hold off. Request denied! This probably affected the tip, but given we received no cut, we didn’t give a toss.

            There are two loathsome habits with which we regularly engaged. The first was the decoration of the dish room. I don’t recall who got started doing this, and I believe it began with a simple slice of Canadian bacon slapped to the side of the dish machine in order to give it a bit of panache. One-upmanship quickly reared its head and before long the whole of back was regularly decorated with all manner of meats, cheeses, eggs, break and grits. It was a cornucopia of plenty of quickly spoiling foods; a panoply of customer rejected meals, masticated and gross. Mr Wirth didn’t seem to mind it and found it somewhat comical. Mrs Jones, however, had quite the conniption fit when she came back there on the day the health inspection was due, to find a level of violation so grim as to forecast not only immediate shut down, but a full on demolition. This practice was quickly discontinued.

            The next one is worse, so be sure you wish to continue. In the center station sits a gleaming chrome insert full of salad from which patrons could see a conscientious waitress move it on to plates with long handled tongs. What they did not see was what happens when the bin gets low. Carefully a gloved waitress removes it ever so daintily escorts it to the back, then dumps it on the back counter with the dish bins. “Gimme some more salad!” The dishwasher would then, hands filthy with old yolks and spit up porridge, remove it to the cooler and fill it with same said hands from the giant bin in which it was stored. Washing hands before touching food was probably encouraged in the literature but little in practice. No sign of admonishment was left in the bathroom, nor was the spirit of one followed.

            Everyone thinks that their place of employment is sit com fodder but honestly, we couldn’t hope to compete with CBS superpower ‘Alice’, what with Flo’s kissable grits and all, but we did have our characters. Matt wore the description ‘strong as an ox and almost as smart’ like Trump wears that ridiculous toupee; wild and true, though no one really knows for sure. He was the originator of the dish hose face blasting as well as the garbage can fill up, both tricks useless on him as he was immune to the heat of the water and could lift the can no matter what the fuck we put into it. He was also guilty of sticking my shirt to my back in a literal manner through the employment of many hard slaps when he found that the worst sunburn of my life had broken into a great many blisters. It was the closest I came to passing out from the pain, and despite it, he still managed to get me a good dozen times, plus soaked me with the boiling water a few more. I called out the next day.

            Interestingly enough, or perhaps not, is that this job presented my first knowledgeable anyway (little did I know half my graduating class would eventually come out) encounter with homosexuals. Initially I was quite perplexed as none of them conformed to the homogenous stereotype so lovingly crafted and reinforced in movies. For one, not a single one of them was named Bruce or Bruth, talked with a pronounced lisp, or actively tried to have sex with me every time I walked by. Frankly I wondered if perhaps they were cultural ignoramuses not knowing the correct norms of their kind or perhaps rebels and non-conformists. Although it was assumed that company policy dictated attire, we were shocked at meeting one of them out in the world on an occasion and found him dressed neither in women’s clothing or the mandatory uniform of the Blue Oyster Bar.

            While I had already been forming hard hitting questions regarding what I was being told about religion and the world at large, this served as solid proof to me that I had been sold a bill of goods at least as far as this was concerned. Imagine my surprise then 3 years later when JP made his big debut and managed to not only incorporate every one of the old stereotypes, but exceed them significantly. It was like having a big hunk of coal hit the back of your head and turning to see Santa himself floating there in his sleigh in his big red britches, rearming and sizing you up for a nut shot.

            Aside from working there 2 or 3 days a week, more in the summer, we took to hanging out there pretty much all the time we were not in school. Being introduced to the 6:00 AM shift led quickly to an introduction to coffee and a life long habit that a few years down the line would further lead to the discovery of the delicious pairing of that dark gold and cigarettes, which I only managed to break free from 3 years ago now. Evenings Mike, Kevin and I would haunt the counter and drink endless cups while chatting up the waitresses who were so much kinder when you weren’t banging into them with soiled bins or spilling chocolate milk on their shoes. Most of our paychecks when to the meals we insisted on paying full price for on off hours that we got for half price on breaks. We were die hard addicts to eggs benny, patty melts and even an occasional liver and onions (fine, just me on that last one).

            Eventually of course the time came to bid the place adieu. We suffered a change in management who had far less tolerance for our little jokes and tomfoolery and began looking elsewhere. A brief hiatus emerged at the end of our senior year when Mr Wirth, returning as head manager, called us up as hired guns, quick fix experts, to get his dish room rolling in order again. We answered the call to arms, highly flattered and impressed by our perception of worth. Within a day we realized how much it truly sucked. Mike quit within weeks and Kevin and I stuck in there, I finally quitting accepting the DPW Summer Scum position as the title seemed to have far more dignity than what I was doing.

            To this day Denny’s on Delaware persists on behind the railroad tracks, even after the destruction of its evil twin sister across the way, Perkins, which found new life as an OTB. Perhaps one day I will stroll through those doors again, take a perch at the counter, and revel in the odors of an aged cup of coffee and cheesy eggs benny. I’ll probably pass on the salad.

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2 Responses

  1. Where you the fellow who smeared pancake batter all over themselves?

    A parsley bouquet! Brilliant!

    Thank god Dan never worked at Denny’s. I can only imagine what would have ensued, especially with the average, dim-witted bus boy for Dan to coerce.

    Was the denial of ceasing vacuum services ever retorted with violence?

    Santa sizing you up for a nut shot huh? Perhaps the “story” of Santa is entrenched in the Blue Oyster Bar. He does wear flamboyant clothes.

  2. Actually, it was Matt who had the batter schmear that he inflicted on customers.

    While Dan never worked at Denny’s, he did work at food service with me if you remember. He accused the Chinese foreign student who worked in the dish room with him of being a communist spy. The poor guy got really upset about it until he finally gathered that Dan was full of shit.

    No actual violence, but plenty of threats of it.

    Santa isn’t really so much about the Blue Oyster set as much as hard core S&M.

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