Here’s a funny little story about death and drug addiction.
Frankie looked like, sounded like, and had the comedic timing of a young Richard Pryor.
His Mom had been a prep cook at the restaurant for several years. The classic, wonderful, older black woman who smiled a beautiful smile, could never really say a bad thing about another human being, and was the strong pillar of her family, her husband long deceased.
Based on his Mom’s stellar job performance and wonderful all-around personality, Frankie was given a job, at his Mom’s request, as a dishwasher.
“Please, please, that boy needs to have a job.”
Frankie’s baby sister later became the permanent day-time hostess. We had each become part of one big, happy family.
Mother and Son were eventually allowed to take-home kitchen scraps to slop their hogs (a big health department no-no at the time, but I was never much of a rules and regulations kinda guy). Come butchering season, I would receive a thank-you of chops and sausages and scrapple.
Every month or two, Frankie would disappear from work, disappear from his family, disappear from the world for four or five days.
Those weekends always began with his Mom coming into the office, wanting to ‘talk for just a minute”. A strong, resilient, single parent, confused as to why and suddenly begging through tears for her son to keep his job. We were all family and we moved forward.
Frankie was very smart, very personable, but it only took a gram of coke to send him spiraling away from normal.
(Hey, this hasn’t been very funny so far.)
The restaurant’s seating was divided into four ‘sections’, according to the hostess station.
A, B, C, and D.
Section B was referred to by the staff as the “Bus”. It was a long, straight area which was home to seventeen tables, 2-tops & 4-tops separated by a length of dark blue carpeting. So, it looked pretty much like the inside of an actual city Bus.
The GM, the assistant manager, and the dishwasher had clocked-out for the day, just in time for the Friday night dinner rush. Instead of doing the smart thing and leaving, they bellied-up to the first cocktail table in the lounge and ordered a round of beers.
The assistant manager Bob was as white as white can get, and he was almost as funny as Frankie. As the three of them ordered a second round of beers, Bob and Frankie’s normal black/white trash talking began.
“Bob… man… look at that nice, young, BLACK couple up there, waiting on a table. If my sister was workin’, they’d have a table already. But with Princess Leia up there, they might as well go to the mall’s food court.”
Moments later, after the trio had descended into a non-restaurant conversation…
“Frankie…LOOK!..They’re sitting your couple right now! So much for Princess Leia hatin’ black folks!”
The hostess proceeded to escort the couple to table B-17, the last of the 2-tops on the left.
“Oh yea, that’s nice. You don’t see it whitey..with your white eyes. She sat them IN THE BACK OF THE BUS!!!!”
Laughter erupted amongst the three friends.
A while later, the normal guy talk of football, girls, and work was once again interrupted by a family of four as they approached the hostess stand. Darker than dark, the father left a last name on the long list of names waiting for a table.
“What dah you think Frankie? They gettin’ a table anytime soon?”
Frankie started talking in the direction of the hostess stand like the young father could actually hear him.
“Hey! Brother! Turn around! Ain’t nothin’ but sand in here! Go to where the food is!!!” (Oddly enough, a Sam Kinison reference)
It was getting past the time to go, the guys were just snortin’ laughter at any silly-ole thing.
Then the family of four’s name was called for their table.
Bob yells under his breath “Frankie! Look! What Da Ya think about that? (As the hostess escorted the family of four to table B-1, at the very front of the Bus)
Frankie just chuckled to himself, a calm grin on his face, and said…
“Front of the bus?…He must be the driver”.
(In a nasally, whiny voice)…but, but, but you mentioned death…where’s the death part of the story?
The Wifey had dropped me off at work that morning, seeing as how my car was in the shop for some major AC repairs.
At the last-minute, after a 13-hour shift, I finally started thinking about how I was going to get home that evening.
And sitting at the second cocktail table was my answer.
Monker, (not even his real nickname because people get all pissy slanderous when you use their real nicknames on the Internet) offered me a beer and a ride home. Monker was a loud-mouthed, obnoxious, hilarious, big guy originally from the Bronx.
He was our visiting regional kitchen manager, who traveled alongside the District Manager, evaluating kitchen performances, training kitchen staff, and basically making the District’s kitchens a better, happier, more profitable place to be. He and I weren’t total strangers, having hopped many a bar together in the past.
Thirty minutes later, out in the parking lot.
“Nice pickup truck”
“Yea, it was my brother’s. Only has 12,00 miles on it.”
“Hey, I’ll get you home in a minute. Gotta make one stop along the way.”
The detour was into a shadier part of town, an apartment complex which had street lights, but everything seemed so dark.
When Monker climbed back into the truck, all seemed normal except for his urgency to pull the little plastic bag from his left front pocket. Within a minute or two, he had fired-up the first hit from his new stash of crack cocaine.
For the normal person, a moment like this would cause anxiety and uneasiness. Being an old restaurant person, it was unexpected but not terribly shocking or even a reason to hold a grudge.
“Monker, Man. I know that I should know this, but how did you brother die?”
Coughing as he exhaled while speaking “In this fuckin’ truck. Right here where I sit.”
“He was out trying to score a lil’ blow from this dirtbag that he knew.”
“Somebody owed somebody some money. An argument broke out…everybody was screaming at everybody. Then that asshole shot my brother dead”.
Still sitting there in the darkened parking lot, he climbed out of the truck and threw back the blanket that had covered the front seat. I had noticed the blanket when we first got into the truck back at the restaurant. It was dark blue, with an interesting white design on front, like it had been woven by the hands of a Native American.
Even in the darkness of the moment, I could clearly see a large, dark stain on the seat, just behind the truck’s steering wheel.
The stain on the seat was the dried blood of Monker’s dead brother. A stain which was covered by a blanket and sat upon by Monker as he drove from city to city, just doing his job.
Getting on with life.