Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Captain

-A Description of The Captain-

When I first laid eyes on The Captain, I sensed that he was a couple ships short of a fleet (bad pun, I know, but bear with me). It was 3 in the afternoon. The lunch rush was long over, the dinner servers were probably still wiping the sleep out of the eyes, and our restaurant was a ghost town.

He was sitting by himself at the bar watching TV. Not the big screen TV, but his own portable TV set. It was probably the first model off the line in 1985. It was about ten inches tall, ten inches deep, and seven inches wide, with a three-inch screen and a three-foot antenna. Must have weighed twenty pounds. He was watching a soap opera while idly spinning a large commemorative coin.

The Captain is in his mid-to-late 60's. He tips the scales at nearly 300 lbs. His bushy gray hair, bushy gray eyebrows, and bushy gray lamb-chop sideburns attempt are harnessed under the navy blue captain's hat that provides his nickname. He wears this in tandem with a rumpled white collared shirt, faded light blue pants, and gray suspenders. He never changes clothes. I harbor a mental image of a closet filled with hundreds of rumpled white collared shirts and faded blue pants.

He isn't the worst-smelling customer that I've ever encountered, but he's close. His rank body odor is lightly masked by cheap cologne. He mumbles when he talks, so it's difficult to understand him. The longer he sits and drinks, the more difficult it is to understand him. Imagine Marlon Brando as Don Corleone playing "Chubby Bunny."

The Captain is odd. He scares women and small children at the restaurant. He's also cheap (I'll get to that). In short, he's the type of regular that you don't want to see walk through the door.

-The Captain's Story-

Easter Sunday, three years ago. I'm bartending all day to make some cash so I can afford an upcoming frat formal. Nobody else wants to work on Easter, and I have nothing better to do. It's win-win.

I've had some time off, so I'm psyched to work rather than dreading the double shift. I'm wiping the bar down after our shift meeting when the door opens. In walks The Captain, portable TV tucked firmly under his arm. Great.

He plops into his usual seat at the bar and orders a cheap American "beer for the masses." Popping the cap, I offer a menu. He orders one of our pasta dishes. For a casual restaurant, our food is decent. He's ordered one of our better dishes, and I comment,

"Nice choice, Sir."

He takes a big swig of pale amber beer and mumbles something unintelligible before turning back to his TV. Giving up on conversation, I head to the back.

Our hyperactive Phillipina General Manager, Valerie, is buzzing around the kitchen, cleaning and prepping the line. The restaurant has one customer, and she's acting like World War III is iminent. Typical.

Valerie is always under the impression that a tour bus full of hungry customers is going to break down on our block, ignore the other five restaurants that share our intersection, and march through our door demanding fast service. This has yet to happen, but there's always a chance.

"Valerie, The Captain is in port."

"OK, tell me if he get bad" The Captain is a regular, and he's gotten drunk and abusive on several occasions before. Best to let the boss know if there's a possible situation brewing. (Oh, and Valerie's English isn't great.)

"Will do. Can I help with anything?"

"Sure, wipe down wall" She tosses me a rag and I start wiping down the wall behind the soup kettle. Closers must have been in a hurry to get out the night before. Normally I'd be pissed doing any sort of menial task, but I'll do anything to avoid going back to The Captain. I'd hate to interrupt his soaps.

As I'm finishing scrubbing the remains of Potato Cheese and Bacon soup off the walls, The Captain's food shows up in the window. I toss a fresh breadstick on the plate and garnish the dish with a bit of chopped parsley.

I place the plate in front of The Captain with a slight flourish. I'm feeling saucy today.

"Is there anything else I can get you, sir?"

This is where things get strange. He chugs the rest of the beer, lays the bottle on its side and proclaims in a booming, clear voice, "THERE'S A SAILOR DOWN!"

At first I'm shocked that I've comprehended a full sentence. My shock deepens when I realize that The Captain has just referred to his beer as if it were a fallen comrade. Thankfully, my bartender autopilot kicks in, and I am able to find another beer in the cooler, pop the top, and set it in front of him. Another table walks in and seats themselves at a bar booth. Grateful, I walk away and begin my spiel at the new table.

By the time I have their drinks out, The Captain has finished his pasta. Unfortunately, he's also finished his beer.


Full volume now.

My new table looks up in surprise, then glances away, not wanting to draw attention. Valerie is hanging out at the host stand. She witnesses the whole thing, then walks away without so much as a glance. It's going to be a long, lonely afternoon.

My only hope is that The Captain will continue drinking at a feverish pace. I can cut him off and send him on his merry way. In doing this, I will have kept both the customers and The Captain safe. I'll sleep well at night.

At that moment, The Captain's Entourage arrives. The Captain's Entourage consists of his slightly larger but much nicer non-drinking sister and his slightly younger but much meaner and harder-drinking friend, the First Mate. Perfect. A designated driver and a drinking buddy. The Captain can stay and drink himself stupid now.

Valerie refuses to cut off anyone who has a designated driver, safety be damned. In her mind, if the restaurant is making money, all is well in the universe.

My plan in shambles and my Easter looking bleak, I steel myself for events to come.

As the afternoon goes on, the sister slurps down countless Diet Colas while the dynamic duo pounds beer after beer, each time piercing the silence with their battle cry "THERE'S A SAILOR DOWN!" It doesn't help that the First Mate has joined in. The restaurant and I are getting it both barrels.

To make matters worse, I've only had one other table. My money is going to have to come from the Captain and his Entourage. I'm screwed. The Captain is notoriously cheap.

Finally the night comes to a close. I bring the check to The Entourage. The Captain and The First Mate demand another drink. I patiently explain to them that we are not allowed to serve after 10 o'clock. We could lose our liquor license. They complain that I never called "last call", so they should be allowed another drink. I explain that "last call" is actually illegal within the suburb's limits because the police department believes that last call encourages binge drinking. They demand to see the manager.

I call Valerie from the phone at the bar. She's in the office in back. I'm not about to walk back and allow them the opportunity to walk out on a $100 tab.

"What?" She sounds angry. Sales must have been lower than last year.

"Valerie, the folks up here would like another round."

"So give to them"

"It's after 10, and they've had quite a few"

"Bigger check, more tip"

"Valerie, I don't know if that's a good idea"

"Give to them! And tell them they leave by 10:30!" Click.

Thanks, Valerie. I give them their two fresh beers. At 11:15, they pay their check. The bill is $110. They leave me two 50's, two 5's, and ten sheets of paper before waddling out the door and into the night.

I look at the sheets of paper. Each is marked as an official "1/10 ounce of silver note", redeemable for one dollar. The only problem- they are only redeemable in Louisville, KY. Why Louisville, I have no idea. I just know that I'm not going there anytime soon.

I spent the whole day catering to these yahoos, putting up with their eccentricities, and they tip me ten percent. Better still, it's ten percent that I can't collect unless I take a trip to Louisville.

I go in the back to cash out. I try to use the notes in my deposit. Valerie is having none of that.

"Give me real money."

"Valerie, please. I've made five dollars all day, and I need the money to..."

"No, real money only. You keep these" She thrusts the notes in my face and holds out her other hand. I sigh, place the two 5's in her hand, put on my jacket and walk out the door.


I take solace in knowing that The Captain will awake in the morning with a horrendous hangover.

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