The Penguin is one of the strangest people I have ever met. She's a compulsive liar with poor hygiene. She's also grossly overweight and short. From the back, she looks exactly like Danny Devito in Batman Returns. This is how she earned her nickname.
Despite professing to always be on a diet, her car always seems to be littered with fast food wrappers. I got a ride home from her one day. The car smells like a combination of fast food burgers and kitty litter. Yuck.
This story describes my introduction to the inner workings of... The Penguin.
It's a cool day at the end of September, our slowest month. I'm closing The Restaurant. Normally, I'd be pissed. However, The Actor is the closing manager tonight. His antics keep me entertained.
It's around 9:30. We close the doors at 10:00, and the bar closes at 11:00. There hasn't been a soul in the place for almost an hour and a half.
The Restaurant is losing money every second we stay open. However, corporate policy says that we can not close the doors early, so I'm stuck sitting on my can earning about half of minimum wage.
I'm bored. I think about sticking a fork in my eye so I can go home, but decide against it. I like my depth perception.
I decide to bug The Actor. I get up and head to the back.
The Actor is sitting in the office writing out the daily log.
"I'm bored. "
"Did you clean everything, make sure everything is stocked, and empty everything off the expo line?" He doesn't look up from his scribbling.
"Yeah, I'm completely done. Isn't there something fun in here?" I start pawing through one of the drawers in the office. Lost and found items can be interesting some days, but not today. Couple sets of keys, a credit card or two, and a work ID badge from "Lashawnda".
"If you're going to act like a child, read this. There should be something interesting in there." He hands me a red leather-bound book.
"What is this?" I ask.
"The accident report log."
Sweet. The accident report log contains, in graphic description, any horrific accident that occurred on Restaurant property. This ought to keep me entertained.
I flip to the front. It seems that when the place first opened, there was a goose that made its nest in the parking lot. Damn thing bit two customers before animal control agreed to "relocate" it.
I'm mildly disappointed. The book is written in really boring language. It doesn't even provide any juicy details.
Even worse, the managers' grasp of the English language is decidedly lacking. They try to sound professional, which exacerbates the problem. Case in point:
"The animal is nested on our property between the fourth and fifth line of the parking lot. When too [sic.] customers traveled by the animal, it bit them. One was injured to her buttocks and thigh..." Boooo-ring.
Flipping through, I see that two cooks have cut off fingers, damn near everyone has been burned, and that Deedee, our resident drunk, fell down not once, not twice, but three times in the same month. She's collecting unemployment now.
"Were you working when Deedee had her accidents?" I'm curious what happened.
"Yeah. It wasn't even wet where she fell. I swear I could smell liquor on her breath, too. It pays to be a drunken fool." He shakes his head. Suddenly, he jerks his head around.
"Hey, have you gotten to "The Penguin" yet?"
"I was managing that night. Check April of two years ago. I had to do the accident report for her slip and fall." He's grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
I start leafing back through the book. July, June, May... ah, April.
I start reading and almost crap myself.
"The Penguin (he actually wrote "The Penguin" instead of her real name) was waddling through the main dining room with a full tray of food. She spotted a baby seal. Because she was hungry, she gave chase with intention to club. She slipped on a patch of ice and fell. The food splattered on several nearby guests, two of which reported burns. There names are..."
Pure genius. He even wrote it in red ink, so it stands out more in the book.
"Was she hurt?"
"Not really. Her pride more than anything else. I must admit, it was really funny watching her try to get up. Have you ever seen a turtle flipped on its back?"
"That's mean." But funny.
"So what? I'm going to hell anyways." He turns back to his paperwork. I look down at the accident report log.
"Isn't this thing supposed to be serious in case we get sued?"
"Yeah, but what are they gonna do, fire me? I'll claim that they fired me because of my sexual orientation. Speaking of which, do you wanna go in the walk-in? You can close your eyes and pretend I'm a girl..." He looks at me hopefully.
"I'll pass. The Woman is waiting for me at the bar across the street. I think The Penguin is supposed to be over there too."
He clucks sympathetically. "You poor, poor man. Have you heard her latest one?"
"What do you mean?"
"Her latest lie. She's a compulsive liar." He pauses and looks at me. "You didn't know?"
"No, I didn't." I actually thought she was kind of interesting.
"So far, since she's worked here...," he begins counting off on his fingers. "She's had cancer. She's remembered repressed memories of childhood abuse. She's been engaged to a wonderful person who broke it off two weeks later. She's been on every crash diet known to man, yet she continues to gain weight at an astonishing pace, and finally.... she's had 3 grandmother's die."
"None of it is true?"
"Not a word. When I found out that I had cancer, I asked her for the name of her oncologist, thinking that since she is so... you know, healthy, he must be a good doctor. She didn't know what an oncologist was. And two weeks after her 3rd grandmother died, she came in and ate with her parents and their parents."
That's messed up.
"So what's her latest?"
"That her cousin was the pilot on flight 93. You know, the one that crashed into the farm in Pennsylvania."
9/11 was still fresh in everyone's mind. It had been a strange few weeks since the Towers fell. People were coping in different ways. But to cope by saying that your cousin was flying one of the planes? That's just weird.
Just then, the door bell chimes interrupt my thoughts. I look at the clock. 9:58. It never fails. Sighing, I walk to the front to take my last table of the night.
An hour and a half later, I'm sitting in a booth at the bar sipping a beer. There is a really good turnout. About ten people have made it over to the bar, and we're having a great time.
Pool, darts, pitchers of beer, surly cocktail waitresses... I love dive bars.
The Penguin is starting to get on my nerves. She keeps talking about her cousin and how sad she is.
I wonder if it could be true? I mean, after all, someone has to be related to all the people on the flight. If that's the case, then I'll feel really bad about doubting her.
As it is, after hearing The Actor bash her for the last hour, I'm starting to find her annoying. She's attention-grubbing and clingy.
She also has a large brown stain on her two front teeth. I can't stop looking at it. She doesn't smoke or drink coffee. I'm trying to figure out how she could possibly have a stain like that when The Woman plops down next to me.
"What's up?" She's smiling. Not in a good way. She looks like she's got some sort of diabolical plan cooking.
"Not much. The Penguin is starting to get on my nerves. Do you think her cousin was really on that plane? If he was, I'll feel really bad...."
"I wouldn't," she pauses dramatically and then pulls out a newspaper clipping. "These are the passenger manifests for Flight 93. There's no "(Penguin's last name)" on there."
"What if he's from the mother's side of her family?" I'm still hanging on to the hope that she wouldn't lie about this sort of thing.
"Let's ask," she turns around, looking for The Penguin. She's at one of the bar box pool tables in the back, trying to elicit a pool lesson from Soldato. He looks annoyed.
"Hey Penguin, what's your Mom's maiden name?" The Woman yells across the bar.
"Why?" she calls back.
"I'm doing a family tree on everyone in the office." What a lame excuse. However...
"Oh, how fun! It's (mother's maiden name)." Stupid Penguin.
The Woman quickly cross-checks the list. Nope.
I don't know what to feel. I'm angry at her for trying to take advantage of the situation. I also feel really sad for her. Her life is going to suck if she continually gets caught up in lies.
"You gonna call her out?" I ask.
"Only if she annoys me. I haven't decided yet."
The TVs in the bar are tuned to a baseball game. During a commercial, a news brief comes on about 9/11. It seems that all news briefs are focused on that day now. I wonder if it will ever go back to being normal. I doubt it.
"I can't watch! It makes me so upset," The Penguin is crying. Big, sobbing heaves that make her rolls jiggle. I can't believe this shit.
"Give me that clipping," I whisper to The Woman. I don't know why, but I have an uncontrollable urge to give The Penguin something to cry about.
"Nope, I'm going to call her on this one. I've known her a lot longer than you, and I'm even more sick of this shit than you are." With that, she marches across the bar and confronts The Penguin.
A stuttering explanation, a short screaming match, and a huffy waddle to the parking lot later, and The Penguin has left the building.
The Penguin called in sick to work the next three days. She said it was her pancreas.
She never admitted to lying about her cousin (or anything else, for that matter). She recently got fired from The Restaurant for being lazy and stealing from the petty cash. She still has that brown stain between her teeth.
Personally, I just feel sorry for her. It's going to be a tough life.