Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How Poor Were You

How Poor and Beat-up We’re You?

Short-Short Story/ Fiction

By Richard E. Noble

Chef Eduardo had his huge bulk humped over the steam table behind the line. He had just reamed one of line cooks rather savagely - now as he pondered his own behavior, he was, obviously, feeling somewhat guilty. He had to redeem himself not only for the line cook’s sake but to impress the little girl from the Culinary Institute who was there “training”.
She was a poor little rich girl. Her parents had enough money to send her to a real school where she could have learned something important, but she wanted to learn to be a “Chef’; devise a new recipe for a life saving blueberry tart or figure out the secret formula for the Egg McMuffin.
“You know, David, when I was an apprentice training to be a chef, under Chef George at the Fountain Blu,” explained Chef Eduardo. “We used to actually get physically disciplined when we screwed up. It wasn’t just a little bad-mouthing like you just got. Chef George - he was a German guy, a damn Nazi for sure - he used to actually slaps us around or boot us in the ass. I remember one time I dropped this soufflé or something and when I bent over to pick it up, Chef George gave me a boot up the ass that sent me sprawling to the floor. I could still feel the toe of his boot up my butt a week later.”
I was Chef Eduardo’s Sou Chef. I didn’t really like what Chef Eduardo had just done earlier to David, but being second in command and knowing that Chef Eduardo was trying to apologize in his half-assed, semi-abusive way; I decided to chime in with my own personal tale of unjustifiable abuse. I guess the idea was that abuse and ill-treatment are all a part of a “normal” life and the learning experience - therefore poor David shouldn’t feel all that bad.
“I remember when I was a kid, my old lady beat me up so bad, she had to keep me out of school for a week, so that nobody would see all the bruises and the bangs,” I confessed, supportively.
“My old man,” Chef Eduardo said, “used to knock me from one end of my room to the other - and for nothin’.”
“You sure it was just for nothing?” I joked.
“Well, it was nothin’ to me. It was obviously somethin’ to him.” Everybody laughed.
“My Dad beat me with a crowbar one time,” David said rather matter of factly.
“Come on, man? Let’s not get carried away here. Nobody’s Dad beats him up with a crowbar. That is a little hard to believe. I mean you would be dead, for Christ’s sake.”
“Well, I had to go to the hospital for a week. I had a broken arm and three broken ribs. Another time he tried to strangle me to death.”
“To death? He tired to strangle you to death?”
“Well, I passed out and fell to the floor. I don’t know how long I was unconscious, but it was a couple of minutes before I woke up.”
Well, this was getting difficult. Chef Eddy and I had to go to our fabricated Marine boot camp stories and then to the Korean and the Vietnam wars to top little David and his Daddy Dearest stories. As the can-you-top-this horror stories evolved, we were into the Bataan Death March and other semi-hallucinations about Japanese prisoner of war camps when little Suzy from the Culinary Institute in Rochester, or wherever, decided to get in on the action. It was plain that she was feeling left out. Unfortunately for her, no one had ever beat her with a crowbar; she hadn’t been to any war - it seems, she was never even raped - not even a date rape, never mind by some perverted maniac - or her syphilitic uncle Leo.
“Well, I didn’t have any experiences like you guys, but ... but, it wasn’t easy for me either.”
We all turned slowly and looked at Suzy, the blueberry muffin psychopath from the Culinary Institute in Rochester. She had our undivided attention. Eddy, leaning on his arms - as he always had to, because of his enormous size; myself - the ex-truck driver/butcher become Sou Chef, and David, the poor white trash wannabe who was still living in a dumple-down trailer park on the outskirts of town. We were the nucleus of the Chez Lay De Dah here in uptown/downtown nowhere U.S.A.
Suzy’s little blue eyes were all a-flutter. We all had our this-should-be-good smirks on our faces. She began in a full stutter of enthusiasm.
“When I ... I ... I was going to High School - well, I better start at the beginning. My mother played in the Rochester Symphony.”
“No kidding? What the hell she play?”
“She played the Cello.”
“A Cello? ... that’s like a bass fiddle, but they play it with a stick, right?”
“Well, they don’t play it with a stick, but you’ve got the right idea. Well, anyway ... My mother used to play in the symphony, but she practiced all the time - even on Sundays. Now here I was going to summer remedial reading classes to boost up my totals on the SATs. My parents anticipated my entrance to the University. They didn’t know at that time that I was going to become a Chef and open my own famous restaurant.”
“Right - you decided that you would rather fry eggs in some greasy-spoon for the rest of your life, instead of going to some University or learning how to play the Cello at the Boston Pops.”
“Ah – huh ... yes. So here it was Sunday - and you guys are not going to believe this - but my mother decides to have practice sessions with her chamber music group right in the patio-garden area just below my bedroom window. Now Sunday is the only day that I have to sleep-in, because even on Saturdays I had to get up early for my tennis lessons.”
“In the patio/garden area just below your bedroom window? David, tell me,” I asked. “Did your mother play anything?”
“Ahh, not that I can remember. She used to have a washboard though, but she didn’t play it - she scrubbed on it.”
“Did you have a patio/garden area below your bedroom window?”
“Well, there was no below to my bedroom. It was already as below as it could get. As I remember there was no garden there ... I think there was a dumpster though.”
“A dumpster? Right outside your bedroom window?”
“Okay, so anyway - there they all were, right below my bedroom window, every Sunday - all summer long, playing Beethoven at eight o’clock in the morning. Now I know that’s not quite as bad as what you guys went through, but let me tell you - listening to Beethoven at eight o’clock every Sunday when you are trying to get some sleep is no picnic either.”
Chef Eddy looked at me with his eyebrows raised in bemused astonishment. I looked at David. He had a smirk on his face.
“Well, what do you think David,” I asked, “Beethoven or the crowbar?”
“Well, I don’t know. My bones have all healed up from the crowbar, but Beethoven? That kind of thing goes right for the brain. I mean, once you get that Beethoven into your head - don’t sound like that bastard ever dies. Susan has been thinking about this for all these years now.”
“How many years have you been thinking about this, Susan?”
“Oh, it’s been three or four years now.”
Wow! You know, I think that you are right, David. Crowbars and busted ribs - those things come and go; but Beethoven ... that kind of thing could go on forever.”

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