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Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Last week another of the barbecue joint's cast of characters joined the Choir Invisible, and here is his story.

One of the things that anyone who works in a bar/restaurant can tell you is that sooner or later you will encounter certain regulars/repeat customers who simply drive you right up the tree, and at the top of the list for me was L—. The guy was a fifty-something Puerto Rican local who loudly expressed his disdain for Mexicans and was stinking rich thanks to real estate investments made by himself and his wife, but prior to my first encounter with him he had been a long-time intravenous drug abuser and due to that aspect of his lifestyle he developed a virulent case of HIV.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I found out that I had the HIV and there was no cure in sight I would probably drink like a motherfucker from the moment I woke up until the second that my body finally could take no more and just shut itself down for a few hours, and that’s exactly what L— did every single day for years. During the nearly eight months that L— frequented the barbecue joint I never — and I do mean NEVER — saw the guy sober. He’d show up totally blasted and ramble incoherently, the only understandable words issuing from his mouth being, “STEVIE! I NEED A SAN’WICH!!!” or “HEY, BOO-BOO! I NEED A SAN’WICH!!!,” and it got to the point that if I or anyone else in the place saw him coming we’d have his sandwich and side of homemade sauce ready and in the bag within moments just so we could get him out of our hair. He was so plowed that he even once walked in, right past me who served him his brisket sandwiches every single day, found the only other black guy in the room (who looks NOTHING like me) and said to him, "STEVIE! I NEED A SAN'WICH!!!" Hell, it got to the point where we’d even bump his order to the top of the list on our busiest nights. I know that sounds unnecessarily mean but due to his rampaging drunkenness the guy was a danger to himself and others, occasionally coming in clothed in his pajamas and covered from head to toe in his own blood after taking an inebriated spill, even going so far as to try to enter the kitchen in that state of disarray.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear right now: NO FUCKING WAY will I ever let such a major sanguinary biohazard into any kitchen I’m working in, and that’s that.

L— was allegedly kept on a short leash by his wife and given a limited allowance with which to buy various small items, including setting up a sandwich account with us, and he was eventually accompanied by a caretaker who guided him around the neighborhood and made sure that he didn’t spend his meager cash on some of the dirt-cheap horse to be found in some of the less savory establishments in the Greenwood Heights area. In recent months, provided his caretaker was elsewhere, he’d run up his tab and when he could no longer afford booze on his own he would attempt to borrow money from my boss, myself or any other staff member available and we’d all turn him down flat. After I finally put my foot down and told him in no uncertain terms that he would never get even one red cent from anyone in the barbecue joint, L— staggered out of the establishment, deeply hurt by my stern standpoint, and stood outside attempting to shake down locals and random passersby for beer money. Since that strategy was met with success on the same level as that of CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC (the Village People movie that unofficially marked the end of the disco era), L— moved on to other things.

Periodically, L— would be hospitalized for a week or two and forced to dry out under supervised conditions, but the minute he got out he’d hit the bottle hard once again, thereby rendering whatever prophylaxis he’d undergone thoroughly moot. Simply put, the guy was just too far gone to give a fuck.

During the past month and a half L— would come in and attempt to reminisce with my boss about various events that he was convinced that both of them had been involved in, events that my boss would flat out tell him he’d had no involvement in. The poor bastard was now totally delusional and we got to witness his swift descent into barely-functional madness.

Which brings this narrative to just over a week ago and a few details supplied by an unimpeachable source:

I was in the kitchen on the Sunday in question and I heard L— enter the joint and approach the bartender. He pulled out a $20 bill and informed the staffer that he was settling up his tab and that we should let our boss know that his account was now squared. He then left to wander down the block (at which point my source’s info kicks in) to the home of a local with whom he’d had a longstanding animosity. Upon arriving at the man’s apartment, L— made peace with his enemy of old and staggered to the bodega to purchase several forty-ouncers of either Budweiser of Colt 45. Upon obtaining his beers, L— went home and promptly began to vomit blood, so much so that he literally bled to death on his living room floor, in front of, some accounts say, his poor wife.

The guy may have been a fucking nuisance and a biohazard, but nobody should go by puking up blood all over the goddamned place.

The next couple of days following L—‘s demise witnessed many locals coming in and sharing their memories of his sad life, and his nearly-toothless brother coming in for a few before shipping L—‘s body back to Puerto Rico the next day. Handling his sibling’s passing with a sense of prepared inevitability, the brother was rather amiable throughout his time on the barstool and candidly answered the one question I had during all of it: if L— knew that by kicking booze and smack he could prolong his life for a few more years, then why not get help, especially if he was wealthy enough to afford it without even noticing a depletion in his bank account? His brother kicked down his Schaeffer tall-boy and simply said, “Hey, he liked to party a little too much, know what I mean?” Then some more relatives arrived and led the brother away, and with that L— was relegated to the lore of the barbecue joint.

Furthering my theory that by working at the barbecue joint I am living as part of the revolving cast of a soap opera/sitcom, shortly after the death of L— an old man who looked like one of the rummies who hang out at the local V.F.W. sat down at the bar and ordered a beer.

The old duffer launched into the well-worn spiel that the staff endured from many of the older, alky locals, namely about living in the area since the Cretaceous era, hating the way the neighborhood is changing (translation: young, educated people who have actually been somewhere else are ruining their provincial tribalism), blah blah blah, all while clearly settling in for hours of drinking and boring us with his droning/slurring nonsense.

Our beleaguered barkeep, Jeff, walked into the kitchen in an attempt to get a moment’s peace — it was early on Sunday and there was no one in the bar except two of the cool locals and the old guy — and I headed out behind the bar for a glass of milk (hey, it was early!). The old coot reached across the bar and grabbed my wrist, offering “Hey! My name’s D— and I was in here on da night youse guys opened! I forgot ta leave a tip fer da red-haired guy behind da bahr, so could youse give it ta him fer me? I wanna be a regular, so I wanna start widda fresh tab…”

I hurried back to sanctuary in the kitchen and watched as Jeff suffered through more of the coffin-dodger’s inane ramblings until the old man eventually staggered away, apparently displeased at Jeff not having heard his softly-slurred request for another beer. The old turd didn’t even leave a tip, a fairly common custom with some of the older locals. Hopefully he won’t return, but the whole scene felt like an audition for the role of our new irritating barfly.

Life goes on…

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