Smugglers' Inn started as a theme restaurant in Blaine, Minnesota and has become, if not a legitimate advertising agency, then a viable agency alternative with two dedicated ad employees, Carol Henderson, art director and Jarl Olsen, copywriter. Read the whole saga in these posts or click the pirate to follow the entertaining tweets of our dishwasher, Pongo. Who may or may not be an orangutan.!/PongoTryHard

Friday, June 2, 2017

Be careful who you wish for.

"The Nunz" by our seating hostess, Caitlyn.
“Nunzio!  Nunzio, Nunzio, Nunzio!  Life is a Broadway musical since Nunzio came to stay.  Every day, he eats pork chops and does not pay.  He corrals our waitresses and asks them if they pray.  He says, “Chicks dig the uniform.” Oy, vey!  Now, all I want is for this priest to go away.  Away! Away! Away!” 

OK, Andrew Lloyd Weber is not now trembling in his Beatle boots.  I’m just trying to find something to sing about after this whole Nunzio affair.  It ain’t easy. 

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog and you didn’t just land here looking for pirate porn, then you know that on December 31st, 2016 your friends at Smugglers’ Inn witnessed a miracle.  Well, some of us did.  We clearly saw our former dishwasher and planner, Pongo, appear just in time to rescue New Year’s Eve from certain disaster even though, as would be revealed later, Pongo was then 9,000 miles away on the island of Sumatra.  Members of Smug’s kitchen staff, who were raised believing that miracles not only happen, but that when they do, it’s your duty to report them to the Mother Church, wrote a letter to one Bishop Hebda of Minnesota, explaining the unexplainable appearance and subsequent disappearance of someone who was never there.  I signed this letter, but I never imagined the bishop would reply, let alone do what he did.  Hebda forwarded our letter the papal ligate in Rome.  “Ligate”.  Now, there is a word no one knows.  Two months later, “Special Advocate Nunzio” arrives.  He is supposed to find alternative, non-miraculous explanations for what I and five others saw that night or, barring that, verify the miracle.  Chef Jorge and cooks Little Jorge and Miguel, who penned the letter to the Bishop (in Spanish) are over the moon.  They would be; they don’t have to feed this guy.

Although I am sure “Senor cura”, as Little Jorge calls him, has a stipend, he prefers to eat three meals a day at Smuggler’s Inn.  Smugglers’ Inn isn’t open for breakfast, but when the white van from the local Catholic church drops Nunzio off at our place at eleven AM, either Little Jorge or Miguel has an omelette and toast prepared and waiting for him.  He eats lunch around four then, in the European tradition, has supper at 10 PM.  It’s a lot of food.  You would think Nunzio might appear the slightest bit grateful, but rather the opposite is true.  He complains.  Almost no one complains at Smugglers’ Inn; we’re in Minnesota.  Certainly, no one complains about our food.  Our menu?  Yes, we do not have a very imaginative menu, but we have been preparing those items the same way since 1972.  Consistency counts for something in the restaurant world, even if it doesn’t in the ad land.  Smugglers’ Inn, the ad agency, has been re-invented so many times that I’m not sure if we’re calling ourselves as marketing enablers or brand champions this month.  Cooking is different. You do not need an proprietary algorithm for making beer cheese soup.  You need two bricks of Velveeta, an equal volume of Low-melt© butter substitute, a gallon of whole milk, a low-heat source and voilla!  Creamy nectar of the gods.

“Abomination!” Nunzio had declared after Little Jorge served him some of our First Mate’s Beer Cheese Soupe, for which we are justly famous.  “Abomination” is a word that means the same in Italian and Spanish as in English.  Even if it doesn’t, the “Are you trying to poison me, motherf***r?” glare Nunzio shot Little Jorge needed no translating.  Did I mention that Nunzio looks like Zero Mostel?  It’s true.  Check out “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”.  Anyway, after the “abomination” comment, our head chef, Jorge, came to me and asked if we could drop beer cheese soup from the menu and replace it with something Nunzio had suggested.

“Menudo? You want to serve menudo instead of beer cheese soup?”

“It reflects the changing demographic of the market,” Jorge told me with a straight face.  

Seeing my ears turning red, Jorge added, “Plus, beer cheese is a lotta cholesterol.”

Granted, a stick of butter doesn’t have as much cholesterol as equal volume of beer cheese soup, but that is not the point.  The point is that none of our previous head chefs ever had any difficulty explaining beer cheese soup to his Mexican, Ecuadorean, Panamanian or Honduran kitchen staff before.  They could see that our customers liked it and that was enough.

“Jorge,” I said, “Smuggler’s Inn is a nautically-themed restaurant that also makes ad campaigns.  Or brand experiences.  Don’t you think that people are confused enough?  Now, we are supposed to offer Mexican fare--Mexican fare approved by an Italian priest?”

I sent Jorge back to the kitchen and counted backwards from two.  This had to stop.

“Where’s Nunzio?”  I shouted to no one in particular.  “Nunzio!  Nunzio!  Nunzio!”  

I found the chubby cleric in the parking lot, shaking holy water on the hood of a modified Honda Civic with a brahma bull decal in the windshield and a home-made spoiler that looked like it had been fashioned from aluminum siding.  Nunzio, I was aware, had a side-hustle blessing cars.  

“When you’re done there, Nunzio, kindly see me in my office. Thank you.”

Three minutes later, I heard an unmuffled engine and squealing tires.  Great.  Our landlords at the Northtown Shopping center could follow the rubber strips right to our door.  In no time, Nunzio appeared in my office, standing with his hands clasped in front of him and looking drifty, as if he’d been interrupted while meditating in the garden.  

“What is it you wish, signori?”

A musical car horn sounded outside, playing what I had always called the Mexican Hat Dance Song.  Who would have guessed that there were so many Latin tuner boys in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota?

“Nunzio, I would appreciate it if you would not stray from your mission while you are with us.”

“Nunzio, stray?  Signori...”

Nunzio gave me his best pout.  If you do check out “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, look up the scene where Zero Mostel’s character gets caught dealing in erotic pottery.  It’s that look.

“Father...” I began. 

“Technically, I am not a priest.  I will be a priest again, God willing, but for now, I am a humble servant of the Holy See.”

Nunzio looked heavenward just as the Mexican Hat Dance horn sounded several times in a row.  

“How much you get per car?” 

“Get?” Nunzio cocked his head as if he had no idea what I was talking about.  

“$20?  $50?  I know the guys gave you $100 for blessing the kitchen.”

“Donations! Si, donations. Given willingly. The Church does not “charge” for blessings.  Signori, I know that you are not of our faith, but surely, you understand that donations are necessary to maintain the good works.”

The “Mexican Hat” horn sounded once more and I had to put a hand on Nunzio’s shoulder to keep him from going to it.  

“Nunzio, you’ve been her for what, three weeks?  You’ve taken statements from everyone who was in our kitchen on New Year’s Eve.”

“I did not take your statement.”

“What do you mean? I told you that I saw Pongo plain as day.  Your guy in Rome checked with your priest in Sumatra, who reported that he had encountered Pongo in the company of a holy man.”

“But you refused to swear to this.  Which ees...suspicious.” 

We had been over this already. “I resent being asked to swear on the blessed virgin,” I said.

“My son, we do not swear ON the Virgin...”

“Again, Nunzio, I’m Lutheran.  We don’t swear.  It’s just not our thing.”

Nunzio spread his hands apart, palms up,  like he expected songbirds to come roost on them. 

“Did you call the Lutherans to verify your miracle, my son?” 

I have asked Nunzio never to refer to me, or any Smugglers’ Inn employee, as “my son” or “my child”.  Two weeks ago, one of our cocktail waitresses had come to me saying that Nunzio had offered to hear her confession.  “All the while, he’s saying, “my child, my child” and staring at my tits.”

A young, dirty-minded Zero Mostel.  Did I say that already?

“Look, Nunzio, I don’t know if you fully understand how Smugglers’ Inn operates, but there are two parts to our business.  On one hand, we’re a restaurant, but we are also an ad agency--sorry, a marketing consultancy--that does branding projects.  For money.  The idea is that when the restaurant is slow, the branding biz will be busy and vice-versa.”


“Yes.  Yes, it is a little complicated, but it works.  Or, it has worked.  Right now, neither one of our core businesses can seem to make a profit.  It’s got me half out of my goddamn mind.”

Nunzio’s head snapped back in mock offense.  As it did, an involuntary little belch escaped his lips. Nunzio crossed himself, a motion that was probably meant to dispel the unmistakable odor of mint.  So that’s where that missing bottle of creme de menthe went.

“Nunzio...” I began.

The “Mexican Hat Dance” horn sounded once again and I physically 
had to restrain Nunzio from going to it.

“Nunzio, I need your undivided attention for one minute, OK?  Thank you.  In case it’s not obvious, we’re trying to cut our operating costs just so we can keep the lights on.  If you’re going to be staying with us more anything more than a few more days, I’m going to need you to pitch in.  Now, I’m sure that the church must have given you some kind of meal allowance so, from now on, I would like you to sign for whatever you eat.  I’m going to ask that you reimburse the restaurant at half of the menu price, just so we cover out-of-pocket expenses.” 

“Out of pocket expenses?” Nunzio chewed the words as if he was weighing his possibilities, then said, “No, I don’t think that is possible.”

“I guess you’ll be wrapping things up, then.” This was really the outcome I had hoped for.  More than his mooching, Nunzio’s presence was a disruption that I just didn’t need.

“Unless there is another miraculous event, I cannot stop the investigation unless directed to do so.  Neither can I allow church funds to flow to a company that is involved in, what is the saying?  Yes! Cyber espionage.”


“Eet is my unna-standing that you were recently trying to convince a drug company into giving you the account, as you say.  It is a profitable business, the making of medicines, no?”

“Your point?”

Nunzio held up a finger. 

“What do you think this drug company would do if they know someone had breached their internal firewall to gain an unfair advantage in a news business pitch?
Nunzio had said, “breached their internal firewall” without any trace of an accent, but had pronounced pitch like “peach”.  Suspicious.

“That wasn’t our fault!” I protested.  “That kid we hired from the Geek Squad was just supposed to find out who else they were talking to.  How were we to know that he was part of an anarchist hacker ring that posts horrific pictures on websites of companies that engage in animal testing?  We found the guy at Best Buy, for cryin’ out loud.  Don’t they vet their employees?”
Anyway, who...?”

“A leetle bird.  A leetle bird.”

Nunzio mimed launching a bird into the air and watching it fly away.  

One of our team, it seems, had taken the Nunz up on his offer to hear his or her confession.  This changed everything.  


“I would not think it would be a bad thing if Smugglers’ Inn made some small donation to ease the church’s burden.  A small amount, say, fifty dollars a week.”

“Wha...? No!”

“You are right.  A hundred dollars is better.”

I was stunned beyond speech.  This was what happens when you write letters.  

Outside, the driver with the car to be blessed was revving his engine impatiently.  I saw the corners of Nunzio’s mouth curl in a little victory smile.  God, but he looked like Zero Mostel. 

“If there is nothing else signori,...”

Then, a square of acoustical ceiling tile exploded.  There was a blur of orange-red hair and Zero Mostel’s face was gone, replaced by a 4-gallon stainless steel tureen.  Like the one we mix beer cheese soup in.  

The mendicant holy man grabbed at his thighs, which were nude. 

“Como?!” said Nunzio.  His voice sounded as if he were in a well.

“Looks like you’ve been pantsed.”

“Pantsded?” Nunzio echoed.  He went to yank the pail from his head only to be driven off balance by the unexpected resistance of the gaberdine slacks that were bunched about his ankles.  He fell hard, hitting the square corner of a filing cabinet before landing on his posterior in a giant pratfall, the dislodged tureen bouncing on the floor with a “clang!” that caused the employees who had been lurking outside to rush in to see what the commotion was about.

Nunzio sat clutching his hip where the filing cabinet had bitten him, swearing in perfectly serviceable East Coast American English (Providence?  Baltimore?), oblivious to the fact that his junk was peeking out from behind his tidy whiteys for any and all to see.

The novelty horn sounded once more and in that instant, my faith in god, Martin Luther, karma and the Minnesota Twins had been restored.  I addressed my Smugglers’ Inn brethren.

“Guys,” I said, “everything’s cool;  Pongo’s back.”

Monday, February 13, 2017

Pope Francis hears from Smugglers' Inn.

 "It just keeps going.  There must be six pages here."
   Bless me, father, for I have sinned.  It has been two months since my last blog posting.  OK, so if you are a fan of Smugglers’ Inn, you know that two months is about par between transmissions from our cramped manager’s office nestled between Smug’s kitchen and store room.  Still, when God sends you a miracle, it behooves you not to keep quiet about it.  There are social media obligations.

Yes, I can just hear you now, ye disbelievers.  “A divine miracle at Smugglers’ Inn?   What, did they win a new business pitch?” Hardee-har-har.  We are SO amused.   I will have you know, Snarky-puss, that a letter was written and has been mailed to his holiness, the archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul, father Hebda.  I’m not sure if “his holiness” is just for addressing a pope or if anyone in Catholic upper-management can be an “holiness”, but the Pope is definitely is and the Pope appointed this guy, Hebda, so if I’m in error, it’s only by one degree.  

About the letter.   It describes a sequence of events which occurred in our kitchen between the hours of ten o’clock on December 31st until shortly after midnight, January first.  These events were witnessed by myself, Patrick “Scotty” Wallace, a bartender, Jorge, our head chef and Miguel and Little Jorge, cooks.  With the exception of me, all of these men are Catholics.  True, Scotty claims to be a Buddhist, but he was born in Ireland and was never excommunicated, so he added his signature to the letter along with the others.  I refrained, in part because I am Lutheran, but also because I don’t read Spanish well and I like to know what I’m signing. Jorge, Miguel and Little Jorge had felt it their duty to inform the head of their church about what had transpired that night in case this should fit the Church’s criteria for a bona fide miracle.  My understanding is that if it Hebda deems it worthy, guys whose job it is to verify miracles will launch their own investigation.  It’s all very DaVinci code.  All I know is, I have been turning what happened over in my brain for three weeks and I cannot explain it away.

If you have been keeping up with this blog, then you know that Smug’s beloved dishwasher and brand strategist, Pongo, departed some time back for his native Sumatra in order to assist in disaster relief efforts in that country.  The original disaster had been a series of mudslides, but this was followed by an earthquake, then a Tsunami.  Kind of a “come for the mud, stay for the apocalypse” scenario.  Pongo being Pongo, our man would naturally throw himself headlong into any situation where he could be of service to others.  At least, this was the reason we had used to explain why, outside of one call from the Jakarta airport, Pongo had not even bothered to check in to let us know he was OK.  It was going on nine months without a word.

To be sure, Pongo was missed; our advertising division had not logged a single win without him.  While no one was coming out and and saying it, it was becoming obvious that Pongo and his surprising insights into human behavior had been the only thing that Smugglers’ Inn had to offer prospective clients.  Other than a full bar. 

Our core business, serving surf’n turf to working class people from the Coon Rapids, Spring Lake Park and Fridley areas, was in fair shape.  Not that this wasn’t to Pongo’s credit, too.  After first distinguishing himself as a dishwasher and then as a prep cook, Carol, the day manager, and I invited Pongo into our management clique, bestowing upon our hairy, red-haired friend the title of “director of operations”.  While he’d been functioning in this capacity for scarcely a month before his departure, it had been enough time for him to re-arranged the cooler, store room and kitchen area for maximum efficiency.  Several of our  suppliers had been swapped out for others whose goods were cheaper or whose services were more reliable.  A cosmetics company was now buying our used fryer fat and our nightly mountain of recyclables were no longer being picked through by raiders in pick-up trucks with plywood sides.  Miguel and Little Jorge were taking all of our bottles and cans to the recycling center and that cash was going toward our bottom line.  Pongo, who claims to have never had a drink, asked the bartenders what they would like to be in the well instead or Smug’s notoriously unpopular Phillips Scotch, vodka, whiskey, bourbon and tequila. (Phillips brandy, the exception, is excellent).  Pongo threatened to fire our liquor supplier of 40-some years and lo and behold, we found ourselves pouring better drinks for same price.  After years of slow decline, our monthly bar sales had been ticking up a couple of percent points each month.  We’d even spotted a few parties of honest-to-god millenials in our lounge.  I didn’t care that they were slumming.  They were DRINKING.

What does organizational efficiency have to do with popes and bishops and miracles?  Getting to that, I am, Skywalker.

Thanks to our operations manager, Smugglers’ Inn was running lean.  Our just-in-time business model extended to human capital, too, although payroll was ultimately my responsibility.  Restaurant staff is constantly coming and going, so I didn’t need to lay anybody off as we tightened our belts.  If an employee quit, I’d dole a portion of his or her hours out to remaining employees.  Bar and wait staff are part-time and most live in a perpetual state of scrounging for hours, so few complained when they were asked to handle more tables or pitch in with cleaning. Our behind the line workers, our cooks and chefs, tend to stay on a bit longer, anyway, but none of them had quit for a year--considered a respectable run at any restaurant.

The one problem was the dishwasher/food prep position.  Before Pongo had come along, these used to be separate jobs.  Pongo had no problem de-veining shrimp, making chocolate mouse and putting messages on tiny birthday cakes in frosting while simultaneously feeding trays of glasses and plates through the ancient Hobart Service Master.  But he was Pongo.  The dishwashers who want to be dishwashers, and there are a few of them, don’t want the responsibility of preparing food.  Those who are more ambitious are going to move up as soon as possible, so they leave after a two or three months, parlaying their food prep experience into entry-level cooking jobs at hotels and restaurants.  We were almost ready to start paying more to keep someone around.  Almost.

As 2016 lurched to an end, Smugglers’ Inn had two dishwasher/prep people on the schedule.  Both were young women.  Neither Kimberlee nor Lucia had been blooded; i.e., they had yet to work a New Year’s Eve.  Of the two, Lucia was the better and I had told her that she would just be working prep that night and that Kimberly would just be washing.  If I’d had a third dishwasher/prep person to call in, I would have.  Two could handle it, though, provided they didn’t get behind.

My mistake, looking back on it, had been in not letting Kimberlee know that she had the less-glamorous job of dish duty.  She’d been informed of this fact from Lucia.  Words were exchanged between the two women and Kimberlee threw a fine little fit, ending with her pitching a crusty saucepan against the metal wall by the dish spray. A loud “BOOM!” reverberated throughout the restaurant.  There is enough drama in a kitchen on New Year’s Eve without a dishwasher making noises that sound like cannon reports and Jorge, our chef, took time out from barking at Miguel and Little Jorge to bark at Kimberlee.  Jorge maintains that he doesn’t remember saying anything bad, but Lucia, who speaks Spanish, had found whatever he’d said so offensive that she demanded he make an apology to Kimberlee.  Jorge declined.

You can, no doubt, see where this is going.  Lucia and Kimberlee, who only moments before had been enemies, formed one of those instant bonds of solidarity that only combat soldiers and young women can.  They let the dishes and the prep work pile up and then, when waiters were screaming that there were no desserts in the dessert cooler and the cooks did not have one clean plate to put orders onto, Kimberlee jammed a mop in the conveyor of the Service Master and she and Lucia walked off the job, together.

I was assisting with seating duties when my two dishwashers strolled past the clot of people at the hostess stand who were there for the 10:30 seating.  “Is your bathroom backed up again?” I’d asked before I saw that Kimberlee and Lucia were carrying coats under their arms. “Hold on, guys!” I’d called out, but the pair kept walking, past the women’s powder room and out the front door.

To say the kitchen was in chaos was to say that Gravity’s Rainbow was confusing.   Miguel was trying to wash a few dishes with the sprayer and still man the saute’ station.  Jorge had dropped any pretense of speaking English, which did nothing to allay the concerns of the wait staff, who saw a broiler completely covered with cuts of meat that looked suspiciously like the steaks and chops that they were waiting for.

“Yo, boss!” Scotty said to tell you that he needs you to break out more beer glasses and highballs, pronto.”

The bar boy’s words were followed by a tremendous crash, as if someone had tried to carry more than two trays of stemware at once and had dropped the unstable stack on the floor.  Customers in the dining room clapped,as they always do.  They would not be clapping when their cocktails didn’t show up.

I knew that I would get through this night.  But god, I did not see how. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“If only Pongo were here,” I thought.  I could almost see him, attacking the dishes, sweeping up broken glass, flipping on stainless steel machines that whipped and stirred.  Taking charge.  I opened my eyes.  Several times. 

Pongo WAS there, in his white dishwasher’s uniform, trademark Marlboro Lights jammed in his front pocket and a paper hat on his head.  He moved with the grace of a kung fu master.  I saw him jump INTO the Hobart dish washer and started the machine back up when he jumped down, holding the mop in his other hand. 

I clapped my hands.

“OK, people! It’s New Year’s Eve! What are you doing standing around?”

Miguel and Little Jorge picked their jaws up off the floor and ran back to the kitchen where Big Jorge was screaming in obscenity-laced Spanish.  There would be time to welcome Pongo back later.  For now, we had to pull the meat from the dirt.

A verbal fight had broken out in the lounge when a bartender refused to serve a group of young men after one couldn’t produce an ID. Threats were made.  A more physical confrontation had occurred in the parking lot over some supposed fender-scraping. I had to mediate between two combatants with identical bloody noses and identical hysterical dates, both of whom swore the other had sideswiped him.  The combatants’ vehicles were blocking several cars and they were each refusing to move them until the police came.  As if the police could spare someone on New Year’s Eve for that bullshit.  I made a call to my pals at Leo’s Towing and a yellow tow truck there in five minutes.  Highway 10 runs right in front of Smugglers’ Inn and tow trucks had lined up there like cabs at the airport, waiting to tow DWI’s or pull people out of the ditch on this icy New Year’s Eve.  As soon as my brawlers saw the hook coming and realized that they were about to lose their wheels, they skidaddled.  I gave the driver of the tow truck two twenties and he called in a roadside assistance stop, which went on my triple A.  “You may want to get that battery replaced,” he said. “Happy fucking New Year,” I said in reply.

It was hardly the most drama Smugglers’ Inn has seen on a December 31st, but a series of minor emergencies kept me scuttling between the hostess desk and the bar all night.  I didn’t feel the need to go back to the kitchen; I knew Pongo was on the job. 

I listened to the DJ count down to midnight and watched everybody kiss. (Nobody kisses me; I am the manager.)  I made the same silent resolution everyone who finds him or herself working in a bar on New Year’s Eve makes, i.e., to have some other job come next year.  And who knows?  Now that we had Pongo back, we could chase after some bigger marketing projects.  A couple of decent wins and we might become Smugglers’ Inn, America’s favorite ad agency and former theme restaurant. 

“Pongo!” In my preoccupation with keeping tables turning over, I’d neglected our prodigal son of Sumatra.  I had a million questions, not the least of which was how did he know to appear exactly when we needed him the most?

I had Scotty mix a Shirley Temple, Pongo’s favorite, then headed for the kitchen, stopping by a six-top of over-served 20-somethings to say that police cars were waiting outside of the Northtown parking lot with the anticipation of bears at the start of a salmon run and if any of those present wished to call Uber or Lyft, his or her car would be fine parked overnight.

“Happy New Year, you big prick! For me?” Jorge, the chef, indicated the drink in my hand.  The kitchen had been closed for half an hour ago and Jorge and los chicos each seemed to be on his third beer.

“It’s for Pongo,” I said, moving the kiddie cocktail from Jorge’s grasping mitt. “Where is he?”

“Haven’t seen him for a while.  Is he back for good?

“I’ll find out, I said.  “I sure hope so.”

Pongo was not at the dishwasher.  Or the prep station.  He was not in the store room or the office or the male employee’s changing room.  Or the female employee’s changing room, either.  He was not in the lounge or the dining room or the customer bathrooms.  He was not sneaking a smoke by the dumpster or putting salt on the sidewalk.

As soon as the last citizen was hustled out and the front doors locked, all employees gathered in the prep area for the Smugglers’ Inn employee New Year’s celebration.  Much like the utility room during a house party, the prep area is an informal place where everyone naturally gravitates to.

“Pongo didn’t want it?” Scotty looked at me as I sipped the Shirley Temple.  I wasn’t going to let it go to waste.

“I don’t know where he is,” I said. “I looked all over.”

“Pongo’s back?”  The DJ had not been told, mainly because this was the first time he had worked at Smugglers‘ Inn.  
We don’t have a lot of call for DJ’s anymore.  Now, I was curious.

“How do you know Pongo?” I asked.

“I don’t, not really.  I worked an event with Irish and she had told me stories.  I didn’t realize he had come back.  I’d like to meet him.”

It took a while, but it soon became clear that “Irish” was Erin, our old hostess.  Erin and Pongo had been close.  In a platonic sense.

“Irish said that Pongo was studying with a shaman and I’ve been kind of curious about that.  Indigenous wisdom, healing, that sort of thing.”

“Wait a sec--a shaman?  Like a witch doctor?”

“Pongo was a Catholic,” Scotty piped in.  “Devout. I think you got your stories mixed up.”

“Completely,” I agreed.

The DJ raised his hands in a “don’t shoot me” gesture.

“Hey, this is what Irish told me.  She said he got to Indo and he was just lost.”

“He got lost? Like, he couldn’t find his village?” I was not getting it.

“There was no village to find.  A mudslide took it out.  No survivors.  All his family?  All his relatives?  Dead, man.”

“Shit,” Scotty and I said in unison.

“Your guy just kinda lost it.  Went back back to nature.  Threw away his clothes and became his essential self, living on fruit and small animals.  Stopped talking.  Became an animal.”

“Shit,” Scotty and I said, in unison.

“What happened then?”

“Well, some shaman had gone deep into the jungle on a spirit quest and he had a vision of a giant monkey pod tree.  There used to be monkey pod trees all over Sumatra, but they’ve almost all been cut down.  The shaman knew of this particular tree and he went there and found this Pongo curled up at the base, dying.”

“Shit!” I said.

“Fuckin’ ‘el!” Scotty said.

“Your guy was starving.  In desperation, he’d eaten some poisonous fungi.  This shamen made up some antidote for the poison and nursed him back to health.”

“He looked like his old self tonight,” I said.

“Hale and hearty,” Scotty added. “If anything, he ‘haps looked younger than when he left.”

“Not surprising.  Not at all.  This shaman was a very old, very wise dude and he was passing on his wisdom to your friend.  That’s why I’m super-stoked to meet it.”

Scotty started calling for Pongo and then went in search.  I hung with the DJ, whom I was starting to think was cool.

“Did Erin, I mean Irish, say how long Pongo had been back?”

“Actually, that’s the weird part.  She said that Pongo wasn’t coming back.  His letter said he was going to study with this shamen and eventually take his place.  The letter was a farewell letter.  When Irish told me that, she was crying, but she was happy for him. You know?”

I didn’t. Pongo wasn’t there to explain it to me, either.  Scotty had failed to find him that New Year’s Eve and other than he, myself and the cooks, no one had seen him although everyone, it seems, had seen Kimberlee and Lucia walk out.

We were closed New Year’s Day, but I came in. to get a start on end-of-year accounting. I left the back door propped open because I had a gut feeling that my red-headed savior would swing by.  He didn’t.

Miguel and the Jorge’s came through with candidates to fill the dishwashing/prep openings.  I would have preferred to hire two more (English speaking) women to replace Lucia and Kimberlee, but the new guys show up on time and seen to be picking up the job.  A welcome-home party for Pongo had been planned for Jan. 7 at the Haufbrau in Coon Rapids, but when the date rolled around, the guest of honor was still missing.  Scotty and a few others had the party, anyway.  Life goes on.

I found the letter from Pongo in a stack of bills that I had been letting accumulate on my desk.  It was addressed to me, Carol, and “My Smugglers Inn Family”.  The letter had clearly been dictated.  Pongo, clever though he is, speaks a peculiar pidgen English and writes, when he must, in terse sentences, all spelled out phonetically.  This letter was grammatically perfect and penned in a beautiful, spidery cursive might come from the hand of an old school teacher.  Or a nun.  It recounted the same unhappy series of events as the letter that the DJ said Erin’s letter had contained--including the part about Pongo never coming back.  The letter closed with “December 14th, Year of our Lord 2017.”  Two months ago. I checked the envelope;  It was postmarked just four days ago.

“Wh the hell at?” I thought. 

I re-read the letter.  On the bottom, I noticed a small, U-shaped arrow written in pencil.  I flipped the letter over.  Running along the edges of the paper, like a tiny border, was a smiley face followed by this message: [smiley face] NEW YER!  YOU NEED PONGO SO PONGO COME.  ONE TIME OWNLEE TIME.  LIKE DEPECHE MODE REYUNUN MUSICONCERT. HA! LIF BAD BAD NOW GOOD. PONGO HELP SUMATRA PEPOL SUMATRA PEOPLE NEED PONGO EVERY DAY NOT ONLY ON NEW YER.  PONGO HOEM. GOOD BEYEHALL! HALL PONGOS LOVE PONGO!!!!”

So...who was was here on New Year’s if Pongo was 9,400 miles away? (I looked that up.)  I saw what I saw.  However Rome comes down on it, I am calling “miracle”.  Jesus, he even spelled “Depeche Mode” right. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Jarl Olsen: award-winning advertising copywriter; short filmmaker

Smuggers' Inn is a collaboration between myself and art director, Carol Henderson, formed to work on advertising and public service projects.  While Carol and I no longer live in the same state,  Smugglers' Inn is still available to work directly with clients of any size or as a freelance team for other ad agencies.   The work on this site is quite real, but the blog entries, which I have been writing since 2009, tell  the fictional story of  Smugglers' Inn,  a once-failing restaurant and disco that does creative branding campaigns as a sideline.  Pongo, Smugglers' Inn's dishwasher  (@pongotryhard) was handling Twitter duties, but he is presently missing in action in the jungles of Sumatra, where he hails from and no, he is not an orangutan.  We don't think.

Friday, December 16, 2016

And whose leprechaun are you? (Smug's on Drugs, part 2)

“¡Ahi esta! El ladrón de mi galletas.”

The woman in the aqua-blue housekeeping uniform was maybe four-feet-eleven and about as wide.  I’d put her age at over 40, but anything more specific would be a guess; she was simply moving too fast.  After bursting into our rented conference room and pointing a stubby, accusatory finger at one of my team members, she elbowed aside an Armani-clad product manager from Glaxo Smith Kline who, along with three other representatives from that company, had convened at the Minnehaha Conference room of the Nicollet Island Inn that Saturday morning to be convinced that Smugglers’ Inn was, indeed, capable of handling all domestic marketing needs for Glaxo’s new happy pill, Flumoxidol. (Street name: fluffies).

“Estas galletas no son para ustedes.  Tienes que comprar galletas.   Alguien pagó por ellos,” the housekeeper said, and leaned her stout body over the tasteful, pickled pine conference room table in order to grasp the only thing that had impressed our potential clients fifteen minutes into SI Powerpoint presentation #3. This being a platter of the Nicollet Island Inn’s justifiably famous, made-on-site chocolate chip cookies.

“Ustedes no comprar los galletas.”

Seeing chocolate being taken away, one of the Glaxo clients, an attractive woman with short, steel-grey hair, snatched a cookie from the disappearing platter.  It was an automatic response, like a fish striking at a lure or how you or I might grab one more bacon-wrapped shrimp from a passing waiter’s tray as we were hustled into a banquet hall at the commencement of an awards dinner.


The steel-haired woman was speechless.  We were speechless.  The maid wasn’t speechless, but what she was saying was in such rapid Norteno-Mexican Spanish that Ricky Ricardo, speaking from some lost episode of “I Love Lucy” would have had to just hold out his upturned palms in a gesture of surrender, shrug and say, “Don’ look ah ME.  I’m from Coo-ba!”

This maid had slapped our client’s hand.  Slapped it hard, like a mother reprimanding a child attempting to filch a coin from the collection plate.  The steel-haired woman stared at her hand.  The rest of us stared at the maid.  The maid turned away so as to prevent any eye contact.

“Sorry,” the maid said in English.  She set the platter of cookies down on the carpeted floor of the Minnehaha Room and slipped out, head down.

We apologized to our clients.  What else could we do?  Clearly, the meeting was terminated.  The Flumoxidol account would go to some agency who could make through a presentation without having their snacks being repossessed or their guest’s hands being slapped by foreigners in teal uniforms.  Smugglers’ Inn, the world’s only restaurant/ad agency, would need to go back to being just being Smugglers’ Inn, the restaurant for a while.  We still owed vendors $4,000 from our last foray into marketing consultancy, but that’s what credit cards are for.  We would fight another day.

Carol, my co-creative director at Smugglers’ Inn, actually gave a pretty funny impromptu speech in which she quoted Harry Truman, her favorite president.  The third member of our team, Smuggler’s Inn’s Irish Bartender, Scotty, bowed like a bad stage actor and said something like he’d be playing the room all week.  Lame, but with Scotty’s brogue, it was passable charming.  For my part, I acknowledged everyone in the room by name and made a show of taking a bite out of one of the cookies just to lighten the mood.  But it was over.  We packed up quickly and were almost out the door when someone spoke.

“We are not done here.”

It was the Armani suit man.  The leader.  The Alpha.
Carol and I exchanged looks.  Were we still in this thing?  We did have five minutes left of our presentation, SI Powerpoint #3.

“OK!” I said, a smile breaking out across my face.  Carol and I started to take our positions at the table while Scotty hurried to re-connect the MacBook Pro containing SI Powerpoint #3.  “I think we were just getting to the good part,” I continued.  “I’m pretty sure that one else is will bring you ideas like these.”

Armani Man waved his hand in unambiguous dismissal.  What?  Now he didn’t want to hear us?  I was confused.

“Of course, we can just talk you through the high points,” I said, looking for help from my compatriots, who also seemed lost. “If you prefer to skip the dog and pony show.”

“I need YOU to get that woman back in here.  That maid.”

“Why?  She left the cookies,”  said Scotty.  I thought it was a funny line.

“I don’t give a shit what language she does it in, but SHE is going to apologize to HER.”  Armani Suit indicated the Steel-haired woman, who did not like this plan.

“Kyle, really.  Let it go.  Please...”

Armani Man held up his hand, silencing his underling.

“No one strikes one of my employees.  No one.  What happened here was unacceptable.  It wan an insult to our company and to me, personally, as the senior representative.”

I re-stated our earlier apology.  The woman whose hand had gotten slapped tried to talk sense to her boss.

“Kyle, the woman said she was sorry.”

“Jesus! We have the cookies,” Scotty repeated.  He was grinning, but I could tell that this prick was getting his Irish up.  With his own legal status murky, no doubt our bartender had sympathy for this fellow immigrant, whose only sin was to take her crap job too seriously.

Alpha Kyle didn’t blink. “And when the maid comes back,” he said, “I want the manager with her.”

The Steel-Grey haired lady protested even more strenuously.  The other two bodies from Glaxo said nothing.  Just like they had said nothing during our presentation.

“Kyle,” I said, affecting a contrite tone that I wasn’t feeling.  “I have to acknowledge responsibility.  I thought you’d like this place, but it’s pretty clear that they weren’t at their best.  Frankly, neither were we and we’re sorry about that.  We know that Flumoxidol is an important product for your company and for the people who would benefit from...”

“Get...the maid.”

Carol started to talk.  No doubt, she would have smoothed things over and possibly even left the door open for another run at a Glaxo product, (with a different brand manager), but Scotty cut her off.

“I did it.  My fault.  Blame me.”

“Scotty...(Don’t say fookin’.  Please don’t say...)”

“I stole the fookin’ cookies!”

Armani Man flinched as if someone had spritzed his face with water.

“There.  I admit culpability.  I looked in the other conference room and I saw that they had this massive stack of chocolate chippies smelling like heaven and then when I got to OUR conference room--no cookies.  Just some bottled water in a salad bowl with ice.  Horrible presentation.  I assumed that someone just forgot our cookies, so I took theirs.  Kind of like, if there’s no pepper shaker at your table you get up and nick one from a table no one’s sittin’ at.  I didn’t tell these guys,” Scotty indicated Carol and me. “I didn’t tell these guys because, well, I didn’t think much of it, you know?”

“That doesn’t change the fact that one of my employees was ASSAULTED today in this room.”

“Oh, fer fook’s sake, Kyle.  You can’t be fookin’ serious.  It was a mistake.  Human beings make them.  Obviously, it was this woman’s responsibility to put cookies in yon conference room and she didn’t want to get blamed for a cock-up.  Not enough she’s probably scared off her tits that she is about to lose her job.  Not enough she apologized.  Not for you. No, YOU need to shame her in front of her manager.  Are you a sadist, Kyle?  You like seeing women humiliated?  Fair enough. Everyone’s got their little kinks.”

Scotty continued talking and no, it did not get any better. He eventually allowed Carol to lead him out of the conference room by his arm, but not before he’d offered to pull our would-be client’s pants down and “bugger you like a proper choir boy”.

The ride home was quiet.  Workmen were stringing lights on the Nicollet Bridge prior to the evening’s “Holidazzle” parade.  Two of them were a good 40 feet off the ground on these bizarre-looking scissor lifts.

“You wouldn’t get me up on one of those,” I said.

“Oh, they don’t move,” Carol said.  “Not hardly at all.  They adjust for any wind with GPS.  I talked to the guy whose company manufactures them.  They’re the shit, as far as industrial lifts go.”

“They’re local?” I asked Carol.

“Their corporate office is here. They assemble them in Hayward, Wisconsin.  My brother with the cement business was one of their first customers.”

Someone in the car, I forget who, said that it would be fun to see a bunch of these things move like synchronized swimmers and then we were talking about shooting them at night with neon so that they made trails and could you have an app that let you demo one remotely?  If this things moved to music, what music would be they move to?

And so it begins.  Again.

This concludes the last Smug’s entry for the very odd year of 2016.  Prince is gone.  Bowie is gone.  We’re still on the merry-go-round and, presumably, so are you. (Prince? If you can read this, we are STILL your biggest fans.) From all of your friends at Smugglers’ Inn both real and imaginary, merry Christmas.  Happy Hanukkah.  Feliz Navidad.  Please check back for our annual New Year’s Eve post-mortem sometime after the first.  Until then, we shall be in the bar.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Smug's on drugs.

This is our Thanksgiving story.  Sorry.s
“Wugga-mugga! By the tits of Saint Agatha, I’m trollied! Bandersnatch! Rostrum, nostrum, Bostrum...MEIN FUEHRER, DER LEIBENSTRAUBEN IST BURNINGK!”

Carol held up a fist to bump; these were the first intelligible words that the human-shaped lump in the back seat had uttered in well over an hour.  Carol, my co-manager and co-creative director at Smugglers’ Inn, had had the inspired idea to hit Starbuck’s drive-through before giving in to temptation and dumping Bucket Boy outside the E.R. of Coon Rapids General and retreating.

“Shy of a syringe of Haldol,” Carol stated, ”caffeine is the best thing you can give someone who is experiencing a psychotic reaction to anti-psychotic drug.” 

I resisted the temptation to say, “And you outta know!”  The truth was, all three of us had ingested the same drug earlier in the evening.  While I wasn’t an incoherent, incontinent mess with pupils like pinwheels, neither was I the happy clam that my day manager seemed to be.  As I took a hand off the steering wheel to bump fists with Carol, the 4-runner veered across the center line, eliciting a long “HONK!” from a passing Chevy Tahoe that I had not even seen.

“Jesus!” I said.

“Wept!” said the lump in the back seat.

“The coffee is working,” proclaimed Carol. “See?”

I didn’t.  I re-occupied the right lane and dropped the 4-runner’s speed to a stately 48 MPH.  I was going nowhere and in no hurry to get there.

Are you following along, reader?  I’m afraid that if I back up far enough to give you a complete accounting of the events that led to me driving about on a school night with our day manager and a hallucinating Irish national with no legal status, you would simply stop reading.  Besides, I am drowsy (a common side-effect of Flumoxatal).  Suffice it to say, America’s favorite restaurant-cum-ad agency had taken it in the shorts when we’d lost our only paying client, the 2017 St. Paul Winter Para-olympic games.  Some philanthropist from Aspen had dashed the city of St. Paul’s hopes of hosting the competition, along with our hopes of ever getting paid.  The Saint Paul Winter para-olympic committee disbanded, leaving Smugglers’ Inn, the agency of record, on the hook for a video shoot and miscellaneous expenses amounting to four grand.  Which Smugglers’ Inn did not have.  Suggestions, anyone?

“Pharma is the new dot-com,” had declared my co-manager, Carol, (who really is crazy and doesn’t just play a crazy person on TV). Carol felt that it was high time Smugglers’ Inn snagged one of these fat ethical drug accounts and didn’t she have just the drug?

“Fludoxipole?” I was reluctant to pitch any piece of business before I could pronounce it.

“Flu-mox-ah-TALL,” Carol corrected.  “Or “Fluffies”. 

I don’t know how Carol got us into the Flumoxatal pitch without even submitting a statement of capabilities to Glaxo Smith Kline, Flumoxatal’s manufacturer.  She is on a first-name basis with a surprising number of business heavies, a benefit from years of volunteering at PGA golf events. 

“We’re pitching in 9 days,” Carol had informed me this morning. “We’re going 2nd.”  We would be pitching against two pharma agencies.  Their names were not being disclosed to us, but it was safe to assume each was an in-house agency for Glaxo, who have the reputation of being dicks about conflicts of interest.

“Before we do anything, I think we should experience this drug for ourselves.  Dr. Pants was good enough to provide some samples.”  As Carol said this, she was shaking out two pills each for herself and me and one for Scotty.  Scotty’s real name is Ian.  He hails from Derry, in Ireland, but countless customers had remarked that that Ian sounds like Scotty from Star Trek and at Smugglers’ Inn, the customer is always right.  Scotty came to us by way of an Irish seating hostess who had worked at Smuggler’s Inn for about an hour and a half in 2015.  Scotty’s third name is Lazy MF and while the man is barely passable as a bartender, he is one world-class liar.  Carol and I thought we might employ Scotty’s blarney-spewing skills in our upcoming presentation, where the two of us would feel constrained to exaggerating our experience and not craft case histories out of whole cloth.  It was a gamble. 

“Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of sheep and other animals!  Jaysuz, I need to find a bog.”

“Was that from a movie?”  asked Carol, talking over some nonsensical chittering from the back seat that, upon reflection, might have been Irish.

“James Joyce.”  I’d recognized the first line of the 2nd Chapter of Ulysses. “Not the part about finding a bog.”

“What does it mean?”

“It means Scotty isn’t going to piss himself in my backseat twice.”

“Dr. Pants says that only one in eight subjects has a negative reaction to Fluffies,” Carol announced. “That compares to one in four for Thorazine.”

Again, more good news.  After the summer we’d had, I was counting every blessing.  Not only had our advertising division lost its only paying client, but Smugglers’ Inn, the restaurant, had been under-performing.  July and August saw some of the most dismal table counts in our 40-year history.  What hurt more, though, was losing our popular dishwasher and marketing strategist, Pongo.  Pongo had failed to return after leaving to assist with earthquake relief in his native Sumatra.  His ticket had been subsidized with donations from our entire staff and we were, frankly, expecting to get something for our money in the form of regular reports from the field.  After one email sent from a kiosk in the Jakarta airport to say he had arrived, though, Pongo had gone black. 

“Crap,”  I said.

“What’s crap?”

“We could really use Pongo on this.” 

Carol sighed. “He really relates to people in pain. Do you know if he’s coming back? ”

I didn’t.  And I don’t.  Is Pongo even alive?  Might he return in time to save our asses on this pitch?  How long can we keep putting off the creditors?  Will baking soda remove the smell of urine from car upholstery? Questions.

“Safeway,” Carol said, pointing out the window. “They’ve got restrooms. Should we...?”

“--For fook’s sake, pull in, will you?” came a voice from the back seat.  “What was in that pill Carol?  I feel like I’ve downed three pints of lager, absent the feeling good part.”

“The Spirolactone in Flumoxatol is a diuretic.”

“SO love when you talk dirty, Carlotta.  Scoot up to the front, will you?  Time is of the essence.”

“Scotty’s back!”  I announced. “He’s gone through the Flumoxatol worm hole and come out the other side with all atoms re-aligned flush-left.”  Being around Scotty has the effect of making me try and make my own speech as colorful as an Irishman’s.  As you see, I only embarrass myself. 

“Yes, well, “back” might be a BIT of an an overstatement.  Help me find the door handle, will you, beautiful?”

I threw the car in “park” and Carol walked around to open Scotty’s door.  Scotty got to his feet, exposing the wet patch on his Khaki pants.  He steadied himself, like a man on the deck of a ship.

“You going to be OK?” Carol said, putting a hand on Scotty’s back.

“Actually, I’m a bit rocky.  Would you mind coming in and aiming for me?”

“Go!” Carol shouted, pointing to Safeway’s automatic doors. (Carol points a lot).  Scotty sprinted into the store on sure legs, a broad grin on his face.

“Asshole!” Carol said.  But she was smiling. 

Scotty came out several minutes later toting a six-pack of Heinekin.  If he had tried to clean up in the bathroom, it didn’t show.

“Right, then!  Flumoxidol.  I think our tagline should be, “Never, never mix this shit with Ketamine.”

“Ketamine?”  Carol’s eyes widened.  “What’s Ketamine.”

“Driver, onward,” said Scotty, cracking a beer. “For the night is young.”

“And full of terrors,” Carol added.

The night was young, but all the sweaty-palmed terror had gone out of it, along with any fun.  I drove (slowly) to a nearby park where Scotty could drink himself sober without me losing my license.  Carol and I tossed out a few marketing ideas for Flumoxidol, while Scotty shouted, “Brilliant!” and “Fooking genius!” to everything.  It was no good, though.  The lingering effect of the drug was to make the world seem slowed-down and non-threatening.  This may be what you want in an anti-psychotic, but I was missing my writing companions, ego, paranoia and fear of failure.  We had experienced the client’s product.  That, and the three of us sitting through “Fifty Shades Darker” at the Coon Rapids Cinemart would have to stand for the evening’s achievements.  Actually, Scotty did have one inspired marketing idea, which was to parter with the studios who make chick flicks. 

“You have a fookin’ big bin of fluffies next to the 3-D glasses and a sign that reads:  Men, we realize that you will be quite bored for the next 120 minutes, so here is a free sample of Flumoxidil by Glaxo somebody or other to make the time go and by the by, if she asks, tell her you liked the part where they made love in the rain the best.  And fer fook’s sake don’t say “screwed”.”

I can’t speak for Carol, but I, for one, am looking forward to nine days from now.  How could these clients not go with us over some no-rep pharma shop?  We are Smugglers’ Inn, America’s restaurant/ad agency.  We are gonzo marketers.  We have a liquor license.

Yes, Carol and I will wow ‘em with Power-point presentation #3 (our best) while Scotty charms one and all with his color commentary.  Should things go irretrievably pear-shaped, we’ll whip out a chart showing how we propose to expand Flumoxidol’s market share using a pre-existing network of drug dealers, bikers and corrupt DEA agents.   Maybe we'll smoke up some Flumoxidol right there, just to prove that it can be done.  I’m tired now, like I said.  Happy Thanksgiving, Dr. Pants, wherever you are. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thanks for nothing, Satan.

The new dishwasher.
There were twelve of them.  My eyes looked up and down the rows and picked out the ones I would kill first. 

“You disrespect Trump, you disrespect yourself?”

“If you like it, put a ring of missiles on it?”

“Minnesota, uber alles?”
If I was not holding the worst headlines of all time in my hands, I was holding some of the strangest.

“I did like you said,” offered the impossibly violet, impossibly large eyes belonging to the author of the above headlines.  “The pop song thing, I mean.  I don’t know if the Dead Kennedy’s are pop…”

“They’re not.”

“…but everyone has heard “California, Uber Alles”—even in Zagreb.” 

Earlier, I had told Miss Big Eyes that writing attention-getting headlines was dead simple. “If ever you get stuck,” I’d said,” just start tweaking lines from pop songs—it works every time.”

Now, I was eating my words.  They did not taste good.

“The first eight are the strongest, Marev,” I said. “Give them to Kat to lay out.” 

The girl flashed an impossibly white, eighteen-year-old smile and thanked me profusely.

I should have said, “Spell-check them first,” but the headlines were already out of my hand and being conveyed to the hostess desk where Kat, Smuggler’s Inn’s seating hostess and graphic designer, was cleaning coffee cup rings left by the last person to do dining room seating, which was me.  In the scheme of things, what did it matter that “Communist” was spelled with one M and “Clinton” was spelled “Clington”? I just needed this job out of the house. $850. My god.

Normally, I am not so lax in my duties as a guardian of Smugglers’ Inn’s creative product.  I honestly believe that advertising and jazz are the only important American art forms and that of the two, advertising is the harder to get right. I might have told Marev, the young woman with the eyes, that she shouldn’t expect to become a great copywriter overnight. I had originally hired the 18-year-old Croatian immigrant to wash dishes, but when she’d discovered that, in addition to being a struggling restaurant, Smugglers’ Inn is a struggling ad agency, Marev had pestered me relentlessly.

“I’m taking marketing at CR Junior (Coon Rapids Junior College) and it is my dream to become an artistic director of a major advertising agency,” I recall Marev telling me. I recall this because there is no such position as “artistic director” in an ad agency, but I didn’t want to correct her.  She might stop looking at me with those Keane-painting eyes.

As it happens, a local car dealer and Donald Trump supporter had come to Smugglers’ Inn about helping the billionaire developer carry the critical Spring Lake Park/Coon Rapids non-meth-using voting block. The dealer had a brilliant plan: take down all the Hillary and Bernie signs and replace them with signs for the Donald.
I forget why I didn’t just show him the door. OK, it was because of Marev and my promise to help her build a portfolio.

My thinking was that, for a modest fee, we could design a few posters, run them off on our new copier and paste them on the plywood barriers at the numerous construction sites in the area where the car dealer was bound to see them. Marev wasn’t the only one who needed to hone her copywriting skills. In this digital age, it had been a while since Smugglers’ Inn had done a poster campaign. I was wondering if we still had the juice. Anyway, this was political advertising.  Whatever we did that wasn’t just a slogan and a flag motif was guaranteed to stand out.

Our prospective client owned two dealerships that I knew about, so I felt comfortable asking him for $10,000, thinking that he would balk at this figure and we would end up with $5000 to 7,500. Our out-of-pocket would be limited to ink and paper, plus maybe a day for Kat to design the posters.  Jorge and his kitchen guys would post the things after hours for an extra $100.  They didn’t care if the messages were for a guy who wanted to send them back to Ciudad Juarez.  Money is apolitical.

As it turned out, the car dealer was expecting to spend $500, all in. I talked him up to $850.  Note to young people: when Satan calls wanting to buy your young soul, think twice before saying no.  If, years later, you should change your mind, Satan will not return your calls. You will then have to sell your hi-mileage soul on the open market for a price considerably less than world domination or marriage to the movie star of your choice. Like, maybe, eight-fifty, cash.

I was picturing how Marev might look with her giant eyes and devil horns and OK, a pointy tail, when a voice startled me from my reverie.

“Yo, Heisenberg!” Kat shouted. “Your bag man was here.”

“How come you’re not out front?” I asked our seating hostess. It was still 15 minutes until we were open, but I had to be a dick; I was the manager.

Kat smirked, but did not move. “Just tell me: are you blackmailing someone or selling leftover Vikaden from your shoulder surgery? Inquiring minds want to know.”

“Kat, what the hell are you on about?”

“This skeever in sunglasses just asked for you and when Kenny (the bartender) told him we were closed, he dropped a bag of money on the bar and said to give it to you. Who are you blackmailing? Anyone we know?”

“What did the guy look like?”

Kat shrugged. “Like a guy. He had dark glasses.”

“My age? Older?”  The Car King was in his 60’s.

“Not THAT old. He was, maybe, 45. He was here, like, six seconds. Come on! Count the money.”

So I did, right there on the bar.   Kenny, Marev, Kat and Jorge, the cook, watched as I sorted the bills by denomination before adding them up.  They were all small bills, like what the car dealer probably had in petty cash.

“Eight hundred and fifty dollars,” I said. “All there.”

Jorge whistled appreciatively.

“More than I’ve seen in one place,” Kat said.

“We can close for the night,” said Kenny.  By now, I had explained the nature of the payment to everyone a couple of times. 

“Is there...always so much money in advertising?” said a tiny voice.

Marev’s big eyes had gotten even bigger. She might have been an exotic, nocturnal marsupial eyeing a juicy katydid as she gazed at the piles of singles, fives, tens and twenties. I felt instantly uncomfortable. $850 represents a month’s rent for any of these people. For Marev, a dishwasher, it was a month’s salary. And I had disparaged it as paltry.

“Marev!” I nearly shouted, “For crying out loud, you look like you’ve never seen drug money before. We cook meth in the back. How else do you think the lights on? Kenny, keep the machine gun ready. I’m not expecting a hit, but you know we’re always vulnerable after a drop.”

“We’re locked and loaded, boss.”

“And Kat, if you smell DEA, press the panic button and hold ‘em off for 15 seconds. That’s all we need to blow the lab.”

“Aye, aye, Cap’n Heisenberg!”

“Hopefully, we’ll get through the week without losing any more guys,”  I said.  “Jorge?  It’s time Marev got a pistole.  Hook her up.”

“Sure ‘ting, boss! (to Marev) Girly, ‘cho wanna Glock 9 or a 44 Mag Clint Eastwood special?”

I scampered with the cash that would go toward addressing two of the two more egregious violations the last health inspector had cited us for. It was a dirty trick to play on the newbie, but I sensed Marev was screwing up her courage to ask for some of the $850. Her fellow employees would keep the gag running until we were open for business and by then,  Marev’s moment would have passed.

In the end, it was just simpler to create an elaborate farce involving a criminal enterprise than to explain why a creative need to work for free when the agency employing him or her was getting paid. Has ANYONE satisfactorily explained working on spec?

My mind recalled the weirdest of those headlines that I had just approved. “All you need is love.  And Mexico will pay for the wall!” I smiled. That one was going to drive the Car King right around the bend. Well, ya gets what ya pays for, pal. 

$850! What kind of a restaurant-advertising agency did he take us for?