Thursday, August 30, 2012
Young, gifted and orange.
Pongo, our Sumatran ball of energy, has been back on the job for a few months now and the Smugglers’ Inn dishwashing/prep area is beginning to resemble an American automobile from the 1950’s with every surface that isn’t painted or tiled gleaming like triple-dipped chrome. Whatever happened to Pongo during his time away, it did not make him lazy. We’ve had to ask our employee-of-the-month-for-life to take easy on the obsessive cleaning after going through two $18 mop heads in as many months.
We recently lost our bar boy and Pongo had begun filling in on Friday and Saturday nights, making sure our bartenders could concentrate on pouring booze without having to cut limes, clean glasses or run to the freezer for ice cream to make the dreaded Grasshoppers. This represented a much-deserved raise for Pongo, since bar boys make tips in addition to minimum wage.
While his English might have kept him from becoming a full-fledged bartender, Pongo was showing real flair as a bar boy, flipping fresh bottles into the well from a great distance and running to the cooler to and returning with two cases of Amstel Light on balanced on his head. Our customers ate it up.
All save one. A broad-shouldered lass in a blond wig and dark glasses had been nursing a 7-7 for an hour and a half when she stood up, pointed at Pongo and did a fair imitation of Donald Sutherland in the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. This happened a couple of Saturdays back and we’ve since learned that this person had been an employee of the Blaine Police Department and had, coincidentally, visited out restaurant on the same night when she’d experienced a psychotic episode brought about by PTSD.
While we officially 86’s former officer Corrine Chessman from our establishment, we still thought it prudent to pull Pongo from the bar and dining room. Pongo didn’t say anything (Pongo never does), but by the way he attacked his duties, it was clear that he was working harder than ever. Like most recent immigrants, Pongo thinks that this is how you get ahead, a quaint notion to anyone who has logged any serious time in the Home of the Brave. As compensation for his loss of tip income, we gave Pongo the additional title of food prep technician.
The Ecuadorians and Mexicans who work in Smug’s kitchen stopped talking to Pongo after their hours were cut. The fact that Pongo was handling virtually all of the food prep in addition to his dishwashing duties meant that we could run a leaner kitchen. This actually made the cooks’ jobs more stable, but try explaining that to a 21-year-old with two kids. In a show of solidarity, Smug’s Hispanic workers, meaning everyone who didn’t interact with our customers face-to-face, started referring to Pongo as “puto” or “El Naranja” (the orange one).
While I, personally, find spiders scarier, believe me when I tell you there is nothing more unsettling to the average restaurant manager or manageress than the specter of brown people acting in concert. I could take Pongo’s food prep duties away from him, but this would send all the wrong messages. Like I didn’t care about money.
Poor Pongo. He’d done nothing to deserve it, yet half of his coworkers (OK, 75%) were going out of their way to be nasty to him. I knew that by shifting just a few more hours of prep work back to the cooks, I could remedy the situation. So, I went looking for another job that I could assign Pongo. Our advertising sideline always needed digital enablers.
I was going to see if Pongo had any interest in learning WordPress when he showed up for work one day, sporting a tiny American flag on his white chef’s jacket and a smile that indicated Sumatra is not a nation awash in orthodontists.
“Pongo!” I said, “What’s up? Find another Kennedy half dollar in the street?”
Pongo said nothing (did I mention he does this?) but he handed me a red folder, which he had managed to fold in half twice in order to fit it in his pants pocked. I couldn’t believe what was inside. There was some stuff about the silver standard that made no sense to me, but there was no confusion that it was, essentially, a contract.
“You’re bringing in an account? I dunno, Pongo...it says here they won't be paying us anything until mid-2013.”
Pongo gave me a look like a little kid asking for permission to keep a dog that had followed him home.
“OK, Pongo. We'll keep it. But you’re going to have to take care of it.”
And that’s how Smuggler’s Inn got our very first national account and how an immigrant dishwasher from a fourth-world country became the account supervisor on the Ron Paul for President in 2016 account. Only in America.