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

Monday, December 30, 2013

2014? Well, forage our truffles.

Waiting for the party to be over.

If the printer doing our New Year’s menu doesn’t come through, we’re forked.   If the African American and Mexican families who got into it last New Year’s Eve return for a rematch, we’re muggled.  If the Blaine PD shows up and notices that our newly-minted bar manager with the orange hair and knuckle-dragging physique matches the description of a certain feces-throwing fugitive from justice, we’re in for a spelunking.  If the party hats and favors don’t show up, it’s San Quentin date night.  If the half bottles of champagne that say “Happy New Year!” run out, if anyone in the 10 o’clock seating insists on staying until midnight, if Jorge III gets too high to come in or passes out at his Hobart DishPro Elite IV, we shall be Sky Bar’d.  If it snows, well then, we’re pretty much Frodo’d.  In our hobbit holes.

We are busboys and bartenders, waiters and waitresses, managers and dishwashers.  Among our other professional skills, we know more euphemisms for screwing and being screwed than the non-service industry world  has screws. 

Tomorrow, as you know,  is December 31st.   Perhaps you’re unsure what (or whom) you’ll be doing on the last eve of 2013?  Not us.  We’ll be selling Bud Light to you and yours for six bucks a glass and $12 cuts of prime rib for $19.50.  What will you say to that?  If you’re smart, “Thank you.”   After all, we’ll be working like trauma surgeons to ensure that you and all your new best friends can welcome 2014 with full bellies and a minimum of inhibitions.  Given that this is the most difficult night of the year for us,  why shouldn't we be compensated?  We are hardly Communists.

You'd never get a seat in the dining room without a reservation,  but if you do find yourself in Blaine, Minnesota tomorrow at twenty to midnight, you could do worse than to elbow your way past the smokers and claustrophobes into the Smugglers’ Inn cocktail lounge, where DJ PJ will be playing disco hits from the golden era of Smugglers’ Inn, long before the place needed to do the odd brilliant ad campaign to keep it's faux nautical doors open.

And if you aren’t prepared to part with ten bucks for a hat and a noisemaker at the door, you can Winehouse yourself.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

It's Thanksgiving. Merrry Christmas!

Crap stacked to the ceiling.

By now, Christmas lights have replaced this year’s impressive selection of talking tombstones and animated rubber zombies at the local Walgreen’s.  The marked-down bags of “fun-sized” candy bars were broomed nearly as soon as the trick-or-treaters changed back into children.  Walgreen's, or maybe it’s just our branch at the Northtown shopping center, hardly bothers stocking Thanksgiving decorations at all,  preferring to leap right from Halloween to Christmas, or as the holiday is referred to in retail circles, “Hammer time”.

Not so your pals at Smugglers’ Inn.  We remember Thanksgiving and, if we don’t keep it holy, we make an effort.   We decorate.  One of our greens suppliers always hooks us up with an enormous selection of colorful gourds, squash and pumpkins every year.  These used to live in an oversized wicker cornucopia set up on a table by the front door, but the cornucopia walked off several Thanksgivings ago and we’ve never gotten around to replace it.  (It’s not the sort of item you can find at Walgreen’s.)  It falls to me or the other manager to place the fall vegetables in visible spots around our dining room and lounge.  One or two stay behind the bar, but the rest of them are deemed to be in the way and will be stacked into a neat, warty pyramid by the hostess desk, looking rather like something the Confederate artillery would have fired when they had run out of canon balls.

Smugglers’ will be serving a traditional brunch for those of our neighbors who either can’t or don’t want to cook.  Typically, these are lone middle-aged men or women with their elderly mothers.  The turkey and ham are what you’d expect, but our cook does a Belgian pumpkin galette that is quite special. It’s served with vanilla ice cream—the kind with the specks of vanilla that some ancient grandmother, released for the day from the old folks’ home will invariably refuse to eat. (“Really Grams, it’s NOT dirt.  See?  I’m eating it.  Mmm!”)

Those are all restaurant traditions, though.  Smugglers’ Inn is also an ad agency.  Agencies have their own Thanksgiving traditions.  Like, layoffs.

In keeping with a time-honored practice, Smug’s is choosing this holiday, where we acknowledge our blessings, to let go those who we deem no longer essential to our operation.  (Thank you, God, for this new, non-union America.)  Since the goal it to gin-up our balance sheet and start the new year with less debt on the books, we could have waited a month to dish out the curb sandwiches.  Firing people at Christmas, though, just looks bad.  Plus, then you have to pay Holiday bonuses.

So here, without further ado, is a list of people who have touched our lives in so many ways and who we now salute as they march off to pursue other interests away from us.  If you read your name remember: just because you own an assault rifle doesn’t mean anyone wants to see it.

Michelle Bachman.  Michelle, even though Blaine is not in your congressional district, we at Smugglers’ Inn find the fact that you are from Minnesota almost as disturbing as the fact that you are on anything called “The Intelligence Committee”.   We wish you every success in your next job as Ambassador to The Island of Forgotten Toys.

Tim Pawlenty.  Two years ago, the then-governor of Minnesota was pegged by pundits as the dark horse candidate who was going to snatch his party’s nomination after the entire front-running field of influence peddlers, liars, ditzes, know-nothings, health care socialists and serial sexual harassers had demonstrated their supreme non-electability over the course of six months of televised debate.  Then, TP was a shoo-in to be Mitt Romney’s running mate.  Instead the Mitten chose…well, it was somebody else.  Paw-paw then slipped from view, but has recently begun turning up on news and infotainment shows, dutifully  parroting whatever the current Republican party line is on any issue from gun control to immigration to whether the embassy attack in Benghazi is proof that Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve to be president. 

Mr. Governor…Tim, give it up.  They just aren’t into you.  If you’re going to be president of anything, it’s going to be a college.   Carlton is nice.   Maybe they have a course on evolution.

Jesse Ventura.  Jesse, we loved you; you put our state on the map.  You stood up to religious bullies and the press and the political machines and forever changed the criteria required to hold high elected office in America.  “A pro wrestler governor?  That’s AWESOME!”   Yes, it was.  Sadly, the years on the beach seem to have fried your brain, judging from your most recent appearances on TV.  Conspiracy theories can’t be your response to everything.  And what’s with that hair?   Thank you for your service.
Peter Lundquist, owner, The Anoka County Shopper, AKA, “The Mystery Diner.”  Pete, here is a dollar.  Kindly review McDonald’s value meal and leave food criticism to people who don’t ask a mid-priced restaurant in Blaine, Minnesota if you can tour their wine cellar.  Or if said wine cellar has lambrusco.

Pongo the dishwasher.  No other employee who was not high on nitrous has ever asked me for a 100% raise before (and that person had been kidding). Nonetheless, Pongo, who had not been working at Smugglers’ Inn all that long, (OK, four years), got it into his head that he should have been making minimum wage all along and DEMANDED that his salary not just be brought up to that benchmark, but doubled.   I pointed out to Pongo that had he remained in his native Sumatra, he would be lucky to find a job outside of drug mule that paid $7.25 an hour, let alone $13 (See? We weren’t far of MW).  Plus here he never has to worry that we are going to kill him rather than pay him.
Perhaps that was insensitive.

Following my out-of-hand dismissal of his request, Pongo, who previously had to be reminded not to whistle while he worked, became sullen and withdrawn.  He stopped combing his bright orange hair and was given to long sighs, of the type ejaculated by nerdy school girls going through their Syvia Plath stages.  Pongo is one of our few employees who counts friends amongst both the kitchen and serving staff,  By playing the aggrieved party, he effectively drove a wedge between management and the staff as a whole.  Although he has continued to perform his duties at Smugglers’ Inn with machine-like efficiency, Pongo clearly would rather be doing something else.  

Well, I am happy to oblige.  Pongo, turn in your rubber apron.  You’ll never wash dishes in this town again.

You’ll need a different uniform from now on, maybe even a tie.   Pongo, you are henceforth Smugglers’ Inn’s first cook/assistant manager of operations.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay anyone $13 an hour to wash dishes.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

The Management
Smugglers’ Inn

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The lesson of the purse.

World's least waterproof item?

“Those who do not see the power of social media are dinosaurs with their heads in the sand…and  you can’t breathe sand!”   
--Forward, “The Ten Commandments of Social Media Marketing”, E.Rand and V.S. Majudru, 2013.

Well, it isn’t as if we at Smugglers’ Inn are keepers of the Queen’s English, but sentences like the one above, which one encounters throughout “The Ten Commandments of Social Media Marketing” might have tipped us off that we should have popped for one of the other 20 similar titles Amazon had on the subject.  It was probably the biblical reference that hooked us; Smugglers’ Inn runs on a prayer.  Once we had the actual book (or the Kindle Fire with the book app) in our hands, we learned that communicating to the public through numbered lists was one of the Ten Commandments of Social Media Marketing.  As was the number 10 itself, which knocked off another commandment, but not the tenth commandment, as one may think.   No, the tenth commandment was, “Thou shalt fascinate!” “Remember the power of ten and keep it holy,” was commandment three.  Just as I was making sense of commandment four, “Thou shalt gather the data”, our seating hostess, Cat, stuck her head in my office and knocked to get my attention.

“Hey, boss!  Got a flaming emergency.”

“You don’t seem to be on fire,” I said, putting down the Kindle.

“Funny.  Somebody tried to flush a purse down the toilet and there’s water everywhere.”

It never fails; just as you’re about to tap into the hidden market forces that will make you rich beyond comprehension, someone presents you with a plumbing problem.

“Did you try pulling the purse out of the toilet?” I asked Cat. Quite reasonably, I thought.

This was greeted with a snort.  “Like you pay me enough to stick my hand in a toilet.”

Cat had formerly been as faultlessly courteous with me as she is with our customers.   It's only in the last week or so that she’d taken to calling me “boss” and being disrespectful as a show of  solidarity with Pongo, our dishwasher, whom I’d turned down for a raise.  Still, she was right: as a seating hostess, Cat made zilch tips and got the fewest hours of anyone on the schedule.  I’m not sure what the going rate for paying young ladies to stick their hands in toilets is, but it surely exceeds $7.20 an hour.  The going rate for plumbers, I know.  Which is why, when Cat turned on her heels and left, I rolled up my sleeves, stood up and took a deep breath.

“Jorge!” I shouted.

Jorge was the third of his name to have worked at Smugglers’ Inn as a cook/dishwasher.  He inherited his job from his nephew, Jorge number two, who had run into what you might call a spot of bother with the authorities.  We sincerely hoped Jorge 2 would be rejoining us soon, as Jorge 3 skeeved everybody out.

“What’s up, boss?”  Jorge had been hovering right outside my door.  Good—he already knew what was coming.

“Jorge, I need you to go into the women’s bathroom and pull out a purse that somebody tried to flush down a toilet.”

“Can I keep what’s in it?”

“Only if it’s gum.  Oh, and grab a mop, will you?  There’s a lot of water.”

Number Six of the Ten Commandment of Social Media Marketing is “Thou shalt be diligent.”  In the context of the book, “diligence” refers to monitoring how your efforts are paying off as expressed in terms of visits, Facebook likes and any of a dozen numbers associated with online performance.  Diligence is also a good motto when you’re running a restaurant with a diverse workforce that includes a man with no solid references and a tattoo of a spider on his temple.  I’d give Jorge 3 a couple of minutes alone, then I’d pop in and pretend to be looking for the shut-off valve for water going into the ladies rest room.
The valves controlling the water to and from our men’s and women’s restrooms are, point-of-fact, located in our cloakroom.  Talk to the architect.

After going to the cloakroom and moving a quiver of black umbrellas that were obscuring them (why do only black umbrellas get abandoned?), I located the two shut-off valves.  I turned them both off rather than look up which was which.  We had officially been open for dinner for 40 minutes, but there was no one in the dining room and I wasn’t overly worried about inconveniencing the party of teachers taking advantage of happy hour.  None of them was drinking beer.  Besides, they’re just teachers.
I waited in the cloakroom for a couple of minutes, during which time I tried to name all of the Ten Commandments of Social Media Marketing.  I could only recall the ones already mentioned, plus “Remember the list and keep it holy”, commandment eight.  Or was it nine?   I went next door to check on my man’s progress.
Jorge was already mopping up.  Laid out on the sink was a beige leather clutch purse and its soggy contents, which consisted of a Minnesota drivers license showing that she was just a year over drinking age, a pack of tissues, lip gloss, lipstick, Dentyne Ice, Hyundai car keys and can of mace the size of a cigarette lighter.   For those really tiny assailants.
“Any money?” I asked Jorge.  If the purse had been stolen, the thief would have removed cash and credit cards and if not, they’d be in Jorge’s pocket.  Still, I thought I had to at least ask.

“Over there,” Jorge said, motioning with his head. “I didn’t count it.”

The infant changing table had been pulled down.  Laid out on it was $56 in wet bills--one ten, the rest fives and ones.  Waitress money.  Had Jorge left it out of professional courtesy?
“Jorge, you’re the man.  You saved me calling a plumber. Thanks.”

“Nothin’ to it, boss.”

“Don’t worry about this,” I told Jorge, indicating the floor. “I’ll get one of the busboys to mop up.”

I located the purse’s owner in the lounge.  She was leaning over the bar, chatting up our bartender, Adolpho.  I’d guessed semi-right.  The woman wasn’t a waitress; she was a bartender.  Somehow, she’d gotten started talking shop with Adolpho.   Service workers almost always talk shop when they come together, although it ain’t for nothing that Adolpho’s nickname is “El Fabio.”  When I informed the young lady about her purse, she glanced over to a table occupied by two empty margarita glasses and blurted out the “C” word.  Apparently, she’d gotten so wrapped up swapping stories of surviving bar rushes and 86-ing drunks that she’d forgotten she hadn’t come in alone.  Or that she was supposed to be getting drinks for her girlfriend and herself.  God knows how long her wing gal sat fuming before she’d lost it.  Still, trying to flush someone else’s purse down the crapper is déclassé, even for Blaine.

I set a plastic with the purse and contents on the stool next to her and left, not waiting for a thank-you from the woman, who was still swearing.  She would likely get some sympathy from Adolpho, whose other nickname was “Ado the slut”.
I was confident that this episode had fulfilled the drama quotient for the evening, but as so often happens lately, I was wrong.  When I returned to my office to look up the Ten Commandments of Social Media Marketing that I couldn’t name, Jorge was sitting in my guest chair.  Great.  I pasted on a smile.
“Jorge! What’s on your mind, big guy?”

“Ah, boss,” he said, “I hate to do this to you, but I’m gonna have quit.  Tonight’s gotta be my last night.” 

“Well, that f***ing sucks,” I said.  I was sincere; Jorge III may have been of the poorest employees on the payroll, with a history of showing late and/or high, but he will show up and he will wash dishes.

“I know, I know.  I would like to give you, like, two week’s notice and all, but my cousin got done with his thing.”  What Jorge II’s “thing” was had never been explained.  Still, I knew what this meant.

“And he wants his old job back?”

Jorge III nodded.  “He’s got a family to take care of, you know?”

I didn’t, but if he was sending money back home to a wife and kid in Mexico, it would explain why he worked so insanely hard.  Jorge II didn’t look old enough to be a daddy, but Hispanic families start early.  I’ll have to ask to see pictures of his kid when he comes back.  Yay!  Good Jorge is coming back.  Evil Jorge? GONE-O.

“I suppose,” I said, “you want me to cash you out?  We’re just into a new pay period; I’m guessing you don’t want to wait 15 days for your last check.”

“Man, that would be real good; I’m kinda short right now.”

I got $137.50 from petty cash, the pre-tax amount Jorge had earned in his last two days with and scribbled out a receipt for the funds.  As I watched Jorge go through the motions of reading the receipt before signing it, I tried and failed make out a single identifiable image or word from the layers of blue-black ink that practically obliterated the top of his hand and forearm.  How had I had ever let this stone killer come to work at Smugglers’ Inn in the first place?

“Well, I better get to it,” Jorge III said, ”Chef wants me to de-vein about twenty pounds of shrimp.”

“Yeah, better get to it.”

“Um, boss?”

Jesus, what now? I saw Jorge swallow, like he was getting ready to say something that was really difficult for him.  He was going to ask me for a loan, I could see it coming.  That’s it: cancel the send-off drinks I was going to authorize tonight.  We’ll celebrate after he’s gone.

“I just wanna say, “thanks”.  For giving me a shot, you know? I really like my job."

“Jorge, we hate to see you go; you’re a good worker.  I wish there was someway we could keep you on, but if your cousin’s coming back…”

Jorge waved me silent.  “I know that I don’t exactly make a good a first impression.  I’m not stupid.  Well, I’m not that stupid.  I appreciate that you gave me a chance—that everybody gave me a chance.  You got some nice people here.”

“The best,” I agreed.  Then Jorge shook my hand.  He was smiling, but I think he was actually choked up.  “The shrimp,” he managed to say and started walking off.

“Hey, Jorge, wait a sec.  You ever do any landscaping? Northtown is gonna stop maintaining this little patch of turf that we’re on.  I thought we could make some little hills and plant trees around the dumpster.  Make it presentable, you know?”

And that’s how Smugglers’ Inn got a gardener and Jorge III got to keep his 40 hours a week.  For a month or two, anyway.  I still can’t say why I did it, but I’ve no regrets. Smugglers’ will need to convert an advertising prospect or two, but that shouldn’t be impossible; we’re social media experts now.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Found in our dumpster (the car, not the person).

Ok, our car only vaguely resembled this.  It was cut up into many rusty pieces and there was no engine or running gear.  Still, you don’t dispose of a vehicle in this manner, not even a Yugo.

Yugos, if you weren’t alive in the mid-80’s, were manufactured in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  They were supposed to appeal to Americans with less than $4,000 to spend on a new car, but later consensus was that the Reagan Administration had engineered the Yugo’s importation to quell domestic fears that The Soviet Union was only pretending to unravel.  Today, you can find the marque on every list of worst cars of all time.  Near the top.  

“Eets a Hugo,” our cook, Jorge #3 (4?), had said when he’d explained that he couldn’t dump our trash in our own dumpster because there was a car in there.   

We've been having one of those months at Smugglers’ Inn.  There had been a freak snowstorm on April 25.  Blaine,  for all its charms, is not one of our state’s winter wonderlands and by the time May rolled around,  paper trash and half-thawed dog doo were floating in an unappetizing lake that had formerly been our parking log.   Pongo, our treasured dishwasher, gave us a May Day surprise by asking for a 50% raise.  (Ha!)  On May 4, we learned that we officially did not win the Arby’s business.  OK, Smugglers' Inn is several sizes too small for a McDonald’s or Burger King, but Arby’s is a tax write-off for the Blackstone Group.  While the brief didn’t come right out and say it, it was understood that Arby’s agency of record would be tasked with just making it look like someone ate there.  We could have done that.  But no!  Now we have all this great work for a roast beef sandwich with avocado on a bagel that will probably never see the light of day.  Thank heaven, we took the precaution of copyrighting the name, “Texajewfornia”; we may still get reimbursed for our time yet.

“Can I take eet, boss?”  Jorge had asked. “Chew don’ wan a Hugo, do you, all busted up like that?” 

Jorge wanted every splintered table, dented light fixture and wheel-less bakery rack that Smugglers’Inn tossed out.  I don’t know what he did with all of it; the man lived in a trailer.

“Jorge,” I told him, “the only thing I want is my dumpster back.  Take her.  Go with god.”

Jorge made a call and in short order, a boy in a wispy mustache who looked all of fourteen appeared driving a battered pickup truck with makeshift plywood sides.  He and Jorge formed a 2-person bucket brigade and transferred all but the heaviest part from the dumpster into the back of the pickup truck.  Pongo came out and helped them load up the rear axel.  (Maybe the guy does deserve a raise.)

And like that, the bad thing was gone.

There are people you can call to take away your dirty laundry or your fallen tree—or your fallen relative.  We employ a security service whose uniformed employees can escort unruly drunks from our bar and place them in cabs.  There are even people who will come and take a disassembled Eastern European car out of your dumpster.   But who do you call to remove a month?”

I muse on this as I walk back into the restaurant and whatever fresh hell awaits me inside.  There are bright spots on the horizon, I remind myself.  We have a new bar manager coming on board and we’re expecting another ad assignment (finally!) from our old friend, Tours Abroad.   We’ll just gut out the last week and change of May and then we’ll be into June.  June is a good month.  June is June.

In the meantime, I’m sending Pongo to the mall to buy a padlock for the dumpster.  A big one.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Raindance Film Festival of London

Smugglers' Inn is pleased to show some work for our first international client, the Raindance Film Festival of London. Our friends at Raindance were celebrating 20 years as the leading venue for independent cinema in the UK  and we created an integrated, multi-media campaign that included festival trailers, tv and radio ads and a web-based series. None of which could they afford. We did, however do some funny point-of-sale posters and a bit using messages stuffed into bullet casings.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The ass-whupping will not be televised.

“Sour sucker?”  I thought I must have heard wrong.

“It’s one of my signatures: margarita mix, lemon Absolut vodka and a splash of Midori, garnished with a sour gummi worm, served in a Mason jar.”

It sounded god-awful and looked like something meant to appeal to alcoholic preschoolers, but I and everyone else assembled made smacking sounds with our lips and fawned over the mixologist like cocker spaniels at a boot-licking contest as a videographer who’d not changed his T-shirt in days pressed a camera into the face of our 57-year-old bar manager, Tito, in hopes of capturing the man’s soul escaping through his mouth.

This was Day Three of shooting the Smugglers’ Inn episode of “Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” and we’d gotten used to Mr. Ramsay and his producer snickering at our nautical décor and teeing off on our largely Spanish-speaking kitchen staff like Anglo-Saxon lords of the British Raj castigating their brown house servants. 

We knew what we were in for when we signed up.  It may be called reality TV, but every episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” adheres to the same script:  G.R. comes in, finds a cockroach, throws a plate, empties the contents of your walk-in cooler into the dumpster along with your menu and your old clientele then, voila!  Overnight, you have a new menu, new staff uniforms and a spiffy new décor, all paid for by the show and its sponsors.  There is a tearful group hug where all hurt feelings are washed away and a triumphant grand re-opening where Gordon Ramsay flits between tables of delighted diners and a kitchen that hums like a sewing machine.  If you’re the restaurant, it’s the kind of exposure you just can’t buy. 

What we hadn’t counted on was Sahib Gordon insisting on sticking his Great Pyramid of a nose into every aspect of our business.  The show is called “Kitchen” nightmares.  Our bar and our advertising sideline are not nightmares; they make money (well, the bar does).  After failing to entice one of his London buddies who owned a digital branding agency to fly to Blaine, Minnesota in February, Mr. Ramsay’s producer used that particular line item to import a bartender from Manhattan, a city where they can get away with charging more for a mojito than we do for a 14-oz. prime rib and African lobster tail with your choice of rice pilaf or baked potato.  The bartender’s combinations were original—a terrible thing for drinks; Blaine-ites looking to get drunk don’t like to be challenged.  Sitting in our sun-streaked Castaway Lounge at 4 o’clock surrounded by lights and cameras, I tried to imagine what would happen the first time a guy who had gotten dressed up in his only hockey jersey without bloodstains got his drink handed to him in a jar. 

“Now, I’m sure you haven’t heard of molecular mixology, but this variation on the traditional Old Fashioned uses a nifty interaction between the acid in orange peel…” 

The bartender’s condescending spiel was interrupted by an ear-piercing shriek.  This was followed by a crash that every restaurant worker would recognize as an aluminum rack falling over.  As a group, we ran to the source of the noise, the kitchen area or, specifically, the storeroom in the back of the kitchen area.

The sight of our Sumatran dishwasher, Pongo, riding Gordon Ramsay’s personal assistant like a pony and beating him with a joint of meat is one that I hope I will carry to the grave.  Said meat, which I instantly recognized as a Parma ham, was mottled with a velvet of green fungus.  It would be shameful indeed if such a large chunk of animal flesh had been allowed to molder in some neglected corner of our pantry.  Of course, this is Blaine and the example currently being used as a club was likely the only Parma ham for thirty miles.  Although, come to think of it, Parma ham is mentioned on our brunch menu.

“Get it off of me!” the assistant wailed.

“Pongo, are you OK? Did he hurt you?” Cat, our seating hostess, shouted as she ran to Pongo, who dismounted and threw his hairy arms around her like a child being reunited with his mother after getting separated during a Black Friday Sale at Best Buy.

“Pongo hide in storeroom like you say.  Man come in, not see Pongo.” 

“It talks!” screamed the personal assistant, who had scooted himself against the wall in a sitting position, one leg cocked to lash out with his foot should the attack resume. 

It’s true that Pongo’s appearance takes some getting used to with his long arms, short legs and impossibly wide cheeks.  Still, he ain’t John Merrick.

“He’s Sumatran, dipshit!” 

The assistant yelped when Cat stomped over and buried the toe of her mule into his thigh, then oh-so-casually walked back to hold Pongo’s hand.

“Can someone tell me what is going on?  Kevin, what are you doing on the floor?  Bloody hell!  What is THAT?”  Gordon Ramsay pointed at the ham.  (Where the heck had he come from?)

“Dis one bring dat ham inna garbage bag, boss,” said, TJ, a kitchen worker who, like Pongo, was hanging out in the back owing to a severe allergy to cameras. “I seen de whole ‘ting. He go like he goin’ hide it behind dem bags ‘o rice, but I don’ thin’ Pongo like dat too much.” The big Jamaican smiled and absently scratched at the waterfall of tattooed tears running down his cheek.  “No, boss, I don’ tink Pongo like dat AY-T’ALL.” 

It didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened.  Smugglers’ Inn’s immaculate kitchen and food storage areas had not been consistent with good TV.  Where the horrible ham had come from was anybody’s guess, but I had no doubt Gordon Ramsay was counting on being able to discover it and hurl it down in front of me, the chef and the day manger as we broke down and wept, imploring Jesus and Gordon Ramsay to save us from the ruination that was our rightful due.

Of course, that still might happen. 

“Kevin, you have let myself and the show down.  Consider yourself fired as of this moment.  Get out.”  But it was Gordon Ramsay who left, very hastily and with his producer in tow.

The former personal assistant stared up at us with wide, Keane painting eyes, speechless at having been so savagely thrown under the bus.

We knew this man was just a fall guy.  If we should be angry with anyone, it should be Gordon Ramsay and his odious producer.   They were the ones who had put him up to the sabotage.  Of course, we couldn’t touch them.

We chased the assistant out to the parking lot, TJ and Tito raining blows on him the entire way.  When we passed the lounge where the film crew was shooting close-ups of the mixologist’s creations lined up along the bar, the assistant called out for help.  He received none.

Outside on the front steps, Cat gave the toady one more taste of her shoe leather and he scurried off, slipping and falling on the icy pavement before realizing that we were letting him make a clean getaway. 

Which he really should have done.  Instead, he revved the engine of his rented Nissan Altima in an impotent show of force before driving back in our direction, honking his horn and giving us the finger through his open window.


A Parma ham struck the side pillar of the Nissan as if fired from a cannon.  Lord, but Pongo has an arm!  The assistant was going to have fun explaining to the rental company where that particular damage had come from. 

As we watched the taillights of the assistant’s fishtailing car zig-zag onto Highway 10, it felt as if we had regained our unit cohesion.  Team Smugs had been taken down a few pegs and we’d reacted by thumping some lackey named Kevin who was only following orders.  His bosses, our real tormenters, were free to lord over us for a bit longer, but were now almost certain to bestow some largess upon us when they departed to degrade the crew of another failing restaurant.  The whole thing was positively feudal.

“He who mess with de Smugglers’ Inn…” began TJ in mock-solemnity.

“Gets a big ‘ole ham up his butt,” finished Cat and we all laughed, happy now to go back and swallow our gummi worms.

Say what you will, the old ways are still the best.