|"The Nunz" by our seating hostess, Caitlyn.|
Friday, June 2, 2017
“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?”
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?”
“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.”
“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.”