Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Holiday Inn: flies & lounge lizards

In spite of all the latitude we were allowed while working at the Inn I was pretty conscientious about doing my job well.  Washing dishes was monkey work and all we had to focus on was cleaning stuff and putting it away, the only challenge was managing volume. Aside from the dining room traffic there were meetings, banquets and receptions. Sometimes sizable, and more than a few at once, so I made a game out of seeing how fast and efficiently I could get everything done. It made the time pass quickly.

But when it was dead slow, and there wasn't any extra work to do, we had other ways to kill time.  Someone might suggest a game of 'Blind Creamer', we'd fill our apron pockets with Half n Halfs and push through into the large banquet room next door.  With the lights off it was pitch dark in there, except for a sliver of light coming in from the kitchen area.  We'd take sides of the room and try pelting each other with creamers which, if slightly peeled open before throwing, burst like squibs on impact.  It was like paintball in the dark, the drawback of course being that we'd have to clean up all the misses.  Usually it was worth it.
Then there was the baseball field right next to the Inn that we'd take advantage of when not in use by the local leagues. It even had lights for night games, and sometimes we'd bring lawn chairs up on the roof, drink beer, and watch the league teams play.  It was a short climb up a drain pipe to the flat gravel roof, no one could see us, and the view was perfect.
Or if Billy and Pat were working they'd entertain each other (and consequently everyone in the kitchen) by cursing at each other in Donald Duck voices.  Who knew?  Even back then it was a dying skill, but these 2 had it down, and would go at it like a couple of drunken sailors.

But the kitchen sport that clearly dominated that Summer season was 'Fly Vigilante', a game that evolved naturally from having so many flies in the kitchen area.  Pest strips didn't do enough, and we weren't allowed bug spray because there was food all around, so we found some cheap swatters and carried them in our belts like weapons. And when things were quiet we'd go on a 'crusade'.  It was about speed and technique (the in-flight kill, the cluster), and for a goofy time-killer it didn't go unappreciated by the waitstaff who were as annoyed by the flies as we were.
But pretty quickly the challenge turned to catching them by hand.  Like white-trash ninjas, it became a discipline of heightened stealth and efficiency.  Snatch from the side, a tight squeeze, and drop.  A 2-grab was not uncommon, and occasionally I'd score one in-flight, (..which probably would've been called a 'Brundle', if only..).  That's when the industrial bug-zapper came into play.  It had been there all along, located over the exit door to the loading dock, and apparently functioned fine.  But it didn't seem to attract enough of the flies, so we started disposing of our catches by manually pitching them into its electrified maws.   For one thing, sometimes that squeeze wasn't tight enough, and there were those that got away.  The zapper ensured a crispy death with its satisfying spark and snap.
I actually stopped squeezing, sadistically pitching them in while still alive.

If there was a live act in the lounge we might watch a set from the back, which promised entertainment.  Disco and yacht rock were still riding their crest so the music was delightfully awful, plus in (what was then) the era of 'Murph & The Magic Tones'  a Holiday Inn lounge was thee venue for genuine schmaltz.  No question; that Blues Brothers' scene was frighteningly accurate.
The performer that still looms large in my memory was an acoustic troubadour who called himself; Chuck Mann.  Chuck was a Gordon Lightfoot wannabe in the worst way, to the point of self-parody;  quaffed helmet hair, sideburns, mustache, tight jeans and rayon shirt (too open, of course). He seemed sincere, and he actually could sing and play pretty competently, he was just hilariously derivative and unoriginal.  No great sin, unless one took issue with how much of a player he was with the ladies. Clearly Chuck was one to sow his seeds of music and love before ramblin' on to the next town, and he was always trying to seduce some woman in the bar.  Not the Inn waitresses though, they were hip to his ways and thought he was creepy. 
Mostly we thought Chuck was funny, but unintentionally so.  One late evening after work my pal Terry and I were talking by the pool when Chuck came out of the bar and sat with us.  He had finished his last set and invited us both to share a joint with him.   There was no one around so he just sparked up and we started chatting.  Most of his talking had to do with the women he was interested in (bedding), or his travel itinerary. Chuck would typically play a 6 week run, then drive to the next motel lounge on his schedule, always staying in a guest room.  Terry and I nodded politely as we'd toke and pass.  It actually seemed like a smart gig.   When Chuck divulged that he was considering changing his name Terry and I perked up.
"..Yeah, you know 'Chuck Mann' sounds a little too obvious.  ..I'm thinking about the name 'Austin'."
"..Yeah, 'Chuck Austin' sounds kinda cool." we both agreed in mock approval.   "No," he corrected;  "Austin Mann."   I had to cover my outburst of laughter by coughing on a hit. Terry managed to stay composed, ..but we agreed later that the only way to top that would be if he also changed his middle name to; 'Six-Million-Dollar'.
..Or would that be too obvious?

For the most part it was a pretty great Summer, and I'm just skimming on some specific memories, but thinking back now; I never thought I was having that much fun fighting boredom. As far as I knew, all of us were making the best of where we were at the time.  I knew that a lot of what we did to pass the time was stupid shit, irresponsible and sometimes dangerous. We weren't looking for trouble, we didn't even prank on each other, which would have been par in other similar situations.  Guys that age love breaking each others balls for fun.  At worst, we were happy to enjoy a cheap laugh at the folly of others, and I'll end this post by offering an incident involving the bug zapper as a classic example;
On one slow evening early that Autumn, Scott (the porter on duty), made the casual observation that the thing had been up there forever, and looked like it had never been cleaned or even emptied.  He was probably right about that, it was a big old green beast and had an aged patina of airborne grease.  Looking up at the bottom panel, he figured on unscrewing the wing nuts that were holding it in place and began lowering the tray from above.  Yes, Scott was trying to be as careful as possible, dropping it evenly, but he didn't notice that one side of the tray was hooked and before he realized what was happening, thousands of dead bugs rained down directly onto his head, face and shoulders.
The involuntarily spastic, convulsive dance that it unleashed was worthy of the applause it garnered from us. 
It truly was a gift to witness, ..and yes; Scott was able to laugh about it too.


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