Monday, October 10, 2005

Tales From a Great Indoorsman


This week, J.S. Bankston keeps "it short, to a dream, a few jokes, and a few horror stories."

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Marching to Tijuana
I had a dream where I was standing on a long flight of marble stairs that extended down to a street crowded with thousands of people. Way down below me on a landing a group of soul, blues, black gospel, and R&B musicians, headed by Irma Thomas (who was treated like the queen of the event), were about to perform a benefit concert for the people of New Orleans.

I looked behind me, and saw Pope Benedict and an army of Vatican dignitaries standing at the top of the stairs. The Pope was a practical joker, and he got down on his hands and knees and pulled a massive black cable loose, cutting off the main source of power to the concert. Then he leaped over a wall and got down in a ditch and pulled another cable.

When he came back he said, "I want to show you someone who has been very dear to me since my childhood," and from behind his back he pulled a large sock monkey. I genuflected to it (the sock monkey, not the Pope), then we discussed how they don’t make sock monkeys as large as they used to. Then he offered me a job at the Vatican and went off down the stairs at the head of a big procession.

I wasn't expecting this. I rushed forth and began clearing the crowds away, saying, "Make way for his Holiness." I was wearing some sort of fancy ecclesiastical robes. Bishops and cardinals were coming up behind me and whispering into my ear what a great opportunity this was. But I wasn't so sure. If I took this job what would happen to Fred? What would happen to my plans of writing and seeing the world? I'd never get to do any of the stuff I've always wanted to do, but then again I realized, I haven't been able to do those things in my current situation either.

I followed the Pope down to the bottom of the stairs. The performers had moved elsewhere. The stairs turned right and led to an underground lobby with an elevator with golden, mirrored doors. The Pope and his closest advisors went in, the doors closed, and the cab went down. I’d have to catch the elevator the next go-round. But as the doors closed, I saw I was wearing elaborate Papal robes, and a blue doo-rag on my head, though I quickly snatched off the latter.

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Friday I went to lunch with James and his tiresome friend Manuel. Suffice it to say Manuel managed to press all my buttons in a relatively short amount of time, and was appallingly rude, insulting, and obnoxious. He doesn't know how close he came to getting either my drink or the back of my hand in his face.

I also was considering telling him, "If you can't say anything that's not rude and offensive, then why don't you sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up?" I was pondering how to word it to achieve maximum effect and whether to say it loud enough so just the tables next to us could hear, or amplify it for the benefit of the entire restaurant. As it was, I behaved myself out of respect for James. James later said that I had behaved with great civility, but he could see by my eyes that I was seconds away from blowing up and going psycho on Manuel.

After that, James and I headed downtown, and on our way passed
Jaime’s Spanish Village. This is an old school Mexican restaurant, across the street from Stubb’s, the famous concert venue and barbeque joint.

I used to go to Jaime’s when I worked downtown, as they have excellent queso. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in town. I’ve even got old Duncan Hines travel guides from the ‘40s and ‘50s wher
e it’s listed. (Before Duncan Hines was known as a brand-name for a cake mix company, it was the personal name of a food critic who toured the US incognito, searching for the best restaurants for travelers in every state.)

Anyway, I gave a loud yelp when we drove past Jaime’s and I saw a big banner under the front windows: “Jaime’s is a breast-feeding-friendly restaurant!” Ugh. I’m sorry, but I consider breast-feeding in public to be vulgar. I know all the earth mothers and hippie chicks will be on my ass about this and say, “But breast-feeding is natural.” Yes, it is. So is urinating and masturbating, but you don’t see me doing those things in public, do you? (Not lately anyway.)

I had a nightmarish vision of me narrating the opening scene of “A Clockwork Orange:” “There was me, that is Bankston, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Jaime’s Spanish Village Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. Jaime’s milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or chili con queso, which is what we were eating. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.”

Saturday I ate alone at an Outback Steakhouse. The food was tasty, the waiter was attentive without being fawning or obtrusive. The problem was the music. They had it up so fucking loud I felt like I was eating in a car stereo store.

I tried to read the paper before my appetizer arrived, but couldn't hear myself think. I couldn't hear most of what my waiter was saying either, so I just played along and tried to anticipate where he was going in the conversation. (Since I'm hard of hearing in one ear anyway, this is sort of old hat to me.) I eventually got a headache, skipped dessert, went home, and had to nap for several hours, and although as of this writing it's been almost nine hours since I left the restaurant, my right ear still hurts a little.

I realize restaurants that cater to a younger crowd crank up the music to create an exciting atmosphere, and that some places like Starbucks deliberately make their stores only comfortable enough so that patrons will pay their money, consume their food and drink, and leave quickly and not burrow in, but jeez!

Oh yes, I almost forgot this-- By the time I paid my check I was so overcome with the noise I'd forgotten about something that happened shortly after I arrived. And I've noticed this same thing happening at other restaurants, and I'm not too happy about it: When my waiter came to take my order he sat down across from me in the booth. I arched my eyebrow (Orson Welles, John Belushi, and The Rock combined are nothing compared to me in the eyebrow-arching department), furrowed my brow, and gave him a look that said, "I beg your fucking pardon! I don't recall giving you permission to sit with me."

I actually saw something on TV where someone was holding forth that if a waiter or waitress actually physically touches a customer, that tends to result in the tip going up quite a bit because it personalizes the relationship between waiter and customer. I guess it's a good thing I wasn't a part of that study, as I'd have blown the curve. I'd be horrified if a waiter or waitress touched me. (Sorry folks--I cannot abide the term "server.")

"I can abide formality or intimacy, but I detest informality." Evelyn Waugh said that, and I'm usually in agreement with him, and though, yes, I'm notorious for walking my dog in my bathrobe, I've got to admit I neither care for informality nor intimacy. My friend Tim said that I "have one of the finest socio-political minds of the 19th century," and I'll have to agree with him--I'm very old-fashioned about some things, especially how people should behave.

I don't like work settings, for instance, where they refer to me by my first name, as if I were a child, and even more so, I hate it when a stranger, after being told my name is James Bankston, will automatically become so presumptuous as to call me "Jim."

(No, my first name's not "Baby"--it's "J.S."---"Mr. Bankston," if you're nasty.)

Now I'm on pleasant terms with most of the folks at my corner grocery store (except that one clerk who didn't appreciate the joke I made the day Michael Jackson was acquitted), but I'm not planning any time soon on inviting those people over for a beer. Nor do I intend on asking the delivery guys from the Chinese restaurant across the street to come in and watch "Danger Man" with me.

And anyway, when I'm well enough acquainted with a waiter that he's willing to hand me his keys and let me go borrow some of his CDs out of his car, then I'll be willing to let him sit with me at my table, but not before.

Now Thursday I went to lunch with James and three friends of his who work for some hellish software company, and we quickly fell into stories about bosses who have humiliated us and treated us like ignorant children.

I told them about when I worked for Half-Price Books in Bryan/College Station, the backwards-ass home of Texas A&M University. My manager was a real walking stool sample: he had severe psychological issues, he sexually harassed some of the female staffers, he abused the dog I gave him, he had temper tantrums in the stock room where he'd kick merchandise around, and he'd have cursing fits on the floor in front of customers. (It is with no small amount of pride that I add I authored an 11-page memo that helped get him fired.)

Anyway, like most bad managers, this guy had no faith in his staff, he didn't think they knew how to do their jobs, and he had a fit whenever anyone exercised individual initiative without first getting his okay.

As a used bookstore, we generated a lot of excess books we couldn't sell, and we had several charities who'd come get some of our left-overs.

One day I came to work, sauntering into the stockroom through the back door. The manager and several of my co-workers were there.

One co-worker asked, "Bankston, what did you do on your day off?"

I said, "Oh, I arranged for us to do a donation to Tempura House."

The manager flipped out: "Goddammit! Who told you could do that?! Who gave you permission to set up a donation on your own?! ... Anyway, what the fuck's Tempura House?"

I explained, "It's a shelter for lightly-battered women."

And naturally, everybody got the joke but the manager.

But my fellow diners had their own war stories. Apparently, though they are well-paid, their company is owned and run by a tantrum-throwing maniac. This guy figures that since he successfully got the company off the ground and has been making money, then every move he's made so far must be flawless and beyond question, so he plans to keep on doing what he's been doing.

He's fond of screaming fits, cussing people out in person and over the phone. One of the guys at my table, Jim, (yes, our group of five included two Jameses and one Jim) was actually physically struck by this prick before. Why he didn't sue this guy and take over the company is beyond me.

Once the Number Two guy at the company showed the boss figures that proved that if a middle-man was put between this boss and the salesmen, sales and productivity went up, but if the boss interacted directly with the salesmen, the figures went down. The Number Two then said, "So, would you rather be rich or would you rather be right?" And the boss then went into a tirade, screaming, "Well, goddammit, I've been running this company one way and I'm gonna keep running it this way, and if any of those mother-fuckers have a problem with it then they can fucking go work someplace else!"

This company micro-manages its employees to an annoying degree, and treats them like children. Each salesman is expected to make a daily quota of calls, and the company keeps a log of when a salesman calls and how much downtime there is between calls. One salesman was actually summoned in to be interrogated and chewed out by a supervisor:

"It says here you made one call at 9:50am and didn't make another until 10:10am."

"Oh yeah?"

"Well, that's twenty minutes. Do you mind telling me what you were doing all that time?"

"Well, actually I had to go to the bathroom."

"You were in the bathroom for TWENTY MINUTES! Do you have a medical condition?"

And so on.

Robert Mitchum once described working in Hollywood as "like being nibbled to death by ducks." I know the feeling. I’ve been in that situation before. There's no way in hell I could put up with that sort of work environment more than a few minutes.

Anyway, Jim summed it all up beautifully: "When I quit this job I'm gonna go down to Tijuana and suck cocks for six months...until I can get my self-respect back."

3 Comments:

At 10:31 AM, Blogger jsbankston said...

You'll remember me mentioning my buddy, Matt, Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Austin. (Citysearch veterans will remember him as the large Irishman who tended the bar at our 2000 Christmas party at the winery--his career since then has skyrocketed in direct proportion to the way mine has nose-dived.)

Anyway, he called me to say he had to give a speech to 200-300 older people today at UT--not elderly, senile, befouling-the-Depends oldsters--but older people nonetheless, serious-minded people. (You must forgive me--whenever I hear newscasters referring to "seniors" I am still young enough that I think they're talking about high school seniors and not "senior citizens.")

He had never addressed such a large crowd before. His subject was the City's response to Hurricane Katrina, and since there were a lot of statistics to rattle off, he actually typed up and printed out his speech.

So he gets to the hall, gets ready, gets miked up, takes a sip of water, is introduced, and starts reading...from "Marching to Tijuana," which he'd also printed up this morning.

He laughed, made a quick apology, said he'd explain what this was all about at the close of the speech, then went on to give a great off-the-cuff speech which was apparently received with applause and laughter.

I just hope he didn't read aloud too far into the piece. I'm always embarrassed to learn someone has let their older parent read some of my profane ramblings.

 
At 4:51 PM, Blogger Luke said...

I missed a Christmas party?! Shit!

Hey, TripleJ! Will ya tell the verbose Canuck that I tried to post a comment/question on his page regarding the new/soon-to-be Bruce Cockburn instrumental album...but the @#%#$@#% form would let me. Damn Canadians...sure, they can build the arm on the damned Space Shuttle but they can't make a post-able blog. I tell ya...

Next thing you know, they'll change the rules to hockey...

 
At 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your life on line! hahahaha!!!!

 

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