Saturday, December 12, 2009

Earnest T. Reincarnated

The statute of limitations has passed. It has been several months since the closing of one of our restaurants, and much of the bitterness and depression has passed. Much…. not all—okay maybe not even 50 percent of it. However, we (St. Pauli Girl and I) can now talk about certain episodes and characters that made us laugh.

Running a restaurant means hiring a lot of odd ducks. So all you really care about is if they show up and do some work. You quickly learn to overlook odd traits or quirks of personality. One of our oddest employees was a dishwasher named—oh, let’s call him Cletus.

Cletus appeared straight out of central casting from the Dukes of Hazzard (movie or tv show, doesn’t matter). He had dark eyes, long, stringy blond hair, a goatee, and a rebel flag emblazoned on most of his possessions. He needed a job, so we gave him a chance in the dish pit. He was reliable, courteous, and fairly hard-working, all of which made us quite suspicious of him.

After Cletus had been with us about a month, the building’s caretaker took us into the men’s restroom and showed us some disturbing graffiti. Since this is not an adult- restricted blog, let’s just say that according to the graffiti, “Amber,” (another of our employees who also happened to be Cletus’s girlfriend) was very talented in certain areas and had some large body parts, and men were encouraged to call her at the number scrawled there. The caretaker, a sharp guy, suspected it was one of our employees and told us in so many words to take action. So St. Pauli Girl went through our employee applications and compared the handwriting on several of them to the graffiti. Her CSI findings: Amber’s rude admirer was none other than Cletus himself.

My first thought was, why would anyone write horrible things about his girlfriend in a public restroom? My second thought was, why am I trying to analyze our nutty employees? I had to remind myself that A) crazy people work for us and B) If you accuse a crazy person of a criminal act and then fire them, it just might come back to haunt you. I would, therefore, fire Cletus for being late.

And so we went through our records, and figured out we had a great paper trail for tardiness.

But dishwashers are hard to come by. Not having one can really mess with morale—both yours and your employees. (Mostly whoever gets stuck doing the dishes.) Reliable dishwashers are even harder to find. And who are we to criticize someone who wants to brag about his girlfriend’s talents and . . . such? Cletus stayed.

A week later, hardworking Cletus brought a power hose into the kitchen. He spent an entire afternoon cleaning the floor and everything else he could find with the power hose. We were awe-stricken by the beauty of the pretty floor we’d always thought was dark gray. Hiring Cletus sure was a good idea.

The next day, the caretaker showed us the fence behind the restaurant. Someone had power-blasted (!) the bra size of Cletus’s girlfriend into the wood. Jesus, what was wrong with this guy? Better yet, what was up with Amber? Why would . . . oh, never mind.

Cletus needed to go, but A.) He was a good dishwasher and now B.) since he obviously had a screw loose, I was afraid that if we fired him right then, he and his rebel militia would ride into town and burn the place down. Or burn the bra size of his girlfriend onto the front door.

Days passed. More disturbing events happened but they lacked solid evidence—specifically, any reference to Cletus’s girlfriend. For example one evening the night manager locked up, then went to his car to find four deflated tires. Another time, a small grass fire erupted behind the restaurant—a close call that the caretaker caught just in time.

In the end, if you have patience bad seeds will weed themselves out, and Cletus was no exception. He called in sick on a Saturday night. That’s a big “no” in a restaurant, but it was his first time. We let it slide. But the next Saturday, same thing: Cletus needed to leave--his son was sick. (Son? We didn’t even know he had one!) Next Saturday, he was sick—he had to leave an hour into his shift.

“Fine,” St. Pauli Girl said, “you can leave. Just don’t come back.”

But he had tuberculosis, he insisted. It was contagious; his doctor said so.

“Get in the dish pit,” St. Pauli Girl snarled.

I thought Cletus would ruin his vocal chords with all of the exaggerated coughing emanating from the dish pit. One of the servers then grabbed me and handed me a bottle of medicine and a piece of paper.

“A health department guy came by and left this for Cletus,” she said.

The paper appeared to be a Wikipedia listing for tuberculosis with some sort of state seal pasted on top. “Wow,” I thought. “Instead of shutting us down, the health department is prescribing medicine to sick employees?” Now I’d seen everything.

Anyway, after making numerous threats, Cletus stormed off the job. We quickly filed a restraining order. That night I sat in the office thinking about him. He reminded me of someone but I couldn’t quite place it. After an hour or so of wracking my brain, it came to me: Cletus was Earnest T. Bass from the Andy Griffith Show.

Earnest T. Bass was the character who periodically came down from the mountains and caused mischief in Mayberry by throwing rocks through windows and speaking in rhymes, always leaving the scene with his classic, “You haven’t seen the last of Earnest T. Bass.” So, does life imitate art, or vice versa? I don’t know. I just hope I’ve seen the last of Cletus.

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