Monday, November 30, 2009

Redneck Pride

Within weeks the bistro began to develop a rigid routine. It was becoming obvious that breakfast might never happen without frying some eggs and I just didn’t have a good set-up for doing short order work. I hardly ever saw a soul between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. except on Tuesdays when the woman with the coal dark hair and icy blue eyes came in for her white mocha. From Tuesday to Saturday, Lyle Duerr would lead the coffee row leeches in at 8:30 a.m. and the last of them wouldn’t leave until 11:30 a.m. The Flintstone Whistle lunch rush slowed but, on the upside, far fewer people asked for ‘SUPE’. There was a significant afternoon coffee rush but selling two slices of cheesecake was a record.

The coffee row people didn’t seem to notice Marty’s search for a comfortable level of flamboyance. Most of them knew he had been a brother and just thought we was becoming more pious. They did take note that Jeffrey was training to be a pastor with the United Church, however. Earla Hueber expressed displeasure at this a few times. Whenever Jeffrey was working the register, Earla would pipe up in an absolutely inappropriate volume, “Oh, next thing you know they’ll be marrying pigs and chickens! What has this world come to?”

I plastered the front window with signs for the Belgian waffles but, although that seemed to draw a few people in, morning sales still made it difficult to justify opening for breakfast at all. Most Humbuggers just complained about the cost of ‘them fancy pancakes’. I gave up on the hot cereal altogether. People still referred to the restaurant as ‘the coffee shop’ and some of them had the nerve to still call it ‘The Humbug Coffee House’. I began to regret leasing the same location, if not buying the furnishings.

Some people actually brought in their ‘coffee club’ cards from the old coffee shop and expected me to just continue stamping their purchases towards their next free coffee. Others complained that I had ‘switched’ coffee suppliers and they would come back when I put up a sign to let them know things were ‘back to normal’. When I tried to explain that the coffee shop went out of business and this was a new restaurant they just cocked their heads to the right in a typical Humbug Huh. “But this is the coffee shop,” they would exclaim, falling into hibernation until I rebooted them.

I began to wonder if there was any way to run a restaurant without serving coffee. With few exceptions, I noted that the people who actually ordered full meals rarely wanted coffee. Removing the espresso machine would require repairing the countertop where it sat, for several holes had been drilled to plumb it in and hard wire 220 volt power. When I spoke with people around town and told them I was running the new restaurant they were completely incapable of understanding where it was until I told them it was where the old coffee shop had been. In every single case they just said, “Oh, I thought you said restaurant. So you took over the old coffee shop then?” I tried every way I could think of to describe the location without referencing The Humbug Coffee House, but it was as though those coordinates in space were completely void outside of the definition of ‘coffee shop’.

New people to town seemed to catch on quickly and most were ecstatic to have a fresh cooked menu in town. I wondered how many outsiders lived in Humbug and how to reach them. I surveyed my best customers and they all read the Cuspidor newspaper. Advertising in the Cuspidor paper was extremely cost prohibitive considering I needed to target perhaps only a few hundred people in Humbug. The locals read the Humbug Herald to find out who had grown the biggest pumpkin this year or to argue about the letters to the editor written by Earla Hueber and other low literacy locals. Outsiders didn’t even consider it well enough written to be a colouring book.

To add to my frustration I had a very difficult confrontation with the most obstinate Humbugger I would ever meet. I never did learn her name but I have come to call her Backdoor Betty. In the middle of a Friday lunch rush, shuddering each time I heard a request for ‘SUPE’ or a ‘sammich’ and dodging all questions about where I was ‘FRUM’, I heard the back door to the kitchen swing open. I had taken to leaving it unlocked so Jeffrey and Marty could enter without me having to run back to the door.

I was in the middle of making a wrap and was backed up by two orders so I ran as quickly as I could to see what was going on. As I passed through the swinging doors to the kitchen, there was Backdoor Betty walking straight through the kitchen towards me, seemingly oblivious to the concept that a kitchen is always strictly a staff area. Having no idea who this woman was I said, “Hey, hey, not a public entrance. Out, out!” The clueless little woman just tried to push past me.

“This is the way I come in here,” she explained.

“No it’s not, this is my kitchen,” I retorted, blocking her path.

“Get out of my way - I’m in a hurry to get some coffee!”

“We’re in the middle of lunch here, lady. Get out of my kitchen.”

“I just need a cup of coffee,” she said, trying to push past me.

“Get out of my kitchen!” I barked.

“I’ll get out when I get my coffee!”

“Who the fuck are you?” I asked, wondering what gave her such audacity.

“I work across the alley, and this is the way I come in here for coffee.”

“Maybe when it was a coffee shop, but this is my kitchen now. Get out!”

“I’m not leaving without my coffee.”

“Lady, I’ll call the fucking police, now get the fuck out of my kitchen!”

“You can’t talk to me that way!”

“I said get the fuck out of my fucking kitchen you little cunt!”

“Well if you want me to leave you just have to ask.”

“I have asked you four or five times. Now get the fuck out.”

“If you don’t want people coming in this way you should put up a sign!”

“There is a sign, it says employees only!”

“Well you should be more specific!”

“Because you are an employee across the alley? Get the fuck out!”

“Fine, I’m leaving!”

“Your feet aren’t fucking moving. Move your fucking feet!”

“Fine, I’m leaving!”

“Fucking leave already.”

Finally she marched to the back door, turned to give me her meanest expression, and slammed it as hard as she could. As I walked back up front Marty and Jeffrey asked why she wouldn’t leave. I didn’t know what to tell them. I had never imagined someone would walk into a restaurant kitchen and have the nerve to try to push past the owner. This was about the worst behavior I had seen yet, but it wouldn’t be the first time. You see, when most people get angry they leave without saying goodbye. Humbuggers, on the other hand, say good bye over and over but then refuse to leave.

Later that afternoon a regular customer walked in and asked me what had happened with the woman I threw out at lunch. I was surprised to hear that anyone other than Jeffrey or Marty knew about the situation. When I explained to him what had happened he stopped me to ask, “So she was walking in through your kitchen?” He went on to tell me that she was actually an instructor at the community college and he was in her class. She returned to the class without her coffee and then proceeded to break into tears and tell an incredible tale of how I attacked her in my restaurant and threw her out for no reason.

From that day forth there were plenty of Humbuggers who wouldn’t let their children stray near my restaurant for fear that I would ‘attack without reason’. These people just had absolutely no sense of appropriate behavior and there was never any way to explain the situation to them. They never questioned the account of the confrontation at all but every single Humbugger felt that if that was the way this woman came in for coffee then I had no business throwing her out of my kitchen. Apparently, under Humbug protocol, easement trumps health code.

There seemed to be no limits to their uninhibited, childish behavior. When something didn’t appeal to them they just blurted, “YUCK!” If they didn’t recognize another customer they just walked right up to the table and said, “Where are you FRUM?” If a coffee urn ran empty, rather than ask for the urn to be replaced, they simply pounded their mug on the counter until a new urn was in front of them – not even subsiding while I was in the process of changing the urns. If outsiders had unusual fashion tastes, perhaps Goth or Punk, they would openly point and laugh at what they considered unusual clothing.

I truly began to despise born-and-raised Humbuggers, not because they were remarkably rude and illiterate, but because they were so obstinate and even proud of their backward ways. When they became aware that outsiders were perplexed by Humbug protocol, they justified their behaviors by saying, “Oh, that might not be the way other people do things, but I’m German and this is Humbug.” I had never before heard anyone make such a bizarre association between being German and being rude and illiterate.

I could understand how, in times long past, the tradition of the ‘redneck’ had been born. Labouring long days over a shovel or pick in the field left the proletariat with large muscled shoulders and stooped posture which exposed the back of their necks to the hot sun. The resulting burn served as a badge of subservience that revealed the barer as one who toiled by brawn and who likely never had the luxury of pursuing more academic achievements. This was a horrible injustice and created a stigma around the label of ‘redneck’, and for this reason I was have always been reticent to use that label. But it was no longer times long past, it was the 21st century. No one was any longer forced into the subservience of long hours of field labour due to socio-economic castes. Even those who toiled at the most menial labour had access to public libraries and the internet and could elevate the mind if they so chose. It made no sense to me why anyone would so proudly don such a yolk of ignorance and cling to it with such stubbornness. It was because of their eagerness to cloak themselves in such purposely crafted ignorance that I became far more liberal in applying such a derogatory moniker.

Perhaps the most revealing conversation I ever had in Humbug was with a group of women who were planning a single’s dinner for ‘purebred Humbugs’. Upon inquiring into what sounded to be a disturbing plan I was informed that it was an annual dinner for those who could trace all of their ancestors back to the six founding families of Humbug.

“It just gives people a better sense of family to marry other Humbuggers,” one chirped.

“Wouldn’t you like to know where all your ancestors were FRUM?” another asked.

“We’re talking about five generations here, right?” I asked.

“Six generations for some,” one of them boasted.

“So a family tree that leads to twelve people?” I asked, with trepidation.

“Yes! Isn’t that just so cool?” several of them beamed.

“Uhm,” I treaded, “that’s not many branches.”

“And that way you don’t have to worry about not knowing where some of those branches go,” the leader said with a knowing nod as her compatriots burst into childish giggles.

I backed away slowly, offering no reply. These deranged women were pro-actively trying to produce a seventh generation from twelve ancestors. I am no expert on genetics but it didn’t take a lot of fancy math to realize that six generations of second cousins reproducing wasn’t a very good idea. As I looked at the women from a distance and realized that they all looked just a little too much alike, I realized that the Humbug gene pool was in need of a smidgen more chlorine.