Unorthodox Angles/Andrew Gramling
Tales Across Time: The Only Thing Hotter Than Florida is a Kitchen in Florida
Sometimes people can associate a song to a person or place based on experiences they’ve had, but the reverse can also be true. Sometimes a place can call to mind a song from memory. For some reason, the song that always came to mind when I came back to the neighborhood was the song called “In Da Wind” by Trick Daddy. There were always stragglers, dealers, and outlaws roaming around. As if to echo that sentiment, one of my neighbors a few doors down named Seth cited some of the lyrics from that song in front of me one day.
“Collard green neckbone eatin’ *** *****. I AM one of them!” he said.
There was an assortment of regulars who I began to notice around the hood. The neighbors across the way who murdered the off-duty police officer would sometimes be hanging out on the porch, but there was no way they could blend in to a guy like me. They stood out! They were surrounded by darkness like minions of death, or like a possessed scarecrow of evil- A body but not much of a soul left. I would sometimes hang out on the second-floor balcony observing what was going on in the neighborhood a lot more than I would speak to anybody. I wasn’t interested in drawing any attention to myself, especially from people like them.
Exiting my apartment, Jose and Deana lived on the right, and another couple lived on the left. The man’s name was Jimmy. He was a big man with a scar on his cheek from Georgia. He seemed to be a relatively decent guy. He always greeted us whenever he would see us, and he pledged his protection to me. Over time, it became clear that Jimmy was kind of the manager of the block. He was always talking to everybody with the presence and the knowledge of an authority and no fear in him. He was the guy people were coming to talk to. He was always respectful to use, but the way his eyes were always kind of scrunched up, you could tell he would get on somebody like a mad dog if he had to. I wasn’t afraid of him, but out of respect, I tried to make sure I never had to see that side of Jimmy.
I started working at Ryan’s Steakhouse on Lakeland Hills Boulevard, about ten minutes away from the neighborhood by car. I was going to be one of the line cooks. This place had a buffet with a large selection of foods, as well as a dessert station way in back behind the sitting area. Aside from the buffet, people could order individual meals like steak and seafood, which we line cooks had to prepare. The kitchen was very small, with a metal table in the center that seemed to take up most of the space. On one side were the fryers for both the fried chicken for the buffett and also the seafood. On the other side was a large charbroil grill with all the flames for steaks and a hood vent attached. At the front of the kitchen was the kitchen window where the servers would pick up orders right in front of the buffett area.
My first shift went well enough. I worked the day shift with another cook from Michigan named Scott. Scott spoke at such a fast pace that it was often hard to hear what he was saying. He had bright green eyes that looked slightly intense and a small amount of facial hair. I had a lot to learn coming in from wrapping burritos and flipping quesadillas.
On my first day I met most of the staff and managers, but on my second day I met another manager that wasn’t there on my first day. I was in the mega-bar prep area just outside of where the kitchen was near the coolers with a manager named Paul, and another manager walked up.
“Hey Andrew, this is Steve,” Paul said.
Steve turned to me and shook my hand. I shook his hand, but it wasn’t any ordinary introduction. Steve was over six feet tall, at least 120 pounds, was built more than most people, had short brown hair, and had glasses on. There was something about him that made me think, “Who is THIS guy?” I think mostly it was his presence and his voice. His voice was loud, but slightly more high-pitched than I would expect from someone of his size.
I didn’t get a very good look at Steve the first time I saw him, especially since he had glasses on, which he didn’t normally wear, but his character became a lot more evident the second time. He had ice blue eyes that were EXTREMELY intense, with contract pupils, one pupil being slightly larger than the other. He looked like he could stare a hole through a brick wall. His presence was very powerful and magnetic. He was someone who would stand out easily in a crowd of 10,000. I had never received such a strong first-impression from anybody, and it wasn’t over yet. I picked up on something from him that I’ve never felt before. The second time I saw him, we were walking in opposite directions in the kitchen area, with his stare ultra-fixated on what was in front of him. As I passed him, I got a strange sensation.
“This guy’s going to try to kill me,” I thought to myself.
What reason did I have to think that? He was very polite the first time I met him, and he hadn’t done anything thus far. Also, this is the first time I've ever had THAT kind of first-impression of somebody. Was there a reason why this thought appeared in my mind, or was it just a thought that I conjured up for no reason? The last time I made a prediction about death, it came true about a year later, and it was one of my friends that was killed. My instincts were correct the first time. Were they also telling me something important this time?
The guy I mostly worked in the kitchen with, Scott, turned out to be a bit of a spaz. One minute he was cool, but then he would behave in a very two-faced way and become rather nasty.
“I think you’re a little weak guy,” Scott said out of nowhere while I was trying to do my job.
“I’m not weak. I’m just reserved,” I said.
“No. I think you’re a little weak guy who can’t do nothin’,” he said.
“You can think whatever you want. That doesn’t make it true,” I said.
It didn’t take long at all for the tension to start building up at Ryan’s. Scott would jab with his mouth unprovoked because he thought I was just going to be quiet and take it all day, but what was really happening was that he didn’t see that the fuse was lit and it was burning away on the ground underneath him. When I finally had enough of his mouth, I stopped everything and focused all my anger on him and stared him down. Manager Steve and a server named Lynn were in the kitchen with us and they were frozen, watching to see what was going to happen between us. Nothing happened, because Scott kept his mouth closed, but he hadn’t learned yet.
After some time, I learned about Ryan’s fight policy. If two of the workers had such a problem with each other that they had to take it outside, they were allowed to clock out, go outside, take their uniforms off, and swing away. Steve made an amendment to the rule. If an employee loses the fight, or if they had to go to the hospital for any reason, they were to get fired. I didn’t know if it was a company-wide policy, or if it was just this particular location that did that.
Scott wasn’t the only cook of concern. There were a couple of other hotheads I had to share the kitchen with. One was named Eric, and the other was named Gregg. Greg was a tall guy from New York City originally. He definitely knew what he was doing, but he had ZERO patience for anybody who didn’t.
I was usually the one from the day shift who would hand over the responsibilities to the night shift cook. Gregg was night and I was day. One late afternoon, Steven, one of the dishwashers and another worker were in the kitchen with Gregg and I as we were trying to get everything set for the dinner rush.
“Man, I’m tired of having to pick up the slack of the day shift workers!” he said.
“I've only been here two weeks,” I said.
“I…don’t…care…if you’ve been here only two days!” Gregg said.
He kept going on, and I would reply back as the tension kept rising. If there was an emotional thermometer in the kitchen, the liquid just burst through the top. Steven started laughing, which didn’t help anything.
“**** you!” Gregg said and walked out of the kitchen into the dishroom.
“**** YOU! I said back.
For a moment, I could swear that I could see Gregg through the wall stop and turn around. If I had to describe it, it was like a very faint array of colors in the shape of a human body. I followed it with my eyes until it came back to the kitchen door, and Gregg indeed appeared back at the door at the same time as whatever I was seeing. In other words, he didn’t surprise me at all.
“**** you!” he repeated.
“**** you!” I said again.
“No, **** you!”
I shook my head while refusing to take my eyes off him.
“**** you!” I said one last time.
Gregg finally gave up and went back to what he was doing, and so did I.
When I came back into the kitchen a couple minutes later, Gregg was talking to Paul about the incident.
“I don’t know what he’s complaining about. He’s the one who started cursing and getting loud,” I said.
Gregg spun around and turned towards me.
“MIND YOUR OWN ******* BUSINEEEEEESSSSSSS!!!!!!!” he shouted at his absolute loudest.
I started walking through the kitchen.
“See? This is what I’m talking about. WHAT THE ****!!!!” I yelled my loudest too.
Nobody said anything. There was a beyond awkward silence, and I’m sure everyone out in the eating area heard us. The most I can say is, at least we made it through the day without anyone getting their head torn off.
Every time I worked a shift at Ryan’s, it was like, whose head is going to explode this time? It wasn’t just there where tempers were hot either. One night I came back to the neighborhood after working a full day at Ryan’s. I parked in front of the apartment, and right as I was getting out of my car, Jimmy was getting out of a car right next to mine, wearing a baseball cap that he wore about half the time.
“You got me ****** up, man. You got meeee ****** UP, MAN!” he said as he looked up at the second floor balcony a few doors down from my room, and a somewhat timid voice mirrored his.
“You got ME ****** up!”
“YOU GOT ME ****** UP!”
Jimmy seemed to get more aggravated each time, and the other guy who was probably in his late teens didn’t change at all, so it was clear which way this was going. I thought the kid should just be quiet and not talk back to Jimmy like that.
A few others were watching the outburst, but I didn’t want anything to do with it. I just worked a shift at my favorite place, and I’m not trying to get into anybody’s business in the hood. They don’t need me to solve anything.
I sat down in the living room which was right next to the balcony. It sounded like Jimmy made his way up and over to the kid that was talking back to him.
“Gimme my ************* money! GIMME MY ************* MONEY!!!”
“Call the cops,” the kid said as it sounded like he was starting to cry.
Jimmy wasn’t anyone to mess with, as I suspected. Jared told me one time he was giving Jimmy a ride to the gas station, and Jimmy saw someone he knew.
“Hold up. Stop for a second,” Jimmy said.
Jared pulled over and Jimmy proceeded to yell at the man.
The man kept walking.
“I said ey ****************! TURN AROUND!!!”
The man finally turned around.
“Hey, Jimmy! What’s up, man!” he said.
“Don’t ‘Jimmy what’s up’ me! Where’s my money?”
“Oh, I’ll have your money tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow??? Tomorrow is what you shoulda said YESTERDAY!!!”
“Aight. I’ll have your money by 5:30, Jimmy.”
Jimmy was a no-nonsense, “Every day is the wrong day to mess with me” kind of guy. He wouldn’t be my first pick for an ally, but in a place like this, I was grateful to have anything at all.