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    Entries in Jack Little (5)

    Tuesday
    Oct172017

    Me Too?

    In late August of 1968, I turned 16. Living in Flemington, NJ, the hottest place around was the Weiner King. I really wanted to get my first job there. No other place was like “The King.” It was the center of the known universe. One Saturday afternoon, a week or so after my birthday - I was “of age” now - my mother drove up to the front, I got out and went inside to ask the owner if he would hire me. He asked a few questions, jotted down my information, and said he’d get back to me if an opening came up. I made sure I was dressed nicely.

    Some time the following week, the phone rang and the rest is history. September, 1968. I remember, on my first day, I wore a tie. Jack Little, the owner, chuckled a bit and told me it wasn’t necessary. What I needed was an apron. Angie Rocco was assigned to train me and I’ll never forget that first day, nor will I ever forget many subsequent days at that job. One stands out in particular, and the news of late has brought it back into the forefront of my mind.

    The Weiner King went through several transformations over the years. The first one was a little shack. When I went to work, it was a much larger building. The old shack had been tossed in the back of the parking lot. From the highway, the dining room was on the left. The right side was the waiting area, the front counter, and the kitchen. There were two entrances that faced sideways. Jack had lost the key and we had to run a heavy-duty chain between the two doors at night to lock up. There were two rugs on the floor, too, for customers to wipe their feet as they entered. At the end of the night, someone would have to take each rug outside and shake out the dust and dirt. On nights that I worked, that would be me because I was the “junior executive assistant manager trainee” at the time.

    As it was with many summer nights, the crew was a core group of three – Jack, Tom Garefino, and me. Tom was a gruff type of guy with a heart of gold. Some people were kind of afraid of him, but I knew better. A retired Army M. Sgt., he was a great man and full of knowledge.

    Late one evening, it was coming up on closing time. Jack never refused a customer as long as those grills were on. Besides, we weren’t closed. The front of the restaurant, where the waiting area was, was made up entirely of glass panes. I stood at the front counter when a red Fiat Spider rolled up. (Dang! We’re never going to close, I thought.) The convertible top was down. Two guys came in and I took their order. When they picked up their food, they sat quietly at a front table. I’d say they were in their thirties. Meanwhile, Jack, Tom, and I started the process of cleaning up – getting ready to close.

    At some point, I picked up one of the rugs and proceeded to shake it outside one of the doors. It was near the Fiat, but far enough away to not get it dirty. One of the two gentlemen came outside, stood next to me, and began asking questions. How old are you? How often do you work? Is that guy your father? What time do you get off? You know, questions like that. Then, BAM! The proposition…

    “I just got out of prison. I’m a professional photographer and I want to take pictures of you. We have a place not too far from here with a studio and small stage. We have lots of wine and we’d like to take nude photographs of you.”

    I was uncomfortable right from the start, but this was WAY too much. I kept turning around and looking at Jack and Tom for help. They were leaning on the front counter paying close attention, smiling at me. I needed help! Anyone in their right mind could see the look of panic in my face. Why didn’t they rush out to help me?

    “No! No! No! I’m not like that. I like girls. I don’t want my picture taken…” And on it went until… until… until… I turned around and THERE HE WAS, the other guy! Outside the door. It was as if he was reading his friend’s lips.

    He knew what had transpired. “Please come with us. We promise we won’t hurt you. We’ll bring you back.”

    “Noooooo!” I firmly responded, opening the door and rushing back inside. “Where were you? I needed your help!”

    This thin, blond, 16-year-old boy was scared poopless.

    There they were, Jack and Tom, getting a big kick out of it. My heart was racing as they snickered away. “Don’t worry, Dave, we were right here. We weren’t going to let those guys do anything to you. We were watching and would have been over this counter and out the door in a flash.”

    That was reassuring, but, fortunately, I was smart. I resisted. I had help. What would have happened had I been alone?

    Monday
    Mar282016

    FEEL THE TERN

    To everything, tern, tern, tern.
    There is a season, tern, tern, tern.
    And a time to every purpose under heaven.

    Bernie Sanders was giving a speech in Portland, Oregon last week when a little bird decided to ‪#feelthebern‬. It landed onstage, flew off and returned, perching itself on the podium. The crowd roared with exuberant excitement! It was seen as some sort of presidential prediction - an omen of good things to come. Perhaps it was, because I have an experience; a first-hand account of how birds can alter the course of human history. Sometimes good, other times…

    Many years ago, in the 1970s, I spent a lot of time on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. Beach Haven, in particular. My old boss, Jack Little, the best boss in the world, owned a Weiner King restaurant there (open from Memorial Day through Labor Day) and I’d drive ‘down the shore’ once a week to relieve the managers; to give them a day off. I don’t know if that was the case or not on this particular day. I do know that I wasn’t working and I met a beautiful young girl. We hit it off right away and I could sense a budding relationship blossom as the intensity began to build. I knew she felt it, too. It was destiny… Or so I thought.

    I don’t think we had been conversing all that long when we went into an ice cream shop and got a couple of cones. We went back outside and sat on a sidewalk bench, close together. I was on her right. At this point in my life, I was physically coordinated enough to be able to hold a soft-serve cone in one hand, licking away, while my other arm slowly inched its way around her shoulders. Life was feeling very good. Good food. Good conversation. Good looking girl.

    Good thing I was wearing shorts, too. As my enthusiasm toward our fledgling friendship continued to grow, SPLAT! A huge gob of something even warmer landed on top of my left thigh. It was a huge deposit of BIRD CRAP! It missed her, fortunately, but it wiped the mood right out of us. She began to laugh. The kind of laugh you know isn’t in your favor. It must have been the biggest seabird ever!

    “I’ll go get napkins,” she said, giggling all the way inside the store, only to return moments later with lots and lots of wet and dry paper towels. “OK, I’ve gotta go.”

    “No!” I begged, but it was too late. A ‘tern’ of events and off she went. The damage was done and I was left with a giant mess to clean. There was no way I could have chased after her - poop running down my leg.

    Who knows what would have happened that day, but it’s safe to say a solitary bird changed my fate as I watched her disappear around the corner, most likely electing to search for another fun candidate to party with.

    Saturday
    Feb132016

    First Love

    A number of years ago, my late father found a portrait I had sketched in drawing pencil. It was a little smudged and faded, but it brought back a lot of memories. It was dated 1975. She was my first true love…

    She and her parents used to come to the main Weiner King restaurant in Flemington, New Jersey. I started working there in the fall of 1968. From the moment I laid eyes on her, she was beautiful. I used to wait with anticipation for those occasional Saturdays they would come in. My eyes were always peeled. When their car pulled into the parking lot, my heart would begin to pound and I made certain I was at the cash register to take their order as they entered the front door. One day, she turned me into a nervous wreck. She came in and applied for a job.

    “Please, please, Jack, hire her, hire her, please, please!” Jack Little was the best boss I ever had.

    “Oh, I don’t know, Dave. We don’t really need anyone right now.”

    “You’ve got to, Jack! Please! Please! Please!” 

    Jack was only teasing me. Of course, he hired her. It was the fall of 1970 and, boy, did I fall! On her first day, I asked her out by the French fry warmer. She said yes. We dated for many years, but this isn’t a story about her and what we did together, this is a story about Valentine’s Day, sometime in the mid-seventies…

    When we’re young, we have a circle of friends, especially at the high school level and a year or two beyond. (It helps to work at the most popular place in town, too.) Since her friends knew my friends and my friends dated her friends - and so on and so forth - that’s how her message got relayed to me when she didn’t want to come right out and point blank tell me. Hint. Hint.

    “Dave, she says if you don’t ask her to marry you by Valentine’s Day, she’s going to break up with you.”

    Whether she really would have or not, I don’t know, but I wasn’t taking any chances and I knew she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It’s just that my “hurry up” gear wasn’t shifting quite as quickly as hers at the moment. Yes! Of course I wanted to marry her! 

    There were two Weiner Kings in Flemington in those days. I worked at both. One was in a touristy area called Turntable Junction. Nearby was a jewelry store and the owner came by regularly for lunch.

    “I need to talk to you about an engagement ring.” She wasn’t surprised. I think the whole town knew about the two of us.

    “How much do you want to spend?” I told her the range and made it a point to visit her shop one afternoon. What did I know about engagement rings? Nothing, but I ended up purchasing a 1.25 carat teardrop diamond set in white gold. Oh, how it glistened brightly!

    I’ve always been a practical joker, so I asked if she would sell me a cheap promise ring. This one had a chintzy diamond chip in the center that was surrounded by highly polished silvery metal. At first glance, it looked like something more. She laughed at my idea and gladly threw it in for free.

    I bought several other gifts for that special day, probably cologne and, maybe, a blouse. I don’t really remember. I do know that we went to dinner at a very nice restaurant. No, not the Weiner King for chili dogs with cheese and onions! After our romantic fine dining experience, we drove back to my apartment. She pretty much knew what was in store. I’m sure the word got back to her. I removed my suit jacket and her coat, we settled into the sofa and sipped good wine. Then, we exchanged gifts. I don’t recall what I got because I was more interested in the engagement. When the moment was just right, I handed her a special little box, all nicely wrapped, frilly-like, and dropped to one knee. I was a modern man, but when it came to this, I was as traditional as it gets…

    “Will you marry me?” I asked, as she unwrapped the box and opened it up.

    “Yes!” she responded, her eyes welling up.

    “I’m sorry, this is all I can afford right now.”

    “That’s alright. I love you so much…” she said while wiping away a flood of tears. Quickly, she placed that little diamond chip ring on her finger.

    “I love you very much, too. More than anything.” I wiped away a few tears, too, and we hugged and kissed. We were officially engaged. We spent a very loving evening together. Hours later, it was time to take her home. She still lived with her parents. I helped her put on her coat and then donned my jacket.

    “Oops, what’s this?” I asked, with a surprised look on my face. Fumbling inside the pocket, I pulled out THE BOX.. “Hmm, I must have forgotten about this. Here.” I softly folded it into her hand and eased her back to the living room sofa, where we sat back down. She tore off the wrapping and slowly opened the box.

    “Oh My GOD!” The shock of that diamond staring up at her was almost too much to grasp. “I can’t believe this.”

    “Look, I really wanted yellow gold, but this is what she had. Do you want me to return it for another?”

    “NO!”

    “How about giving that cheap one back to me. That was just a joke.”

    “NO! I love it!”

    After more hugging and kissing, I took her home. Her parents were asleep. We kissed goodnight and off I went. I was the happiest and luckiest guy in the world.

     

    Sunday
    Apr052015

    Feeling Loansome

    Once upon a time, many years ago, I was in the fast food restaurant business in Flemington, New Jersey. It was called Weiner King and our claim to fame was a specialty hot dog with mustard, chopped onions and the best homemade chili you ever had. Called a Texas Weiner, the chili was made with finely ground beef. No beans! It was brown gold.

    We had a very faithful base of clientele; people who had come into the place since it opened in 1962. Many of them remained loyal right up to the very end, and tons of old customers from that area will tell you they still crave Texas Weiners and King Burgers. And chili cheesedogs with onions.

    One of our faithful customers was a guy named George. George came in to eat every day, including weekends. Sometimes, he’d come in more than once. Twice. Three times in one day. He was such a good customer, he was almost like family. One afternoon, he approached the counter with a relatively serious look on his face. Usually, he was quite happy and talkative. On this particular day, he just asked for Jack. Jack was my boss, the owner of the place, and the best boss you’d ever work for. He asked me if I would cover the burger grill so he could walk up to the front counter…

    “Hey, George. What’s up?”

    “Jack?”

    “Yes, George…”

    “I’m getting married on Saturday and I want to have our wedding reception here.” I had met his fiancée many times before. Clearly, George wasn’t playing with a full set of teeth, if you know what I mean.

    “Certainly, George! I’d be happy to accommodate you!” Jack responded. “We’ll make sure you have reserved tables. How many people and what time?”

    I don’t remember the incidentals, but Jack offered free ice cream for everybody. Maybe, they brought a cake, too. When the wedding party arrived, right on schedule, George was beaming! They drove around the parking lot several times, tooting their horns in excitement. George was a married man! When they came in, he said they cruised down the main drag and around the three traffic circles, something Flemington is famous for, beep, beep, beeping away!

    I know it was a big hot dog party. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries. Milkshakes and Cokes. The orders kept flying. Plus we had to wait on other customers. After all was said and done, his entire bill came to just over $13.00. But you have to understand that, back then, in the early 70s - if my memory serves me correctly - a hot dog was 35 cents and a quarter pound burger was 50 cents.

    Yup, ole George did all right that day. Everyone had a great time, including us.

    “Where are you going on your honeymoon, George?” Jack asked as the affair wound down.

    “The Ringoes Drive-In,” he responded. The following Monday, George was back in for lunch. I don’t think anyone asked about the movie.

    §

    Two or three years later, George came up to the counter and, one more time, asked to speak to Jack. He had that same serious look on his face. This time, though, he wanted to talk privately, so the two met around the corner, by the side door between one of the dining rooms and the back room where we did our prep work. They spoke quietly, but, afterward, Jack said he needed to borrow $50.00. He was in a real bind. Of course, Jack immediately reached into his pocket and handed him the money because that’s just the way he was. “Is $50.00 enough?”

    Sadly, it was the last time George came into the restaurant. It’s as if he fell off the face of the earth.

    One day, many years later, Jack was on Main Street and he ran into him.

    “George… George… where have you been?” The poor guy desperately tried to hide his face to avoid the encounter. Too late. “Listen, don’t worry about the $50.00. I want you back as a customer. We like you! We’ve missed you! Forget the money!”

    “OK, sorry, I’ll be in,” and he scurried off. Maybe he thought that Jack was privileged. (He certainly wasn’t.) Maybe he felt Jack was rich because he could simply dig into his pocket and pull out $50.00 and he resented it. Perhaps he knew, when he borrowed it, that he’d never be able to pay it back. I just don’t know, but Jack never saw George again. None of us ever did.

     

     

    Tuesday
    Oct302012

    The Calm After the Storm

     I grew up in New Jersey. I still have a few relatives and many friends living there that I keep in touch with. Hurricane Sandy really concerned me, so, this morning, when I found out that everyone I know survived the mess safe and sound, I was quite relieved. Yes, there are massive power outages and downed trees all over the northeast, but no one I know was hurt. As of this writing, 89% of the population of Hunterdon County, where I was born and raised, is without electricity. Thank goodness for gas stoves, although not everyone has them.

    Speaking of stoves, I spent eleven years in the restaurant business in the Garden State. I, quite literally, worked my way up from sweeping floors and dumping trash to, what my old boss once told me, becoming the best manager he ever had, and I did it in record time. I took great pride in that due to one thing; one person. I had the utmost respect for my boss, Jack Little, and I still do. He was the best boss a person could ever have and he helped raise me, whether he knew it or not. If I was his best manager, it was because of what he taught me as an employer, a father figure, and a decent and honest human being. It was the respect he showed others that was instilled in me. And from him, I learned how to be as cool as a cucumber under fire. Don’t panic! Think fast on your feet.

    Inherent in any business, in order to be successful, is customer service. That’s the single most important factor, especially in a restaurant, where a customer wants to walk into a clean place, filled with smiling faces eager to serve you. It’s one of the cardinal rules of the service industry; service with a smile — and what you serve had better be just as good.

    I was much younger then and it was not unusual for me to put in 80-hour workweeks; nominally, 60. I was quite sharp in those days, too. There was a time — I kid you not — that a series of events (call them major breakdowns) hit me all at once and I had to render split-second decisions. In the middle of a lunch rush, of all times, a deep fryer stopped working, a toilet overflowed, a customer complained that their order wasn’t prepared right, and two of the front counter girls decided it was the proper time to pick a fight with each other. Yup, in front of hungry customers, anxious to get their food and go back to work; customers who couldn’t care less about Debbie and Sue, nor their boneheaded boyfriends and who they flirted with.

    From Jack, I learned how to work under pressure — how to deal with the daily events in the life of a restaurateur. Find ‘em and fix ‘em fast. He also taught me how to deal with people at all levels. After all, that’s what customer service really is, but it doesn’t stop there. It also includes the interaction between employees. How can a business run smoothly if there are underlying problems?

    On that particular day, I called each girl to the back room, one at a time. By taking them out of the argument, I accomplished the first thing; they couldn’t fight. I told them that if I heard another word, I would fire them on the spot and handle the lunch rush without them. I had other boys and girls working at the time and we’d just have to work harder. Most importantly, they would be out of a job and I stressed that a thousand other kids were banging at my back door begging for work. Yes, they were kids.

    “But, but, but,” they tried to explain in their whiny voices, “Debbie did this” and “Sue did that” and each boyfriend was somehow involved. I didn’t want to hear about it. 

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, “but this is not the time or place. Customers don’t want to listen to your petty fights, do they?”

    Basically, all it took was a minute to talk to each of them alone and things quickly settled down. I had learned a long time ago not to take sides, too. That was most important. NEVER TAKE SIDES because, in the end, I would be the only loser. And darned if it wasn’t the truth. After the lunch rush was over and things got cleaned up, wouldn’t you just know those two girls had already patched things up? There they were, taking their lunch break together, sitting at one of the tables and laughing up a storm. It was as if nothing ever happened. Had I taken sides, I would have been the real bonehead and worthy of the title.

    §

    Since those days, I don’t know what happened. I left the restaurant business in the early 80s. Today, at 60, I’m no longer interested in running a business, nor am I healthy enough to open one, but, somehow, I seemed to have lost that touch. While I still know a thing or two about customer service, something is amok on my blog and only I am to blame for not keeping it under control. No one else. Understandably, I must grab the bull by the horns. Right now.

    As with any business that deals with the public, it’s the meet and greet people who make your business successful. While management works diligently behind the scenes, it’s the front counter people that make and break a business. While I was all about hands-on management, I couldn’t do it all. No one can.

    I understood, and still do, that I could serve the best hamburger in the business, but all it would have taken was a couple of employees to throw it all away; not by being mean to customers, but by what the customers saw and heard coming from the front counter. If I walked in off the street, I wouldn’t care if you’ve got the best burger on the planet. By running a sloppy ship, I would wonder if your kitchen was just as messy, and I seriously doubt I’d want to come back, let alone order anything. Do you wash your hands?

    While no one on my blog is an employee and readers are not customers, please remember that half of Marinade Dave is what I write and the other half is what commenters have to say. That’s the entire menu – the recipe for success and it’s the beauty of blogging. Failure is not an option.

    I realize that tomorrow is Halloween, but coming here should not be a frightening experience. I want more readers! I want more comments! I don’t want people to be afraid of anything. While I would never expect everyone to agree with one another, let alone what I write, hiding behind the mask of anonymity does not give anyone a right to be uncivil. Be nice to each other. I realize that many years of writing comments about the Casey Anthony case (and now this one) has hardened us. Today is the day to wipe our slates clean! At least, on this blog, because it’s all that’s left to do. Please believe me when I say this…

    Marinade Dave is not the name of a hurricane and now is the time for calm after the storm. I refuse to write if it ends in a fight. We are a team and that means all of us!