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    Entries in Weiner King (9)

    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?

    Thursday
    May182017

    BRUCE ALL BITEY

    Back in the ’70s, there was a guy named Bruce who came into the Weiner King every week or so. He was tall and lanky and graduated high school with me. I considered him to be my friend. Not a close friend, mind you, but a friend just the same.

    The Weiner King in Flemington was one of the most popular places in town back in the day. Most customers came back time and time again because they loved the food. Obviously, that was the case with him.

    Bruce loved our Texas Weiners. For those of you who might not know, and I would always describe it like a mantra of some kind, “A Texas Weiner is a hot dog with mustard, onions and chili.” Oh, the memories this brings back… Our hot dogs were grilled and the chili was made in-house from a secret family recipe. All meat! No beans! Bruce also loved French Fries and Coca Cola. That’s what he always, always ordered and he usually came in after the lunch crowd was gone. Somewhere between 2:30 – 4:00: that lull time every restaurant experiences.

    You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. So what, some guy likes Texas Weiners, French Fries, and Coke. What’s the big deal? So did almost everyone else.

    Well, what made his order special was due to what ALL he ordered. Each time, it was the same exact thing. Bellying up to the counter, he’d say…

    “Yes, I’d like seven Texas Weiners, seven large French Fries, and seven large Cokes, please.” Take into consideration that he was always alone. And tall. And thin. And, just in case you’re wondering, NO, seven Texas Weiners, seven large French Fries, and seven large Cokes will not fit on a single tray. I’ll let you figure it out.

    Bruce always waited patiently while we went to work. He was soft spoken. We’d pour the seven sodas and he’d take them to a table around the corner, in the very back, so he could be somewhat hidden from view and not noticed by anyone else passing through. You never heard a peep out of him and he’d sit there for quite some time, chewing and sipping away.

    After eating all that, he’d throw out his trash. You’d think he’d be heading toward the door, but…

    Noooooo!

    He didn’t. He came back to the counter to order again. “Yes, I’d like seven Texas Weiners, seven large French Fries, and seven large Cokes, please.” And he’d spend another half hour or so back in his corner, munching away.

    I never wanted to believe that one man could consume all that, but Bruce was proof. The girls were always shocked, too, because they were light eaters.

    “Where did all that food go?” they’d ask me.

    “I don’t know, but I’m sure he’s got a bathroom at home,” I’d generally respond.

    “Ewww!” I had no explanation for it other than to add that everyone’s metabolism is different.

    Whatever became of Bruce, I don’t know. After the Weiner King closed, where did he go for his food fix?  

     

    Friday
    Aug122016

    The Wart Tree

    In the late seventies, early eighties, I was in the Weiner King business in New Jersey. It was at the tail end of my restaurant career. At one of the locations, there was a large window along the side of the building, next to the front counter. (Actually, the restaurant was mostly glass around the sides and front.) When customers entered the place, the dining room was to the left and the ordering area was to the right. Very easy to navigate. This particular window and sill was all the way to the right, at the far end of the counter. The sill was just above waist-high and sitting on it was a very handsome ming aralia, about 18-inches tall, that looked like a small, leafy tree. No, it wasn’t a bonsai.

    The Weiner King had an extremely loyal following, no matter which of the six stores you visited. At this one, one of the customers was a very nice lady who came in at least twice a week during the lunch and/or dinner rush. Quite the regular, it came as a surprise when she walked through the front door around 4:00, not her usual time. (You get to know your customers’ schedules after a while.) Between 2:00 and 5:00, it’s called ‘slump time’ and it could take forever to get through if you don’t keep yourself busy. I must have been bored that day and let my mind wander — which was nothing new. I was working with a girl named Lauri, who was a college student on summer break. The lunch crew was gone and the evening crew hadn’t yet arrived. Just us. And one customer.

    She walked over to the counter to order but, instead, kept going toward the plant with her arms extended. Her hands got within inches of it, as if to fluff up the leaves, when she said, “I’ve really admired your plant. Every time I come in, I stare at it. It’s beautiful! What is it?”

    “It’s a wart tree.” I have no idea why the idea popped into my head, but it did. I said it, it was too late, and, in a flash, she retracted those arms faster than a toad can stick its tongue back in its mouth.

    “A WART TREE?” she exclaimed with an almost look of puzzled disgust on her face.

    I had to think fast. “Yes, a wart tree. You’ve seen Lauri working here before? She’s studying biochemistry at Rutgers University. You know how some warts have seeds?”

    “Yes..?”

    “Well, someone she knew had a wart. She removed the seeds in a lab and cultivated them into what you’re looking at here.”

    “You’re joking, right?”

    “No,” I insisted. “Ask her.”

    I hated to put Lauri on the spot but, despite her abundance of intellectual prowess, she was one heck of a good sport with a great sense of humor. After collaborating my story with some kind of details pertaining to the structure, functions, and interactions of macromolecules between animals and plants, the woman seemed to buy the story. 

    “It was, after all, a plantar wart,” I added, just to ice the cake. “You know, plantar… plant?”

    “Oh. Huh. A wart tree. I’ll be darned. I never knew that.” She composed herself but was still perplexed. “Well, I’d better order dinner for my husband and me.”  

    I went back to man the grills and Lauri stayed up front working on the rest of the order while making small talk. The woman, meanwhile, stood far away from the little tree. After she left, the two of us laughed pretty hard. It was dumb, but it was done.

    I’m convinced that when she got home, she told her husband all about it, and I’ll bet you he told her how there is no such thing, while rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically. In the end, though, she was either afraid of the tree, warts and all, very embarrassed, or too angry, because I never saw her again.

    Was I silly for doing it? Yes, but working 80 to 100 hours a week will do that to you. And my old boss, Jack, who worked at least 100 hours, used to do it all the time. Just not to customers.

    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.

     

    Tuesday
    Sep292015

    A Very Nosy Bee

    Years ago, when I worked at the Weiner King in Flemington, my boss, Jack Little, would lay me off during summer months, usually some time in June. Former high school students, now in college, would come home and want to go back to work for him for two reasons: to make money and to work with their old friends and him. You see, Jack was, quite simply, the best boss ever. He would hire 3 or 4 kids in my stead and I would go off to paint houses and businesses. I made a decent living doing it, I was quite good, and it was therapeutic, so it was a win/win for everyone. Come September, I’d be back slapping burgers and dogs into buns.

    One particular summer, I was painting the Weiner King at Turntable Junction, a touristy area in town with Colonial-style storefronts. People who worked there dressed in 1770s attire. Not at the Weiner King. Anyway, Jack’s father-in-law hired me. Behind the restaurant and down the embankment are railroad tracks. An old steam locomotive with antique cars would take people on scenic rides through parts of Hunterdon County. Called the Black River & Western RR, it still runs today.

    Along that embankment were countless nests of ground hornets. I remember setting empty syrup bottles out the back door and they would fill up with the darn things, but it never seemed to make a dent in their population. They pestered customers but we just couldn’t get rid of them. Oh, back to my painting story…

    Generally, the hornets - we called them bees - were pretty friendly unless provoked. I got used to bees and hornets from all of the outdoor work I did, and they didn’t bother me at all. I had to paint an area above the patio one afternoon. Sometimes, I’d eat Weiner King food for lunch, but I got used to packing my own. I don’t remember what I chose to eat that day and it’s not really important, but when I decided to break for lunch, I unwrapped what I had and started to take some bites. Of course, the smell of food always attracted these little critters and I’d gently wave my hand. Eventually, they’d get the message and fly away.

    Except for this one pesky guy. He just kept buzzing around me and my food. No matter how much I tried, there he was. Finally, he took the message and off he went. Or so I thought. I distinctly remember that fateful moment; the kind of moment filled with so much pain, you know you’ll never, ever forget it.

    I took a nice, big bite out of my sandwich and I was chewing away. Chewing and chewing and breathing through my nose. Mmmm… tasting and enjoying my lunch when, SUDDENLY, Mr. Bee decided to buzz the right side of my face. A wing brushed my cheek, and…

    I sucked him right up my nose. Deep into the sinus cavity. Oh no.

    I knew what was about to happen. You know, when bees get angry.

    S-C-H-W-W-W-W-O-O-O-O-O-N-N-N-G-G-G!

    Oh, the pain. Such excrutiating pain in my sinuses. They swelled shut almost immediately and tears flooded down my face like a gushing waterfall. This wasn’t funny at all! But it was. I jumped up and tried to walk it off, pacing violently back and forth on the 6-pitch roof. That was all I could do. No ice or anything would help.

    You know, it’s a good thing that, as a child growing up, I got over bee stings in no time. I had a great immune system and never caught poison ivy. Without it, I would have been in serious trouble.

    I would say it took about 15 minutes and then, the pain was gone. My nose opened up and I was able to go back to painting. I know I didn’t finish that sandwich because I had lost my appetite.

    As I continued to paint, the bees came around again, but I left my sandwich on the other side of the roof. Just for them. And me. My bee buddy never came out. I didn’t swallow him. I think he ended up down in one of my lungs but by then, he was a goner. Interestingly, it wasn’t long after that incident that I switched from syrup to honey on my waffles, and I’ve been like that ever since.

     

    Wednesday
    Sep022015

    Whipped Cream & Wet Nuts

    When I was in the Weiner King restaurant business in central NJ back in the late 70s, we sold soft serve ice cream from behind the counter and had a self-serve sundae bar in the dining room area. This was long before the days of sneeze guards. Customers could load their cones or bowls with a wide array of syrups, like chocolate and butterscotch. We had whipped cream, wet, sticky walnuts, marshmallow goop, chunky strawberry and pineapple fruit syrups, and a nice assortment of sprinkles — also known as jimmies in some circles. I don’t know if they were called sprinkles in NYC and jimmies in Philadelphia or how it worked, but I preferred jimmies. Where I lived was kind of like an out of focus line of demarcation between the two cities and people had their selective allegiances.

    At one point, I played around with the idea of getting a sign painted to hang above the sundae bar, but I found that people were such disgusting slobs, it became downright impossible to keep clean. I mean, have you ever tried scouring gooey, syrupy stuff that was spilled all over the counter and floor, and splashed on the wall? With sprinkly fruit stuck to it? Walnuts became glued within minutes and you needed a paint scraper to get them up. There was the problem with maraschino cherries, too. They rolled across the floor and customers stepped on them. This went on day and night. Eventually, I yanked the darn thing out because it got completely out of hand. There was no such thing as respect. Oh well, it’s too bad, because it was designed with children in mind (and their supervising, adult-like, responsible parents,) and the sign I came up with would have been perfect for it. I would have called it the…

    Thursday
    Jul232015

    The Mushroom Incident

    Since I was a child, I could spot a hair on my plate, whether it was on top, mixed in, or at the very bottom of whatever I was eating. For some reason, hairs always migrated my way.

    When I was in the Weiner King business, we bought most of our foodstuff from R&R Provision Co. based out of Easton, PA. Weiner King, for those of you who don’t know, was primarily located in the central NJ area. As the name implies, we specialized in hot dogs and hamburgers — Texas Weiners, in particular, with mustard, onions and homemade chili sauce. No restaurant made a better chili dog, and that’s a fact!

    To say that, after many years in the business, I got a little tired of the same food every day would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I tried every variation possible — hot dogs and hamburgers with any and all combinations of toppings imaginable, but it got old. You could only eat so many French fries with mustard, in other words, and fish sandwiches with pickles and ketchup.

    Invariably, I’d send one of the workers out for a couple of good steaks. “Get one for me and one for you.” Or fresh sea scallops. Whatever I was in the mood for. A lot of times, the R&R rep would bring us samples in hopes that we’d put them on the menu, but we pretty much stuck with our main theme. The samples sure were a nice change, though.

    On my nights off, I would sometimes go to the Union Hotel on Main Street in the heart of Flemington, and order breaded, deep fried, mushrooms. For years, they were one of my all-time favorites, so when R&R gave me a flyer with them as one of the specials, I gobbled up the offer and bought a 10lb. case. Holy mackerel!!! I was in my glory. When the delivery truck arrived, I went outside to greet the driver.

    “Do you have my mushrooms?” He could check what was on the list.

    “No,” he responded, “not today.” Fortunately, deliveries were twice a week.

    I don’t know if I had to wait a week or not, but it seemed like an eternity, and my mouth was watering at the thought of biting into those delectable, deep fried to a golden brown, morels. Oops! I mean, morsels. They were button mushrooms, after all.

    Finally, the frozen treats arrived and I quickly and carefully cut open the box. Certainly, I didn’t want any of them to spill on the floor. Not a single one. I threw a whole bunch into the deep fryer and told my employees, “Eat them while you can. The rest are mine. That’s the law.”

    We were very liberal when it came to employee meals. They were always free and plentiful but, when it came to my mushrooms, I took a hands-off approach. Anything but them. While they were cooking, I went into the back room to close up the case and throw it in the freezer. I may have written DO NOT TOUCH on the box, too, but I did notice one thing that was printed on it: PRODUCT OF THE PHILIPPINES.

    I didn’t care where they were from, but it goes to show you that, even in the 1970s, we were outsourcing. Did I worry about foreign pesticides, hormones and antibiotics back then? No. All I cared about was that I could eat my mushrooms every single day until I looked like a fungus. Well, not really. As a rule, I ate them in the late afternoons, when it was very slow. I didn’t want customers wondering if I was serving them, and I didn’t want employees asking me to share. 99% of the time, I’m a very giving person, but not with breaded or battered mushrooms. Until one day…

    I was probably about halfway into the box when, one fateful afternoon, I had a life-changing experience. It altered this one eating habit of mine for the rest of my life. Believe me when I say that, until that day, I was enjoying bite-after-bite. I sat with my plate of about a dozen mushrooms when, as usual, I popped one in my mouth. As I chewed and chewed, I thought there might be a hair in there. Yuck! I stuck my fingers in my mouth and, yup, it was, indeed, a hair. I should have just spit the darn thing out on the spot, but I didn’t.

    I managed to grab the end of it without losing any of the mushroom or breading. Then, I started to pull. Out and out it came. I moved my fingers away from my mouth. The farther they got, I realized this was no ordinary hair. It was LONG and STRAIGHT and BLACK! It was as long as my left arm could stretch by the time it was completely out. I immediately spit the mushroom into the garbage and just about heaved on the spot. I was totally shocked and disgusted. How did something that long get wound up into one mushroom? I didn’t want to think about it. My appetite was gone. I threw the remainder of that case into the dumpster and, to this very day, I cannot eat deep fried, breaded mushrooms. Just thinking about them would make the hair on my head stand up… if I had any, but I won’t eat them to this very day.

    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.