John Strausbaugh, Stories


Illustration by Ilene S. Stein
(click image to enlarge)



"We're All George Here, George."





Ginny could tell right away something was up when none of the other kids who worked at Teepee Tacos would look her in the eye. Pickles the manager wouldn't look her in the eye either, but she never did. If Pickles' hands ever went where her eyes did Teepee Tacos would be settling harassment suits into the next century. All the girls called her Nipples.

"Ginny step into my office a minute," she said. Her office was a corner in the back between the taco bender and the freezers that held huge blocks of processed maize-product.

“Ginny how long you work for Teepee Tacos?"

"Eight hours a week."

“I mean how long you been with us?"

"Since school started."

Ginny didn't like standing in that little space with Pickles. Pickles had boobs like footballs stuck down her shirt, and since she was practically a midget Ginny had to suck in her belly not to let them touch her. "You gonna fire me whyn't you just say so?"

Pickles ran her eyes all up and down Ginny's injun maiden uniform.

"It's not like we're firing you, Ginny. Cutbacks from Ottumwa. Teepee Tacos ain't riding high as we once was. Them other joints on the strip giving us heck. Laying you off. Last in first out. My hands are tied."

Too bad your eyes aren't, Ginny thought.

"It's not like we're saying you're a bad girl," Pickles said, licking her fat lips like she had hot sauce on them.

"I could tell them you put your hands on me," Ginny said.

"I never touched you."

"Your word against mine. Who they gonna believe?"

Pickles shrugged. "Have the uniform cleaned before ya bring it back or they'll dock ya for it."

The other girls pretended she'd gotten a raw deal and they were mad, but she knew they had already divvied up her hours.

The strip was all lit up when she went out. The sky full of pancakes and pizzas, arrows and gremlins, burgers and drive-ins and take-outs and quickees and E-Zs and discounts. Headlights zoomed by and beamed her as she walked along the crumbling road fringe stepping over weeds and trash. Her mom let her use the car most times, a crap Generica Ginny would be mortified to get caught dead in if she ever crashed it, but it had pooped out a few weeks ago and her mom couldn't afford to take it in. Handy, her mom's current manfriend, rooted around under the hood one Saturday but couldn't get it going.

"That's okay," Ginny's mom had said with a wink. "Ain't why he's called Handy anyways." Ginny almost puked.

Ginny managed to cross the big mall lot diagonally without getting run down or backed over. In a far corner of the rear lot dumpsters stank and rustled around in the dark. Behind them was a hole in the fence that gave out onto a forgotten access road that led into her street. Ginny was stooping through the hole when a hand grabbed her elbow. Her heart shot straight up.

"Hi Ginny."

"Oh hi Mr. Peck."

Mr. Peck was an old guy, 27 if he was a day, and sort of a bum. His clothes stank and he lived out of plastic bags and said retarded things, which made him pretty entertaining to listen to for about five minutes. After that he turned boring and it was hard to get away without being rude. On account of that most of the kids didn't like running into him, but Ginny felt weirdly drawn to him.

Mr. Peck eyed her uniform.

"Why the fetching squaw getup? School play?"

"It's my work uniform. Teepee Tacos?"

"Never been in it. But I probably dine out back of it periodically."

Ginny shivered. The dumpsters out back of Teepee Tacos were even stinkier and spookier than the ones they were standing near. The kids wouldn't go out there without an escort.

"How long you work there?" Mr. Peck asked.

"Until fifteen minutes ago. I just got canned."

Mr. Peck sighed. "Work can be such a chore. Ha."

Ginny almost asked him how would he know. All he did was hang around the malls talking to kids. He hung around one until they chased him away to the next. About a million years ago he taught at Ginny's junior high. When the school canned most of the teachers because of the cutbacks and replaced them with cable he never found another job. He lost his car and his house and carried everything he owned in plastic bags.

"Years ago I had a friend," Mr. Peck went on. "An opera singer. A great tenor. Well, a good one. He knew it was a ludicrous talent, since the entire world has use for maybe one or two great tenors in any lifetime. Those two have fabulous agents who get them all the work, and the rest are busboys and waiters. So he was waiting tables at that ritzy steak place in the Three Three Two Building. What's it called, the Char Pit or something. Three years he worked there. In the first month he earned more in tips than in his entire career singing. No one ever gave him the slightest indication that he wasn't doing it up to standards until one evening, after three years, the maitre d' took him aside and told him they were letting him go. 'Why?' he asked. 'What have I done wrong?' 'Face it, George,' the maitre d' replied, 'you're no waiter.' You know what he said? 'Thank you. I been working here three years and you're the first one who noticed.' Get it?"

"Sure," Ginny lied, edging toward the hole in the fence.

"You know, you and I are a lot alike," Mr. Peck said, making Ginny shiver again. "Individuals. Don't run with the herd. We stand out."

He sure did, Ginny thought. Mr. Peck didn't just stand out, he slept out, ate out and was out of his mind. She wondered if he was saying she would end up like him some day.

"Gotta go," she told him, ducking through the fence before he could unload another lecture at her.

"Remember!" he called through the hole. "You're no waiter!"

The minute she walked in the door her mother said, "You're home early."

"They changed my hours."

"Don't tell me you got canned again."


"What you do this time?"

"Nothing. Cutbacks."

"Funny how they always cut you back first. Don't expect me to carry you. Times is tough."

"I heard of an opening. A restaurant."

"A restaurant. What you know about food?"

"Didn't I work at Teepee Tacos? Don't I do most of the cookin around here?"

"That's what I mean," her mother said. "What restaurant?"

"The Ash Pit."

"The Char Pit? That's the swankest joint in town. They wouldn't let you stand outside and smudge the window."

"I got an in."

"Just like your father. He always had a in too and it never got him nowhere."



The Three Three Two was a vast anonymoidal box of steel and glass. A sign hung from it. Consider Office Space in the Three Three Two — It's Not Half Bad. For a while after it was first built sheets of the glass kept sliding off it and slicing through pedestrians, resulting in multiple millions of dollars in lawsuits. Ginny knew that because her mother was always telling her to walk that way, maybe she'd get lucky. Ginny's mom had funny ideas about luck. She bought $100 of blotto tickets a week and partied like it was 2099 if she won ten of it back. She was always putting the bite on Handy and his predecessors Tug, Bub and Flaco.

The Char Pit occupied one whole corner of the Three Three Two. The employee entrance was around the back. Ginny walked past a loading dock where guys who looked like candidates for her mom's next manfriend stood around jingling their keys in their pockets and laughing and sucking their teeth and making woo sounds. Ginny thought it was for her, then she noticed a woman in a purple wig streaked with blonde and a tiny skirt hobbling up and down the pavement on extremely high but uneven heels carrying a clipboard and flyers. She stepped stiffly and with extreme care like an apprentice stiltwalker. She was outside a joint called Topp Hatt Clubb Velvette DeLuxxx, one of those fake-swank gentleman's clubs where guys who were no gentlemen threw away money they didn't have on alcoholic refreshments that contained little alcohol and weren't refreshing while women took their shirts off to show their artificial anatomies to dance music they didn't really dance to that was so loud it wasn't really music anymore.

"Support the Clumsy Strippers Fund?" the purplonde asked Ginny as the guys on the loading dock wooed, weeted and kissied. "Every night wives mothers and daughters suffer on the job injuries in establishments such like this," she deadpanned. "They got no health insurance, no workman's comp, no union and no hope. Your donation to CSF helps provide them and their children — "

As Ginny hurried past her the purplonde lost her concentration and almost went over. The guys laffed and snortled. Ginny felt bad for her but she had her own troubles.

She came to a steel door with Char Pit Employees Only stenciled on it. She walked into a small room where uniforms were hanging from racks and a beatup desk was crammed in a corner. A tall guy who looked like an English butler was crammed behind it.

He said "Can I help you?" in that way that means "Who the fuck are you and what do ya want?"

"I wanna apply for a job."

"We didn't advertise no job."

"George who used to work here referred me."

"Which George?"

Down a corridor she could hear kitchen help throwing pots and pans around.

"I got experience."

The guy looked her up and down, but not the way Nipples did. He was more like a butcher eyeing a big slab of meat and deciding where to cut.

"It just so happens," he said, standing up, "that we lost a girl this morning. Twelve tables, four hour rush and ya gotta be sweet as pie to every one of um or you're out on your keester. Pay stinks, tips are fair, ya clean your own uniform and you're welcome to any scraps. I catch you loafin, boostin stock or making dates with the customers you're out. On the other hand if you wanna stiff your busboys I couldn't care less. Try this on, she was about your type. Ain't they all. I'm George the maitre d', but you can call me God."

He led her down the corridor past the kitchen, the walk-ins, the lock-up.

"Your pal George probably told you this is the swankest joint they is. Members only, and you don't get to be a member unless you know a lot of members, in which case you're probably already a member. When we order steak they fly in the whole steer. Chef strips out the tenderloins and throws the rest away. Our quiverin meringue and flamin brains are famous around the planet. Sir Progeny Endive Late-Late Earl of Howling-Sphincter pawned the hairlooms to bring the Duchess of Whitbread here for a single meal of potlick and roast crumbs. In summer they sky in from all quarters to sip our creme de monkey and spit their own carp for fishkabobs. You get no benefits, no comp, no vacation and no respect. Still want in?"

It sounded a lot like Clubb Deluxxx to Ginny, but she just nodded.

"Your funeral," the guy said with no hint of sympathy. "Meet the girls and boys."

They stepped out of the kitchen into the empty restaurant. With all the overhead lights on high beam the joint didn't look so swank to her. The banquettes were pleather, the linen tablecloths dingy and patched, the chandeliers tin, the carpeting stained, the walls covered in mirrors and fake flocked velvette giving the place the feel of an old lady's powder room.

The young waiters and waitresses stood around the work station giving her the eye.

"This here is George."


"George meet George, George, George, George and George."

Ginny looked at him.

"What is it George? Didn't your pal George tell ya? We're all George here, George. Old custom. Goes back to the club's first waiter. We call them sir or madamn, they call us George. You mind?"

Ginny shrugged. "I don't give a damn."

"You'll fit right in."

The first dinner wave came in. Old farts in expensively ugly get-ups.

"Evening sir or madamn."

“Evening George. Bring us drinks and hop to."

"George take this back."

“Somethin wrong with it?"

"Ice ain't cold."

"Very yoomorous sir or madamn."

"Soup and salad George. And a big heapin bowl a them oyster crackers."

"George take it all back and start over."

"Somethin wrong with the chops sir?"

"Chops are excellent but there's a spot on my knife. Do it all over and get it right George."

A waitress said, "God must like you, George."


"He only put the mayor, the bishop, the tv lady and their dates in your section. They get too drunk to count and let ya fill in your own tip. Take um for all they got. They got more."

An old guy at least as ratty and stinky as Mr. Peck kept leaning over the table to yell at his date, an aerobic type too young to be his daughter with one of those frosty shaggy hairdos that always reminded Ginny of white plastic christmas trees. Every time he leaned over he put his tie in his soup.

"Problem with people today is they don't know how to listen," he yelled. "You tell um and tell um and tell um again and they still don't get it. They got this idea they got ideas of their own. They don't understand that thinkin is a industry. Leave it to the professionals and do what you're told."

"George. George. More wine here George. More water. Where's the breadsticks George?"

Another George brought a table some sort of pink jelly in a flaming sauce. The low blue flames, like gas stove fire, licked the edges of the plate.

"Happy birthday dear. Make a wish and blow out your brains."

"Take this back George. I ordered rare."

"It's bleedin all over the plate madamn."

"I wanna hear it squeal when I dig in George."

God said, "So how you doin George?"

Ginny said, "Okay George."

"Don't call me George," God said.

The stinky old guy and his date stood up. He went over to yell hello at a party of six. Ginny and his date saw his wallet at the same time. It was sitting on his chair bulging with money and cards. His date scooped it up and into some part of her clothes with an almost invisible flick of her wrist. She looked Ginny in the eye and palmed her a couple of bills. The whole operation took about half a second.

"I saw that," God said.

"Saw what?"

"Don't worry, it's your money, minus my taste. He does that every time. I think it's his way of doing a good deed. He didn't make bishop for nothing."

"Over here George. My shoe's untied. Give it a lick while you down there wouldja?"

A guy poured the dregs of a ruinously expensive Maison de Pate blanc de rouge into his glass, sipped it, made an angry face, and hurled the empty bottle at Ginny's head.

"Swill! Eyewash! Get the manager over here George."

God eeled over to the table and mollified the guy with something unctuous and sotto voce.

"Bring another bottle," he told Ginny.

"He didn't complain till he finished that one," she said.

"Does that every time. What you care, George?"

In the kitchen Ginny slid a baby octopus appetizer off the shelf and almost dropped the plate. The cutest, most adorable little baby octopus sat in the center of the plate, its body shiny black and round like a golfball, its skinny arms stretched out like the spokes of a wheel with the tips taped to the edge. It looked up at her with big, wet black doe eyes, mutely sad and imploring, breaking her heart.

God slid up behind her.

"Problem, George?"

"It ain't cooked."

"Course not. Fresh from the sea. Yum. Move it."

Ginny dropped the plate in front of a woman who had so many pearls wrapped around her neck and arms she looked fresh from the sea too. Well, not fresh. She hefted her big knife and fork and looked down at the octopus and it cringed and gazed up at her making huge moo eyes. The woman groaned and lowered her fists.

"What's a matter?" the guy with her growled. "Not fresh?"

"It's fresh all right. It's makin eyes at me."

"So? Yeat sushi."

"Yeah but it don't watch."

"Yeat veal. Think it grows on trees?"

While they argued, the octopus swiveled its eyes from one to the other and began to writhe its arms free. It flattened its body to the size of a raw egg yolk and began to inch to the edge of the plate, its eyes darting from one to the other to Ginny. As the couple argued it slipped off the plate and plopped onto the table. Sliding fast now, it scooted around the lady's wine glass and made a beeline for the edge of the table. It curled a few of its arms down the side, feeling the drop. Then it gave Ginny a what the hell look and hauled itself over the edge. Ginny couldn't see where it landed.

She whisked the lady's plate away.

"Yum, sir or madamn?"

The lady looked surprised but grateful.

"Saw that," God said. "Get three or four runaways a night. Smart little buggers. Sewers around here lousy with um. Someday they gonna grow big and come back and eat all our customers."

"Good riddance," Ginny said.

God nodded.



When Ginny stepped outside some time after midnight the street was empty but echoing with the arrhythmic factory thump of the brain-melting not-music inside Clubb Deluxxx. The clumsy stripper lady was gone.

As she stood there a funeral home's black station wagon pulled up in front of the club. Then a caravan of black limos glided up behind it. They lined themselves up the whole block. Guys in dark suits got out and opened the back of the wagon and slid a big steel coffin out. One guy grunted "Alley oop" and they hefted it and carried it into the club. Then the family, from grannies to little kids, filed in, followed by a crowd of mourners.

A young George came out of the Char Pit and stood beside Ginny. He was small and dark with a big round head and skinny arms and legs. He was kind of cute. Reminded her of the baby octopus.

"Last night?" he said.


"Same dif usually. Waiting for a ride?"

"Be a long wait."

They watched the last of the mourners troop into the darkness and din next door. The doors closed and the club swallowed them up.

"Skim," he said.


"Wanna hook up?"

"Don't mind," she shrugged.

His car was around the corner. It was a nondescript little Hoozit of an indeterminate color and age.

"Folks bought it for me when I dropped out," he said. "They were happy to see me get away from the tv for once."

He drove out of the quiet city and along the strip with the Burger Yurts and Fishy Chix and Teepee Tacos signs glowing. He kept going past the developments that stretched out in all directions in the quiet dark. Stag Butt, Two Trees, Chipmunk Falls, Creeping Springs, Oozing Injun Estates. He turned into Limbo Ridge and followed the fractal patterns of identical roads that curled around and around identical sleeping homes.

They came out of the development at the old back entrance to Garden City, where the kids with cars liked to go to hook up. Garden City was a big, spread-out cemetery with a lot of curving roads and paths going around a lot of identical stones and mausoleums. Like a housing development for dead people. It had once been an actual town, but over the decades the deaths somehow outstripped the births so that a bunch of little cemeteries spread and metastasized into one big one that overran the town. Like all the developments around it Garden City got dark and quiet at night and you could hook up in peace. Bub, Mom's old manfriend, was the night watchman. He didn't bother you if you didn't bother the dead people. He liked that kids came there to hook up. He hid behind the mausoleums and trees and shot video with his expensive night vision camera. He posted the footage on his website,

Skim parked next to the Offel family mausoleum, a gigantic marble McMansion on a high hill where they could look down on all the other stiffs. The Offels were the richest family around. They made their fortune in chickens. The founding Offel started out with just a little chicken ranch, and over the decades its grew and grew into a vast chicken farm and factory complex not far from Garden City, with rows and rows of enormous hangars in which millions of hens who never saw daylight or breathed fresh air were artificially fed and watered until they were fat enough to get carted to the big slaughterhouse where machines linked by conveyor belts chopped off their heads and plucked them and they came out the other end packaged as whole fryers or parts or the little cubes that go in chicken noodle soup. The Offels didn't like people knowing much about it, so they hired most illegal migrants, like Flaco, another of Mom's former manfriends. Flaco was a Chicken Chaser. Him and two or three other men would enter a hangar in full hazmat suits and breathing gear, because the ammonia fumes from all the chicken poop and pee were so strong. They lined up at one end of the hangar and started to yell and flap their arms and stomp around. This panicked the chickens so they all bunched up at the other end of the hangar, a hundred thousand of them. Then a guy called a Pooper Scooper drove back and forth the cleared half of the floor with a front-end loader, cleaning up all the poop. When that side was done the Chicken Chasers went to the other end and yelled and flapped their arms and scared all the chickens to the clean side so the Scooper could scrape the other half. Flaco said lots of chickens died in the stampede and got scraped up with the crap.

The Offels didn't run the place anymore, they just lived off it, and most of them lived as far off it as possible without a spaceship. But they all came back when they died to be put in the mausoleum.

Ginny and Skim sat for a while in his Hoozit just looking down at all the stiffs. She hooked him up, then he hooked her up. She thought that was awful polite of him. Lots of boys didn't. If she hooked them up first they were done.

They got quiet and bored. Then a flashlight beamed Ginny through her window.

"Fizz?" Bub said. When he was seeing her mom he called Ginny Gin Fizz or Fizz. She never asked what it meant.

" Perv."

"Old saucy Fizz. How's your mom?"

"What's it to you?"

Ginny eyed him. Bub was always grinning wide and crooked, like a Jack o' Lantern carved by a developmentally challenged kid. He was a tall guy whose body dangled below his head like a water balloon, sloping down from boneless shoulders to a round, soft middle, then stick legs below. She thought he was a perfect example of something but didn't like to think what it might be.

"Say I'm glad I run into you kids. Gimme a hand for a sec?"

"Gotta get home," Ginny said.

"Just take a minute."

They followed his flashlight around to the front door of the Offel McMansion. He keyed them in and flicked on a dim light. A shiver arced down Ginny's spine as she crossed the threshold. She didn't mind stiffs in the ground, as long as she wasn't walking on them. A whole house full of them creeped her out a little.

The inside of the mausoleum was smaller than she would have thought, and the air was stuffy and dusty enough to make her eyes and nose itch. Skim fanned his face. The room was crowded with lots of that kind of fake-fancy furniture they have in funeral parlors. Long tables, tall glass-front cases, a sideboard, all dark wood, and all loaded with urns, a couple hundred of them at least, some big and fancy with brass name plaques on them, some small and plain, all dusty and cobwebbed. There were coffins too, three stacked up against a wall and another under a table. Being in that crowded space with the dust of so many dead people made Ginny feel like she was choking.

"Got a late shipment comin in," Bub said. "Need to shift that table there. Gimme a hand?"

It was one of the long tables with a few dozen dusty urns on it. Ginny and Skim rolled their eyes at each other and took one end. Bub spat on his palms and grabbed the other end and said, "Upla!" It was so heavy Ginny felt her lower spine crack its knuckles. Skim groaned. They barely got the feet off the marble floor. Bub grunted and grimaced and leaned his head in the direction he wanted them to go. One of the urns toppled and made a sound like a brass gong but the lid stayed screwed on. They dragged the table to another wall and then stood around massaging their kidneys.

Ginny couldn't see how it made a difference. They just stirred the clutter around.

But Bub seemed satisfied. "My heroes," he said. He pulled a pint bottle of something nasty-looking out of his ass. "Snort? No? Your funeral." He put on a surprised face and laughed like it was the first time he ever heard that one.

A car honked at the door. It was the funeral home's black station wagon.

"Hey didn't we see that at the Clubb Delooks?" Skim frowned.

"Deceased's last wish," Bub said. "Offel family tradition. Try to outdo each other. One before this they had to stand on their heads and whistle 'Dixie.' I liked the one where they was all naked with Swedish flags out their butts. You can see it on my website. Dubya dubya dubya"

Ginny grabbed Skim's arm before they could get shanghaied into hauling the stiff.

"Say hey to your mom," Bub called after them.

"No," Ginny called back.

Skim drove out the front gate and around Garden City on the highway that led past the vast Offel Chickens property. For several miles the big dark hangars went by, one after another. Somewhere back off the road there was a carmine glow low in the night where the slaughterhouse was going 25/8.

A couple of hours later Ginny dreamed that the slaughterhouse was somehow combined with the Char Pit kitchen. There was a lot of steam and clanging and kitchen help racing around. Chickens went around and around on conveyors belts, hung upside down, naked of feathers. Naked people went by too, their arms dangling, but when she woke up she couldn't remember if they had flags in their butts. At one end they all went into a big, loud machine that chopped and sliced and mashed. Urns and coffins came out the other end and she understood in her dream that they were filled with chicken and human roasters and fryers and parts and packages of little cubes. She and Skim and the other Georges, who included Bub, wheeled these into the restaurant, which was the inside of the mausoleum. Rich people sat at the tables with their napkins under their chins and their big forks and knives in their fists. A couple of guys in hazmat suits were running around flapping their arms. Ginny couldn't see what they were chasing.

Next day at school Ginny slept through History Channel, Science Channel, a Turner Classic Movie and Discovery Channel. She and the girl beside her were still dozing when the Principal pushed her mop bucket in.

"You ladies wanna move on to your next class or do you need a golden invitation?" she asked.

"I'll take a golden invitation, sir or madamn," Ginny said.

"Move it," the principal said, smacking the floor with her mop.



"Soup's too hot George. Blow on it for me."

"Hey George you goin deef? We're hollerin here."

"Sorry sir or madamn you're not my station."

"The hell you say."

"Take this soup back George. It ain't hot no more."

"Who do we fuck to get coffee around here George? You want us to send up a flare or somethin?"

"Yes sir or madamn."

"What's this in my salad George?"

"Looks like baco-bits madamn."

"Well take it back and tell cook to spray um again. They're still movin."

"Don't be ridiculous darling. It's just your medicine playin tricks on your eyes again."

"Get it outta here George."

God caught her on the way into the kitchen.

"Problem with the salad George?"

"She says the baco-bits are bugs George."

"Don't call me George. Bugs. For two cents I'd shove our health inspector's triple-A rating up her nose."

"Why don't ya?"

"She's the health inspector. Say George, your end of the room seems a little jumpy tonight. You lookin after um good?"

"Doin my best."

"Do better."

The kitchen was like a huge oven full of steam and smoke where the cooks and help soaked with sweat raced around like if they kept moving they wouldn't fry along with the chickens and fish. Pots clanging and banging and fires jumping up under splattering skillets. For a second Ginny thought she was having the dream again.

Over by the walk-ins a steer was tethered to the wall, shifting his weight over a pile of his own craps and watching everything with his tongue hanging out and his eyes wide and white. Ginny dumped the salad into the big trash can where all the help would root around for take-homes after the rush.

Skim came through the swinging door and carried a steak over to the chef.

"WHAT THE HELL'S THE MATTER?" the chef screamed at him.

"He says it ain't tenderized," Skim shouted over the roar of the grill fire.


Skim shrugged.

The chef's cleaver flashed at Skim's neck. Ginny dropped the salad plate. The cleaver dipped about a hair's breadth from Skim's adams apple and skewered the steak. The chef jerked the blade and the steak flopped to the floor. The chef flapped his apron to one side, unzipped his pants and peed on the steak, glaring at Skim the whole time. He shook himself and zipped up.

"NOW TENDERIZE IT,” he shouted.

Skim looked at him.

"TENDERIZE THE FUCKIN STEAK, GEORGE." The chef lifted his cleaver.

Skim just stood there looking confused. Ginny had seen plenty of burgers tenderized when she worked at Wendy Lube. She walked over between Skim and the chef and jumped up and down on the peed-on steak with both feet and mashed it around some on the floor.

The chef grinned. "Nice to get experienced help around here." He skewered the steak on his cleaver and flipped it onto the grill. He turned it over after a few seconds and then flapped it back onto Skim's plate.


Skim hustled it out the swinging doors.

"Two steaks rare," a George called.

The chef hefted his cleaver and walked toward the steer, grinning into its white face.

When Ginny went out the swinging door God was hovering.

"Move your ass George. They're yellin for ya at 5."

Someone at table 5 was waving at her. Ginny started over.

"Coffee here George."

"Dessert menu George."

"Where's the breadsticks George?"

"Where's the bathroom George?"

When she reached table 5 she saw it was her mom sitting there grinning with a woman from work and a guy who had The Boss written all over his smug puss. If her mom was planning to trade up from her usual manfriend to this guy she'd have to trade herself in for a new model first, but that was her business.

"Surprised?" her mom said. “Mr. Dick here's a member."

"Yeah, and if the service ain't excellent we're tellin," Mr. Dick grinned. "You like workin here George?"

"A course she does. Swank joint like this? A girl's lucky as heck to find work like this nowadays. She ain't even finished school. I just hope she don't foul up too soon."

"Ready to order?" Ginny said.

"Hell George, you ain't told us the specials yet," Mr. Dick said.

"Good evening sir or madamn and welcome to the Char Pit my name is George I'll be your server tonight would you like to hear about tonight's specials for appetizers we got loris tongue in beetlenut jello and heart of walrus salad on a bed of Himalayan lichen served warm and still beatin tonight's soup is red ant and blue squash for main course we got baby sloth  brutalized in a zesty holiday sauce chilled dugong liver your choice a steaks and a course for starters our world famous creme de monkey do you need a minute to decide I'll be right back to take your order," Ginny said.

"Now say it all backward," Mr. Dick grinned.

"Who the hell we fuck to get coffee around here?" table 7 shouted.

God came up behind her as she was fetching 7's coffees and said, "Cmere a minute George." He hauled her through the swinging door into the noise and bright lights of the kitchen.

"You kids wanna screw your ears off I really couldn't care less," he said. "But you come in here lookin dead on your feet you're a goner. I been watchin you for a hour and you're beginnin to look like a goner to me. Get the message?"

He pointed to a big bag of garbage on the floor by the back door. "Take that out to the dumpster. Give yourself a minute to get composed. Come back in with a bushy tail."

It was dark as hell outside and very quiet after all the clangor in the kitchen. The dumpster stank and things rustled around inside. Ginny swung the bag in both hands and tossed it up over the side.


Mr. Peck's head and shoulders appeared. "Say there Ginny."

"What are you doin in the dumpster, Mr. Peck?"

"Heard the dinner bell. How they treating you?"

Ginny gave him a look.

He climbed out of the dumpster, brushing cabbage leaves and calf brain from his stinky jacket.

"Don't put up with it, Ginny. March back in there and tell them you're happy you're no waiter."

"I don't think God wants to hear me say that, Mr. Peck."

"Of course he does. God wants you to be happy."

"Not my God, Mr. Peck."

"You're a square peg, Ginny. Don't let them mash you into a round hole."

"Yeah I'll remember that Mr. Peck."

The heat and noise in the kitchen were worse after being out. There was a terrible stink coming from the corner where the steer had stood, and where now there was a big trash can filled with something she didn't want to know about and a George was mopping up pink suds.

"All right George break's over. Get it movin," God said.

When Ginny went through the swinging door every head in her section turned and all the mouths started flapping.

"Check here George."

"Ready when you are George."

"Long time no see George."

Ginny walked through them to table 5. Mr. Dick looked very jolly the way some guys do when they got you where they want you and are all ready to give you the final squeeze.

"Honey where ya been?" her mom said.

"Ready to order sir or madamn?"

"We already ordered George," Mr. Dick grinned. "Maitre d' took our order personally."

"You forgot to tell us about the baby octopus fresh from the sea appetizer," her mom said. "We're all getting it. Sounds yum."

Ginny tried to think back. She didn't think she left it out on purpose.

In the corner of her eye she saw a commotion up front. The purplonde from the Clumsy Strippers Fund was staggering past the hostess on her stilt heels. She looked really fucked up. The hostess grabbed her elbow and she almost went over. Two Georges went running after her, flapping their arms, herding her toward the exit.

"Every night wives mothers and daughters suffer on the job injuries in establishments such like this," the purplonde was slurring dazedly as they shoved her out.

"Still with us George?" Mr. Dick said. "You don't want to get on God's bad side George. Better pick up the pace."

Ginny looked down at him.

"My name's not George."

His grin lost a watt or two.

"Beg pardon George?"

"I said my name's not George," Ginny said.

"All the staff answers to George George," he said. "Always have, always will. It makes things simple."

"Okay, keep it simple," Ginny shrugged. "Me George."

"That's the ticket. George wouldn't want to lose a swank job like this."

On the dark carpet by the toe of her left shoe a runaway baby octopus from another table was slithering for cover under her mom's table. It froze when it felt Ginny look down at it. It gazed up at her, making its eyes big and cartoon sad.

Ginny shifted the toe of her shoe a little. The octopus writhed its legs and scampered under the table. At the base of the table was a square hole, like a little cave. Ginny watched the octopus reshape its body from round to square and wriggle into safety and darkness.

She looked up at Mr. Dick.

"George don't really give a damn," she said. "George is goin to the kitchen now. George get you niggers anything?"

God was all over her almost instantly, grinning, quiet and fluid as a shark in a tux. He didn't let her finish the night.




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All material on this website is copyrighted and may not be republished in any form without written permission. Copyright © 2009-2010 John Strausbaugh




All material on this website is copyrighted and may not be republished in any form without written permission. Copyright © 2009 John Strausbaugh