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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Moby-Maui & the Ham of Shame

Call me Ishmael,

One year ago to this very day, Danny Klecko was swimming with the whales. The whole thing started out 3 1/2 to 4 years ago when Klecko was in his early 40's.

Your favorite baker realized that he was just around the corner from becoming an empty nester, and decided that perhaps it was time to work at taking Sue McGleno on a once in a lifetime experience.

Up until this point the Klecko clan had - had some interesting adventures, but in every single one of them the kids were brought along. Nobody loves their children more than Sue McGleno, but even she thought it was more than neurotic that I had to constantly be surrounded by my offspring.

I was alone I think more than I would have liked to be when I was a kid, and during those times I (like most young minds) developed formulas and strategies as to how my life was going to be played out.

My principal plan was to have 8 children and sit at a long table each evening with them much like the Walton's did each night (OMG....I hope this rant won't be compared to one of John Boy's weekly epilogues), but after #2 came along Sue McGleno embraced medical technology to ensure that our family would stay at 2 adults, and 2 kids.

The next thing on my list was to take my family to Disneyland. I know- I know....some of you are Disney World types. You might argue that after the day at the amusement park you'll have more to do in Florida. In Anaheim, the only other entertainment options are betting cigarettes on who can throw empty beer bottles the farthest, or haggling over rates with prostitutes.

With that said, during those years of childhood solitude, I had this Disneyland postcard. I don't know how I got it, but it was in my bedroom and had the "Tea Cup" ride on it.

Let's face it, the Tea Cups are w/o a doubt the sissiest ride on the 160 acre plot, but that postcard was evidence to me that there was at least one place on this planet where people or family's could be happy. a space where only nice,clean and normal people were allowed.

In my head I think I even had it manufactured like heaven, so if some dirtball from Oklahoma City passed into Walt's creation, he/she would be transformed pronto....Johnny on the spot.

Sometimes when you are young, it's easier to hope for miracles and quick fixes. Improving your human condition takes a lot of work LOL, and even if you finally do it, often times if you review that journey in a rear view mirror you'll wonder if the entire process was worth it.

So let's get back to the Sue McGleno deal.I decided that I would need ten thousands dollars to secure her dream experience. for several years I clawed, scraped and pimped my specialty skills to secretly amass this post marriage dowry for her.

Now for those of you who work cooperate gigs or come from family money, I don't know if you can understand this, and hear me well. I'm not dogging you for receiving opportunity, I'm just saying poor people, or lower middle class wouldn't even dare to dream about participating once in what you take for granted as a seasonal respite.

They would fear that God and their Civic standing would drop through the floor for blowing away 3 months of security.

So I had all this money stashed in a secret account right? 10K, w/o a doubt the biggest squirrels nest I ever had. So I sit Sue McGleno down at a table and tell her that I am grateful for letting me take my kids through our life together everywhere we went. At this point she lovingly rolls her eyes. Then I tell her that I have in my hands a key that will allow us to go anywhere on God's planet for 2 weeks.

We won't have to stay with friends to defer the cost, we won't have to search for value. We can go anyplace-anywhere.....how fricking liberating is that to a once blue collar family.

I was more excited to give Sue McGleno this gift than I was was to give her an engagement ring. To accept the ring, all she had to do was put her faith in me, but to receive the dream vacation....she had to bust her a** for decades, live with a lout, and be her chidren's main outlet to plug into (as all mother are), all while maintaining a career where she takes care of cancer patients each day.

I relived this gift giving moment in my mind, over-and over and over again. In my minds eyes I could see her wrestling over Paris and London as destination spots. Then perhaps several hours later she might change her mind and choose Holland during the Tulip season. Would Sue McGleno surprise me and decide for something a little more unpredictable like a cruise along the shoreline of Greece, or sushi in Tokyo?

I can't tell you how much fun I had, thinking about the enjoyable torment I was serving her.

So I toss the bankbook to her, she looks at the balance.One-Two-Three-Four-Five-Six-Seven......that was it. seven seconds of silence,seven seconds of joyous tension.

After seven seconds elapsed, Sue McGleno closed the bankbook, slid it across the table back to me and informed me "Book Hawaii" and went into her sewing room for the rest of the night LOL, I'm telling you when interaction between a Pollack and Russian Jew takes place, you're never sure what the outcome will be.

Date Line Maui -

On the west end of the island of Maui is a huge pink hotel called the Ka' anapali Beach Club. The place is right on the shoreline and you are surrounded by palm trees and an ocean view that forces you to believe that God has a blueprint for paradise.

My fear has always been that if I am lucky enough to make it past the pearly gates, how out of place will I be? Don't get me wrong....Klecko is confident in his own personal gifts and skills, but I won't lie. I am intimidated by money. I am uncomfortable in the presence of extreme decadence.

Over the course of my life I have been nothing short of blessed to be able to be attached to some of the bigger world events that have crossed my part of the planet......

But, I've been able to participate in the ventures from the safety of my mouse hole while wearing dirty aprons and uniforms.

So each morning I'd go down to this ground level area where they served breakfast to people who wanted to dine. It was an exotic buffet experience (if such a thing can be possible LOL). You sat amidst rock formations that made homes for parrots and formed ponds with crossing bridges. The bridges were actually a necessity because in the water were coy that were large enough to swallow Jonah.

The K.B.C. also came equipped with another outlet for people who were on the fly. It was constructed in a horseshoe shape, and as you walked into it you became overwhelmed with exotic take out options that simply couldn't be offered anyplace else in the world.

To the left was the cooks line, and each morning I'd peer through the narrow serving window. In some respects it looked more like one of those slots that are provided for tank drivers to look through.

On my 4th or 5th day, an older guy popped out extending his hand and issued the obligatory "Aloha" and asked me what part of the world I was cooking in.

When I explained who I was, and what I did for a living, a second body popped it. It was a young man, I'm guessing in his early 20's. He seemed dumbfounded in his mentors special mental ability's or ESP "Brah....how did you know this man was a cook? He could do anything for a living."

The older guy looks at the younger man and laughs "Brah, look at those tats. You don't have to many cooperate guys in here with a monkey inked across their back."

The kids was still confused so the old man explained "Yeah, I can see the tat's, but I've watched him every morning for a week. Haven't you noticed that he kinda walks around here as if he's a little bit out of place, but then he hangs out even after getting his coffee. He's checking us out brah, he's watching our system. I think it makes him feel a little bit of comfort.I did the same thing when I was in New York back in 02."

Then the battle worn cook smiled and handed me a bowl of fresh fruit and offered up some sage advice, both were free of charge.

"On the Island, all of us are in the service industry. Sure,we get a lot of wealthy people who pay our bills, and we are grateful for them. But we know when one of our own is coming to visit, and we realize that chances are this is the only time in their lives that they'll be able to afford to get here, so we do are best to cover their backs. We gottcha Brah."

That entire conversation was so unnecessary. The guy had his own job, list of tasks, people and projects that needed his attention, but he took the time to step away and become an ambassador for his island and his profession. I can't tell you how....I don't know how (validated?) that conversation made me feel. On TV, on the Food Network most of you are subjected to Chef's that are pompous pricks. People who only care about themselves, but the thing that gets missed out on is every neighborhood in the world is filled with Food Service Workers. Less than 1% of these people will have opportunities to get rich, be on television or even get to see the appreciation of the people they are serving.

But I believe, in fact I know that their is a different DNA strain in the soul of Hospitality workers that understand the value of their trade. they are such a noble crew, and they will exhibit a loyalty that knows no boundaries.

The climax of the Sue McGleno once in a life time vacation tour came on the day that we went out snorkeling in the ocean. We went on a charter where a boat about the size of Skippers and Gilligan's buzzes you up and down the coast and out to some close islands.

Periodically they toss you over the side and let you snorkel in places where the current is safe and the visuals are superb. From spot "A" to spot "B" you get to see schools of flat nose and spinner dolphins. I swear to Caesar they are the monkeys of the aquatic highway.

But, as the day went on, whale sightings became not only common, but pod activity was way above average. True, we were in whale season, but even Captain Ken seemed surprised at the numbers.

Each bay has a number of these charters, and each of the vessels captains will share sightings with one another over their C.B. radios, so on a good day patrons might experience up to a dozen sightings.

We had over 30. I was in awe.There's nothing else to say. If you have ever seen a whale. the experience is pretty hard to describe in words huh? That's why Herman Melville's epic novel gets my vote for best book ever written. Now that I have seen what I believe to be the equivalent of God's angels to the animal kingdom, I'm thinking I should shut up and never pray for anything else for myself again.

If you get to go to Siberia and Maui in your lifetime, you might as well pray for the dirt nap. Your life has hit it's peek, and you'll never see anything cooler LOL.

So now that this blog post rivals Moby Dick in length, I might as well finish off with the memory that flooded my mind as our ship headed back into shore.

After witnessing all that we did,all of the passengers pretty much rested on the deck numb and in silence, in addition to being drained from all the sun and swimming, the sight of those whale pods punctuated a miracle.

Klecko rested off the Starboard Quarter with a can of Diet Coke and for what ever reason his focus shifted to remembering working as a rat (I.E. dishwasher) at Byerly's when he was....I dunno 15-16-17?

The head line cook was a man in his mid 20's not named, but I guess referred to as Moby. The leader of our culinary army was given this tag because he rivaled the fictitious antagonist in not only girth, be cunning and bravery as well.

Byerly's was/is a large-big raunt in the Western suburbs of Mpls, and all the peeps with big money and limited food expertise would swarm the grill to order one of a dozen entree's, but the trademark was a wild rice soup that might of put wild rice soup on the map.

When you have a raunt this size, the staff is larger than what you are used to seeing in the movies. A concept of this stature could never stay afloat with one rat, you actually need 3 in the back of house and well as 3 or 4 busboys.

The 3 back-rats had different titles and specialties. The quarterback if you will is called the Feeder. A Feeder collects the bus tubs and and sorts glass from silver.

Silverware is tossed into a soaking bucket that has soap and water to break down things like hardened egg yoke or crusty spaghetti sauce.Then the glass or "China" as the rat call it gets rinsed off and placed in racks and run through the washer.

There is a fine art to doing this, because you want to clean as much as you can, but if you over pack a load......you have to run it through a second time. On a Friday night.....you can't imagine the pace or the stress levels that rats go through.

A rat is the lowest on the totem pole of a guild that was/is? the lowest in the hierarchy of positions that receive paychecks.

The guy who takes the scalding hot dishes out of the holder and takes them out to the numerous stations is the "Runner." for this position, it isn't just foot speed that are valuable. First off you have to touch scalding objects every 72 hours or your hands will begin begin to retain feeling and will recoil at the pain that is involved.

The Runner also must have inherent organizational skills. Let me see if I can remember all the different china I had to handle. OK...you have
#1 - Large Plate 10"s used for entrees
#2 - Small Plate 8-8 1/2"s used for salad bar
#3 - Cream Saucer
#4 - Coffee Plates
#5 - Soup Bowls - also doubles for house salads
#6 - Soup Cups
#7 - Coffee Cups
#8 - Malt Glasses

The Runner needs to keep a mental inventory of the China counts of each station and distribute the items evenly, you'd be amazed at how pissy servers can get if their station is being slighted.

Klecko was a runner and often times would carry a stack of 40 some saucers out to the counter and stations. I still remember management screaming threats.....

"God "D" Mo Rat, if you drop a single saucer, it's coming out of your check!"

BTW...for trivia purposes,before I was Klecko, my original Food Service moniker was MO RAT MO.

Last but not least is the pot scrubber.

In Hell, God will punish his naughty children with 3 things. They will either be pot scrubbers, doughnut friers or be forced to listen to Celtic music.


So one day a cooperate big wig was auditing our raunt. Everybody was on their best behavior. Most of the action was taking place in the front of the house so our Feeder, a guy called Tippy Canoe comes out of the walk in cooler with Gerbil cheeks mashing away with a screwed up grin.

Minutes later when he swallowed he alerted me to some freshly cut ham that was to die for. Now typically employees are not allowed to help themselves to food in the walk in, but the chefs and the rats had a unspoken rule.

Employees were all entitled to a free meal during each shift, and if your break came during rush hour, a rat was allowed to go into the cooler and take care of themselves.

This system was totally honor bound and in my 2 year employment, I never saw it abused.

So wouldn't you know it. I go into the cooler, get some ham. pack it into the back of my jowls like a cowboy preparing to hit the trail, but when I step out....the auditing guy was standing there.

"Open your mouth." He demanded.

I just stood there kinda freaked out by his request.

"Young man, I am not going to repeat myself. Open your mouth this moment!"

So I did, and the guy got to view a pile of chewed up ham. He pulled out a small note book and started to take notes. Tippy Canoe began laughing really hard and the guy got wicked pissed and rebuked him loudly.

So now the guy starts screaming, I mean level 10 screaming at me. Veins are popping off his neck road map style and him complexion is turning shades of boiled lobster.

Now the cooperate Nazi starts demanding of me to go to the register and pay for my ham and the repercussions of my actions would be dealt with later.

Like the little drummer boy, I had no gift to give to him, not a penny, so I don't know why I asked "How much do I need sir?"

So now the guy starts screaming for Moby, OMG...I was fearful.I didn't mind pissing off the Nazi, but I was ashamed that Moby was going to get in trouble and pass the lashing down on me.

So now Moby busts off of the line, he's agitated and in a hurry.

"What-what-what's so important?"

The Nazi tells him what he has witnessed and want the price of a serving of ham so I can go pay the register. Sweetest mother of Mary and all the Vatican Cardinals, I just can't express the shame that was running through me.

All the commotion had created such a stir that everybody abandoned their battle station during crunch time to see what was taking place. Within moments the whole deal had turned into the Judgment at Nuremberg, or the dispensement of the verdict of the OJ trial.

When the entire crew assembled, I just stared into the immaculately grouted floor tiles.

To my surprise, Moby defended my honor.

"Are you "f"ing kidding me. you're going to call me off the line at 6:30 on a Friday night over a piece of ham? Do you know who this kid is. It's the God "D" Mo Rat Mo, he's the best "F"ing runner in the history of this joint. The stupid little s*** has never once, not once placed a free meal request in his time here.Mo Rat, don't you dare pay a penny. Then Moby started to untie his apron.He pulled it off and handed it towards the cooperate auditor. Make a choice right now cuz the orders are backing up. apologize to Mo Rat or I walk off right now."

the Nazi didn't know how to respond. He wasn't even pissed now. he was confused. As the guy began (to my surprise) to issue an apology, Moby interrupted him to bark out his instructions......

"God "D" Mo Rat, the man is going to apologize to you, don't be such a p**** and stop staring at the floor. You need to look him in the eyes."

I did. And the man did apologize. for the rest of the night I wondered if Moby was gonna kill me when the night had finished, but when the Nazi finally left. I entered back onto the line and sheepishly told Moby how sorry I was.

Moby just kinda laughed and swore nice things at me. I wanted to ask why he stood up for me like that. The guy never talked to me or any of the rats, he just screamed at us.

But I gotta tell you, as I headed back to the shoreline after witnessing one of the greatest sights in my life. I became impacted how one persons actions and confidence in me changed the course of my life.

Up until that point I had never had anybody risk anything on my behalf before. It seemed illogical, but I won't lie.

After experiencing something like that. I really hoped that one day I would be in a position to demonstrate such conviction in courage in an industry where so many people are beaten down and have lost hope.

Call me Ishmael.

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