Cavelieri’s Restaurant was more than just a job to me it was my Mecca, Café Nirvana, a culinary cathedral where I was transformed from just another suburban punk kid to an integral ensemble cast member of a gastronomic theater troupe. I was a cast member of great importance at Cavelieri’s and having put in many hours of work in the kitchen I had graduated from understudy to be in the main cast of an improvisational culinary troupe. From scrubbing floors to stuffing mushrooms (sometimes while doing mushrooms) to making salads, plating deserts, and even light sauté work I had become an integral cog in the culinary Karmic wheel. We were all equals in terms of contribution, each of us being essential pieces of a performance art jigsaw play. I adored my time with the staff, the laughs, tears, and beers. At the end of each shift the manager bought rounds of beers to all of us, even to us underage cogs. Many an evening we even hung out after shift for over an hour. I had total seniority over the weekend warriors, the kids from high school who were lowly part timers. Hordes of classmates had come through those doors searching for restaurant enlightenment but only a select few achieve it. I was one of those who reached the pinnacle kitchen edification and Cavelieri’s was my Taj Majal, my temple of pleasing palatable worship. I had earned my position of assistant to the high priest of chefdom. All the kids knew I was the head suds buster at Cavelieri’s having dominion over all the other cogs that came to work were to be trained by the holy soapsud Shah. It gave me a sense of purpose organizing and training the utility staff. The entire staff was my family without the blood relation drama. Alone we were circus sideshows, freaks and geeks all totally misunderstood, but when the Cavelieri family was in the house we were a force to be reckoned with. I was looking forward to going to work on this warm spring evening if only to get away from the chaos that cluttered my daily life. Being a central figure in the restaurant absorbed my inner spirit projecting me to another realm.
I had learned so much at Cavelieri’s, not just about cooking but about life. Jimmy had taken me under his wing like I was his son although he’d never admit it. I alone was privy to his paternal advices and concerns. He had become my sensei, my benefactor of chefdom. Even Andre had begun teaching me things although I suspected his motives were more about getting me to do his work for him. Either way I had become the kitchen protégé in line to one day have dominion of my very own kitchen. All the basics plus some tricks of the trade on soups and sauces. The more he taught the more I absorbed. I had became a gastronomic sponge soaking up everything they offered. Plus I was earning as I was learning.
The second I walked up to the back door of the kitchen finding it locked I sensed something amiss. I peered through the grease smeared window but it appeared all the lights were off. I double checked my watch then looked to the parking lot. Jimmy’s car was parked in front with a few other cars so I walked around. Fuck man I hope Jense isn’t gonna yell at me again for using the front door but what else could I do? I could just hear him in his condescending European accent, “Chay Dee! Vat do joo tink dis iss here? Zhew tink we air r-r-rrunning a pup-you larraty conest? Deese eess a r-r-r-r-r-eeeerrrrestarant!“ I opened the front door staring at the abnormal scene perplexed. Across the dining room at the bar sat Jimmy, Andre, Didier, and Rod the bus boy with John behind the bar. I walked up and noticed an almost deathly glumness on their collective faces. “Hey guys, what’s up? The back doors locked.”
The all stared at me as if they had no idea who I was. Jimmy broke the ominous silence and said “Zeet down JD. We gots some bad news today. Johnny, give JD a beer.” My happiness was rapidly running out the drain allowing concern to sneak up in its place as John poured me a cold beer. It was Didier who spoke up next. “ Vucking Jense und Laura have run off with all zee restaurant money. Zey broke into zeee safe, took alla da cash.Tooka zee cash fromma registers und dezzappeared.” My face turned a whiter shade of pale. “WHAT?” If I told you I was stunned I would have been doing the emotion a terrible injustice. As Roget could more accurately put it I was bewildered confused dismayed astounded stupefied flabbergasted floored and blown away. My entire world and every world within a hundred light years had been rocked to it‘s apple core! I looked intensely from face to face hoping one of them would reveal the fact that they were punking the shit out of me but none offered a scintilla of a smile. “Jeeeeesus fucking shit! When did what, how did they, fuck man did anyone call the cops?” I was good at the obvious. While Didier explained everything the harsh news slowly seeped into my cerebellum chased by the cold beer. He came to work this morning and found the front door open and the alarm shut off. The cash register was open and empty, there was an empty bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne on the bar with two empty glasses. He ran to the office which was also wide open as was the safe door. He called the cops first, then Jense. Jenses wife said he left for work early and should already be there by now. Didier started doing the arithmetic and called Laura whom he had expected of having an affair with Jense. The cops came and took away the champagne bottle and glasses but it was pretty obvious what has happened. “I put all zee numbers togezzer, und she come out zero.”
Man this was a lot to digest. So many things raced through my mind. Classic restaurant scandal, the head Maitre d’ and head waitress give each other head then rip off the restaurant and head off into the sunset. For someone who was at the helm of the stainless steel pot and pan bathtub so often it took a while to sink in. “Wait-What?! Laura and that fucking airhead asshole Jense did it? The bastards took all the money? They-they took ALL the money? Wait, what does that mean?” I turned to my mentor, “It means JD my boy that we ain’t got no more restaurant. No mas trabajo amigo.” I looked at Jimmy with an empty confused stare. So that was it man. No more job. No more Laura. No more money coming in. No more Cavelieri‘s. It was painful. Didier explained that the restaurant would have to withhold my paycheck until the investigation was over. The six of us sat at the bar and drank for hours until it was time for everyone to leave. We said good bye to each other, Jimmy and I talked at his car for another 30 minutes where he assured me when he found another job he would call me. A nice gesture but I knew this was the last time I would ever see of Jimmy again. Or any of the other people who had become such an integral part of my life. Now they would all just be in my rear view mirror, a speck of dust in my memory bank. Feeling sad and somewhat broken I walked home. Actually I sort of stumbled home having consumed more than my share of the free flowing beer. The summer was barely beginning and Cavelieri’s days were over for good! I stopped off on the way at Kens to score some ludes to ease the pain.
When I got to Kens room he was flying high and slurring even worse than me. “Hey bro, what’s the matter? You look like you been crying or something. Here man take these, they‘ll cure anything.” Ken had handed me two white tablets that looked like huge aspirins. “Jesus shit man, what the fuck are these things elephant tranquilizers? I trusted Ken to the end so I downed the tabs without waiting for a reply but still I was curious. “Morph tabs bro”, gonna kick your ass six ways to Sunday. So what’s eating you bro?” I pulled a joint from my cigarette pack, “Oh man, fuckin’ Cavelieri’s closed down man, like forever. That chick Laura ran away with the dickhead Maitre d’ and took all the fuckin’ money. They even downed a bottle of Dom Perignon before running off. Now I ain’t got no job. Sucks man!” Ken seemed shocked but was so stoned he had a hard time convincing his face to respond in kind. Almost vacant. “Whoa! Holy Jesus fuck man! That does suck. Hey man, I hear Munson is hiring, you can mow lawns right?” Ken’s eyes were tiny slits and he was nodding. “Dude how many of them morph pills did you take?” Ken held up four fingers laughing goofily and accepted the joint from me which we puffed halfway down. In the middle of toking Ken fell asleep so I laid him comfortable in his bed. “Maybe you’re right Buddy, maybe I need a break from restaurants. Tomorrow I’ll go check out Munson’s Landscaping.”
Cooking On Empty, The Disappearance Of A Restaurant