The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
“What’s the matter, Dan?”
From his seat on the couch, Dan looked over at his mother who had just come in the house. They were alone, since Diana was at some after school function and his father was still at work. Dan said, “I really miss not having Tom around.”
“I understand,” his mother said. She had been wondering how long it would be before he started feeling lonely again.
The strange thing was that Dan knew she understood exactly how he was feeling. She knew that Tom had been his first and only friend in school. They had spent a lot of time together over the years.
Sounding very sad, he added, “I miss Alison, too.”
“I’ll bet you do,” his mother said with a grin. Dan had spent more that a few nights away from home over the summer. While she wasn’t one to pry, she knew that he had spent those nights with Alison fully aware that he wasn’t sleeping in their guest room. She said, “She was a very nice young woman.”
“Yes,” Dan said. He had been exchanging e-mail with her and learned today that she wouldn’t be home until four days before Christmas. Tom would be home about the same time.
“There aren’t many young women like her,” his mother said. She had been kind of sad when Alison had headed off to school. She had enjoyed exchanging the light banter with her and had appreciated how happy she had made Dan.
“You can say that again,” Dan said. He missed her sense of fun and honest sexuality.
“So what is really bothering you?” his mother asked.
“I’m lonely. I just can’t seem to connect with the folks at school or work,” Dan said. His classmates were dedicated students going for college degrees. He was there after practical knowledge. They viewed the classes as an exercise in learning. At work, the situation was similar. He was there to learn the business, and they were there to earn a living. The fact was, that it wasn’t much of a living. It seemed to him that the waitresses’ lives were complicated with bills, kids, and bad boyfriends.
His mother didn’t know what to say to cheer him up that wouldn’t sound trite. She went with trite and said, “Things will work out.”
“Wishing doesn’t make it so,” Dan said. He was trying to figure out some way to get things to work out.
Dan walked in through the back door of the restaurant, ready to start his shift. After putting on the over shirt that was part of his job’s uniform, he checked the bathroom. It was clean. After washing his hands, he bent to the task of busing tables.
Dan moved through the restaurant with ease. He avoided bumping into the waitresses as they rushed from table to table. Tables were cleared as soon as they were vacated. Waters, iced teas, and coffees remained filled without customers having to flag their waitress down. Plates were delivered to the cooks before they ran out of them.
Even as busy as he was, he managed to have time to watch what others were doing. He’d spend a few minutes every hour watching the cooks at work. It amazed him how they managed to cook so many dishes for several tables at a time. The truly amazing thing was that all of the dishes for a table were completed at about the same time. The movements of the cooks were quick and efficient. The ingredients were set out to be right at hand.
-Each waitress had her own style. Mary was a slight flirt and would charm the men at the table in the hopes of increasing her tips. Vicki was more serious, but would occasionally laugh and joke with customers. Cathy always had a smile and talked in a very friendly tone of voice; but it felt false, for some reason that Dan never understood. Sue was a sad woman who took orders and delivered food with a ruthless efficiency. Kim was a gossip, and would often spend a lot of time at the tables talking to the customers. Sandy, who always worked the counter, was an elderly woman. She was all business and said little, except how much her feet hurt.
There were three cooks who worked on the night shifts, although only two of them were ever at work at the same time. Jimmy was an old black man who had worked most of his life as a short order cook, and expected to die as one. Tim was a young man who had dreams of making it to a culinary institute and becoming a chef. Trent was just drifting through life knowing that his skills as a cook would allow him to earn money when he needed it. He had been at the restaurant for five months, and was thinking of moving on to a warmer climate.
Dan wasn’t the only busboy who worked nights. Manuel was the other busboy. He was also a part time dish washer who filled in for Jose, the full time dish washer, on the nights when Jose was off. Manuel spoke a little English. Jose spoke no English. For the most part, Manuel and Jose didn’t talk much except during their breaks.
Riding herd over the staff was Rob Rendell. He worked the cash register and seated guests when it was busy. He walked around and talked with customers making sure that their meals met their expectations. When a waitress was having a bad night, he’d send her home and help out with a few tables. Nothing went on in that place that Rob didn’t notice.
Although Dan didn’t realize it, everyone there liked him. The waitresses tipped him well for his help. Their tips were usually a little better the nights that he worked with them. Manuel and Jose appreciated that when things got busy for them, that Dan would take a little time to help them out. The cooks could depend upon him to fetch more ingredients from the cooler when they discovered that they needed them. Rob took the time every night to talk with Dan about managing a restaurant. Some nights it was about inventory management. As manager over the slow shift, it was his job to go over the inventory and identify what needed to be ordered.
Dan was busing tables when Kim Parker entered the restaurant on the arm of the guy she was dating. Rob seated the pair in Sue’s section. The first Dan knew of it, was when he heard her laughing. As he turned to face her, she extended her forefinger and her thumb at right angles. Putting them to her forehead, she shouted, “Loser! I knew you wouldn’t amount to anything! God, a busboy!”
For the first time in his life, her taunts had no effect on Dan. More significantly, her taunts had the opposite reaction from others in the restaurant than what had occurred in high school. The people at the restaurant didn’t look at him with disgust or laugh at him. They looked at her with disdain for interrupting their meals with her rude behavior.
As she spewed additional nasty comments in his direction, he shook his head, wondering why she wasn’t away at college. He went on with his job and continued removing the filled dish tray from the service station to take it to the back of the restaurant. A second later, he heard Kim shout, “You bitch! You spilled that water on me on purpose!”
Dan turned to find Sue standing toe to toe with Kim. Both women looked furious. Rob had headed over to Kim as soon as she had started bad mouthing Dan, but Sue had beat him there. After all, it was her table, and she was expected to be on top of things there. Now he had to deal with two very angry women rather than one very rude woman.
Pointing to the back of the restaurant, Rob said, “Sue! Get in the back. I’ll talk to you in a minute.”
Kim gave Sue a smug smile and said, “I’m going to insist he fires you.”
Sue snarled at Kim and said, “Bitch.”
Rob pointed to the back of the restaurant and said, “Go. Now.”
“That’s it, c*nt. Might as well pack up your shit, because you’re history,” Kim said to Sue’s retreating back.
Rob turned to face Kim. In a very soft voice, he said, “Get out of here. No one treats my staff like that.”
“That bitch poured a glass of water on me,” Kim said getting furious at Rob.
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You came in here and insulted one of my employees. That was totally uncalled for. Now please leave!” Rob said in a firm voice that suggested any arguments would fall on deaf ears.
Kim turned to the young man with her and said, “Frank, let’s get out of here.”
The pair headed towards the door. When they reached the door, Kim turned and shouted, “You’re all a bunch of f•©k heads for sticking up for a loser like Dan Parker.”
Dan stared at Kim shaking his head. When she had finally left, he carried the bin to the back. He passed Rob who was watching the door in case she returned. Once he reached the back room, Dan said, “Sue, thank you for sticking up for me, but you didn’t need to do that. She is a nobody, and her words don’t mean anything.”
Turning her back to him, Sue said, “You’re the only nice guy I’ve ever met. She shouldn’t have talked about you like that.”
“Thank you, Sue. I do appreciate you standing up for me,” Dan said placing the bin at the dishwasher for Manuel.
Sandy walked through the back and said, “That woman is a real bitch. Good for you, Sue. I would have used hot coffee.”
Rob came in and looked at Sue. Everyone else fled the backroom not wanting to watch what happened. Shaking his head, he said, “Sue, what am I going to do with you?”
“Is she gone?” Sue asked glancing over at Rob with an angry expression on her face.
“Yes, I sent her out,” Rob answered. He took a deep breath and said, “I was on my way there to take care of the matter. You shouldn’t have poured that glass of water on her.”
Sue stared at Rob for a second and then said, “Then fire me.”
“I’m not going to fire you. Just don’t do it again,” Rob said feeling a headache coming on. When Sue didn’t respond, he said, “Get on out there and take care of your tables.”
Sue turned and left the kitchen without saying another word. Dan said, “I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t do anything,” Rob said. There was hardly a week that went by without some sort of scene taking place in the restaurant. He’d been surprised that Dan had been the subject of that scene, but had noticed that Dan had kept well out of it. It was better than some of the shouting matches that occasionally erupted. Shaking his head, he said, “Get back to work.”
“Thanks,” Dan said. He headed to the front of the restaurant. On the way, he grabbed a tray of glasses to put in one of the service stations.
Watching Sue work her tables, it was clear that she remained upset about the entire episode. She wouldn’t look in his direction at all the rest of the night. He didn’t know much about her background, but her comment suggested that she had a history of trouble with men. The incident with Kim put a damper on everyone’s mood that night.
Tapping the keys with great deliberation, Dan put the finishing touches on his project for his class. Diana, returning home from school, looked in and asked, “How’s it going?”
“I’m done with my project,” Dan said. He clicked the mouse and e-mailed it to his teacher appreciating that once he had the e-mail addresses in his computer that he didn’t have to type them. Most of the time, they arrived where he intended them to go.
“You looked a little down this morning at breakfast,” Diana commented.
“Kim Parker showed up at the restaurant last night and created a bit of a scene,” Dan said. He double-clicked on a file before turning to look at his sister.
Dismayed, Diana asked, “You didn’t get in trouble, did you?”
“No. Mr. Rendell asked her to leave. One of the waitresses got into trouble for pouring a glass of water on Kim,” Dan answered.
He had ordered flowers to be delivered to the restaurant that night for Sue. One of the statements in the Pursuit of Happiness was that when someone attempted to help you, that you should demonstrate your appreciation. He didn’t work that night, otherwise he would have brought the flowers to her in person. He hoped she would appreciate the gesture, even though he didn’t feel it was as personal as handing them to her directly.
Thinking it was sad that Kim was keeping high school grudges, Diana asked, “Won’t she ever stop harassing you?”
“I doubt it,” Dan said. He didn’t even know why she hated him so much, but he doubted that it would ever change. She’d taunt him every chance she got. He said, “She’s going to do her best to make me miserable, my whole life.”
“You must have been upset,” Diana said. She remembered when he was in elementary school and junior high school. He would come home in tears because of the things that Kim Parker used to say to him. At that time he didn’t have Tom to stand up for him, and it was just Dan Parker against the whole world.
Shaking his head, Dan said, “You know, that was the real funny thing about the entire episode. She was standing there calling me a loser and it had no effect. I wasn’t angry, upset, or embarrassed. I just stood there looking at her. I kept wondering why she wasn’t in college.”
Thinking that it would be ironic if Kim had dropped out of college while Dan was putting the final touches on his college project, Diana asked, “Do you think she dropped out?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even care. She’s a miserable little person who hasn’t grown up, yet,” Dan said shrugging his shoulders. He turned to his computer and said, “Let me print this up so that I can turn it in tonight.”
“I thought you were supposed to give her an electronic copy,” Diana said thinking her brother had come a long way in dealing with harassment since graduating high school.
“I am,” Dan said with a smile. He looked over at her and said, “This is my business plan. I’m printing it for her husband.”
Diana smiled and said, “So you finished it.”
“Yes, I did. I think it’s pretty good, if I do say so myself,” Dan said. He had e-mailed it to Tom to correct some of his spelling mistakes. Tom had sent it back within three hours. He had listened to it with the text to speech program and had been suitably impressed with Tom’s edits.
“So what is your mission statement?”
The hardest part of wording the mission statement had been avoiding distinguishing between dine-in and take-out customers. Dan answered, “To enable friends and family to have a fun time while enjoying great food at an affordable price.”
“Sounds good,” Diana said thinking that he had touched upon all of the important points. She was looking forward to walking into his pizzeria one day.
As was usual, Dan walked out to the parking lot with Professor Harrison after class was finished. As they walked, Professor Harrison asked, “Why did you break the advertising expenses into so many different subcategories?”
“I exchanged a couple of e-mails with my friend Tom about what kind of advertising would be best for a pizzeria. He’s a science major at the University of Texas. He said that the only way to understand something is to be able to describe it mathematically. He said that I had to be able to say how effective my advertising dollars were at bringing in customers,” Dan said.