The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
The restaurant was busy when Dan arrived. The holiday seasons were just about upon them, and the pace of life was picking up. As he put on his smock, someone ran into him from the side and wrapped their arms around him. It felt to him like he had just been hit by a truck. Surprised, he looked over to see Sue standing there holding him in a bear hug, with tears in her eyes. Concerned, he asked, “Are you okay?”
“That was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me,” Sue said, sobbing. Overcome with emotions, she said, “I loved the flowers. They were so beautiful.”
“I’m glad,” Dan said not knowing what else to say. He looked around and noticed that all of the waitresses were watching him. More than one of them had large smiles with wet eyes.
Sue stepped back and wiped the tears from her eyes. The action smeared her mascara so that she looked like she had a black eye. She said, “Thank you so much for the flowers.”
“You’re welcome,” Dan said feeling a little overwhelmed by her reaction to a bunch of flowers.
“I must look a mess,” Sue said feeling a little uncomfortable at all of the attention she had drawn. Before he had a chance to say anything, she fled the room to wash her face and fix her make up.
Sandy who ran the counter stopped by and patted him on the cheek. Although it was rare to see the older woman smile, she beamed at him and said, “You did good, Dan.”
“Thanks,” Dan said still rather puzzled as to what he had done.
Mary went over to him and, in a very suggestive voice, said, “I wouldn’t mind being very naughty for some flowers like that.”
“Oh,” Dan said with a worried frown. Mary was a flirt and often made comments like that to him. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of them. Of course, she made suggestive comments like that to everyone.
Rob entered the back room and looked around at everyone gathered there. He had nearly been bowled over by Sue running from the room and had noticed the tears. Seeing that everyone was smiling, he realized that his fears that Dan had done something stupid were unfounded. Trying to sound gruff, he said, “Okay, everyone. The show’s over. Get to work. We’ve got a restaurant full of people and you’re standing around here gossiping.”
His words had the proper effect and everyone cleared out of the room. Dan finished putting on the smock. As Dan went to leave, Rob grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Hold on a minute.”
“Yes, Sir?” Dan said wondering if he was in trouble. He had never thought that sending a little bouquet of flowers would create such a fuss.
When the room had cleared out, Rob said, “In all of the time that Sue has worked here, I’ve never seen her smile. She was smiling yesterday. That was a nice thing you did, but be careful. She’s had a world of hurt in her past.”
“Yes, Sir,” Dan said.
“After the bar crowd leaves and you’ve had your lunch, I’ll need you to get out the Christmas décor from the storage room. We’re going to have to decorate the store tonight,” Rob said. Although it meant that everyone would have to work a little faster, everyone enjoyed putting up the decorations. It was the kick off for the holiday season.
Dan stared at his boss thinking about decorating the pizza shop. Mentally he went through what kinds of decorations people would expect to find. There’d be a tree, ornaments, tinsel, and other holiday items. Then he thought about how much they’d cost. It dawned on him that there was Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and the Fourth of July. He sighed and said, “I never included holiday decorations in my cost estimates for the pizzeria.”
“Don’t forget the holiday bonuses that you might want to give out. There are turkeys for Thanksgiving and bonus checks for Christmas,” Rob said. He laughed at the depressed expression on Dan’s face. Giving Dan the best business advice that he knew, he said, “It’s all in the details, Son. It’s all in the details ... and there are a lot of details.”
Lunch that night was an open-faced Roast Beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and green beans. Dan had gone into the cooking area and prepared it himself. He was on good terms with cooks and they showed him little tricks of the trade as he worked on his meal. They had insisted that he add the garnishes to the plate despite the fact that it wasn’t for a paying customer.
For some reason, Jimmy particularly enjoyed having Dan around. The elderly black man would point out things about the kitchen as he worked. He described how the various ingredients were arranged so that the things that dripped, like the melted butter, were placed so that they wouldn’t drip into the other containers. Strong flavors were kept separate from milder flavored items.
Dan listened to Jimmy and made mental notes for use when he set up his pizzeria. He’d have to have the ingredients prepared in the same manner and set out so that he could construct a pizza relatively quickly. Jimmy pointed out that they didn’t store meats and dairy products together since it was a health code violation. Dan hadn’t even thought about health codes and realized that they constituted another major gap in his knowledge. He wondered what would happen if his restaurant failed an inspection.
After putting the final touches on his meal, Dan carried his plate off to the table in the break area. Dan was just getting ready to enjoy his meal when Sue sat down at the table with him. Looking very unsure of herself, she said, “I really loved the flowers.”
“I’m glad,” Dan said. He was still rather amazed at the reaction that his flowers had generated. It seemed like every waitress in the place was stopping by to comment on them.
She licked her lips and then said, “I’m not ready for a relationship.”
Rather surprised at the suggestion that he was pursuing a relationship, Dan chose not to mention it. Nodding his head, Dan answered, “I understand.”
“You do?” she asked looking at him hopefully.
Smiling gently at her, he said, “Yes, I do.”
“You’re not mad?” she asked.
“I hope that we can be good friends. Everyone needs friends,” Dan answered with a genuine smile.
“That would be nice,” Sue said. There was a brief expression of sadness that flitted over her face. It was replaced by an uncertain smile. She looked at the door and said, “I better get back to work.”
“Okay,” Dan said watching her leave. He wondered what had happened to her in the past. It must have been pretty bad.
Thanksgiving was a rather strange day for Dan. Normally on Thanksgiving, the family would wake up and have a large breakfast. Then they would start to prepare the turkey. Everyone joined in to make the meal. His mother made the candied yams. His sister put together the Jello salad. Even his father got into the act and made the cornbread stuffing. Dan usually had the job of making the dinner rolls. When he was younger, that meant breaking apart the little cylindrical containers with the pre-made dinner roll dough. As he had gotten older, he actually made rolls from scratch.
This Thanksgiving, Dan slept until just before dinner was ready. His mother woke him early enough to shower, shave, and dress for the formal meal. When he went out to the dining room, everything was already made. He was rather disappointed to see that his mother had heated up some packaged rolls.
As the family gathered around the table, they paused to give thanks for their food. This was one of the few times every year when they would say a little prayer before eating. After the prayer, they followed another old family tradition and each person took turns saying what they were thankful for. His father was thankful that all was well with the family and that the economy was doing well. His mother gave thanks that everyone was healthy. Diana gave thanks that her brother was doing well.
When it was Dan’s turn, he was slow to say anything. He thought about how Tom had given him the articles to read so that he would have a direction in life even when Tom wasn’t around. He thought about how his sister watched out for him. He thought about the support that his parents were providing. After a few seconds, he said, “I’m thankful for friends and family who care for me. I’m thankful for everyone who supports me in making my way towards becoming an adult.”
The mad rush for the food started at that time. It was a great dinner with turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, corn, Jello salad, rolls, celery sticks, olives, and carrots. There was also the ever popular canned cranberry sauce jelly that everyone wanted on the table even though no one ever ate more than one bite of it. There was enough food on the table to feed twice as many people as were seated around it.
Dan enjoyed the food, but felt a little sad that he hadn’t contributed to its production. Diana asked, “So, what do you think of the food?”
“It’s great as always,” Dan said. His father had done an outstanding job on the stuffing. He said, “You added something new to the stuffing. What is it?”
“Those are shitake mushrooms,” his father answered, “Do you like them?”
“Yes, I do. They are very good,” Dan said.
His mother had just taken a bite out of her roll and said, “I really miss your homemade rolls.”
“I missed making them,” Dan said.
“How about the Jello salad?” Diana asked. She wasn’t above fishing for a compliment or two.
“I haven’t tried it yet,” Dan said winking at his mother.
“Yes, you have. You’ve eaten half of what you took,” Diana said pointing at his side plate with the Jello on it.
Dan frowned and asked, “So which of these dishes is the Jello salad?”
“It’s the orange Jello with the slices of Mandarin oranges in it,” she answered rolling her eyes.
“Oh. I thought it was the red stuff that was in the shape of a can,” Dan replied.
Diana pouted and said, “That’s the Cranberry Sauce.”
“I was going to ask you how you got it in the shape of a can,” Dan said looking over at the cranberry sauce. No one had even taken a small slice from it yet.
“You’re horrible,” Diana said.
“I know. I am horrible, unlike your Jello salad which is very good this year,” Dan said with a laugh.
Smiling at the exchange, his parents shook their heads. The discussion of Diana’s Jello salad hadn’t changed ever since she had started making it for Thanksgiving. Half of the reason his mother bought the Cranberry Sauce was so that Dan could make a comment about it. The other reason was that she actually liked it on her turkey sandwiches.
“I made the pumpkin pie this year,” Diana said.
Dan smiled over at her and said, “I’ll be sure to save lots of room for it.”
The conversation around the table ebbed and flowed with the naturalness of a family comfortable with each other. The topics covered current events, work, and school. As always, they engaged in light hearted teasing. The food disappeared from the plates, but the family remained around the table talking about things important to each. It was the kind of environment that Dan had described in his personal definition of happiness.
The night of Thanksgiving was a slow shift. Two waitresses, one cook, one dishwasher, the manager, and Dan; were the only ones working. Very few people came in, and the bar crowd was almost nonexistent. While the waitresses remained somewhat busy because of their reduced numbers on the floor, there was very little for Dan to do. Rob and the cook let Dan spend the bar rush hour in the kitchen learning the ropes. Rob justified it on the basis that a spare hand in the kitchen could always come in handy. Jimmy was thankful for the company.
Dan enjoyed his time in the kitchen. It was a lot closer to his dream than being a busboy. The pace was varied. At times it was all he could do to keep up with the orders and at other times it was slow as molasses. As one of the busy times wound down, Dan said, “It’s busy. I’m surprised they didn’t have the other cook come in.”
Jimmy laughed at the comment about it being busy, but he made the job look so easy. He said, “This isn’t busy. Busy is when you can’t even hang all the orders.”