You see, for more than a few weeks, Tom seemed particularly on edge. He looked exhausted, part of which I assumed was because he drove all the way out from Chicago to Naperville every damn day, but I also suspected it had something to do with how he’d count the register three, four times a day. I don’t think he believed anyone was stealing; no, it just seemed like he thought the take would magically grow the more often he checked. We all knew, or maybe just guessed, that Tom’s plan was to open Deli Delights all over Chicagoland. He’d gone to some fancy-ass business school on the north side, and thought a deluxe table service-style deli restaurant was just what everyone in northern Illinois needed. But by the time I started washing dishes, too often the Iroquois Center, where we were located, looked as deserted as a ghost town. The J&M Discount store had already closed down, and they were the attraction that brought in most of the customers to the mall in the first place. Of course, you could come into Deli Delight during lunch and the place would be packed, but breakfast and dinner could seem pretty lonely. That didn’t stop Tom though; he’d send out flyers, advertise in the newspaper, on billboards too, and I even heard radio ads pushing two-for-one weeknight specials.
We never talked much, but he seemed like a decent guy and probably liked the fact that I didn’t ask for a raise after I started to help Featherly with prep. I wasn’t really angling for promotion, not any time soon at least; I figured I’d need months of practice — baby steps, yeah, baby steps — before I could leave the grease trap behind. But then things got kind of intense when everyone started whispering that Tom planned to open up a new Deli Delight in a better location in Oak Brook — maybe even close this one — all the same week I decided to throw a WrestleMania party.
And it was on that Wednesday of that week when things really got crazy.
Breakfast had been kind of light, which sucked, but lunches were picking up, probably because of Tom’s advertising (although not enough to remove the constant scowl off his face), so everyone was pitching in to get ready. It wasn’t a grease trap day, so I had time to wash salad and setup platters, get everything lined up in the reefer to be yanked out as needed. And of course, I was gabbing away about WrestleMania to Featherly, sort of a reflex of mine, the yapping, but I was no doubt trying to impress him, maybe score points. I mean, I still had a lot to learn, especially about cooking eggs, and I certainly wanted him to put in a good word for me with Tom if the time ever came, but I also liked him — you know, he was cool. So I told him about the party.
I mean, it was just an excuse to drink beer and smoke pot, same stuff we did almost every day anyway, no big deal.
It wasn’t even supposed to be like a party party, one with girls and shit. The original idea was that me and Russell, my roommate, who I’d known in high school and had a cushy job at the post office (and also moved a little weed on the side), would get buzzed at our apartment (Russell’s apartment actually) after work and then go to Kelly’s Pub — the one place I knew had a closed-circuit satellite dish and didn’t ever, I mean ever, card anyone — to watch the match. And since WrestleMania was going to be on a Sunday night, and Tom closed the restaurant late afternoon on Sunday, everything was cool. I mean, it was just an excuse to drink beer and smoke pot, same stuff we did almost every day anyway, no big deal.
“Yeah, it’s going to be nuts,” I told Featherly. “They’re gonna have King Kong Bundy, Iron Sheik, Andre the Giant —”
“Kenny,” he interrupted, never lifting his eyes from chopping. “You know it’s all fake, right?”
“Maybe, but Hulk and Mr. T, those guys are athletes,” I justified. “And there’s always a lot of blood.”
Now he looked up and smiled. “And that makes it real?”
Okay, yes, I knew wrestling was a show, and probably rigged — I wasn’t a total idiot — but that didn’t seem to matter. The show had bad guys and good guys, all of them looking like Saturday morning cartoon characters, human versions of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, each trying to smash one another without anyone getting hurt. Well, yes, again, some people did get hurt, for instance Hulk Hogan almost killed that asshole comic Belzer when he tried to make fun of him, but otherwise most injuries were exaggerated. It wasn’t like pro football where people actually ended up paralyzed. And one thing’s for sure: You didn’t need a college degree to enjoy wrestling.
“No, the blood makes it fun,” I said. “We’re gonna get wasted and then head to Kelly’s — no cover charge.” I wasn’t sure of that, but it sounded like it made sense.
“Great, then you guys can afford to bring dates.” He laughed. “Hey, Tina…” Featherly shouted through the pass-through. “Wanna go watch some sweaty wrestling match with Kenny?”
My face burned and I wanted to slug Featherly.
I sort of liked Tina; she was cute in a fleshy kind of way, and had an attitude about kitchen staff given she’d actually graduated from high school, but I didn’t care. She sat refilling salt and pepper shakers and ketchup bottles while Anna Haywood, our tiny, graying, red-haired head waitress, who was way older than my mom but — unlike my mom — was always working, sat rolling silverware into napkins. Both of them looked up and shook their heads, snickering in my direction, which made me feel like a moron. I was glad none of the other kids employed by Deli Delight — like Denise and Cindy, who knew what they were doing in more ways than you could count and only flirted for practice — weren’t around to tease me. Jimmy Hastings would’ve been okay; he was the late afternoon and closing dishwasher whose father owned an insurance business but made him work just the same. I taught Jimmy everything he knew, about dishwashing that is, and he, at least, would’ve thought the party was pretty cool.