Wednesday, October 2, 2013

(Breaking) Bad Actors

  I’d never seen the AMC TV show ‘Breaking Bad’ but after two months of listening to the Rich Eisen NFL Network Podcast discuss each episode in detail and predict how the series would end I felt like I knew the plot and characters well enough to watch last Sunday’s final episode. The episode was very tense and well done if a little on the Mission Impossible side where too many events have to work out just so for the desired outcome but it made me wish I had spent more time following the saga of Walter White’s journey from chemistry teacher to meth cooker to drug kingpin and the characters he meets along the way. As a tribute to the end of the series, I thought I’d devote this edition of the Broken Pawn to some of the bad actors I’ve met in my journey. Naturally, my bad actors don’t measure up to Walter White’s but to my mind they deserve some measure of remembrance.

  When I worked at the Roy Rogers fast food chain in the late 70’s, we had a customer who we nicknamed Mr. S**t, but when he was in the restaurant we called him Mr. S. Every Sunday, Mr. S would amble into the store at 10:00 when we opened wearing his omnipresent dirty T-shirt and matching dirty blue sweater along with a newspaper and a dozen donuts. He would buy a small cup of coffee for 25 cents and proceed to sit in a booth for the entire day eating his donuts, reading his paper, getting free refills of coffee, and occasionally selling some of his extra donuts.

  But that’s not how Mr. S got his nickname from us – he got his nickname from his mid-week meal trick. Mr. S would come in during the dinner hour at least 3 times a week and order a 89 cent hamburger (which in those days was a quarter-pound burger). Ten minutes later he would ask to speak to the manager. Mr. S would then show him the remaining 2 bites of his burger and say in a voice just loud enough for the customers to hear that his burger ‘smelled funny’ and that he wanted another one. Since one of the last things a restaurant needs is to have a loud customer saying the food smells funny, a new burger was always quickly ordered for Mr. S, who would eat the new burger except for the last two bites and again ask to see the manager. On the second trip, Mr. S would raise the stakes by asking for a roast beef sandwich and no matter what manager was on duty a roast beef sandwich would be made for Mr. S. I asked one of the managers why he always gave Mr. S his extra sandwiches and he told me that the managers all figured that Mr. S knew everyone in town and they didn’t want him shooting his mouth off about how the food at the restaurant smelled funny.

  By that standard I could have never been a fast food restaurant manager since I would have told Mr. S to get lost when he tried to scam his second burger and wouldn’t have even let him bring his donuts in on Sunday morning. I don’t think it would have cost us any business either since if Mr. S knew everyone in town that means they also knew all about him. Maybe Mr. S had a lot of trouble making ends meet and saying the burgers smelled bad was the only way he could get a decent meal but if he had put a fraction of the effort into making a living that he did into getting free burgers and roast beef sandwiches he would have been a successful car or insurance salesman or had a career in politics or maybe even became a meth cooker and drug overlord like Walter White. Mr. S had a heart attack and died a year after I started working at the Roy Rogers. I assume his arteries were clogged from all the extra hamburgers he scammed over the years. All the other workers talked about how much they were going to miss him but since no one inquired about Mr. S’s funeral arrangements it was only the kind of kind sounding things people say after someone dies while I said it would be nice not to have to make extra sandwiches and we wouldn’t need to make as much coffee on Sundays.

  After high school and before college, I spent some time as a midnight shift security guard at the Shop-Rite supermarket’s food distributorship in Elizabeth New Jersey. Because I could stay awake all night, I was considered a top performer and was given the assignment of working Post #1 which was the main gate. My duties consisted of calling Shop-Rite internal security every hour and saying ‘Post #1 – all secure’, keeping an eye on the parking lot across the street from the post and the cars parked in front of the gate facing the building, and making sure I saw everyone’s ID badge when they came in the gate. The warehouse workers would take smoke breaks at 1 and 5 and a lunch at 3. A few of the workers would go to the parking lot to drink some beer or get high and would show me their badges when they came back in and if they forgot I would ask because I knew if internal security (mostly ex-cops) didn’t like you they would have someone try to sneak in so they could get you fired (It was a very big brotherish type of operation and it wasn’t even 1984 yet!). At seven there was a shift change and I would go outside the little guard shack and watch the third shift leave and check the badges of the first shift and the office workers as they arrived.

  One time the president of the Corporation, David Silverberg, waked through without showing his badge and I asked him to show it to me. He showed me the badge and the next day I got a visit from internal security. They told me that Mr. Silverberg had mentioned to them that I asked him for his badge and he wanted them to make sure I knew who he was and that I didn’t ask to see his badge in the future. I didn’t really consider my job as checking badges more than keeping an eye on the parking lot overnight for the third shift workers.

  Willie Dobbs was a first shift warehouse worker who had a huge Lincoln Continental. He would sit his car blocking half the street until one of the few street side parking spaces would open up and then traffic would be blocked in both directions while he carefully backed his car into the spot. A few times the internal security made him get out of the street and park in the parking lot. One day Willie forgot to show me his card so I asked him to show it to me. He gave a big sigh, pulled his wallet out of his pocket, opened his wallet with the ID card in one of those see though pockets, and shoved the card about an inch away from my face, and sneered as only a New Jerseyan can sneer ‘Happy?’ While Willie wasn’t a small guy, he wasn’t especially big either and since after a whole night hanging around a guard booth for minimum wage I wasn't too interested in the Willie Dobbs’ of the world shoving their wallets in my face I said in my best menacingly matter of fact voice ‘I wouldn’t do that again if I was you’ Willie gave the time-honored reply ‘You ain’t me’ and as he walked away with a snide chuckle the game was on.

  The next day when Willie came through the gate he looked at me and I looked at him and he looked at me and I looked at him and as he kept on walking I asked him to show me his badge. Willie gave a big sigh, pulled his wallet out of his pocket and was in the process of bringing it up to within an inch of my face when the back of my hand intercepted it about six inches short of its mark and sent the wallet flying across the pavement, knocking loose a stack of 20 dollar bills that flew every which way.

  After Willie gave his best impression of an ant that got caught under a kid’s magnifying glass scooping up his twenty dollar bills accompanied by the snickers of his co-workers (none of whom helped pick up anything) he went inside and must have ratted me out like a little school boy. I got yelled at by Willie’s union boss and the head of internal security (a former New York detective named Kirk who could really yell), and then by both of them at the same time. I figured I was going to have find myself a new minimum wage job but after the yelling was done, the union boss got me on the side and told me Willie was a ‘prick’ and he wished I had clocked him and after that Kirk got me on the side and said while I should never touch anyone on company property he would have ‘put the SOB in the hospital’ if Willie had tried that on him. A few minutes later, Willie came out to his car and called me a wise guy and said ‘Yer gonna get yours…’ I mentioned that I was right there if he wanted to give me anything and tried to compliment him by telling him what a nice car he had and what a shame it would be if something were to happen to it while it was parked in the lot. I only worked as a guard for a few more months after that but for every day I was there Willie Dobbs pulled his wallet out before I had to ask and opened it up on his hip so the other guys wouldn’t see it and we never talked again. I looked up Willie Dobbs for this post to see if I could find his obituary but I couldn't which to me was a shame because that would have been some easy reading.

  I was going to stop my character profiles at Willie but the weekend may have brought a worthy addition to my ‘rogues gallery’. The retail software company I was employed by from 1994 to 2008 stopped supporting the desktop product earlier this year and since then I’ve been helping users who haven't switched to the new 'cloud' version with their problems for an hourly fee. On Friday, I got an email from an old acquaintance asking if I could call a user to help them with a problem with the software. I called the user on Friday night, helped with a couple of problems, and emailed my acquaintance to inform of my progress and I quickly received an email back asking if there was anything they could do. I called the user back and asked for an email address so I could send a bill for my time. The user had a heavy foreign accent and I couldn’t understand the email address so I gave her my email address and told her to send me an email and I would reply. I didn’t get an email and 2 emails to my acquaintance asking for the user’s email address have gone unacknowledged. It looks like I’ll have to write off this fee but when I get another email asking for assistance it will be my turn to go to ‘radio silence’. Hopefully the software was really being used for a retail store and not a real life version of Walter White using my old retail software for some drug lord business or the next time their software breaks it may be unhealthy for me to refuse to help.