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Aug222011

« Subway, Center of the Universe + 20 »

My second job was a rather unintentional change in my life. It came about as an unintended side effect of visiting the Subway sandwich shop in Clairemont Square on the way to one of the last church picnics of the year. It was newly opened earlier in the summer, just about the time I was in Europe in July (something I know was worthy of writing about this summer but that is a pretty big story to tell, and therefore, haven't). On the way to the picnic sometime about late in the afternoon on August 14th, I stopped in for a sammich and there was a pretty empty shop with manager Steve chillin' at the counter (he'd later be heard to say, "if you got time to lean, you got time to clean"). The essential banter, preserved in my journal from the period, went as follows:

Me: "I'd like a Cold Cut Combo please."

Steve: "Here, have a cookie."

"What? For free?

"Yeah. I need to get rid of the older ones. So... do you need a job?"

"No."

"You financially secure or something?"

"No, that's not a problem."

"So you're saying you need a job..."

"I guess I am."

I got an application on the spot, brought it back and was told to come back in the morning. I did, and in five minutes, I was a Subway employee. I started a week later on this day, August 22nd. Just days before, my grandfather bought me a pretty nice bike, a Hard Rock from Specialized in a lovely pearlized white. The fact that he spent a whopping $300 and more for it was huge then. That fact put my bike ownership into a new era; it was the nicest bike thus far, and one that wasn't a heavy steel Huffy or whatever else was available then. I rode down the sidewalks for the mile and a half to Subway, and at about midnight, rode back the same way. It got a good bit of use on my Mesa College commute which was either rather longer a ride or was too hilly to enjoy much. I mixed it up over time. The bike served me well for about two years, later being replaced by the Escort given to me officially on my 20th birthday in 1993, but having already been mine to use much of the year before that, at least on weekends. 

I only had vague plans to be in Mesa College for the new school year. Starting at Subway was a rather surprising development but one that gave me the funds to fulfill my stated idea of getting back to Europe the next summer. I worked at Subway for eight months until mid April 1992. I had no idea how that job would shape my life, or how it functioned as a hub for so much else that happened.

I started as a closer and remained so almost exclusively. What changed it was in the last month when the store was sold to an oddball and cranky Jewish family from New York. When I started, the store was open until midnight, and it took a while to close after that. I had a coworker there until about 10 pm, and then I was on my own. That arrangement lasted about two months for me. The store was new and bit off more than it could chew and on later review, they saw that I was overwhelmed at the end, and frankly, a bit vulnerable. The video camera recorded me there some nights after 1 am, and I was interrogated about why I was so late in getting out. They changed the hours back to 11pm with two closers and things flowed a lot better. I found it a bit more social that way. Being new at working and life in general, I was given to be a bit of a fame seeker in the way I shared (or didn't share) duties at dinner rush time. I was dared one day by Chuck, the rather salty-mouthed but sometimes hilariously funny perv of an owner-operator, to lose the name "Slugger." It was a measure of my line speed. So I took it to another extreme and often accepted no help out front, instructing my even-newer-than-I coworkers to stay back in prep land even during dinner. I hated prep, so I was willing to take on the entire dinner line to avoid it. That made me fast but sometimes drew some attention when it backfired and the customers narced me out to Chuck or Steve, asking why the prep person was not coming out to help. Based on the fact that I was quickly becoming the longest tenured closer there even at my few weeks or months, I sort of had the unofficial role of being the shift manager, and really not being able to do that too well. That broke down after several weeks and I ended up finding it was rather nicer dealing with prep, dirty dishes, and other behind the scenes stuff, and letting someone else do the line.

Work vs. Life

I might have been on a wandering schedule prior to Subway, on account of being a recently graduated guy with no plans but for community college (classes starting at noon). But it was Subway that was the first structural piece of my life that kept me on a late schedule. Places like that typically will schedule a young and easily put-upon worker at any old time. No different with me. My work schedule changed each week but often included Saturday nights. It wasn't too long before I was skipping church life on Sunday because I was going to bed at almost 3 am and found it a drag to get up at eight in the morning to get ready. At the time it was a worthy exchange largely because working as much as I could was what was going to pay for a much longed for second trip to Europe. I basically sold my soul to get back to Europe in 1992, and the Subway adventure was filled with new experiences, characters, and some indignities that culminated in a big way with the Levy family taking the store over in March 1992 and ultimately firing me and subsequently getting a restraining order placed on me. 

That whole period after graduating from high school and for a good long year afterward was rather a depressing time. My school schedule could tolerate the work schedule. My classes pretty much were limited to a noon to 2:30 schedule. I typically was scheduled to work at 5-12 or later on 4-11. I was getting to bed at three in the morning after wedging homework into the time between. I was probably waking up at 10 am with time to do last minute homework and to do the half hour ride to school. I was taking just a couple classes each semester at Mesa, and working about 20-35 hours at Subway. I was happily eating Subway food almost exclusively for my dinners, it being sooooo vastly better than the stuff my old man served. In fact, it was with this job that I was emancipated from eating his creations or his selections, so I was delighted with being able to escape that and to eat something that tasted better and might have been better for me.

The culinary possibilities were a step up but the social ones were not so. Even in high school, I wasn't surrounded by any great friends who helped me fill the time on a daily basis. I was in touch at a rather minimal level with people from Madison. Steve and Shelby were gone. I missed them both a great deal. I never made any friends at Mesa. I had church friends who helped in this period, and after some months away from church early in 1991, I returned to things, but not quite as completely as a couple years before. Essentially, my new social circle was at Subway, though it was quite an acquired taste. And it was far from mutual. Really, I found myself there on my days off, just to get my dinner and to hang out for a while some nights. Or to get there a bit early and do the same. 

Fellow Workers

The owner, Chuck Perricone, was a 50ish businessman with some expertise who owned two other Subways prior to this one. He was plenty aware of the franchise compliance requirements and generally was an ace at complying, as long as us riff-raff were on board. He was a pretty precise guy and could dish out enough venom to be clear and motivating, but he was also a likeable guy who would spend lull times telling stories that kept a couple of us in stitches. Pardon the misogyny for a moment.

All the girls at the place were pretty young. Even relative to me, it seemed. High school girls almost exclusively. For a while, Marne, Steve Rau's prom date, worked there. A couple other young girls were there, looking almost too angelic to be true. Most were shimmering blondes. It couldn't have been a mistake on Chuck's part. He and manager Steve, the guy with the cookies, were obviously going for a young and good looking theme in those early days. One time Chuck was telling Steve and I, or maybe Matt too, how he was reminded by his wife (co-operator) that girls were supposed to wear slacks, not the yoga style stretch pants that they all seemed to wear and from which he turned a blind eye. His wife said they were out of compliance. "Oh?" he said, "not with those butts in them, they aren't!!!"

Steve, no less inclined to be a testosterone-filled man than Chuck, was not above his reptile brain during the times when he would lay eyes on an incoming female customer that inspired something in him, and he'd call one of us out to make her sandwich while he retreated to the prep area, out of sight of the customer but in clear view of us on the line. He'd be back there making outrageously exaggerated sexual pumping gestures, or maybe doing the tongue in cheek "fellatio" thing in an equally over the top way. It was sometimes impossible to keep a straight face out on the line! Another of Steve's gimmicks was to shout out a number, a code for us guys, that graded these incoming women in about the same way as a judge at a sporting event would hold up a card with a number from one to ten. Even these one word utterances of Steve's were enough to send us into hysterics as his outrageous gestures behind the counter! The party wound to a close eventually as Steve got into some trouble and enough of us were arrayed against him. That was subsumed IIRC, when the news of the sale to the Levy family was announced. They he just gave up caring and became like a passive-aggressive acting dead weight till it was his time to go.

There was a generic school notebook left for all of us to write in, to make requests of Chuck or Steve, or to trash the performance of the previous shift, and to make excuses for our own bad work (which usually involved trashing the previous shift). It was a place of many a snarky comment, some goofiness, condescension, passive aggressive talk, name calling, and occasionally something useful! It was commented upon by the most recent shift and again by the one that followed. In the Perricone-Levy transfer I took it for myself as a souvenir of the good old days with Chuck. It was in that book that we felt close enough that we might even take swipes at Chuck himself. Matt took to calling him "Chucken" and later on, "Super Chucken." One time he drew a likeness of Chuck with a superhero cape and hat, Chuck's glasses and four chicken feet.

Matt

One afternoon, October 20th or so, I was at the shop eating my Spicy Italian and this spikey haired, tattooed, earring-, torn jeans-, and Doc Marten wearing guy came in and asked for Steve. He looked a bit older than me, closer to Steve's ripe age of 27. He was actually 20, and was looking for work. Maybe he already had filled out his application. A week later I saw him donning a red Subway shirt and training behind Darius, a huge black dude who looked intimidating but was a pretty cool figure. His name was Matt Zuniga. I didn't know it then but I had just met the guy who helped shape my next several years and who was an unwitting impetus that led to my "recording career." I never would have guessed that his rather grungy looking self and my rather uptight and nerdy self would have interacted. But we found ourselves in our own respective states of exile with regards to family and society, and found that drums led us to help each other out.

It was quite well timed that I would meet him at the end of October. We worked together a couple times and eventually the topic of drums came up. He said he liked drums. And that he didn't have a set. The situation was becoming that my house was drying up as a viable place to play. Having heard about this, Matt promptly said I could set up at his house, and that he could keep them set up, all no problem if I'd go for it and let him play the kit. I was intrigued but really cagey about it. Who was this guy? He dressed like a punk or something. He was kinda unreliable at work. I barely met him a few weeks before! 

Matt brought the drums over to his upstairs studio apartment on the day before Thanksgiving. With a lot of concern of my own and some urging from the old man, I wrote up a contract with a detailed list of the equipment and the terms involved if I were to do this. Matt kind of laughed it off but went with my uptight contract idea. He signed it the day after Thanksgiving. While I might have been to his place a time or three before that, this clearly made me interested in getting over there more so I could get the use of my own stuff. His apartment was a rather mediocre place that tended toward mid 70s decor and was made darker still by his inclination to cover the windows with heavy curtains (or maybe that was just to help dampen the drums). The drum arrangement brought us together to kill time and talk music. I found he was into some really extreme music. Grindcore? WTF did I know about that? I was in my big Tull and Rush period (I even wrote a paper for English class about those bands!), and at least he gave Tull a try. (He favored the harder stuff from the earlier albums. Anything that smacked of gritty Black Sabbath minor chord stuff, basically.) What we did find was a pretty immediate affinity for Rush. Matt was open about his love of porn so it was almost no time before he and I were hanging out and he decided to put some on while having dinner after work (which would have been about midnight or so). Hanging out with Matt was for a long time akin to eating forbidden fruit. Even working late was odd, so going to his place at midnight and coming home at almost 3 am was truly a new adventure. 

It took me a long time to figure him out. I recall one night at his place I saw on his dining room table a paper with a list titled "how to fill out a job application." He had methodically written out all the types of things he'd need to put down on such a document. It was neatly written, as was all his writing. It struck me as odd considering he was otherwise a character that was seemingly so at odds with regular social norms. I had thoughts for a while there was some kind of mental illness or lower intellectual capacity at work. Over time I abandoned that but held on to what seemed obvious even in exchanges closer to the present day: he was risk averse and rather slothful, favoring a pretty easy way out whereever he could take one. I get the feeling that even his job at Subway was something that he was pressed into, and favoring the path of less resistance, he stayed at that Subway or another for about five years.

Matt was rather bold with some of his antisocial rants and occasional gestures. It was rather shocking for a guy who was recently going to church a lot and from a setting that was pretty conservative. Some of it seemed just so over the top that it could only be a show, but sometimes I was taken rather aback. There were times when he'd snarl openly at an old woman, or do this almost demonic scowling voice concealed with a cough or not concealed at all, with bug eyes, saying "HAGGGGGHHHH!" He called old women "old bags" probably due to a pretty frustrated relationship with his grandmother. I seem to recall he had some troubles sneaking his girl friends to his studio and had to resort to more clever tricks to do so under the aegis of his aging grandmother. I was half fascinated and half horrified at some of the stuff he did and said.

Some of the stuff he said could be hurtful or alienating. I often think I ended up with him in the picture as a low point originally. For almost a year we were more a pair of isolated and alienated individuals that found each other's company and were able to tolerate each other enough as long as the drums were set up and ready to play so we could both blow off steam and kill time. It took until my return from my second trip to Europe—nearly a year into our "friendship" before we got to a place where we talked at any personal depth. Prior to that, he'd tell me to shut up about such stuff. Over time though, he has said that I've been a loyal friend and that he's apologetic for distance between us. He usually says such stuff after some great breakdown of his life. There were times when I had to defend friendship with him as a priority compared to the other characters at the time. At the moment, it has been a year and more since we talked by email, and upon my dare to step up with his kid and conduct himself in a way that wouldn't so closely echo the stuff he experienced, he dropped out promptly. One day he'll come around. 

Sarah

I still don't know how to count this one in but another character on the scene just about that time was Sarah MacBeck Swineherd [not her actual name, by request]. She was a flirtatious one who wasn't afraid to go around grabbing the ass cheeks of some of us male coworkers. Matt spoke a bit disparigingly of her but still wasn't above being a 20 year old male and proclaiming he'd "do her." (He could be heard making frequent statements of this sort. Not all were too discreet. What else should I expect of the guy who introduced me to porn?) Matt had the uncanny position of living in a room addition above his grandmother's garage, with a window facing into a property just catty-corner from there—Sarah's house! He regaled me with tales about his monitoring her, though I think he was often full of fiction or at least hyperbole. It was his brazen ability to tell such tales that made me think for a long time they might be real. I hope my political discernment ability is a bit keener these days.

Anyhow, the time came when Sarah and I worked some shifts together and while she had been a bit more flirtatious while among a few of us guys at once, she was not so in person, alone. She was a bit more real in that setting and sometime early in November we found ourselves closing the store together and talking outside for some time, walking her home one night and getting a peck on the cheek (which by my records seems to have been the "first kiss," though I always attribute that to having happened with Melissa the next year), and even doing a midnight call stunt that required calling "time" and using her call waiting phone so it wouldn't ring out loud.  Eventually we went on a sorta-date by meeting up at Subway in a "coincidental" appearance at the Subway for our respective dinners. We dropped in to the Hungry Stick, a billiards hall/sports bar that apparently wasn't closed to us teenagers at the time. Then we went to the Clairemont theater and saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Of course, a bit of dark space didn't hurt, but even then I was way too uptight and controlled to go for it. Even rubbing her back and trading heads and shoulders was pushing me into new territory! My journal says it was a nice time though, that I just about forgot who I was with—in a good way, not so subject to the ticker of comments that Matt might have made about her.

On exiting the theater, there was some guy named Brett who I guess we both knew, but that had gone to my school earlier in the year (Sarah went to the "other school" at Clairemont High), and that I, in a position as TA in an English class, had positively narced out as a drug dealer. This dude was expelled and arrested. Running into him months later on what might be one of my first dates ever was cause to break things off a bit sooner than planned. Sarah and I were walking toward her place, in a direction opposite my place, and we were found again by this drug dude who shouted threats from a ways away. Sarah basically gave me the "Run! Forrest! Run!" line and I gave her a kiss, and that was about all of the Sarah McBeck Swineherd story. Not long afterward, she was gone from Subway and at least said she was moving from the area altogether (though I think that was temporary if at all). Calling her house in vain to at least close up that date night was agonizing. Matt told me he had something similarly dead end happen with her and tried to get me to leave it alone. Sarah was subject of many a young man's conversation and even some phone pranks for years to come. I now recall one of those pranks, a "pizza party" thrown for her on April Fools' Day 1994, where from our Subway store (two whole years after I was canned), I called three delivery orders in to competing pizza shops, with her address as the target. Me and another Subway guy, Marc Shanahan (worthy of his own few blog stories), went over to her street to watch as the pizza guys arrived at her house.

Reading my journal from the period suggested I was really grappling with seeing a girl who seemed genuine but who seemed to have a reputation for some stuff I didn't subscribe to. You gotta remember, I was preserving myself for Shelby for years, and this Sarah experience was starting to press me into questioning things at the tender age of 18—that birthday being just three weeks before. I wrote that my love life options were maddening—on one hand, Shelby was seemingly not interested in guys and not interested in me in particular, and Sarah was not able to count the guys she'd been with. I even admitted to wanting to give up on Shelby for her emotional distance. I didn't, and so I hung on for another nine years till the end of 2000! (I just got to thinking this Sarah story is an underexamined piece of things. I forgot how she was sort of a first, and what was in my head at the time.)

The Levy Jew Crew Sale

Getting into the late part of things here, the story really should be told elsewhere next year. But the essentials are that during the Chuck Perricone era, I was a loyal and determined employee. The store changed hands on March 11th, and up to that point he was grooming me for success at Subway. He struck me as a decent guy who knew business, and in the absence of my 21st century understanding of and relationship to business, I was ready to try for whatever I could at that level. So I paid good attention to him. Eventually the crew shifted so much that by the changeover, I was third in the place after Chuck and Steve. I'm sure Chuck put in a word for me with the Levys—Abe, a cranky and stereotypical Israeli Jewish businessman who brazenly told customers off and changed deals as he saw fit, and his wife who was the same in the business regard but was more of a New Yorker. Their kids, ages spanning 13-21, were brought in to augment the crew, andeveryone but for Matt, Angela, and me were cut out—and then I was cut a month later for my trouble, trying to save Subway from these wayward franchisees. The landscape changed in a big way. One or the other Levy worked the store from opening to closing, and had at least one kid on the scene most days. Matt and I were not allowed to work together. The three of us who did carry over had our hours cut notably. They had Matt and I doing split shifts over lunch and then closing. Over a longer period of time, they weasled out of paying Matt overtime, and often had him do split shifts or 12 hour shifts with no overtime. I watched as Abe did one offensive thing after another that went exactly against the grain of what Chuck had taught me. I took on a Subway apologist position and wrote to the national office about it.

Arlene, not inclined to suffer complaints from some disposable kid like me, especially when directed at her husband, pretended to care until one night a month after takeover. It was really out of character for her to be there for closing, but she was there. So were her sons Adam and Josh, the oldest two, and Matt was there too. There was a kind of sense that the night was slow, but it was that so many people were there getting it all done. There was even time for screwing off outside. I think Adam was kind of a double agent who didn't want to work for his parents and did some things to befriend Matt and I with the help of his fancy Nissan Z car with an insanely cool stereo in it. But then I recall that Adam watched me clean the cabinets with utmost precision and told me not to worry about it. I said that was the only way I knew how to do it, and that is how I did it all the time for the first seven months and that's why the store was so clean and attractive. He didn't care and thought it was a waste of time. I think this was about the final straw.

After that unusual night, the following morning of April 12th I was told I was no longer employed there. I guess they thought that was the end and I'd just disappear. Maybe they didn't bargain that I'd drop in on Matt on his shifts and get some food. Or at least I'd meet up with him after work. They found that out and told me I couldn't come by, and just a couple weeks later, I received a restraining order legally declaring that for a period of a year. I had to go to court to pretend to defend myself. I got letters from Chuck himself and my pastor Jerry at church saying I was not as they described me. I was pretty devastated that it came to that, and more so because they just wrote down all sorts of trumped up charges like that I was throwing rocks at their windows, or that I defaced their cars or some such crap. I liked Subway, worked as hard as I ever did at a job (even at "sub"sequent positions). These people brought out a righteous indignation in me. It was just days after getting fired that Matt and I were at his place after work and we were writing a pretty scathing and kinda anti-semitic rant in song form that ultimately kicked off a new period for us—Drummers With Attitudes (DWA) that not long afterward became Rhythmic Catharsis. I called it "Roly Poly Porky Boys" partly to describe their physical shape (Abe and Arlene were fat, and Adam was getting there), and to include the offensive use of a pig product, just to jab a little more. As scathing as it was, I don't recall it being fictional. If I saw it now, there are still big parts of it I'd defend just as a person who still thinks they were crooked and unfair businesspeople.

Epilogue

It was clear that Subway was in my life to serve a purpose in that first 1991-92 period: to get to Europe to see Steve Rau once more. It was something that I knew and was focused on achieving. In the end, it was quite clear. I bought my flight ticket for a thousand dollars or more on April 7th and got fired on April 12th. The fact that Matt stayed at that store through the entire Levy era was remarkable. He lasted into the era of its next owners, a family of Indians who had equally odd practices but were generally better Subway franchisees. After the year of my restraining order, on the very day it expired, I ritually went to Matt's store with a girl I thought I was seeing at the time (Jen Cody, probably the only "older woman" I ever went out with, at two years my senior) and got some food, and began a period of hanging out all over again, getting free food whenever I could. The Levys were known to be the rogues in this town. I worked at another store starting about a year after all this went down and found from that experience no one liked the Levys. (Their screwy antics were confirmed a few years later when they tried to sue a Walgreen's store for injury from a security guard's actions as he tried to prevent papa Abe from stealing some video games for his son. That took some 'splainin'.) My trip to Europe was great for my soul after all that time. (I actually did kiss the ground upon getting to the Frankfurt Airport one year and one day after I got home from my prior trip.) I felt vindicated for putting up with it all.

Matt and I were defined by Subway for years to come, hanging out at each other's stores until sometime in late 1996. Subway outlasted our drumming efforts and the recordings that we made as Rhythmic Catharis. His step dad did my taxes for years. His grandmother's old dining table is now mine. (I had some other pieces too when they cleared out the house his grandmother was in.) Over time, it seems like girls got the better of him though I still get the feeling he is glad I've been a friend. 

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