Tuesday
Mar272012

« Sandwich Art Imitating Life Imitating Sandwich Art +20 »

You know you don't amount to much when your life feels like it is held together or drawn apart by a fast food job. For a young person who is starting to struggle with gaining independence and identity, a job of any sort glistens with a kind of promise, even with the pitfalls that accompany working for places that will alternately over- and underwork a person according to unseen forces, usually for as close to minimum wage as possible. So it was with me at my second job (and the first that happened after graduating high school). Around this season of 1992, 20 years ago now, it pretty much turned on a dime from day to day, or week to week. Working at Subway Sandwiches #10731 (the ability for the brain to retain such information is one of the natural wonders of the world) went from a blessing to a curse in a small way just like most jobs do, but in March 1992 it really got to be way more of a soap opera drama than any fast food joint should be allowed. For an 18 year old kid who didn't have but one goal in life at that point—saving to get to Germany for the summer—it was worth the indignities for a while, but then it got just over the top with the change in ownership at my store. The actual usefulness of the place drew to a close by mid April, but the whole experience during that era has continued to unfold in a fractal-like manner.

His Chuckness

If ever there was a risk of me becoming a "company man" it was at that Subway up until March 1992. But that came crashing down in the space of a few weeks, and was a totally exploded idea by the 12th of April. The owner I worked under until March 10th was Chuck Perricone, a delightfully salty but serious businessman of about 50, and a well-respected franchisee from what I could tell. (I profiled him and other experiences in other entries that can be found with a tag search of Subway.) He had a few other stores in Miramar and Mira Mesa, about 8-10 miles out. Maybe he bit off more than he could chew to start this store from scratch. I never got the story, but in February, employees started to get news that the store would be sold. Soon after, a Jewish couple (yes, that affects the story), Abe and Arlene Levy started working in the shop, as was required for new owners to gain experience before they could take over. I didn't like them much from the start but was advised by Chuck that maybe they'd keep some of the staff on for continuity's sake. And, by that point, I was the third in line after Chuck and manager Steve. And Steve was already making his exit by being careless and flip. It got to be annoying while he was still on Chuck's crew, but on the last day, March 10th, Steve became one like me and Matt Zuniga, and we cut up and had some fun, even in Chuck's presence! Chuck seemed inclined to put in a good word for me with the Levys since I had pretty much earned the reputation as a brownnoser by then. Whether he did or not, I persisted in my meticulous cleaning and was pretty good on the line after about seven months there. I thought that might earn me some grace with the Levys.

The Jew Crew

The next day, Abe and Arlene took over. And immediately their presence was felt. Hours were cut. Days were cut. Split shifts of about 10-2 and 6-11 (nine hours) were part of the scheduling strategy (more so after I left). One or the other of them worked a morning or evening shift each day, and so I worked with Abe mostly for closing shifts. They had three sons, ranging from about 12-21, and at least one of them were on the scene too. Adam, the oldest, was often on my shifts, apparently as "the" Levy for that shift. I guess it was easy for them to slash labor when they only retained three employees (Matt, Angela, and me), and then the rest is done with five family members who probably all lived in the same household. My records indicate that only two of the last days I worked there were shared with Matt. If I recall right, Matt and I alternated nights, and Angela worked days. Maybe Matt did days too, in a split shift arrangement. In about no time, it made a lot of sense.

A franchise like Subway has a regional compliance overseer fellow come by every few weeks to measure a store's compliance with the national standard. Are the onions cut the right way? Are there the right number of slices of each meat in each sandwich prep layout? Are the breads being cut with the Subway "U" channel? All that stuff is monitored and graded. I got to know enough about it all while Chuck was there, and right away, I saw the Levys deviating. Maybe it was a bit less meat here, or not offering condiments there. Corner cutting. Even coupons that were for national promotions, say, for any 6", were honored with an option to get the cheapest three sandwiches—a Cold Cut Combo or Veggie or Meatball, for example. Customers would come in and ask for the special and Abe flatly rejected it and offered his shoddy substitute instead. The customer might not want it. Maybe he was cowed into another, more expensive sandwich at list price. Or maybe he got the cheap stuff. Or maybe he left. Under Chuck this would be punishable by death, but here it was... the new owner himself was pulling this trick!

I said the Levys were Jewish. Unfortunately, Abe in particular, a late 40s looking guy probably from Israel with a thick accent to boot, rather rotund and bespectacled, was a spittin' image for the stereotypical money grubbing Jew. He made no bones about it. It was like he relished the act of raking in money. One day in full sight of customers during a lull in business, I asked him why he was gaming the offers like he was. Or why he didn't want me to spend so much time cleaning. Or whatever was done so differently from Chuck's method. He went to the register, opened it up, and with a stern voice possessed with capitalist fervor, exclaimed that all he cared about was if that thing was full each night. I think a couple customers turned their heads. The one day Matt and I worked together, just before the end, he caught us standing and talking a bit. He got all riled up, hollering across the work area and in plain earshot of all, "What is this booolshit? What does it mean? Am I paying you to stand around and boooolshit?" He issued me my check for the week and sent me out early. A customer asked me if I was fired, and I said I didn't know. He sounded genuinely concerned and said he'd register his own complaint about the matter. The very next day Abe was arguing with customers about their order and Abe decided the best solution was for them to be kicked out.

Arlene was a bit less demonstrative. She was a bit more level headed in general but after my naive attempt to narc out Abe's antics, I'm pretty sure she started to plot my demise there. Saying she was more level headed was relative; she seemed to hail from New York and had the thick accent you'd expect, and not a small bit of New Yawk attitude. But she wasn't so blatant as Abe to tell off a customer, or to almost hug and kiss the cash register. Since her kids were all there, she did seem a bit motherly, but let's not make too much of that. She was a mama bear.

Their sons were obviously not so annoying, but I had a hard time figuring out if Adam was a turncoat since he was the Levy-on-schedule many nights when I closed. In the end, I think he was kind of a double agent. He had a Z car that had a pretty bad assed stereo and speaker system in it, and one night he invited Matt and I to put on some CDs. It was pretty intense. I suppose he got some extra perspective on us that way. He was already cautioning me to not clean as much as I was inclined to. After all, Chuck used to intone, "if you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean." I kept a very, very clean shop. I thought that would be of use to them but they told me to just get the job done. Nothing special.

Maybe they thought they were running their own deli in New Yawk, and that the franchise rules didn't matter. Or maybe they were short timing it. I don't know. I just know they did everything just about the opposite as I had learned, and that seemed impossible if they wanted to carry on as franchisees.

Germany?

Steve Rau and I at senior breakfast before graduation, June 1991The entire reason I put up with Subway was to get to Germany. I can't say that earning a glorified minimum wage at a 20-30 hour job as a sandwich jock was worth much beyond this one goal of mine, except that it did help pay for the trip. The calendar bears this out in a pretty clear way: I bought my flight ticket (nearly $1000) at the Triple A office next door on April 7th and was fired from Subway on April 12th. Germany was like the promised land that year and all the ups and downs of Subway and everything else only strengthened my resolve. It's hard to communicate what a feeling it was to get back there after the all-too-short few days I spent in Garching in 1991 with school buddy Stephan Rau. Graduating from Madison the year before brought our in person relationship to an end, were it not for the trip I took there just weeks later. But it was just a taste, staying at his place for a few days at the end of a larger tour my old man put together. Not having a clue how, I told Steve I'd "come back next year." It was a bit audacious considering I had no job or too much more in savings when I said that. During the exactly one year between leaving in 1991 and arriving in 1992, the year of Subway and of starting in on college courses, the year of being exiled from the house to play drums, the year of being pretty depressed since my already small social circle from high school and church was turned into something unrecognizable, and that almost dangerously revolved around Subway itself... during that year, Germany was the white city on the hill for me. Nothing seemed right without it. Of course, I had no idea what would become of me after I got back, but that was so far in the future. How soon could July 13th arrive?

Drummers With Attitudes/the Pig Thing 

At "the bridge" March 1992 where DWA was launched, at least on tapeWith my only option to play drums having been reduced to literally playing outside, requiring lugging the kit around in Matt's car most times, he and I spent time on weekends or afternoons before we reported to work. We found a quite acceptable location in Mission Valley, located in a rather secure and sheltered space that wasn't claustrophobic. What gave us a bit of sustained fun was the advent of recording and having something to document our youthful exploits. Of course, it was all really dumb shit. On March 8th, the recording that basically launched us as "Drummers With Attitudes" was done in this spot under a freeway bridge. Matt and I, being pretty bored with lives of apparent meaninglessness, were horsing around, breaking glass, yelling, and honking the car horn and whatever else we could do to blow off steam that accumulated as we worked at Subway during the good old days! That humble boom box recording turned out to be the cornerstone of a sustained effort pretending I was a musician with a band that I was responsible for, and making recordings and doing promo stuff, even including a joke fanzine a few months later—a prototype effort at a blog, essentially.

But on the evening of Abe Levy's big cash register outburst and his busting Matt and me for standing and talking after lunch rush, Matt and I retired to his studio apartment after work. Both of us were rather shocked with how the day went, what with working two shifts each, and all the Abeisms from that day, we were blowing off steam and somehow started to talk all sorts of shit that found its way onto paper in some joke "rap" that might be delivered over some drums one day out at the bridge. To read it now would be pretty dismal at many levels. A rant that smacks of antisemitism and um, a lack of sensitivity about body diversity? Check. A dreadful attempt at songwriting? Check. The anger of young men full of self-righteousness, and who know everything? Check. Yep, it's pretty lame and I'm pretty sure it is gone now. But you know what? It was essentially all true as far as our experience went. To us, or at least to me, it wasn't exaggeration to say we were dealing with fat, greedy Jews. The title itself was meant to be rather offensive too, in order to make every possible stab. "Roly Poly Porky Boys" was meant to condescend just as much. I might have to give myself more credit for being "punk" than I typically have, but even legit punk music was rather more refined and musical than this! If anything, the drums and vocal nature of things hinted a direction closer to rap or hip hop, which neither of us really liked, but gave us a couple references for naming ourselves and other bits along the way. Later in the year, one of our recordings was entitled Acoustic Rap or Acousti-Crap?

I didn't intend to launch my music career with such a wretched thing. I didn't intend to launch a band with songs at all. But such a thing slowly took shape as I drew inspiration from being disillusioned and angry at things. I put pen to paper and wrote some of the worst dreck ever using all cliches available to me. We made our first attempt at recording it just two days after I got canned. And then there was one unusual instance that emerged when Matt and I hauled up to some warehouse north of here and jammed with a guitarist and bassist I used to go to school with who made admirably meathead metal out of RPPB and recorded it the day after our first recording at my house. (On a clandestine basis, we set up at my house, but all the truly fun playing was done on the run.)

The pig fetish that people associate with I am associated grew out of this sordid mess. I assure you it didn't start with pink, fluffy toys. Hog Heaven did start with toys in 1996, but this is where the entire pig thing begins.

The Firing

Things might have been looking up that week at Subway. I worked five days in one calendar week which was notable considering the downward tendency of late. April 9 was the infamous Abe day. The 11th was unusually well staffed at night. Matt and I were let to work together. But in a break with the previous month's pattern, Arlene was in the office, and son Josh (the middle son, probably 16) was there too. With all that staffing, cleaning got done quickly. We were standing around, making our fun. We had no business so we got pretty casual and even ended up taking our little laugh session outside to the parking lot. There was probably some shit talking. No Arlene though. Still in the office. While I had the chance, I told her about Abe's antics the previous days and pronounced them wrongheaded. Apparently she and I got into some words. Yeah, all that crashed and burned like bacon wrapped shrimp at a yeshiva cafeteria! I don't recall what happened in what order, but the night was an odd mix, like the gathering of clouds before the storm. How could it be that I just argued with my boss yet was outside laughing it up with her son and my always troublemaking buddy coworker?

The answer came clearly enough the next morning when I was called by Arlene and told I was done there. It was Palm Sunday, which of course meant nothing to her, and really, probably nothing to me at that time. But if it was any concern to her, I guess she might as well fire the uppity kid before Passover.

Matt, not being one of much conviction in such matters, was retained and worked there so long he outlasted the Levys and ended up working some time for the family of Indian owners that took over after them. They didn't know or care about the Levy drama so in 1995-96 I started to hang out on Matt's shift which resulted in some amazing examples of Clerks-like use of business space that went far beyond anything that happened while I worked there! But in 1992, so much for the vague ideas of solidarity that if he or Angela or I got canned, we'd all walk out on the Levys. He and I kept on with bad attitudes about the whole thing, but he somehow managed to keep his head down and play their game. I never really liked it and I used to egg him on to challenge the split shift thing and other bits he regaled me with over time. In the days and weeks after getting fired, I carried on my usual trips there to get dinner, or to meet up with Matt after work. Of course this didn't meet Levy family favor, and they tried to dismiss me. At least, they kept me outside and wanted me gone.

The Law

On April 28th, I was in my driveway, probably talking to my old man as he worked in the garage. A car drove up and presented me with an envelope of documents. I didn't know what to make of this stranger walking up and passing this off on me, but inside was a restraining order from the court on behalf of the Levys. It contained a few bits of truth but mostly was trumped up with hyperbolic accounts of the threat I supposedly posed to them. Small things like kicking around a bit of wood bark in the parking lot while waiting for Matt to get out of work was transformed into throwing rocks at their windows. The order dictated that I'd stay 1000' from the store for one year. I had to go to court to say my two sentences in vain. But before doing that I was able to get a character witness letter from Chuck Perrecone, the previous owner, who reported me as an excellent employee. I got a letter from my pastor, who said that while diplomacy training might be of use, but a restraining order was overkill. Of course, when is the law going to take sides with an 18 year old over such a thing as this? Any business owner is going to be favored going in.

Since the restraining order came after our little song, the biting criticism already voiced in that bit of anti-Hallmark verse was validated and I seem to recall extending the lyrics or making a sequel. I was both bitter and self righteous. I wrote to Subway corporate in Connecticut and told them about the Levy debacle. I took to getting my dinner at another local Subway, making sure to report the Levy method just in case I could get another jab in. I was a pup on the pantleg for a few minutes there, but it was pretty pointless. I wasn't used to being rejected like this. Anyway, I had Germany coming up on the calendar, and while in a holding pattern for that, it was a big thing for me to set about refinishing my drum set and embracing the DWA activity as something more productive than staying immersed all the Subway crap going on.

The Law Taketh, the Law Giveth

Matt's ability to stay at that shop for about four years after all this astounded me. And then he only left because he joined the army. Now that didn't make any more sense to me than his Subway tenure. While I was on restraining order I pretty much kept my distance but flirted a bit. After all, my bank was across the parking lot! On the day when the order expired in May 1993, I sort of made an occasion to go in for a bit of nosh as if celebrating a birthday, accompanied with a girl, Jenn Cody, who was more than a school acquaintance but less than a date. That whole gesture of course carried a bit of a mocking air about it, and I don't remember if it was just Matt there who would have known, but I did do it. At about that same time in May 1993, I got a job at another Subway with a different owner, one who knew all about the Levys (from being in the same office as the local compliance monitors worked from) and shared my opinion of them. My time at that Subway came and went in about a year and a half and the Levys still owned 10731.

The fact that Matt worked there still led to a number of rather comic times, but one instance that vindicated my attitude that the Levys were up to no good was when Matt showed me some legal court documents relating an instance where Abe and his youngest son were in a CVS or Sav-On store or something like it, and were trying to shoplift some video tapes. Abe, being a chunky dude, maybe was hiding stuff under an oversized coat or something. As he and his son were leaving the store, the security team closed in on him and challenged him to stop and drop the goods. He put up some resistance and was wrestled to the ground and apparently got hurt. This lawsuit somehow was trying to accomplish the most ridiculous bit of table turning where Abe was suing for some compensation to help offset expenses associated with injuries from rough handling. Ahem?

Epilogue

Some months ago I got a blog response from Angela, who at the time was only about 16 or 17. She had searched for Matt on Google and found nothing much except the post I wrote last year that illustrated how Subway was at the intersection of so many parts of my life then. She was quite amused at my recollection, and we wrote some notes back and forth about the "good old days." To the extent that's true, it really should be limited to the Chuck months. Not much of it is inherently good, especially if you're a young guy yet to have scored with a girl yet, not really connected at your new school, or if you've faded from your once-vital church community, and also aware that the home and family picture is shifting too. It's not all that great when your "best friend" sends an envelope of your letters back to you because you misspeak about money. It's not too exceptional when you don't feel you're born to make sandwiches, not born to serve customers, not born to mop floors, and not born to give a shit about a company that could just as easily throw you under the bus—even for being "too" dedicated to your work.

Chronologically, this tale closes the book on the first Subway job from August 1991 to about May 1992. After this, there is the other store that in due time will be told about next year. Subway might have just been a job to work and walk away from if it wasn't the backdrop for such a period of life as it was. Or certainly if Matt had not been part of it not just during my time there, but for years later. Who knew in those sunny summer days in August 1991 how such a job would end, particularly in the way it spun off my "development" as an "artist"? Really, I'm still chiefly glad that it served the purpose that I most consciously articulated: to get to Germany. Later on this year, I anticipate I'll be telling that story. At least I hope to. I realize that I didn't even write anything about my first trip last summer! I was caught up in graduation memoirs and a bit later on with 20th reunion stuff. I should do better this year since that trip was so important to me.

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