Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Secret of the Smiling Burger.

Every blogster has posts that he doesn’t know if he it would really be a good idea he publishes. For example:

Red Letter Day

Today I had cheated on my wife of thirteen years- who has bore five children with me- with my coworker, Helga. Also, I picked up the new White Stripes CD. Not as visionary as their earlier efforts.

See, that post could have problematic consequences. What if his wife reads it and finds that he was wasting his money on the White Stripes. He’d be in the doghouse for sure!

With the same concern, I hesitated publishing this piece. After all, it was about work. I could see myself being called into the office, with an angry manager, holding a tightly clenched laptop in his hands and saying, “WAAAAAALLLLLTEEEERRRSSS! You’re fired!”

“Was it because of my post on my blog lightly making satire of the idiosyncrasies and intricacies of the absurdities of my work environment?” I ask?

“What the heck’s a blog? No! It was for accidentally saying that word near those elderly customers, and accidentally setting that fire, and accidentally dropping that infant child of the City Council member in the deep fryer.”

“Oh. Sorry. Those were… all… accidents. Whoops.”

Of course, my fears were absurd. First of all, one of the beautiful part about having a blog is that nobody… well… reads it. I could publish CIA secrets on this thing, and the only hits I’d get would be logging onto different computers in the library myself.

But, it’s better safe than unemployed, as I always say. Having experienced both. So now that I’m only a few days away from leaving my cushy job at Red Robin to return to my job pushing stale pizza crust onto unsuspecting freshmen, I can feel safe to publish this post. This post that’s… TOO HOT FOR T.V.! So that’s why we put in on the internet.

And in all serious, Red Robin is a great place for work. Great food, great people. I love it. But, since I’m emotionally stunted, I show my love by mocking it.


“Thank you for calling the North Pointe Red Robin, home of the Smiling Burger! This is Daniel! Can I help you!”

These are the words that compose my life. These are the words that I chant forth dozens of times a day. They dominate my dreams, ricochet off my consciousness, and echo incessantly through my thoughts. I have tried every variation of rate, pitch, and volume possible, every dramatic interpretation of that accursed phrase I can think of. I say it like Christopher Walken. James Earl Jones. President Bush. Even Cookie Monster.

Eventually, the words- through the numbing ritual of repetition- lose their power, their meaning, their *punch.* They begin to run together into one massive melded mush of a statement: Thankyouforcallingthenorthpointeredrobinhomeofthesmilingburger-thisisdanielcanihelpyou?

On the other hand, with each reiteration of this mantra, the words become etched into my very essence. I start to believe the ideas contained within, to take them as my own. Other ‘truths’ seem paltry by comparison. Our burgers ARE smiling, dangit! And I am willing to *kill* to prove it! War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is strength. Burgers are Smiling.


So a blind woman walks into Red Robin…

Don’t worry. This isn’t the start of one of those Jokes.

She has me walk her to her table (table #36, if you’re curious). As she grabs my arm to help guide her, she sagely comments, “Honey! You are *skinny*!”

Sometimes it is the blind who can truly see.

In retrospect, I could have just as easily told her she was only holding onto my pinky finger and she would have believed me.


Red Robin- along with my former work at the Country club- has revealed to me a valuable secret. A secret about myself: Turns out, I’m not good at uh… *doing stuff*. In the future I’ll try to avoid jobs that make use of this skill I lack.

“So, Daniel, before we hire you, do you have any questions?”

“Yeah… Will this job involve… well… *doing stuff*?”

“Uh… yes…”

“Well, it’s been nice talking to you, sir. Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”


I have also discovered several unwritten laws of nature that seem to govern Red Robin and probably the rest of the restaurant industry.

Red Robin Rule #1: Give me a Booth or give me death.

People *hate* sitting at tables. I mean *really* hate it. The kind of hatred usually reserved for Hitler or opposing football teams. A person would kill his own Grandmother- with a mint-flavored toothpick, if necessary, to insure himself a booth. If the wardens at Guantanamo Bay sat the suspected terrorists at a table while serving them their filet mignon, Amnesty International would have a *fit*!

Red Robin Rule #2: Call a Spade a “Soil Redistribution Facilitation Device.”

Apparently, words like “bar” and “waiter” are copyrighted, so Red Robin has to come up with their own creative synonyms. As a result, the bar is called the “refreshment center,” bartenders, “Mixologists,” bussers, “sales support staff,” employees, “team members,” E.Coli “a negative dining experience,” bathrooms the “Numbers 1 and 2 liberation chambers” and bullsh---, “euphemisms.”

Red Robin Rule #3: The demeanor of any given waiter at the table is inversely proportional to the aforementioned waiter’s demeanor away from the table.

The plight of the server is a thankless one. They get blamed for *everything.* “Waiter! There’s a fly in my soup,” “Waiter! My stock portfolio is down!” “Waiter! The ethnic tensions and poverty level in the Sudan have lead to genocide, and the tepid response of the international community is despicable!”

It’s no wonder, then, that the server’s ‘offstage’ personality is not nearly as sunshiny as their onstage one.

They usually greet the customer with bright-eyes, a plastered plastic smile, and a sing-song voice usually reserved for telling children about the power of their imagination on PBS shows. “Hi! I’m Dr. Jekyll and I’ll be your server today!”

When they leave, however, their yin flashes to yang. Their smile drops into a grimace, and their eyes narrow to angry slits. “Stupid customer…” they mumble, “Always wantin’ me to serve this, get that, bus this, order that... It’s always… Food, food food… eat eat eat… the polite thing to do would be to refuse to get them food… they could stand to lose about fifty pounds… *grumble grumble* I’ll show THEM a tip… the tip of an icepick shoved through the back of their head…”

Red Robin Rule #4: 30% of all children that leave with balloons in their hand and a gleam in their eyes return with nothing in their hand and tears in their eyes.

Balloons are lot like Cocaine. It’s fun when you first have it, but eventually, that bubble’s going to pop. And once it does, you’re worse off than ever. And if the balloon doesn’t pop, it’s bound to slip through your fingers and shoot away from your panicked, grasping hand. It soars up through the clouds and past your vision, engulfed heart-wrenchingly by oblivion.

I had a balloon once. It was green. From Albertsons. I loved it. But I… I… tried to tie it to my trike… and… and… I didn’t tie it right. I tried to catch it before it flew away, but I was too slow! I never even got a chance to say goodbye… No, I will NOT “get over it” I held it close, but it faded in the night. Slip-sliding away into nothingness.

Sometimes, as I wander the streets at night, I pause to look up at the starry sky. And through that gaping space and twinkling lights, above the harvest moon, I see a speck- just a speck- of the green balloon I once called my own.

Of course, the *government* says it’s just aliens.

They’re always trying to cover up the facts.


Of course, in just a few days the whole Red Robin saga will be over. And I will restart my saga with… well… SAGA.

The Burgers are still smiling. But their lips are trembling and their eyes are moist.