The End of Pineapple

By BOB ZIMORINO

I was hired to work in a gourmet Italian Restaurant in Phoenix. Within a day I was promoted to kitchen manager, given a house to live in and more money than I had ever made working in a restaurant.

Of course, the hidden agenda was revealed to me after accepting the job.

I was actually hired to get rid of my co-worker, a half Hawaiian, half Filipino black belt in Karate who happened to be, I soon found out, addicted to heroin. Pineapple terrified others into doing his work with little more than a menacing sneer. You could feel him glaring at you from behind mirrored sunglasses. He would bark out an order occasionally like “Take this to the back” or something equally meaningful. The prep cooks did his setup. The servers fixed their own lunches and Pineapple stood by and watched.

He came in that second day twenty minutes later than his scheduled time. I had the kitchen set up and ready. I was going through the kitchen trying to familiarize myself with where everything was located and how it all fit into the restaurant’s system.

He looked a little wobbly. “What do you think you’re doin’ dude?” He stepped toward me I wasn’t sure if his intent was to be menacing or he was off balance. He took his sunglasses off and for the first time I saw his eyes. They were half shut, red veined and seemed to be floating in his skull.

I walked past him and went and got him a chair from the dining room. About the time I got back he was reacting to the notion that I wasn’t standing in front of him anymore.

He wanted to say some something but he couldn’t. I put the chair down and he sat down hard and almost fell into the stove. He was sweating profusely and really struggling. I had a server get him some water.

When she left, he told me he shot up early this morning and was trying to shoot some coke so that he could come to work but got confused and accidentally shot more smack. Smack was at the time the street name for heroin.

Someone suggested calling the police or at the very least an ambulance. He pulled me close and said he would kill whoever brought the authorities. I don’t know why but a joke popped into my head and I just kind of blurted it out. “Fine,” I said, “But if you die in this restaurant I am telling everyone that you ate your own cooking.” As I pulled away from him he smiled.

We moved him to the far end of the server line. He was asleep but breathing. I got to work the line and asked questions of the servers when I didn’t know how an item was prepared. I had a lot of experience with the food items that were on the lunch menu from working with my father. It was even reasonably busy for about an hour.

Pineapple sat drooling on himself until about one thirty in the afternoon. He wasn’t exactly sleeping but he certainly didn’t qualify for the awakened world either. The servers were loving me for taking over their jobs in the kitchen, each relaying to me some tale of woe from dealing with the Filipino Terror as they called him.

As he started to come up for air from whatever bottomless pit he had been swimming in, he was unhappy with what he saw. He was mumbling and grumbling about how I was ruining it…ruining it for him and others like him. I was ruining it all.

He got up and stumbled toward me. I wasn’t sure what he was up to but he just stumbled past me and headed to the back. I followed him back there at a safe distance and saw him stumble out the back door into the brash sunlight that held the outside world hostage.

I went back to work starting my cleanup when, lo and behold, he returned.

“How’d I get here?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Me neither.” He grunted. “Can you give me a ride?”

Part of my deal with Louie was that I was off from two until four, so I said yes.

He sat in the front of Susan’s car with the seat back and his head on the head rest as I drove. “Why’d you do it?” He barked at me and I jumped, startled because I thought he was sleeping.

“What?” I said.

“You screwed up my deal. Now I gotta retrain them all. Why couldn’t you just leave it alone?”

I thought about it for a minute and asked him, “Is it true that you are a black belt in karate?”

“Yes. Why?”

“They didn’t just come and hand you that belt. You had to earn it. Or did you cheat and let someone else do all the work?”

That got a rise out of him. He sat up and with great indignation said, “This was my greatest achievement in life. There was no cheating. You can’t equate that with this. They are not the same.”

“It may not be the same for you, but it is for me. I came here to learn what I need to be able to grow and master my craft. I need this experience to get my black belt so that I can open my own place. Are you going to deny me that? Is that who you are?”

Appealing to his sense of nobility seemed to strike a chord with him. He understood that mine was a quest that was similar to one he had been on in an earlier life before hard drugs dragged him into their clutches.

He didn’t say anything else until we got to where he wanted to get dropped off near the Post Office on McDowell. He got out of the car, ducked his head back in and said “You’re a good man. You get a pass.” It was the last time that I ever saw him.

His girlfriend, an anorexic-looking junkie, came by to see me at work a couple of weeks later. She said he was killed trying to steal his motorcycle back from a guy who swore he won it in a dice game. The guy just shot him.

She handed me his black belt and said he wanted me to have it.

The day I dropped him off, he made her promise that she would get it to me. She, of course, hit me up for twenty dollars for “gas” and a meatball sandwich, and then she left.

That was how I came to manage the kitchen in a gourmet Italian restaurant.

Next up: The Dinner Menu

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Read Bob’s previous blogs in this series: Phoenix Part III, Luigi’sPhoenix Part IV: Who Was the Original Bobby?, and Pineapple’s Reign of Terror.

Visit the “Taste It” archive or check out Bob’s recipes.

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Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a musician with the popular local band Mudfoot and the Dirty Soles, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in hislifetime.