When I was sixteen, I became the dishwasher at a barbecue restaurant in Corpus Christi, a hot, humid city on the Coastal Bend of Texas. I almost didn’t get the job because the manager of the place, Gary, didn’t like me. Gary was a short, grizzled fellow in his 40s who ran his restaurant with a smoker’s voice and an iron fist. I was a skinny kid from the suburbs, apparently naïve, and he didn’t think I knew how to work.

The restaurant was a rectangular building made of painted concrete blocks and a flat roof. Attached to the building proper was a “pit room,” which was a fenced-in area covered by a slanted roof made of corrugated steel. A screen was pinned between the top of the fence and the roof to keep bugs out. There were three cylindrical barbecue pits, ten feet tall and six feet in diameter, which had been made from sections of oil pipeline. Each had three doors: Behind the bottom door was the fire, and behind the top two were grates where we cooked racks of pork ribs and whole beef briskets. The briskets and ribs continuously rained liquid fat upon the fire, causing it to flare on occasion, so you had to pay close attention to the air supply to make sure you didn’t burn what you were cooking.

The only reason I got the job at all was because of the restaurant owner, Kenny. Kenny was Gary’s younger brother. He was more financially successful than Gary and fancied himself as a privileged guy. My family wasn’t exactly rolling in money, but we were closer to the middle class than Gary or the rest of the employees there, and Kenny seemed to like that about me. I think he enjoyed having a “college boy” around, which is what they all took to calling me after I graduated from high school the next year.

For six hours a day on weekdays, and eight on the weekends, I stood in front of a stainless steel sink with an overhead water sprayer in my hand and cleaned dishes and pots and pans. When I wasn’t at the sink, my job was to separate tiny chunks of beef from long strips of leftover brisket fat. These tiny chunks eventually added up to a plastic tub of flesh that we mixed with barbecue sauce and called “chopped beef.” Being so intimate with the fat, this was the most tender meat in the brisket and tasted wonderful on a sandwich bun. It was the second most popular item we sold. But that meat sat on a table, unrefrigerated and uncovered, for hours, and no one who worked there would eat it.

Once a week, each of the barbecue pits had to be cleaned, because the constant rain of fat and grease coated the grates and the interior circumference of the pit. The way we cleaned the pits was to set them on fire. Literally. We removed the meat, opened all three doors, and started a big fire. The fire fueled itself on the caked-on grease and would climb all the way to the top of the pit. As the fire grew we shut first the bottom and then the middle door, leaving the top door open until we could see flames licking at the top. Then we’d shut that door with a long gardening tool that looked like a straightened hoe. As the fire raged inside, flames ten feet high, the air hole at the very bottom would hiss as oxygen was sucked through it. That was the sound of the fire breathing.

Eventually we’d suffocate the fire and allow the pit to cool slightly, and then it was the dishwasher’s job to climb inside and scrape loosened grease off the walls. I was the dishwasher, so that meant me. As you can imagine, it was massively hot in there. Hot and nasty. When I emerged from the pit, the only surface of my body not entirely black were the whites of my eyes. Even after fifteen minutes scrubbing with soap in the filthy kitchen bathroom, I could only begin to find the pink skin of my arms and face.

Eventually, after a couple of years, I worked my way up to the Head Cook job. This was much easier. Mainly you stood in the pit room and listened to music. Or smoked weed if that was your thing. Or you fantasized about which of the serving line girls you wanted to sleep with. I was still a virgin, but I nevertheless imagined that Brenda, she of the giant D-cup breasts, would one day saunter into the pit room and seduce me. She was thirteen years my senior, and the stories about her exploits with older men at the restaurant became my imaginary porn. There was no Internet back then and my family didn’t subscribe to Cinemax, so what else was I supposed to do?

In the morning, the cook on duty would take briskets, forty or fifty of them, out of the walk-in freezer and load them into one of the pits. Then he would take a natural gas “torch” and use it to start a new fire. The torch was a half-inch natural gas line with a metal fitting on the end. It took forever to light a fire this way, like thirty minutes on a good day. We didn’t have kindling, after all. Just mesquite logs.

As it happened, the morning of December 24, 1989 was my shift. Residents of Texas and other areas of the south may remember 1989 as one of the coldest Decembers on record. The low that morning at Corpus Christi International Airport was 15 degrees, which was actually two degrees warmer than the previous morning. The palm trees were not happy. It was so cold the thermostat in my truck’s coolant system froze stuck on the way to the restaurant, causing the engine to overheat. So I was late to work and already pissed off when I got there. I had no patience to watch a feeble natural gas flame ignite eight mesquite logs, especially not when Brenda stepped into the pit room and asked if I would help her carry a pot of barbecue sauce into the kitchen.

I never worried about the burgeoning fire. It was 15 degrees outside, so I figured if anything the logs would take longer than normal to ignite. Brenda and the other girls were inside, and I was happy to chat them up about whatever. The restaurant wasn’t scheduled to open for another two hours, so Gary the crotchety manager was still at home in bed. Everything was good.

This is why, when we heard someone banging on the front door, I didn’t immediately understand what was happening. Even when he yelled, “The pit room is on fire!” my brain didn’t want to make the connection. I’d only been inside for five minutes, maybe ten. Nowhere near enough time for a fire to start.

Still, I took off for the back door. My heart begin to hammer in my chest. What if the pit was on fire? It was fully loaded with briskets. Hundreds of dollars worth of briskets.

I reached, the door, yanked it open, and what I saw was a monster.

Flames were pouring out of all three open doors. The pit was ten feet tall, remember, and the slanted roof was only another three or four feet higher. The flames from the top door had already burned a hole in the corrugated steel. From my vantage point, the open doors blocked me from most of the heat, but I knew what I had to do–get those doors closed. If I didn’t, the whole pit room would burn down. Maybe the entire restaurant.

I found the hoe-like tool and approached the pit. The heat was immense. Overwhelming. Even protected by the steel doors I could hardly approach it. And my efforts to close the doors were futile. They wouldn’t move. When I pushed on them, the fire pushed back. It was a live thing, that fire. It roared at me.

This angle was never going to work, so foolishly I decided to try another tactic. I walked around pit #3 and approached the burning pit head on. This was a big mistake. Without the doors to protect me, I was exposed to the full force of the fire, which immediately flash-burned all the exposed skin on my body. It was like standing on the surface of the Sun. I retreated. I stood back and watched flames consume the briskets, watched the fire climb through the hole in the roof. I imagined the entire restaurant would burn to the ground, all because I had stupidly left an open flame unattended.

Eventually the fire department arrived and sprayed water everywhere. When they were gone, the pit still stood strong, but the briskets were a charred, soaking mess. They were lost. The 80-quart plastic ice chest, the one we stored cooked briskets in, was melted like candle wax. I was devastated.

Gary arrived a few minutes later, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he sent me home. But somehow he didn’t. A few minutes later, the owner, Kenny showed up. He pulled me aside and told me not to worry. The fire wasn’t negligence on my part, he said, because I’d been inside helping the girls. He called my mistake a “hustling error.” Which was partly true and partly not, so I still felt terrible.

Later that evening, after the restaurant closed, we held a Secret Santa Christmas party. I was in a sour mood and not interested in exchanging presents. All I wanted was to go home. But eventually someone handed me a wrapped box, which I reluctantly opened. What I found inside finally made me smile.

It was a toy fire truck.

After I finished college and moved to Tulsa, I drove my girlfriend to Corpus to show her where I had grown up. I was especially excited to take her by the restaurant, since I had told her many horror stories about that place. But as we approached the parking lot, I could see something was wrong. Where the building should have been, there was just a pile of ground-up asphalt

We went somewhere else to eat, and after we ordered, I pulled the waitress aside and asked her if she knew what had happened to the barbecue restaurant.

She nodded gravely, as if I were inquiring about the dead.

“Yeah,” she said. “It burned down.”

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RICHARD COX is the author of The Boys of Summer, Thomas World, The God Particle, and Rift. He can be reached on Facebook or at his personal web site, www.richardcox.net.

106 responses to “Winter Fire”

  1. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    You’d done that part of your job dozens of times before. The fire was just one of those things. How very cool of Kenny to give you a break. S*** happens.

    As a teenager, I babysat to earn extra money. One of my last jobs right before college was for a family I’d been referred to. The kids had chicken pox. That afternoon, they got a burst of energy and one fell–giving himself a bloody nose. No child had ever been so injured on my watch, and I felt horrible! The parents didn’t seem too upset when I told them what happened. Maybe the kid got bloody noses all the time.

    By the way, regarding the brisket bits… I now have another reason why I’m glad I no longer eat meat. *shudder*

    • Nicole says:

      Just to make you a little more paranoid, the veggies aren’t super safe either. I used to work at a burger joint over college summers, and we soaked our lettuce in the same sinks we washed the dishes…the same sinks that held tepid chemicals and crusty drain filters for 10+ hours every day. That said, have a good lunch?

      • Richard Cox says:

        Another issue of trust–allowing someone you don’t know to prepare your food. Most restaurants exist to make money, not win cleanliness awards. This barbecue restaurant should have never passed a health inspection, but it nevertheless was a famous hole-in-the-wall joint in Corpus. The briskets were cooked eighteen hours. They were tremendously tender. I gained probably ten pounds working there. I just stayed away from the chopped beef.

      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        Um, ewwww! It must happen everywhere. Sort of amazing there aren’t more food-borne illnesses. Thank for the warning.

        • Richard Cox says:

          You’re welcome. Although I will say, if you don’t control every aspect of food production from seed to harvest, you can’t know for sure what is going on along the way. We all have to have faith in the farm system unless we want to grow all our own food.

    • Richard Cox says:

      It’s terrible when you’re trusted with something important and you let someone down like that. Although secretly I think Kenny wanted the place to burn down so he could collect an insurance settlement. I’m sure he didn’t lose any sleep when it finally did go up in flames.

  2. Matt says:

    Good for Kenny. I’ve had way less lenient bosses who would have canned my ass for far less greivous offenses.

    As the fire raged inside, flames ten feet high, the air hole at the very bottom would hiss as oxygen was sucked through it. That was the sound of the fire breathing, and it was pretty cool.

    This is quite possibly the awesomest image I’ve read in sometime. Even if this essay sucked (which it doesn’t) it’d be worth reading for those two lines right there.

    I’m never eating brisquit again.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, man. I appreciate that. I think I should have cut the “it was pretty cool” part, though. The imagery should be enough without the commentary.

      It was, however, tremendously cool. The hissing would wax and wane and sometimes it really did sound like breathing, like a living thing.

      • Matt says:

        Nah, it works. I can completely imagine teenaged Richard looking at that and thinking “Fuck, that’s cool.”

      • Irene Zion says:

        I agree with you, Richard, that line was perfection…edit out the “it was pretty cool.”
        That part makes the sublime quotidian.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Yeah. It seems redundant. I decided to change it.

        • Irene Zion says:

          You’re lucky you can edit your own stuff.
          I only see glaringly horrible stuff of my own AFTER I’ve posted.
          Something that can’t be fixed easily.
          I need to take more time and stop being in such a hurry.
          (But I’m sort of an impatient person.)

          Forgot to tell you that I finished “The God Particle” and loved every word of it!
          Get writing on some other science thing, you’re good at it!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Why can’t you edit yours? Or do you mean it would be too much trouble?

          I actually deleted a couple of other lines like that. Like when I described how grimy I was from cleaning the pit and then added “I hated it.” Like that isn’t obvious? I don’t know why I think I have to qualify something I just described.

          Thanks about TGP! Were you satisfied with Larry’s ending? My next one is vaguely science-y, but a lot more mainstream than the others.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I can edit when it’s on the first page, but after that I can’t anymore, can you? Have you noticed?
          Sometimes I post something before it’s ready and it would take too much editing to fix.
          I just need to sssslllloooowwww down.

          I was absolutely delighted that you-know-who didn’t get away with you-know-what and I really like being surprised, which I was with your ending. Usually I can see things coming from miles away, but not with this one!

          Mainstream is fine, but don’t go getting predictable!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Oh, I haven’t tried editing that late. Maybe I should sometime to see what happens.

          I think the next one is even less predictable. I hope so.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Like when there’s a comment, but you’re not on the first page, and you typo your response to death? That never happened to you?

        • Richard Cox says:

          I don’t remember it happening. But editing a comment and the post itself would be different things, right?

        • Irene Zion says:

          I don’t think so.
          You appear to lose the ability to edit anythingwhen you leave the first page, however, I have a Secret Santa who wrote to me to tell me how to do it the back-door way.
          If you ever need to know,
          you can e mail me.
          I’ll share.

  3. Becky says:

    15 degrees is chilly, but not chilly enough to stifle a fire, dude.

    You warm weather people.

    The place you hated burned to ground just as you began to think of it fondly and wanted to return. Someone report this to Steve Sparshott. I think it may just be a bummer, but just in case.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Well, it could be The Guy.

      Corpus was the most tropical place I’ve lived, so 15 degrees was fairly chilly. A couple of years they even got 5″ of snow on Christmas Eve. Where were the global warming folks that day??!!?? Bwaaaahahahaha.

      But I also lived in Williston, North Dakota. So I’m fairly acquainted with the cold, as well.

      • Becky says:

        Cold is a symptom of warming, dontcha know?

        Whatever. I leave it to the scientists.

        And isn’t most situational irony and bumming-out the doing of The Guy, in your estimation? I mean, is he omnipresent?

        • Richard Cox says:

          Absolutely. I realize it’s a cop out, but it’s also the best explanation I have for all the injustices and odd coincidental occurrences that can’t be explained by chance. The Guy is omnipresent, but he’s also imperfect. And he likes to mess with us.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I agree, Richard.
          I think The Guy has a wicked sense of humor and likes to toy with us for a good laugh.
          It must be boring, after all, being The Guy for all eternity.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Doesn’t it make perfect sense? I’m surprised there isn’t an organized religion around this kind of idea. Gnosticism is fairly close, but it’s not like the Gnostics are in their heyday.

          P.S. Your Gravatar rocks the house.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I had a Secret Santa for that fabulous gravitar also!
          But a different one!
          HA!

  4. Judy Prince says:

    Richard, I really like how you made the fire the main character. It was alive; it roared, breathed and pushed back.

    The whole narrative was scary and jarring. Like watching a monster movie, I wanted to yell, “Don’t go in there, Richard! No, don’t go to the door!”

    As always, you get things moving quickly and they keep moving fast.

    Gravatar King.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you, Judy. Sometimes I felt like the fire really was alive. If you arranged the doors in the right way, the fire would spiral toward the top of the pit like a tornado.

      One of the firefighters told me I was lucky not to suffer more severe burns. He guessed the fire burned at around 2,000 degrees, and when I emerged around pit #3 I was about ten feet from a 13-foot high wall of flames. We grew aloe plants in the front flower beds and I rubbed their juice liberally everywhere I had been burned. I only ended up with one blister.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Your description, even here in a comment, makes me shiver, Richard.

        What presence of mind to rub the aloe on your burns! You are some fortunate dude!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Thanks, Judy. Although I should say, I was only fortunate enough to work at a restaurant where other cooks had already been burned. Those aloe plants weren’t being grown there by accident. Hahaha.

  5. I’m a sucker for a good “dish dog” story, and this really hit the spot. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of my various kitchen stints, most of it over beers with friends, none of whom ever truly believe the horrible things I’ve seen done to food that has gone on to be served, enjoyed, and paid for. Your chopped beef anecdote fits into that pantheon nicely. Made me wince, but not the least bit surprising. Toss a little sauce on it, and light a votive to the god of salmonella.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Sean. A little barbecue sauce covers up anything, right?

      I don’t want to gross anyone out further, but it was really hot by the dishwasher, and the tub of meat was on a table very nearby, and if your forehead was sweating profusely and you were leaning over the cutting board…

      I mean, that never happened with me. But I saw it happen with someone else. Barf.

  6. Joe Daly says:

    >>It was the second most popular item we sold. But that meat sat on a table, unrefrigerated and uncovered, for hours, and no one who worked there would eat it.<<

    See, that’s some great insider info. If I didn’t recently catch food poisoning from a vegetarian meal, I’d make a smarmy crack about meat right here. As it were, I’m shutting the hell up.

    What a great story. I have to say I actually smiled when you noted that Gary didn’t send you home and that Kenny cut you the slack you surely deserved. Don’t get me wrong- this piece was emotionally and intellectually lazy, but I really enjoyed reading it.

    Apart from the fires, it sounds like it was a fun place to work. My equivalent was the stock room of a store that sold Levi’s. I spent five years in a sea of dope, classic rock, and Levi’s 501s and looking back, I realize that I never had it so good.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Oh, yes. The time period here was 1987 – 1989. We listened to C-101, “Corpus Christi’s Rock and Roll Legend!!”, all day long. Or we listened to cassette tapes of Appetite for Destruction and Hysteria. And debated the relative merits of both (each album sold about the same number of copies, yet each would be remembered far differently).

      It’s too bad the piece didn’t measure up to your high intellectual standards. But then again, how seriously should I take the critique of a pundit like you?

      You’re right, though. It was more fun than I realized. I have many great stories to tell about that place. More are on the way.

  7. Slade Ham says:

    There was no Internet back then and my family didn’t subscribe to Cinemax, so what else was I supposed to do?

    Ummm, wait for a clear spot in the scrambled station like the rest of us? “Was that a nipple? God, I hope that wasn’t a dude.”

    My foray into the restaurant world was short, but I was a jack of all trades. I frequently picked up kitchen shifts when people no-showed, and have set my share of stuff on fire. Nothing like a ten-foot pit mind you… Go big or go home, I suppose.

    Texans are unapologetic with our pits. We will make them out of anything, and they last longer than styrofoam.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Well, if we’re revealing all our trade secrets, on the living room TV in our house, the scrambled station came in best right when you tuned into it. I eventually figured out that if I continually hit the “PREVIOUS CHANNEL” button the remote, I could coax real shapes out of the noise. At the very least they were gender-definite.

      One day my dad was looking at the remote, and he said “Why the hell doesn’t this button work anymore?”

      • Joe Daly says:

        See, my gig was to wait for the free weekend for Skinemax, Showtime, etc. The deal was that they allegedly scrambled and unscrambled the signal at midnight when the free weekend ended. So by unplugging the cable before going to bed, you dodged the cancellation signal they would send.

        It worked for awhile, but they’d always send a bastard cancellation signal out a couple days later. Still, free premium channels, with all their salacious late night offerings, were tremendous pleasures to enjoy.

        • Richard Cox says:

          After college I met this guy who claimed to sell “descrambler” devices, which I initially thought were bullshit. But he was selling them for only $20, so I gave it a shot, and it turned out they worked. I enjoyed free HBO and Showtime for around five years before the cable company changed to a different system. But I never did find a Skinemax descrambler. In the end it didn’t matter, because the Internet took the place of the missing Skinemax content. No remote control abuse required.

  8. Man, was that place doomed. I sure am glad you didn’t fry with the briskets.

    Brenda. She probably lit that fire somehow. Rawr.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Brenda was reputed to do things you don’t necessarily see on YouPorn, so I was understandably intrigued by her reputation. But, alas, I never learned if the stories were true.

  9. Man, what you had to do was pretty dangerous – you could have died n shit.
    I think that’s probably why your boss didn’t get mad at you – he was probably
    glad that this young nice kid didn’t die trying to save the restaurant from burning down.
    Right?

    Fun read – I’ve never been to Texas.
    And I know now, if I go, not to eat that meat stuff from a bucket.
    That’s what it says on the menu, right?

    • Richard Cox says:

      In a barbecue restaurant, don’t ever eat anything they don’t cut and serve in front of you. Otherwise you can’t be sure if the meat is fresh.

      I think Kenny was excited by my mistake because he knew it was only a matter of time before the restaurant burned down, and it wouldn’t be his fault. Hello insurance settlement!!!!11

  10. Nice Cox. Can you define ‘hustling error’ more precisely for me?

  11. Lorna says:

    Man, I was rooting for you and the hoe to save the day. Dang it. I love the fact that you weren’t fired and were given the toy fire truck for the Secret Santa git exchange.

    Good read, Rich.

  12. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Didja at least get a skinny-dip in the D-cups, making the whole episode worthwhile?

    • Richard Cox says:

      No, Uche. Only In My Dreams did I receive a skinny dip. But the episode was nonetheless worthwhile, at least for my maturation process.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Uche Ogbuji says:

        Of course it was worthwhile, Richard. Don’t mistake a wink for a sneer. Though to be fair, it is hard in a purely textual medium.

        Anyway, least Brenda could have done is offered up a not-so-secret Santa sympathy liaison, after having been the innocent catalyst of that firestorm.

        and

        wait

        for

        it

        😉

        🙂

        • Richard Cox says:

          “Not-so-secret Santa sympathy liaison” is awesome. She should totally have done that. Unfortunately I had to make do with the toy truck.

          Nice emoticons. All we need now is a “sarc” HTML tag and the Internets will be complete.

  13. Greg Olear says:

    Man, we do these things in our youth, when we don’t know better. You should not have been worried about that fire at all, let alone tried to snuff it. That sort of thing is not the responsibility of a 19-year-old who is not a firefighter. Kenny and Gary were right to be cool; they could easily have had a Great White on their hands.

    Was Brenda not moved by your bravery and heroism? That would have been a nice ending to the story.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Great White. I forgot about that. They were a popular band around the time of this story, coincidentally, but man, that nightclub fire was horrible. Luckily this was a small fire by comparison. I’d like to know exactly what happened when the restaurant really did burn down, though I have no idea how to contact anyone about it. I tried Googling it earlier but so far I’ve had no luck. It burned down in 1994, I think.

      Brenda was not moved. I guess I was too young for her. Ha.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Oddly — but not ironically, Steve Sparshott! — I am now writing an article on the various BBQ roadstands that have opened up here in the last year. I feel well-prepared, having read this, and hungry for some brisket!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Notice I wrote “coincidentally” rather than “ironically.” Ha.

          Properly cooked brisket is amazing. You should definitely do plenty of research for your article.

  14. Oh jesus, this brings back bad memories… I used to work as a dishwasher and one night I got high outside the kitchen and set fire to a fence. I didn’t smoke normally but there was a big smoking bucket for the chefs. I threw my joint in, and I guess it was dry… A little while later someone came out and asked me why I was just staring into the flames. I was too ripped to realise that anything bad had happened.

    Anyway, I’m glad you had a good boss. And I’m glad I had a dumb boss.

  15. Irene Zion says:

    Richard,
    As usual your writing is flawless, (except for that one silly line that by now you have edited out.)
    This is a great story.
    Shouldn’t you have gone to the hospital?

    When I first moved in with Victor he would make his 3 pound chuck steaks in the oven broiler. He never cleaned it the normal way. Every so many steaks there would be an enormous grease fire. That’s how he cleaned the broiler. I was young enough to know it didn’t sound safe, but so madly enamored that I couldn’t think of criticizing him. He was young enough to think it was a great way to have the broiler self-clean, and never thought of the danger. We were very lucky.
    (He could really put away food in those days. He ate a 3 pounder at least 4 times a week. I was 98 pounds at the time and tried, but couldn’t chew the chuck steak. It’s like leather.)

    • Richard Cox says:

      The steak was like leather? How exactly was he cooking them? If you leave ’em in long enough they ought to get tender.

      I make these baby back ribs every once in a while. Three hours in the oven and then a few minutes on the grill and they are so tender that the bones fall right out of them, totally clean. They are so good, but so, so, fattening.

      The firefighter dude said I would have blisters and whatever but I didn’t think about the hospital at the time. Natural aloe is amazing for your skin, though. It’s like magic.

      Your “flawless” comment made my day. Thanks for that.

      • Irene Zion says:

        This was back in 1968! We were mere children and did not know how to cook.
        He put it under the broiler and cooked it until it was way past well done.
        It was quite horrible.
        He’s a really good cook now, which is nice, since I cooked for 5 kids and two grandmothers for umpteen years and need a break now and then!

        You should have gone to the hospital, but it’s too late now.

        What’s true is true. “nuff said.

  16. jmblaine says:

    Nice flow,
    excellent ending.

    I think everyone should have to
    work a hot, hard job.
    At least one summer.
    Builds character and makes you appreciate.

    Mine was alongside convicts
    in a lumberyard
    in the Louisiana summer.
    I was 15.
    Hellish.
    You’ve inspired me to try to write about it.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Hey, JMB, thanks for the kind words. Jobs like that build character for sure. Also, I squinted all the time back then because constant exposure to so much smoke hurt my eyes. In my high school senior pictures my eyes are barely open.

      I’d like to read about your summer in the lumberyard. I’ll watch for it.

  17. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Mmmm, brisket. Great essay! I’m really surprised nothing like this ever happened to me at any of the places I worked at this age.

  18. Jordan Ancel says:

    Wow, Richard. You’re lucky you didn’t end up barbecued along with the pot roasts.

    It’s sad that the place was goone. I’ve often wanted to go back to upstate New York where I went to college to visit some of the old places I’d worked in or spent time at.

    Well, at least you didn’t burn it down.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I always wanted to go back and see some of the people I worked with, how their lives had turned out. I Googled Kenny, the owner, and I believe he is coaching a high school six man football team now. But the rest I’ll never know. It’s obvious that something left an impression on you when you still think about it so many years later.

      You should go back to upstate New York and then write about it. Maybe there will be a town full of vampires a la ‘Salem’s Lot.

  19. Jordan Ancel says:

    Yeah, I’ve often wondered about some of the characters I knew way back when. I think those kinds of people and those kinds of experiences do leave a lasting impression. I think it’s because that time in our lives is a time when we are just starting to develop into who we really are.

    That’s cool that Kenny is a coach.

    I would love to go back, but I’m sure so much has changed. I think it could never live up to the actual memories.

    Plus, I wouldn’t want to be attacked by Vampires if it has turned into that kind of town from Salem’s Lot.

  20. Tawni says:

    I can’t believe you had to crawl around in that charred nastiness, scraping “loosened grease” off the walls. I don’t even want to say the words “loosened grease” out loud, let alone touch it. Yuck. You poor kid.

    The chopped beef sounds so nasty. I’ve worked enough food service jobs to be nervous about eating in restaurants in general. I’ve seen things. Cockroaches tossed into the same fryer as the French fries. Food dragged along the greasy, filthy kitchen floor. A limp penis dropped into a barbecue beef Subway sandwich before serving it to an assholish college student. Things.

    It is not shocking that the barbecue restaurant at which you worked eventually burned down. Not shocking at all. Funny story, Richard.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I hate rude customers as much as the next guy, but someone should have chopped that dude’s beef for dropping his cock in their sandwich. What is this, Fight Club? Hahaha.

      Fried cockroaches, though. That sounds like a delicacy. I’m sure somewhere in the world it is.

  21. Gloria says:

    Damn, Richard. This story is crazy. I understand your guilt, but like Erika said, this shit happens. It’s called an accident for a reason.

    Do you still have the fire truck?

    In 1997, I was working in an office at Frito-Lay in Albuquerque. I’d been there about a year when I took a month off to go to Europe. The last day I worked before my trip, I told everyone, “Don’t let the place burn down without me.” har har har. I showed up to work for my shift after returning and lo and behold, there was just a cement slab where the warehouse had been. It burnt down without me.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Well I felt guilty then because it had just happened. I got over it pretty fast. For a while I kept the melted ice chest as a souvenir, but eventually I threw it away. There’s not really a lot you can do with a halfway melted ice chest.

      That’s funny you also came back to a burned-down workplace. Is that SSE or The Guy or what?

  22. Brandy says:

    I actually shuddered when you climbed into the pits to clean the grease. Oh my!

    My first job was at a movie theater. Imagine this. A crew of teenagers. One manager who walked across the parking lot to the mall and didn’t return for hours. All the candy & popcorn you could steal. Walkie-talkies.

    “Mr. Smith coming. Copy?” “Hide everything”.

    ::sigh:: That was the best. You should never give teenagers walkie-talkies.

    • Brandy says:

      …and your ending was perfect. 😉

      • Richard Cox says:

        Ah, yes. Never give teenagers walkie talkes. Hahaha.

        I liked the ending, too! Especially since it really happened. I paraphrased the dialogue, though. What she really said was, “It got burnt down.” Haha. Seriously, that’s what she said.

        • Brandy says:

          “It got burnt down”…I can actually hear that in my head, twang and all.

          Hmm. I’m about to change jobs–I’ll be sure to not tell them “not to burn it down”, or maybe I will… mwahahahaha.

        • Brandy says:

          **that should have been “to tell them”…maybe I really do want the joint to burn down. Freudian slip….Oh dear!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Brandy, are you a pyromaniac? You know what they say…it’s better to burn out than fade away.

          P.S. The accent actually employed was Hispanic-flavored English. Not that it matters, but there you go.

  23. Erika Rae says:

    And I thought working for McDonalds sucked. Ha! (Can’t believe I complained about smelling like onions and pickles)

    Great writing. I could see and smell that pit (and you! Ha)

    • Richard Cox says:

      Yeah, I always thought the kids who worked at McDonald’s were like the glitterati of fast food/hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Whenever I got off work I looked and smelled like a brisket. I’m not sure I completely got that smell out of my hair until six months after I left. Ha.

  24. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Brisket. I’m just going to take a private moment with that. Sigh.

    Sorry – what was I saying? Oh, yes. Nice post, Richard :). I just recently got back from a trip to Texas and definitely got a feel (I originally wrote “taste” but, unintentional or not, that was too terrible a pun to leave) for the “BBQ Culture”. The Guy love ’em for it.

    As others have expressed, very glad that you weren’t incinerated at the time but I am suspicious (it’s my nature). Do you think the eventual demise of the place was just poor maintenance or a bit of beef fat-fueled arson?

    • Richard Cox says:

      Brisket is amazing. I always forget how good it is until I have some again. I just grilled/smoked some Gulf shrimp and redfish tonight, and I was using a recipe of my friend Brian’s, and I saw pictures of a smoked brisket on that page, and I was salivating.

      Regarding the restaurant, I know Kenny wouldn’t have been disappointed to see that place go up in flames. It’s hard to say what actually went down, but if it were fat-fueled arson I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

      I saw some photos on Zara’s FB page of weapons that looked suspiciously like those one might own if he were in the WPP. You know anything about that?

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        What? They were stenciled with “You don’t know me” on the side? 😀 I have, just this very afternoon, signed up for a FB account. Once Zara elects to accept me as a “friend”, I’ll have to peruse this supposed collection.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Once Zara accepts you as a friend? Ahem!

        • Richard Cox says:

          By the by, I spoke with Zara and Simon on the phone this evening. They had nothing but good things to say about you, Mr. Anon. Except that you never took off the ski mask. But other than that, it was great meeting you, I hear.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Ha! Well, I meant no offense. I’m new to this whole “social networking” thing and assumed her pics, her acceptance. Besides, I must be misremembering – I’d thought you’d done the FB seppuku thing.

          I’m happy to hear that they had such a good time and will pass along the kudos to the actor I hired to portray me during the visit. 😉

  25. Jessica Blau says:

    Great story! I love the image of the fire “pushing back.” Any idea where Brenda is now?

    • Richard Cox says:

      Hmm… I don’t remember her last name so I can’t even attempt to Google her. She’s in her 50s by now. Hopefully she’s still among us. She often seemed as if she were trying to squeeze her entire life into a short time…but those were probably just rumors inflated by hyperactive teenage hormones.

  26. Mandy says:

    It’s like you got this job just so you could write this blog. If so, it was totally worth it.

    I enjoyed this.

  27. Marni Grossman says:

    I’m glad I went back to read this.

    Isn’t it interesting that fire was- at the restaurant, anyway- a cleansing agent? Something very poetic about that, don’t you think?

  28. […] employer of Vulcan logic.  Onetime employee of an ill-fated BBQ restaurant.  Current employee […]

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