Sunday Night Smackdown
by D. E. Fredd
D. E. Fredd
D. E. Fredd lives in Townsend, Massachusetts. He has had fiction and poetry published in several journals and reviews. He received the Theodore Hoepfner Award given by the Southern Humanities Review for the best short fiction of 2005 and he was a 2006 Ontario Award Finalist. He won the 2006 Black River Chapbook Competition and received a 2007 Pushcart Special Mention Award. He has been included in the Million Writers Award of Notable Stories for 2005, 2006 and 2007. This is his second appearance in Amarillo Bay.
The Pre-match Hype:
Late Sunday afternoon and evening in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts, was the busiest time at Rudy's La Famiglia Trattoria. We did a great business on Saturday night, but it was a madhouse after 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. Rudy even brought in his octogenarian father, Paulo, to toss pizzas, which helped him and Marco stem the hungry tide. I could have used an extra hand on the grill, but the kitchen space was so small that we'd probably have ended up tripping over one another.
Most of our menu was picked up at the counter, which saved on the need for wait staff; but Rudy always added a high school kid for drink refills and to bus the tables. Brenda, as usual, worked the register. God forbid she should leave her post to do anything that might damage the manicure that often featured the red, white and green of the Italian flag. Since she was Irish, this was more to suck up to Rudy than to display a national allegiance.
When he first hired me, Rudy detailed the restaurant's history. It wasn't so much an interview as it was a sounding board for his life story. The Regalado family began the business in the 1970s. The same meatball, homemade sausage and tomato sauce recipes were still used. Rudy took over full time in 1984 when his folks retired. One wall was devoted to pictures of long time employees. Ruthie Marino was a hostess for twenty-three years. She was considered family. Her wake was held in the restaurant. When Rudy hired you, it was with the understanding that some day you also might adorn the wall of fame.
Not that I cared much about family, Rudy's or any other. I'd lost my driver's license. I needed a job and I could walk to the restaurant. The pay was decent. My rent was dirt cheap and I got free meals. Since I was in a court-mandated recovery program for a drinking problem, the more hours I worked, the less time I would spend alone in my studio apartment.
I was Rudy's grill man. Steak and cheese, sausage and pepper sandwiches were big sellers for lunch. Eggplant or veal parmesan (with salad and a side of ziti) were blockbuster dinner items. Lasagna and ravioli sold well. For a few years Rudy kept away from anything fried but finally knuckled under and served French fries, which added another headache to my job description. But pizza was the main attraction and rightly so. The family size, twenty inches in diameter for twenty bucks, was gigantic and always "abundanza" with extra toppings. The signature coal oven (up to 850 degrees) added even more flavor to the thin crust and turned out a crisp pizza every four or five minutes.
Rudy's work station was in the front window tossing pies, a smile and a "buon giorno" for everyone who passed by. It wasn't beyond him to stop what he was doing, run out the door and tell an attractive woman pushing a baby carriage how cute her offspring was. Marco DeSalvo was Rudy's full time pizza man. A pasty complexion, even without the omnipresent flour patina, juxtaposed with long black hair tied back in a pony tail which poked through a Red Sox cap. No matter the season his tee shirts were rolled high enough to display their tattooed artistry (oriental in theme). I never did hit it off with Marco. It was just one of those things. Some people you take to right away. Marco didn't take to me and vice versa. It may have had something to do with Brenda, after whom he privately lusted.
I got along fine with her, nothing romantic. I just listened while she prattled on about bargains she'd gotten on the home shopping network. She wasn't my type if indeed I had a type. It also didn't take me long to learn that Brenda and Rudy were amorously involved. So much for the sanctity of family and marriage, though, if you saw Mrs. Rudy, aka the Zeppelin, you might see why Rudy sought out his "horizontal refreshment" in the workplace. Brenda wasn't concerned about the arrangement. "That's the way Italian men are; it's part of their culture," or so she said on several occasions.
He was sixty-five; she was thirty, a fleshy blonde who liked it when you commented on her dangling earrings or the many rings she wore, sometimes two or three to a finger. Marco may have felt he would be next in line to sample her physical charms if and when Rudy's liver-spotted bald head and garlic breath overshadowed the generous gifts of jewelry and wearing apparel he sent Brenda's way.
A large electric cheese shredder outside the walk-in cooler was Rudy's romantic trysting place. Rudy used a mixture of buffalo mozzarella and other cheaper cheeses. The product came in ten pound logs which needed shredding each morning and which were placed in tubs for use during the day. The machine was hidden from view by tall storage shelves filled with canned tomatoes and pizza boxes. The somewhat obvious sexual euphemism Rudy used just after we got to work at 10:00 a.m. was "time to make some cheese." A few minutes after he went into the back, Brenda would excuse herself to use the bathroom. The noise of the grinder barely masked her shrieks and his moans. A little while later she returned, a heavier than usual cloud of perfume preceding her entrance. She took a few minutes with a hand mirror to apply a fresh coat of makeup and then began setting up the cash drawer for the eleven o'clock opening.
I was often tempted to play the naïve employee and walk back there, but I never did. Number one, despite his sexual peccadilloes, I liked Rudy and, two, I rather enjoyed my job. Was a vicarious glance at Rudy and Brenda "getting it on" worth it? In my first few months during Rudy's "cheese" breaks, I thought it might be the occasion to do some male bonding with Marco, but he was uncommunicative about what was going on save for the teeth-clenching, pained facial expressions and exaggerated pounding of the day's dough. This led me to believe that, from Marco's perspective, Rudy was the lord of the manor exercising his droit de seigneur with the nubile Brenda, something he was very much against and not necessarily from a moral viewpoint.
So from June of 2004 to the spring of this year the six by eight foot kitchen area was my happy corner of the world. I had put a few bucks in the bank, exchanged the studio apartment for a one bedroom, read all of Jack Kerouac (Lowell's native son), and taken a few computer courses for the hell of it, Adobe Photoshop to be specific. I'd also stayed sober, a permanent fixture at nearly every AA meeting held in St. Stephens's basement just off Trowbridge Street.
The Battle Royal: Unhh and Oomph — Splat Went Mrs. Sprat
As mentioned Sunday was a big family day. Groups of six or eight were not uncommon. Tables were shoved together for neighborly conversation like elaborate domino games. Ordering was a nightmare. Kids could never decide what they wanted or changed their minds. Brenda would have to void the slip and start over. Then some tables, after eating, wanted separate checks, which required another computer entry. The less said about charge cards (we only took Discover) the better.
The Sandavol family was legendary. They took a corner booth and were a veritable eating machine. The three kids as well as Tony and Marie each ordered large subs for their appetizers. Side orders of onion rings and French fries were strategically placed on the table. Then the entrées — five large pizzas, one for each person in the party, took center stage. We always assigned a crew member to keep their soda cups filled since the kids took ample advantage of the free refill policy.
Fortunately they were gone by five, which was when Rudy's wife and three kids made their grand entrance. Trash barrels were placed on the street to secure her parking spot. She drove a honking, big, white Cadillac. A Cadillac and a silver fox stole were evidently her ideas of status, emblems of immigrant success in the new world. The kids, all girls, were personally escorted into the restaurant by Rudy. They were his pride and joy, always dressed as if coming from a first communion, fluff and lace.
The three princesses were as overweight as Isabella, their mother. When they were all seated, Rudy made a grand display of affection, kissing them several times over. His wife, for her part, was a born "fusser," always checking her brood for a loose barrette or a ruffle too close to some red clam sauce. While Rudy settled his "bambinos" into their seats, Momma made the royal inspection tour of the restaurant, at times stopping by a table to monitor the salt and pepper shaker alignment or running her hand over the table top while making a face and proclaiming that, though it looked clean, it felt dirty. Our high school kid would be dispatched with a squeeze bottle and cloth to rectify the problem.
She was younger than Rudy but not by that many decades. The wrinkles on her face and gigantic neck were mottled like a magazine that had been rain-soaked and dried out. She was close to three hundred pounds — how she avoided structural disaster on the restaurant's Bentwood style chairs was one of life's mysteries.
The girls shared a family-sized pizza, but Momma R. always ordered a chicken Caesar salad. By her girth one suspected that Sunday afternoon was the only time she ever indulged in such a low calorie item. While the girls ate, she was eternally vigilant, a she lion watching her cubs for spills. When one occurred, an air raid siren in high pitched Italian went off; the young victim was quickly carted off to the ladies room for triage and subsequent treatment.
My viewing area of the dining room was a slot some two feet high by four feet wide where I put out the orders I prepared for quick pick up. It was like looking at the world in letter box format. Though on that particular Sunday exact details are hazy, I do remember seeing Marco, he of the perpetual foul mood, come out from behind the counter. That was highly unusual. Marco's forte was making pizza, not serving it. He balanced the Regalado girls' pie in one hand and my freshly prepared chicken Caesar salad in the other, delivering both to Momma Rudy's table. I did not know it at the time, but evidently Marco's express purpose for doing this was to pass along a message to the mother of Rudy's children concerning Rudy's "cheese shredding" antics.
Marco imparted his tabloid-worthy gossip, then skulked back to his work station. The girls began eating, but Momma stared at the salad in front of her. I wondered if I'd done something wrong, maybe blackened the chicken too much or committed the sin of accidentally dropping a wayward anchovy into the dish. I debated whether I should make an apologetic trip into the dining room, but I saw Brenda leave the register to deliver extra napkins and make small talk to the Regalado table. This was usual. She figured that "making nice" with Rudy's daughters would serve her well if he ever dumped The Zeppelin. Whatever her motive, her attentiveness on this particular Sunday was the spark that sounded the call to battle. Mrs. Regalado, noting her arrival, pushed the salad away; before Brenda could utter a sugary word, she was unceremoniously told to take a hike. It was further expressed in a combination of broken English and profane Italian that Brenda could suck all day long on Rudy's "cazzo," but the girls were off limits. I have limited knowledge of Italian so I'm going by the body language as well as the tone of voice that was used.
To save face, Brenda immediately resorted to the standard "I don't know what you're talking about" defense. The dining room crowd was then treated to details (recently related from Marco, I'm sure) of when, where and how often Brenda and Rudy were doing it. This severely blunted Brenda's initial denial, so she promptly accused Momma Rudy of insanity. That shot across the bow caused Mrs. R. to rise from her seat (no small task) and confront Brenda head on. I think "getting in her face" would be the proper street term.
With two amply endowed women on a collision course, mayhem was guaranteed. I'd classify Brenda as a nicely polished Ford F-150 truck, but her opponent was built like one of those huge vehicles you see hauling gravel from the open-pit, iron ore mines in Minnesota, the kind with tires twenty feet in diameter.
As such, Mrs. Rudy easily hooter-bumped Brenda with enough force to send her stumbling backwards into an adjoining table, spilling Mountain Dew and Diet Sprite everywhere. Well, you could call Brenda a whore, slut and whatever else you wanted in whatever language, but sooner or later her South Boston Irish roots would kick in and a grudge match of Pay Per View proportions was inevitable. She slowly righted herself from the table she'd fallen across and adjusted her skirt. It looked like she was in full retreat, headed back to the register, but it was all a feint. Instead, she was merely backtracking to get a better running start; and before her five by five adversarial block of Italian marble knew it, Brenda was upon her.
The initial charge was designed to humiliate. Brenda came up to her, grabbed Mrs. R.'s dress by the lapels and ripped downward as if pulling off strips of old wallpaper, thereby exposing that gigantic bosom. One suspects that Rudy's wife was braless because they just don't make support garments that big. So with the dress and slip torn down to her ample hip level there, for the crowd to see, were her gargantuan breasts. From my limited perspective I could not detect any nipples. It was as if two humungous watermelons were standing on end.
Brenda's thinking might have been that Mrs. R. would run for the bathroom rather than continue the fight half naked. Such was not the case. The Zeppelin launched a counterattack, waddled in and grabbed Brenda's hair. Then Brenda grabbed hers, which was a mistake because the wig came off, revealing a flesh-colored skull cap. Frustrated, Brenda resorted to pummeling Momma R. with self same hairpiece, which had all the bother of a sleepover pillow fight. Isabella, like a Sumo wrestler, then got Brenda in a clinch and began squeezing for dear life. This lasted for a minute before, like a defensive back making an open field tackle, The Zeppelin drove her feet forward, and Brenda tumbled to the floor with three hundred pounds of flesh and bone audibly hissing all the air out of her.
A few customers closer to the action reported that Rudy's wife bit Brenda's ear. I didn't see that because I was hastily en route to the dining area from my kitchen sanctuary. My opinion was that the spurting blood came from Brenda fashionable earrings being ripped from their lobes. At the sight of profuse bleeding, a few brave souls joined me in deciding that enough was enough. It was time to break up the fight. The problem was how to do it. Mrs. R. was like one of those Galapagos tortoises off the Ecuadorian Coast that had chosen to nest on the soft underbelly of Brenda Concannon. Had any of us access to a long pry bar, the kind used to adjust railroad ties, we could have taken a stab at it.
Father-in-law Paulo, a few brave customers, and I tried to roll Momma R. off Brenda before she suffocated. We rocked her back and forth as we would a car stuck in snow, thinking that, at the proper upswing, we might be able, with one mighty shove, to shift her center of gravity. We failed on three attempts and stepped back to think of another way that Brenda, now gasping for air and barely able to communicate her plight, could be salvaged. Almost as a unit we swung our heads towards the pizza counter with the same idea. Rudy was this behemoth's husband. Why wasn't he helping? After all, his infidelity was the reason for the fracas in the first place. But we could see no one behind the counter; and when Billy Mason, the high school kid who helped out, bounced up and down on his toes to peek, that's when Rudy's lifeless form was discovered in front of his beloved coal oven.
The war was now on two fronts. Brenda was close to unconsciousness and turning blue. Rudy, nearly the same shade, was dying or dead from a heart attack. Billy immediately used his health class CPR knowledge and worked on Rudy, to no avail as it turned out. A dozen of us returned to Momma R. We got on her port side and heaved mightily to starboard. After two attempts Brenda's life was finally spared.
The fire alarm had been pulled. A ladder truck, half a dozen cops and two ambulances arrived to create a beehive of activity. Rudy was hauled out feet first with an EMT performing chest compressions just so it would look like he was still alive. We propped his wife up against the wall, the one with a mural depicting a sun-drenched Tuscan village, and draped a table cloth around her neck like a lobster bib to hide her Guinness-record-breaking breasts from the curious. She was in a swoon, calling for her babies who had long since been sequestered from the carnage. Brenda, after several deep breaths, proclaimed that she wasn't going in any ambulance. There was some posturing here. Perhaps she felt her bravado would positively impact the ringside score cards and tip the balance of victory in her favor. We clamped wet towels on both ears to stop the bleeding and implored her to see a doctor for possible stitches. She remained steadfast until she got weak in the knees and began hanging on to me for dear life. Discretion soon got the better part of her valor and onto the gurney she went.
I hung around after all had departed to make up a sign, "Closed Until Further Notice." I swept up, put chairs back in order and turned the ovens off. I was so busy that I didn't even think about where Marco had been during the chaos he'd initiated until I was putting my meats back into the walk in. I didn't remember seeing him at all after his tête-à-tête with Momma R., but I put that in the back of my mind until a few minutes later when I looked at the register and saw that the money drawer had been cleaned out. A quick check of the makeshift cash box in Rudy's office uncovered the fact that it was also empty. Oh Marco, could it be that you got your revenge on Rudy, made a few bucks besides, and were just a few future phone calls away from getting your beloved Brenda into the sack, thereby completing your vendetta trifecta?
I made several good decisions that night. I called the Lowell cops to report the theft. They returned and dusted for prints. So long as I wasn't blamed, I didn't care about nailing Marco for the theft. I'd been on probation for a few years and didn't want the finger of suspicion pointing in my direction. I also didn't take a drink, although the temptation was greater than it ever was. I located a late night AA meeting and spent a fortune on cab fare going to one in Boston's North End.
Post Fight Analysis: Left in the Lurch; Whatever a Lurch Is
During the next week I walked to work each morning out of habit, but the place was closed. The only change was that my hand-lettered sign was replaced by a more professionally printed "CLOSED" placard. I attended Rudy's funeral. Brenda was not there. Mrs. Rudy was hand-carried to the grave site in one of those things you see in medieval times, a litter of sorts with slaves on all sides. She wailed and groaned during the short service. I had a side bet with myself that she'd throw herself onto the coffin as it was lowered to its final resting place. I lost. Rudy's obituary stated that he'd died of natural causes, which summed it up as well as anything.
I called Brenda the day after the burial to give her my view of the spectacle. She was doing well. She had taken the bull by the horns and found out which lawyers were handling the business things. We'd be getting a final check and unemployment forms would be taken care of. Rudy's La Famiglia Trattoria was up for sale and might eventually rise from the ashes as another eatery, perhaps even Italian, but this was a slow market. I mentioned Marco and the disappearing finances, but she had no comment.
Three weeks later she gave me a ride to the unemployment center. After we filed our claims, I invited her back to my apartment. She wore a neck brace and had her arm in a sling. She had filed assault charges, and her lawyer suggested that these appurtenances would add a certain cachet to her claim. She said she still had nightmares about the event and got all misty-eyed when speaking of how good Rudy was to her over the years. She couldn't look at pizza or Italian food anymore without becoming sick. Even the smell turned her stomach. When her benefits ran out and until the settlement came, she'd have to find something to pay the bills. The problem was that she'd probably have to start a new job at a slightly above minimum wage. I commiserated with her since I'd found myself in the same predicament. There were plenty of jobs for grill men or line cooks, but no one wanted to hire me for what I made at Rudy's.
We sat in silence for a while and then she changed the subject. "You know Marco says he didn't take any money."
"The police told me they only found two sets of prints — Rudy's and Marco's on the office cash box. His were all over the register too."
"I think someone planted them there. He's not the kind to do something like that. In fact, the minute I was attacked by that over-sized blob of lard, he ran out to get a cop."
She was blind. There was no sense me poking more holes in her Swiss cheese view of the world. "So are you and Marco a couple?"
"He's been very generous. He wants to pay for cosmetic surgery on my ears so I can have them pierced again." She turned her head for me to survey the slow-to-heal damage. "He bought me one of those big screen TVs so I can watch Patriots football. He knows all about setting up the Surround Sound too. He's handy that way."
I wished her well with the law suit. She asked me to keep in touch, let her know if I found out anything about the restaurant. In return she'd watch out for any job openings and give me a buzz if she heard something. I helped put the neck brace back on and adjusted the sling, reminding her that she'd come with the left arm immobilized so it might be good to leave that way. She pecked me on the cheek and paid a compliment of sorts.
"You know this building looks like a dump from the outside, but your place is decent. What do you pay a month?"
I told her and she asked me to let her know if any units opened up. With a wave of her good arm she was gone.
I shut the door, leaned against it and drew a deep breath. I stayed that way for several minutes, like someone on the high diving tower getting up the courage to jump off or else make a humiliating back pedal down the ladder to pool side. Finally I snapped out of it, flipped on a light and checked my AA meeting schedule. There was a 5:00 p.m. get-together in Lawrence, the next city over from Lowell. It was at least a thirty dollar cab ride, but what else did I have to spend my money and time on? The answer was a resounding NOTHING!
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