Monday, December 22, 2008


Once, I was eighteen for three years.

English is a complex language. . . and there are all these WORDS to deal with. It's so complex, in fact, that anyone who wishes can make up a sentence that's never been written before. Like the one that opened this blog entry, or "Hitler, in his pink tutu, offered Borman a Cosmopolitan." That's a new sentence, probably never written by anyone before. Also probably untrue.

The opening sentence above, however is quite true. Come back with me to Miami in 1963. My older brother Dave was working at a fine restaurant chain there called Royal Castle.
I was sixteen and Dave, subtle as always, began intimating that I was a lazy bum for not working. This was not completely true, of course, I did occasional yard work for money and worked with a crew laying industrial tile on weekends, but neither was steady work. Dave 'suggested' I go to work at Royal Castle and I signed on. Of course, you had to be eighteen to work there, so I suddenly became eighteen. No one checked and no one cared. I was eighteen for all three years that I worked there.

Royal Castle was a burger joint chain fashioned after White Castle which you may have heard of. You only knew about Royal Castle if you lived in the deep southeast. But they were all over Miami, everyone knew them and everyone ate there. The menu was limited: 15 cent burgers, fries, birch beer served in a frosted mug, eggs, grits, doughnuts, soup, chili, orange juice and a few other items. I was a 'counterman' and was paid a dollar an hour. During school, I worked the weekends and a few evenings a week. In the summer, I worked ten hour days, six days a week and took home about $48 a week. That was 10th., 11th. and 12th. grade. I seem to remember being tired.

The burgers were greasy but excellent with the reconstituted onions we had to soak to bring back to life. We walked on boards behind the counter because there was so much grease, we would have fallen and broken our necks. It was actually hard to get the grease off of ourselves and our hair at the end of the day and our work shoes were actually heavy with it. The oranges were delivered whole and we would cut and squeeze them fresh every time. Hey, it was Florida, I imagine it was expected.

Somehow, I got tagged right away to work overnights. Remember, in the beginning I was sixteen, working alone overnight in these places, with the drunks coming in for their eggs at 4 AM when the bars closed. I was thirty-five years old before I could eat eggs again and even now, the melting butter smell sends me right back.

I worked the stores on Miami Beach and I had to get a Miami Beach ID card, that's where this photograph came from.

I got a reputation for cleaning. I would get traded around my district and even sometimes outside the district, because my place was clean when I left it. I guess I owe some of that to one of my managers, Mr. Martinez who was a little obsessive. He even had me wiping the black edge tile with motor oil to make it shine.

In the summers, I would work from 10 PM to 8 AM, drive to the beach and sleep on the beach. In the sun. To work on my tan. Of course, it worked really well, I was very dark, the leftover grease on my body cooking those areas where the sun didn't reach. Gosh, Rich, why have you had all those instances of skin cancer? Beats me. I'm stunned I'm still alive.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Ah, the memories of Royal Castle! Hey, I never called you a lazy bum. I probably called you every other name in the book - but not lazy!