Nothing Up My Sleeve

Jon Gallagher

Did I Really Say THAT?!?!


Over the years, my big mouth has gotten me in a lot of trouble.  The thing is, most people learn from their mistakes, but there must be a chemical in my brain that creates some sort of force field that keep my tongue wagging long after my brain has been screaming, “ENOUGH YOU FOOL!”

In school, my mouth would shoot itself off to kids who were bigger and stronger than me, which usually led to a physical confrontation, which always led to me getting my keister kicked. My parents got the bright idea that if they sent me to karate class, I might be able to defend myself at least.  Instead, it probably made me more mouthy than I had been, but at least I came out on the winning side of the battles about half the time.

I’ve grown up a lot since then.  I no longer get in fights (at least the kind where I block punches with my face), and for the most part, I keep my tongue in check.  There are a couple instances, however, where old habits die hard.

One was about fifteen years ago when I was delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut in Galesburg.  At the time we were in the middle of a really bad snowstorm, which meant, of course, that we were really busy because people figured the only idiots dumb enough to drive in that crap were snowplow drivers and pizza delivery guys.  I think even the cops were finding things to do inside the Public Safety Building that night.

The kids manning the phones had been told that we were taking “in town” deliveries ONLY – no deliveries outside the city limits.

One call came in from Herring Ave.  In case you’re not up on city geography, (and obviously our phone person wasn’t), that’s in a lovely place otherwise known as Sandburg Lake Estates.  It’s a trailer court (and pardon me for not being politically correct) behind Farm King west of town.

 Naturally, I drew the delivery.  I bucked and kicked about having to drive all the way out there, but by then, the pie was out of the oven and our customer was probably sitting at home in rapt anticipation of their next meal.

Yeah, right.

It took about 30 minutes to drive all the way out there through gusty winds, white out conditions, and other such factors that cause a cramping of the hands from gripping the steering wheel so hard.  Usually, it’s a ten minute trip out, max.

I’m also not real happy about the customer.  As a delivery driver, I kept track of who tipped and who didn’t.  Those who DID tip got great service and I’d bust my hind end to make sure their pizza got to them as hot as it could be.  Those who didn’t tip, got a little less service, and usually wound up at the bottom of the pile.  This particular customer was a regular and whenever this address came up, whoever took it knew they were gonna get stiffed on the tip.

I pulled up to the trailer and noticed something strange.  There was no car there.  Lights were on in the home, but there was no car in the drive.  I parked as close as I could without getting stuck.

I grabbed their pizza and trudged to the door.  Going inside a customer’s house was a cardinal sin, and I rarely did it, but given the conditions outside and the fact that we delivered there on a weekly basis, had me more than willing to break the rule.

Once inside, the lady of the house explained that her husband wasn’t there.  He had driven into town to buy beer.

My mind was racing.  If he went in town to buy beer, why didn’t he stop and pick up the damn pizza?  Fortunately, my tongue was frozen, at least for the moment, and I didn’t say anything nasty.  Instead, I told her I’d wait in the car.

This was in the days when cell phones weren’t the tiny things that fit in your pocket.  These were huge monsters that required a bag to carry around.  Mine was permanently attached to my car, but I had it in case of an emergency.

As far as I was concerned, this was an emergency and I dialed my boss.  When he answered, I let him have it.

“These stupid *#!@!& aren’t home!!!” I began and I explained the situation in language that would have made Governor Blagojovich envious.  I concluded my diatribe about how they never tipped.

My boss could be a hothead most of the time too.  This time, he was the voice of reason.  He told me to just wait and relax.  He reasoned that the longer I sat there, the less time I’d spend driving in the crap that was coming down.  He told me to give the guy ten minutes and if he wasn’t back by then, I should head back to the restaurant.  Reluctantly, I agreed.

The dipstick pulled in just as I was disconnecting.  He carried a large quantity of beer (maybe a case) to the trailer.

I followed.  I still wasn’t happy.

His wife didn’t look all that happy either.  She was standing in the living room, her arms crossed, one foot tapping very deliberately.  She wasn’t smiling.  I figured either he’d come back with too much beer, or not enough.

I don’t remember what his bill came to, but I know he gave me a $20 bill.  I know that he got a five and one or two ones in return.  As I was making his change, he was making small talk about how bad the roads were.  I was biting my tongue.  I handed him his change.

I took one of the one dollar bills I’d handed him and held it out for me.  Hey, at least it was a buck more than I usually got from this guy.

At this point, his wife marched over, grabbed the rest of the change out of his hand and shoved it at me.

My brain was telling me that it was okay to do an endzone type victory dance on their entryway floor, but my body rejected the idea.

Just as I was turning to go (after thanking her profusely), their little kid piped up and said, “You were on our TV!”  I had no idea what the kid meant, but I figured that he’d seen a commercial for Pizza Hut recently.

“You said we never tip.”

It took just a few microseconds for my brain to process this new information. 

My cell phone had somehow bled through their TV set.  The wife and child had heard every word I’d said about them while talking to my boss.

I didn’t stick around to see if they’d heard his end of the conversation or not.

I was almost embarrassed that time, but at least I got a nice tip.

The time I didn’t get a nice tip, but truly wished there was a cozy, comfortable rock to crawl under, came a few years later.

I was employed as a cashier at a retail store in Peoria.  I prided myself on looking every customer in the eye, greeting them with a genuine smile, and treating them with the upmost respect I could muster.

One night a woman came to my register with her purchases.  She wasn’t an unattractive lady by any means, except for a mole or wart or some other type of growth that was about the size of a half dollar, and placed squarely on her cheek.  This thing, whatever it was, was sprouting hair, and oozing something that I’ll leave to your imagination. 

I couldn’t look her in the eye.  If I looked her in the eye, I’d look at that thing.  If I looked at that thing, I’d stare at it.  If I stared at it, she’d notice.  Therefore, I had to avert my eyes. 

But if I averted my eyes, then I’d be looking at another part of her body that I probably shouldn’t be looking at either.  But if I didn’t look there, then it might be obvious that I wasn’t looking at “the thing,” and that would be as bad as looking at it.

Why couldn’t she have just gone to another register?

So instead, I looked at what she was buying (thank goodness it wasn’t something to get rid of or treat “the thing”).  I mumbled the price at her, counted back her change, and bagged her purchases, all without looking at her face.

I held out the bag for her to take and said, “Thank you.  Have a nice wart.”

And I wouldn’t even have blamed her if she’d kicked my keister.