Thursday, September 16, 2004

David Sedaris, California Pizza Kitchen, and Mexican Elves

I took the day off on Tuesday. It was a gorgeous day in San Francisco, I had absolutely nothing to do at work that day, and I wanted to see Bourne Supremacy before it left the theaters. So I sat down at the computer in the office at my house, emailed my boss to tell her I wasn't *cough*cough* feeling well, and immediately ordered tickets for the 1:05 Bourne Supremacy at the multiplex in the new mall in Emeryville.

The errands I had to run prior to the movie took less time than I expected, so I ended up at the mall a full hour fifteen before the movie was supposed to start. I decided to buy a book at Barnes & Noble (the one I was banned from a little over a year ago for filling in answers to questions in the LSAT prep books they were seliing and for making fun of a gaggle of ugly girls in the Self-Help section) and dive into it while I had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen.

Flying solo, I sat at the counter and grabbed a seat immediately to the left of the wait station where servers come up and collect the drinks for their tables. It afforded me a full view of the open kitchen and an opportunity to flirt with any cute waitresses--there was only one of those and she was a lesbian. I orderd a Corona from the girl unfortunate enough to draw counter duty that afternoon.

Her name was Julie and her nametag said she was from Dallas. I mentioned to her that I dated a girl from Dallas for a little while and had spent some time down there. She smiled awkwardly and sort of looked around hoping I would stop talking. I told her I went down to Lower Greenville last year after the OU/Texas game. She looked at me with a blank stare and finally said

J: I was only born in Dallas. I was raised in Kingman, Arizona and moved to Barstow when I was like 14 after my mom was run over and killed by a tractor-trailer outside the truck stop she worked at.

...How exactly do you respond to that?! Honestly, that's not the chit chat you expect from a the counter-person at your local nouveau fusion pizzeria. I tried to sympathize and move the conversation on

N: Wow, damn. I'm sorry...so I'll have the Original Barbecue Chicken Pizza and a double vodka tonic.
J: Barbecue Chicken and a vodka tonic?
N: A double, yep. You have great lips by the way.
J: Excuse me...my what?
N: Lips. Your lips. You have great lips. They like a thinner version of Stifler's mothers. Like if Stifler's mom and Daffy Duck had a girl and named her Julie. That is your name right? That's not bullshit too, like the whole Dallas thing?
J: What's your name?
N: Nils
J: Wow Nils, you're really suave.

Ouch. I guess not everyone can be on top of their game at noon on a Tuesday. She turned and went to the Squirrel Machine to place my order. I can only imagine what she punched in:

Original Barbecue Chicken Pizza. Add nasal discharge. Add rat feces. Add hepatitis. Wonderful. I slammed the rest of my Corona and opened my new book.

The book I bought is called "Holidays on Ice" by David Sedaris. It's a small collection of holiday-themed short stories and it's the only Sedaris book I hadn't read. The first story is called "SantaLand Diaries" and chronicles Sedaris' time as an elf in the SantaLand display at the Macy's in Manhanttan.

There is a point near the beginning of the story where Sedaris lists off the different types of elves in SantaLand:

"On any given day you can be an Entrance Elf, a Water Cooler Elf, a Bridge Elf, Train Elf, Maze Elf, Island Elf, Magic Window Elf, Emergency Exit Elf, Magic Tree Elf, Pointer Elf, Santa Elf, Photo Elf, Usher Elf, Cash Register Elf, Runner Elf, or Exit Elf."

As I read this passage, "Julie"--with her pouty pouty lips--stopped buy to replace my double vodka tonic and drop off my pizza . I looked up to thank her and realized I was surrounded by a kitchen full of Mexicans toiling in a dough-covered, summer wonderland. California Pizza Kitchen was just like SantaLand!...except instead of employing ex-felons, high school kids, and perverts as their elves, they employed an army of Mexicans. They had Mexican elves! MEXI-ELVES!! The only thing that could have made the scene better was a big fat Mexican guy with a mullet, wearing a Santa suit, sitting in a low-rider sleigh, and reciting from memory "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" by Cheech and Chong.

Peering around at the Mexi-elves working away, I was amazed at once with both the brilliant AdamSmithian division of pizza labor as well as how fitting this scene was in light of the elf-breakdown in the Sedaris' story I'd just read.

Over to the right,there was Flour, Dough and Sauce Mexi-Elf (or the FDS Mexi-Elf). He was very clearly the big Mexi-Elf on the Mexi-Elf Totempole. He dusted the pizza boards with aplomb. He tossed pizza rounds onto his worktable effortlessly and worked them into their 10" shape with the expertise of a mastercraftsman. He routinely barked curt and specific orders to the younger guy to his right...

The Toppings Mexi-Elf. FDS Mexi-Elf would finish stretching the rounds, slide them over on the boards along with their tickets showing what toppings to put on them, and the Toppings Mexi-Elf would quickly disappear from view, reaching into the small refrigerator at knee level that held all the immediately perishable toppings. Toppings Mexi-Elf would pop up in the next instance with a small Mexi-elf handful of plastic baggies that held pre-portioned amounts of the respective toppings he was to place atop the expertly stretched and prep'd pizza rounds. Once Toppings Mexi-Elf is satisfied with his pizza product, he slides it down the line one step further to...

Oven Mexi-Elf, who takes the board with the pizza on it and quickly and adroitly slides the pizza into an empty spot in the faux brick oven. Oven Mexi-Elf is a little older than everyone else...quite obviously calloused to bubbling cheese and the constant 300+ degree heatwaves blasting out of the open-front oven. Don't get me wrong, Oven Mexi-Elf is sweating like he's in the trunk of an early model Buick at a legal border crossing in the middle of summer. It doesn't seem to bother Oven Mexi-Elf though, as he periodically wipes his brow with the forearm length terri-wristbands he wears to protect from searing his flesh against the metal flashing along the mouth of the oven.

Oven Mexi-Elf was just gettin' goin' when I sat down--as the midday lunch crowd had just started to filter in. Each pizza was touched by Oven Mexi-Elf three times:

1) slide in the oven
2) pull out with large pizza spat, spin 180 degrees, re-insert
3. pull out and pan

Once Oven Mexi-Elf has the pizza out of the oven and onto the pan, he picks it up bare-handed and slides into onto the prep shelf where it is attended to by...

Slice and Garnish Mexi-Elf. This name is a bit of a misnomer however. He is not, in fact, a Mexi-Elf. Rather, he is El Salvadorian. How do I know this? Aside from the atrociously bad skin and the overbite so pronounced it would make one wonder how he hasn't, at some point in his life, bitten through his chin FROM THE OUTSIDE, I could tell he was El Salvadorian because the actual Mexi-Elves looked upon him with either pity or disdain (he was like a Central American Rudolph except without the red nose. Or the ability to fly. Or the whole quadripedal locomotion thing). Oven Mexi-Elf nearly flung the piping hot pizza at S&G "Mexi"-Elf. FDS Mexi-Elf rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath as he watched S&G "Mexi"-Elf run his slicer over the pizza a SECOND time in order to make the cut go all the way through.

Luckily, Slice and Garnish "Mexi"-Elf is the happy-go-lucky sort. He just kind of grins stupidly, slices the pizzas into 8 wedges, sprinkles some roughly chopped parsley over top, slides the pizza onto a lukewarm plate, and sets it up for the server to take to the table. He doesn't say much to anyone--smiling politely and nodding graciously when the English speaking servers thank him even though he still can't understand them after 11 years in the country. Slice and Garnish "Mexi"-Elf is plodding but efficient and will spend most of his time at California Pizza Kitchen alternating between Slice and Garnish Mexi-Elf and Dishwasher Mexi-Elf because the REAL Mexi-Elves won't endorse him for a promotion in either responsibility or pay.

I was captivated by this quartet of pizza-making Mexi-elves, until I looked farther to my left and saw another set of Mexi-Elves. Back around the corner in front of the double Viking range and the vats of boiling water were...

Sandwich and Entree Mexi-Elf and Pasta Mexi-Elf. They worked in tandem most of the time...at least when I was watching. Pasta Mexi-Elf would flip something in a saute pan for S&E Mexi-Elf if S&E Mexi-Elf was busy garnishing a completeld entree. S&E Mexi-Elf would pull a portion of linguini from the vat of water if the timer sounded and Pasta Mexi-Elf was busy saucing an order of capellini and bringing it together in a large pan.

These two, I think, regularly work in tandem. Their English skills are far superior to the rest of the Mexi-elves and I saw both of them flirt with the English-speaking waitresses at least twice. Sandwich and Entree Mexi-Elf and Pasta Mexi-Elf carry themselves with a certain grace and panache that you don't see from the Pizza Quartet. They wear chefs pants and coats and cook with flair. They are definitely fun to watch. I'd be willing to bet that at least one of them has a huge cocaine habit and four kids--not all necessarily in this country.

Between them and the walled off drink station where the servers go to re-fill your fountain sodas and spit in your Arnold Palmers is the salad station. It is manned by a pair of super-quick, super-efficient Mexi-Elves called Entree Salad Mexi-Elf and Side-Salad Mexi-Elf. If you don't think there isn't a little salad-size Mexi-Elf penis envy in this duo, you're just kidding yourself my friend.

I can see the envy and the jealousy in the eyes of Side-Salad Mexi-Elf. HE could make the entree salads! HE knows how! They're easy! He learned them during California Pizza Kitchen's Mexi-Elf training seminars when he was first hired.

To make up for the obvious slight by management, Side-Salad Mexi-Elf pumps out side-Caesars and side-House salads like a fucking machine. I saw "Julie" order a side-Caesar to go for a patron who came up to the counter. She punched it into the Squirrel, it popped up on his machine, and it was done in 45 seconds flat. No shit. My mouth was agape.

Entree Salad Mexi-Elf, of course, pays no attention to SS Mexi-Elf and goes about his business quickly and artfully creating Entree salads for eager customers. He does everything with a Jackson Pollack-like flick of the wrist. The lettuce gets flipped into his stainless steel mixing bowl (oh and you just know the fact that his mixing bowl is 3 or 4 times the size of Side-Salad Mexi-Elf's stainless steel mixing bowl drives SS Mexi-Elf up the fucking wall). The fresh cut vegetables, the sliced Thai chicken, the manadarin oranges, the various mixed beans, all of it gets tossed gracefully into the bowl by Entree Salad Mexi-Elf. I dare say he's trying to create an edible work of art rather than just a pedestrian salad. He's the Diego Garcia of Entree Salad Mexi-Elves.

Watching this well-oiled Mexi-machine pump out high quality dishes, in a short period of time, at reasonable prices brought a smile to my face and, I'm sure, a knowing nod and a proud tear to the cheek of Adam Smith...looking down from above the factory floor we call Earth. From behind the one-way, mirrored glass of his office in the sky.

37 Comments:

Blogger Whitey said...

And to think that you finally found the one crew of mexi-elves that relishes their work. After many a trip to taco bell and seeing the lazy spreading of overcooked beans and that meat and hair concoction that goes into every taco, I'm amazed there is actually a higher level of mexi-elf

September 16, 2004 at 7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great read man.


Taco bell is the punishment for the Mexi-Elves. Its like Santa sent the elves who did bad work to the south pole or something.

September 16, 2004 at 8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way to keep the writing pure, Herr Parker. Speaking of Santa and elves, as usual I assume it will be a "white" Christmas at your house?

September 16, 2004 at 8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hilarious and brilliant. One of the best entries I've read here.

September 16, 2004 at 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if the fact that the entire kitchen is run by Mexi-Elves means that they police themselves.

As an undergrad, I tended bar at a restaurant where the bus boys and dishwashers were Mexi-Elves, but had 3 white Santas in the form of chefs and waiters/waitresses to every one of them. This led to no small amount of tension behind the scenes.

One of our waiters would complain to me because a certain bus boy had figured out that when we got busy he could get out of work by slicing his finger while cutting bread, leaving the waiter to pick up his duties as well. He did this a good six or seven times -- I rarely remember seeing him work without a band-aid -- and the dishwashers and he thought it was a big joke. Management didn't have the balls to fire him for it and none of the waitstaff would confront the Mexi-Elves face to face.

September 16, 2004 at 10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if the fact that the entire kitchen is run by Mexi-Elves means that they police themselves.

As an undergrad, I tended bar at a restaurant where the bus boys and dishwashers were Mexi-Elves, but had 3 white Santas in the form of chefs and waiters/waitresses to every one of them. This led to no small amount of tension behind the scenes.

One of our waiters would complain to me because a certain bus boy had figured out that when we got busy he could get out of work by slicing his finger while cutting bread, leaving the waiter to pick up his duties as well. He did this a good six or seven times -- I rarely remember seeing him work without a band-aid -- and the dishwashers and he thought it was a big joke. Management didn't have the balls to fire him for it and none of the waitstaff would confront the Mexi-Elves face to face.

September 16, 2004 at 11:11 PM  
Blogger shittyholecards said...

To the last poster: I wonder if the fact that you're a complete fucking idiot made you post the same god damned comment twice in a row. Take your ritalin, take a deep breath, and wait the 60 seconds it takes for your thrilling story about working at a restaurant to show up before punching that send button again.

NP - another nice read. It's now only a matter of time before I use the term "Mexi-Elf" in the wrong company.

September 16, 2004 at 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I'm drunk. I did not like that post much I think it could have been editted much better. Maybe I will like it more in the morning. Goodnight, better luck next time Mr. Parker (I have a brother named Parker and his initials are PMS.). Sorry its anonymous, next time I will get a handle.

September 16, 2004 at 11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Toppings Mexi-Elf would pop up in the next instance with a small Mexi-elf handful of plastic baggies that held pre-portioned amounts of the respective toppings he was to place atop the expertly stretched and prep'd pizza rounds."

I LOVED your description of the handful of plastic baggies. The Mexi-elf handful had me rolling. Great post.

September 17, 2004 at 1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very entertaining. You know funny. Thanks. Look forward to your site on the FA compilation.

September 17, 2004 at 6:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, how was the movie?

September 17, 2004 at 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Fucking brilliant. At least by Sedaris standards. He would be proud I'm sure. Please, never stop writing in your life. Let it spiral out of control into a giant literary Cookie Monster.

PS- Tucker's got nothing on you. If anything, he'll hold you back.

September 17, 2004 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger The Lovely S said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

September 18, 2004 at 8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>> PS- Tucker's got nothing on you. If anything, he'll hold you back.


Agreed.

September 18, 2004 at 8:30 PM  
Blogger The Lovely S said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

September 18, 2004 at 8:30 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I almost wept reading that last paragraph.

Alright, I did.

September 19, 2004 at 2:37 AM  
Blogger Malt said...

This has got to be one of the worst posts I've ever read. When I was new to youre blog it was funny, but ever since I caught up in the entries it's really been going down hill.

Lame. :/

September 19, 2004 at 9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Malt, please shut your cock holster and keep your useless criticisms to yourself. You have nothing but bad things to say as of late, and I'd go as far as saying that your dumbass is the only one saying them. Instead of saying something like, "LAF YER POSTS ARE GOING DOWNHILL LOL :))))!!", you should stop, think (I know, it hurts), and either type something constructive and intelligent (which I'm sure is quite beyond your abilities), or better yet, un-fuck yourself long enough to see that you're a total douchebag, and shut the fuck up.

September 20, 2004 at 12:38 AM  
Blogger TxtBk said...

Malt, shhhhh. You're ruining story-time. And why is NP supposed to be rip-roaring funny, when you're harping on 9th grade current events? No one wants to hear about 9th grade unless you soiled your pants, or went down on the lunch lady.

Anyway, Mr. NP, ya big lug, it shames my politically-correct sensibilities that I giggled and silently wished I could take Side Salad Mexi-Elf home and raise him like a gremlin.

I love Mexicans and Elves. I swear.

September 20, 2004 at 7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. It's Salvadoran, by the way, not El Salvadorian.

September 20, 2004 at 7:29 AM  
Blogger TxtBk said...

Crap!! I forgot something: Please, please tell me you've read "Season's Greetings"!! You MUST read "Season's Greetings," or you will die having never lived. Okay, yeah, that's a lie, but still...

I'm a dork. And I still love Mexicans and Elves.

September 20, 2004 at 7:32 AM  
Blogger tokitikki said...

Damn you, man! Post more often! I just found this, wanted to say hi. Hi!

September 20, 2004 at 8:33 PM  
Blogger Malt said...

My posts arent meant to be funny. But when I see people drooling all over garbage like this I speak up. And from now on, all I will do is point out flaws, because you guys love that.

I meant to write on various years of my life, but I have yet to continue.

September 21, 2004 at 3:44 AM  
Blogger NP said...

Malt, I appreciate your commentary and criticism as much as anyone elses. However, you don't really provide any criticism other than things like "this is your worst post yet." Well thanks...that helps me discern what you found wrong with it. This may be the product of you being 18 and not knowing a goddamn thing about story-telling or constructive literary criticism. I was tempted to lend your dissenting opinion more weight until I read the shit you are posting in your blog. I've had 45-second conversations with Portuguese grocery clerks that were more compelling that the stuff you are putting up there.

Now, I don't know if you are writing that stuff merely as sort of an online journal and less for public consumption. If the former is the case, then you can disregard my criticism. If the latter is the case, you have A LOT to learn about interesting and compelling writing. When you decide to write a post you need to ask yourself, "who would give a shit about what I am about to write? is anyone outside my immediate family going to be even remotely interested in what I have to say?" If you can't answer those questions then stop writing, get out of your house, and go do something worth writing about.

September 21, 2004 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger Pebbles said...

Now update your blog, biaaatch.

I am sure you have a story from Sunday, no?

September 22, 2004 at 5:50 AM  
Blogger Malt said...

Like I have said, my blog is not meant to be funny like yours is. My early posts were ideas on a comic I thought of making, but since no one commented on that I gave up and started a breif autobiography. No one commented so I didn't think anyone read it, it was more for me to get it out there and have it straight.

What I found boring about this post was only the mexi-elves part. It seems like you just put mexi infront of their job title and described how to make a pizza.

I like how commentors on this blog like to talk shit from behind an "annonymous" name. That hurts me, deep down inside, where I process fecal matter.

September 22, 2004 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Malt said...

Commentators*

September 22, 2004 at 11:17 AM  
Blogger NP said...

I can understand that your blog isn't meant to be funny. So is it meant to be stultifyingly boring? If so, mission accomplished.

September 22, 2004 at 1:11 PM  
Blogger Malt said...

My blog was meant to be a written online accoutn of my progress with the comic. Since that pretty much went down the drain(for the time being) I thought I would start a new blog premise. I thought I would write a brief background, but it soon turned into a rant.

I have only updated once or twice in the last month, it's even boring to write.

September 22, 2004 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Less with the commenting, more with the updating. I need something to read in the library while I pretend to be doing important research.

Dance, monkey-boy, dance.

September 23, 2004 at 12:38 AM  
Blogger BloodyP said...

Man, it's like a West Coast ME.

September 24, 2004 at 7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will you please make another post you lazy piece of cunt

September 25, 2004 at 10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God damn... talk about suspense!

September 26, 2004 at 1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you not thought about drunkrex.com already? You got quite the fanbase, I'm sur eyou could pull it off.

September 26, 2004 at 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Update you damn giant

September 26, 2004 at 11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How ironic, not even a day after I ask, he makes an update saying that he is indeed going commericial on us. Cool.

September 27, 2004 at 12:00 PM  
Blogger Bill888 said...

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October 13, 2005 at 10:24 PM  

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