By my calculations, this event happened during my fourth life, which would be about right because I was 40 years old and for the umpteenth time I was scrambling for money. It was immediately after a disastrous attempt at owning a small restaurant with my friend and partner, Midge. I was completely broke and in debt so I was willing to take any job that came my way.
I took a job as a manager in a small fast food restaurant in Brighton which served Mexican food. “Paco’s Tacos” was not what anyone would think of as even a medium size restaurant. But the owner had big plans in mind. The “Headquarters” (in fact just a hole in the wall with seating for perhaps 20) was located in Brighton. The only other location was at Faneuil Hall Marketplace in downtown Boston. After my 3 week training period, to be conducted at the Headquarters, I was going to take over management of the downtown location.
My very first day on the job was Valentine’s Day and I was going to work a double shift so that I could get a sense of the operation from opening to closing. The person who was to conduct the training was a very tall, thin man in his early thirties. I think his name was Ed. Now, Ed took his job very seriously and had written a training manual with very detailed instruction, which included minutia such as how and when to turn the gas on for the fryolaters (all the food was deep fried). Also, the three-week timeline was set in stone so that even though I had had years of restaurant work including management, there’d be no skipping steps for me.
So, the day went by very slowly, also because they weren’t breaking down the doors to come in. There was probably a dozen or so customers for the lunch period. My only tasks that first day were to learn how the food was prepared. There were actually very few menu items, which included tacos and burritos served with diverse fillings, refried beans and chimichungas (a deep-fried desert). There was one other employee (the cook) who did the prep work of cutting tomatoes, onions, lettuce and making guacamole and manning the fryolater. He was a nice young man who played guitar in a local band but needed the day job. I think his name was Bill. He was pleasant to work with and competent at his job. When Ed took a break and went out somewhere, I snuck a peek at the training manual. I was already bored and was wondering if I could find a way to speed up the process. Maybe I could demonstrate to Ed that I already knew how to fill out sales and supply reports, etc.
It was around eight o’clock when Ed came back. The dinner rush never happened. Again there was only a handful of customers who came in between six and seven o’clock. So Bill and I had been twiddling our thumbs for at least an hour. At about half past eight, the door opened and a lone man came in. I was standing at the counter, Bill was at his fryolater, and Ed was bent down under the counter going through the trash bin and looking for a receipt for something. I took one look at the man coming in and was shocked! His face appeared to have been torn off and put back on by an incompetent surgeon! The construction of the counter was such that there was a square column that blocked out my view for a moment while he approached the counter. But Oh! I felt so sorry for him. After all, it was Valentine’s Day so I was going to be extra nice to the poor man.
“Hello, what can I get for you tonight?” I said.
“I ain’t kidding”, he said.
That’s when I shifted to my right and got a full view of the man and the gun which was pointed directly at my face.
“Oh Jesus! I’m going to die on Valentine’s Day”, I thought.
My mind kept flashing back to the third chapter of the training manual which was on how to operate the cash register. I was not going to be allowed to touch the register for another two weeks! I was familiar with that type of register and I knew that there was a way to open the cash drawer without keying in a sale. Usually, it was just pressing a particular key. But I didn’t know which one! Bill, behind me, was saying nothing and Ed was still under the counter. I knew the robber would never believe that I didn’t know how to open the register! I would surely die!
The robber started yelling and waving the gun around. He was saying that his son was in the hospital and needed an operation and he didn’t have the money. He was acting very nervous and agitated. I wasn’t able to utter a word! I kicked Ed to get his attention and he slowly raised himself just enough for his hand to reach the cash register and he pressed the magic button! The drawer flew open and the robber handed over a paper bag. It was a large bag like you get from the supermarket. He was really optimistic! There was only about $200 in the drawer including the coins. I knew there was a safe in the office and was tempted to ask if he wanted Ed to open it, but again, I couldn’t speak I was so scared. Ed finally stood and dumped the contents of the drawer into the paper bag. The robber then directed all three of us to go into the back room and wait ten minutes before coming out. At that point, I was able to tear my eyes away from the gun and get a look at the robber’s face. My first impression upon seeing him at the door was how ugly his face was. It was indeed ugly, but not because he had had some accident. I saw up close that he was wearing a nylon stocking which was filled with holes and runs that had squished and puckered his face into something unrecognizable and ugly. That’s when I realized I was near-sighted!
Of course the robber didn’t know that the back room was the Headquarters Office equipped with a telephone, which Ed used immediately to call the police. The police responded very quickly, but of course to no avail. They asked for a description of the man and I told them about the runny nylon stocking. I told them about his being agitated and saying his son was in the hospital and that was why he needed the money. Perhaps it was true. He didn’t seem like a polished armed robber, firstly because he had chosen Paco’s Tacos, a place where there was very little money and secondly because he couldn’t even afford a new nylon to use for a mask!
The police asked if I would come to the station in the morning and look through mug shots. I said I couldn’t imagine finding a mug shot that came close to that squished, puckered face! But then I asked Ed if I would be paid my salary if I went to the police station instead of coming to work.
Ed was flabbergasted and said, “You mean you’re not quitting?”
“Nope, I need the money to buy eyeglasses. But we’re going to speed up the training process. I want to be in Faneuil Hall next week”, I said.