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Book of Jobs Part 2


by Chris Auman

After returning to Chicago I was what you might call flat busted, having only made about $200 the previous two weeks ($50 going to whatever union it was I had to join on the boat). I lived off Corn King hot dogs and bologna as I hit the pavement, again with the weekly Reader classifieds in hand. During this time I was also reading George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, which will cheer you up if you ever think you have it bad in the food service industry.

According to an ad, there was bar on Halsted Street just a few blocks from my apartment that was looking for a short order cook. When I stopped in the bartender informed me that the position had already been filled. But, they said, the owner had just opened a new place in Wicker Park and they were looking for line cooks. So I jumped on the #72 bus heading west.

Wicker Park in 1990 was much different than present day Wicker Park. Very much different, in fact. Prostitutes and crack houses were not uncommon sights back in the day and it always seemed like something was just ready to pop off at any given moment. Some of those first new businesses that went in after the artists and weirdos staked claim likewise took a pretty big risk decades before the banks and boutiques felt it safe to do so. You could call them pioneers in a sense, but that would be forgetting that people already lived there — people who had no idea their noisy, bustling, gritty, crime-y neighborhood had so much potential for urban chic.

Budding gentrification aside, I finished the summer up at the North Side Tavern working with Leroy (aka “June Bug”), Papa Lee, L.L (yes, that stands for Ladies Love) Alex, Winny and a dude who wasn’t there but a day or two after I started, but who gave me one of the best lines since Popeye when he told me he was so happy when he got off work that he ran home.

Once again, I seemed to be the token white boy, except for the kitchen manager of course. That theme continued in the North as well as the South, apparently. In the kitchen I was known by a few aliases all invented by L.L. I was known alternately as “North Side Pimp,” “Billy Clyde,” or the more formal, “Billy Clyde Blue-Eyed Pimp” and sometimes simply “Pimp!” You see, unbeknownst to me at the time, Billy Clyde Tuggle was a pimp on All My Children back in the 70s and 80s. You see, I was very obviously not a pimp, therefore the comic irony of such a label was hard to escape.

city bus

Space constraints prevent me from going into too much detail about this particular job. It was an eventful four months to be sure and I worked six days a week with plenty of split shifts thrown in (10am to 2pm and 4pm to 11pm) which required four bus rides per day. I was starting at a new school in the fall and the job required too much time and the commute became too much, so I quit that September.

Suffering for Art >>

Originally published in RW#23, 2014

RW #23

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