I couldn’t handle the hours at Hardee’s. Not only was I barely squeaking through the eleventh grade, but on my way home from work one Sunday I woke up in the oncoming traffic lane.
And so one afternoon at Camelot Music while paying for a copy of The Clash’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope I asked the guy behind the counter for an application. “Do you have any tips on how to get hired?” I asked.
“I’ll tell Steve you’re a friend of mine. That will help.” Nice guy — we’d never spoken before. “And don’t tell him you like The Clash. He hates punk. Say you like jazz.”
“I don’t know anything about jazz.”
“Just tell him you really like Al Di Meola and Earl Klugh.”
I wrote the names on my hand and walked down to Cosenza’s Pizza. My list of culinary white whales is short. Out there somewhere awaits the perfect cheesecake and tiramisu, and I won’t rest until I find them. I hunt chile rellenos more earnestly than O.J. looked for the real killer, and since leaving Spartanburg almost thirty years ago I have taste-tested every calzone I’ve come across. None come close to the simple but brilliant calzones made by Luigi Cosenza. He looked like Frank Defazio, Laverne’s father on Laverne and Shirley, and he couldn’t pass up an upsell.
“Something to drink, my friend?”
“No, just the calzone.”
“No. Thank you.”
“You need something to drink, yes?”
“No. Nothing to drink.”
“A nice cold beer?”
“I don’t — wait, really?”
But those calzones — perfect. I filled out my Camelot application, careful not to stain it with cheese grease. I listed my new best friend from Camelot as a reference and jazz as an interest. Sure enough I got an interview.
“Come on back,” the manager said, and he led me into the back room. The walls were covered with old promotional posters, some of which I’d begged for while they were hanging in the store. Stacks of albums leaned against boxes filled with more albums; rolls of price stickers; inventory clipboards; a vacuum cleaner and a time clock. The glamour of it all overwhelmed me.
That is not a joke — I truly was starry-eyed. Behind the scenes was always more interesting to me than the scene, whatever it might be. I was the little kid looking for the maintenance hatches in “It’s A Small World,” for example.
“Have a seat,” he said. He was a big guy with thick glasses and greasy black hair. Miss Dumpfey, my Hardee’s boss, was big, too. I wondered if management led to obesity. “I’m Steve,” he said and he shook my hand.
“Well let’s take a look here. How long have you been working at Hardee’s?”
“Almost a year.”
“That’s good. Did you know that the average turnover for employees your age is six months?”
He looked back to my application. “You’re making $3.85 an hour. Why do you want to leave?”
“I love music.”
“Oh really? I used to be a high school music teacher.”
“That’s cool. Why did you stop?”
“Teenagers.” When he laughed his eyes disappeared. “So what kind of music do you like, Jim?”
“I like jazz.”
“Oh really? Who are some of your favorites?”
“I like Earl Klugh and Al Di Meola.”
“Yeah.” I made a mental note that both were guitarists.
“Are you familiar with Michael Hedges?”
“If you’re a guitar afficianado you need to check him out.”
“I will, thank you.”
Steve leaned toward me. “I own almost everything on the Windham Hill label.”
“That’s amazing,” I said. No idea what he was talking about.
“I have a good feeling about you, but I can’t match $3.85.”
“That’s okay. I’d just be really glad to work here.”
“Would you take minimum wage?”
“That’s a fifty cent an hour cut.”
Steve stood up, extended his hand. “Be here 5:00 Monday evening. No jeans, and wear a tie.”
I shook his hand. “Thank you.” As I walked out my new friend at the counter shot me the ‘well?’ eyebrow raise. I gave him a thumbs up. He smiled. I was a record guy now.