Now Playing: It Don’t Come Easy, by Ringo Starr. “Peace, remember peace is how we make it, Here within your reach, If you’re big enough to take it.”
In my 53-odd years (and many of them have been odd), I’ve had eight jobs. That’s counting working in tobacco for my Uncle Dan – the less said about that, the better – until I got old enough to do something else. That something else ended up being working in a clothing store in SoBo. I liked it, but I can’t say I was a great salesman. I showed people what they wanted, didn’t really try to upsell them, and told them if something didn’t work for them. But I was good enough, and reliable enough, to work there on and off during high school and the summers and holidays during college when I was back in SoBo.
Speaking of college, my next job was as a clerk in the financial-aid office at Carolina. Actually, I did a little more than just be a clerk. There were never enough counselors in the office, so they gave me some work other folks should be doing. For instance, if you got food stamps at Carolina, you didn’t get them unless I signed off on your application. I’m sure this constituted about 50 violations of privacy rights, but that’s what they told me to do. The job paid OK money, it was flexible, meaning I could work it around partying, studying and occasionally going to class.
After I graduated, I started my journalism career, which spanned three newspapers over 21 years. Then I left newspapers for the magazine, where I spent 10 years.
During a previous downturn in the economy, the magazine cut back to four-day weeks, with pay cut accordingly. I was pretty nervous, so I looked for a part-time job to fill the day I wouldn’t be in the office. And to give me a little pocket money.
What I found turned out to be probably my favorite job of all time – making sandwiches at the Jersey Mike’s restaurant in Matthews.
Here’s why: I like being around food (big surprise there), I liked the kids I worked with and I really enjoyed getting to know the regular customers: the old couple that always wanted extra jalapenos on their sub; the family that came every saturday morning, right after we opened; the folks from the Lowe’s across the street who rushed over on break; the woman with the daughter who couldn’t have even the hint of a pepper on her cheesesteak.
Which brings me to The Notorious.
As a reporter/editor, I’d been in on covering or supervising lots of crime cases: a Marine accused of deserting in Vietnam, the kid accused of killing three family members and the twins accused of killing their parents and accidentally shooting their sister, just off the top of my head. (And that’s not including anything in Gastonia, perched as it is on the hellmouth of weird.)
But over the time I was at Jersey Mike’s, I encountered the Notorious in a different way – as customers.
Tammy Faye Bakker Messner used to come in the restaurant quite frequently. Let me say that I despised her and her ex, Jim Bakker, feeling that they had bilked thousands of elderly people out of their savings. In particular, I always thought that she had gotten off too lightly from the whole PTL scandal. When I saw her in line at the restaurant, I was determined to make her sandwich to specifications but little more.
Turns out she really was a delightful person. She was relentlessly positive, without a hint of the phoniness you detected on television. She was always gracious and quite funny. I couldn’t help but like her, against all odds. Some days she obviously wasn’t feeling well, because of the cancer that caused her death in July 2007, but she always was upbeat.
The other notorious character was Jim Black, at the time the speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives (in addition to being a Matthews eye doctor). He was an ass. Always distracted. Never looked at you, as if he considered you beneath him. Ordered his club sandwich (a No. 9, turkey and roast beef – we even had turkey bacon primarily for him after he requested it a couple of times) and couldn’t wait to get out. On the few occasions he spoke, he was always dismissive. And he never tipped. Ever. Just couldn’t be bothered, I guess.
Because, as it would turn out, he surely had lots of money, having been paid off over the years to advance various causes. Often picking up the payments in restaurants, for that matter. Not ours, though – as I said, he couldn’t be bothered to speak to anyone. When he was convicted of political corruption, I figured he’d finally gotten his just desserts. He got out of prison a few days ago, humbled, I hope, in addition to being broke, according to most accounts. He’ll serve another six months in a halfway house or under home arrest. I read a column the other day expressing sympathy for him. I don’t have a lot – he really disgraced state government with his actions. And I still resent that he was a bad – make that nonexistent – tipper.
I don’t remember whether Tammy Faye ever threw money in the tip basket or not. But I know I always felt better when she dropped by. And that’s even better than cash.
“One does evil enough when one does nothing good.” – German proverb