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Wednesday, 09 August 2006 00:00

Somebody get that cow a pizza

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Driving down Russ Avenue on yet another scorching day, I saw a couple of girls out in front of the Pizza Hut waving at people as we drove by. Behind them, there was a big sign promoting a sale on pizza. I couldn’t really tell you what the sign said because the look on the girls’ faces was so forlorn, so pathetic that I watched them instead. Their waves were not even half-hearted, arms barely lifted, heavy probably from the exertion and the heat, their motions slow and sodden.

Probably, they are working to help finance their first car, or to save up for college, or simply because their parents insist that they learn the value of a dollar, a lesson best learned, perhaps, by dressing up in a Pizza Hut uniform and standing out in the street all day in 100 degree weather waving not at perfect strangers but at pizza-eating friends they have yet to meet. Well, that is how I imagine it reading in the Pizza Hut New Employee Orientation Manual.

Before we proceed, can we band together now and send a message to Pizza Hut management? The sight of young girls wearing suicidal expressions while they are forced to wave all day in the sweltering heat like Homecoming queens in a Christmas parade does not logically connect to an appetite for pizza. Get those girls off the street, and give them a glass of lemonade. Tell them to cheer up. We’ll eat your damn pizza when you let these girls stop being cheerleaders and make them all assistant managers, working inside with you, where there is central air, iced tea, and a salad bar.

Ryan’s restaurant over in Sylva is even worse. Sometimes, they have some poor soul dressed up in a cow costume, walking up and down in front of Sylva’s busiest road, waving his arms wildly as traffic goes by, as if one of the patrons is choking on a Swedish meatball and is trying to get someone — anyone — to pull over and perform the Heimlich maneuver on her before it’s too late.

One can’t help but wonder: how is an employee selected to play the cow? For every “Employee of the Month” honored each month in a glossy picture on the wall, maybe there’s a “Dunce of the Month,” someone who has performed so abysmally in his job that the only punishment left is a cow costume.

Or maybe it is part of the interview process.

“OK, Allan, let’s try a little role-play. Let’s say you are a cow, and you need to get people driving down the street to stop and eat at your restaurant. What are some appropriate gestures? What would a cow do under these circumstances? Come on, BE the cow, Allan. Be the cow.”

The first time I saw someone in a cow costume out in front of Ryan’s — and he was a more subdued cow, not quite as frisky as the more recent cow — I recognized him as a former student in one of my English classes, and I thought maybe he’s joined a fraternity and this is part of the hazing process. Later on, maybe they’ll lock him up in the trunk of a car and make him drink a bottle of Peach Schnapps before he can come out.

I felt sorry for the cows out in front of Ryan’s, just as I felt sorry for the Pizza Hut cheerleaders. Seeing them out there reminded me of the various minimum wage jobs I had as a youth — bagging groceries, putting up hay, washing dishes, picking up rocks, delivering the paper, and perhaps worst of all, working as a telemarketer trying to sell family photograph packages over the phone.

This may surprise you, but people can get a little testy when their busy lives are interrupted by telemarketers reading from a script, determined people trying to sell them something that, if they needed, they would have arranged to buy already. But we were on commission, a little desperate, and for every ten people who scream, “Buzz off, you jerk, and don’t call this house again,” for every five of the creative types who say, “Sure, I’ll buy some pictures from you if you will buy some aluminum siding form me, or a time share in the Hamptons, or a gen-u-wine Rolex wristwatch,” there is one meek, kindly, and slightly overwhelmed lady who just has a hard time saying no to anyone about anything because she can’t stand the thought of hurting someone’s feelings. You know the type — either you ARE her (in which case I would like you to call me about a really nice used computer I have for sale), or you’ve given her many a stern lecture about not being such a softee.

We preyed on these types without mercy. Even the slightest hesitancy — “Well, I’m not too sure I really need any pictures” — was blood in the water, and we were sharks. The teeniest, tiniest sign of weakness — “I guess it has been awhile since we had our picture made” — and she was a caribou with a limp. We were the wolves, moving in for the kill, 80 bucks worth of photos pinned on a nice lady who was already wondering how she was going to pay for the 18 magazine subscriptions she signed up for last week. Did she really need Tennis Digest? She didn’t even play tennis. Maybe she would take it up.

I hated it, but I needed money for school. At least I wasn’t wearing a cow costume.

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