I was drunk. There I said it. That's it. That's all. There is really nothing more to it. A simple explanation. No-no-no, I know what you're thinking:
"That's just an excuse Burd."
"You know what my friend John always said about excuses." I'd retort politely.
"Excuses are like Assholes...everyone's got one...and they all STINK!"
So no, it's just an explanation. It can't even be really considered a good reason. I wasn't naive (do naive people know they're naive?). I wasn't stupid (although many would disagree) and I wasn't particularly overly optimistic, ambitious or gullible. I was drunk. Shnockered-blitzed-wasted-hammered, dick in the dirt DRUNK.
I'd been boozing it up, off and on since I was a teenager. I was on pretty good terms with most forms of chemical happiness too. Pot, Coke, Hash, LSD, DMT, 'Shrooms, Pills, MDMA/MDA, Peyote, Opiates and Cough Syrup etc etc...---I was an equal opportunity enjoyer. I put things in overdrive, that is to say; my hobby started becoming a career, in 1989. I could say that tragedy, a poor upbringing, Ronald Reagan or economic injustice pushed me on...-probably-yes, no, maybe so-but who am I kidding, most times I thought it was fun. Except when I didn't. But I'm getting off the subject.
It, the hatching of the idea, started out on a sidewalk.
My Boss in 1990 was named Frank. I worked in an Italian eatery, The Italian Villa, in downtown Bloomington. I liked my job, I was the head cook and I had a bunch of co-workers who were really fun to work and hang with. There was free food and free beer. The waiters often tipped me out with lines of coke. The stereo blasted loud. It was hard, sweaty, fast paced work, but I had fun most of the nights I worked. To tell the truth, the place was a den of sin and vice, and I never felt so at home.
Frank liked to hire misfits-it was a brilliant plan really. Nobody, except maybe the Uptown, 2nd Story, Runcible Spoon and a couple of other restaurants and bars even came close to hiring as many freaks as Frank did. It proved to be a wise decision. A few hippies aside, we worked as hard, if not harder, than the typical college students at the time and we were dependable (for the most part) and dare I say, loyal employees. I mean loyal in the sense that we showed up on time, cared about the product we were making and had each other's back. I learned how to make all kinds of weird ass Italian dishes and learned how to multi-task and run a kitchen there. I learned about quality control, portion size and the speed with which customers expected their food. I learned that the waitstaff depended on me to earn their tips, and I liked it that clean cut frat boys had to kiss my ass night after night if they wanted to get out of there with any money. I also learned that a pitcher of beer fit nicely in the reach-in cooler at my feet, and you could huff about 1/3 of the cans of whipped cream nitrous before there were complaints. I considered myself a gen-u-ine cook about town. Oh yeah, and did I mention, I was drunk?
Frank meanwhile, would stand on the sidewalk outside his restaurant at around 9 O'clock and glower up the street at the Bluebird, a popular bar in Bloomington. Lines of college kids would wait for the doors to open at 9:30 so they could see their favorite cover bands sing the radio hits of the day. The Mere Mortals and the Hammerheads were very popular around this time and they commanded huge crowds of horny college kids. Sometimes the lines (half a block long) would start forming at 8 O'clock. Rain or shine they'd be there waiting to get their hand stamped. Frank would stand there on slow nights, look up the street and curse and spit. He imagined all that untapped cash just burning in their pockets. Then the unthinkable happened.
It had been a quaint convenience that on certain nights (mostly weekends) a local hotdog vendor would push his cart around town occasionally ending up in front of the Bluebird, or bars like; Jakes on Walnut Street. You could also find them down on Kirkwood Avenue in front of Nick's or Kilroy's. Over the years the hotdog guys had been scrimping and saving and before long they had 2 (yes, count 'em 2) hotdog carts. They finally figured out about these long Bluebird lines and decided to capitalize on them. They parked between Frank's joint and a hamburger place called Opie Taylor's who also employed freaks (although not the obvious ones) and started selling $1.00 hotdogs. Frank all but had steam shooting out of his ears. Goddamn hotdog guys were stealing (his words) his business. That was his untapped money-how fuckin' dare they!
He started scheming. Oh Boy, could Frank scheme. He was a master. I'd sit in his office and watch his TV while waiting for the waitstaff to checkout and listen to him scheme. Thing was, if you were a good listener, Frank would treat you to drinks from the liquor he kept in the office. He had a liquor license and would fix drinks for customers (he was a bartender at Max's Kansas City in New York City) on busy nights, but mostly the bar was there for him. On this one particular night he was scheming about how to take the money of those horny college kids and thwart those damn hotdog guys.
"This restaurant is too fuckin' nice for those kids, man." He'd say in his New York accent, gesturing wildly.
"Fuckin' frat rats." I'd say, sipping my Sambuca.
"That's money out there, what's the matter with you," except he'd say it in one big long word: whatsamattawitchoo?
"We need a way to get their money." He would take a drink. Make a face. Take another drink.
This went on for a few weeks. Then one night I got called to his office at the end of my shift. He fixed me a Stoly seabreeze and sat me down. My eyes were already swimming from the 2 pitchers of beer I drank during my shift. He shut both doors and turned down the TV. Serious.
"I've got it man." He says and throws a restaurant magazine down on the table. It's folded over on a page with a story about this new chain of restaurants on the west coast called The Hard Rock Cafe.
"My new idea, except with Pizza." Frank seemed awfully pleased with himself.
"We're gonna change this place into a Hard Rock Pizza Cafe?"
"No, what am I stupid? Open a new one, down the street, but not a Hard Rock Cafe. Something different, I'm not gonna buy a franchise! Fuck, know how much that would cost? No-no-no. I take the idea-rock n' roll and combine it with pizza. Here, look at this." But it sounds like lookitdis, and he hands me a local restaurant guide.
"Pizza Express. Yeah, I order from them all the time."
"What?! You fuck! You gotta be kiddin' me? What about our pizza? My pizza beats that shit hands down, no comparison, I can't believe this." Insulted and acting like he's in a Godfather movie.
"You don't deliver Frank."
"Come and fuckin' get it for Christ sakes!" He bellows at me.
"I'm on a mountain bike." I say with a shrug.
"Yer gettin' me off the point! I start a new joint down the street, sell slices, whole pies, breadsticks the works! Get some of that money from those fuckin' kids. It's fuckin' golden man. We deliver too! You know how much fuckin' money this guy with Pizza Express is makin' in this fuckin' town?" There's spit flying and I'm covering my drink.
"He's grossing a million easy."
"What? No way."
"Ain't no shit man. We gotta get some of that bread, brother." Frank called me brother only when he was particularly full of himself or drink.
"That's right man, I want you in on this."
"I got no money. What am I gonna do?"
"You run the joint, put a little down, couple of thousand, so I know you're committed. Then you work off your shares, a percentage. Easy. You need something like this. I'm offering you an opportunity to do something for yourself, to be somebody." Frank smiled.
Like I said; I was Drunk! It seemed perfectly reasonable, especially the part about the money and being somebody. Later I found out he offered the Maitre d' the same deal and was politely turned down. A sane or sober person would have got out then. I was decidedly neither.
"Sounds good, Frank."
Frank found a person later that week and convinced him to be a silent investor. They had an arrangement that was too devious and convoluted to explain, other than to say it would have fucked me royally! We'll call this person; Fuckhead#1 (F1). The reason being, F1 loves to sue people. I'm not gonna use his real name because of this fact, nor am I gonna talk at length or in detail about him. It's just safer that way. I will say that he was a thorn in my side throughout this adventure; a sharp little annoying pebble in my shoe and I'm gonna pretty much write him out of the history of what happened. He never contributed much, except that initial $$-beyond that he played no part in the place's success. None-nada-nil. He was an asshole! So, fuck him. Now, back to our story....
Frank rented a small, dank, dusty hole in the wall at the end of 7th Street-between a vacant lot where a movie theater had burned down and a barber shop. It was two doors down from the Bluebird. This was to be the site of our new restaurant/pizza joint. I found out that the place had been a record store, the site of the original Uptown Cafe, and just a couple of years prior, another eatery called the Do-Wop Diner. The Do-Wop had been the effort of this guy I knew named Lathan. He and a friend had made a go of it for about 6-8 months and then it folded, due to lack of business. Lathan told me this. Bad location he said. Again, I could have backed out, but; I was drunk.
I asked my folks for the money-a loan of course, I'd pay it back-and to my surprise, they gave it to me! My Dad even made the counters and a bar that ran across the side of the eating space. I was babysitting- funny and a little horrifying, now that I think of it-a friend's young son while she worked at the Runciple Spoon (or Bloomingfoods across the alley-can't remember) during the day. Neither myself nor Frank could decide what colors to use for the formica and paint, so we let Josh (the kid) pick them out. He came up with pink formica and a teal for the paint. It was ghastly, but we thought what the hell, if people made fun of it-we'd blame it on the 2 year old. Oddly enough, the combination was just gaudy enough to work. Little black paint for the trim. Frank hired a friend of mine; Craig, to paint it....and tadaa!
Frank came up with the idea of naming pizzas after Rock Stars. The pitch always went, in his excited, slurred New York accent, something like this:
"Say I go into this fabulous joint and open the menu and badda bing, badda boom, there it is-right there; 'The Madonna Pizza' - I mean who doesn't wanna eat Madonna? You kiddin' me?" Really, that's what he'd say. I can't lie this good. I was drunk remember? He'd say it with a kind of off-putting grin and a wink at the nearest female, who would krinkle up her nose in disgust and slip away quickly. Frank was smooth like that.
He asked a very bright guy who was a waiter in the Italian Villa to write up a menu for him. He explained the concept and let the guy go with it. The guy's name was Nur (yes, that's not a typo, Nur). He had a photographic memory and a clever mind. He was also a professional drinker, the kind I aspired to be, but could never quite match. I half believe that he had a metabolism like Wolverine-but that is just a hypothesis-and a blog for another time. He wrote up a pretty charming little story. He incorporated the name Frank wanted to call the place into the menu nicely. Frank of course, added the prices.
It was my task to find someone to draw us a cover for the menu. It had to be otherworldly, rock themed and kinda retro. It also had to have the two new phone numbers on the front which Frank had acquired by calling the current owners and offering to buy their phone numbers from them. 336-ROCK and 336-ROLL. I went looking for my friend and one of the best artists I knew; Mike. Within a week Mike produced this computer created design, which I thought really captured the feel I wanted for this new enterprise. There on the cover amongst a starlit night, holding a pizza in one hand and a guitar in the other was a figure on a Rocket who had seemingly just written the name of this new, exciting pizza shop across a giant 45 rpm record----the letters spelled:
Johnny Rockit's Famous Pizza.
It was July 1990 and I was in deep now....Luckily, I was still drunk.