A Fairy Tale About Umberto

Here is a fairy tale about a man, let’s say an Italian man from Tuscany because Italians are known for cooking. Let’s say this man, we’ll call him Umberto because that’s a good, meaty Italian name, had learned to cook at his mama’s side (or at least eaten the savory tidbits) and had pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He had once been a busboy. Busboys are little better than slaves; they get paid but no one really respects them and so, like the grime of morsels left on the plates, Umberto held a piece of shame and anger in his heart. 

Umberto worked hard in his native country, moving on to better jobs and bigger cities. He may even have learned how to cook professionally. Eventually, because he was a young man and therefore had the good looks of youth, and an Italian man and therefore his accent was attractive in foreign countries, he managed to woo a woman. It’s possible that he did love her in the first heat of romance. But that woman had more than looks to tie that nuptial knot. She had money and she believed in Umberto and his dream.

She married him and so he embarked on a new path, a culmination of years of work and being in the restaurant business. He became a restaurateur, not just a cook or a chef and opened his first restaurant. Umberto was now king, reigning over the ingredients of Italian cooking, making an atmosphere fit for kings and queens. Well, if not kings and queens, at least celebrities and many were known to come to the West Coast where the clime suits their complexion and temperament better.

Umberto’s success was great and he opened several more restaurants, all Italian but each with a slightly different flavor. But Umberto forgot his roots and his mother would have rolled in her grave had she heard what he became. It wasn’t that being a bigwig restaurant owner was a bad thing but it was the way he treated people. In public Umberto wined and dined and smiled charmingly at his guests. He helped buy his popularity. In private his darker side came out.

Umberto thought himself very attractive and expected women to swoon and all lowly workers to bow low and be cowed by his mighty business savvy (fueled by his wife’s purse strings). But Umberto forgot that lowly workers observed his overly friendly and touchy way with the restaurant hostess. It wasn’t long before everyone knew that he was having an affair with the woman. But lowly workers who want to keep their jobs keep their noses out of their bosses’ affairs.

Umberto set unrealistic demands on his staff. First was the unwritten rule that all be awed in his aura. In one restaurant there was a small lounge where food was also served, as well as drinks. The two young ladies that worked there were expected to take the orders for the full lounge, make and serve all the drinks, as well as take the food orders and make the salads and serve those. If someone from the restaurant wanted a special drink, then the two waitresses were expected to make those too. Needless to say they were very busy.

Umberto also had a plan. It required exact proportions and measurements for meals. The waitresses were told to put two slices of tomato on each salad. No more. No less. One waitress, as young as the other, felt that a person needed to achieve respect, not pay for it nor have it because of more money. She worked hard and diligently but did not feel cowed by the mighty Umberto. Well one day, she was called by the maitre d and told she was let go because she put too many (or too few) slices of tomato on a salad and some rich thing complained. Umberto set his minion to do the dirty work.

The waitress felt this was very unfair as she was only following instructions and had been polite to the customers, so she went down to talk to the mighty Umberto. All the while that she was in his office talking to him, he would barely look at her or answer her concerns. Finally she blurted in frustration, I think you don’t like me and you can just f**k off.

She left and many waiters who also worked at the restaurant were thrilled that she told him off because they felt the same way but didn’t want to lose their jobs. She also worked at another Umberto restaurant where she was hostess and which claimed to have self-autonomy from Umberto’s rules. However the next day she received a call telling her not to come in. So she went to the restaurant and recorded all the hours she had worked, including all the overtime that they had not paid her. They asked why she was doing this and she replied, Because of Umberto. She took them to labor relations and was paid a year in backpay for overtime.

Another worker, also fired unfairly, had a friend who was a lawyer and took Umberto to small claims court. The young waitress went as a witness but the other worker won because Umberto sent his minion. She felt great joy at this and though for many years entertained thoughts of keying Umberto’s red sports car (you know the type that says you’re over the hill but trying to be sexy to the babes) decided he was too much a bug to warrant her attention.

Well years passed and the young waitress, like many previous Umberto workers, went on to better jobs. Umberto got richer but his temper was like a pot left on to boil. It continued, his pomposity rose higher than a souffle and he divorced his first wife. He married his second, opened more restaurants and a cooking school. He also took some of his roots back to his home country and opened a hotel there.

But one thing never changed, his bad as fish left out for two weeks temper, nor his attitude to staff who he saw as servants in his various castles. Much went unnoticed by the rich or adoring public but once in a while Umberto would blow his top, as he did in his new ski resort restaurant. And once in a while a worker would sue and win to the tune of nearly $100,000 but what’s that to a king? The moral of this fairy tale. The good often go unheard or noticed if they’re menial laborers and the bad are often rich. However, the rich would get way more if they were nice. Oh and watch out for characters with cool Italian names like Umberto.

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