Photo Source: William Eggleston
I was a nervous kid, thus I was a goner every Sunday I punched in under Red Langfield. Nobody I ever worked for made me feel so utterly intimidated. Probably because he wasn’t an obvious sadist. Oh, he was a sadist, alright. But more of a subliminal sadist. Red Langfield never chewed you out, but he didn’t have to: he was in your head every nanosecond of every shift.
The dread would begin every Sunday as I drove to work at the Dilly Dairy. And when I pulled into the parking lot and saw his car, I nearly fainted with terror. Langfield was a full-speed-ahead Naval Academy guy, and his mission every Sunday was to get his platoon of shit-birds wired and ready to take back Omaha Beach. He would get out of his Benz, Wall Street Journal folded smartly under his arm, Rolex flashing in the sun, and assume his position at the door to let us in: ramrod straight, head like a pink bowling ball, prison-issue glasses, every inch of clothes and self perfectly polished, pressed and creased. He would offer a curt, almost-pleasant “good morning” and open the door, and the sweat circles under my arm would start their march for the day.
Langfield never raised his voice, but his tone could peel paint and make the flecks cower. His delivery was pleasant, but extremely cold. Withering cold. I worked register, and just hearing him standing behind me saying, “more FRIES please, thank YOU!” toward the kitchen reduced me to a trembling wreck. A trembling wreck in charge of a cash till. I have no idea how he pulled off such subtle intimidation, but he did, and I wasn’t the only ashen basket case at the end of the day.
The closest I ever got to a full-on reaming came once after the noon rush. I was standing at the register collecting myself, when Red came up to me and said, “DON’T you have some cleaning to do, young MAN?” in that warm-as-permafrost tone of his. Why, yes I did have some cleaning to do, SIR! And so I did, and I subliminally cleaned my room several times a day for a week after that.
Langfield was like a human incarnation of Chinese water torture. One flash of that steely “smile”, one turn of phrase, and the paranoia knocked you to the canvas for a three-count. In retrospect, it seems odd that we would all cower under the gaze of a man who was flush enough to drive a Benz and wear a Rolex, yet was reduced to commanding a shift of degenerate punk teens at a grease-pit called the Dilly Dairy. But that certainly didn’t occur to us at the time.
The restaurant went under years ago, but I still feel my butt-cheeks clench every time I drive by. I’ve heard that they’re going to tear it down and build a bank or something on the spot. Personally, I think they should open a trauma clinic. I’m tempted to learn how to run a bulldozer so I can be the first to have at the destruction. Take THAT, Langfield! BASH!!!