A Piece of the Pie

A summer spent reallocating funds, helping everyone to a bit of the American dream

It was the summer after what was supposed to have been my last semester of college, but I had flipped out and signed on for the next, telling everyone I really needed a triple major to get into grad school, all the while knowing, way down, that I just wasn't ready to move on. So when my buddy came over, mid-South Park, and suggested we get jobs at a pizza joint, I hopped in the car pronto. I was still an undergrad, technically, so there was no need to don a tie and pound the carpet, and hey, who doesn't like pizza?

The lard-ass who owned the place hired us on the spot. This guy had built a little empire of Chicago-style pizza parlors, complete with deep, deep dishes and fancy fillings, and he spent his days traveling from one location to the next, checking in on the staff and shoveling down a full pie at every stop along the way. ("But he just ate a large supreme over here," I'd often hear my managers say to their counterparts across town.) The boss man liked the cut of our jibs, or something, so he gave us each a company tee and put us to work. My buddy got hired to do delivery, and I started training as a waiter.

It was a full-service restaurant, with a kitchen full of Mexicans. They'd all come from the same small town in el norte, and they were all related to one another in some way. There was a husband, a wife, a brother, a cousin and a nephew. I soon got to know them pretty well, at least in a conversational sense; I'm always on the lookout for a chance to practice my Spanish, guey, and hanging out back there was a good way to avoid the bustle out front.

I thought of those folks recently when I came across a New York Timesarticle about janitors getting screwed, made to work under two different social security numbers so their employer wouldn't have to pay them overtime. A couple of calls to the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations confirmed these shenanigans are pretty common.

The boss man at the pizza joint, as far as I know, wasn't getting funky with the socials, but he did have a different scheme up his sleeve. He was working some of the cooks 30 hours at one restaurant and 30 hours at another, but he claimed the two restaurants were separate entities, so he wasn't paying them overtime. It didn't matter that the name, the food and the tasks were the same at both places; two different buildings -- in his eyes, at least -- meant two different jobs. And what were these particular workers going to do, call the cops? Not likely.

Theft was the only option.

Now just about everyone I know steals from work. Be it pens, paper, stamps, books, tools or food -- and those are just the misdemeanors. As for me, I love daydreaming about bigger heists, imagining a rooftop entry into a room where laptops are stored or wondering how many staplers I can stuff into my pants (and what the black-market value for those would be, of course), but none of these wannabe-Lex Luther machinations becomes reality. It's just fun to think about such things. The boss man at the pizza joint, however, had given me reason for treason, so I devised what came to be known as the Robin Hood Plan.

You know how a lot of restaurants have those "buy ten, get one free" cards? Few people actually hold onto those suckers long enough to get the prize, and the clientele at this place was no different. I stamped plenty of those tickets in my time, but I don't think I ever saw more than one or two of them fully completed. That is, of course, not counting all the ones I stamped on my own when no one was looking.

What I did was carry one completed card to work with me every day and wait until someone paid cash for a large pie, which at a place like this ran for around $20. After the customer left, I'd just walk over to the computer, punch in "courtesy card" and pocket the cash. It was too damn easy. And then the booty was split up among the kitchen workers at the end of each shift.

I never told the husband, the wife, the brother, the cousin or the nephew how I was getting the money, because I suspected they wouldn't have been down with the plan. I just told them I made great tips because of their hard work. It wasn't as if that four bucks made up for all the overtime they weren't getting paid, but a cold six-pack of Miller Lite is better than nothing.

After a while, someone lost the stamp used to mark up the courtesy cards (or it was stolen by some scoundrel), so the waiters just started initialing the little boxes for all the customers who were so sure they were going to beat the system and hold onto that little piece of cardboard for 11 visits. Without that stamp, I had to get a little more creative, and by "a little more," I mean "not much at all." All I did was take a bunch of blank cards back to the house, where my friends and I took turns scribbling on them with different colored pens and roughing them up. (Try this one at home.) And voilà: The redistribution of ill-gotten gains continued.

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