I used to work at the El Paso Surf Club.  One year, for the Secret Santa Christmas party, I drew the name of Danny Ortega, one of the dishwashers.  That pleased me, because Danny was a very smart guy with a quirky sense of humor (he was also the inspiration for the Chingon Bulldog comic strip).  A gift box from Hickory Farms wouldn’t do Danny justice; it had to be something that lived up to his smarts and humor.  I took it as a challenge.

I went to the El Paso Saddleblanket Company, which–like Dave’s Pawn Shop–is a mecca of all things smart and quirky.  If you’ve never been there, it’s basically a huge warehouse full of scorpions-in-acrylic boleros, Elvis-on-velvets, Jesus-on-velvets, concrete lawn Buddhas, Tarahumara crockery, and–oh, yeah–some blankets.  They had some dried and mounted piranhas, so I got one for Danny.  I liked the phony bug-eyes and the fierce teeth, and figured Danny would too.

On the way home, I had to stop at Pep Boys to get some carb cleaner for my VW Beetle (the fact that I drove a VW Beetle has nothing to do with the story; I just like pointing it out).  I found myself in the aisle with all the dashboard accoutrements–you know, Velcro-mounted compasses, altimeters, hula girl bobble-heads.  Stuff like that.

A-ha!

I wound up giving Danny a very highly customized piranha.  I used double-sided tape and Velcro to attach one of those little compasses, a digital clock/thermometer combo, a travel pack of Kleenex, an itty-bitty calendar, and a convex mirror.  I also put a tiny tape measure–about the size of a dime (meant to go on a key-ring)–in the fish’s mouth, with the metal tab hooked onto its lower teeth.

“Here,” I said to Danny at the Christmas party.  “It’s a Swiss army piranha.”

He was, as the Brits say, gob-smacked.  His girlfriend was disgusted, and I knew then and there that as soon as they left the party, my work of art was going straight into the trash.  She hated it, and she ruled the roost.  I don’t want to say that he was whipped, but he was.

They gave me a sampler of Stetson cologne from the Popular department store, where she worked.  It still had a “TESTER” sticker on it.

A few months later, hiding my suspicions, I asked Danny what he did with the piranha.  He hemmed and hawed for a little while, and then said that it was sitting on top on their television.

Sorry to out you, Danny, but that was a flat-out lie.  Your girlfriend had you whipped and she hated the piranha, so it went straight into the bin.  Admit it.

I’ve since toyed with the idea of selling Swiss army piranhas online, but the Craptopolis I live in doesn’t have any ready sources of the necessary raw materials.

I told this story to my executive chef a few years ago.  Guess what he gave me for Christmas.

I named him Gomez and put him on the dashboard of my car.  I got tired of him slipping and sliding around, so I tossed him to the back seat.  My daughter found him and gnawed off his dorsal fin, so I can honestly say that she has eaten a piranha.

Marginally related story:  We had another dishwasher, Ricardo.  He was a bad-ass mother.  He had all kinds of jail-house tattoos, including a black widow on his neck.  I have no idea what that signifies, but it can’t possibly be good.  He was a snake-eyed shankmeister and I’d rather jab an icepick into my own ear than cross him, but he was working hard at getting back on the straight and narrow.  His girlfriend–an LVN–was instrumental in making sure that he showed up for work on time and did all the right things.  He was also whipped, but in a good way, and I think that he was appreciative.  His aura gave me the creeps, but he was a good worker, trying hard to put his past behind him (I don’t even know what his past was; I was too afraid to ask).

Ricardo’s the only guy I’ve known who appeared on an episode of Cops.  Funny thing is, he was the victim and not the bad guy.  Some dim bulb messed with his beloved blood-red Oldsmobile Toronado.  The alarm went off and Ricardo met the offender with a softball bat up the head.  Repeatedly.  When he gave his statement to the cops he was eerily calm and unbothered, which just added to the creep factor.  “Well, he was messing with my car, so I hit him with the bat.”  He had a slithery, nasal voice, like Peter Lorre.  Creep factor to the Nth degree.

Anyway, the Surf Club pirated satellite signals from the sports bar next door, and we were in the habit of tuning in to the Playboy channel while we were opening.  One morning, the Playboy channel was showing Bodacious Booties III or something like that–shot after shot of attractive feminine rear ends.  Ricardo was mesmerized.  He didn’t take his eyes off the TV for a good half hour, washing the same plate the entire time.

Finally, he looked at me with his snake-eyes and said, in his slithery voice, “Have you ever thought about–what do they call it?–rectal love?”

Last I heard, he was a nurse’s aide at Providence Memorial Hospital.

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