There’s something oddly fascinating about being in the presence of a genuinely stupid human being. Not a boring, run-of-the-mill, thick-headed doofus; but a bona fide, jaw-droppingly inept, “how did they survive this long?” stone-cold moron. When the conditions are just right, exposure to such a person can be an exhilarating experience. Todd “Lickity” Split was that kind of man.
Lickity was my boss the entire time I worked in catering. One of many bosses actually, but the top one. Since he was the big cheese – head of all dining operations for the Student Union – and I was a lowly server, we rarely had any direct personal contact, but on those rare occasions that we did he always made it memorable.
There’s really no delicate way to put it, Lickity was a total dope, a dim-witted imbecile of breathtaking proportions. Looking him in the eye was like staring at a fish, except you might get a reaction from a fish. He was the kind of clueless boob too stupid to die, as if even the universe didn’t consider him worth the effort. One time he backed a lawnmower into a swimming pool. The lawnmower was electric, yet he still walked the earth unscathed.
A balding, pear-shaped man, Todd had the sloped, shoulderless bearing of someone who was constantly melting. When he actually bothered to make an appearance in catering the chief physical impression he left was that he had an enormous head. It looked like it was filled with water for a journey across the desert, like a camel hump. But looks had nothing to do with his notoriety; his actions made him the stuff of legend.
Todd fancied himself an idea man, he was brimming with them, too many to contain in that swollen melon of his. When he wasn’t coming up with alliterative new theme-days for the various cafeterias in the building (March Meatloaf Monday Madness) or planning some new degrading addition to our uniforms (nothing screams fine-dining like a surly teen in a beret) he was busy penning an urgent new warning or announcement for our edification.
Lickity ruled by the bulletin-board memo and we loved him for it. We’d gather around each new proclamation like hungry puppies to a swollen teat. Not only did they address the vital subject matter of the day but they were a marvel of mangled syntax and crimes against grammar. It was a great way to rally the troops. Our chests swelled with loyalty as we read such classics as “Safety Alert: Are you playing with those pimples on your face?” and “Did you pay for what you are chewing on?” How could we not become better employees under his firm, guiding hand?
One day a memo appeared that actually generated a fair amount of speculation and intrigue on our part. “Are you ready for PIP?” it asked nobody in particular. We didn’t know.
That memo was followed a few days later by another posting outlining just what PIP was. It turned out that it stood for Pride in Presentation; Todd’s latest flash of genius. Much more than an excuse for a stupid acronym, Pride in Presentation was a whole philosophy, a new way of food service life, encompassing everything from renaming certain dishes (Swedish meatballs became Southwest Serenade) to correct employee posture.
Todd wanted PIP to permeate every aspect of the food service department – from the way we served meals to the language we used. PIP would become a noun, a verb, an adjective under his plan. We’d greet each other in the hall, “I’m feeling PIP today, how about you?” “That is so PIP.” “You really PIP’d that one.” It was his grandest idea yet. In other words, it was utter horseshit.
The memo was accompanied by a large box full of cardboard signs with “PIP” printed on one side and “Pride in Presentation” printed on the other in raised block letters. We were instructed to hang them throughout the building, mobile-like, reinforcing our commitment to excellence. Within days, most of them were nestled in urinals throughout the building, reinforcing our commitment to Lickity.
Apart from the initial memo, the signs, and a few minor touches, none of us were sure how the PIP philosophy would fully manifest itself. We got a better idea a few weeks later.
It was one of those big, nondescript dinners, some civic group, awards ceremony or retirement banquet, we did them all the time. Minutes before serving, I was back by the prep station with a few of my catering buddies. We’d already done the first round of beverages and had finished plating the food. Standing there waiting for the cue to start carrying trays into the ballroom, we were like a professional, well-oiled machine, only not.
Kyle was trying to throw a pad of butter in some guy’s pocket, Larry appeared to be crafting an impromptu explosive device, and Dave was so stoned that he was eating parsley out of a plastic bucket like a turtle. We could hear the crowd getting restless for their dinner. All systems were go. Then Lickity showed up.
Like a food service Patton he walked among our ranks, eyes squinting, looking for the smallest detail out of order. He stopped by a tray and leaned over, sniffing at the warm plates. Lifting the aluminum cover off of one, he released a mushroom cloud of steam. He grimaced. The room fell silent. Looking up at us, his brow furrowed, Lickity said in a tone serious as death, “The potatoes.”
“These potatoes look horrible. They look boring.”
What did he expect? Two hours ago they were powder.
Todd’s face suddenly brightened. I knew that look. Sweet Jesus, he was having an idea. This was going to be good.
Snapping his fingers like a Vegas showman, he blurted out, “Paprika!”
“These need paprika!”
It was so quiet you could hear Dave chewing parsley. Todd became increasingly agitated, like he was dealing with a bunch of fools.
“Don’t you get it? It’s simple, PIP.”
Pride in paprika?
“Paprika – red, potatoes – white. Red on white, school colors, Pride in Presentation. This is everything I’ve been talking about.”
Nobody mentioned the school colors were actually red and blue.
Lickity straightened up, full of resolve. “These potatoes aren’t going out on the floor until they’ve got paprika on them.”
Did he really want us to redo all three hundred plates? What was he, stupid? Oh…yeah.
One of the other managers, a queenie New Yorker named Rich never had any trouble speaking his mind. “You’re an idiot Todd. Those people are hungry and by the time you put your stupid paprika on those plates the food will be cold and you’ll have a ballroom full of pissed-off customers.”
But there was no turning back. Lickity was a man possessed. He snapped into action and began barking orders. It was his time to shine. It was his PIP moment. “You…go down to the pantry and get paprika, lots of it. You…start taking these lids off.”
And so it went, paprika was fetched, potatoes were dusted and Lickity’s place in the dumb-ass hall of fame was cemented.
Rich was right, of course. By the time we finished with the paprika, the meal was over a half hour late, the food was room temperature at best and there were three hundred royally pissed-off people to deal with. It was terrific. A fine bit of near total chaos, a real cluster-PIP. Best of all, no one even noticed the fucking potatoes.
Shortly after the paprika fiasco, somebody began altering Todd’s beloved PIP signs. Eventually they were completely removed and are probably sitting in a dusty box somewhere. I have one. It’s a little bent and has a few stains here and there but it’s weathered the years pretty well. On the one side, you can still clearly make out the “PIP”, a reminder of that great failed experiment. On the other side, a few of the letters have been removed, changing the motto from “Pride in Presentation” to “Pride in resent”, a fitting legacy for the man known as Todd “Lickity” Split.