Editor’s note: Published May 20th, 2015 in the SHOSHONE NEWS-PRESS.
Preamble: Last week, one of my granddaughters, down in the Bay Area, sent me a long and informative email about recent changes in her life. She asked me in return what’s happening in mine. Now, there isn’t really much to report about my quiet existence these days in lovely Wallace. But I tried to come up with something. Here, FYI, is an edited version of the main part of my reply.
This past Saturday I “did my time” selling bratwursts at the “Brat Boys” booth downtown, for Wallace’s annual Depot Day event. All the booth’s profits go to the Depot Museum. This year we had a very good day; lots of warm sunshine; many, many cars (more than a few exceptionally beautiful); and we sold out our stock.
But the “inside story” on the brat booth last week involved some fractious conflict.
I’ve been working that booth almost continuously (i.e., one day per year) for 15 years now. My neighbors, both originally from Wisconsin – a state heavy with historic German immigration and therefore also the nation’s bratwurst capital – have been doing it even a little longer. In the morning, we set up all the paraphernalia necessary to run the booth – you’d be surprised at how complicated the whole thing actually is. I took my two neighbors, the Brat Boys, aside for a serious conversation.
They, incidentally, have a recognizable name in the Valley, the “Brat Boys,” while all the rest of us who assist at the booth – in what always turns out to be a long and exhausting day – have no appellation to call our own. We’re just the nameless worker bees, nothing more.
Anyhow, I took John Fritz and Jim See aside – the aforementioned Brat Boys – to address a stern declaration to them. I said, with deep seriousness:
“Look, I’ve been working this brat thing for 15 years now. I need an increase in my status. I want a role in policy.”
“Policy”? Yes, “policy” was the key word. Does a brat booth have policy? Well, maybe not, really; maybe a little. I don’t know.
But therein, of course, lay my demand’s quotient of submerged comic value. Now, men of a certain age do not interact with each other without sarcasm, mockery, and spoofery. So John, who at first looked bemused, soon responded by saying, in effect, that he didn’t actually like making decisions anyhow. Therefore, he welcomed my new, now-elevated, role. “You can be CEO,” he said, “you can make ALL the decisions.” That kind of reply is of course a time-honored motif in old-men jousting – that is, by offering an extreme response to a modest request. After all, all I asked for was a mere “role” in “policy,” but, and by the lights of that mocking motif, I was suddenly elevated to a (faux) “CEO.”
But that was only the beginning. Then, and for most of the rest of that long day, John and Jim off-and-on ribbed me, joked with each other, and joked with the other helpers in the booth about my new CEO status. All manner of mundane and routine choices were referred to me for decision-making.
Yet, and in the end, however, and as it turned out, I got a kind of comeuppance.
It was getting on toward about 2:30pm. The big noontime rush was over and we were settling into a slower selling pace. Some earlier customers returned for seconds and new, late-coming customers, who’d by now heard how tasty our marinated-over-night-in-beer-and-secret-broth brats actually were, wanted to try one. Our supply was running down. John wanted to run over to the market to buy more brats and start them grilling. So did Jim. This would have been their normal action given there was still about two hours left in our selling day. But – and largely, I suspect, because of the long hours of mocking I’d endured — the final decision was brought to me. I turned my head and made a single gesture, sweeping a flattened hand across my neck, the universal symbol for “cut it off.” Both objected. John said I couldn’t be a CEO if my main goal for the day was to sell out our stock early, pack up early, and go home early. Jim only grimaced his disagreement with me.
Yet, and ironically, the Brat Boys were stuck with it. Even a completely phony promotion to CEO, as it turns out, can nevertheless generate new and tangible management authority – especially if it’s been buttressed by daylong ribbing. So no trip to the market was made, no new brats were retrieved, and no new brats were set to grilling.
They played the game straight.
And? The denouement?
Well, business fell off even more after the no-new-buy decision was made. We started selling our remaining brats at a serious discount. The gazebo crew kindly announced the new low price and urged the assembling crowd to try one.
In the end, we did manage to sell out. But – and by the time the cars, roaring their exhaust pipes in expressions of lion-like strength, began to filter away – only just barely.
Later, on my front porch, where our whole little group gathered for post-event beers and discussion, John publicly conceded that not buying more brats was the right decision. It was a small, but sweet, victory.
So this is pretty much my inside-story report on the just-past Depot Day.
I know it must sound suspiciously like a drawn-out, cloyingly smalltownish, Garrison Keeler Lake Wobegon anecdote. But it all happened. Pretty much as I’ve described.
— Ron Roizen, CEO, Brat Boys