House Rules

The owner of Serious Johnson’s, Serious Johnson, was a very nice man who could tolerate many things. He could walk uphill through 10 miles of blizzard, naked, or sit in downtown traffic with the windows up and no air conditioning on a hot summer day. He could stare at the sun through a telescope and have enough eyesight left to stay up all night reading in bed. He could dunk a basketball after 40 days and nights without food or water. Most impressive, Serious Johnson could run a kindly neighborhood business — a full-service holistic restaurant, pub and art gallery — while his country was being destroyed by a fascist theocracy. For regular customers, Serious Johnson’s was an asylum, a church, an office, a shoulder-and-back massage parlor and a used-newspaper emporium; but mostly, it was a bright, slow space with high ceilings, where kindly people had low-key conversations and consumed excellent, reasonably priced libations and food. (Except for the guacamole, which, while excellent, cost $2 for three meager tablespoons.) Serious Johnson treated his employees respectfully, and paid them fairly; many of his best customers were his employees’ friends. Yes, people drove in from all over town to spend time and money at Serious Johnson’s, and Johnson rewarded them with a pleasant time- and money-spending experience, for, as I mentioned, he was an inordinately tolerant man. In fact, there was only one thing that Serious Johnson could not tolerate, and that was people bringing Starbucks cups into his restaurant. “I’ll kill them, is what I’ll do,” said Johnson, who generally didn’t. “Fucking Starbucks-heads. Fucking robots.” Of course, Johnson didn’t use such language in front of the offenders. He mumbled these curses to himself after they’d left, or when he spotted them from afar. When someone walked in with a Starbucks cup, Johnson was polite. “Excuse me,” he said, “but you can’t bring that in here”; or, “Excuse me — we don’t allow outside food or drinks.” He said these things in a pleasant way, and almost everyone obliged. Serious Johnson understood that because a lot of people are in the habit of carrying coffee cups with them everywhere they go, they simply forget that one doesn’t bring coffee into a place that sells coffee, any more than one brings one’s own hooker to a GOP convention. Mary Laserclam had once been a hooker at a GOP convention, but that was long ago. Now she was married to Barry Laserclam, and was an important member of her species because she had a lot of money and told many people what to do. Barry and Mary Laserclam lived in a big house and drove big cars. Barry made big deals in a big office, and Mary wore big sunglasses, and tight clothing to show off her big boobs. And everywhere that Mary went, her Starbucks coffee cup was sure to go. To work, to movies, to bed, to the beach, to the country club and even into the swimming pool. Every morning she’d order a tall latte at Starbucks while talking on her mobile phone, barely acknowledging the cashier who took her order or the barista who prepared it, then sip slowly all day long while talking to the voices in her head: her nanny, Terri, her brother, Gary, or her personal assistant, Shari. (And, of course, her husband, Barry.) Eventually, Mary grew frustrated by the physics of talking on her mobile phone while drinking her mobile coffee while driving her Hummer. But Mary’d learned long ago that every frustration could be solved with money, so she paid $23,600 to have a surgical-steel phone clip bolted to her skull by Dr. V. Prewitt Guirgis, M.D., as part of a Cingular Wireless cross-promotion. Now both she and Dr. Guirgis could talk free, anytime, to anyone, forever. Part of forever was one Thursday afternoon, when Mary Laserclam walked into Serious Johnson’s to meet her attorney and current boyfriend, Jerry, for lunch. Jerry wasn’t there yet, so Mary talked out loud to the telephone voice in her head, held her Starbucks cup high and jutted out her big boobs for attention. It was crowded, and the hostess was busy, so Serious Johnson was helping seat customers. “Excuse me,” said Serious Johnson, noticing the tall, expensively dressed woman with a glowing metallic device attached to her head and a coffee cup held high beside her boob job. “We don’t allow outside food or drinks in here.” Even before he was close enough to read the logo, Johnson knew it was a Starbucks cup, for while people held other cups at waist level, slightly off the hip, they held Starbucks cups at shoulder height. He knew not why, but ’twas always thus. Mary Laserclam ignored Serious Johnson’s “Excuse me,” so Serious Johnson said “Excuse me” again, with the same result. Now Johnson stood directly before Laserclam, and gestured to her cup. “Sorry,” he said. “You’ll have to finish that outside.” “Hang on a second,” said Laserclam to the voice in her head. “Someone’s trying to seat me.” And then, to Johnson, she smiled and said, “A table for two.” Johnson said, “I’m sorry. I can’t seat you until you finish that outside.” “Hang on a second,” said Mary again, rolling her eyes to the voice in her head. And then, to Johnson, she said, “I’m afraid I don’t understand.” Johnson replied, with great patience, “This is my restaurant. And you’ve brought in a drink from another restaurant. That’s not allowed. So please finish it outside or put it in your Hummer, then come back in and I’ll be glad to seat you.” “How did you know I drive a Hummer?” said Mary Laserclam. But before Johnson could reply, she added, “Wait — hang on a second,” for the voice in her head had grown impatient. “No,” she laughed to the voice. “Not a problem. It’s just some silly little man who doesn’t want my coffee cup in his . . .” And that was it. Serious Johnson’s fist landed hard on Mary Laserclam’s bolt-on phone. Mary Laserclam fell, and as her head hit the floor, a chunk of her fiberglass skull fell away. Inside her head, instead of brains and goo, hundreds of shiny little metallic corporate logos spilled out and onto the floor, flopping and writhing, shouting out their dying slogans. “Fair trade!” squealed the Starbucks logo. “And now for the Cingular halftime report!” squeaked the Cingular logo. “Fair and balanced!” barked the Fox logo. “I’m lovin’ it!” shrieked the McDonald’s logo. “Always low prices!” chirped the Wal-Mart logo. “Ask your doctor if it’s right for you!” sang the Pfizer, Merck and AstraZeneca logos in harmony. As tiny dying logos of every multi­megaconglomerate on Earth leapt from the fallen android’s skull, the Serious Johnson’s regulars got off of their stools and proceeded to stomp the logos into submission. Then they hauled the mess out back and dumped it into the android-recycling bin. “Sorry,” said Serious Johnson to the pile of expired robots. “House rules.”


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