Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Vampire of Doom City

From the pages of: 

Originally published
February 2013

Part 1

When people tell me they loved Rocky’s Pizza, I know they only ate there after midnight. We were located between five college bars, so every weekend was a kitchen dance party. When the bars emptied the restaurant filled to sardine capacity with drunken meatheads and orange girls doing their best to sober up before dawn. Location location location made us enough money between midnight on Thursday and 4am Sunday that we could afford to be open the rest of the week.

I take full responsibility for being part of management, even if there was always some question to my official position. My promotion came a month after my hire with no prior food service experience, so I never let the title carry much weight. During a stretch that lasted several weeks, every single person on staff was a manager. New hires were often pressed for recipes the first night.

As a pizza delivery driver, you try not to get too involved in the lives of your customers, but I remember frequent deliveries to Bambi Madden’s house on aptly-named Winding Way. I don’t remember much about her, though she was briefly employed at Rocky’s as well. I remember the man who identified himself as her husband. He was an older gentleman, and always very appreciative of our efforts. He came in Friday afternoons to order a sheet pizza to be delivered to his wife at 5:30pm. He was going to be away for the evening and wanted her to have food. He paid with a twenty-dollar bill, and I’d keep the substantial tip whether I took the delivery or not.

Our bathrooms broke every night at 10pm sharp. Not only was I manager and pizza chef, but bouncer as well. It was a normal night if I found myself pummeling a frat boy that peed in the potted plants. Rocky’s employees lasted because they could not find work anywhere else. I was called in early one morning because another manager’s meth lab exploded. We were proud of her for being the first in New York State. Drug withdrawl in the kitchen wasn’t uncommon.   The foyer of Rocky’s remains the only place I’ve been pepper sprayed. I only took it in the cheek, which burned bad enough that I went home. The manager we called “Tree Trunk” got it full in the eyes, and I’m probably one of a few people alive that have seen him cry. I arrived one afternoon to find the owner had been taken to prison. He ran the store by collect calls for the next three months.

Sober customers stayed with us less time than employees. If they got a decent meal delivered once, it would be uncooked the next time, or burnt to the point of being unrecognizable. Delivery drivers would occasionally threaten physical abuse to answer complaints. To improve our reputation, the owner would keep the same location, menu, phone number, and staff, but change the name, believing customers would forget the terrible experience they had with us. I’ve watched Chef Ramsey inspect kitchens that were sanitized for surgery compared to what could be found in a Rocky’s refrigerator. The only time we did change location, it was around the corner, and we did it in the middle of the shift. Customers could see us making dough at one location and rolling it down the street on metal racks to cook in the new restaurant.

One afternoon, a couple years after I turned in my pizza paddles, I passed the restaurant to find it unsurprisingly empty. The manager was sitting in the kitchen, feet on the table. With one hand, he was smoking a blunt, and with the other he endlessly polished the stove handle with a rag. He was the first to tell me my connection to Bambi Madden, who disappeared without a trace on January 11, 2006.

Bambi lived in an area off Front Street called the “Gateway to Binghamton,” which was lost to Viking raiders some time during the mayorship of Juanita Crabb. The city has been trying to reclaim and rebuild the area for years to little avail. Bambi left for the gas station with $5 for cigarettes. The store was only half a mile away. Bambi Madden was never seen again. She enjoyed drinking beer and eating at McDonald’s. She smoked Newports and had a history of drug abuse. Bambi was tattooed and rough, and her disappearance made national news in 2006. No article I’ve read mentioned a husband. For all I know, the story was a half-remembered anecdote with no basis in reality.

Bambi’s friends and loved ones described her as a friendly person with no known enemies. However, the facts of her life made for an easy unspoken narrative. She lived in a rough part of town and knew unsavory people. In all likelihood, Bambi “Bam Bam” Madden died no different than millions of other unfortunate women throughout history. Bambi’s spotlight faded. In 2008 she returned to the public eye through the work of a graffiti artist I came to call, “The Vampire.”

1 comment: