UNITED STATES—“Just trying to help you guys,” Reed retorted to the manager who had squirreled him into a kitchen that from the looks of things would be lucky to get a C- health rating. “I’ve never seen so many people here. I tried to get research fresh and reliable, but the most I could find were some old dog-eared travel guides,” Reed said. “I was just trying to help you guys and from the looks of things, you’ve benefited.”

“Before you help somebody be sure you know the lay of the land,” said Elgin. “Right now we’ve got things so botched up, we are actually thinking of hiring not one, but two new employees.”

“Well that doesn’t sound so bad to me,” Reed said.

“One is already on a fast track.”

“Who?”

“You.”

The pink-pated Elgin drawled out the word and stared at Reed, who had never known ‘you’ could have so many syllables.

“Listen, Buddy. I think you’ve got the wrong guy. Oil’s my game.”

Elgin sat him down in a dingy tan room under black and white photos of the Nielsen clan, in bathing suits and in front of giant old radio microphones. Thy Nielsen’s had turned a gas station into the cornerstone of an almond chowder empire. They had streets named after them in Norway. A steaming bowl of almond chowder was now brought by a silent woman, who must have been something to look at, but now made you want to look away after the prevailing sour disposition had prevailed. Elgin said:

“Eat it up before it gets cold.”

Reed took a spoonful, the expression on his face transformed quickly from bliss to a death mask to bliss again. The chowder had a new ingredient, an elusive spice that he had never tasted before.

“This is really delicious. Did you add a new ingredient?”

It was a tribute to the chowder that Reed could still stomach it, after trying as a college boy to best the record of 12 bowls eaten in one sitting.

“No sir,” drawled Elgin. “The secret recipe written out in hand by Mama Martha Nielsen herself. It contains all the original ingredients, and the recipe manuscript remains locked in the upstairs office safe and we have a copyright in the Library of Congress. I’m not sharing any trade secrets.”

Reed look back and half smiled at the bow-tied manager, who continued:

“We hope this tourist mob-scene all dies down. If it doesn’t, we may have to resort to extreme action. With these huge crowds it’s only a matter of time before the tax boys get wind that our invoices were already inflated, until the chumps started coming. Thanks to you and your florid pen, Mr. Parker. The invoices now reflect the current level of staffing, and out supplies necessary to serve a recent wave of traveler, but you have brought us a Tsuname wave of visitors.”

“This is so delicious,” Reed said, scarfing it down.

“Have some more.” Diedre came over after Elgin ladled it out.

“It would be so crass to liquidate you or find a home for you. But we must. You are going to join our staff, and as you partake in philibustering reality, so observing our esprit d’corps here at Nielsen’s Almond Springs resort. Soon the effects of the herbal lobotomy kick in.–it’s that secret ingredient—but you will be fit for service, by all means and live out a long and full natural life in our employee compound in Buttonwillow; Bridget your wife has already identified your body found in the twisted Porsche by the bend in Highway 48 just before the village of Hemlock. Soon you’ll be taking language class to become a plausible and obsequious hick and say ‘aw shucks’ and ‘gosh darn.’ We the happy family of Nielsen employees, the sons and daughters of Squeaky the Almond will continue our lucrative profit sharing plan. And our chief employer, the mob, will continue to operate at a significant loss this perennially popular destination for a certain type of human problem that we don’t like to see return: namely those who get in the way of our bosses. Given the alternative of ending up in a vat of almond chowder, I’m sure you’d choose servitude in the ranks of our ever friendly staff.”

THE END.

Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood” (available on Amazon).

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)