The Night Fred Shot the Cook
Those of us who lived in the Kappa Phi Delta house lived well, indeed.
There was always good company about; guys with shared interests, ranging from sports to poetry, theater to hunting, philosophy to politics. Shared knowledge for academic pursuits, including a file cabinet filled with several years’ worth of term papers and reviews of mid-term and final exams and profiles of professors. And of course, social activities. We were only a staircase commute to the legendary frat parties.
And food. Food!
Not only did we have a well-stocked pantry, but when school was in session we had a staff dinner cook. Sunday through Thursday evenings (holidays excepted!) we could count on a most marvelous meal served at six-thirty. All we had to do was check our name on the meal list and we’d have a spot reserved at table. Guests were always welcome, with notice, and for a nominal $2 fee would share in good home cooking. Sundays were always the best, with fifteen to twenty (or more) guys and guests sharing good fellowship as well as the fanciest meal of the week.
Now, the cooks were usually students. And, as students, they would “serve” for one or two semesters before class schedules or even graduation pulled them away. These co-eds were more than happy to spend a couple of hours a day hanging out in the testosterone-soaked atmosphere of the Edwardian mansion full of jocks and scholars. And, although most indeed did possess the necessary skills, occasionally we’d get one whose interests extended beyond (or in rare cases totally ignored) the nutritional needs of the brothers and pledges. Needless to say, there were one or two whose primary mission seemed to be the pursuit of the coveted “M R S” degree.
Consequently, we had a fairly consistent turnover. And over the course of a few years we got to experience an interesting variety of foods. Now, with birds, not all fly at the same altitude. So with the abilities of part-time fraternity cooks.
Some were better than others for sure!
After forty-five plus years, I don’t remember all their names. But the young lady who had the position when I was a pledge – fall semester, 1969 – consistently produced wholesome “comfort food” meals; pot roast and stew were standards. There followed a couple of girls who were reasonably decent cooks. Kept the guys fed, but neither they nor their meals were remarkable.
Then there were those who were memorable.
Shelley! Fairly tall, blonde, borderline gorgeous in a wholesome fashion, with a sweet personality to match. I doubt anyone remembered anything she cooked, but would swear that it was delicious! Visiting girlfriends were always sure to sit possessively close to their boyfriends during supper. Every pledge had a crush on this “older woman,” who must have been every bit of twenty-two.
Oh, and the Gloria semester. Gloria! Petite… cute… attractive in her petite and cute way of wearing see-through blouses with floral-print undergarments. Make that cute in a “kid sister kind-of-way,” which I’m quite sure was not her intent. And although she was rather accomplished at turning out Italian dishes, she would literally bring along an assistant when the menu called for traditional American fare. Evidently the assistant’s “compensation” was the chance of landing a Kappa Phi man.
The English girl was okay – sometimes. But the typical San Francisco male palate of the period was not in tune with kidney pie, bubble-and-squeak, or mutton. But she was pleasant; we managed.
The best of all was Bonnie! That lady could COOK! She was not a student, and a bit older than most of us - probably late twenties. I’m not sure, but I think Half-Breed Pete came across her while grocery shopping – one of his duties as Kappa Phi Delta “House Mother.” Anyway, her meals were the stuff of Kappa Phi Delta legend – appetizers, main courses, and desserts! Desserts… remembering the time she made a batch of “special” brownies for her own use that somehow got loose… oh, but that’s another story.
But, again, not all cooks fly at the same altitude…
Before Pete took on the role of House Mother, we had Freddie E. And before Bonnie, we had Miss Vivian as Cook. But Miss Vivian was not a very good cook. In fact, the mere memory of her tenure makes me shudder and throw up a bit into the back of my throat. Not only were some of her dishes unrecognizable, even if arguably edible, but she was not exactly a fount of sweetness. Truthfully, her demeanor tended to be vapid at best, and went downhill from there, slipping to borderline surly. Might’ve even breached that border on occasion.
She had to go.
As difficult as it was for the mild-mannered, the “live-and-let-live” House Mother of the time, Freddie E., had to let her go. Fire her. It had never before been done, but as the Alumni Association’s in-house representative, the sad duty fell to Freddie. Besides… if he didn’t, he might risk being tarred and feathered his own self. And as I recall, he was highly allergic to feathers.
So he did it. Advised her that her services were no longer needed. We were saved! Even if we had to share KP for a spell, at least we’d know what we’d be eating and know it wouldn’t kill us. B’sides, we had a few pledges we could press into service!
Unfortunately for all, Miss Vivian would not stay fired.
We never knew whether she didn’t understand what being fired meant, or considered that her mission was incomplete, as there may still a few fellas remaining who had not experienced cramps or land-based sea-sickness. Most likely because many of us had learned to skip house meals and dine elsewhere – attendance for Sunday dinner had dropped from twenty or more to as few as five or six – poor souls (like myself!) who didn’t have local parents or girlfriends to mooch off of.
Anyway, even after her second firing, she was back and cooking – if you could call it that.
Until that fateful Sunday evening…
Fred G. (not to be confused with House Mother Freddie E.) and Jerry returned from another unsuccessful duck hunting foray. They were already tired and a bit grumpy, and when they walked through the front door and experienced the wafting fragrance of Vivian’s latest creation, they exchanged a glance. Jerry commented “Well… she’s back again. I can smell it. She’s up there, hunched over her cauldron…”
They quietly climbed the stairs, up to their fourth-floor “Chalet Room,” under the rafters. Dropping their gear, they plopped onto the edges of their bunks and glared.
“Dammit, Fred… what’re we gonna do? Eighty bucks a month room and board shouldn’t mean we have to EAT boards! I can’t take it anymore!”
“I know, Jer… we gotta do somethin’. Let’s think about this a minnit…”
Well, they thought. And they pondered. And they came up with a plan. A dandy of a plan! They were gonna be heroes!
Half expecting the worst, on the way back from duck hunting they’d stopped at some hamburger joint to fortify themselves against the possibility – likelihood – of Miss Vivian having returned.
Not only were they glad they had, but fortuitously, they discovered that they had a bunch of extra ketchup packets stuffed in their jacket pockets. Just the thing!
Ten minutes later, Miss Vivian was in the kitchen. Hunched over her cauldron, undoubtedly focused on adding a half cup of spider web and some tincture of newt, when she became aware of a commotion. She paused in her labors, and looked up curiously as the kerfuffle grew nearer.
Fred and Jerry were making their way down the stairs. Although she at first could not make out what they were saying, the argument was loud and becoming increasingly bitter as they approached and entered the kitchen.
When they came through the door, Miss Vivian backed away from the stove and into a corner, large wooden spoon grasped in her hand and her mouth and eyes opened wide with bewilderment as the two young men quarreled.
“I saw her first, and you WILL stay away from her!” Fred demanded.
“Like hell! Debbie likes ME! I danced with her at that last party! I got her phone number! And I’m gonna call her and I’m gonna take her out and there ain’t nuthin’ YOU can do about it!”
“Dammit, Jerry! You STAY AWAY FROM HER! She’s gonna be MINE!”
“No way! You’re just a jackass – I’m goin’ for it and you can’t stop me!”
“Oh, can’t I?” Fred shouted. “Like HELL I can’t!”
And with that, he pulled up the small rifle he’d been carrying and, pointing at Jerry, snapped off three shots.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Miss Vivian gave a short, squeaky scream with each Bang!
She dropped the dripping spoon and stared in shock as Jerry’s hand clutched his chest. Red oozed from between his fingers as he slumped to the floor. His eyes fluttered, he gave a last, rattling moan, then lay still and silent.
She screamed. A pitiable, wavering wail.
Shocked at his deed, Fred lowered the old gun and dropped to his knees at Jerry’s side.
“Oh NO! Jerry! I’m SORRY! Ohhhh…. Jerry… Jerry… Please be okay… Jerry…”
Miss Vivian pointed at Fred. Accusingly, she screamed “You! You! You shot him! You KILLED him! YOU KILLED HIM!”
Without taking his eyes off Jerry, he answered, “But I didn’t mean to… I didn’t mean to… Oh Jerry. Oh Brother… Please… I’m sorry!”
Miss Vivian continued to point at Fred and scream.
“YOU KILLED HIM! YOU KILLED HIM! YOU KILLED HIM!”
Fred again said, “But I didn’t mean to…”
One more time, she screamed “you KILLED him!”
Finally, Fred looked at her.
“I did. I didn’t mean to but I did. And… and…” his eyes tightened as he focused on the shocked cook. “And YOU are the only one who knows!”
With sudden comprehension, her horror reached a new level. As did her screams and screeches, which could be heard fading into the distance as she bolted out the kitchen door, down the stairs, out the front door, down the street and around the corner, decreasing in pitch with the down Doppler effect as she accelerated.
“HAR Har har har HAR…!”
Jerry sat up, gasping for breath as he howled with laughter, wiping the ketchup from his t-shirt with a dish towel. He and Fred supported each other, both guffawing with vigor, tears the size of road apples coursing down their cheeks, Fred still holding the blank-loaded ancient .22 carbine.
We’ll never know how long they would have laughed if they hadn’t been suddenly interrupted.
“FREEZE! Drop that gun!”
They both looked up and froze as they found themselves facing the muzzles of revolvers in the hands of two of San Francisco’s Finest.
Fred dropped the gun. They both raised their hands.
“WHAT THE HELL’S GOING ON AROUND HERE?” One of the officers demanded.
Fred snerkled… Jerry grinned… and they started laughing again, which thoroughly baffled the Boys-in-Blue.
“What IS going on here?” they demanded again.
“Oh… nothing, really, Officers…” said Fred.
“Bull Bleep!” rejoined Officer Number One. “We just were driving up Oak Street when some lady went screaming past us like she’d seen a banshee! I had to chase her two blocks before I could catch her… and she said there was a murder here! We have her downstairs, safe in the back of our cruiser. Now, for the last time, WHAT THE HELL’S GOING ON HERE?”
Well, between bursts and spurts of giggles and laughs, Fred and Jerry shared the story of Miss Vivian, the Cook-Who-Would-Not-Stay-Fired, and their solution to the problem.
By the time they finished their tale, there were four guys sitting on the kitchen floor, streaming tears and howling with laughter – two still in partial duck-hunting garb (except for Jerry’s “bloody” t-shirt) and two in blue.
Eventually, they all recovered to the point of functionality.
And the two policemen recruited themselves as accomplices:
“Tell ya what, fellas! We’ll take her home. And we’ll tell her that we’re gonna call the coroner and file the reports, but that the shooter got away and is still at large. We’ll tell her that the neighborhood just ain’t safe, and it’d be a darned good idea to NEVER come back here. Bet she’ll stay fired this time!”
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