Thursday, November 20, 2014

TTTT: Stanley the Poltergeist

When I was in my early 20's, I managed restaurants, mostly as an assistant manager. I spent a lot of time working with a family that owned an A&W restaurant, right up until the matriarch of the family sold the business. I didn't want to keep working there after that, and instead took my first position as a restaurant manager.

Of a Winchell's Donut shop in Caldwell, ID.

It wasn't as cool as it sounds. First, making donuts is a round the clock sort of endeavor and finding good, reliable help to work the 10 pm to 6 am shift is difficult. Second, people like donuts, so from 6 am til 2 pm, there is a line for the round, yummy goodness, which you'd thing was a good thing, but really, it just meant that you were always busy. Third, as a new store manager, I was pretty clueless and when you are clueless in how to get people to do work for you, you spend a lot of time doing more work than you ready need to. Finally, although at other restaurants I had stopped eating the food, for the most part, at Winchell's I stopped eating all together. I was stressed and everything smelled like frying donuts. Not an appetite stimulant.

One of the first things I needed to learn was the process of making the majority of the donuts we would sell first thing in the morning, partly so I could duplicate the process (because when someone calls in the manager covers) and partly so I could properly train other employees. I worked with a woman named Doni and she was the one who trained me to properly mix, roll, fry and frost the variety of donuts we made.

The donuts come in two basic types: cake (batter dropped in hot oil) and raised (yeast based bread dough that is rolled out, rises and then is fried in hot oil). There were also a dozen or so frosting or glazes put on the donuts, plus about 8 different types of fillings for some of the raised donuts. It was a lot to learn. I started by working the night shift.

To set the scene for you: the front of the store was glass windows, with tables and attached chairs set at intervals along them. There was a walk way in between the tables and the display cabinet, where the donuts were displayed for the customers to choose from. To the right of the cashier was a wall and on the other side of the wall was a door leading back into the very small kitchen. Past that door was another door (always locked) that led to the bathrooms. A customer had to ask for the key in order to access the bathrooms. The kitchen was a long counter on the right as you walked in the door, with storage beneath for trays and utensils, and a couple of shelves above that stored the jellies, jams and cremes, plus the dispensers for putting the filling into the filled donuts. On the left was a small sink and a dough mixer for making the yeast dough. A small desk and safe set perpendicular to the hallway against the far wall. To the right of the desk was a large open room, with the display cabinet separating it from the dining area. In that large room were holding racks for the finished donuts, a wooden topped (think butcher block) table for rolling out the raised dough, the hopper crane for the cake donuts, and a glazing station for adding the glazes and frosting. To the left of the desk was a doorway into the storage area, where the dough mix and cake mix was stored. There was a small closet area where the uniforms were stored, set behind the door that led to the bathrooms (also locked), and a door leading outside that was locked.

It is eerie working the graveyard shift, regardless of where or what work you are doing. I worked the graveyard shift at a donut shop, a Taco Bell, a Mini Mart (or two different chain stores) and all of them left me feeling uneasy. There is a vast sense of danger and unrest that occurs when the sun sinks below the horizon, be it caused by our cultural programming that the night is unsafe, or the bone deep realization that the night is really unsafe. (It is easier to imagine that the horrors of rape and abuse only happen at night, because it is too overwhelming to face the fact that they can happen at any time.) It becomes especially difficult when you are a woman working those hours alone, because let's face it, alone, at night, in a glass box is creepy. Perhaps it goes back to wanting to spend your hours around a warm fire, in a secure building, with a big stick in your hand. It messes with your head and makes it so much easier to be afraid.

It started out simple enough.

It was close to 2 am we were about to start rolling out the dough for the raised donuts. Doni needed to go to the bathroom, so she told me she would be right back. When she unlocked the door between the storage room and the bathroom hallway, she could see that the light in the men's bathroom was on. She tried the door and it was locked. She was a little stressed by that, since the doors could only be locked from the inside. She came out to get me, explained what had happened and I went back with her to check the bathroom. Part of the closing process was to check the bathrooms before closing to make sure no one tried to hide in there and come out later. We opened the door between the storage room and the bathroom and as we both looked in the light went out. Doni (and quite possibly me) screamed and headed for the front of the building. Doni was over the counter between the work room and the dining room in a sliding leap and flew out of the building. I grabbed a butcher knife and talked her into coming back into the building. I told her we couldn't call the police until we knew for sure someone was in the building. She grabbed one of the heavy ice scrappers we used on the floor and we bravely creeped back into the storage room.

The bathroom light was back on. Doni jumped like a scared deer, but we both managed to hold our ground. With a hand shaking in fear, I slid the key into the lock and felt Doni brace herself, holding the ice scraper in front of her like a sword, as I opened the door. The small bathroom was empty. We both sighed in relief and began to giggle. Nothing like scaring yourself silly over a stupid light. We took turns in the women's bathroom, with the other standing guard in the hall, then together we walked back into the storage room (the door had been standing open during all of this, and went to secure the door. That is when we both saw the light in the uniform closet was on. It had been off when we went into the hallway. We both jumped like scared deer and raced for the lighted kitchen area. The rest of that night was spent no further away from each other than maybe 12" and occasionally we would peak back into the storage room to see if the light was still on. It turned itself off again, just about 5:30 in the morning.

That was the beginning.

Slowly but surely, everyone in the store began experiencing the lights going on and off in the donut shop. Sometimes it was the bathroom lights, sometimes the light in the storage closet, sometimes it was the lights in the dining room. It was random and unexplained. We did have a tech come out and check for frayed wires or a short somewhere (I was thinking mice chewing on them) but they found nothing and the incidents continued.

But that wasn't enough.

A week or so later, Doni and I were working the graveyard shift again. The store was so busy that we needed two people on that shift to cover the amount of donuts that needed to be made. She was at the rolling table ready to roll out and cut the raised donuts. Now, mind you, the rolling table was a huge wooden block that we only used for bread dough. We had a scraper and damp towels to clean it, but we never put water on it, just like you would treat a rolling block at home. Doni turned to get the flour to shift onto the table and when she turned back there was a huge puddle of water right in the middle of the table. There were no splatter marks, as if it had dripped from the ceiling, but rather a perfectly round circle of water right in the middle.

It was annoying. Especially when it happened in the middle of preparing donuts on a Saturday a couple of weeks before the holidays. However, more than just the lights and water began to happen.

Donuts started to disappear.

We counted every donut we made. We had a build sheet that we cooked to at night. We made cherry frosted cake donuts and our build was 14. So, during the graveyard shift, we made 14 cherry iced donuts. When we went to put them in the display cabinet for sale, invariably there were only 13. We double counted. We triple counted. Every night a cherry frosted cake donut would disappear.

Dishes would clang in the sink. Items would fall off the counter. Water would appear in unexpected places. Sometimes it would be impossible to take the hopper that was used to make cake donuts off the hopper crane and it would hang there in mid air. Coins would get mixed in with other coins in the register drawer. All of it was annoying, but not really dangerous.

Then one day I was given a ring. It was a plain silver band and it materialized on my desk on top of my paperwork when I had my back turned talking with someone. It fit my left hand, ring finger, perfectly. That was when I began to think there might be more to what was happening than I first suspected. I went to the woman who had been working the display case since the store opened and asked her if there was anything unusual about the store. By this time, all of the employees had experience at least a few of the things that were happening, like the lights turning off and on and the cherry donut going missing. Anyway, this woman told me a man had been sitting in his truck during construction and there had been an accident and he had died. His name was Stanley. I began talking to him by his name.

One day when I was leaving, one of the women working there told me she didn't believe in poltergeist. If we had something, that is how it was manifesting. I shrugged and told her she was going to hurt Stanley's feelings. About 9:30 that night she called me in tears and asked me to call him off. He had dumped racks out of the rack holder. The doorbell that rang whenever anyone came in or out rang every time she turned her back. And a small bag of floor had exploded all over the floor and she wasn't even sure where it had come from. Her night had been horrible and she wanted me to know she was now a believer.

That was the tipping point I think.

A couple of weeks later, I came into work with a couple of hickeys on my neck. That night, every thing went wrong.

On the back long shelf in the kitchen we kept containers of the jelly, crème and jams that filled the donuts.

This is what the base looked like - or at least a similar design.
The type and amount of jelly or crème was entered on the push pad and the machine would dispense the correct amount.

A hopper similar to this one held the jelly or crème.
Each type of filling had it's own hopper.
 
 
There were 12 hoppers filled with crème or jelly sitting on a long shelf over a long counter. The hopper was cleaned out and refilled whenever it was emptied, otherwise it set on the shelf with it's gooey mess inside. They were stored that way because there was no way for the jelly to come out if the hopper wasn't in the machine.The night I came in with the hickey, the door bell rang non-stop, water kept appearing on the floor, and several times the racks got knocked off the storage rack. Then, as if I wasn't frustrated enough, I walked into the kitchen and discovered that ALL of the hoppers had emptied themselves onto the counter. All of them. There entire contents were all over the counter and the floor.
 
I got pissed and screamed at Stanley, taking off the ring I had been wearing and slamming it onto the desk. It disappeared while I scraped and cleaned and mopped the incredibly sticky mess left on the counter and floor. I could hear racks and trays crashing to the floor of the bake room and the non-stop ringing of the door bell. I finally snapped. I could take no more. The hours and stress were taking their toll. I wasn't sleeping and I wasn't eating. Being romantically stalked by a poltergeist with jealousy issues was the last straw. I called my regional manager and gave notice that night.
 
I quit managing the donut shop a couple of weeks later and three or four days after I left the incidents stopped happening. 

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful story - I enjoyed the level of detail because when I was in high school I worked at Dunkin Donuts. I worked the counter and finished the donuts. I remember the frosting technique and the 5 gallon buckets of bavarian creme (my favorite). I'd fill the hoppers and hit 99 on the keypad, to watch the donuts explode. I had a group of elderly regulars who came in at 10 am and ordered coffee and old fashioned donuts - they never went for raised or any other type. Each of them would leave me a quarter as a tip, so nice. Alas, we had no ghosts, I was in my gothic phase and would have loved that (I worked the day shift!). I wrote angsty poetry on the pink donut baking sheets. I would bring home leftover eclairs and feed them to the mares at the Arabian farm. Our bathroom did not lock, and it was there I learned how sick some men are in bathrooms. The 2 bakers taught me what verbal sexual harrassment in the workplace was: ( When I worked there a dozen donuts cost 3.50$. Here in Germany a dozen Dunkin Donuts is 11.99E (15$).

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  2. That is a profound experience and interesting to me because it is about another reality. I am always looking for proof that there is another dimension. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Oh I sure hope that's a true story! I'm a firm believer - we just sold our mountain house that had lots of activity in it and everyone that stayed there with us was exposed to it. They were especially active when my kids were younger and I thought whoever it was, was young. They did kid like things but, also some major things too. My dogs didn't react most of the time but one dog would sit in the doorway of a room and watch down the hallway into the bathroom up at the ceiling.

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  4. Karen Burch, lusted after by those on this side and the other side of death. lol

    I think this story is one of my favorites you've written about. Oh Stanley, I wonder what you're doing now?

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