More memories triggered by video of Charlie's cafe in the 1999 Googleplex. These anecdotes didn't make the final edit of the book, though plenty of other Charlie stories did.
When the weather turned nice I’d join the race to the café’s patio, where wooden benches and picnic tables were crowded in as tightly as possible to accommodate the demand for space in the sun. I’d settle onto a rickety seat, squint into the light, and work at downloading a natural glow to upgrade my fluorescent tan. A small waterway wound around the deck and provided refuge for a family of ducks who grew fat on scraps tossed their way. When they disappeared, there were rumors. I scanned the menu for canard a l’Orange for two weeks until the ducks reappeared. It wasn’t unreasonable to suspect Charlie of fowl play, given his fetish for local ingredients and unorthodox procurement methods.
I became as accustomed to meat substitutes seitan (wheat gluten) and tempeh (pressed-tofu) as I did the constant wailing of the Dead blaring from speakers in the kitchen. I also learned to live without ketchup. Charlie wouldn’t serve commercial brands, but eventually he had an assistant chef make it from scratch. He fought bitter email battles over the benefits of organic vegetables and the evils of their nutrition-free agribusiness counterparts.
“Well, I for one * like * iceberg lettuce,” a staffer told Charlie once, perhaps as part of a bet to see if Charlie’s brain could be made to explode.
“Iceberg lettuce is to food as polyester is to pants,” Charlie shot back, “and they’re equally nutritious.”
Still, his antagonist foolishly refused to recant her love of sallow green produce. When she walked into her cubicle the next morning, it was adorned with a dozen heads, each with a kitchen knife or a pair of scissors or a ball point pen protruding from it in a grisly display reminiscent of the horse-in-a-bed scene from “The Godfather.” Charlie had broken his own rule and bought iceberg lettuce, just for her.
In n’ Out Burger proved too much of a temptation for some Googlers. They’d sneak out for fast food before lunch and show up afterward in the café for dessert. Charlie always noticed if they did. He expected us to be at lunch and he took it personally if we weren’t.
“Is that a burger I smell on your breath?” he’d ask. “Don’t expect me to cater your funeral when your arteries give out.”
Charlie also had strict rules about servings. Engineer Chad Lester was famous for the prodigious quantity of calories he could tuck into his corn-fed Midwestern frame. He was the perfect eating machine – an avid bicyclist who burned off everything he ate and ate everything he could. But nothing stoked his furnace like meat. Charlie appreciated Chad’s appetite while keeping a wary eye on him as he pushed his tray past the entrees.
“One per customer,” he’d admonish with a low growl as Chad reached for the filet mignon. Leftovers didn’t exist in ChadWorld, but sometimes a Googler just couldn’t finish a chunk of expensive meat. I knew to hide uneaten bits under my napkin, because when he was done serving, Charlie hovered around the garbage bins to see what was hot and what was not.
“What,” he would snort at blatant wasters. “You didn’t like the veal? Don’t take so much next time.” The flip side was that when Charlie overestimated, he would aggressively market the leftovers.
Sometimes he’d show up at our desks mid-afternoon with cookies that had gone unconsumed or smoothies he’d made from leftover fruit. I only avoided gaining twenty pounds by limiting myself to one plate of food -- piled as high as a fourth grader’s papier mache volcano.