THE HORRIFIC CATERING EVENT

TRAPPED!! For as long as I can remember - I’ve always had this feeling!! Suffocated. Smothered. And this condition seems to be particularly exacerbated when I work a catering event. There are several people, however, who by the sheer nature of their own manic energy, trigger the madness inside me! Chris Hiljak was one of those people.

Horrifyingly enough, we are bartending together - on the same bar - paired together! A GRAVE mistake by the captain that night….extremely grave! In any case, we are doing this event at The Museum Of Moving Images, in Astoria, for the coolest company I had worked for up to this point - Jaded Waiters. We’re working the bar - and we are getting HAMMERED, man. On the specialty cocktail of the night. Vodka infused with peach herbal tea, or something of that nature. Not long after - we are out of control! Insane. Cracking up at EVERYTHING. In the zone.

“Man - I just wanna go fuckin’ wild, man!! Like, go down to the fuckin’ Amazon jungle with a freakin’ bone in my nose, or something, and just, like, shoot poison darts at white people from a tree!”

“UUUMMMMBBBBAAAGGGGAAAA! UUUUUMMMMBBBBAAAAAGGGGAAA!!”

Suddenly, Hiljak grabs a straw from the bar, peels off the paper on it, rolls it in to a spitball - and shoots it into the crowd!! The PRESTIGIOUS crowd. Big museum donors!

'“UUUUUMMMMBBBBAAAAAGGGGAA! UUUUMMMMBBBBAAAAGGGGAAAA!!” He cries out in wild abandon. I quickly follow his lead, shouting the UUUMMMBBBAAAGGGAAA! mantra. Each hit is met with gales of laughter. I mean, this must go on for like five minutes. Seriously. Finally, Hiljak sets his sights on the HEAD client…

Gets ready…aims…FIRES!

At that very instant, the captain, Mark Goetz, strides into the room just in time to witness the ensuing horror. Poof! Now, everything seems to morph into this kind of bizarre slow motion…he sprints towards us …in his eyes a mixture of disbelief and desperation - the trajectory of the spitball heading directly towards the head client’s neck!

“NOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

It’s like that scene in the movie, The Bodyguard, when Kevin Costner dives to block the bullet headed towards Whitney Houston, while she’s onstage accepting the Oscar! The spitball finds the client’s neck, who, incredibly, doesn’t even suspect us! Everything returns to the real life pace.

Mark Goetz turns to us - all color drained from his face - incredulous that this could even have happened.

“WHAT in God’s name were you two even thinking?!!”

“They shot at us first!” Retorts Hiljak.

ANOTHER MIND SNAPS IN CATERING

He drops the fuckin’ salad right on the poor lady’s head, man. Miraculously, it just sits there - exactly like it was on the plate - except it’s on her head! Everybody just stops. The whole room goes dead - even the executives just stare in disbelief. Now, Bruce, ( the guy who did this) finds this hilarious! He’s cracking up, and without missing a beat, goes:

“Excuse me madam, but would you like some dressing with that salad?”

He then picks up the little vinaigrette container on the table - and pours it right on her head!

NO WAY! No way, man!

I mean, he is dying laughing now. The nervous wreck of a manager is now practically paralyzed with shock and embarrassment.

Everybody is aghast.

The manager FINALLY pulls him off the floor into the kitchen, holds him there, and calls security. They roughly escort him out of the building. Three huge security guards.

Whoa - now that is one grandiose mind-snap, man.

Now, before you think I’m just making up crazy stories, let me give you a little background, ok? We’re waiters for this hospitality temp agency which does a bunch of corporate dining luncheons and dinners for various companies. It definitely can be fairly uptight and humorless, no doubt.

So this guy, Bruce, works with us - and he’s a bit of a dick…actually he’s a full-time dick, to be honest. Mid 40’s - despises EVERYBODY. An actor who’s had some bit parts in TV shows, maybe a movie, a lot of extra work. Really bitter guy, y’ know? Hates his life, hates that he is still doing this food service stuff - especially with us younger people. Very condescending.

So, this one day, he comes to the gig drunk out of his head; so totally plastered he can hardly walk. Just sucking down breath mints - but we all know what the deal is anyway. It’s this big VIP corporate luncheon at one of the World Trade Center Towers ( this is in the early 90’s - way before 9/11), the resident manager is always a bundle of nerves, but today he is a sweaty mess. His facial tics are out of control - and Bruce comes prancing in wasted.

Seems his agent supposedly got him some big role in a movie in Hollywood, he’s leaving for LA tomorrow, and will never have to work with us mere peons again. That’s the setting for the first course sweep salad to the tables - with salad plates in both hands, inches from the table.

PLOP!

The ironic ending to this story is that I’m walking down a Midtown street about a month later - and who do I see but - Bruce? The thing is - he’s a fuckin’ Good Humor Ice Cream vendor now!

Hahahaha!

Obviously, he pissed off somebody in Hollywood, too.

What an asshole.

NOBODY GETS OUT OF CATERING ALIVE

Ok - to continue on last week’s theme - let’s proceed with an actual case study, ok? We learned last week about catering lifers - the unfortunate souls who realize that the only thing left to do - is to undergo training to be a catering captain. Yes. A catering captain. Of those who do survive this realization, it almost always means the bitter end - albeit with a pay increase. Minds snap with an alarming regularity at this juncture…that is what happened to Toby a while back. I saw it all unfold before my very eyes - and it was not pretty - I can tell you that.

Toby was one of these permanently bitter, large Baby Hughie type queens who was a main captain for one of the catering companies I worked for regularly. He, himself was one of those wide-eyed musical theater aspirants who arrived from Middle America with a pocketful of dreams - but that was 20 years ago. At this one event, for reasons unbeknownst to all, he had taken to wearing these fake plastic black framed glasses. With NO lenses. He reads aloud our assignments from the even sheet. This is the first sign of trouble.

Maybe an hour and a half later, when we have finished setting up for the event, I go up to ask him again what my table number was. He looked very perturbed.

“Oh, Montaperto, I can’t see anything!”

“Where are my damn glasses?”

He fishes about his jacket pocket, finally finding and putting on the said glasses.

‘Ok, Montaperto, you have table 34.”

These are the glasses with no lenses, mind you.

Uh oh.

A while later, we have finished dinner service, and my table wants to know what the desert alternative is. I come up to ask Toby what it is.

“I don’t know ‘nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies!”

“What?’ I ask again, puzzled.

I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies!” He exclaims again.

Mind snap!

Over!

i don’t see him again for another year and a half. True story.

Next week we will explore another case study of a waiter who went quite mad.

IT HAPPENS EVERY CATERING SEASON

Yup…about twice a year. That’s when whole new crop of ‘musical theater fairies’ invade ‘The Big City’. A busload of them - at least. Pouring in from all over the globe. Well, mostly from Ohio, for some reason. Fresh faced, spanking new 20 somethings come to New York for their shot at ‘fame and fortune’. Flush with hopeful dreams of starring in the next big Broadway musical! They come to the catering companies to pay the rent while they audition and ‘pay their dues.’

For the first few years, they remain perky, polite and full of energy - always hopeful that their persistence and talent will shine through. The bright lights and diversity of the big city leave them in awe, - causing them to exclaim things like -” I could never imagine living anywhere but New York!’ After all, they do come from Ohio.

The years pass. They begin to see their dreams fade away. Soon, they acquire the dull look of a trapped animal. At this point, they turn to alcohol - hitting the bottle with a fury. Others turn to heroin. Still others develop a deadly chewing tobacco habit. Another six months, a year pass by - and they have become raging alcoholics, heroin addicts, and…well…TOBACCO chewers. It all begins to snowball downhill - at last, they realize they have been in catering too long - they can’t do ANYTHING else! They’ve become catering lifers! Oh, the humanity…Next blog will feature actual case studies.