THE LEGEND OF DUNCAN VALIANT

“No way!”

“Get outta here - even HE wouldn’t do that!!”

“Really?!”

It was true. Duncan Valiant had finally gone too far - and was summarily and exasperatedly dismissed from his catering job.

You see, Duncan Valiant was a legend in the catering industry…not for any monumental work ethic, like so many goody-goodies admired and gushed over. No, it was for his tremendous ability to drink enormous amounts of liquor - even to the point of falling to the floor in a drunken stupor - and yet, never getting fired! People were incredulous at his amazing feats of endurance, often pounding down full bottles of white wine in a single sustained gulp while standing behind a potted plant - during service! Then even tending to his table! It was truly an amazing act to witness.

He was also noted for bringing plastic bottles of Poland Spring water filled with nothing but vodka to the job - and finishing them before the night was even over. When he was later suspected of such treachery, he switched to Diet Coke and vodka. Then it evolved into Diet Coke and red wine - all concealed inside a reliable aluminum Diet Coke can. And this is to say nothing of the cleaning crew, many times finding 5 or more empty bottles of white wine in the men’s room stalls!

But alas, this latest endeavor proved to be his undoing - considered shocking even for a legend of his magnitude! He was discovered intoxicated making out with the event planner - in the LADIES room, of all places! When Hubert, the mercurial and punitive captain for the night’s event, made the discovery - there were gasps of horror! Other waiters were simply aghast at this outrageous act of defiance. When he was finally dismissed from his duties, there was a kind of emptiness, a somber buzz throughout the room.

But even legends die eventually.

A MOST UNFORTUNATE PAIRING

It was a bad pairing. A terrible pairing. In fact, it may have been the worst pairing in the history of catering.

The captain for the fateful event is Hiram Shalefsky - widely known in the catering industry as a very reasonable man. Some would even describe him as “fair but firm”.

But, alas, this was not to be his day.

Nothing in the day could have foreshadowed such a terrifying calamity. A picture perfect mid-June day, the charter bus taking us from the city to the event on Long Island arrives with plenty of time to spare, there were no MIA’s among the catering staff - a truly harmonious group ( and multi-ethnic at that!) if there ever were one - genuine comraderie here. Everybody that is - except two people.

The first omen of trouble, however, arrived in the form of horrendous weekend beachgoer traffic - rendering us almost two hours late for the event at CW Post! A flurry of desperate activity immediately followed, as miraculously, the band of waiters courageously banded together to somehow set up the entire room - 50 tables - just minutes before the start of the event!

Valiantly battling the ticking clock, Hiram Shalefsky nimbly made his way down the roster of waiters, mentally noting the particular strengths of each of the waiters he was pairing up for the 50 tables. Almost, that is, except for two tables. There were two names left - names which Hiram Shalefsky hoped to avoid. And they were the last two tables - 49 and 50 - the tables which were the absolute furthest from the kitchen for serve -out!

Oh no!

The names were - Jethro Fury - a blond, hulking good ole boy from deep in the heart of Alabama, known as much for his mercurial temper as for his love of possum hunting.

The other is Prince LeVonne - a muscular, extremely angry black militant, who everyone also thought was gay, except, oddly enough, himself.

There were only moments left before the commencement of the party - an alumni fundraiser for CW Post - a predominantly Catholic crowd whose main tenet was : God. Country. Family. It didn’t take long for the muttering, griping and fireworks between the two to begin. Then one of them dropped a plate on the floor - we didn’t know exactly which one - but this exchange immediately followed.

Jethro: “That’s it! Get this boy outta here! I’m doing all the work here!”

Prince: “Oh yeah, cracker? I’ll kick your mo’fucking ass all the way back to Appalachia, or wherever it is you rednecks come from!”

Jethro: “Boy, I’ll hunt your darkie ass down and shoot you like it’s coon season…”

And so it went…each trip back and forth to the kitchen a new adventure in hatred. Hiram Shalefsky tried to intervene, but, really, there was not much he could do. He had the whole weight of running the event as smoothly as possible fall on his shoulders.

Meanwhile, Gwendlyn LaFarge - the owner of our company sat in the kitchen knitting - a scene comparable to Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

It was a day that would go down in the annals of catering history.

LISTS

Lists are fuckin’ hilarious, man! I don’t know why exactly - but lists freak people out. I mean, fairly sane, logical people - or so you would think. In any case, when people find their names on a list, no matter how random or nonsensical - they often react in pretty strange ways.

I remember once, while working at Integral Yoga Natural Foods back in the 80’s - I introduced this completely random ‘nut list’. Hysterical results. It all started innocently enough. Me and my co-worker/friend were in the warehouse stacking up dried goods to bring around the corner to the store, and to pass the time, we start talking about who the ‘nuttiest’ people in the store were. It was just for laughs, you know? That was it.

Or so I thought.

So, a couple of nights later, we’re closing up the store, and somehow, the nut list comes up. As if it’s something very OFFICIAL. I’m enjoying people’s reactions to it, so I just randomly start assigning ‘numbers’ to people.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Ananda, you’re number one.’

“Hate to tell you this, Shiva, but you were number 2’’…and so on.

I’m very somber about the whole affair - and people just start going CRAZY, man! People storming off in a huff, others becoming depressed and despondent. The whole gamut of emotions. There is a spectacular uproar, in particular, when I inform the increasingly hostile crowd that, Fumilaya, this very regal African woman who worked the register, was exempt from the list - because she was ‘well dressed’.

“What?! Because she is well dressed?! What the -”

It’s like a mob mentality now - even thought none of this MAKES any sense. When I blame the whole thing on Rob, my coworker, who actually knows nothing of this ‘list’, the crowd becomes even more bloodthirsty and defiant - galvanizing to flood the streets, wanting to string Rob up in an act of vengeance.

Now, fast forward to 1998, at a particularly monotonous catering job somewhere in upstate New York. I’m even more bored and numb than usual, so during dinner serve out, I start somberly going up to random waiters, and informing them:

“You’re on the list.”

Their faces drop, but we can’t talk anymore until dinner serve out is finished. Immediately afterward, a group of them gather around me - fear in their eyes and hearts.

“What list?”

“Waiters who love catering too much.” I reply.

“What?! I don’t love catering!! What do you mean?!”

“I HATE catering! Where is this list?!”

Again - an outraged uproar. As if there actually is an ‘OFFICIAL list.’

Hahahahahha.

Finally, I inform Sarah, ( this rather nutty girl who probably really does love catering) that, much to my dismay, she is #1 on ‘the list.’

“What?! Why should I be number 1 on the list?! James loves catering much more than I do!! This is SO distressing!!”

“I’m sorry, Sarah, I didn’t create the list - I’m only the messenger…”

No matter. She is BESIDE herself with anger and resentment. She was never very fond of me in the first place, but now she can’t even LOOK at me.

The most hilarious aspect of this whole debacle, though? It’s when the two buses that brought us up from the city, pull up to bring us back. Within minutes, however, our bus breaks down - and we have to wait for the other bus to rescue us. As fate, or horrifying coincidence, would have it, the only seat left on the bus for me is right next to - Sarah. Thoroughly inebriated at this point, I then proceed to fall asleep on her shoulder!! Her face is a mask of incredulity and torment - and there my head lays for the entirety of the trip back home!

I kid you not!

RESTAURANT MANAGERS WHO HAVE TORMENTED ME

Joseph. In an industry where it might be a law that there must be at least ONE asshole manager per restaurant - Joseph is the one who irritated me the most. If we harken back to yesteryear - or my last blog about two weeks ago - entitled - The Projectile Chili Incident - I shall further expound on the Satan-like existence of Joseph, cashier/manager at The Great American Health Bar.

Joseph was the ancient, diminutive immigrant from, like, the distant mountains of Kazakhastan, or someplace like that, who was herding yak only a short while before he came to New York. My suspicion is that he somehow struck oil while shooting for food, a la Jed Clampett of The Beverley Hillbillies, loaded up the truck and moved to New York City.

First of all, Joseph was barely five feet tall - TOPS - and had only one suit - a monstrously oversized blue pinstripe deal that he probably grabbed off the rack somewhere in The Garment District, without even trying it on. And he wore it EVERYDAY.

The only apparent joy in his life was counting the money in the register OVER and OVER again - particularly the coins. The expression on his face registered one of true bliss. He had this sinister laugh, which reminded me of the dog, Mutley, from the Saturday morning cartoon, Dick Dastardly. You just KNOW that he had this, like, secret dungeon room in the bowels of his house in some obscure part of Queens, where he descended the stonewall steps with an oil lantern, and pushed a button where the bookshelf turned around - and there - was his ancient room. A damp, dark room where he had converted all his wealth into gold coins, kept in metal boxes. There he counted the coins, deep into the night, over and over again with an abacus, while wearing a monocle - even though he knew EXACTLY how much he had.

The only other time I saw him THAT ecstatic was when he was throwing me under the bus - usually trying to make me pay for broken plates and cups, and directing the scant flow of customers to any station OTHER than mine. That Mutley snicker at the obvious torment on my face gave him great joy!

There MUST be a way to get back at him, I plotted in my fevered mind (this was right in the middle of my first mind-snap in 1990). Then - THERE it was! Right in front of my nose! AHA! He would always wear these ‘dress shoes’ with the the hideous pinstriped suit every day when he came to The Great American, but would almost immediately switch to a pair of more ‘comfortable’ shoes to stand behind the register all day. I observed that he would leave the said shoes n the back closet. HERE was my chance!! I would then place eggs in each of his shoes, snickering to myself, as I left the restaurant after my shift. The next day, I would often hear from the other waiters how a perplexed Joseph would grumble that somebody had put eggs in his shoes - and it had ruined his socks!! I must have done this for a week or so, until he finally would look into his shoes before putting them on. HAHAHAHAHA!! That was my greatest joy!!