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!!

PROJECTILE CHILI

November 17th, 1990 - a day that will live in infamy. Unbelievable! I have never seen it happen before or since…I’m talking about ‘The Projectile Chili Incident’. Before I started catering, I worked at a few restaurants. There was one, in particular, that was really horrible. The Great American Health Bar on West 57th Street in New York. Now, at this place, I literally make NO money. I’m not kidding. I was living at my parent’s house in New Jersey and was commuting to The Great American everyday. Curiously, there were no actual Americans working there. I worked upstairs for the lunch shift - the absolute worst station. I would serve MAYBE three or four customers in the one hour that it was minorly busy - and then I would go back home! So, actually, I was just paying for my bus fare to go back and forth! (don’t judge me, my mind had snapped shortly before that). Anyway, there is this diminutive and ancient cashier/manager there named Joseph, who would make it his life’s work to torment me as much as humanly possible. This guy speaks NO English - and was probably herding yak on some distant mountain in Kazakhastan - just a few months ago. Before he struck oil, or something - like Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies. Now, he’s the manager/cashier at The Great American Health Bar in New York City. In any case, there’s this one Wednesday ( Wednesday was the big Broadway matinee day) and in an IMPROBABLE and highly unlikely chain of events, I think, like, three people call out sick, I, somehow inherit the busiest station - THE PLATFORM!

Everybody stampedes in at EXACTLY the same time, because they have to hurry to see The Phantom Of The Opera, or whatever is big on Broadway back then. They are all clamoring for their food, lest they be late for THE BIG SHOW, and I am scurrying like a rodent, trying to keep up with the orders. I burst out of the kitchen with, like five plates on my arms, in an effort to appease the savage beasts, and put down one of the plates - a plate of chili - on the railing of the platform. I turn around to serve out the other plates - when SUDDENLY -

I hear a chorus of tormented screams of agony!! Somehow, the chili - the scolding hot chili - had crashed to the floor and splatters EVERYBODY on the platform! EVERYBODY, incredibly enough! I mean, it could have qualified for a national disaster. One poor lady was standing up, shaking her hands and crying, in a state of shock. Bizarrely enough - it had hit her in every possible place! On top of her head - all over her white pantyhose - even inside her shoes! Another gentleman just stares - in a state of grief - as the chili has somehow permeated his very expensive London Fog trenchcoat! Others just sit in stunned silence - some crying - some suffering burns from the errant chili. A horrific scene - if there ever was one! One by one, they soon come back to life, and begin to roar for redemption - at least in the form of compensation for their dry cleaning!

The roars grow louder -the crowd becoming increasingly hostile - and Joseph, speaking NO English, fearing for his very life, and thoroughly befuddled - points at me and shouts:

“Jo-Jo pays!’

What?! Me?! But I don’t even make any money here! How can I pay for all this -there must be at least $2,000 worth of dry cleaning bills here! I would have to work for years for free -I would be an indentured servant. The next morning, I call up the restaurant and claim that I have mysteriously broken my leg overnight. I never work for The Great American again.

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.