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!!

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.