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.


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!”


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!


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.


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.


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!


Obviously, he pissed off somebody in Hollywood, too.

What an asshole.


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!


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.