Sunday, October 24, 2010


When I was a banquet captain, most of the on-call people I hired were waiters and waitresses I knew from working in other hotels and restaurants. Monica was one of these. We met in our early 20s working in a pancake house. I waited on her and her mother when she came in to fill out an application, and we are still friends almost 30 years later. By the time Monica was filling in for me on the banquet staff, she had a full-time office job, so we didn't work together much. She was a great waitress, though she's actually a little shy. That quiet nature made what was likely one of the most embarrassing moments of her waitress years even more hilarious the night we were clearing tables during a wedding reception at the point of transition from "Dinner" to "Dance" and Monica unplugged the DJ. She thought she was unplugging the hot plates that we used for coffee service. There were people on the dance floor, music, and flashing colored lights when suddenly everything went dark and quiet. We heard, "Oh my gosh!" and in about 10 seconds the lights came back on again, with Monica, beet red, and huddled next to the electrical outlet. We loved to tease her afterwards about "that time you unplugged those people's wedding."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wedding Gaiety

I've cut some pretty fantastic cakes in my years of working banquets. The quinceaneras were probably the most elaborate ones, with fountains and trellises, and often 15 separate layers. Wedding cakes were usually four tiers with a groom's cake on the side. I never worked for a hotel that offered formal cakes, so they were always set up by third parties, with varying results. Sometimes, it would strike terror in your heart just to walk past the cake table, when it was visibly tilting or rocking with the slightest movement. There were other issues to contend with as well, like under-baked cakes that began to slide or sink as they thawed, or cakes delivered by people who didn't know how to set them up.

Until I started cutting cakes, I never realized how many different ways there are to construct one. I've seen forms made from plywood and bolts and huge ceramic bases, to Styrofoam and plastic. Very large cakes also usually have several wooden dowels in them that (hopefully) the guests never know about. As unnerving as it could be to even approach some of the towers of cake at these events - let alone take them apart and cut them - it was one of my favorite parts of the job. The cutting of the cake is one of the most important ceremonies and I liked having that responsibility. I wish now I'd taken pictures of some of them.

The worst cake story I know of isn't (thank God) my own. I knew a waiter who knocked the top of a wedding cake onto the bride's lap. I never worked an event where the cake was set up at the head table, but I know that, depending on the bride, the bride's mother and the caterer, a cake is liable to be set up just about anyplace if the banquet manager or banquet captain aren't around to guide things. I did work for another captain at an event where the cake fell, and the hotel ended up paying for it (which meant we gave up part of our gratuity with it). When I became captain, I didn't take any chances. I stuffed wedges of cardboard under layers, and propped up sagging frosting with floral arrangements ... whatever I could do to make that cake live till the cutting.

I enjoyed the responsibility, but it's ironic that I spent so much of my life making everything just right for straight couples at their wedding receptions, considering it's not even legal for me to get married. I wonder if any of the couples think about that double standard when they're meeting with their dress designer, florist, hair stylist, wedding planner, baker, photographer, caterer or waiters, when likely several of those professionals are gay? A while back, I wrote a little piece about "The Gays" and their usefulness. I posted it to Facebook a few months later, and I'm reviving it again, here. I hope you like it.

There are so many ways that having a gay friend can validate your straight life-style, not to mention support it. How many times in my day do I perform simple little gay things that nobody is even aware of? There must be millions of them . . .

The Gays contribute so much more than just that lively piece of window dressing that you can take to the bathroom with you because he's "just one of the girls." And If The Gays didn't get to do all of the things that they are so good at, it would be the end of weddings for straight people (At least weddings that anyone wanted to go to.) Think about it: wedding planner, cake, flowers, dress, hair and makeup, decorations, catered food, wait staff, and best man (who is just a little too close to the groom for the bride's comfort) would all go out the window. A justice of the peace and a quick pass by a Wendy's drive-thru would be about all you'd get.

And it's not just weddings. The Gays practically invented Bette Midler and she is the Number One Choice for recorded music at funerals. Think about it: "The Rose?" Nope. "Wind Beneath My Wings?" Probably not. The original Gary Morris version doesn't have any of those "fly, fly fly" things at the end. Funerals would be over in 10 minutes leaving the bereaved alone in a room full of tuna noodle casserole and bundt cake wondering why the Irish Tenor didn't show up for the wake.

So what if you have a gay friend? What do you do now? Is he going to make you all gay-like and expect you to talk gay-talk? Will he make fun of your shoes? Will he go shopping with you and help you decide if that episode of Law and Order that has a gay person in it is just as The Gays see it, live it and breathe it every day? Is he gay enough? Too gay? Can you take him anywhere and "no one would ever know?"

Well, there isn't just one brand, girlfriend. You've got to pick The Gay that is right for you. And make sure he's not planning on running off to Massachusetts or anything political. Remember that this is about what The Gays contribute to mainstream society... not the other way around. They are the minority. One of the beautiful things about a democracy is that 90% of the population can vote to dictate the rights, social mores, intimate expressions and living arrangements of the other 10% of the population and there's not a damned thing they can do about it.

Or is there?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Satan, Party of 30

This morning, as I was getting ready for church, I remembered when one of those huge stadium churches started up in Denver and the effect it had on both the clientele and the staff. The church was pretty close to the pancake house I was working in at the time, so we started getting a lot of waitresses who worshiped there. It was one of those Charismatic churches with radio and TV ministries, and the new girls were full of "Praise Jesus!" for everything, from their sales incentive points for selling desserts and side orders, to any tips they received. They were a close-knit group, and mostly they were nice, if a little self-righteous. The tough part was when the church members would come in for supper after evening service. There would be about 30 of them - sometimes more - and I don't remember them calling ahead. Usually we only had one person to wait on them with separate checks and the tips were horrible. Some of the customers left tracts in place of tips that said things like, "I gave to the Lord today in your name" or "Thank-you for your service - I'll share your tip with the Lord." It was really frustrating.

I've been glad to notice that, when I've gone out to brunch with members of my own church, they are very healthy tippers. A dream to wait on. I just don't think I could be a member of any organization that treated waiters like the folks did from that place back in Denver. (I was gonna say the name of it, but there's no point in hurting anyone's feelings.)