Monday, December 27, 2010

Groundhog Day

"These hash browns are terrible! Every time I come here I get terrible hash browns!"

"Why do you order them if you don't like them?"

"Because I like hash browns!"

"But you don't like our hash browns."

"No, I don't! Take them back! I want new ones!"

"They'll be the same as the others."

"I know that! This restaurant has always had terrible hash browns!"

Old Friends

In the last week, I got back in touch with a couple of old friends from my waiter days. I wrote about one of them here last night, Jo, and then deleted the post this morning, deciding it was a little too personal (not about me - about her) but I still want to acknowledge our friendship. We worked together during a time when so many of our friends were getting sick and dying with the AIDS virus - she as a cook and I as a waiter. There are so few people left from that time to remember it. At least two of the guys we went out the first night we met for drinks after work are gone now, and probably more, but I didn't stay in touch with all of them. It's so reassuring to have Jo to talk with today, like a found a missing piece of myself.

We've stayed in touch off and on, sometimes going two or three years between phone calls, and through living in a combined seven different states, and over 23 years. Neither one of us is in the food and beverage business any more, and our friendship never did need that as an anchor. It's fun to have the memories of working together, but that was really just the way we met, and today it encompasses such a brief part of our history. I used to work with a gal that would say when she got off break, "Back to the battlefield!" and there's some truth to that. It's good to have friends who've been through that experience with you, but even better to know you would have been friends no matter where or when you met.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Room at the Inn

When I tended bar in a hotel, I always had to work on Christmas. Hotels, of course, do not close on the holidays. They become large boxes of lonely people with no place to go except the hotel bar, hotel restaurant, or their own room. Every place else is closed on Christmas; sooner or later, they usually all wind up in the bar.

There is something sadistic about filling a hotel bar with Christmas decorations - reminding the customers of their isolation - by fate or design - from their families. It's like showing pictures of food to hungry children. Then you add alcohol to their misery and everything gets so much better. I think the decorations are nice enough in the two or three weeks preceding, but they might just as well be toned down a little out of respect on the Big Day.

One hotel I worked at tried to make me wear an elf hat on Christmas. I said, "I did not spend this much time doing my hair just to have it flattened out with a children's costume. No thank-you."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Elves Have Feelings, Too

"Nobody's perfect. The only one that ever was was crucified."

- Loretta Lynn

I'm still here. I'm not dead. I'm just not here here.

My computer was dying, so I had to send it in to the manufacturer for repairs (it was under warranty) and in a stroke of genius I managed to lose all of the notes I made for my blog by either not copying them onto a disc, leaving the disc in the PC when I sent it in, or just losing the disc after I made it. Anyway, that leaves me wondering what stories I have left to tell, and which ones I've told already - knowing I'm gonna have to make notes from what I've already posted unless I wanna be like someone's granny, telling the same story over and over. Also, I just found the part of blogger that shows comments "waiting to be approved" so I was late getting a couple of them up. I was touched to hear from Fuck My Table - it's nice to be missed. There was a comment I didn't post, and it actually got me to go back and edit an entry so someone couldn't be identified. I don't want this blog to hurt anyone, so I'll work harder at disguising the guilty parties!

It's Christmas eve, and I just got back from candlelight service. I'm back to singing with the choir - hoping I'm not singing badly. Sometimes I do still miss waiting tables, but I know there were many years when I couldn't go to candlelight services because I was working, and I sure wouldn't have been able to commit to singing with any group regularly. One year, not only did I have to work parties on Christmas eve, but at the last moment - just when I thought I was going home - the hotel I worked for told me that one of the regulars from Saturday Night Live was in town for a show and NBC would like to throw a party for him and his guests in a suite upstairs, so I would need to stay. Midnight on Christmas eve, and about 3 hours' notice.

I stayed (it was either that or lose my job) and set up the hors-d'oeuvre and host bar, and the "star" showed up for less than a minute - treated me like a bad smell coming from the neighbor's house - and virtually ignored all of the people who had shown up to meet him. Good news is the party died early, but it sucked to be regarded as so inconsequential. Maybe NBC hadn't checked with their "star" and he was feeling just as manipulated as I was, but at least I stayed and did my job. I didn't need anyone to be nice to me; just don't be rude, waste my time, and dump your guests on me.

Most of my Christmas memories of waiting tables are from banquets when I worked 105-115 hour weeks with only snatches of time between shifts. There were always a lot of splits crammed into about eighteen days of pure bedlam. My legs would cramp, my knee would give out and I'd have to wrap it, and I'd eat the same holiday buffet food for several days running. I still gag just thinking of leftover well done prime rib. Once it has sat under the carving lamp for two hours and another two hours in the warmer, it's not so appealing, but it was better than the chopped weenies and hair in the employee cafeteria.

We had several groups that came back year after year for their Christmas parties. Some of those folks were as dear as family to me, and I miss them. I kept in touch for a while after I left Colorado and I have remembrances like a crocheted book mark, a coffee cup with my name on it, and a statue about 18 inches tall of a waiter with a tray that one of my groups carved the words, 'To Guy. Best Waiter in Denver" in the base of. They'd have extra cash for me for waiting on them all year and it was fun to see them having a meeting that was more of a party than business.

On the other side of it, there were some groups, both familiar and not, where the parties were sponsored by employers who intimidated their subordinates into attending. Nobody would drink until the boss drank, everybody drank exactly the same thing that the boss drank, and everyone was afraid to leave until the boss left. One older couple with several restaurants would "spontaneously" entertain their "guests" (prisoner employees) with a hokey song and comedy routine till after Midnight. Every year someone would be assigned to talk them into singing, and then they wouldn't stop. If they did stop, it was someone else's "job" to talk them into singing more. On and on it would go. It was painful. We'd see people arriving for the party with all the enthusiasm of children waiting to be inoculated for German measles.

Not that the hotel's own Holiday Party was much better, but at least there were always a few people in food and beverage who didn't care if they got fired for drinking too much and since the chef was making food for people he was gonna see every day - including his boss - it was pretty good. I still had to help set up the party, but usually they got management to wait on us. Sometimes, we'd work it and they paid us extra. One year we hired temps. We never did that again.

I always worked especially hard at Christmas, and under particularly trying circumstances. When I was a banquet captain, the sales staff would book more parties than we had silverware and china to accommodate, and when I was a bartender, there were a greater number of emotional basket cases dousing the flames of their own personal Hell with booze to keep watch over and know just when to help them to the broken crackers and sweating cheese on the buffet table. Among the staff, we didn't hold anything back and there were plenty of awful words exchanged under pressure, but out on the floor we made "Christmas" happen for the strangers paying for the experience. Those memories are bittersweet.

I'm reading a book right now called "The Managed Heart" that discusses the disconnect that happens/has to happen when people are paid to exhibit feelings they don't actually feel. Waiters have to look like they enjoy their jobs, are happy, eager, thankful, excited, concerned, remorseful .... anything but genuine in most cases. The customers sometimes even know that the face on the outside doesn't match the person inside, and may even challenge how well you've performed this ruse. They don't care that you are irritated with them, but they certainly care whether it shows. "Never let 'em see you sweat" is what is expected of you as a waiter, but it's probably the worst thing you can do in personal relationships. I don't miss being all the people I needed to be in order to be a waiter. I'm still working at discovering the person I really am underneath all those years of pretending.

I hope I start writing again, and that there's someone left reading. Thanks to all of you who have been so encouraging. Now that I've figured out where the comments are going, I'll be better about getting them posted. Merry Christmas!