Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I put on my Salvation Army tuxedo: a XXXL shirt on my S frame, jacket with burned lapels from carrying hot metal trays, pants that stopped at my ankles, and shoes whose soles slapped with each step. If we were lucky, the only thing that would go wrong was some vomit on the dance floor or a couple having sex in the bathroom.
We always walked in together: Mark, Leon, Nikko, Alan, and me. We’d walk past the cooks mostly trading nods with the non-native speakers, passing Greg who mumbled curses under his breath, above the cigarette hanging from his mouth ashing into the pasta with vodka sauce. Damn shame too, it was consistently the best course of the party.
“What’s up, Greg?”
“Fuck this place.” He mumbled, looking directly into my eyes.
Unlike Greg, the other cooks seemed to somewhat enjoy what they did; or at least tolerated it. Before parties they’d pump Spanish music from a beat up stereo, make fun of each other, and generally not give a shit about Greg’s constant berating.
The place was barely kept up with. Richard, The owner, was once a professional football player; even got himself a ring out of the deal and now tried his hand at management. When he was in the building, he was watching football in one of the ballrooms on a projection screen; we’d have to set up the tables around him. Once he decided to watch a post-season game in the ballroom while a baby shower was celebrated in the next room. Between joyful laughter from a mother-to-be, we heard the roars from thousands of fans and curses from Richard. Confused, the mother-to-be opened the glass door to the grand ballroom and found Richard propped in one chair, legs in another, and remote in hand. They probably got a refund.
The place itself was no better. Puddles of water and oil were all over the kitchen. None of us wore slip proof shoes, so we usually skated across the floor for a fish on the fly. The freezer smelled like cigarettes; either Greg or Sue, a constantly nervous and horny head waiter, was taking a break or hiding in there. The wait staff rarely smoked in there; the freezer was strictly for taking shots. The stairs were on an angle, the bannister was propped up by a single nail.
“Hey dudes, how are you guys?” Barb was always happier before the party started. Around the end of cocktail hour, the curses started flying.
“Good, how are you?”
“I’m alright. Ran 10 miles this morning, but my time was slow. I gotta get back in shape, got’tuh marathon in a few months.” She looked like a runner, all legs.
“Jesus! 10 miles? I don’t walk that in a week!” It was probably true.
Behind us, Lukas walked in swimming in his tuxedo and oversized shoes. Barb looked beyond us and immediately laughed hard.
“Holy shit, Lukas! What’tuh ya wearing?” She was bent over laughing. “Holy shit! Look at those shoes! They’re fuckin’ canoes, dude!” She grabbed Leon’s shoulder to keep herself from falling over hysterically.
“Fuckin’ canoes!” She lifted her long legs in the air, mimicking Lukas’s awkward steps.
“Should I go home?” He was embarrassed.
“No, dude! Just make sure ya get some shoes that fuckin’ fit!” She laughed hard as she walked away, stopping once to stomp her feet before heading to her office.
“Man, fuck her.” Lukas was upset.
“Don’t think about it man. She does it to everybody.” Mark tried calming him down.
“Yeah man, on my first day she told me I looked homeless!” I shrugged, “What’re ya gonna do?”
“Hey. HEY. Shouldn’t you guys be doing fucking something?” Greg fired at us. The rest of the cooks glanced at us, shrugged, and then went back to prepping food. We walked out of the kitchen, into the ballroom, and began quickly pulling bits of lettuce from silverware and stemware before placing them to the sides or above plates; some washed, some rubbed with a dirty rag and hopefully unnoticed in dim lighting. The sooner we finished preparing the ballroom, the sooner we could go outside for a cigarette.