John was another maitre d’, but unlike Barb, was pretty calm and collected. If things got messy during the party, John would retreat to his car until everything settled. Usually one of the wait staff would have to handle the fallout during his temporary absence. Since the building was barely standing, John found himself in his car often.
Malachi, a newer waiter, came outside while Mark, Nikko, Alan, and I smoked. Leon, a non-smoker, sat and talked with us during our break.
“Yo, John says to come in for the meeting.”
“Fuck that.” We laughed, put out our butts, and headed inside.
All of the wait staff were already inside, waiting for us to start. This was nothing new; we were always the last to the meeting, the last into work. At a party held in the backyard of some mansion we showed up about 2 hours late. Julian, the off-premise manager, took to angrily serving hors d’oeuvres to guests until we got there. The cooks were scrambling around but it was one of the only times I had seen Greg in happier moods.
“Fuckin’ Julian’s on the warpath! Hahah! Fuck him!”
Since then, we’d been given earlier times to show up at parties, a ploy to actually get us there on time. Didn’t work.
“Thanks for joining us.” John looked at us over his glasses.
“Ok. So tonight we have a wedding. Cocktail hour from 5 to 6, ballroom from 6 to 10. Please, PLEASE guys, don’t make half circles in the room to talk or dance against the walls.” He looked at Leon and Nikko. A few weeks ago they were caught dancing during a party at the Hillshire hotel, the hotel’s manager was less than happy. When he pulled them into a different room to yell, he became even angrier when they started laughing at his face turning red. He was furious when he found out we were their ride home and they had to stay in the kitchen until the end of the party. They’ve since been banned from working there.
“I don’t know why we’re not getting this, it’s the same thing every party.” John rubbed his temples and forehead with thumb and index finger. “Guys, refill water. Replace dirty silverware. Make sure everybody is served. This is really easy guys. Why …” He cut himself off.
That was the usual limit to John’s frustration, venting and passive aggression that stopped just before he flipped; something I had only seen once. Some bar ‘mitzvah, don’t really remember what happened, but John took a tray of dessert silverware and tossed it across the room. Threw some plastic buckets than snuck away to his car.
“For cocktail hour: Nikko and Alan are on Peking duck station.”
Mark and I looked at them and laughed.
“Again? Just cause we’re Asian doesn’t mean we have to work the Asian station!”
John smiled. “Leon, you’re on carving station. Mel…” He fumbled with Malachi’s name, “Mel-ah-chee?”
I lost it. “MELAHCHEE! Hahaha! Holy shit!”
I was still laughing while John’s face turned a similar shade of red as the Hillshire’s manager. “Sorry. Malachi. You’re on chafing dishes with Yasmin. Yasmin just help him out, he’s still new, thanks.”
“Joness, Steph, Rich, Juan, and Will will pass. DO NOT eat the hors d’oeuvres. They are for the guests.”
John lifted his eyes from the copy paper and looked to Leon, “You’re on pasta.” Leon shrugged, “Ok.”
“Mark, Anthony, and I will be on pick up and refill. Guys,” John looked at Mark and I, “please don’t get lost during cocktail hour.”
“Later on there will be Viennese tables, so I’m going to need one person from each team to help out. Whoever stays on the tables, please make sure everybody gets coffee or tea. Guys, please keep up after your tables. Please make sure the guests are happy.”
It sounded more like a prayer to god than the pleas of a maitre’d.
“We’ll get cold food in about 10 minutes. Food’s out, go eat quick. Thanks guys.”
We got up and headed to the kitchen, left the chairs untucked, plates and silverware misaligned from elbows on tables.
“YES! IHOP!” I took a styrofoam plate and plastic utensils.
“They got us IHOP?” Malachi, so new.
“Yeah man! It’s so good!” It wasn’t. We were given microwaved pancakes and powdered eggs. We didn’t really mind, most of us ate it, but it did taste like shit. Without ketchup and huge amounts of syrup, it was inedible.
“Clean this shit up when you’re done!” Greg tossed a cloth on the counter, ashed his cigarette on the floor, and headed to the downstairs kitchen to check on the food for cocktail hour.
We sat outside, eating and joking. John sat in his car, meditating before the party even began. Every week something happened, it was just a matter of what, when. Just deal with it when it comes. 15 minutes later we started placing trays of cheese, fruits, and vegetables around the cocktail hour room, picking from them as we went. Once the party started, there wasn’t much time to eat anything; either somebody fell down on the dance floor, or a person in a wheelchair had to be carried up steps because the building wasn’t upgraded to accommodate special needs, or a fight broke out near the bar, or the sky was falling, or whatever. Cocktail hour was about to start, everybody took their places. Mark and I walked to the bar, took a shot of tequila, and prepared for the shit storm.