Cocktail hour wasn’t usually the hardest part of the party; it was too early for drunken emotional tirades or for anything to really go wrong. With only one cocktail room downstairs, the only problem we ever really came across were high heels slipping on tiled floor or sauce on dresses.
In the downstairs kitchen, Mike pulled franks in a blanket, baked brie, and scallops wrapped in bacon out from the oven, placed them on separate trays, and touched each pig with mustard, each brie with raspberry sauce, and each scallop with a toothpick. Greg squeezed behind him, silently took trays under his arm, and headed back upstairs. Every chef I’ve met is some type of asshole, but Mike was so much different from Greg. Mike enjoyed being a chef, just not for a catering hall. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America drugged out and typically over a random woman. He could be a complete ass, at his worst making you feel like complete shit about yourself, but at his best a pretty relaxed guy that liked to drink; just a dude with a family trying to do what he loved.
“Yo, James, you passing?” I chewed furiously on a piece of brie before turning around to face him. Donna, a part time chef for the place, insisted I looked like a movie star. She started calling me “Movie Star” and Mike called me “James [Dean]”. I didn’t like either nickname but whatever.
“Na, pick up and refill.” Just 5 minutes into the party and sweat was already making its way down Mike’s nose.
“Where the fuck’re all the passers? Bunch’a new idiots?”
“Yeah, pretty much all new.”
“Fuck! This shit is gonna get cold. Hey James can you do me a favor and bring this out? Get one of those chucklefucks in here too, please!”
“Yeah, sure.” I took the small plate in one hand, a handful of napkins in the other.
“Yo, James. I’m gonna need a drink later.”
“You got it.” I pushed the swing door open and absorbed into much more expensive tuxedos, dresses, and well groomed people.
Mike and I got along well, better than most people there. I had been there a few years and started bringing a glass of vodka for Mike and one of tequila for me. We’d sit in the downstairs kitchen while people munched on floor cake and take our drinks, smoke cigarettes, and bullshit back and forth with each other until I had to clean up.
In the cocktail hour, most food stations were being swarmed by guests. Alan and Nikko wrapped up bits of duck drenched in hoisin sauce, tossed dumplings onto plates, and handed out chopsticks.
I walked over to them with brie, stopping every few steps to explain the dish to tempted guests.
“Baked brie with raspberry sauce?” Most people turned away but it was a mistake, the brie was the best hor d’oeuvre we offered.
“How you guys doing? You need anything?”
“We’re gonna need more wraps soon.”
In front of their skillet, I knocked over their tower of carefully built chopsticks, messed up the plates, napkins, and anything I could reach with one hand.
“God damn it!” Alan started repairing the damage. I laughed.
“Either of you want some?” I lifted the plate to them, each took two, and I walked away.
Mark was leaned against a wall talking to Leon, working the pasta station. Very few people ever took the pasta, so manning the station was another hour’s break. When I walked over, Leon put his hands over the plates and napkins.
“I’m not gonna! You want some?”
“Shit yeah!” Leon and Mark took a few each.
A guest walked up to the pasta.
“Whatcha got here?”
“Can I have some with vodka sauce, please?”
“Sure.” He lowered his voice just above a whisper, “you stupid piece of shit.”
The music was loud enough to cover his curses, but this was why Leon was usually given the pasta station; it was a way to keep him away from most of the guests for an hour.
Mark and I looked at each other and grinned.
“Can I have some more sauce?”
“Fuck you.” He whispered while nodding, pouring sauce over the plate of pasta. He kept pouring more, and more,
“That’s enough!” It was dripping off the sides of her plate.
“UGH. I need napkins!” I handed her a few and she wiped away some of the sauce on her plate and hand before shaking her head and leaving. As soon as her back was turned, all three of us started laughing hard.
“Holy shit, dude!”
“Mark and Anthony. Where are you guys? Please get out here! There’re empty plates and glasses everywhere!” John looked at the plate in my hand, “Why are you passing?”
“Because nobody else is! Mike’s got everything out but nobody’s in there to take it.”
“God damn it. Go clean tables now, please.” John looked at Leon, giggling at us getting yelled at. “Leon…” He glanced around for work to keep Leon busy, “clean up the front of your station, it looks like shit.” John looked ready to slink behind the driver’s seat of his sedan. He maneuvered through the crowds and into the kitchen.
“Man. I don’t want to do anything.” I put the plate of brie down behind Leon’s station, glancing over my shoulder and saying “Save me one!” before scattering from Leon and Mark to tables, collecting plates and glasses.
Leon stuffed a baked brie pastry into his mouth,”Yup.” Some guests walked up to him and waited for his bowed, chewing head to rise after his speed eating to serve them pasta. Mark took off to clear the cold food table.
Before bringing a full tray into the back I stopped at the bar.
“Yo sweetie, can I get a shot?”
“You’re not gonna get drunk on me tonight, right Anferny?” Russell was one of the few weekend workers who had been there longer than me. He was the bar manager and a good friend; it worked out well. Like most other people at the hall, he had a nickname for me, too.
“Of course not my love! Shot please.” His girlfriend Samantha, a bartender at the hall, hated when we called each other pet names but would laugh and call us idiots. I cupped both hands out in front of me, trying my best to mimic Oliver Twist.
He handed me the shot, I downed it, and brought the full tray into the kitchen already feeling nice.