Junk

Ya know, when I tell somebody I’m a writer, I get responses ranging all over the damn place. Ask somebody in marketing and I get “Everything needs words! You’re in a good field!”

Yup.

Tell somebody who works far outside the field and I’m asked “You ever watch Californication?”

Yup.

Told a few people I write fiction and get “Oh … isn’t fiction dead?”

Nope.

I’ve been told to stay away from the corpse of fiction so many times over I feel like I’m practicing voodoo by writing it. Been told to work on scripts, not narrative, because nobody cares about the work anymore unless it translates to another medium. Essentially, I’ve been told not to bother writing in the dead end field of a dead practice: fiction.

I know George R.R. Martin isn’t doing so well, but damn.

I’m not sure where the infusion of opinion comes in when talking about art, but it sure ain’t there when any other profession is mentioned.

“Oh, you’re a teacher? You know you don’t really teach, right? Common Core and all that. There’s the internet too, it’s teaching people better than you can.”

I’d never. Because it’s not true.

Because many Americans are English readers, the limited work they’ve read and the TV they’ve watched has made them a voice of truth in the industry. Truth is, demand for writers is at an all-time high, but pay is at an all-time low. Hearing people purge their negativity kind of, to me, explains why the pay stagnates. Writing is easy, ya know? Anybody can do that! Haven’t you heard? Throw 100 monkeys in front of 100 typewriters and they’ll eventually write every Shakespeare play!

Yup. I’ve heard.

Part of my writing is just to wave my middle finger to people who’ve told me to prepare for a “poor life”. Who’ve told me that fiction, written work is dead. Maybe true, right now might be the most I’ll ever make writing (part-time $$$) but fuck off, I’m happy. I don’t write to make some huge statement about the world, I write to have fun. I get paid (sometimes) to have fun.

Maybe you should try writing a play.

There they are, your words. Now my thoughts; changing my words.

I’m lucky enough to have orbited around other writers and it’s always the same. Ahh, whatever. I can’t complain, and when I do, it’s through words. Sometimes through fiction. It ain’t dead in me or any other writer or reader I know. It ain’t dead in Breaking Bad, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and the TONS of authors who’ve made a killing off a great story. If you can do it (and practically anybody with a clever thought in their head can), it’s an easy way to get exposure, to see where you land in the community; to be part of a community. Or you could just say it’s dead, never try it, and nay say anybody who does. Up to you.

For real though, maybe I should try writing a play …

Damn it.

 

Tuxedo Aside

I bought my tuxedo for about 10 dollars from a Salvation Army in Paterson. The previous owner was a bigger man, much larger than me, and left some nice stains under the arms of his donated XXXL shirt. The neck left about 2 inches between my Adam’s apple and fabric, something that worked in my favor; my neck never turned red and rashed from rubbing too much against cotton. Otherwise, I looked like a lost member of The Talking Heads.

The jacket was big, too. Two burns on the lapel came from carrying a chafing dish back to the kitchen against my chest. Even though I held it with cloth, I burned both my jacket and hands. A rip down the side came from falling down the stairs, luckily for the tux most of the falling was done on my head; I was back to work the next day after an hour at Holy Name Hospital. The edges of the sleeves were singed from lighting sterno gel, never noticed some had stuck to it. My shoes could talk, the heel flapped with each step. Material was missing from the side, if I were wearing anything but black socks, you’d notice.

My great uncle faught and died in World War II. He would occasionally send my grandmother items from his training and time overseas: things like firing accuracy booklets, currency, and his sewing kit. When the buttons from my tuxedo jacket started falling off, I used the string from his sewing kit to refit them. The whole thing was already terrible looking and dark green string attaching buttons didn’t help me look more professional, but I felt a pride wearing it with his sewing string. I’ll hopefully never know what it’s like to live (or die) on a battlefield, but the restaurant was my version of chaotic hell. Having something of my family’s on my person at all times kept me going through all the nonsense: the concussions, burns, stabs, curses, thrown punches, collapses, and screaming. Sewing them myself, I was constantly reminded of my great uncle at work every time I looked down to button up and saw a loose green string poking out from inside the jacket. Maybe Nana just wanted me to hold onto it and look at it from time to time, but back then I felt it was a better arrangement; also I was really stressing for string to get the damn buttons back on.

Most of our tuxedos looked similar, though I was near the top of sloppiness. Wearing something that cost less than a few drinks during Happy Hour, I didn’t really mind getting it beat up and even more used looking (by the end of my time as a server, the armpit collaboration between me and the previous owner was glorious). We barely washed them during the weekend so 4-6 parties’ worth of cake, salad, and assorted beverages were carried to new parties, or rubbed off with hot water if rancid enough.

I don’t know what a “good” tuxedo looks like on me. I don’t know what it’s like to wear a good tuxedo and socialize with a plate of food and drink. I only know how to run in it. I know that if a glass falls off a tray stand, I should try and break its fall with my un-shined and barely together shoe. I know that if plates are dirty, my jacket can easily become a cloth. Dirty forks out of the washer can be rubbed against pants; they don’t stay wet for too long and dampness doesn’t show against the black pants. I know the utility of the tuxedo but none of the luxury. Servers get beat up, our clothes are burned and wrinkled, we’re wet from drying dishes. I’ve never been anywhere near the very real danger of a battlefield, fatigues and a tuxedo are mmaannyy worlds apart; but for a time my tuxedo was a backlist of every behind-the-scenes battle for every party that went well (hell, or those that didn’t). When at my wit’s end, my great uncle’s sewing strings reminded me that things could be way worse. They reminded me to suck that shit up and keep my shit together, to stop being such a little shit and get things done when they needed to be done. Maybe Nana wanted me to keep the kit intact, maybe I should have, but I don’t regret looking down and being reminded of a family hero. Sometimes the extremely temporary escape was necessary, like when ceiling tiles were falling all over the ballroom and there wasn’t a god damn thing we could do about it.

First Course

I was kind of drunk and already at the “fuck this shit” stage of the party, but I had been there so long that it didn’t matter; I could get everything done drunk, with my eyes closed, and an arm tied behind my back. As long as the building didn’t collapse into itself (a very real possibility), I could drunkenly amble around all night without getting caught.

Leaned against the wall, I talked Gerald through a normal party: what to do, what to expect, how to expertly not give a damn about anybody there while giving some form of service.

“The biggess thing are the water glashes. Make shure they’re always filled or these people get pissed. Ya know?”

My eyes slowly opened and closed while my mind tried catching up to the words escaping my numb lips.

“How should I take orders?”

“However you can remember them. Jus’ make shure you remember. Dinner’s a bitch.”

I probably wasn’t doing the best job training Gerald, but he was a friend and had the support of our entire group. I wouldn’t let him fall behind in the night, my tables were usually the first ones set with a course, or cleared for the next.

“Where is everybody?” Gerald asked. The room was dark, preparing for the wedding parties entrance, but none of the waiters were in the room. I could have sworn I saw them go in before us.

“No idea. Less take these orders.” I hoisted myself off the wall and grabbed some crumpled paper from my back pocket. “Juss take table 4, I’ll take 2 and 3. You can carry a menu around with you ‘cause these people can’t hear shit anyway.” I took a menu from a tray stand and gave it to him.

As I circled tables with the same beef-chicken-fish question, I kept glancing around the room looking for other waiters. Nothing. After we finished I realized the DJ still hadn’t begun the entrance.

“I dunno. Less go put these on the sheet and find everybody.”

As soon as we opened the door, madness.

“ANTHONY. WHERE WERE YOU DUDES? WE NEED EVERYBODY IN THE HALLWAY.” Barb shoved table cloths into my stomach and speed walked towards the hallway where the wedding party stood waiting to enter.

Waiters were scattered everywhere, some on the floor with cloth, others draping them near the ceiling. Mark, Leon, Nikko, and Alan were laying cloth on the tiled floor and moving them around with their shoes.

“What happened?”

“Yooo” Leon started laughing.

“Somebody used the bathroom in the bridal suite and a pipe burst.” Mark said, hands in his pockets while he swooshed up the piss water from the floor.

“How are they gonna get in?” Nikko said, moving tables out of the way with Alan.

“Only way in is through the water or through the kitchen. Bet they make ’em walk through the piss.”

The bride watched with growing rage as all the champagne, soda, and food she and her wedding party had eaten during cocktail hour poured through the ceiling and landed as bubbled fizz on the floor in front of them.

Barb was talking with the bride and groom, hoping to calm them down in some way before telling them they had to walk through everything.

“Anybody got umbrellas?”

My buzz was ruined. Nikko, Alan, Gerald, and I stood on chairs with a table cloth outstretched, pooling as much as we could so they could get under it quickly. Mark was under us, dodging beads as he mopped up with his foot. As soon as they started to cautiously make their way under, drops of piss water soaked through and landed on tuxedos, groomed hair, dresses, and faces.

“This is fucking disgusting.” A groomsman said as he walked by.

“Fucking embarrassing. You people should be ashamed of yourselves.” Another one said, looking directly into my soul.

Sorry dude, I’m just the guy getting paid $10 per hour to mop up your shit.

With the exception of some yellow stains on the bride’s gown, we did pretty good.

“So fucking gross.” Alan said while we all took turns washing our hands in the employee bathroom.

“I had such a good buzz going, too.” I shook my head.

“Yeah man, I didn’t know if you were gonna make it. You were slurring everything!”

“I’ll get there again. Where’s John? Why’s Barb in our party?”

“Nobody’s seen him. I think dude left.” Mark said.

We got back into the room as the introductions were finishing, waiters scrambled to take orders before we’d be called back for salad.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to ask our bride and groom to the dance floor for their first dance as husband and wife.” Applause. Phones and cameras out. Always the same thing. If you didn’t take orders before the first dance, you were fucked. Everybody gets up, seats change, and most people don’t care about prime rib or chicken francese.

The scene from the hallway was written all over the bride’s face; the mess visible on the left shoulder of her dress.

Gerald and I leaned against the wall; since we took orders earlier, this was another break period. Mark finished and leaned next to us, squinted towards the dance floor, “What was that?”

“What?”

He motioned his face to the dance floor. Drops from the ceiling. Water. A few at first but growing steady. The groom looked up first, then his bride. As soon as they did, a wet piece of drywall from the ceiling fell with a PLOP next to them.

“Oh. Shit.” Most of the waiters saw it and hurried to pick it up from the floor.

While sprint walking towards the dance floor, I noticed others start to drop from the ceiling on the other side of the room. Whatever smiles the bride and groom managed to muster had faded, tears were rolling down the bride’s cheeks; a mixture of happiness, anger, and probably piss. They ended their dance abruptly and immediately looked for Barb, who was running around with latex gloves picking up anything she could.

The tiles fell onto tables, into water glasses, chairs, on people’s heads. They were falling quicker than we could clean them up, quicker than we could pretend it never happened. As soon as Gerald and I got to the other side of the dance floor, they began falling on our side. Waiters, Barb, and some of the cleaning crew hurriedly picked up pieces of wet tile with napkins while guests jumped out of the way, some screaming.

They wouldn’t stop coming down. We moved tables out of the way, rearranged chairs, pulled wet plates and glasses from tables.

“SHOT! I NEED A SHOT OVER HEAR!” I yelled over the fray and music. The grand ballroom was quickly becoming a warzone and we were getting destroyed.