Monday, September 29, 2008


today i met earl.  he drives the number 10 bus up 8th ave. which turns into central park west along central park, and then frederick douglas boulevard north of 110th street.  the bus was crowded and i had a load of, if you can believe it, candles and cheap white t-shirts in a new duffel bag i bought in the garment district.  i'll never buy t-shirts for more than $1.75 again.  

since we were crowded into the bus and i hate that no one talks to one another, i asked the driver how he was doing.  he seemed surprised that i would address him but very willing to converse.  i had 20 blocks to go from the bed, bath, and beyond store so we chatted a bit.  certainly didn't want him to be neglected up there in the front seat.  he's been driving a bus for just over 10 years now and has developed some seniority which allows him to select from the various routes.  some of them pay better than others.  he's single and laughed when i suggested that we were both "bachelors to the rapture."  

there's a stereotype that we may have about bus drivers.  earl bucked it.  we talked about the economy and the vote today in congress.  he was happy that the bailout plan didn't pass.  angry, in fact, that he was being asked to pay for a problem he had no part in creating.  he has been thinking about how the economy will impact public transportation around new york and believes that his job is fairly secure.  as pocketbooks tighten, the bus becomes a more viable option than taxis.  a bus ride to anywhere in the city is $2.  a taxi ride starts at $2.50 to sit your cheeks down on the faux leather seat of the cab and goes up from there.  this leads him to think that more people will be riding buses in the coming months.  

i guess we'll find out if his speculations are correct.  either way, i hope i get to ride with earl again sometime soon.  talk to your bus drivers and make sure they have a good day for having met you.  they hold your life in their hands.  

Thursday, September 18, 2008

your 6

one of the fun things about growing up in a military family is all the acronyms that one becomes familiar with.  there are many letter ones like awol (absent without leave which is a bad thing), tdy (temporary duty which can be fun if the location you're sent to is exotic with waterfalls and such), and many others that you may have heard or not heard.  there are top secret ones too which i can't share here since i shouldn't reveal that i know them.  but trust me...there are.  

there are also some number ones that i enjoy.  someone may say, "i've got your six" which is to say that they are behind you or that they have your back since 6:00 would be your backside if you stood in the middle of a clock facing the twelve.  with me?  directionally, too, a pilot may reference where a bogey is by saying a particular time.  these are important instructions with life and death consequences. 

in the catering world, we have some important acronyms, as well, the consequences of which could be life and death with respect to your job!  last week in a salad preset (that's s.p. in my cosmos), the little salad included a half pear.  we were told clearly, pear goes at 12:00.  now i realize i grew up in a privileged household, not only because we could afford a kitchen clock that provided a big hand and a small hand that my loving parents could explain the time with, but the military aspect certainly helped, as well.  but hard can it be to figure out that when the command is "pear goes at 12:00" you don't put it at 3:30, 6:00, or 9:45?!  this proved to be a difficult concept for many.  

compounding it was the order for the butter blossoms (those little butter pads molded to look like little flowers) to go at 3:00.  but there were two!  so does one of them go at 2:55 and the other at 3:05?  do you stack them both at 3:00?  are the blossoms as big as 15 minute intervals on the bread plate clock?!  this sent many of my catering contemporaries into a tailspin.  in the end, it seemed best to put the bottom butter blossom belatedly beyond 3:00 by barely a minute.  then leaning the other butter blossom on the bottom bud.  it turned out beautifully.  

p.s. new york has its own set of acronyms
uws = upper west side
ues = upper east side
cpw = central park west
hk = hell's kitchen

gut check

seems like every gig i cater for, there is an inevitability of a thought process that i'm working through.  somewhere around the third tray of empty champagne flutes, small plates, wine glasses, and soiled napkins, i think to myself, "i have a masters degree."  and then begins the mental sideshow that is unseen by my colleagues.  i have found that many of them have similar situations.  catered a party last week with a guy who has a ph.d. in psychology.  last night with a girl who also has a masters.  yet we play our role in this city providing service for party people who are hungry and providing jobs for people like myself who are living the dream.

i also find myself thinking about two people who some might say were misplaced with respect to their mental ability.  i can't say i'm in their league at all.  merely that i've been thinking about them and the satisfaction that they appear to have experienced in their lives.  brother lawrence as he simultaneoulsy peeled potatoes and deep theological connections to god in the kitchen of his monastery.  i think of his menial task and its provision for others as similar to the service i'm providing.  it brings a smile to my face and helps me care for the people i meet.  so many of them are in difficult places right now with all the financial meltdowns.  

i also think of henri nouwen and his work with mentally disabled people.  this is not to compar the people i'm serving to those that henri served, but to say that he could have been, and was, in far more prominent situations.  he chose to change that and serve in a less public venue.  

all those waiters and stuffed tuxedos that i remember growing up or seeing in restaurants, now have a new member in myself.  they are hard workers with dreams of better lives and the transitory world of food service is a ready support mechanism.  they are easy to overlook.  this may be what's difficult for such a social creature like myself.  that sense that i'm overlooked and taken for granted.  it's a good lesson for an ego the size of mine.  afterall...i have a masters degree! 

Saturday, September 13, 2008


one of the great disappointments of new york city is the fact that restaurants don't do free refills.  this is a mystery to anyone coming from just about anywhere else.  what i'm used to, of course, is getting a sprite or coke, draining it, and getting a new glass from the waiter before i'm even finished with the first.  i's sugar water.  it costs two cents.  i pay a buck and get served as much as i want.  but in new york it's a different story.  you pay two bucks and get your one glass, or can, or whatever unit of volume you like.  

before going up to new rochelle for a catering gig, i stopped off in the dining concourse of grand central station.  it's below the main concourse which you see in all the movies with its aptly named grand ceiling which seems to expand like the sky while still being indoors.  it really is huge in there and fun to blend into the crowd of travelers each with their own life and destination.  one hundred and seventeen different tracks come into grand central which means tons of activity and a very large food area to feed weary people along their way.  i was not so weary, but i was hungry so i scoped out a few joints in this food court.  one of them was a place called junior's.  seemed like the kind of place that might just have refills.  so i asked to be sure...but the answer was no.   very disappointing.

i walked on for a bit to lodge my protest against junior's.  the hostess was apologetic and because of that, after a few minutes of walking around looking at various food services, i went back, ordered a burger and a large coke.  everything was quite tasty, including the coke.  you know how you can get a coke at some places and it's a little too watery or there's not enough carbonation.  this was a good coke.  

then it happened.  i didn't really see it unfold until it was too late.  some businessman with a backpack was walking by my table.  we were all cramped in there pretty tight which is the nature of dining in new york.  i was so close to the next table that i couldn't help be hear the sad story of a woman talking about how her husband had walked out on her.  he's getting married this weekend to the woman he was having the affair with.  of course, the other thing about new york is that i'll never see her again and all i can do is say a prayer for her and her situation.  but anyway, we were all in there pretty tight.  so as the businessman with his backpack went by my table, a waiter was trying to get through, as well, from the other direction.  so of course, the businessman swung sideways to let the waiter by which slammed his backpack into my precious, no refill, perfect syrup, perfect carbonation, iced, cup of coke...and it landed on my french fries and lap.  another disappointment.  

he was apologetic, of course.  i didn't know what to say.  for a moment i thought about how i'd seen other new yorkers respond in similar situations.  usually i see tempers, flared arms and hands, raised voices, a scene, expectation of some kind of reparation, etc.  the moment had passed and i missed my window of opportunity to get upset with someone and to demand a free lunch.  

however, i did get a free refill.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


there works a young man as a caterer
which is really the same as a waiterer
he wakes up real early
to determine that surely
he'll always be sooner than laterer.

there once worked a man as a caterer
to support his desire as a daterer
he busted his tail 
serving hors d'oeuvres and ale
hoping as a lover not a haterer.

there worked a young man as a caterer
it would seem it was his faterer
to serve like c-three-pee-oh
without making a peep-e-oh
to please a boss like darth vaderer.

Monday, September 8, 2008

the rest of the story

remember the dell guy?  the dude that would say, "dude, you're gettin a dell!"  ever wonder what happened to him?  well, he's living in new york city of all places...bartending.  

this morning on the way to newark, new jersey, i got the full scoop.  another fun part of catering is the interesting people you work with.  one of them in the minivan with me (i was driving...but that's another story) began talking about this guy and how she had talked with him last night about something or other.  we all wondered what was happening with him.  she told us about the trouble he got into.  so, this is a spoiler alert.  if you really don't want to hear anything negative about the dell guy, stop reading now!  

she apparently was with him the night it happened.  some kind of birthday party that i'm sure was very fun depending on definitions.  for some reason the police came by and caught him with something illegal.  the kind of something that has a variety of names.  gange, weed, maui-wowi, years strolling the halls at the colorado college familiarized me with the strong emitted odor.  this was on a friday which meant his arrest would put him in the clink for the weekend since he couldn't be arraigned until monday.  

that would be bad enough, but to make matters worse, he was wearing a kilt.  you can almost imagine the humor of the scene if this was in a movie.  a 22 year old blonde kid, wearing a kilt, taken downtown for a weekend in the slammer...who turns out to be the dell guy.  i'm sure he would have made a number of friends even in such a short stint.  his friend, my passenger in the minivan, was getting very upset with the police for not letting him change his clothes before taking him and began taking names and badge numbers.  apparently, they began to see that it would be better for everyone if he was given the opportunity to at least put some pants on.   the new york post ran an article detailing the story, full of photos and a headline that read, "Dude, you're getting a cell!"  nice. 

he's 30 now, putting his life back together, acting in some theater pieces in the city, and working as a bartender.  i had asked myself a number of times when a dell ad came on what the story was and now we know...the rest of the story.


have you ever wondered what question you would ask if you were ever in a position to ask your deepest question to someone who is supposed to know the deepest answers to these kinds of things?  today i had such an opportunity.  very exciting, actually. 

to get to this opportunity i rose early and arrived at the car rental place on 37th on time at 8:30.  here i would meet others from the agency and head to our newark, new jersey.  the arch diocese of newark was celebrating the ordination of one of their bishops.  it was huge.  2000 people at the service.  kinda made me feel pretty inadequate.  i only had about 150 at my ordination service.  and there weren't any cardinals at my service, either.  but i couldn't think about this because these people needed to be fed and served drinks!  a task i've become fairly good at in recent weeks.  as an aside, i have to say it was a remarkable sight to see
one of the bar stations set up under a crucifix.  the picture is just to prove it.  still, there's something curiously poetic and maybe even right about the image.  i'll leave that to you to think about.   

the list of attendees was extensive and some of them were people i'd seen on tv when they want to ask a catholic about the position of the church on something.  priests, bishops, arch bishops, and even cardinal egan was there.  egan hangs out with the pope.  all these guys were hanging out in the library in their robes, various acoutremont', some had sandals, collars, colors, chains, and more trappings of roman catholicism.  in the middle of this gang was egan, friend and american mouthpiece of the pope.  able to answer the deepest of questions.  my moment had come and i knew it as i walked into the room.  i approached and asked the only question on my mind.  a question that had become programmed through hours of catering since arriving in this city that some have referred to as nineveh...

"would you like some tomato basil on bruschetta?"  

his answer was no.


one of the fun things about catering is having found a high-end company to work for.  saturday night there was a wedding for which i was asked to help serve, butler, and bus for.  doesn't that sound nice?  i'm butlering now.  this took place in a very cool penthouse space on 30th and 5th avenue.  i would love to live in this space.  huge open space that could house my 9' grand piano with ease, an alcove that is screaming for my king size bed, and plenty of other space for pretty much all the rest of my stuff.  not to mention the upstairs roof garden/patio...very nice.  i think it would only take jugillion dollars but it's all fantasy anyway, so who's counting?  

typical to these evenings is the "captain" talking us through all that is going to take place, the timing, and who's on what kind of detail.  todd was the captain saturday night and began taking us through the evening.  6:15 - start serving drinks to early guests.  7:00 - help seat the guests.  7:15 - ceremony begins.  7:30 - ceremony ends, groom steps on and breaks the glass with a hearty "la' chaim!"  7:31 - serve more drinks and clean up empty glasses (there were many).  7:32 - serve appetizers.   8:30 - put the little cheeseburgers on the buffet table...   at this point i became confused and perhaps you can see why.  it's just not kosher, but i was told that the wedding was only half jewish.  i guess that made it alright.  

the important thing, and the nice thing about working for this company, is that i can count on great food to eat when the time comes.  there's a magic moment when the captain gives you a nod and says, "take a break and eat some food."  mmmmmmmmmm...i couldn't have prepared any of this stuff even with all kinds of time to try.  i would have made nachos or something.  this was gourmet with little sauces and finger foods...and even vegetables.  i don't mind the vegetables, really.  when they're prepared, i'll eat 'em.

i should eat well this week.  that's a good thing.  i'm thanking god for provision.