It’s funny how life comes full circle.
This weekend I’ll be busing tables at our church fair, and 30 years ago I was busing tables, at The Tarry Lodge, a landmark family restaurant in Port Chester, NY, where I grew up. (It’s now a chi-chi place run by Mario Batali, but when I was a kid, it was THE family restaurant.)
That job (which followed the paper route, babysitting and a stint as a page at our village library) was courtesy of my friend Kathy who needed someone to fill in for her. Little did I know that it would turn into an important income-producer, taking me through high school and then serving as one of three jobs I juggled in college. By then I was the restaurant’s hostess (and damn good at predicting the wait — a point of pride for me then and now. Pathetic, I know).
But I started out clearing and setting tables, creating bread baskets, later making peach melbas (and sneaking spoonfuls of the vanilla ice cream).
I moved on to waitressing, tucked into a black uniform shiny from too much ironing and never free of food smells, no matter how much it went through the wash. There I endured the tired quips of businessmen looking for a glass of “city gin” while they tried to sneak a peek down my blouse.
When I was the hostess, I met Basil there, thinking I was getting a rich, Greenwich fella. (We’re rich, of course, but not in a monetary way.)
And I met a man during one of those lunch shifts who would become my boss at the paper (and many years later a colleague at a different company). It took two interviews, separated by many years to land the copy editor’s job. Somewhere I still have his rejection letter from our first chat — it is the kindest “no thank you” I ever received.
Sometimes at the restaurant I worked parties, and it was in the course of serving a large group in the upstairs party room that I made my biggest gaff. On a night when the line was out the door and we were frantically trying to get everyone fed and turn the tables, I was sent upstairs to handle a large party — a table of 10 or 12, the family of a regular, demanding customer.
I can still see their entrees piled high on the tray — calamari marinara, veal parm, our signature pizza, sides of spaghetti. And in my rush to get the food to them, I kicked the kitchen’s swinging door too hard. It hit the wall, then slammed into the tray on my shoulder, sending food and plates flying.
For a cinematic second in that busy, busy restaurant, you could have heard a pin drop.
Well, at least until I started sobbing.
I’ll never know who cleaned up the mess. My boss sent me outside to walk around the block until I could calm down.
(I was gone a loooooong time.)
Punchline of the story? The man up in the party room whose food I dropped? He became our first landlord after we got married. And that is a whole other story, for another day.
Meanwhile, as I approach our fair at The Church of the Archangels in Stamford this weekend, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to share my restaurant experience with the other volunteer staff. They may relegate me to the kitchen — or worse.