To Serve: Part one...
I waited tables and bartended for 18 years. Before that I worked my first official job at Chuck E Cheese. In fact, I was "Chuck E Cheese". No, seriously, I dressed up in the gawd-awful costume and sweat for a living. "Jasper the Dog" and I entertained little kids and their parents 4 days a week. I was 16 or so. I still have nightmares about the kids pulling my tail or my head coming off during a party. But I tell you what...I was a pretty damn good Chuck. Jasper (who, of course, was my boyfriend at the time) (another story) and I would greet people in the parking lot, dance with the children, hug the parents & do our best to make people laugh. It was a challenging gig, trying to make everyone happy while in a big costume. But we took the job seriously. We wanted to be the best. The best rat & hound dog comedy team in Southern California. We were so good that we had regulars! We had fans...who knew it was us representing the restaurant's namesake and not another imposter worker guy, inside the costumes for the night. We would make kids smile, cool off in the big walk-in fridge, eat enormous amounts of pizza, sweat it all out & get paid to create a good time.
I'd say the majority of the children were great. They would give us a hug and then run off and play video games. Some kids though...oh man. Some kids were just flat awful. They would punch or say crude things to us when their parents weren't watching. In those cases, I would call them a few choice names...just loud enough so that only they could hear..and shake their hand... quite firmly. Sometimes I would "accidentally" step on their foot with my big rodent shoes. Or when I was cussing at them, inside my enormous rat head, I would bump them with my big, plastic nose. They wouldn't bug us again. And it was funny to watch the little darlings try to tell their parents that we were mean to them. We didn't have body guards like Mickey Mouse. We had to fend for ourselves. Our shift consisted of walking around, dancing with guests, making birthday appearances, scaring babies and taking a few breaks. (scaring babies was not in our job description...it just happened naturally) Our "green room" was really a closet that housed the smelly costumes and a few cleaning supplies. It had a star on the door, that said "Chuck E Cheese". Big time, I tell ya. When our shift was over, we would cautiously walk into the closet, hoping that no one waited around for us to open the door and leave. We wouldn't want anyone to know that Chuck was really a chunky 16 year old girl with big, 80's hair. Jasper was a 6'4 blonde dude. He loved the Lord, children and me. He loved me a little too much. In fact, when we broke up, I quit Chuck E Cheese and he showed up at my parents' door...in costume. He rode his beach cruiser bike from the restaurant to our house. We lived about 5 miles from the store. Can you imagine? Seeing this super-huge costumed dog, on a bike on a busy street in Southern California? In the Summer?? When he came to our door, he did not even take off his head to talk. He argued with me about why we shouldn't break up...with his big dog-head on and his big gloved character hands flying around. Good times.
Oh yea..and he never talked to me again, after the huge-dog-head-argument debacle. We even went to the same college. He would walk right on by, like I didn't exist. I would just say, "Woof" under my breath and let him be.
While I was in college I got a job working at a New York deli called "Off Broadway". It was a great place. Awesome food, good folks, real-life NY- type waitresses and live Broadway music on Sundays. I was a hostess for a while then eventually had the opportunity to work as a server. And there it began. Working for tips, short hours and eccentric people. I loved it. I met some great characters at Off Broadway. Rosemary was a waitress, about 70 years old and said whatever she wanted to, to anyone, with her authentic Brooklyn accent...and got away with it. She had a following who would request her station, just so they could hear her say obscenities along with taking orders. Kay was a thin, grey-skinned waitress, with big white hair, that scared me to death. She had a love of gambling and cocktails. I remember hearing stories about Kay going to Bullhead City to gamble and falling off her barstool. She had a deep, dark laugh, that only a few of us heard. Mostly she would scold me for not seating her correctly or express her complete disdain for the people who would just sit and order soup. She would say to me...with her mouth turned down and a cigarette in her hand..."Honey, how I am supposed to make a goddamned living, with you seating all of the cheap assholes in my station?" Like I had a plan or something to ruin her next slot machine adventure. I was 18. Rob was the manager and was the first openly gay person I had ever met. He was pure delight. He had to balance the two owners (who were merely investors...and both podiatrists) and the staff and the guests and the drama of a restaurant. He was a pro...and if I think about it now, was probably only in his 20's. And then there was Tony...oh Tony... a tall, dark, beautiful waiter who had a voice like a 1940's crooner. He would sing show-tunes on Sunday, with Jerry the piano player/singer. People would eat their matzo ball soup and clap voraciously, after Tony would sing. He had this beautiful nose. I had a huge crush on him. I was not good at flirting...but I would admire him from afar. I would hide behind the deli and stare at him when he would be seating people. I would find myself drifting off when he would be asked to sing and always forget something on the order. Then one day I met his...his...boyfriend. Dang. He was gorgeous too. I think his name was Tim. If I remember correctly, he was some kind of championship bodybuilder.
Oh well. Good lesson. Judy Garland show tunes, beautiful nose, impeccably groomed. Who knew?
The guys turned out to be sweet work friends, who treated me like a little sister. They helped me with my makeup and outfit for my first date with a boy named Steve. Then they heard me sing, when I was brave enough to ask Jerry if I could do a tune. If I hadn't weighed more than they did, they would have picked me up and carried me around their shoulders! I felt like Bette Midler! They were so encouraging! They loved my voice and brought me LP's to listen to and learn new songs. I remember that Tony (sigh) brought me an Eydie Gorme Record to listen to. He said that I should learn every song on the album. And so I did. He remained gay.
One day, a new manager appeared on the scene. She was brought in to infuse some night-life into the deli. (a grand idea) Off Broadway eventually was mis-guided and turned into a night-club-type place, that featured more music, more characters and more parties. It veered too far from it's original roots of great pastrami, chicken soup and Sunday singing. Before the inevitable fall, I met Rob the talented and mysterious bartender from New York City, Christy the vivacious actress and singer from whom I first heard "Danny's All Star Joint" & Vita, who sang and played piano unlike any person I had ever heard. There were quite a few drifters that passed through Off Broadway too, on their way to LA to hopefully become stars. It was a colorful time in my life, for sure. The place was known for their "singing waiters & bartenders". It was the place to be...for about 2 months. During that hot 2 month period we heard that Orange County Cable was going to come to the restaurant and feature how unique and special it was. We were all excited. Well, I was. I was kind of starry eyed. The other servers/ entertainers were well seasoned and really could care less about the big break we were all about to get. We each had a chance to sing for the cable people & the big audience that was there on this particular Saturday night. I waited in anticipation for my turn. I was going to rock the OC. I was totally ready. I had practiced and had it all planned out. I was going to quit the restaurant biz for good. I had already put 2 years of my life into waiting tables. My name was called. My piano player was ready and my station was covered. I stepped on the stage...and for added flare, I thought I would stand on the grand piano to sing my one big-break song. I had to first get on the piano, which was surrounded by a brass railing....I put one foot on the railing, then the other one to steady myself before I stepped onto the piano..and then the railing broke. Fell completely apart under me. I went face-down on the piano, with my big rear-end in the air... in white pants...all on Cable TV. People laughed because they thought it was part of the show...so I of course, make a joke of it too...but I was crushed. Needless to say, I wasn't discovered that evening and I didn't quit my waitressing job.
One day we showed up at 3:00pm to open the restaurant and there was a lock on the door with a note saying that "Off Broadway is Closed." No explanation, no manager to talk to us, nothing. I do not even think we received a last pay check. Just closed. A sad ending to what once was, in the early days, a wonderful place to get a knish and a seltzer. My heart and world expanded those few years, introducing me to multifarious characters & eclectic friends.
What a concept. One asks you to bring them something, and so you do. Hopefully with a thankful heart. Then if they find that your service was worthy, they leave you a tip. Then you move on to the next guests, table, section. But along the way, if you're lucky, you realize that you acquire more than rent for the month.
1/22/16~ thoughts about life.
To Serve: Part two to come
What I thought I would look like.
What I actually looked like, but in white and my hiney in the air.
Imagine this at your front door.