Archive for December, 2011

The Day Gwen Stefani Taught A Lesson

I was hired by a squeaky-clean, “preppy pizza” joint on the 7th Floor of Water Tower Place Mall in the mid-90’s , shortly after the closing of Dos Hermanos, its downstairs neighbor and my first place of employment in Chicago. Colorless, obligatory sneakers and comfortable, bleached jeans were justifiably the uniform there, since the service staff accomplished the equivalent of a schoolyard dash on that day in gym class when you forgot your proper attire, making it a good job in a rapid-paced environment.

I was working close to the service area the day when Gwen Stefani and No Doubt’s bandmembers were parked in a black leather booth that was under my care. I did not recognize them until someone mentioned it.

“Dan,” said my co-worker, James,” do you know that No Doubt’s sitting at Booth 80? Man, is Gwen Stefani gorgeous!”

I had listened to No Doubt on local radio many times and knew of their music, but I was still comatose from the ‘80’s and had Madonna’s “Bedtime Stories” in my CD player at home. No Doubt’s combination of reggae and nasally vocals were not interesting enough to jostle me awake from a nap longer than Darby O’Gill’s.

I approached the table to ask about beverages, although everyone was on his or her cellphone.

“I’ll take a chamomile tea,” said Ms. Stefani, cupping her right hand over the receiver.

I retreated and began expediting the beverages. It took a few minutes, as proper tea service involved a few extra touches, including climbing atop a stainless steel counter to retrieve a teapot, if I remember correctly. I re-materialized soon enough, though, and lay the potions down.

“Can I have chamomile?” asked the blonde chanteuse, cupping the phone again and revealing a teabag clearly marked “Green Tea.”

“I’m sorry. I must be high,” I joked.

She took my gaffe literally and shared the remark with her phone companion before I left.

Great, I thought. Thanks, Gwennie-Gwen-Gwen. Now your tour manager will think I’m stoned.

As proof that I was not, the different pizzas and salads comprising the order arrived on time, in front of the right person, and the check was processed quickly. I asked about their venue, which was out in the suburbs, wished them a good show before they left, then completed my closing tasks before heading home.

My thoughts turned to the lesson I learned, while I rode north along Lake Shore Drive toward Lakeview. It pertained to cellphones and Gwen Stefani, the first person to shine a light on their place at the table. They do not belong there, because tables are made for communing. And I made a personal decision that afternoon that I have held to this day, which was that I’ll always be a “Can-I-Call-Ya Back, Girl?” kinda guy. And it was all thanks to the Hollaback Girl.

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North By Midwest

In 1996, I moved from a shoebox-sized apartment in Chicago’s Lakeview area to a shockingly enormous one-bedroom residence on Isabella Avenue in Cincinnati. It was time to be closer to my family, I believed, and, since I was involved in an industry that was “prêt-a-porter,” I knew finding employment in the Queen City would not be difficult. I was right, too. I began serving at Jekyll’s Steakhouse in the Hyde Park/Oakley neighborhood shortly after arriving.

Around 2pm one autumn afternoon, when the tide of the lunch rush began to ebb and my thoughts turned to the short walk home, I glanced at a table where two men sat. The gentleman positioned to the left of the plot of artificial green flora that was the restaurant’s centerpiece was not particularly noteworthy. But there was something remarkable about his companion, a wiry-haired chap with a solid, gray beard and thin-rimmed glasses.  I had seen him somewhere in Chicago shortly before leaving. But I could not marry his features with a time or location. I approached and talked with him, once my conjecturing became frustration.

“Excuse me, sir,” I interrupted,” I just moved from Chicago about a month ago and you look very familiar to me. Only, I forget where we’ve met.”

“You just moved from Chicago?” he inquired, eying me through shiny spectacles.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then, yes, you have seen me,” he replied in a kindly, yet matter-of-fact manner,” My name is Phil Jackson. I coach a little team called The Bulls.”

My First Regular, or How A Waiter Remembers His Diners

A waiter’s memory is both odd and unique. When asked by a manager or co-worker if we need help, we can say,” Position One at Table Thirty-Three needs a refill of Diet Coke, no ice, with lime,”  without even looking at the table.

But what is most strange is that we don’t recollect people by their faces or where they sat in the restaurant. We remember them by what they ate. For example, a venerable Broadway actress sat in a booth in my area one day. Were it not for my scurrying to expedite her order when she said she was crunched for time and needed to head back to the theater for evening rehearsal, I would still know her as the woman who ordered a vodka martini with the calamari appetizer and Caesar salad. I can also recall the red wine requested with the main course. The main course has gone forgotten, because I was too vexed.

But most unforgettable is my first experience with this selective memory. His name was Stanley. He was an elderly gentleman who would walk along Stroop Road from his apartment at a nearby retirement community to the restaurant/ice cream shop where I worked. Without fail, he always sat alone in the same booth near the kitchen, ordered the same thing, and was visited by all of the waitresses who had known him over the years.

His order: Two very runny basted eggs: “Throw them in the water, then take them out.”

A coffee ice cream soda with coffee ice cream

The one variable: rye toast, dry (no butter)

Twenty years later, I still remember.