In my long ago past when I was as actor and still dependent on the dreaded restaurant work, I was one of the "new kids" at a place on the upper West Side called West Side Story. Cute name, huh? It was trying to be hip and "in," one part gourmet store, larger part restaurant; an upscale diner kind of place. Because I was a recent hire, I was assigned Thanksgiving Day, take it or leave it. Short of looking for another job, I couldn't get out of working the holiday. I phoned home and told my mother not to set a place for me, her favorite son. Who? she asked.
I got there at some ungodly hour, probably eight a.m. or so, only to discover that the two owners had made some interesting, spur of the moment managerial decisions. First, neither of them was there. They, no doubt, deserved a day off. Instead, they'd put a woman in charge who had never managed before, a prospect. Secondly, thinking it would be a slow day - who wants to go out for breakfast or lunch on Thanksgiving Day? - they went with one cook instead of usual two. Likewise, there was one less waiter on the floor. Oh well, I thought, these people must know something. They, after all, owned the joint. I only worked there. Myself and another waiter did our side work, preparing to open while Margaret, or whatever the nubile manager's name was, got in the way and talked our ears off. When it was time to open, she rattled her entrusted keys and headed eagerly for the doors.
Within minutes, everyone on the upper West Side of Manhattan came through those open doors. And they brought a friend, or six. Within half an hour, less even, it was clear that we were doomed. Oh, for the brave orchestra from the Titanic to play while we were going down. Instead it was just the sounds of customers shouting to get our attention and the cook who, after valiently trying to keep up with pancakes and omelettes and quiche, announced that it was EGGS ONLY! People could have eggs anyway they wanted them but they'd come out fastest if ordered "scrambled."
It was brutal. My tables hated me. I gave them all the free water I could and filled coffee cups until people were jacked up enough to commit unspeakable acts. Some of them did. Some of them took a moment to tell me what a pathetic life I led. Like I didn't know. Or realize. "Margaret" looked like she's been hit in the stomach. She became very less chatty. In fact she was, I think, unable to speak at all. At one point I simply left the restaurant and sat on the curb. It was nice outside, with my feet in the gutter. It was pointless to be in the restaurant. It was uncomfortable to receive all that virulant hatred. Once back inside, it was impossible to avoid the glares so I'd go up to the slide where plates of food were supposed to exist and watch the back of the cook. He was an older man of, I believe, eastern European decent. He was being very vocal in his native language and his body was contorting, arms flailing but seldom, if ever, did any food appear. When it did, a paltry plate or two at a time, I used a mental lottery system to determine who it might go to. Those showing the most teeth usually got it.
Time, like it must have eventually passed for the poor slobs in the Roman Coliseum, passed for me and the breakfast/lunch crowd took themselves away. In a massive huff. The evening staff sauntered in, oblivious to our pain and suffering. Now I hated them. The restaurant was going to serve turkey and all the fixings and I could have had some if I'd wanted but I politely declined. An old friend on the East Side had invited me over and I was going there.
At the apartment I showered and got into some civilian clothes. I headed out across Central Park. It was a lovely November afternoon, the kind that steals a little piece of your heart and somehow (I was not high in any way, honest) I determined that things weren't so bad. I was young(ish), I lived in the center of the universe, and I was going to have a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal after all.
I pushed the buzzer at my friend's building and walked up the five flights to his apartment. He greeted me at the door and I gave him a Reader's Digest version of my awful morning and I laughed, I actually laughed about it. It was all in the distant past. We strode down the long hallway toward the kitchen and I realized suddenly that I didn't smell any Thanksgiving smells. Hmmm. There in the kitchen he pointed proudly to the uncooked bird, the unpeeled potatoes, the undone everything.
"I thought we'd do it together," he said. "It will be fun."
I didn't cry. I didn't kill him, either. I believe, though, that I may have had quite a bit to drink and hours later, the food might have been good. I couldn't tell you.