On occasional nights, I alter my personality to cater to the whims of the rich because my society has deemed them to be more powerful and important than the average Angelino. Don’t get me wrong! I am thankful for the opportunity to earn the extra income in between living the dream of a starving artist. However, I must admit to it often being a humbling experience.
I have chosen to regard these jobs an opportunity for character study and character building. My night begins with the pep talk I give myself as I drive to the venue. “Smile Caleb!” I tell myself. “It will be a fun night…” I remind myself of my purpose in this event – to play a part in creating a relaxing and fun atmosphere for those celebrating. I park my car on the street of a typically wealthy neighborhood such as Beverly Hills feeling secure that at least my car won’t be broken into in these parts. I straighten my crisp black clothing and walk towards a mansion in front of which I suddenly feel the size of an ant. I am ready to report for work…
I open the ornate door and step into a lavish world I am accustomed to only in these settings. The floors are gleaming and void of a single speck of dust. Ornate paintings, decadent chandeliers, and lavish floral arrangements bring color to the otherwise sterile house. While these places often lack the warmth of a cozy lived-in home, I am in awe of the grandeur of it all. There is the initial introduction to my team captain for the evening where I gauge how long this night is really going to seem. This is followed with the polishing of silver, and the set up of food stations, all of which have to be done with a smile as though I am on a musical theater stage.
Within the first hour, one can identify the hostess. She is typically a less than elated 60yr old tucked, pulled, and stuffed into the body of a gorgeous 35yr old, with porcelain complexion caked with make up, hair that does not move, and lips so full and large that sipping on her glass of merlot becomes a challenge. Beneath her sexy smile lies a death stare at her husband across the hall. Unlike her, the man of the house tends to look his age with greying hair and a less than perfect body. When you are that rich and powerful and can have any woman you wish to decorate your arm, who needs a toned body to match his wife? He sips his 25yr aged scotch on the rocks while talking to his acquaintances laughing at jokes I struggle to see the humor in.
At these events, the kitchen is usually set up in the garage with a temperamental chef, a group of struggling artists like myself ready to tray pass, and of course the one bossy waiter who has no more power than myself. The food is intricate and delicately arranged on heavy ceramic platters with a decorative floral arrangement. It’s so beautiful that I just want to photograph it as art. I instantly feel the weight of the tray on my left arm as I grab a neat pile of napkins and enter the party area thankful that I was assigned to pass out hor d’oeuvres in stead of a tray full of delicate champagne flutes.
Knowing my luck, my tray of glass would come crashing upon encountering a drunk youth flailing her arms in the air as she engages in dramatic recount of her trip to Boca. The crash brings about a momentary silence to the party following a profuse apology from the owner of the catering company to the host. No one is looking at the idiotic girl who actually knocked over the glasses and caused this ruckus, but rather with judgment at the poor waiter who picks up the pieces of broken glass, wipes the mess with his napkins, and slides into the kitchen area with his head hung low in anticipation of being reprimanded and added to the manager’s list of clumsy servers.
The live band brings magic to the halls with festivities as more gorgeous people arrive in their designer clothing and accessories. I sweep through the crowd offering my platter of delights. It is then that I find that extra grace is most required. It is at this moment that I go from admiring the beautiful people of Hollywood glamor from a distance and interacting with them with my glorious smile. I might not be a Hollywood movie star, but I am certainly doing some of my best acting in front of a live audience. I tap inside of me for joy and glee just as I would in a play.
There are many characters to be encountered. There are the guests who glance briefly at the tray being offered to them, and then continue their conversation with those they are trying to make an impression on without ever acknowledging the waiter. There is the woman who stares at the crab cake longingly on my platter and then announces to her friends that she can’t eat it because of her diet. Then the moment she is alone, she snatches a hor d’oeuvre from a passing server’s tray and stuffs it into her mouth before anyone can discover that she is not fasting from food after all.
I smile amused and offer my platter to another group. “Ahi tuna on organic seaweed and brown rice pate topped with a sweet chili ginger sauce?” I recite sweetly with a smile. A guest looks at the tray and turns away as if it is beneath her to address me.
Another guest answers, “It looks beautiful” and continues her conversation with her date.
“That’s not what I asked”, I think to myself. “I asked if you would like one”. I move into the bigger group. All it takes is for one person to pick up an hor d’oeuvre and the others follow suite as if it suddenly became fashionable to eat.
If the hosts are particularly picky about the look of their sterile home, another waiter has the task of following behind me with an empty tray for kebab sticks and appetizer cups so that nothing is left to mar the appearance of the pristine home. In such cases, we move slowly allowing the guests to fully consume their food before disposing their trash onto the bussing tray.
Now that my tray is empty, I head back down the long halls to the kitchen area to replenish. Because it is visually more attractive to only place a few hor d’oeuvres on the tray at a time, this means frequent trips with our trays between the kitchen and the party areas. My feet start to ache in my black dress shoes. And the one moment I choose to be myself and sigh from fatigue, I am seen by the captain who yells out, “SMILE Jeremiah!” as if I have been carrying a chip on my shoulder the entire night. Rather than go into an explanation, I simply nod and smile.
As the night wears on, even the food mongers are welcomed. These are the ones who quickly figure out at a party which direction the food comes from and camp themselves in front of our path. They have no shame when it comes to consuming the food. A waiter is usually thankful because this means that it will be a shorter distance to the kitchen with an empty tray. What is irritating however is when you attempt to zip past a food monger to spread the food to the rest of the guests and feel a finger tap you on the shoulder and call you back like a common servant.
What is also irritating is when you have a full tray of food to pass, and someone sees you and drops their used napkin, kebab stick or shrimp tail on your tray oblivious of the fact that their trash might just contaminate the clean food, which they themselves would not like to be served next to a pile of rubbish.
Towards the end of the night it is quite natural to be starving. Even the less than popular hor d’oeuvres, which are still circulating, looks appetizing. On the occasion that I make it back to the kitchen past the food mongers with one goat cheese cup left, I contemplate whether or not to pop that in my mouth despite the blow to my pride at being seen by the captain and reprimanded for being a food stealer. “But is that such a crime?” I ask myself. After all the chefs are eating constantly as they replenish the trays. Before I have time to weigh the consequences, another waiter or the captain himself swipes the last goat cheese cup off my tray and stuffs it into his own mouth. I respond with what is expected of me… I smile!
The last hour goes by ever so slowly as the clean up begins. Thankfully the bussing trays are much lighter than the serving ones. I load my tray with empty glasses, used cocktail napkins, and the occasional meatball that has been smashed onto the floor. When the trucks have been loaded, we are allowed to finally sign out. I am thankful for the income but relieved to step out into the night air and release the knot of my black tie with spatters of dirty dishwater and spilled wine. I smile again as I get into my car and drive towards my more humble neighborhood. Only this time my smile is genuine at the thought of a wife waiting up for me and the comfort of a hearty non-pretentious sandwich that will soon settle my rumbling belly.