This week we've asked some of our favorite writers to share tales of some of their favorite — and least-favorite — food workplace memories. Let's call the series "Forked." Today, we continue with a fine meal in New England.
“You know Callie hates you, right?” Lou asked casually.
I recoiled. “Who?”
“Callie. She went to high school with us.”
“I have no idea who that is.”
“She works with me at the pizza place,” said Lou. “She waits tables. And she hates you.”
Great, I thought. An enemy. And someone I wouldn’t even recognize in the street.
It was my 18th humid July in Middlebury, Vermont, and my first summer back from college. I had found a job waiting tables at the Waybury Inn, a quaint little hotel that housed a beloved local restaurant. The Waybury Inn was like a lot of New England establishments, a beautiful old building of clapboard walls and sloped roofs tucked into bucolic woods. Tourists paid handsomely to spend the night there, and even more handsomely for the regional wines and bourbon steaks.
The inn was also famous for another reason: It was the supposed setting for the sitcom Newhart. The Waybury was where Larry, Darryl, and Darryl had yukked it up with Dick and Joanna.
This was why Callie hated me: I was waiting tables at this fabled eatery, and she was working at a pizzeria.
“She says you guys are lazy,” said Lou, one of my closest childhood friends. “You wait on like three tables at a time. Meanwhile, we’re serving 200 pizzas a night. She keeps saying you guys make so much money in tips, but you don’t deserve it, because you barely work at all.”
I was upset, of course. But whoever this Callie was, she was right. I only did wait three tables at a time. Worse, I was terrible at all. Those three measly tables caused hours of unrelenting stress. I had never waited tables before, much less in a fine-dining establishment, and everything was new to me. I had to rinse and chop and decorate the house salads. I had to serve each wine in the traditional way, allowing the diner to sniff his selection, then pouring clockwise, first for the ladies, then for the men.
Since I had grown up a straight-edged kid with a rustic palate, I had little idea what I was serving. I didn’t know what made the venison “au poivre.” I had never tasted crème brulee. When one patron asked for “a nice port,” I gave him directions to the closest harbor. The kitchen’s chef, a mustached man reared in France, spent most of my shifts shaking his head in dismay.
Still, I kept at it, and somehow I kept my job. Yes, I dropped a glass of wine on a woman’s head. Yes, I kept one table waiting for an hour before remembering their entrée. And yes, I forgot my black dress shoes one day, wearing my white tennis shoes instead. When the French chef saw this, he handed me a black magic marker.
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“For your shoes.”
After four nerve-wracking months, I turned in my apron, as planned. The owners wished me well. I went back to school, grateful to have survived my own klutziness, happy to hand the job off to someone worthier.
A few months later, Lou and I talked on the phone. “By the way,” he said, “Callie got a job at the Waybury.”
“No kidding! How does she like it?”
“Not much. She got fired after two weeks.”
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I can’t say I didn’t enjoy hearing that.
About the artist: A self-annointed "action figure anthropologist," Danny Neumann has assigned himself the task of photographing parvusplasticus populus [little plastic people] in their natural environments. Employing subtle variations in pose and juxtaposition, he tries hard to blur the lines between reality and fiction, hoping to bring action figures to life, recreating the magical way toys are seen through the eyes of a child. Catch up with him at cantinadan.com.
About the toys: Between 1974 and 1977, Playskool produced a charming series of "Familiar Places" playsets. Not to be confused with Fisher Price "Little People," these 2-inch figures were square and nicknamed "Blockheads." The playsets enabled them to visit a McDonald's restaurant, a Holiday Inn, a Texaco gas station, a national park — and now, this Chow Bella series.