Pondering A Life Of Hospitality


Recently a client asked if any one situation stood out in my hospitality career. Hmm, that’s a loaded question.

There was the groom who begged for a make-up miracle to conceal his black eye. Pimps don’t care if it’s your wedding day – any man who slinks out between nuptials and reception to bang a hooker and refuses to pay, deserves more than a black eye.

Standing between drunks and free flowing alcohol is a barrel of laughs – “I thought they gassed all the Jews” stands out as one way to guarantee a call to security is handled promptly.

Being hired to manage a “birthday party”, arrive to find a Bris, explain politely we could have provided a loaf of bread to “break” had they bothered to ask, negotiate compromise with the Rabbi (technically ceremonial “breaking” of sliced bread for the spinach dip fulfills ritual requirements, right? ) Post party clean-up – realize the coffee cup in my hand contains blood soaked gauze and foreskin.

Applying red nail polish to a bowl of raw chicken feet (Metallica dressing room), assuring Neil Diamond I would fire any staff who made eye contact with him. Asked to deliver a bottle of Jack Daniels (won’t say whose dressing room) moments after they trotted in a sheep on a leash. Jack in hand, walked in on rock star performing a sex act with said sheep. Brushing lint off Elton John’s jacket. Giving Robert Plant a stern piece of my mind for ignoring tour protocol regarding production company approval of any additional expenses. His “sorry ma’am” still rings in my ears.

Joe Cocker wearing nothing but boxer shorts, mesmerized by imperfections of his vulnerable shell, I set dinner on a table. He strikes up a conversation, for 30 effortless minutes we discuss the cosmos. Myself, Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt and Sarah McLachlan post show in a dark, empty arena – four ladies talking until the wee hours of morning. B.B. King holding court after his show, not a “meet and greet”, nothing formal, seems he just felt like hanging around. An hour passes, another, it’s after 1 am when he calls me over – “Darlin, I could really use some BBQ chips”.  He takes my hand, presses something into the palm and holds on for a peculiarly long time. He lets go, I open my hand to find a 14K gold pendant commemorating B.B. King’s final tour.

Menstrual calamities – cutting out red stained section of hysterical brides’ wedding dress, fashioning faux lace from white tissue paper, hand stitching in place with 10 minutes to spare before she walked down the aisle. Young Asian women with limited English, “help” drew my attention to blood running down both legs from crotch length spandex to 4 inch stilettos. Couldn’t find a feminine product but offered a jug of warm water and 2 clean bar rags. “You clean” she replied. “Wash your own legs” is universal in any language, she shrugged as I led her out the back door to tidy up in our cargo van. Hunched over, wobbling on stilettos, she used one cloth to wash, stuffed the other in her panties, ran back inside, jumped on stage to sing a karaoke rendition of Lady Gaga, I Was Born This Way.

Work is why I’m fearless, the reason my then teenage son once declared “Mom, you’re the MOST” (Master Of Small Talk). Amusement, satisfaction and unusual strokes knock without invitation. Truth be told, the stand out situation of hospitality life is recognizing the moment adrenalin flips a switch at “go time”. Unfazed, daunted, hesitant or perturbed, go time is my time to shine.

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Notes Can Be Broken


Age is a state of mind, or so I thought until 57 years kicked me in the ass this week. Work has always been physical, I credit on the job activity with keeping me healthy, it never occurred to me I could be broken.

The enormity of off site catering is difficult to explain. We can’t run to a shelf for equipment, everything we need is loaded into a truck, loaded out when we’re done. On arrival rented tables, chairs, glassware, ice, plates, cutlery and ovens wait for distribution. Roll out tables, set them and place chairs. Build bars, kitchen and buffets. Four hours of hard labour under our belts before the first guest arrives if we’re lucky, a frenzied hour and a half if we’re in deep shit. We build, adapt and improvise spectacular parties without complaint. Guests remember the meal and libations, nobody cares about logistics.

Funny thing is, my job is to ensure guests don’t care about logistics. I’m a Swiss Army Knife – sturdy, reliable, a tool for any situation. My strokes come from putting clients at ease and comradely moments when staff exhale silent acknowledgement of our work ethic. Before today thoughts of reaching physical limits capable of breaking me down were inconceivable.Now I face a sobering truth, Notes can be broken.

Seven day chronology of a shattered Notes – Last Friday was day one, a 300 person plated dinner under a tent on a sports field. Day two ran sixteen and a half hours, 265 guests on a rural estate for a quarter of a million dollar wedding. Fitbit equipped staff recorded walking over 25 kilometers back and forth from kitchen to party tents.At least the valets got golf carts, my staff operated on stoic determination.I don’t remember driving home at 5 am but won’t soon forget catatonic day 3 unable to get out of bed. Day four demanded 13 hours, the first 8 humping lunch deliveries all over town followed by a 250 guest reception. Day five’s plated dinner came with stairs, mere mortals might cry, we laughed at the irony. Yesterday was day six, 700 guests at an animation studio. 12 themed food stations spread over 4 floors. Routine day seven dawned without adrenaline, driving to work I wondered what was wrong with me. Denial stalled inevitable until a few hours ago when processing realities of the next two days off erupted in spontaneous tears.

Solace kindly reminded me how many staff half my age were broken this week. Thank you solace, point taken. Come Monday morning glue on  shattered edges will dry. My job is like childbirth – forget the pain and look forward to doing it again.

 

Never Open My Freezer


My daughter wanted small animal skulls for an art project. Naturally she asked my brother, a perfectly reasonable request none of us considered remarkable. “No problem” he said. We promptly forgot about it for several months. Out of mind until he messaged to expect a parcel sent Greyhound express.

If I could bottle my brother the label would read “Essence of  decency, character, work ethic, empathy, moral fibre and principles”. A man of few words, words saved for storytelling delivered with mesmerizing cadence matched only by the twinkle in his eye. Stories of thwacking a bear on the nose while witching for water, sticking his hand down a drainpipe to extract a rattlesnake, plunging through alone in the wilderness pond ice under the weight of fur bearing animals, once and for all riddance of Saturday morning Jehovah Witness interruption courtesy a half skinned Marmot passed off as his cat. Trapper, water diviner, nuisance wildlife problem solver, woodsman and yes – provider of small animal skulls for an art project.

Not wanting to hurt his feelings I kept an open mind to caution our Greyhound parcel was perishable. “Do tell” seemed appropriate. “Wow, thank you” was all I could muster on hearing its contents. It would appear ungracious to point out she wanted “small” animal skulls, how could I argue with news of several Lynx skulls (skinned but not free of brain matter), raccoons, skunk, marmot and squirrel similarly stripped but not purged and one cougar head skin intact. Not wanting to be a ninny, I heard myself calmly remind him I lived in the city. What were we supposed to do?

No worries he said. Put everything in a large pot, boil until bits start floating to the top. It might take a while, if it smells disgusting throw in some bay leaves and pretend you’re making stew. OMG!! I’ll spare subsequent details, suffice to say it involved extraction of soft boiled tissue.

He would have been proud. Stoic, unflappable determination opened the package, assessed the situation, put all but the far too large cougar head in a pot set on boil. Congratulatory back slaps waned relative to ever growing gray pot scum.I couldn’t say how long it boiled, I can attest to the moment gag reflex stench recalled adding herbs to skull stew. Big mistake! Rubber gloves – check. Soft tissue extraction implements – check. Why aren’t these skulls coming clean? Where did we go wrong?

Suddenly my daughter shouts “abandon ship” – we rationalize postponement not failure. “it’s ok, we just ran out of time, we’ll try again tomorrow”. We carry the pot downstairs intent on flushing skull scum water down the toilet. Nothing prepared us for the last swirling toilet gurgle ejecting a rogue floating skunk skull – a spectacle so absurd both of us collapsed in hysterical stress release laughter. Composure returned with dutiful bagging of drained animal parts. Bag of drained bits back in  pot, punctuated with the satisfying clang of lid containment. Cougar head wrapped in another bag – both problems parked in a basement chest freezer.

That was five years ago, it goes without saying our one and only attempt would be the last.We don’t talk about that day, it’s far too awful. Guilt of wimping out is troublesome. Worse still, I can’t bring myself to deal with contents of the freezer for fear of disappointing my brother. We no longer use the freezer, it serves to preserve a pot of assorted par- boiled skulls and one glorious skin intact cougar head. I need help!! Anyone looking for a frozen cougar head?

4 AM Birthday Party


Throwing myself a birthday party at 4 am is complicated. Not complicated in my existence, more justification for pouring another glass of wine between laundry’s wash and rinse cycle. Strictly speaking my 57th birthday expired at midnight, I say it’s history when sleep delivers a new day. Half an hour ago pre-dawn wine glow launched an ambush of conscience – everyone knows how much I work, so what if my birthday falls on the 12th straight day in a row and tomorrow makes 13. Why did I tell co-workers it was my birthday? Was I feeling sorry for myself?

My 57th birthday, 12th work day without a break started at noon and didn’t end at 2:30 am when I walked in the front door with a bundle of uniforms to wash for tomorrow’s parties. Oh crap, I’m feeling sorry for myself! Quick, wish me a happy birthday because laundry is done and my wine bottle is empty. Never mind, I’m going to bed 🙂

Immortal Jellyfish


In 1988 science stumbled upon proof of eternal life – immortality thrived in the form of a minuscule jellyfish. German marine biology student Christian Sommer spent a summer on the Italian Riviera studying invertebrates. Long story short (see link below) he noticed something unusual about Turritopsis Dohrnii – a tiny jellyfish only 4.5 mm wide at maturity.

http://immortal-jellyfish.com/

Observing petri dish specimens, Sommer watched them reproduce followed by an astounding transformation – reverse aging to juvenile polyp stage. Liken it to a butterfly becoming a caterpillar or bird becoming an egg, hatching as a new chick. Instead of dying, they started their life cycle over again.

Science can’t explain the immortal jellyfish beyond understanding cellular trans-differentiation happens during rejuvenation – one cell type is converted into another (skin cell might become a nerve cell ). Crazy as it sounds, mankind’s elusive quest for longevity might have it all wrong. Immortality’s secret could be locked in an obscure jellyfish content to reproduce and start over again.

The “immortal jellyfish” can transform itself back into a polyp and begin life anew. Credit Takashi Murai

How To Make An Impression


What a strange day. Work started at 8:30 am – 70th birthday party for the father of a repeat client, brunch booked by a woman insisting I personally handle festivities. Truth is, lasting impressions are common, I’m good at my job. Meeting hundreds of clients a year, committing each name to memory isn’t a priority. No worries, even if greeting her face to face doesn’t kindle a spark, she won’t suspect otherwise.

Genuine “hello, so nice to see you agains” left my lips. “How long has it been?”. Answering “eleven months, let me find my husband and children, I want you to see the baby”, offered  just enough time for a secret love my job happy dance. Off she went, oblivious to her status on my impression list.

Eleven months ago she booked a “birthday” party – 70 guests, generous selection of stationed cocktail reception food, birthday cake – standard family party. A heads up regarding relevant details would have been nice. “Guests 5-7 pm” isn’t the same as “you can’t serve anyone until the Rabbi circumcises my son, blesses the food and breaks bread”. OK – good to know.

Adaptability is my middle name -hardly the first, certainly not the last event to stray off course – what impressed client to ask for me by name almost a year later? Bah, doesn’t matter! Her name meant n0thing until the moment fresh eyes prompted “pinch me now, it doesn’t  get better than this!”

Repeat client perfection has nothing to do with her impression, everything to do with mine. I wonder if she knows our first encounter is legendary? Not for omitting details of the Bris – in my line of work that’s another day at the office. Her legend wasn’t born during the party, it grew from something left behind.

If ever in doubt as to how to make a impression, let me assure you – a coffee cup of foreskin and bloody gauze will suffice. No point in calling out “excuse me, you forgot something”, goodbye pleasantries had been exchanged. Standing alone, cup of foreskin in hand, several thoughts came to mind. Was this usual practice? An oversight? Might they return in panicked haste to retrieve it?

Twenty minutes clean up, one minor detail before walking out the door. Tossing coffee cup in the garbage bin, I drove away pondering the absurdity of  believing it socially acceptable to leave the caterer a cup of bloody gauze and snipped bits. Regardless, I made a positive impression, an imprint void of coffee cup acknowledgements or comprehension of the lasting impression stamped on me.

 

 

 

 

 

Ghostbuster Caps The Day


Work can be tedious. Dwelling on matters of daunting physical exertion, tricky timelines, spur of the moment demands, sloppy drunks, mothers of the bride, uppity executive assistants or barbecuing in torrential rain are pointless. Not dismissing the probability of needing my head examined, I remain steadfast in belief – attitude is everything. Every so often inexplicable moments of joy remind me why hospitality puts a smile on my face.

I saw his hands first, trembling with effort as they struggled to grasp a burger. Looking up, assistance with cheese, tomato and mustard found the man who made my day. I swear his eyes twinkled when “I like your hat” left my lips. “Thank you” he smiled. Eons beyond “liking” an eighty something year old gentleman gangster rocking a 1980’s Ghostbusters cap, I turned and walked away, happier than I’ve been in a very long time.

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