I have been very lax in writing on this blog. I have no excuse; I've just been busy and a woose. So it's time to play a little catch up.
My New Year's Eve will go down in history as one of the most beautiful and poignant of my life. I worked a night shift at work and it was insanely busy. The kitchen manager said he was just staring at all the tickets on the line, like a deer in headlights, overwhelmed. That's how it was for all of us. The dishwashers were so stressed, the rest of the staff were taking bets to see if any of them just walked out. Nobody did. We ran and ran and ran, and I for one was very grateful. Because of the pneumonia, I'd missed two weeks of work and was terrified about rent, which I still didn't have yet.
Everybody pulled together; other servers walked my food to my tables, I emptied the ginormous garbage bags in the dish ring as often as I could, this person made coffee, that person got ice. In the midst of all that turmoil, I felt a smile coming, the kind that starts in your belly and grows into a ridiculous Cheshire cat grin. I caught glimpses of stressed out expressions, half of them irritated that I had this zen-like glow during the tornado of angst and panic and fragrant feasting all around us. But I couldn't help it. I was struck on this night of new birth, the beginning of a whole new year, by the beauty of these absolutely precious human beings I work with. They are the salt of the earth. They bitch and moan and gripe, crack off color jokes and fence with snide wit, but they are wonderful, big-hearted people. On that night of nights, I was reminded of that lovely truth, even as I was being jostled and bumped and splashed with cocktail sauce. Right there, in the Penn Station rush hour that is the typical kitchen of a busy restaurant, I thanked all the gods that be that I was there, with these people and living the life I'm living.
When I first came to New York, as many of you know, the back tire of my van blew from rocks on the Pennsylvanian highway. The van was totaled. I was unhurt, but the tiny wad of money I had for the move was eaten up by the accident. Instead of an apartment of my own, as I'd planned, I had to settle for a rented room in a house. It had to be walking distance from my job because I had no transportation. I got sick then too, probably from unloading my belongings from the wreckage in a freezing downpour, and missed four days from my first week at work. Two friends on the staff, whom I'd known from before, vouched for me to the skeptical managers, and I was lucky to keep the job. These are generous, loyal folk.
One of the older waitresses fell a few months ago. Osteoporosis had turned her bones to chalk, and she broke her wrist, shoulder and pelvis. Staff members went to BJ's and bought cases of candy and cookies, which they brought to work with the sign "Candy for Sarah. $1 Each." Every night since, we've all bought something, and an envelope of cash goes to Sarah's house once a week. I have half a dozen candy bars in my night stand table I still haven't gotten to. When one waiter's sister died unexpectedly, we got together a donation and everybody signed a card. When a kitchen staffer lost her mother, everybody pitched in. With such hard times and tips so below average, all year, the people at this restaurant still dug into their own almost empty wallets and gave anything they could. We're having a charity drive to donate a tiny percentage of our paychecks to help anybody in need and so far, almost eighty percent of the staff has signed up. New wait staff, wide-eyed and shivering with terror at how hard a job it actually is, are brought into the fold and protected by senior staffers, and we all have a kind word and a bit of patience for them. A Christmas party was given for the children of all the employees. Every kid got a present and an ornament they could decorate themselves; little bells made from old sauce cups and ribbon. They also donated dozens of toys and books to a children's charity for the holidays. On Christmas Eve, the managers had concocted a feast for us all. On New Year's, it was the same. Sacred kindness in such a silly place; my own breathless miracle of a Dickensonian Christmas and golden New Year. I had no resolution for 2011 except to keep the ball rolling on my memoir Freak. I didn't care about losing weight, or making more money, or finding a mate. I had my miracle, and my lovely, lovely wish to find the beauty in people. It was right here, among the sour cream and squeaky, slip-resistant shoes. So I grinned like a Cheshire cat and hauled thirty pound trays of food until right before midnight, when I was finally closed and could go home. I walked across the street to the bar where my co-worker Rose was waiting. A bunch of them had gone over to have a drink together. Rose had offered to give me a ride. I dislike bars, so texted her from outside.
As we got in her car, both of us punch-drunk with exhaustion, I said, "I never got champagne. I've had such an incredibly wonderful year, I wanted to get champagne for tonight." She laughed wearily, said, "Well, it's too late now," and started the car.
Somebody tapped on the passenger window. It was Valerie, a rowdy, hilarious staffer. I rolled the window down and she said, "Ya wanna toast in the New Year? I got champagne in the trunk of my car." It was a tradition with Valerie. She told us she did it every year. So we tapped on various windows of different cars and they all opened their doors and came out into the damp cold air. We toasted in the New Year with pink champagne in paper cups and I thought I would never know a more precious, beloved night that this one. We were all bone weary and grinning like chesires, swaddled in cheap coats and thick mufflers, swilling $4.95 a bottle strawberry champagne like the finest Dom Perignon. I slurped mine and yelled, "Wait! Everybody, we have to toast my book. We have to toast Freak!" So we jammed our arms high in the sky and everybody shouted, "Rebecca's book! To Freak!" as the clock tolled in the New Year. Sophia added her own spin: "I'm RICH, BITCH!"
As I said, priceless. Happy New Year.