Monday, March 13, 2006

When a Lie Beats the Truth

In college I worked for a fancy Boston catering company. One fall Saturday we did a wedding at a Brocton art museum. I was happy to go on a drive out of the city for the afternoon so I could see the leaves change, at least from the highway.

As these things went, it was a fairly high-toned event. More than anything, the bride wanted to demonstrate that she had class. This is almost always a mistake, especially when it's reflected in the menu. As part of the meal, she had chosen a sorbet course as a traditional pallet cleanser in between the appetizer and the entree.

Now even among lace-curtin, banking Irish folks, sorbet is not a regular part of any meal. So as the first servers went out onto the floor with trays of champaign glasses filled with scoops of bitter, citrus ice, you could see the perplexed looks on the faces of all the crag-faced old hibernians in the room. When they tasted it, their confused looks turned to outright scowls. Everyone on staff knew this would happen.

Back in the kitchen, we hustled to get the stuff out so we could finish the dinner. Robbie, the manager, scooped the sorbet from a big pickle bucket furiously. But then a funny thing happened. We ran out. One table of ten remained, and all that was left of the sorbet was a runny soup at the bottom of the pickle bucket.

This is a fairly common occurence in event catering. You run out of a dish, or you forget it at the shop, and then you improvise. In most cases you wind up dashing off to a Cumberland Farms or 7-11 and buying a substitute. In this case, the museum was 5 miles from the nearest store and folks were waiting for their sorbet. So we upended the kitchen. By the grace of God, a museum staffer clearly had a thing for Squeeze Pops. The freezer held a box and a half of the things. So we busted out the box, cut open the plastic envelopes of flavored ice, mashed them up with the remains of the sorbet and scooped the whole mess out into 10 marie antoinette champaign glasses. Garnished with a mint leaf, they looked pretty good.

Then I took the tray on my shoulder and walked out into the room. I smirked the whole time I was serving.

Now here's the funny part. The table that received the Squeeze Pop sorbet was the only table at which everyone finished their sorbet.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Several years ago I was looking at a map of North America. This was at a moment at work when I should have been working but was not. Like you, I do a lot of this. The standard daydream of driving a car across the United States scrolled through my mind, reflexively as it does anytime anyone looks at a map.

We've been programmed to imagine our own personal Dean Moriarty showing up on our doorstep, fresh from prison or reform school, holding the keys to a Hudson of dubious origin, urging us to just go. And in our minds, we go, for a second. We grab a clean shirt, a pack of smokes and get in the car.

New York's gravity falls away suddenly. What seemed impossible, escaping the pull of our familiar neighborhood, our effete comfy friends is now easy, inevitable. The car rolls down the BQE, over the Williamsburg Bridge, through the rotting gothic archways of steel from whence we watched the Twin Towers burn and peel down to the street like a wilting lily, down to the perpetual low-grade catastrophe of Delancy street and across the cluttered blur of fancy Soho shops until we plunge into the tunnel and emerge squinting in the daylight of New Jersey. At this moment even Newark, rising halfway to the horizon holds greater promise than anything we've seen in years. Out there beyond the stacks of Newark lay Pennsylvania, and we know it will seem huge when we're in it, but in the coming weeks it will be a fleeting blip when compared to the eternity of Nebraska.

Most of us, at this moment in the daydream just click on another link and navigate from Google maps to Gawker or the Hun. We had a Dean Moriarty in our lives once, but we stopped hanging out with him years ago, when he almost got us arrested in Flagstaff. (Guns were involved, as was the threat of sodomy.) Even if we did still know someone like Dean Moriarty, we'd keep him and his borrowed cars and bennies and slutty jazz-loving girlfriends at arms length. Hectic adventures are nice to read about, and maybe even pretty good to watch on TV, but what with the prospect of venerial diseases, twisted highway wrecks in cars that have no seatbelts nevermind airbags, yee. An image flashes through our mind of our body crushing against the windshield when our Dean dozes off, and we keep the daydream in its unrealized state, like the crush we've got on that girl at work.

But I have been sitting at someone else's desk, doing someone elses work for too long. My daydreams are overwhelming me now, spilling out in meetings, right on the conference room table. Someone suggests that we need to "streamline our workflow," and I say, "No, we all need to quit this shit and be dangerous. It's the last chance we've got."

They write it up on the whiteboard. The marker squeaks and in bright blue ink, it looks less real.