Jonah was there behind the bar, putting the dirty towel bin and the trash can in place, when I came in Monday. He's in loose athletic shorts and high tops, but well-groomed with shaved head and mustache, and he will change before the door opens. "Hello, Sir, my strong man," he says to me, and I greet him back with the same words. I've come to appreciate his work ethic very much, though his fastidiousness would cause him to interrupt or question me as to a better way of doing things in the course of service, and I've been a bit grumpy a few times this year, trying to, but not always rising above the moods of stress. I turn on the power amp and put the iPod's Pandora Luigi Boccherini station on and Jonah says, thank you, sir, thank you, as the calm music comes from the surrounding speaker system above the room's panel of indirect lighting.
The furniture needed to be rearranged for jazz night set-up, and I had some stocking to do, post inventory day's low stock. It has been the year of not having a busboy assigned to the upstairs wine bar, those nights I work by myself when anything can happen, and tonight I will have at least a conscientious busser to help me set up before he goes downstairs to be the downstairs busser, my food runner, appearing occasionally to ferry plates up from the kitchen as they are ready, as well as taking the dirty plates I will clear from the tables. He'll bring bread up, warmed with great pride.
I ask the lady downstairs, the server, the French veteran who is taking time out to study her healing practices on a laptop at table close to the front door, not looking up, if I will have any help tonight, and my voice quavers a bit, out of a season of frustration. That's the business, sometimes, they ask too much of you. "Yeah, F. is coming," she says, without elaborating, going back to her studies. Her dining room is all set up to go, but for the one table she's at, cleared of place settings. The downstairs servers never seem to have much to do when I come in, but they answer the phone, which is something I, on the run of set-up, have no extra focus for.
I lug some mineral water up from the basement, some lemons and limes, Sancerre, soda water, fresh towels, and eventually, as the clock ticks toward 5:30 when the door opens, I proceed to, along with Jonah, start moving tables around. The previous night there was a sixteen top back in the wine room. The little Ukrainian server helped handle the party, taking the order, distributing the wine and the food orders to the appropriate guests, but again the shared busboy between downstairs and upstairs left us with a food runner, and because of her short reach I had to help clear the plates of each course and pour water, etc., while keeping up with the bar, more or less full, and a few other customers seated at the low tables. At the end of her evening, as she helped out downstairs some, came back to serve the birthday cake, she asked me if there was more she could do, anything else, but I was busy handling the regulars with their own demands, and by the end of the night as Hugo, the veteran, a bull in a china shop, came up from downstairs and stormed through, demanding if I wanted the trash taken out, still having plates to clear, the back room was left unset, not even the silverware in folded napkins for the 14 place settings was done, and soon it was midnight, left alone with a plate of veal cheeks. Alina was in the ladies room by 9 or so, and came out dressed as a genie in green and I wasn't about to stop her as she bounded out, smiling at a customer lady's happy chuckle.
I am setting up the back tables now, putting what I have set up on them, the mats, wine and water glasses, and all of this with the clock ticking, and no one of server form showing up to help me, and we are all supposed to be pooling our tips, a fair allocation of work between us all. Finally at 5:20 the kitchen puts on the family meal, scraps of Greek style chicken that must be hunted for on the odd bones along with some rotini pasta I have to avoid and I am hungry. "Yes, F. was called in, he had to go home and take a shower, he'll be here at 6." Oh, you could have told me that.
The staff meals this year and the one past have not been so great at The Dying Gaul. Often enough just pasta, and even one who knows how bad pasta is for his system, his medical condition of being a Type O, hard to resist a bowl when you're starving, stressed, and the door is about to open on a busy night and you feel you need something in your stomach. Before one could count more on a decent serving of animal protein. A whole chicken cut-up would be out on a baking pan with onions and jus, meatloaf, at the least shepherd's pie. That was the old days. Before the new chef, who is now no longer new and indeed a good friend.
F shows up at 6, as I stand leaning against the closet door by the bar's entrance, just five minutes ago all set, even the tables dirty little sticky spots treated with a rag and windex and a light bulb changed. Just call me if you need me.
Jazz Night is never easy. There's an extra multiplication of the things that normally go on, a condensing of too many things into not a big time slot. The music trio persists periodically hounding me for water, and soon balancing this and that, engaged as I can be with the bar chit chat, the table checks, the credit card payments processed, are piling up in a stack below the POS screen above the cash drawer, no time really to sort things out, in the meantime putting the glass washing machine through, wiping all the glasses off inside and out. There's a nice couple having dinner, lightly dressed for Halloween in green frog and pink pig snout, in from the Palisades, a general pleasant mood, and I get the order for the band in to not keep the kitchen along with my dinner, the hunger rising in me. I have to get the filles du jazz dinner order in before the kitchen closes.
Jonah comes up from time to time. He wants to completely finish up downstairs before returning to help me do the real clean-up, sweep, etc., which leaves me with more tasks to do, keeping busy.
And all the while, of course, blood sugar levels are dropping, hunger is rising, stress is rising, the tasting of wine has been celebrated all night, and everyone else is having a glass, so, eventually, jangled by the singer putting an empty glass in front of me with the implicit understanding that she needs more water, having left the pint glass I gave her before to serve that purpose on a table nearby, what are you going to do? The immediate fix-all, looking away from it as you might try.
Sleepy eyed server, the six top canceled anyway, has stayed on 'til ten to collect his share of the weekly tip pool point. By the time I pull my dinner plate out of the oven, it's 11:30, and after I eat, wolfing things down, there's enough to keep me busy 'til 12:45.
The next night is wine tasting night, and it's a grower blanc to blancs champagne with apple and orchard floor notes distinctly within, and I can give my line about how champagne is an existential wine, a long process of decay, and I do not particularly care for the sour notes, but that's where I guess the bubbles come in. Acidic. The versatile food wine. A slow start, the wine rep has time to do her iPad tablet paper work as I entertain the arriving guests as their appearance slowly escalates.
A good job I do, a lot of knowledge I have, she tells me as she prepares to leave, having enjoyed the crowd, the possibility of a wine I had her taste being corked, which provoked my assessment that no it wasn't corked but I could see why it might mimic that mustiness. "Has a strange woodiness," I said, and that provoked howls of laughter at one half the small bar, spreading across to the rest. I smiled. The Englishman is leaning in to the amiable regular couple over their wine glasses. "Yes, I thought I'd slip that in."
But again, there's a lot of running involved, the entertainment of regulars with their regular questions and interest in what might being on on election night. The wine that initially seemed corked I'd opened for the large party back in the room, having lugged all that up for another large group of fifteen or so, my assigned help having a day job so he won't be in til six thirty or so, the party not til 8:30 anyway, Spaniards, I pour for a regular couple enjoying the specials, a wild boar ragout and monkfish medallions. They like it. The Spaniards will only be seven, and they have radically changed their wine choices, talked through it by the boss, who is perfect for the job and the semblance of order, for which I am the grounding of to good extent.
The last night of my workweek, the most popular group, playing for an animated crowd, a full-house, everything reserved, even seats at the bar. The start is slow, then the rush to seat everyone, and then later to find room for the later wave, and a new rush to close the kitchen at 9:30, not 10:00, though the musicians play their jazz til 10:00... At one point late in service a big man comments how enjoyable it is watching me move, 'like an octopus.' Many arms. But it is all tiring, and by 10:15 the desire to calm the nerves and put some sugar back in the blood and fool the neurotransmitters into some form of working under less stress again, the urge to have a sip of red, and I always pick the one lowest in alcohol, is overwhelming. A nice couple I've cultivated come up to the bar for a chat. There are the tannat wines of Uruguay he's had, he tells me about over the cognac I've poured for him. He's the French Alps version of Sean Connery, and his lady told me how in old Persia one who pours wine is a spiritual being. I come clean about how I was too shy to say hi to them when I saw them two summers ago at the Pride Parade coming back from a baby shower. They hit it off with the elder couple who sat next to them, pointing out my happiness that they were juxtaposed. We talk about growing up out in the country side, his small village, the fun of driving uphill in the wintertime, and of her foray into Spain teaching English.
The percussionist plays a lone drum so a tipsy lady can dance belly dance style who's stayed at the bar. The guitarists have gone home.
I'm there 'til late, struggling to clean up and restore order. I eat my cassoulet, run a report, clock out, and go back to the landing of the wine room and lay back on a few red seat cushions to fall into an exhausted nap for a good forty minutes before rousing myself up to fill out the paper work.
The pattern of such a night, six straight attentive hours on your feet, no time to eat, the dip in blood sugar levels, the rise of stress, the craving, the glass of wine to smooth out the barman's long night, the chain reaction of released neurotransmitters that alcohol brings followed by the sudden drop of them, that's what happens every night in the restaurant. And strangely enough, as I research the web on the link between hypoglycemia and alcoholic tendencies, the battle is won through nutrition, through not sugar or carbs but the proteins and fats, a steady intake of them. In fact, that prescription of diet is pretty much identical to the blood type O diet, to the eat like a caveman to restore yourself, a crucial part of that being the nutrients to restore the natural balance of neurotransmitters that caffeine, sugar, stress and that pure form of sugar found in alcohol throws very much off. Meat, animal protein, fish, eggs, vegetables, avoid the carbs. In the rush, though, your guard down, it's hard to make room for that bite to eat, or is it that I just feel too self-conscious about everything.
The first day off I have no energy, none, don't want to do anything. Good thing the refrigerator has some decent nutrition to offer, sliced organic turkey breast, the bit of bolognese meat stashed away from a previous staff meal, lamb sausages if I'm up for cooking them. I'm a couch potato all day after calling my mom to check in, napping in and out. It's not until late that I rise with energy to take the trash out and do a load of laundry. But this is boring stuff, the dishes you accumulate, and there is some good wine still in the fridge, and the late hours are after all that nice to have to yourself and the last crickets. But again, this is not a good habit for the animal with Type O blood trying to take care.