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Monday, September 23, 2013

The Time I Set Bill Clintons Table on Fire

One afternoon in 2005, I was browsing for freelance gigs on Craigslist when one caught my attention.

Well I wasn't experienced and had no tuxedo, but I was 21. At that time, the thought of making $18 per hour made me want to pass out with excitement. I quickly started to make mental lists of all the things I could afford to buy with that kind of money. Non generic brand groceries, prescriptions, OPI nail polish....
So, I hauled ass uptown, and into the catering office with my highly embellished server resume.
They did a quick interview and asked me if I owned a full tuxedo.
I said yes, of course I owned a full tuxedo, because with all of my fine dining server experience, that was a necessity. Duh....
So I walked out the door as NYC's newest cater waiter.

I had a day before training began to track down a full tuxedo and searched all over town. I also needed to have my own crumber & corkscrew. By the time I was done shopping I was broke.
The cheap Polyester tuxedo was the most hideous thing I had ever seen. I just hoped it would be a good investment.

My first day of training was a total disaster. I had just turned 21, and had never had to uncork a bottle of wine before. I was one of those rare good kids who didn't ever drink until I was of age.
So I kept trying to open wine and failing, then I knocked over a jug of water on of the nicely set tables, ruining everything. I also couldn't seem to get down the correct pre determined sides to serve wine, entrees, and dessert on. On top of that and my total lack of coordination, I was turning out to be a pretty bad cater waiter trainee. I left that day feeling like an idiot with my face red from frustration, and trying not to burst into tears.

Though it was a struggle, I miraculously passed the required training days and ended up serving at many celebrity events.
For many of them I was required to sign a contract saying I wouldn't call the paparazzi, take photos or sell stories about what went down at the events. In the days before smart phones they were pretty uptight about all of this.
So, I can't tell you the gossip from the times I served wine to Barbra Walters, hor d'ourves to Donald Trump, dinner to Bruce Willis, and dessert to Larry King. But, one event I can tell you about took place a few months later.

I was hired to serve at a dinner and huge fundraiser put on by The Kennedy family at the NYC Piers.
Bill Clinton, Oprah, Al Gore, Yoko Ono, and more were attending. Bono, Elton John, Paul McCartney were performing. I was super psyched to see all of them play for free.

When I arrived the Secret Service was already stationed in all corners.
There were nearly 75 tables, and a long ornate "Presidential Table" at the front of the room. It was beautiful inside, and slightly intimidating.
All of the tables had to be fully set with plates, programs, place cards, silverware, and napkins. The team leader/catering nazi came over and barked some orders at me to get started. With the help of a few other cater waiters, I finished setting the tables. After what felt like forever, the only thing I had left to do was light the candles.

I had lit half of the tables tea lights with a tall host candle, but time was closing in. I could hear the camera shutters outside as the press took photos of celebrities on the red carpet.
The catering captain/nazi screamed "TEN MINUTES TILL OPEN!!" so I started to rush faster.
I remember the rest of in slow motion......I walked toward the last unlit candles at the Presidential table.....As I tipped my candle down, a flaming chunk of wick fell onto the table cloth below.
The tablecloth caught on fire, followed by the place card, and event program.
I quickly looked around for a glass of water to throw on it, but the catering nazi got to it before I did.

The once ornately set Presidential table was now flooded.
Floating in the wreckage were a charred program, a charred place card that now just said "Efferson Clinton", and chunks of the burned tablecloth.
I stood there mortified and still in shock, holding my long candle and waiting to get tackled by secret service.

The catering nazi screamed at the staff and the other waiters frantically ran around to replacing everything on the huge table before the guests came in. I heard one of them say "What the hell happened?" The catering nazi responded by pointing at me with a stare of death and saying

When I asked if I could do anything to help, they told me I could go home. The celebrity guests had to be held at the door for ten extra minutes until the room was ready again. I left the event space and walked to the subway with tears streaming down my face. 
I kept my full tuxedo, but never got called back for another caiter-waiter job.


Jayne said...

Found your blog through your comment on Julie Powells blog. I'm so glad I did! I laughed out loud with your Bill Clinton story.
As a "retired because I could not take it any more out of work actress" I admire you and shout out loud - keep going! Look forward to hearing more stories.

4rest4trees said...

That is an hysterical story! Sorry you lost the job, but what a great tale you took away with you!