To celebrate my 34th birthday last night, I dined with friends al fresco at Leoci's Trattoria. I enjoyed the lukewarm evening without invasive bugs and tourists or any oppressive heat and humidity.
God Bless April.
Below subtle twinkle lights and opera wafting in from the dining room, I began my feast with an oval platter of delicately carved prosciutto di parma topped with fresh plump mozzarella wedges and sprinkled with sea salt and dusted with cracked black pepper.
Devouring it in its entirety was effortless.
I enjoyed a hearty glass of buttery golden wine from Argentina.
I followed this pleasure with a saucer of hand crafted ravioli sachets filled with a mushroom, cheese, and pear puree, all bathed in a light but creamy truffle sauce.
Split a mini-cappuccino cake from Whole Foods with friends back at the house. We sipped Iranian tea brewed from herbs grown in a neighbor's goddess garden. Cleansed the palate with single serve organic dark chocolate peanut butter cups, each nicely refrigerated.
Today at the NACADA conference luncheon (a word that I can't help but associate with feigned finery and Little Edie Beale's precise pronunciation of the term), I ate nuked green beans wilting in shades of army and day glo green, bagged salad but with killer ranch dressing (this I credit to me not having had it in years), rubbery chicken soaked in a muddy mushroom sauce, lumped up next to a mulch pile of wild rice. Tasteless chocolate cake decorated with desiccated icing flowers for dessert. Generic, electrically-heated metal urn coffee was not offered to our table, though I saw it being sipped elsewhere across the psychedelic carpeted banquet hall.
As I surveyed the room while awaiting they keynote speaker and prepared for strangers from other colleges to accept awards that I didn't know existed, I thought I recognized some of the miserable banquet staff from the three weeks I worked for a local catering staffing firm during the summer of 2009. I recalled those dreadful, sweltering nights spent stuffed into a scratchy tuxedo, shaky legs on loading docks and rushing down service hallways while following barked orders by the pill headed banquet manager who over-shared through leathery cracked lips about her adventures dating a bipolar sailor.
Despite my poverty and the need for extra cash, I quit because I was handicapped for the job. I was attentive, sure, but I couldn't balance a tray on my shoulder, because my spine is curved like a backwards S. Not that I could lift it particularly high to begin with, especially with tall stacks of crockery and slop wavering with every shaky motion.
I recalled how, on my last shift that summer, at the convention center across the river, I pitifully asked an old black man named Furman to help me lift a tray off of the double X shaped tray stand between crowded round tables of drunk Marines and their tattooed, ball gowned wives. I wondered how many times he had done this. How many times he would do it again. And what he would rather be doing, and if he would ever get to do it.
I thought I saw Furman at the luncheon today.
His face, like that of the other servers, was awash with an air of wishing-I-were-invisible-y'all-just-let-me-complete-my-tasks-so-I-can-go-on-the-hell-home-already: set the table, serve the table, clear the table, pile the plates and dump the remnants in an upside down metal room service lid, then carry the cumbersome plastic and cork tray past the double doors into the steamy, chaotic hotel kitchen, over to the conveyor belt sink.
I nodded to Furman in hopeful recognition, but he looked through me with glazed, milky eyes, probably counting the minutes until this ordeal would be over and the time card could be submitted to his manager.
I couldn't blame him. I would have done the same thing.
With my plates cleared and fingerprints left on my water glass, I left the banquet hall to go wash the smell of luncheon off of my hands in the lobby's ladies room.
I examined the bloody cuticles and jagged hang nails that have resulted from two days of washing my hands with the stale metallic stench of industrial soap. I inhaled the aroma of musty wallpaper and bleached Formica counter tops, examined my ragged hands and the crunchy paper towels.
The Marriott is as bad as the downtown Civic Center, I thought, wrinkling my noise at the
memory of many a sunny day spent in service at that dilapidated, barely tolerable building.
Just another local mesothelioma monolith left to rot.
I am not a spoiled person...
Later today while on my way home and free from the confines of the conference, I saw an old black man admiring a shiny root beer brown sedan with gleaming silver rims and bumpers that sat on the edge of the road and straddling an uncut yard that doubled as a parking lot. I hoped that it was Furman, or someone like us, who just wanted to enjoy the finer things, even for a short time, during our time off from work.