Monday, June 27, 2016

Characters ~ The Sacred Cow

The Sacred Cow- Home of Aunt Ruth’s Glass Grape Starlets
The Sacred Cow had its ample share of curious characters. They ran gamut from foreign dignitaries to the Egyptian bus boy who only stayed in America for a few weeks. He said “American women are mean and they have ugly skin—full of spots.” Egyptians didn’t have freckles. Was he on some sort of North African Rumschpringe? A few months after he left us we received a card from Egypt addressed only to “Mrs. J’s Sacred Cow” near W.72nd Street. Annnnnnd it’s a touchdown for the post office.

One of the regulars at the Cow, Blanche, lived at the top of the Ansonia Hotel. She was a longtime resident, having lived there since she was young. I met her when she was in her early 80s. She was rail thin and had the voice of a lifelong chain smoker. Her less than dulcet tenor tones sounded a bit like way too many martinis and cigarettes. When she visited the Cow she always sang a tune before she left. Leaning on the piano, cigarette and drink in hand, she belted out “Come to Me My Melancholy Baby.”

She told me, that when Plato’s Retreat was still open, she “liked to go to the basement and watch.” Plato’s, which had been in the bowels of the Ansonia, followed on the heels of the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse where Bette Midler created her stage persona of the Divine Miss M—and where Barry Manilow accompanied her on the piano, sometimes clothed only in a towel. When in Rome... Unlike the baths, Plato’s Retreat was a heterosexual swinger’s club for couples—or breeders as straight people were sometimes called. I was not sure how Gladys got in? Maybe she watched through the window or had a long time resident’s VIP pass. Perhaps she just stood sideways and nobody noticed her—she made Twiggy look fat.

Once a month, at 4 pm, 10 Italian men visited the Cow. They were all in their 50s with the exception of one older gentleman to which they all deferred. Unless they were talking to me, they spoke Italian. I made sure I was only in the dining room if I had to be near their table, otherwise, I stayed in the bullet proof kitchen. I’m not saying they were mafia. I am just saying if it walks like a duck…

The gentlemen were always accompanied by two bodyguards whom, regardless of the season, wore trench coats. They were stationed at the bar by the front door. One of them, Johnny Boy, once offered to help one of the servers with her career. This most likely would have been a web of allegiance best circumnavigated however tempting it might have seemed. Struggling artists often tired of selling steaks and eating humble pie but, in the words of The Eagles, “every form of refuge has its price”. Sinatra was an amazing artist, but, one had to wonder how much he might have owed the family. Janice decided no—smart move.

All business, the gentlemen were polite, paid cash, and tipped generously.

Generous tips made serving worth the trials and trepidation. Too many people failed to understand that the lifeblood of a server’s income has always been the tips. It steamed me when people didn’t tip well. (Perhaps military and food service should be mandatory?) Tips were also shared with your support staff—bussers and bartenders. A twenty five dollar tip was stellar or a could be slap in your face, the face that always had to reflect joy at being able to serve—never mind the crap.

Two regular twenty fivers at the Cow were Joel and Jaime. A businessman from New Jersey, Joel, wore lots of gold. He was charming and gregarious with the taste of a frog. Along with the gold chains around his neck, he wore his shirt open half way down to his waist in keeping with the Saturday Night Fever/Travolta fashion meme. The chains were accompanied by a diamond choker that spelled out his name and a solid gold piece that measured about 4” x 3” which rested on his furry chest. The 4” x 3” was the Ten Commandments, Old Testament baby. And on his pinky, the pièce de résistance was a solid gold elephant head with ruby eyes. It wasn’t a big as a golf ball, but pert near. It didn’t matter if Joel came with just his wife, one another couple or ten people, he always tipped $25.00.

Jaime worked for the Mexican Consulate and was my least favorite patron. He could be counted on to arrive just before closing and to run you ragged, all the while treating you with disdain. It seemed important to him to make sure he made you constantly aware that you were part of the serving class. Like I didn’t already know. Once, I found Miles, one of our bussers, at the dishwashing station washing his hands in what was left of Jaime’s Dom Perignon. He was cleansing himself of Jaime’s assholery. Bravo, that was the spirit.

In very short order, I had my fill of Jaime. I began to ignore him. As I walked by his table one night, he snapped his fingers and said ‘young man, young man.” I whipped around saying “I am not a young man.” Then, spinning on my heels, I high tailed it for the kitchen. All the servers and bussers, regardless of sex, wore the same outfits—black pants, black vest, men’s dress shirts, and a black bow tie. To be fair, I was really skinny and have always had broad shoulders. My hair was the shortest it has ever been in my life, so maybe I looked like a young man from the rear. Puh. Ruth said he told her I didn’t like him and he didn’t want me to wait on him anymore—Hallefuckinlujah. I said to Ruth (in my sweetest voice) “I am so sorry he feels that way, I don’t understand.” Right, I didn’t understand my ass— I was able to look quite angelic on cue. Huwhatevah! I didn’t have to wait on him anymore. He could keep his attitude and his lousy twenty five dollars.

Midwestern businessmen in town for conventions, some looking like they had just arrived in OZ, frequented the Cow. There were times when I wondered if they knew that the lovely girl they were entertaining at dinner had alternate plumbing. Let’s hope they weren’t too disappointed when the final showdown came. Maybe they did know and were just feeling frisky. With eleven million souls mingling about, it was easy to feel unencumbered in the city. Who was going to know what you had been up to on your trip? What happened in the city stayed in the city, unless, a nefarious microbe hitched a ride home with you. Sadly, AIDS proved to be just such a deadly rider. Meanwhile, to be fair to the gentlemen, some of the girls really did look like gorgeous women. “I said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side. And the coloured girls say Doo doo doo Doo doo Doo doo doo doo …”

When the toy convention was in town, we were slammed for two solid weeks and nobody got a night off— period. There was something about those men who made their living creating and marketing kid’s toys. They were a blast to serve. Lots of times we got toys or candy bars along with our tips. One slender, impeccably dressed gentleman always ordered lobster tails. If you were lucky enough to get his table, he gave you one of his lobster tails for your dinner along with half of his bottle of wine. Dinner, wine, and a tip! What was a girl to do?

About midway through the toy marathon, we all began to hit a wall of exhaustion. Handsome Pat, a former medic in Nam and now a New York City cop, would take the girls to the basement and give us free B12 shots. That had to be illegal. Well, he did take us in pairs. After the toy run, I felt I was in need of a sojourn in the south of France.

© 6/27/2016

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