As the dinner hour approached, I refilled the water pitchers, warmed up the bread, straightened my bow-tie, and embarked on the first of many six-hour nights where everything seemed to come at me faster than I could handle it. “Water for table twelve.”, “Clear table four.” “Young man, can I have some more bread, please?”
By 11:30, the last diners had left, the 8-track Mantovani tape was stilled, and we cleared the tables one last time. The wait staff received their tips, and then calculated the busboys’ share. By summer’s end, I’d earned enough money to buy a used car. That car would have come in handy if I’d had it during the summer; my parents’ house was in Springs, and I seldom had a ride home. Many of the rides I received came from Bruce Bunce, who was a prep chef in the kitchen. Bruce was close enough to my age to seem accessible, but old enough to seem wiser. We talked about the restaurant, girls, and life in general, whether in the kitchen at Gordon’s, on rides home, or at the Memory Motel in Montauk. As we rolled down Route 27, you could hear the clamshells from the runs to Stuart’s Seafood rattling in the truck bed of his Chevy El Camino.
At Fromm’s, there were very strict restrictions on what the staff could eat. At Gordon’s the dictum was, “Eat all you take.” Besides the dinners the kitchen staff made for us, I could snack to my stomach’s content; many nights, on each trip into the kitchen, I’d load a spoon high with ice cream, quickly eat it, and drop the spoon into the sink as I headed back into the dining room. When I was sent into the walk-in freezer box to collect seafood or fruit, I’d often grab a piece of cheesecake and jam it into my mouth, swallowing as I emerged back into the kitchen. The freezer also was home to an amazing array of sliced meats and cheeses; I assembled monstrous sandwiches that would have made Dagwood Bumstead blush. One night, however, I hit the wall. Hans had seen me emerge from the freezer with a puss full of strawberry and cream crepe. He then asked me to lay off of the strawberries due to their cost. He and George were also in danger of having the staff drink them out of profitability; during the post-dinner clean up, the staff would tear into the beer supply, which included many exotic imports. Consequently, one day a pallet of Old Milwaukee appeared, designated as the official staff beer. Everyone dedicated themselves to the task at hand; it took two or three weeks, the Old Milwaukee was consumed, and we had access to the full complement of in-house beers again.
Hans knew what the strawberries and beer cost because he made the early morning runs to the wholesale food markets. One night, I returned to Amagansett from Manhattan on the 4:15 am train. Presuming I’d never find a ride home, I arranged four dining chairs in the garage into a makeshift bed, grabbed a couple of tablecloths for bedding, and settled down as well as I could. Not long afterwards, I awoke to the sound of Hans’ car approaching the garage. I bolted up from my “bed”, and ran out the front of the garage, still entangled in the tablecloth. Hans jammed on the brakes at the approach of what appeared to be a deranged homeless person emerging into the daylight. At the morning set-up, Hans retold the tale, giving everyone a good laugh.
Except for a couple of days off spent in Manhattan and a couple of afternoons at the beach, I spent the entire summer within the four walls at Gordon’s. Consequently, the job seemed interminable, and I found myself looking forward to going back to high school in September. A lot of the staff was soon to move on as well; many of them had restaurant jobs in Florida during the winter months. When my last workday drew to a close and it was time to say my goodbyes, I found that I was sad to leave. I was also ashamed as everyone wished me luck in college. Although I left Gordon’s that day, some things have stayed with me ever since. I’m still hyper-attentive to restaurant service, and whenever my wife asks me which way the silverware should be placed on a properly set table, I know the right answer.
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