Paul Newman 1925-2008. Photo By CP Photo
With Paul Newman gone, the world has lost a famous witness to my failed waitress career. Long ago and far away....
I'm an art-school brat working a summer job as the only waitress at a family-run Italian café in Calgary. I'm still learning how to fend off the foosball players who tease me about my ass and my cappuccino-making skills when a radio announcer samples the great food and talks it up on air for a week. Suddenly customers pack the place, day after day.
By the time Saturday hits, I'm crazed. On the way to work, I'm kicking pigeons cuz they walk on two legs and might demand an antipasto.
It doesn't get better. As soon as the door opens, the place jams up with freaks demanding garlic bread, minestrone, limonata, cannelloni.
In the corner, a man with a beard, shoulder-length hair and striking blue eyes orders the only mediocre item on the menu. Sitting with a teenage girl, he looks familiar, but I've no time to chat.
The kitchen is in a frenzy.
"Robert Redford's out there!" shouts Frank, the owner.
Suddenly it comes together. Robert Altman's filming Buffalo Bill And The Indians a few miles away.
"No, it's not Redford," I say, picking up bread baskets. "It's Paul Newman." I return to the fray. I'm really not impressed. He's got two legs and he wants linguine. He doesn't get it.
The bell rings so much it sounds like a siren. My waitress-memory shatters, and my order pad looks like War And Peace. I stand over plates of steaming veal, lasagna and spaghetti, leafing through the pad to see where they go. When they get there, the people want to know why they didn't get their soup/antipasto/wine yet.
Frank pushes his 11-year-old kid out there to help me.
In all this time, I haven't heard from the corner. They're just talking and laughing through the chaos.
Newman waits two hours for a dish that's no more than canned clams heated with garlic, but he waves away my apology. Frank's kid takes care of them.
People are lined up at the cash while new customers seat themselves at dirty tables. My dissolution is complete. I start busing tables but I'm shaking so much the dishes clatter. A regular takes them out of my hands and tells me to go home.
The man with the blue eyes gives me a big smile and $5 U.S. as a tip. I hand the bill to Frank's kid, and she runs to show her dad. I head for a nearby lounge, where a sympathetic cocktail waitress feeds me black Russians, and have a good cry.