This is one of the most difficult posts I've ever had to write. Enjoy.
-A Description of the Most Interesting Server Ever-
The Most Interesting Server Ever (I'll call him MASE, most amazing server ever, for short-besides, 'MASE' sounds much cooler than 'MISE') is 6'1'' and weighs about 200 lbs. He's all muscle. Not from lifting weights, but from dancing.
He's half-black, quarter white, and the rest is a mixed bag. He's bald by choice. He looks like Vin Diesel from such glorious box-office smashes XXX, The Chronicles of Riddick, and Pitch Black.
MASE is a homosexual, as are a large number of male servers, at least in The Restaurant. He's not effeminate. Many of the female customers drool over him. I've been asked many times, "Does that server have a girlfriend?" I've always answered with a truthful, "no." Keeps their dreams alive.
In my very first post, I noted that servers are some of the most colorful, interesting, and vibrant people. MASE is a prime example. He has lead one of the most amazing lives of anyone I've ever encountered. He did not always do things the good (or even legal) way, but he has no regrets. He shouldn't.
I'm writing his story knowing that it won't do him justice.
-The Most Interesting Server Ever-
I'm standing at the computer punching in a table's order. I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn to see MASE looking down at me.
"You went to Princeton, right?" he asks.
"Yep," I reply, waiting for what usually follow. It goes something like this...
'You must be really smart, huh?'
'Not really. I was a pretty good football player, so they let me in.' I always try to downplay my education when I'm serving. It makes everybody, myself included, feel more comfortable.
'Oh. Umm... if you're so smart, how come you rang in three burgers at table 111 when there are only two pepole?' Every time I do something dumb, I always catch more flack than your average Joe. It's the curse of going to an Ivy League school.
I'm standing there, wondering what I did, when MASE shocks me.
"That's cool. Did you ever make it up to New York?" Curveball. Most people don't know where Princeton is, let alone know that it's about an hour train ride from NYC.
I don't know anything about MASE. I haven't talked to him much because he is still relatively new. He's just passing the point where I feel like he'll make it at The Restaurant.
Most veteran servers will tell you that they don't talk to new people for at least a month. It's sort of like Vietnam. You don't want to be friends with someone knowing that they probably won't last. Once they reach that one month threshold, a bond begins to form. You've been 'in the shit' (The Waiter's words) together, and you know you can count on them.
I decide right then that MASE is going to make it as a server. It's a Saturday night, we're on a wait, and he is able to shoot the breeze with me while keeping up with his four table section.
"Yeah, I've been there a couple times. Breaks the monotony of campus life. Why do you ask?"
"I used to live there, back in the day. I had a lot of fun, but I'm glad to be out of there. Are you going out tonight?"
It's a ritual that the entire staff go out for a beer after a busy Saturday shift. It usually turns into a bitch session. Managers, customers, poor servers; all are fair game. I wouldn't miss it for the world.
"Yeah. You should definitely come. I'll even buy you a beer."
"I'll definitely come by, but I'll have to pass on the beer. I'm on the wagon. Been sober for five months." He smiles and walks back into the kitchen.
I'm intrigued. It seems like he doesn't want to talk about himself. Very few people dislike talking about themselves. I get the feeling that there is more to MASE than meets the eye.
Putting my questions on the back burner, I turn back to the computer. I finish typing in the order, grab the iced tea pitcher, and head back to battle.
We're at a neighboring restaurant. It's another "crap on the walls" casual place, but the bar is open later than ours. Even the closing bartenders at The Restaurant have time to come over for a couple beers.
We've pulled three tables together. It's a good turn out tonight. About 90% of the staff showed up. As usual, we're banging on Valerie and horrible customers. Everyone's laughing and having a great time.
MASE, true to his word, is sipping a Diet Cola, silently taking in the scene. I decide to break the ice.
"So how come you never come out with us?"
"Well, a couple reasons. I'm living with my aunt and her two kids. I have to babysit for them almost every day. Also, I can't drive. Speaking of which, can I get a ride home?"
No more shots for me. Oh well.
"Sure! How come you can't drive?" I'm expecting to hear the usual. DUI.
"I got deported from Canada for stealing a car," says MASE, chuckling. Wow. Wasn't ready for that.
"What? What the hell happened?" This is a story I have to hear. I notice that two of the waitresses are starting to steal glances towards us. I can tell they're eavesdropping.
"After NYC, I went up to Canada with some friends. We went on a two month long bender. Drugs, booze, you name it. One night, I decided to steal a car and go joyriding. The mounties didn't like that so much."
One of the waitresses that was listening in decided to pipe up.
"How did you steal the car?"
"With a scredriver. It was kind of funny. The cop that pulled me over turned on his loudspeaker and said, 'Throw the keys out the window and put your hands on the wheel!' I didn't have any keys. I was so freaked out and paranoid from the drugs that I thought he was going to shoot me if I didn't throw something out the window. So I grabbed the screwdriver and tossed it into the street. Looking back on it, I bet he was laughing his ass off when he came over and saw a phillips-head lying in the middle of the road."
Most of the table is riveted. We all want to hear more, so I decide to keep leading him on, seeing how much he'll tell us.
"What did they do with you? Throw you in the clink?"
"Yeah, for a couple days. I didn't have any ID, so they had to call my parents to come verify who I was. They came and picked me up. I ended up getting probation, since it was my first offense. My parents put me into rehab in Seattle."
So that's why he doesn't drink anymore. Seems like a good reason.
"Earlier you said you lived in New York. Were you serving there?"
"Yeah, at a gay restaurant. It was kind of like an Ed Debevic's, except everyone dressed in drag." Wait a minute...
"Oh, you're gay? I didn't know that."
"Yep. I made a hot drag queen too. You would have loved it." We all start cracking up.
"I was waiting tables and modeling too. Eventually, I was making enough modeling and... doing other things, and I was able to quit serving." He didn't want to talk about the 'other things', so I decided not to push him on that. However...
"What kind of modeling did you do? Anything we'd know?"
"Maybe. I was one of the original Calvin Klein models. I was on a couple billboards in NY, and I was in one of the commercials that was on MTV." Holy cow. This wasn't a small-time modeling gig. MASE was on the verge of the big time. Well, maybe not the BIG time, but he was closer than any of the other people sitting at that table.
"I was also in a couple of B-movies. Straight to video horror flicks. In both of them, I was one of the extras in dance clubs. For one of them, they made me wear this big Afro wig. I was so coked up at the time, I thought I was the king of the world. I kept tossing the wig. The director was getting pissed. They had to do like fifteen takes for a ten-second scene because I kept throwing my wig over the crowd." Enraptured, the entire staff is fixated on MASE.
"But the one you all would probably know is a music video shoot I did. Lenny Kravitz's 'Are you Gonna Go my Way?' " Excited murmers and agreements from the peanut gallery. "I was a dancer in that video. I have a copy, I'll bring it tomorrow."
I can tell the MASE is getting tired of the attention. I want to hear more, but I figure I'll have plenty of time. I switch the topic.
"So, are you a Nintendo guy or a Sega guy?" Almost immediately, the female servers lose interest. For some reason, only guys spent a large portion of their youth learning that you could get 99 lives in 'Contra' by pressing up down up down left right left right B A B A start on the title screen.
MASE and I talk about video games for the next couple hours. He tells me that he just bought an XBox, the brand new gaming system from Microsoft. Cost him $350. He loves it.
Soon, the house lights shine bright and it's time to go. MASE follows me out to the parking lot and hops in my car.
He lives really close by, and we're there in a matter of minutes. Pulling into the driveway, I see a young kid, about six, sitting on the stoop. When MASE gets out of the car, the kid runs right over to him. He looks like he's been crying.
"What's wrong buddy?"
"MASE, I'm so sorry. We were playing with the football in the house and I made a touchdown and spiked the ball. It hit your Xbox and broke it."
Quickly, the calculator in my brain goes to work. $350 for the Xbox. About $5 per table in tips. That comes to 70 tables of wasted work. I expect MASE to blow up. Instead....
"You know you're not supposed to play ball in the house. Mom told you that yesterday. I'm really disappointed in you. But you know what? I'm also really glad that you told me. You could have not said anything and blamed it on someone else, but you took responsibility. I'm really proud of you."
Wow. I'm impressed. The kid smiles through the tears. MASE picks him up and carries him back into the house, waving goodbye as he reaches the door.
Driving home, I reflect on what I've seen. MASE has lived a fast-paced life, but he's turned things around. He's grounded. Most parents I know wouldn't have handled the situation with the XBox that well.
Despite all I learned about MASE that night, I felt that I hadn't even scratched the surface yet. I was right.
*** (A few months later)
The company Christmas party. If you can call it that. We're celebrating Christmas in early February, apparently.
Valerie got a nice-sized check from the corporate office to spend on this party. Instead of going to a high-class bar or banquet hall, we end up ar a local dance club/bar. On Industry Night. No cover for servers. $1 appetizers and half-priced drinks as well. Way to stretch those dollars, Valerie.
Soldato, my girlfriend, and MASE are talking in a corner away from the dance floor.
"I betcha Valerie is pocketing the rest of that check," comments Soldato.
"You know it," I reply. "Oh well. At least we're drinking for cheap tonight." I take a gulp of my Captain and Coke. Mmmm... I love watered-down drinks.
MASE is dancing in place. I can tell that he can't wait to get on the floor. I nudge my girlfriend.
"Why don't you dance with him? I'm not nearly drunk enough yet, so you may as well get warmed up." She laughs and grabs MASE's hand, heading for the dance floor. MASE gives me a smile of thanks.
My girlfriend is a pretty good dancer. I can't keep up with her. Tonight, she can't keep up with MASE. He's a whirling dervish. Soon there is a crowd around him and my girlfriend. He's tossing her around like a rag doll, and she's having a great time. I've never seen anyone dance like MASE. It's ordered chaos keeping in time with the music.
After a while, the music changes. It's a slow Tina Turner song. MASE and my girlfriend head back up to our table.
"You're a pretty good dancer!" I say. My girlfriend is still trying to catch her breath. MASE is sweating, but he doesn't seem to be breathing hard.
"I like dancing. I love this song, but it's not good for anything except the middle-school slow dance." He puts his arms out straight, about waist-high, and pantomimes the akward step/turn of the pre-teen slow dance. We're all cracking up.
"So you like Tina Turner, huh?" I ask. Personally, I loved her in Beyond Thunderdome.
"Yeah. Did I tell you about the modeling benefit I did where I saw her live?" I haven't gotten many more stories since the first night we all went out. I'm dying for more.
"No. What was the benefit for?"
"It was an AIDs benefit. There was a modeling show, followed by her performance afterwards. I was in the modeling show. I was supposed to walk once, but I was all coked up... again. I walked twice. The second time I went down, I saw Billy Zane sitting at one of the tables up front. There was a seat open right next to him, so I thought I'd go sit down. After I got backstage, I booked. I was wearing a five thousand dollar Armani tux. I went over and introduced myself to Billy Zane. We started talking and he let me sit down. I guess one of his group didn't show. He orders a couple bottles of Dom for the table. Pretty soon, the lights go down and Tina Turner starts the show. The coke is starting to wear off, so I finally realize what's going on. I'm sitting next to a Hollywood actor, drinking Dom Perignon, wearing a five thousand dollar tux, and watching Tina Turner perform less than ten feet from where I'm sitting." He shakes his head. "That was probably the best night of my life."
"Holy shit," says Soldato.
"Wow. Did you get to meet Tina Turner?"
"No. I met a bunch of musicians while I was in NY though."
MASE looks around and then motions us to go over to a corner with him. He speaks in a low tone, so he isn't overheard.
"I used to be an errand boy at one of the concert venues. If a band wanted drugs, booze, whatever, I was the one they called to go get it. It was good money, and I got to meet a lot of cool people." He shrugs.
"I don't want too many people to know about that."
"Fair enough," I say. "Who all did you meet?"
"Lots of people," he said. "I saw Eddie Vedder (lead singer of Pearl Jam) so drunk that he was eating Play-do out of the can. That was funny. I also got to be really good friends with Michael Stipe (lead singer of R.E.M.). He still sends me and my aunt a Christmas card every year."
Just then, Valerie comes up to announce that it's time to give out awards. We amble back to the table to watch as she gives out cheap plastic "awards" in categories such as "best Front of the House employee", "Best Cook", "Best Smile", and "Best Ass." Good times.
*** (A few months later)
I walk into The Restaurant for a lunch shift. MASE is at the bar, staring at the TV. They've just caught the sniper in Maryland. MASE is starting to tear up.
"What's wrong? Did you know one of the people who got shot?" I ask.
"No. I knew the sniper. The kid." He's really upset.
"How did you know him?"
"Remember that rehab clinic I went to in Seattle? He was in there with me. He was such a good kid. This is fucked up. I can't believe it."
Neither can I. Forrest Gump has nothing on MASE.
*** (A few months later)
MASE has been crabby for a while now. He's showing up to shifts late. He's lost weight. I have a feeling something's wrong.
It's a Saturday night. MASE is at the computer, typing in an order. I'm reminded of the first time we talked. I tap him on the shoulder.
"Hey, you OK?" I ask. He turns around. His eyes are bloodshot and he's sweating.
"Fine." He's short with me.
"Are you sure?" I hate to pry, but I want to help if I can.
"I'm OK. Really." He turns back to the computer. I walk away.
After the shift, we head out for drinks. I order a tall Bass.
"I'll have a double Johnny Red on the Rocks and a tall Black & Tan," says MASE. Whoa. What the hell is going on? MASE doesn't drink.
"MASE, what's going on? You never drink."
"Well, some stuff has changed." He drains the scotch in one gulp and then downs half his beer. I've never been scared watching someone drink, not even in college. MASE is scaring me.
He drinks hard the whole night. I drive him home. I watch him stumble up to the door. He unlocks it and almost falls inside. He isn't the same person who, less than a year ago, carried his aunt's son in after performing some of the best parenting I've ever seen.
I drive home with a heavy heart.
*** (A few months later)
MASE is dying. He has AIDs. He's not HIV positive. He has full-blown AIDs. He hasn't worked in a month. He's in the hospital.
We called his aunt to see if there was anything we could do. The entire staff is upset. MASE is one of the nicest people and hardest workers around.
His aunt tells us that he's in the hospital. He doesn't want visitors. He's nearing the end, and he doesn't want anone to see him in his condition. She thanks us for our concern.
One of the servers gets a card. We all sign it. I can't put into words what I'm feeling. How do you tell someone, "I hear you're dying. I just want you to know that I'm thinking about you"? What consolation will that bring?
I am waiting on a table during a weekday lunch. Two 30-something ladies. Well-dressed, but not in business attire. They're enjoying hubby's money while he's slaving away. One of them grabs my arm.
"I need more ice." She turns back to her conversation.
At first I'm mad as hell. Who the hell are you to order me around? I'm a person too. I'm probably better-educated, smarter, and a lot harder-working.
Then I realize that I'm upset about MASE. I come to a realization. Nobody that MASE waited on knew who he really was. They saw him, as many customers do, as a dog. Fetch me more ice. Fetch my food. They had no idea of what he'd seen or what he'd done.
Turning that around, I realize that I don't know who these two ladies are. I don't know what they've gone through, what they've done in life. Who am I to make judgements about them, based on a half-hour spent waiting on them?
This was the last, and probably best, thing I learned from MASE. You never know who you're dealing with until you talk to them.
I got the lady more ice and set it down with a smile.
"There you are ma'am."
"Thank you! I must tell you that it's so nice to be able to have an afternoon away from the kids. You've been wonderful."
I realize now that MASE must have found out he was sick right before that last conversation I had with him at the bar. He spent his last couple months at the restaurant deteriorating before my eyes.
Aside from the drinking, MASE made some other lifestyle changes. I could tell he was using drugs again. He also told me that he was frequenting places downtown that offered a place for guilt-free one-night stands. He was spending less and less time at his aunt's house and more time partying all night in Chicago.
He lived his last couple months hard. He wanted to go out with a bang.
Honestly, I don't know if I can blame him. If someone put a time limit on my life, how would I react? I don't think I'd want to go quietly.
Wherever you are now, MASE, please know that you touched my life, as well as many others. There are people who loved you and who cared about you during your short time on this planet. In fact, we still do.