Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pantry Girl - Final Installment - The Power of Whip Cream


Allen’s Clam House was demolished a few years ago -- like much of old Westport it was pushed over by a bulldozer and loaded into trucks that drove off with its bones. I read something about Paul Newman and Harvey Weinstein making a fuss over the fate of the land where Allen’s used to stand -- they used their big celebrity voices and money to ensure that the spot was reclaimed as a park, a small natural area that now juts out into the marsh and the mill pond with distant views of the Long Island Sound preserved. Of course, I don’t think there would have been such a push for this preservation had the mill pond not been in the direct line of sight of Weinstein’s palatial home -- his environmental concerns were fully engaged by his view shed being threatened. But that’s Westport, Connecticut, a place that no longer resembles the place I grew up in.

With Brody gone, I was able to enjoy my job at Allen’s again. I could go into the walk in freezer or out to the barn or walk to my car in the dark free of fear -- I was liberated, you might say. The Pantry Girls liked to dance in the pantry. Wayne let us play the radio on slow nights and on lunch shifts - terrible disco would alternate with music worth listening to like Blondie and The Clash and David Bowie. It was the early 80s, MTV was barely up and running and the music industry was grappling with some sort of personality disorder. When the bad disco came on we liked to dance in unison, us Pantry Girls -- there wasn’t alot of room back there, so mostly we stood in line and waved our arms and shifted our feet...something along the lines of the Platters or the Jackson Five. We were passing the time between orders in the most ridiculous way possible.

When I wasn’t dancing like an idiot, making salads or scooping ice cream onto glistening slices of apple pie or making coffee, you could find me reading the Daily Racing Form with Tony the waiter. My mother trained race horses in New York, she was one of the first women to be licensed by the New York Racing Association and I loved to keep up with racing because of her. My father worked for the Daily Racing Form as a photographer and it was always fun to see his name in the credits of the paper. My parents had been long divorced and maintained a frosty silence, yet they both worked at the track...I suppose they became well-practiced at avoiding one another. And me, I was back in Connecticut living with my grandparents, but ever the child expert on race horses. Tony would pour over the race cards with me and ask for picks...he’s circle them with a pencil and then run off to call his bookie. I think I earned a fair amount of good money for Tony -- and he liked to talk about the horses in his broken English. Tony was a long time Fixture and I hate to say this, but he was everyone’s idea of an Italian waiter -- he was short and very stout, with palm aid in his hair and gold rings on his fingers -- he was Joe Pesci before there was a Joe Pesci. He was hot headed and tense but at least he was kind to me when we talked race horses.

But then one night Tony crossed the line, like everyone was apt to do in that kitchen...we’d get bored or tired or overexcited when the evening rush came and we’d blurt out something totally inappropriate or make a bad move. We were always forgiven sometime later for it, but we payed for our indiscretions in the most immediate of ways...scorn and retaliation were expected and then you would be cleansed days later as though you had diligently said your Hail Marys in just the right way as to please the Gods.

It was a crazy night, one of those summer nights when the car parking boys could barely fit the cars in the lot...the tourists were in town, the Long Island Sound was sparkling under the summer stars and making everyone want Lobster and Steamers! Tony rushed into the kitchen and told me he needed 4 hot fudge sundaes, chop chop! He had a way of making you drop everyone else’s orders, as though his order was never to be put in the cue, he was the Senior Fixture and everything, everything he wanted now. So I got out the sundae dishes still slightly warm from the dishwasher and I opened the little stand up freezer that was crammed into the corner of the pantry. The ice cream sat down low in that freezer and you had to bend over and put your head and shoulders down in there to get the ice cream...this was always refreshing on a hot night in the kitchen, to be upside down in the cold with the sweet smell of ice cream all around you. But Tony goosed me -- this was no ordinary pinching of one’s hind end, no this was an all out rude goosing of the Pantry Girl at her most vulnerable...ass in the air and head in the freezer. I swung up and hit my head on the inside of the freezer and dropped the two sundae dishes and the scoop down inside the freezer. I hung there for a minute and then I surfaced to find Tony standing there, before I could punch him he just leaned into my face and gruffly ordered “Hurry up!” I was incensed - my head hurt and this rude old man wanted me to Hurry Up? I scanned the kitchen -- there were some onlookers but they were too busy to get involved at the moment and Wayne’s all seeing eye was looking at the orders so numerous that he probably thought there weren’t enough lobsters in the sea to feed the diners that night.

“Tony, I’ll make your sundaes. Just go check on your tables and when you get back, they’ll be ready.” Tony spun around and went out the swinging doors. I collected myself and started over making the sundaes, asking Pantry Girl Number One, Kathleen, to cover my ass as I dove back into the freezer. As I built the lovely and perfect little sundaes an idea came to me. Fred slid in behind me and Kathleen to pour coffee for his tables and he poked me, “You’re not going to let Tony get away with that are you?”

“Nope!” as I topped off my perfectly made sundaes with a generous helping of whip cream and the shockingly red maraschino cherries. Nuts? yes, lets add nuts to this I thought as Fred continued to pour coffee. “What are you gonna do to him kiddo?”

“Not telling. You just watch. Its gonna be good.” Fred smiled and whisked out the doors into the dining room -- briefly I could see Tony standing at one of his tables, making some sort of clever joke to his diners, working for that tip, the one that he would want to bet on a horse the next day. The door swung closed again. Kathleen looked at me, “What are you going to do?” We were best friends, but I didn’t tell her everything. I told her to wait and see, that I would strike later on, when Tony was least expecting it. I knew my plan was risky, but I felt capable of carrying it out. It was a simple plan and it had to be done -- I had a new sense of self after Brody’s abuse. I wasn’t going to be goosed or pinched or caught up in a dark barn again without some kind of fight. I placed the four elegant little sundaes on a round tray for Tony -- he busted back into the kitchen expecting to have to push me around some more, but I met him with a smile and the sundaes balanced up on the tray for him. He took the tray and patted me on the cheek like I was his good little girl. I was all ready for him.

The night wore on and the tourists kept eating and eating and drinking and eating. Tony kept shouting orders at me and Fred had put everyone on notice that there was going to be a killing...they were all depending on me to come through. Of course the news stopped somewhere over the soup station and so Wayne had no idea that a plan was afoot.

I went back to the walk in freezer and pulled a box of Reddi-Whip cans off the shelf and headed back to the Pantry. I carefully took the colorful cans out of the box and arranged them on a shelf in the Pantry refrigerator -- all of the cans, except for one which I place on a shelf next to the ice cream freezer. And then I leaned back on the little freezer and waited for Tony. Fred and Ray could see I was in position. For what they didn’t know, but they hung by the pantry and faked having something important to discuss. Tony pushed his way into the kitchen, he went into the kitchen bathroom and stood on his toes to look at himself in the mirror. He smoothed his hair and straightened his little black bow tie. And then he came straight to me. He turned his back and started prepping coffee cups and saucers on to a tray. I had him right where I wanted him. With my left hand I grabbed the back of his collar and pulled as hard as I could and with my right hand I swiftly grabbed the Reddi-Whip can, popped off the top with my thumb and then sank that thing down into his shirt where I proceeded to deposit the entire contents down his hairy back. I was at least as tall as Tony and I was strong...I kept one knee pressed into his ass to steady myself as I held onto his throat. He shook violently as I emptied the can of whip cream -- his arms were swinging backwards like a father trying to hit a kid in the backseat of a car while driving...but he was powerless. He screamed at me, “You FUCKINA FUCKINA FUCKINA BITCH!” The whole kitchen was roaring, coffee cups flew to the floor. Tony turned around and suddenly the possibility that he might just hit me or have a cardiac arrest dawned on me. But the whole kitchen was all around us. Tony was literally foaming at the mouth -- busboys came running in from the dining room to see what the ruckus was. I just stood there, silently holding my empty weapon. Wayne pushed through the crowd, “What the hell is going on?!”

Tony sputtered, “This Fuckina bitch! Look what she did. Fire her!”

Wayne looked at me, he knew I wouldn’t do Tony like that unless I had a reason. “Kiddo, what’s going on here?”

“Tony goosed her when she was in the freezer. He had it coming.” Fred chimed in.

“Jesus Tony! You’re done for the night. Go upstairs and clean yourself up. Fred, Ray, finish up Tony’s tables. Take his tips. And you Kiddo, good job.”

Tony was like a cartoon gorilla - his chest was heaving up and down and you could see the whip cream billowing up and out of his shirt collar. He deflated though when Wayne sent him upstairs and we all went back to our stations - we still had a restaurant full of customers, the night was still young.

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