Friday, December 03, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: Busing Tables for God

Our Lady of Angels, like most churches, was constantly having fundraisers. Monday night bingo was a staple and my dad was the caller for many years. The annual Fall Carnival. Selling Christmas seals. Selling candy bars. Selling Christmas trees. Car washes.

And, of course, food.

The St. Patrick’s Day corned beef & cabbage dinner.
The 4th of July pancake breakfast.
The Columbus Day spaghetti dinner.
The end of Fall Carnival bar-b-que.
The Easter brunch.

I swear I spent my entire childhood waiting tables. Because, of course, all the kids were free labor.

The parents did all the cooking, of course, but us kids got roped in for everything else. We swept and cleaned the cafeteria. We set up the tables. We made centerpieces and laid out silverware and glasses. We took tickets. And we schlepped food for hours. Delivering endless plates of food to people who were used to dealing with actual waiters and waitresses and expected us to behave in kind.

We cleared the dirties. Brought coffee and dessert. Fetched and carried. And hated every minute of it. We grumbled about child labor laws and wondered if this would cut our time in Purgatory. But we were not allowed to back out. For days before these events every Catholic kids all over Silver Creek would come down with mysterious illnesses. A combination of flu-like symptoms and scurvy. Perhaps gout. Maybe a touch of the plague.

But their heartless parents would accept nothing less than loss of limb as an excuse to get out of serving duty. In spite of our protestations and our no-doubt wildly contagious illness would infect the entire population of Silver Creek, mothers would deliver us to the cafeteria on time and tell us to behave ourselves.

We’d say goodbye our families with a note of “I’ll never see you again as I’m going off to be a Catholic martyr since serving spaghetti to the pious is just the same as being burnt at the stake” and off we’d go to do our duty. Sadly the parents never gave us the goodbyes our sad state deserved and we were left with the feeling that they didn’t actually care about us.

Sister Luke always seemed to be in charge of the children’s waiter corps and would check our names off on an ancient clipboard. Then she’d hand us aprons so big we’d have to fold them over three or four times so we wouldn’t trip on them. Then she’d give us a crash course in how to deliver food (“crash” being the operative word as someone always managed to drop an entire tray of whatever the night’s meal was) and set us loose.

The parental cooking staff always seemed to be made up of the bossiest people in the parish. Looking back I’m sure they were exhausted by the weeks of planning and days of cooking. But as a child they were something out of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and we lived in fear of being noticed. God forbid you should actually make eye contact with one, they’d take that as free reign to make you their personal child slave and you’d spend the rest of the night being ordered about by Mrs. Cruson or Mrs. Peterson.

Consequently the children of OLA were notorious for their bad posture as we all developed a habit of looking at the floor and not actually at anyone. Being repeatedly told to “stand up straight” was better than having Mr. Freire say “You! More garlic bread on the table by the Virgin Mary.” (Invariably your personal slave driver called you “you.” On the nights of fundraiser dinners, every child became “You.” We even had name badges on our aprons. But the cooks were too busy slicing and stirring to read.

I remember one night, I think it was the corned beef & cabbage dinner, when You McKay, You Carpenter, You Folsom and I were on salad duty. We’d walk around the drafty room with huge wooden bowls of salad. These things were the size of taiko drums and weighed a ton. And they were filled with a gourmet mix of iceberg lettuce and an oil and vinegar dressing that slopped over the rim and stained our aprons with a pink tinge. In the middle of serving one us hapless kids, I think it was Marty Carpenter (Sorry, “You” Carpenter) tripped over an untied shoelace and sprayed salad and dressing over half of the women’s club table. There were screams. There was iceberg in the bouffant. And there was Father Sheehey throwing napkins into the fray and muttering “Jesus, Mary, and all the saints!” repeatedly under his breath.

The background accompaniment to all this chaos was the song stylings of Tony Cavalerro and the Cavaliers.

How do I describe them?

Well, “bad” pretty much sums it up. But they really achieved impressive nuances of bad. First off Tony C (as he liked to be called) couldn’t sing. But he insisted on belting out “Volare” every single show. Followed by “That’s Amore” and, of course, “Volare.” No, that’s not a typo. He always sang it twice. Tony C always wanted to be Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Vic Damone. But he was more like the sound I’ve always pictured a cow made when stuck in them mud.

Adding to the merriment was the Cavaliers. I think the rule was if you owned an instrument you could be a Cavalier. Didn’t matter if you could play it. Mattered less if your instrument went with the rest of the band. So at any one time the Cavaliers included an accordion, drums, guitar, violin, trumpet, French horn, bagpipes, triangle, more drums, clarinet, cello, dulcimer, drums, another accordion, tuba, and marimba. We lived in fear of the Cavaliers.

The only good thing about them is that about the third rendition of “Volare,” people actually hope the child waiters spill salad dressing down their dresses so they’ll have an excuse to leave early.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

And They Took My Hound Dog...

I'm gonna write a country song about the tragedy that is getting a smog check in California. You'd think that for something so many people need it would a fairly easy thing to do. But no.

Smog place #1: Our smog guy is out sick. (They had about a dozen people working there. Only one guy knows how to give a smog check?)

Smog place #2: Our smog machine is broken. (Maybe you can lend your healthy, but apparently not busy today, smog guy to the first place?)

Smog place #3: Our smog guy is out stick. (A sudden, serious virus seems to be hitting smog check guys pretty hard.)

Smog place #4: It'll be a two-hour wait. (No doubt because all the other smog places are useless.)

At smog place #5 I finally got it done. But I had to stand in the rain for 15 minutes while they did it. Oh yes, and they're a new place and didn't have their credit card machine in place so I had to pay at the gas station next door and the new girl on the register had to call someone and be talked through the credit card process. In Spanish.

Since when is such a simple process so complicated? I'd rather drive my truck off the bridge because my wife stole my hound dog and my mother broke parole then do this again.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

At the Cafe Bohemian

I'm on the air tonight from 5:30-8 (Pacific time), with my world music show At the Cafe Bohemian. You can listen online via KZSU and share the love.
On the Night Shift

I'm going through one of those lovely insomniac phases where I'm averaging 2-3 hours sleep a night. Fun!

The up side is I'm getting a lot of reading and movie watching done. The bad news is that I'm exhausted. But this too shall pass.

I don't know about you, but there's a hole list of books that I think I've read, but I haven't. Classics, mostly. So I have this rule of reading my way through the list, a few books each year. My latest is The House of the Seven Gables, which I thought I read in high school but after looking at it I realized was completely unfamiliar to me.

I read a lot and I always have. And I love reading the classics, though it's not always an "enjoyable" process. I cannot say that I've had fun getting through some of Dickens, let's say. A marvelous writer and I'm glad to have read him, but I have to admit that getting through The Old Curiousity Shop wasn't filled with unending joy. And I'm finding "Seven Gables" to be like that. When I'm done I'll feel a sort of modest pride that I've read another must-read. But at the moment I do find it hard going at times.

OK, I'm a Philistine. I like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, Elizabeth Peters and Tony Hillerman. True, I also love Jane Austen, the Brontes, and most of Dickens; Mark Twain and the Dumas (pere and fils). But I am, at heart, someone who loves enjoyable books. Give me "a thumping good read" and I'm happy. Which means I mostly read for pleasure. But occasionally I read because I should. Because I want to know that I've actually made it all the way through Crime and Punishment. (Which, by the way, I never will because my goal to read all the classics does not apply to dreary Russian novels that are 600 pages long and full of peasants and potatoes.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

CD Pick of the Week: De Temps Antan

Totally loving this wonderful new CD from Quebecois band De Temps Antan. Les Habits de Papier features fun and happy folk music based on les pieds (a form of seated clogging unique to Quebec). Hot fiddles, sweet accordion and warm male vocals. Mostly upbeat and so cool. From members of Quebecois supergroup La Bouttine Souriante. Every track is delicious. It's joyous, infectious, and so much fun.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Home Made

Thanks to everyone who commented on my Christmas shopping post. Murr, who has a wonderful blog, mentioned how she makes her gifts. Which I love.

Husband and I decided our first married Christmas to make each other something. And I was instantly outdone. Let me say upfront that I have no artistic or craft skills. I cannot knit, sew, paint, draw, or otherwise create. I can bake, but as I bake cookies all the time that's hardly a gift. So I wracked my brain and came up with the only thing I can do which is write. I wrote a packet of letters from me to him as if we were living in early 1900s and I were touring Egypt. I wrote about the archeological sites I'd seen, going down the Nile, and various stories about my fellow travellers. Then I aged the paper with tea and creases, tied it all up in a red ribbon, and that was it.

And then Husband went and made a book.

Here's the background.

Years ago my friends and I wrote a parody of cheesy Romance novels entitled The Adventures of Aphrodesia Lovejoy about an incredibly clueless heroine working as a governess in a brooding castle full of handsome rakes and one well-hung carriage driver. This book was really special to me and my friends and remains a source of happiness. But it was really a collection of stories written about all of us printed out on a Mac and stapled together. So Husband, who has a background in publishing, hand made a hardcover book. Complete with a dust jacket and slipcase. He even got my friends to write those blurbs like you see on bestsellers. Imagine Husband contacting ex-husband for an author's blurb! He hand sewed the folios together, put in end papers, it looks like an actual published hardcover book. There are even illustrations gathered from some of the worst romance covers ever published.

It is, in short, amazing. I mean no slight to my "took all of an hour" letter project, but holy cats! He must have spent two or three months formatting, getting the info from our friends, learning how to actually make a book by hand, and doing the work. And, to top it off, he wrote a hilarious epilogue to the saga. It was easily the most incredible gift I've ever received.

The problem is, how do I compete with that? I mean I know it's not a competition, but really. It's like I give someone a hand-made ashtray and they give me a Porsche. And no, of course not, he never made me feel like that. It's just my natural insecurities coming out when faced with amazement. Husband pronounced himself delighted with the letters, but that book...!

So that ended the handmade gift thing. The next year I looked at what I could do in terms of making things and said "nope, not gonna." And, frankly, I think Husband was relieved too because he couldn't top it either.

My hand made, hardcover Christmas gift remains a treasured possession. And, to make it even better, Husband went above and beyond and made books for every one of my friends who had written chapters. And they treasure them as well.

Husband is incredible. But I'm glad I don't have the pressure of making something or, worse, coming up with an idea of what to make. Besides, I love buying him gifts. And yet I live in awe of those of you who can, and do, hand make.