|I could just
see my gratuity go from a positive to a negative amount as I stacked the
seven plates at the end of the table, as one would do at home rather than
at the Ritz, and yikes, did a bit of food flick onto the lady's blouse?
people out front, we can do double what we did tonight," intoned our
anorexic proprietress. I lay bets that the house special lobster cream
ravioli has never crossed her pursed lips.
Back at my
apartment, a couple of silver-service schooled buddies of Elaine, my flatmate
and co-worker, showed us how it's done. The first plate is slotted
under the thumb and pinkie with subsequent plates stacked on the heel of
the hand as you scrape the uneaten remains onto the first plate.
This was invented
for good reason. Elaine recounted a gratuity-minimising encounter with
a diner: "Squelch?" she commented, as she squelched a large
lump of garlic butter between two plates.
were employed at the swank 5-star Park Hotel just out of town and were
eager to enlighten we of the kebab-house institute. One useful tip for
our two-floor restaurant was the need for a "floater," someone who floats
around the entire restaurant, lending a hand where necessary and spotting
clients who need attention. That evening I applied this technology to my
shift, concentrating on downstairs whilst two others did upstairs and a
third did the floating. It worked well, but Katherine made it clear she
wanted superwaitresses, not systems, waitresses with eyes on all sides
of the head and X-ray capability to see through the floor above.
my star waitress," chided Katherine, "she knows exactly what's going on
at all times".
Nieve was a
teacher, and at every opportunity made it clear that she wasn't a waitress
at all, but a teacher. Whilst scurrying around with plates and wine bottles,
she looked like a waitress to me. Nieve wore sensible shoes and unassuming
tights and skirt with a cashmere jumper that had a pearl design embroidered
around the neck. I wore the only sensible thing I had in my backpack, a
pair of Harley Davidson boots with silver plaque thinly disguised by a
see-through black tube skirt that could double as an upper body mosquito
net if sleeping in a hammock. Katherine eyed my somewhat racy getup and
suggested I might like to borrow some of her clothes, but I graciously
declined her generosity, not wanting to inconvenience her yet, at the same
time not realizing I'd set milk souring.
On my first
day off I rode north of the town up to a point on the Kerry Way where you
can admire Kenmare in its sylvan setting. I rode towards a place called
Currabeg, stopping at the little pier not too far from my apartment where
you could gaze out across the chilly waters of Kenmare Bay. I took my snap
camera out, and as often happens after framing it through the pathetic
viewfinder, put it away without taking the shot. Point-and-shoot cameras
are surely designed to remind you that real life is always better than
the bottled variety. I thought about the caption for that photo. "Here's
my local pier." It felt like a lie. As happens time and time again in my
travels, I stood there and felt an invisible hand on my shoulder, ushering
me onwards. Is there ever a time and a place where you can truly stop,
even for five minutes? Even at home, parents have the knack of saying,
"Isn't it time you got off your ass?"
A bit of uphill
peddling, fuelled by an excellent TLT (turkey lettuce and tomato sandwich)
from the locals' favourite grubberie, Nicky Ned's, and I was ready for
my day-off treat: dinner at my restaurant. Being a bit of a tiresome wag,
I called up the restaurant and, in my best scone-in-mouth accent, made
a booking for Lady Byron Templeton, "just for the craic" as the oirish
put it. Apparently this caused a minor ripple in the kitchen. I reasoned
that without this alibi, I would have been stuck in the toilet. I showered
and put on my "opera clothes" -- a packable long black dress and jacket
-- and sauntered down for my 8:30 date with myself. As it turned out I
got the "jilted sod's table," a lone little nightstand with a single chair
outside the toilet. I ordered a house red, the incomparable uovo ravioli
(one huge ravioli occupying most of the plate in a butter sauce), the delicious
home made fennel and pork sausage with salsa, and for dessert, a divine
pear pie washed down with a house white, which came to 20 quid in all,
or 3-and-a-bit hours work. Unaccustomed as I am to meat or alcohol,
I had to spend some time in the lounge sobering up lest I mimic the incredible
bouncing knife from my first night on the floor.
home to watch Casino on video until 3am, which made America look like a
very scary place. That night I tossed and turned fitfully; the lethal
combination of overstimulating movie and meaty pork sausage kept me dreaming
and digesting until sunup.
I could not
wait for my next day off when I could jump on the bike again and explore
the Cumeen Gap, a part of the Beara Peninsula I had missed on my first
trip through these parts almost 6 months ago. This meant peddling though
some wonderfully named places like Dromoghty Glen, and passing through
some interesting geological formations -- hills that looked like they'd
been sliced with a meat cleaver with the resulting slabs slipping against
Back in Kenmare
and after I finished my shift at 11pm, I made for The Square Pint, the
local afters place, where I would often go for a 2 quid bowl of soup and
bread during my lunchbreak. Tonight, the Pint featured a brilliant band
fronted by a virtuoso female squeezebox player and an equally impressive
mandolinist. From my leaning place near the door I made indecent eye contact
with the bass player, a tall blonde lad with a build reminiscent of those
Welsh football players with whom I was fortunate to be locked at the Fox
& Hounds pub last summer.
I use to think
this never really happened at gigs due to the lights shining into the performers'
eyes and the seething throng before them, but my once-famous musician friend
assured me that yes, eye contact definitely occurs, followed by a front
row nod and a back stage wink and a night to forget back in the hotel room
or truck or wherever if all goes right. Afterwards, I approached the bassplayer,
Dave, to say hello and we exchanged numbers. In fact, I had learned to
play slap bass while back in Australia, and all I really wanted to do was
harass him for a few techniques. In the background I spotted my flatmate
Elaine, looking curiously drenched from head to toe, being escorted through
When we arrived
back at my apartment Elaine was being nursed by her Mr. Right Now, having
slipped over in the Square Pint toilets and split her lip, not to mention
knocking herself out cold in the process. Apparently the management had
to douse her into consciousness by sticking a hose under the toilet door.
A case of good old Guiness getting the better of the uninitiated. We drifted
off to my tape of Bob Dylan's
Oh Mercy playing on repeat.
The next day
I heard, "Lynette, it's not working out," from Katherine.
I was floored.
Nothing prepares you for being fired. Not even if its a job you hate with
a passion. Quitting had already crossed my mind barely three weeks into
the season, but Katherine beat me to it. I suddenly came over all faint
and had to excuse myself and make for the toilet where I stuck my head
between my knees to stabilize. If the demise of my career began with
lack of X-ray vision for servicing the floor above or my threatening waitressing
attire, it deteriorated faster than a prawn cocktail under a blowdryer
when I started innocently offering suggestions to enhance the business.
In my advertising
career I was paid to come up with ideas. I foolishly assumed this would
be appreciated in my new pursuit. The fact was, "An Leath Phingen was a
successful, Michelin-star-to-be outfit that had been wowing people with
its handmade pasta since the day it opened," I was reminded. Who
the hell was I? Katherine was reluctant to elaborate further, but in true
imposing style, I implored her to give me more feeback on how I'd "fooked
up," so I could take more away with me than a footprint stamped on my derriere.
personality thing. We find your suggestions intrusive. I like someone to
just get on with it. And you don't seem to have really grasped the place,"
she said simply.
shock, I continued in my galling style and treated myself to a last supper
in the restaurant that evening. This flipped the entire staff out. Then
again, life's too short to spend too much time in recovery. In the ensuing
weeks in Kenmare, I often spotted my former employers in the street and
they appeared to do their best to avoid me. Just before I left, I put a
letter and a recipe in an envelope under their door. It read, in part:
Dear Con and Katherine, Just a short note to let you know I will soon be
uprooting once again and leaving the country which has been my home for
almost a year. Enclosed please find the won-ton recipe I promised you,
dug up from my father's notes (he is an excellent cook), and I am sorry
we never got to make it together. I want to thank you for giving me the
chance to come to Kenmare, to experience living in a small town and try
my hand at something I had never done before, because if it weren't for
you, I would never have seen County Kerry. I wish you Michelin stars
and every success with the restaurant.
Yours in friendship,