Monday, May 30, 2011

The Lady at Table 45

I see now that this has become a blog mostly about work-related incidents, about which I refuse to complain. Instead, I embrace it. I'm glad this survival job has allowed me to tell so many different stories about the strange and marvelous humans that walk the Earth with me. Now, wasn't that dramatic?

A few nights ago, I was treading my section in the restaurant on two very sore feet. I couldn't help but seethe about the couple I'm waited on earlier that evening: a young man and his young date, old enough to drink vodka-and-sodas but immature enough to give me a decent tip. It was his birthday, which I'd found out when I carded them. I'm a softie when it comes to birthdays---who doesn't love something free on their birthday?---and especially when it comes to twenty-somethings' birthdays. I'm pretty broke. I assume most twenty-somethings are pretty broke, as well. If I were to take my broke self out with my broke friend out to an expensive dinner and the waitress gave us something for free, I'd be over the moon! This was what I set out to do when I comp'ed their $14 appetizer: make them happy, happy, happy people.

Instead, when I presented the check and my my huge smile, they didn't seem moved in the slightest. "The appetizer was on me tonight!" I exclaimed. The dude nodded and said, "Thanks. Could you take a picture of us?"

Well, happy birthday to you. And they left me a 12% tip. After I gave them something for free. Dickwads.

Anyway, I was pissed and mopey and my feet hurt and I'd kill a man to sit down when I noticed the fifty-something, frizzy haired, bespectacled woman now sitting at my table 45. She had a cocktail in front of her, which meant she probably had come from the bar. She was plinking away on her Blackberry and barely noticed as I approached the table.

"Hello!" I greeted her.

She looked up, smiling. She had a kind face. I wondered why she was dining alone. Immediately, I asked myself silently, Is she married?

She knew exactly what she wanted. "I'll start out with a small salad, garlic dressing on the side. Then I'll have the cheeseburger, medium. Thank you!"

I smiled through gritted teeth as I took away her menu and thanked her. Walking away, I cursed the gods. Gods, I addressed them, if you're going to give me a one-top, can you at least give me a one-top who orders the $44 New York Strip Steak and drinks like a fish?

The gods must've heard. "Oh, wait!" the lady at table 45 called to me. I returned to her table, and she rested a hand on my arm. "I'll have another Casper after all. I'll just take two ice cubes. My teeth are so sensitive. I can't handle the cold!"

I chuckled. "No problem!" All right, at least she's a fishlike drinker.

Over the course of the evening, I checked back in with the lady at table 45. She seemed very sweet and bumbly. She praised the garlic dressing, asking for more and more of it. She fawned over the cheeseburger, claiming it was the best burger she'd ever had. She ordered Casper after Casper, two ice cubes only. Every time I swung by her table, she was cheerful as a toddler, having the time of her life at the one of the smallest tables in the restaurant, enjoying one of the simplest meals off the menu.

After I'd cleared her dishes and left her with a clean table and a near-empty highball glass with two melting ice cubes inside of it, I offered her dessert.

"Oh, I do love the key lime pie!" she exclaimed.

"Totally," I agreed, "I love it, too. Shall I order you a slice?"

She shook her head. "Sadly, I'm allergic to nuts."

"A tragedy!" I replied. "All of our desserts have nuts! Can I offer you a scoop of ice cream?"

She pointed to her teeth. "Too sensitive," she reminded me. "My poor teeth can't handle it! I'll tell you what. I'll have one more drink, please. And that'll be my dessert."

"Absolutely," I smiled at her and began to walk away from the table when she stopped me.

"Kim," she said in her soft, heartfelt voice, "thank you so much for a wonderful evening. You've really changed my mind about this place. I used to come here all the time, but then I stopped. I don't know why, I was just sort of over it. This is the first time I've come here in about a year. I work around the corner. And I must say, I have you to thank. You've given me a wonderful evening, and I'm looking forward to coming back."

I was stunned. And touched. I couldn't think of anything else to say except, "Thank you so much!" So I said that.

As I walked back to the wait station to re-ring her Casper, I couldn't help but feel very happy about the compliment she'd paid me, and how I'd made a difference in not only her night, but her attitude about the restaurant. I felt proud, but at the same time I felt limp. My dad always used to say, "There are some things you should be glad you're not that good at doing." It's weird to know that you're a good waitress.

After the lady at table 45 paid the bill, I took one last visit to her table to pick up the credit card slip and bid her goodnight. She was such a sweet woman, and I was moved by how great of a night she'd had with a cheeseburger and her Blackberry. I reached down and picked up the signed copy of the check. "It was lovely getting to know you," I said. "I hope to see you again soon!"

"I hope to see you soon, too!" she replied. "Thank you."

I smiled at her one last time, and walked away. As I slipped the signed copy off of the check presenter, two crisp $20 bills fell off, too. I stopped in my tracks and counted. Two $20 bills. I looked at the check. The bill was only $70 in total! And she tipped me $40 in cash? I was so affected, I couldn't even move. This one lady, this lady who only ate a salad and a cheeseburger, gave me the largest tip of my life. I almost started crying. It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. It was right behind the first time a boy told me that he loved me.

I turned around and caught her before she left. I addressed her by name, which I remembered from swiping her credit card. "I really must thank you again for your generosity," I said to her. "Thank you. I'm really quite moved. Thank you."

She smiled at me and said, "Thank you. You know, people think that going out to eat is just getting food and getting drinks, but it's not. It's about the experience, and you gave me a great one tonight. I'll be back. Thank you."

And as we smiled at each other and hailed one another with mutual appreciation and affection, we parted ways. She waved goodbye to me and stepped back outside, and I headed into the kitchen, my arms full of dirty plates but my insides full of certainty that kind, wonderful people exist in this world.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Get OUT of here

Last night, I was at my restaurant job and I dropped off a bottle of tap water and six small plates to my friend's table, as she worked their first round of drinks. As I set the plates and the bottle in the middle of the table, the girl on the end looked up at me and said, "Are we supposed to drink water out of plates?"

I was so stunned by this Bitchiest Question I'd Ever Heard that I made her repeat it. "Excuse me?"

With eyes wide, she asked again, "Are we supposed to drink water out of plates?"

I fought between slapping her across the face and screaming, but finally I settled on replying, coolly, "Elizabeth is right behind me with your glasses of water." And then I walked off.

WHAT A BITCH. I've never heard anything so nasty! I was appalled, humiliated, pissed and also hysterical with laughter all at the same time. Get OUT of here, lady. Through with you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bumming all of a sudden over fake dessert

I was enjoying my late-night cup of Silk soy milk and a couple spoonfuls of chunky peanut butter---if you a cry a little bit, it all tastes like ice cream---when I read a surprising headline:

"Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver Announce Separation."

I'm bummed to hear this. As someone with divorced parents who remain single, I'm always flabbergasted when I hear about the separations of longtime couples. Schwarzenegger and Shriver have been married for almost thirty years; why break up now? Is everything in the marriage really going that poorly? Anyway, I directed a full blog post to Political Subversities, click the link to read it in full.

All right, off to finish my milk. Maybe I'll also finish Ratatouille, which I've never seen and have been watching intermittently throughout the night.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Queen of the May: a Thoroughly Enjoyable Evening of Sharp Writing and Smart Jokes

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing The Queen of the May and Her Harvest Kings: An Evening of Competition at Galapagos Art Space in Dumbo, Brooklyn. I'd never been to Galapagos before. When I got there, I was stunned. I honestly thought it was going to be a shack. (Aren't most Brooklyn theater spaces shacks? Zing!) It couldn't be farther from a shack. If you've never visited, Galapagos Art Space is a gigantic cabaret-style theater with luxurious table seating and a full bar. The seating areas sit on cement peninsulas that branch from a bridge. This bridge functions as the main aisle from the back of the theater to the stage. Underneath the bridge and seating areas, there's water. It's lovely, but don't drop your purse in there.

The Queen of the May... is a new play by Evan Watkins and Andrew Farmer, who portray (ridiculously fraternal) twin brothers in this absurd, 1920s "evening of competition" in which they fight for the heart of Eunice Cole (played by the incandescent, Dorothy-esque Valerie Graham). Eunice, the newly-crowned "Queen of the May" and heiress to the Cole Family Slaw fortune, must choose one of the brothers to be her man by play's end. With a twinkly piano score executed dapperly by Michael Lapinsky, the play seemed plucked directly from the 1920s. All of the actors' vocal choices were reminiscent of classic performers from the early 20th century. Roe Hartrampf, at the conclusion of the play, even threw the audience a "Merry Christmas!" to seal his take on Jimmy Stewart. The decision to mimic Stewart was not so timely to the play's 1920s era, but it was close enough and so entertaining that I just didn't care.

That's what the play was for me, in sum: ceaselessly entertaining. Among my favorite moments was the limerick portion of the competition, during which the twins recite their own limericks to impress Eunice. Another memorable scene was the seemingly-improvised idioms competition, in which Watkins and Farmer make up ageless sayings based on Graham's suggestions. I'll never forget Farmer's quip to Graham's proposal, jazz: "It's not just the notes that are black." I have to say, I loved every single one of the play's lighthearted racist jokes. They poked fun at the time in history when we all had our noses in the air when it came to immigrants. Blacks, Asians, Jews---Farmer once addressed an audience member simply by bellowing, "Hebrew!"---everyone was ridiculed, but so subtly it was sometimes not even addressed as a joke. Another memorable hidden joke arrived at the end of the play, when the twins encouraged each other that tomorrow's a new day: "October 29, 1929!" Everyone in the theater bellowed with laughter, but I admit: I had to look up the date. It's the date of the Stock Market Crash. I thought it was the smartest joke I'd ever heard, even though, initially, I didn't get it.

The Queen of the May... closed last Tuesday, but I hope it's remounted again soon. The story and its characters are incessantly funny and the way the plot unfolds is actually quite mysterious, despite its lightheartedness. I was impressed by the sly way Watkins and Farmer were able to execute their improvisation talents, but mostly, I was amazed by their writing. It was sharp and loyal to the time. The script simmered with nonstop, often-so-subtle-they-were-unaddressed jokes, which made getting them all the more satisfying. I had an enjoyable time, and haven't laughed so hard at the theater in a long time.

Postcard by Bowen Yang. Photos by Sasha Arutyunova.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Happy Mother's Day! Thank you for all that you've done for me and all that you continue to do for me. Specifically:

Thank you for following your dream, coming to the United States, meeting the sandy-haired guy with the moustache, marrying him in his parents' house and taking those thirteen hours to birth me. Thanks for giving me this dimple. You have two and Dad has none, so I guess it averaged out to one for me. I used to feel lopsided, but now I like rocking just the one. Thanks for paying for all those dance lessons, and for buying me those tan leather tap shoes once I realized the shiny, patent black ones were so last year. Thanks for the braces. I don't think I'd be where I am now if I had the out-of-control teeth that I had ten years ago. Thanks for the car that you got for me when I was a senior in high school. That was awesome. And thanks for being a mom who drives stick. That's awesome.

Thank you for being the strongest and most hardworking woman I know. How do you do it all? How do you stay so focused? How do you work so many hours in the week without taking a substantial break? You're a machine. Sometimes, I work many hours in the week but then oftentimes I flip out on someone (maybe even you) and cry. You don't do that. You just watch a BBC movie.

Thank you for shrugging off the dumb men who come into your life. I wish I could do that more easily. You know you're better than them. I wish I could respect myself in the way that you respect yourself. Thank you for not taking anyone's bullshit. I hope to be as confident in myself one day.

Thank you for being beautiful. I like to think that I inherited your smile. Thank you for making me drink milk when I was young, so that I'd be taller than you. Thank you for making me see that the little things are little. Thank you for saying, "I'll help you." Thank you for being the woman I hope to be someday.

You're truly the best. I love you so much. And I love this picture of you. I hope you don't mind that I put it up here.

Your loving daughter,

Friday, May 6, 2011

A story from my friend, the barista

I enjoyed rooftop beers tonight with two old roommates and dear friends of mine. I don't see them much anymore because we have crazy jobs and wildly different lives, but whenever I see them I realize how much I miss crowding onto one of our beds late at night to watch Arrested Development. I love these girls.

One of them works for a reality show. The other works as a barista at an Upper West Side cafe that I've yet to visit. She told us this bizarre, uniquely New York-ly funny story tonight that I can't stop thinking about.

At this tiny cafe on 94th Street and Amsterdam, she usually works by herself. She opens at 8 o'clock in the morning, but hey, she gets to play her own music. The cafe shares a window with an art studio. Sometimes, people call out coffee orders from ceramic painting stations. She can make one mean latte, she boasts.

There's a customer who comes in quite frequently: a man, who's balding, or maybe he just shaves his head. She can't tell. He looks vaguely European. The first few times she made his drink, she thought it strange the way he loitered so close to the counter, watching her work. Now that she's grown more familiar with him, she finds him actually quite hot. One day, she passes him his drink and says, "What's your name?"

He looks taken aback at this question. He thinks for a moment. She wonders why he has to think so hard about his name, and begins to regret the spontaneous "Let's be more than barista and paying customer" gesture she just made. Rewind. Rewind. Abort, abort.

"Well," the vaguely European, balding, maybe just shaven, actually quite hot man replies. "People call me Bun."

She stares at his reflective head. "Your friends call you what?"

"My friends call me Bun." He has an accent, but she can't detect what it is.

"Bun," she repeated. "Your name is Bun?" He smiles.

"Bun!" she cried out to us on the rooftop. "I wanted to ask him what his real name was. But I didn't."

The three of us sat in giggly silence, brainstorming what "Bun" could possibly stand for, or be short for. She leaned back and titled her face toward the sky, puffed on a cigarette. I took a sip of beer. It was growing strangely cold.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

One of my favorite Steve Martin jokes

I'm re-reading Steve Martin's New Yorker piece, Seventy-two Virgins, from 2007. It makes me want to share one of my favorites of his stand-up jokes. One time in high school, I turned it into a monologue for an audition. It didn't translate that well.

"Actually, I'm kind of thinkin' about my old girlfriend, I guess. Sorry. It's just that I used to travel around and I'd be performing and I could kind of hear her laugh in the back. It'd mean something to me, you know and, uh...I'm sorry. You know how it is. We were together about three years and, uh, she's not living any more.

"I guess I kind of blame myself for her death. Uh, we were at a party one night and we weren't getting along and we were fighting and she began to drink and...I didn't realize how much she'd been drinking. She ran out to the car, she asked me to drive her home and I didn't want to and I refused. She asked me one more time, would you please drive me home? I didn't want I shot her."

--Let's Get Small, 1977

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us."

I'm not a Georgetown student in a tree, but I am pretty obsessed all of this Osama bin Laden stuff.

Mostly, I'm interested because this all seems like an episode of Alias, starring the abs-tastic Jennifer Garner, the should-be-more-famous Michael Vartan, the not-yet-famous Bradley Cooper, and Victor Garber, whose Titanic role will always hold a special place in my heart. Except the people in this real-life episode of reality are way less attractive and probably have way less sex with each other. Leon Panetta is definitely no Michael Vaughan.

When the news broke, I was astonished as to how dramatic the situation was. The CIA had been quietly tracking Osama bin Laden for years, and knew of his whereabouts since August. Over the past eight months, the plan was conceived, curated, and it ultimately culminated into what we know now as "Geronimo." And in under an hour, the U.S. completed what they (we?) set out to do in September 2001: conquer bin Laden. In one flawless take, the Navy SEALs ended him. And Obama gave the "go" on this risky plan of attack. Wow.

I can't get over that picture of Obama, Biden, Clinton and a dozen others in the Situation Room, overseeing the raid as it was happening. Clinton's hand is over her mouth. Obama leans forward. Everyone seems paralyzed. The tension is the room is clear. The possibility of failure simmers in everyone's minds. Somewhere offscreen, a speechwriter writes two speeches, one telling of success and the other of defeat.

"We got him," Obama will say. "We got him."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Earlier "funny women post" reminded me of this

Her name is Jenna Marbles. You've got to give this clip at least a full minute for it to become the most genius thing you've ever seen, but trust me: it'll be one of the most genius things you ever seen.

Thank God @allegradc showed this to me. It brightened my life in huge ways.

What I want to be when I grow up

My friend Ryann said recently, "Dear Tina Fey, I appreciate what you've done for women in comedy, but why did you have to do it first?" That's kind of how I feel about this new Judd Apatow movie, Bridesmaids.

From age seven through age twelve, becoming a cast member on Saturday Night Live was all part of my career plan. Right after I graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar playing opposite Tom Hanks (as my father). That's right, I was going to win an Oscar before landing a spot on SNL. Special, no?

Then I learned that you had to be a superstar at Second City or the Groundlings or whatever in order to even be considered to audition for SNL. Then I didn't even come close to getting Harvard-worthy grades in high school. I also didn't get cast in my school's production of Little Shop of Horrors, which pushed my Tom Hanks dreams even further away. And it all went to shit.

It really didn't all go to shit, but now I've meandered away from my point: Bridesmaids looks awesome, and I'd do anything to be on that poster next to Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph and Ellie Kemper. I remember confessing to my freshman year acting teacher that I feared women weren't funny; I am a woman, and therefore I must not be funny. This teacher told me to get it together and shut up about that. I'm glad she did---I was talking bullshit. These Bridesmaids women are funny. (They also happen to be beautiful and skinny, but that's another blog post.) And lucky for me, the women in my immediate working circle, those of Political Subversities and, until yesterday, The First Ladies Project, are indeed the most hilarious and smart women I've ever worked with. If I keep writing and performing with them, I imagine Bridesmaids 2 will someday present itself.

Or, you know, something original. Bridesmaids 2 already sounds like it'll be bad.

A huge evening

It's moments like these when I feel like I'm a part of history, a part of something huge. I also feel that Brian Williams must be really tired right now. It's 12:53 in the morning, for goodness sake! Does he live two blocks from Rockefeller Center? That'd be convenient for breaking news stories like these.

I feel like a lighter human being. Gigantic events remind me that the fucking annoying things we experience in everyday life are actually nothing in comparison to successes like this one. Let those things go. Remember that huge triumphs happen.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Favorite tweets thus far regarding Osama bin Laden's death

1. Obama obviously has the Elder Wand. (@sergioshorts)

2. Best part of twitter when things like this happen are people who don't know it happened yet and tweet "so crazy at the club right now!" shit. (@donaldglover)

3. #ManDown (@rihanna)

4. It is pretty awkard in my cab right now. (@natebargatze)

5. I heard Obama did only like 20% of the killing in the operation. #blackswan (@whitekidproblem)

6. Tonight, President Obama will announce that Clint Eastwood shot Osama Bin Laden. (@SteveMartinToGo)

7. Waldo: 1, Osama Bin Laden: 0. (@YourFavWhiteGuy)

8. ...Do you think we could get a national holiday tomorrow out of this? (@hellokerry)

Well, it's the end of an era, sport

This portrait, which I have unofficially titled "The First Latina First Lady, as portrayed by Kim Blanck," was taken by the magnificently talented and kind Andrew Williams. It hung in the lobby of the Fourth Street Theatre during the run of The First Ladies Project.

Well, of course I had to take it home. I know my dad wants it. I asked him, "Where are you going to hang it? It's such an absurd picture. And it's so large." He answered, "We'll put it in your room." Creepy. No, thank you.

Anyway, I took it home and have yet to figure out plans to mail it to my dad. This is how I'm storing it.

Can't very well have it upright and look at my own larger-than-life face all the time. And the back of the frame is sad-looking. Also, I like the teal color of my shirt. Just can't have the face looking out at me.

I wonder how long it will stay there before I send it off to my dad. It sure is kind of a scary thing to have in your room, a 3' by 2' portrait of your own self.

Chance encounters leading to non-chance encounters

One Tuesday afternoon, I was working at the restaurant when two gentlemen sat down at one of my tables. They looked like old friends, and were catching up on stories about work and wives when I approached them. One of them ordered a glass of wine; the other, a drink-drink, I can't remember what. I returned to their table several times before they finally consulted the menu and gave me their order. They seemed like the kind of guests who prefer to be as uninterrupted as possible. I took my cue and kept my distance.

After they finished their lunches, I sauntered up to the table with my Sweet Waitress Smile and offered them coffee and dessert. The man on the left looked up at me for the first time and asked me, "So, what show are you in? You must be an actress."

I laughed. "Yes, I am."

"I can tell," he replied with a grin. Lots of people can. Aren't most waitresses in NYC also actresses? He seemed friendlier than I initially pegged him to be.

"I'm actually in a show right now," I told him. "It's about the First Ladies of the United States." I opened my book and handed him a postcard. I keep postcards and flyers of all the shows I'm doing in my waitress book, for when people ask me, "So, what show are you in?" I've actually handed out quite a few.

The gentlemen seemed impressed. They proceeded to ask me where I was from. "California." The man on the left said, "Why, I'm headed to California next week! Is your play going on the week after that?"

"Yes!" I answered. "You should come! I think it'll be enjoyable and funny." I handed the gentleman on the right a postcard as well. They pocketed them, gave me well wishes, paid the check and left. What nice men, I thought.

Fast-forward to this afternoon: we had a matinee performance of The First Ladies Project, which went splendidly. I had many friends and some former roommates in the crowd, and was so happy to see them there after having gone many months without seeing them. After the show ended, I emerged from the dressing room, still in full makeup and costume. I greeted my friends and thanked them for coming, when a man approached me.

"Hello, Kim!" he said. "We met at the restaurant. I'm Charlie."

I looked at him blankly. Was he a regular? Had I ever seen him before? Charlie? Charlie? Finally, I remembered him from that table of two gentlemen on the Tuesday afternoon two weeks ago. Charlie!

I gasped. "You came! Oh, I'm so honored, sir!"

He cackled. "Oh, please don't call me sir. Call me Charlie. This is my wife," he motioned to a lovely woman with a silk scarf around her neck. He had brought his wife! I was floored, just floored. Overcome with gratitude and surprise and humility, I grasped her hand.

"We really enjoyed it!" she told me. "We really had a wonderful time."

Charlie added, "After I got home from the restaurant, I went to your website and decided, 'Yeah, I want to do this.' So Susan and I came. It was really wonderful. Did you write all of that?"

I felt so happy to hear these kind words. It was like my grandpop and grandmom had come to see the show. "Most of it," I answered. "The letters, those were all real. Real words."

"Well," he said. "It was really fantastic. I'm glad I came." And after two quick handshakes and one kindly pat on the back, they smiled and left.

Watching them leave, I felt warm all over. It's a fantastic feeling to experience such heartfelt support from people you only met once. From people to whom you were just their waitress. What a remarkable thing it is to simply meet other people in this world. Sometimes, a chance meeting can lead to a lifetime of friendship. Or, quite simply, an afternoon at the theater and a familiar face onstage.