Olive Bread, or What Will Your Friends Remember

olivebread1_550A few days ago, I went to the memorial service of a person I had never met.  He was a friend of Eric’s, an artist, specifically, a neon artist.  It was a beautiful service, not without its sadnesses, naturally.  Also, it was not without its laughs.  It was a short service, moderated by a long time friend, wrapped up with a piano medley of Yesterday, Hey Jude, and Bridge over Troubled Water.  All three of those songs were among my favorites when I was a dreamy eyed, vintage cardigan wearing misfit of a Kansas teenager, but I had not listened, really listened to them in awhile. 

When you attend the funeral or memorial of a person you never knew, you get a picture of them, completely accurate or not, from the stories that are told about the deceased.  I’ve thought about this man, and those stories, several times this week.  And I’m not saying that the story I am sharing is the one the most defines him, this artist, but it’s the story that I thought about most, the stickiest story.

A woman got up to share the story of her friendship with the man we were honoring.  She touched on what they had in common.  They were both neon artists, about the same age, he from Japan, she from China.  They lived near each other in Southern California.   She shared that Kunio was the person who introduced olive bread to her. We all laughed when she said it, that hungry laugh of funerals where, between tears, we can chuckle and breathe, remind ourselves that we are still living.  She had never had it before he served her some on a visit to his house.  And she loved it and she introduced it to her husband and he loved it too. And she said that, even before Kunio’s passing, she thought about him every time she ate olive bread, even more so in the months since his passing.

I sat there wondering what Kunio would have thought about that anecdote.  We live our lives trying to accomplish things, climb every mountain, make a difference, give it the old freshman try, be aggressive, make every moment count, and when we’re gone, we’re remembered for olive bread.  And not even for making it, just for liking it.  Well, for liking it and for sharing it.

Sharing a few slices of olive bread with a good friend on a sunny California afternoon. There’s so much more, there’s always so much more, but that’s really not such a bad way to be remembered, either.

Guest Blogger, Michael Patrick Gaffney: My Funny Cater Waiter

catering nightmareIt seems like just yesterday, Michael Patrick Gaffney and I were standing on the corner of Castro and Market in short shorts and tank tops hollering, “Coupons for Party!  Who wants a coupon for Party?!?”  In truth, that was 17 years ago, when we were at the beginning of our enduring friendship.  We’ve acted together and we’ve catered together and I must say, in both situations, it’s a pleasure to be by his side.  I asked him to guest blog and he graciously accepted.  While not everyone has catered or waitered or cater waitered for a living, I think his story is universal.  Who among us is living a life that turned out exactly the way they thought it would?  Recently, a blogger friend of mine wrote, “What will survive us is Love.”  I completely agree and I must say, I know few people that are as loving or as loved as my friend Michael Patrick Gaffney.

 

My Funny Cater Waiter

I was sitting in my therapist’s office on Tuesday…It’s worth noting that this is the therapist I have been trying to break up with for a few months now because he cried during my session TWICE!  And he stood me up once and is quite aware of my abandonment issues.  I have been dealing with an anxiety disorder for awhile now and he finally asked me, “What are you most afraid of?”  I sat there for a moment and thought for awhile and finally I said, “I’m afraid I will become the oldest living cater waiter.

I am a professional stage actor but if I am to be brutally honest I have been making most of my living as a cater waiter for the past 17 years.  

I started off in L.A. trying to make it as a film actor and worked as a waiter in restaurants until the infamous potato skin incident of 1989, which abruptly ended my career.  When I moved up to San Francisco in 1996 a friend suggested I try catering work between theatre jobs.  I signed up with a very high end company and began my new career as a cater waiter.  I enjoy it for the most part and have been a part of some incredible events over the years. I have waited on countless celebrities and politicians including; Nancy Pelosi, Sean Penn, Christy Turlington, Hillary Clinton and Tabatha, from Bravo’s Shear Genius.  And although I didn’t serve him dinner, at one fundraiser I met and shook the hand of President Barack Obama.  

But as the years have gone on, I have found myself wearing a uniform more than a costume and my body has begun to tell the wear and tear of the often physical work and long hours.  I find myself worrying about my future and how I will support myself.  Will I become the oldest living cater waiter?  Sometimes I think about how many weddings, fundraisers and bar mitzvahs I have done over the years.  Some of them easy, most of them not so easy, and some of them down right grueling.  I remember one particular wedding several years back.  We were loaded onto a shuttle at 6am and driven down to Montecito to a 48 million dollar estate for a wedding that was rumored to have cost 5 million dollars.  We worked for hours setting up the dining room and by the time the guests arrived I was exhausted and didn’t know how I would make it through the entrée course.  I was assigned to the head table and had several celebrities to serve, including an unnamed romance novelist who chain smoked throughout the meal.  By the time we dropped the entrée I was physically, mentally and spiritually spent. I was very close to tears and my white gloves were filthy with cigarette ash from replacing the ashtray for unnamed romance novelist.  Suddenly I heard the voice of an angel singing my favorite song of all time, “My Funny Valentine”.  I turned around and just a few feet from me was Etta James on stage.  I just stood there smiling with the biggest lump in my throat and gave her a little wave with my filthy white glove and she looked at me and smiled.  Time stood still and for a moment it was just Etta and me and Rogers and Hart.   It is moments like these that make my career as the oldest living cater waiter all worth while. 

Thank you, Etta…and bite me, unnamed romance novelist.