It was the late 90’s. I took one year away from my life in New York City and tried my luck in Los Angeles as an actress. This original idea led me over the mountains, through the prairies, to the Pacific Ocean white with foam, and into a tuxedo.
To support myself I got employment with a high-end catering company. I had New York City experience and had no problems finding work. There’s something about the service industry. When you say you’ve worked in New York, people in other cities will nod and beam at you like you’re some kind of genius. What’s more amusing is how you start to believe it yourself: “Yes I’m a waiter. In New York!”
On this particular afternoon, I sputtered into Beverly Hills in my filthy station wagon with Jersey plates. The street was crowded, but I found a spot at the end of the block behind a BMW and in front of a Jag. Between these shining beauties, I parallel parked the dust wagon which had been my parent’s junker and parting gift to me. “Good luck, kid!” I’d had no money or time to wash it, and for me it wasn’t a priority. No one has a car in New York. I’d never even heard of detailing. Crushing a cigarette stub into an overflowing beanbag ashtray on the dash, I climbed out, smiling defiantly at someone’s gardener. Eight months in and I was already sick of L.A.
I slung the garment bag which held my pressed tuxedo over my shoulder, lit a fresh cigarette, and headed up the street. The only information I had from the catering company was the address, and that I needed two forms of ID. No client name was given or type of occasion. It seemed unusually secretive.
I noticed a lot of activity on a lawn up ahead. Very large men in uniforms were gathered there. This indeed was my destination. I flicked my cigarette butt onto the neighbor’s perfectly manicured lawn and walked up. I was flanked by two men and escorted briskly to a small table where I was asked what my business was.
“Catering waiter,” I answered disdainfully.
“Let’s see your ID, Miss. Empty your pockets, and walk through the metal detector.”
The last time I was asked to do that was when I had worked the Academy Awards the previous March. This was something huge.
A young security dude with a buzz cut walked me through a side garden and into the backyard where other waiters were setting up. Everyone worked silently unwrapping rental dishes, silverware, and thimble-sized salt and pepper shakers. Only the clinking of china and tinkling of silver could be heard. I turned towards a large hedge on my right and realized I was staring into the eyes of a person. I flinched. Security was positioned in the shrubbery surrounding the yard. I noticed they had guns.
“What’s going on?” I whispered to another underling as we robotically folded dinner napkins into origami shapes.
“Clinton’s coming. Democratic fund-raiser. Ten thousand dollars a plate. Sixty guests. Cocktails for an hour followed by buffet. This is Katzenberg’s house. We should be home by midnight.” He smiled, “And Sharon Stone’s coming.”
At this point, the idea of Clinton didn’t faze me. Of course, I voted for him, but I never thought much of his looks, and didn’t understand the reputation he had for being such a lady-killer. As for Stone, I was curious to see if she was beautiful in person or if she’d flash everyone the beav, but I’m no fan.
It was the mention of Katzenberg that filled my eyes with a drug lust sparkle. Jeffrey Katzenberg. Hollywood giant, DreamWorks SKG. I became dizzy with hope. My mind spun out fantasy after fantasy. I would walk up to him with a tray of hors d’oeuvres and he’d be struck by my originality and insist I play a role in the next DreamWorks film. By the end of the night, Sharon and I would be telling each other how we lost our virginity and we’d be life long friends. Katzenberg would be fascinated by my story of overcoming the odds. He’d insist I call him Uncle Jeff. A new car would be delivered to my apartment with a note; “The studio believes in you.”
I thought, Tonight could be it. Tonight could be my break. It would be a challenge getting him to notice me while I was wearing a boxy tuxedo, had my hair pulled back, and wore no jewelry. We are allowed to wear jewelry. Rings only, one per hand. Androgynous penguins. Polite ghosts sweeping up crumbs. I quickly excused myself to the bathroom and applied more lipstick. I considered running to my car in hopes of finding an extra headshot on the back seat. Security was too tight. There was no way out.
After a few hours of setting up the yard, we had our staff meeting with our captain. Our regular staff meal—peanut butter and jelly—was scarfed down in seconds. I’ve had more PB & J as an adult in this line of work, than I ever had in all my years of elementary school.
It was 6:45 and we were told to take our positions for the arriving guests. “In position” means spread around the perimeter of the yard with your left hand crossed behind your back, and your right hand holding a tray of whatever. Women always get stuck passing hors d’oeuvres. Men get stuck butlering drinks.
“AND NO TALKING!” the captain hissed.
There we stood, in sweat soaked polyester. Waiting. It was a hot night for L.A. The flames of the votive candles on the tables and the edge of the pool were motionless in the still, hot, smoggy air. Soft jazz poured out from various speakers around the yard. After ten minutes, the waiters’ trays of champagne, white wine, and Pellegrino started to teeter. One standing next to me had sweat streaks trailing down his cheek.
After a sufficiently uncomfortable amount of time, the guests started to arrive. Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Sly Stallone, Jeff Goldblum, Sharon Stone (who really was quite breathtaking). Then, out from the house on a pair of crutches, hobbled Katzenberg. I beamed. He was more unattractive than the pictures I’d seen in magazines. Smaller, bigger teeth, and much more bald. It was odd watching this mogul clumsily maneuvering around. “Tennis accident” someone whispered.
We’d been instructed earlier that Katzenberg’s drink was Diet Coke, and that at no time should he be holding an empty glass. An anxious waiter approached the man of the house with a cold glass, which was immediately chugged without notice or thanks, and returned empty to the silver tray. The waiter sprinted to the bar, knowing the captain would be counting the seconds that Katzenberg was beverage-less.
I threaded through the guests with my silver tray offering mini-rosette potatoes filled with crème fraiche and caviar. By 7:30 I felt as if I’d circled the yard and repeated the phrase, “mini-rosette potatoes filled with crème fraiche and caviar?” a thousand times. My cheeks hurt from smiling at Katzenberg. He didn’t notice. I had to face it. I didn’t exist at this party. I was a nameless Jersey girl in polyester. Hope turns to hate easily in L.A. I took my focus off the limping, hairless host, and decided to see what everyone else was doing. I had seen stars before catering in New York. It was nothing new.
But I was wrong. There was something new. What was odd and different to me was this weird electricity and anticipation in the air. Usually famous people are aloof, laid back, or, probably more accurately, bored. But they weren’t bored. They were waiting for Bill. It was 8:15 and no President in sight. The crowd was getting restless. I’d finally managed to switch hors d’oeuvres with another underling. Now I’d repeated, “carpaccio with arugula on toast points?” one thousand times and had circled the yard in the other direction, trying to keep myself from delirium.
In the heat, my mind wandered. I imagined throwing my head back with a huge
guffaw—throwing the tray of carpaccio into the air—grabbing Katzenberg’s Diet Coke and chugging it and following it with an “AAH” sound—ripping off my tux and jumping into the in-ground pool. In reality, I counted floating insects, watching them getting sucked into the pool filter, and continued to pass the carpaccio. Stone waved me away like a horse fly.
It looked like Katzenberg’s armpits hurt from hobbling on the crutches. The chefs were panicked that dinner would be overdone, and the enslaved waiter fetching Diet Cokes was on his last legs.
Just as I was taking in Jeff Goldblum, wondering how this attractive man could’ve been the goober in those earlier films, someone shrieked, “HE’S HERE!” The crowd simultaneously and audibly inhaled. The stars were on tiptoe peering towards the gate with a glint of Christmas morning in their eyes. Katzenberg’s limp turned into a semi-gallop. I still wasn’t getting it. Sure, it would be cool to see the President of the United States in person, especially one who was all over the news because of a sex scandal involving a young intern.
I was craning my neck to see when I heard rustling behind me. The Secret Service men in the shrubs were ready for action. And then it dawned on me: I could die here. I had innocently come to work this event without any information or choice to say, “I’d rather not.” All for the hairs on Clinton’s head. My thoughts became morbid, and I started to get angry knowing that if there was an attack on the President’s life, I’d die in a polyester tuxedo. I visualized a spray of bullets, followed by the captain ordering the other waiters to pick up pieces of me off the cheese and charcuterie display.
Guests were ushered to their assigned seats and staff was told to take dinner positions. I was to serve behind the buffet. In all the commotion and stampeding crowd towards the tables, I hadn’t gotten a good look at Bill. He had entered the yard with an entourage of photographers, and the flashes were blinding. Besides, at this point I was still preoccupied with my own death.
Finally everyone was seated and quiet. All I could see was Bill’s back. Katzenberg gave a toothy speech and welcomed the President to his home. I put my focus on the job at hand, going over cooking preparations and ingredients to guard against the barrage of high-maintenance questions these Hollywood bastards were bound to ask.
The speech ended and Bill and the photographers were up and at the far end of the buffet. They were speaking with the first waiter serving the salad. Cameras flashed. I kept my head down. I wasn’t going to give this two-timer the puppy dog eyes like Stone. And I’d be damned if my picture was going to end up in the newspaper with me sporting a tuxedo. No way. I was going to be totally cool and unmoved. I would not succumb to the hype, the power, the—
“Hello,” he said. My eyes slowly slid up his chest and locked with those baby blues. “What do we have here?”
I didn’t answer the question, but managed, “Hi,” in an unnaturally low register.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
I felt like Cindy Brady in the episode where she’s completely dumb struck staring at the red light on the TV camera. I felt the sweat on the back of my neck. My pulse was a disco beat pounding in my ears.
“Kim” I croaked like a toad.
He smiled, his eyes never leaving mine for a second. My throat got unbearably dry. Where the hell was the Diet Coke guy when you needed him?
“Very nice to meet you. Kim.”
I felt like we were sharing an inside joke. I smiled. Hugely. Inappropriately hugely. He extended his hand. In what seemed like slow motion, I extended mine and our fingers intertwined. Eye glued to eye. I was a goner. I could see in his eyes that he knew he had me. We shook on it. A bolt of electricity coursed through my arm and smacked me in the crotch. Flash! A photographer caught it on film. I giggled. I actually giggled like a schoolgirl.
“Would you like to try the—the—b?”
“Yes” he said, smiling again.
I scooped a heap of something brown onto his plate. I said more, but I have no recollection of it. It was probably, “Eat food. Food good. You Tarzan, me Jane.” He thanked me, winked, and headed back to his table.
The rest of the guests paraded by un-ogled by me as I scooped piles of brown onto their ten thousand-dollar plates. I peered between their large camera-friendly heads to look at Bill, wondering if he liked his dinner, and if anyone would mind if I sat on his lap and fed him with my fingers.
Everyone was served and seated. I stood transfixed holding my silver serving spoon, praying Bill would come back for seconds. A whole new light shown on Monica. Now I understood everything. She was forgiven in my book. I thought about Hillary. How could she be so ambitious and preoccupied? They definitely could not be doing it. I imagined Bill telling Hill it was over. We’d get married and I’d be the new First Lady. Our wedding would be the biggest this country’s ever known, with more helicopters than Madonna and Sean Penn’s. We’d invite Chelsea and her boyfriend over, smoke pot and pull out the saxophone collection...
“Hello!” The 6’4” captain stood over me, “Are you deaf? They’re done eating. I don’t need you at this station any more. Go to the sanit area in the garage and start bagging up garbage.”
On another night, I’d be in that garage, bitterly scrapping plates. That night, it didn’t faze me at all. Charm can certainly go a long way to making a young woman feel pretty in a polyester tuxedo.
How far away all that seems now, that time when the nation was concerned about a stain on a blue dress and the definition of “sexual relations.” How easily we were all seduced by the blue notes of a saxophone.