21. September 2015 · Comments Off on New York, New York · Categories: NMM.Trajectory.

I hardly know this city.   I was here only once before at a one-day conference, but if you can count it’s easier to get lost in McKeesport than Manhattan.

I make my way to 666 Fifth Avenue at Fifty Second Street.




The elevator zips up faster than I expect, the doors slide open, and I am at Top of the Sixes restaurant.   Everything looks new.

There are large windows all around and no other building blocks the view.  Even though I am not near a window I can see that I am high over the city.

A receptionist tells me that the supervisor has not come in yet.  I will wait for her.   I take a seat.

A man comes out of the office and tries to discourage me.   He says that they only hire professional full time waitresses, never students, and they already have a long waiting list of applicants.

I say that I came all the way from Pittsburgh and I will wait for the supervisor anyway.

Hours later, the supervisor comes in.

The receptionist greets her and motions towards me.

I get up as the supervisor approaches me.   Standing there, we start talking.   She turns out to be a much smarter person than the man who tried to send me on my way.   We have an agreeable conversation where I agree to pretty much everything she proposes.

My job will be to fill in for all the waitresses during their vacations this summer.  This is a very large restaurant taking up the entire top floor of the skyscraper.   That means that every two weeks, probably just as I get the hang of the navigation routes from the lounge to the bar to the kitchen to my dining station, they will rotate me to a different station.

They also want me to fill in for the waitresses who work the cocktail and after dinner late supper hours.

That’s six days a week, from around six in the evening until after closing time, which is two o’clock in the wee hours of the morning.

The supervisor goes to her office to call Mrs. McCann in Pittsburgh.

She emerges looking pleased, but I have to pass one more acid test.

The supervisor and her assistant sit down at a table, and I serve them a full three course meal, with shrimp appetizers, Pouilly -Fuissé burgundy that I suggest to complement their beef entrees, then lemon soufflé and double espresso.




I start my summer job tomorrow!




I look down at the dusky spires of St. Patrick’s across the street.   Shops have closed and there are few pedestrians.  Nobody lives here.

Suddenly lights come on by the thousands, sweeping across Fifth Avenue and turning familiar landmarks into competing towering light shows.

Here is the city that never sleeps, transformed by gazillion extravagant lights reaching for the stars.

It takes your breath away.


Top of the Sixes

                                                  Top of the Sixes


Hungry crowds are at the door.   Our maître d’ greets the guests and directs the seating.   He is a master showman ready to accommodate and spoil, or charm and soothe as there are never enough window tables.   His name is Robert pronounced the French way if you please.

Robert says that they come for the view, for the novelty of eating high in the sky, maybe for the food, but in any case we want them to feel so pampered that they will write home about it and tell all their friends.

The first wave is the early diners and out-of-towners that must be served promptly because they have tickets for Broadway shows.

Robert’s lucky ones follow the seating hostess to their window table.   She discards the “Reserved” card with a flourish as though it has been put there just waiting for them.

All the window tables have “Reserved” cards on them and Robert always leaves one or two tables available for last minute calls from VIP’s.

Very quickly all the other tables in the restaurant are taken.   There is an overflow crowd waiting in the lounge and at the bar.  Cocktail waitresses hurry back and forth with trays of drinks.




Robert and his surrogates float around helping us pamper the guests.   Here and there they take an order, toss a salad or open the wine.   They are the only ones allowed to play with fire so they get to light up crepes Suzette.

I notice that some of the waitresses resent the maître d’ for doing too much because they are afraid that he will be tipped at their expense.  We are all tipped individually and do not pool tips.

I come back from the kitchen where I placed an order for the couple at my table-for-two.   The hostess is seating another party of eight at my large table.  This is full capacity for my station.  No one is expected to serve more guests at one time.

As I am asking whether anyone wants refills of their drinks from the bar, Robert comes by, greets my guests, passes out menus, and highlights the specials.

After serving all the appetizers I am feeling so grateful for Robert’s help that I don’t even mind that he sold the grilled trout so well I have three of them to bone at the table.

Nobody ever ate better trout than Bessie’s.  Bessie cooks nothing but trout all night long on a hot grill.  She serves a perfectly charred fish whole on a sizzling platter which she proudly hands to us from the window at her grill, one at a time.

I rush a garnished whole trout to my guest.   It is something to behold but a little intimidating.   I offer to take the bones out.  No one ever refuses.   I quickly split the fish open with a silver knife and fork.   I stick a tiny shrimp cocktail fork into the bone at the tail end and with one swift tug I lift all the bones out at once.

Bravo, bravo!  Robert acts as though he hasn’t seen this a hundred times before.   As he spoons hot butter amandine sauce on the trout I fast-walk back to Bessie’s grill.

There is another grill in the kitchen where Joe grills sixteen-ounce prime steaks to order.   All the rest of the food on the menu is cooked in the huge kitchen of the other Stouffer’s restaurant at street level and shot up in high-speed dumbwaiters.


High-Speed Dumbwaiter

High-Speed Dumbwaiter


Hot food comes up piping.  Cold food is always chilled.  The high-speed dumbwaiters are something to write home about, but we don’t tell the guests.  It would be like revealing the tricks and mirrors in a magic show.

Robert is working magic, no doubt about it.

At the right moment the sommelier appears with the wine menu.  Robert helps our guests choose wines as though they are connoisseurs with finely cultivated palates.

By the time Robert lights up the brandy and raises the flaming pan of crepes Suzette for all to see, our table is a celebration of happy gourmets and everyone is watching us like a floor show.

I get the biggest tip ever.   No doubt Robert does too.

After the two dinner sittings, the lights dim, and the pace slows down.






Then the after theater crowd trickles in for late supper with a simplified menu of mostly eggs and cheese dressed up as Welsh Rarebit, mushroom omelet and lobster soufflé.   Bessie’s grilled trout stays in demand all the way to closing time.

Gradually the lounges fill up, and the bartenders own the rest of the night.

The clock says two, the last guest has been shown out, and we’ve been on our toes for at least eight hours.  Do we rush out of there?

Someone comes out of the kitchen with a tray of Welsh Rarebit, spinach soufflé, and eggs Benedict.   Other trays follow.  Any trout left?

When we eat dinner before our shift, we can order anything on the dinner menu except the grilled to order steak and the trout.  That’s because Joe and Bessie do not fire up their grills until the guests are seated for dinner.  Joe leaves after the last dinner order.  Bessie keeps grilling until the last trout is gone.  They come in fresh every morning and are not used the next day.

There are never more than a few trout left at closing time, sometimes none at all.   They get snapped up fast.

Out of the corner of my eye I see Bessie motioning to me from her grill window.

She saved a trout for me.  I’ve boned three of them tonight and she thinks I deserve to eat one.  Big hearted Bessie is looking out for the newbie.

I am deaf to the where did you get that remarks, slip into a booth and eat my scrumptious trout.

Guys come from the bar with wine and beer.

Some guy is strumming a balalaika and singing a Slavic folk song.   There is a lot of talking, joking, laughing, but no one is dancing on tired feet.





A wise guy raises his arm and waves a large bill in the air.

He calls out Robert (pronounced the French way if you please)!

Robert, do you have a window table for me and my cow?

We are convulsing with laughter, Robert most of all.

Is it true, Robert that you make so much money you have to pay the restaurant to work here?

Robert just chuckles and keeps mum and mysterious as the Mona Lisa



Mona Lisa lego

Mona Lisa Lego, 2010 by marco pece aka udronotto

It is the end of the season.   They give a dinner for the entire serving staff, something they do to sum up the season and pep talk the staff for what’s coming next.

I have worked my last day, but they invite me too.

At the end of the speeches, a company executive stands up and says he will announce the winner of the competition to sell the most wine.   What competition?  Someone tells me it was announced at the last pep rally before summer.

The winner is Doreen Cotton!

Amid the applause, they hand me a magnum of Dom Pérignon Champagne.

I would never have won that without Robert’s magic.


When I began getting tips, I opened a savings account at a nearby Chemical Bank.  It was never crowded when I stopped in to make my deposits, so I came by often with untidy bunches of bills and coins.

I got to know one teller quite well.   As my tips grew larger, Mrs. Martin joked that she had the wrong job, but if she had my work hours she would lose her husband.

Just before I leave for Pittsburgh I close my savings account.  Mrs. Martin hands me a bank check for a hefty sum.

I have already paid all my summer living expenses and even bought clothes for school.

I can hardly believe it, but I still have enough money to pay for the whole school year.

Back in McKeesport, Muriel and Bill get the champagne.   Bill pops the cork and we toast New York where I got Mrs. McCann’s “dreamiest summer job.”

Only in New York!

Muriel says you certainly kept up the pace all summer without a break.  What did you do for your birthday?

I didn’t remember my birthday.  It was just another hectic day at work.  But I had a surprise.

It’s about three in the morning.  I let myself into the foyer of the brownstone where I share the top apartment with another girl.  I brace myself to climb up the five flights of stairs to my bed.

Wow! What is this?  The entire stairwell is festooned with ribbons and balloons and little mobile cutouts with Happy Birthday wishes.  Ribbons trail all the way to my bed where there is a hand-made card and a single rose.

I didn’t even know that Trina was in New York.  She had come in the afternoon and talked the super into letting her do this.

Muriel says you have the most unusual friends.

This wasn’t just anybody’s mobile.  Trina is a talented artist.  Word of mouth got out, and before I ever saw it, people and their kids had come by all afternoon to enjoy her festive artwork.

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