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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Class Act

When I had just arrived to the mainland as an unhappy teenager (who would be happy being plucked from paradise to live in *gag* California?), the first friend I met was M. She was a rich girl; car, money, clout. All the clout you can have when you're 16. But what I loved was her attitude. She just seemed to command attention. Not because she had money, because she didn't flaunt it, but just because she had a presence about her. I adored her. I loved her outgoing, extroverted nature. Being shy, quiet, and self-loathing, I just wanted to be like M.

She got me my first job at her parent's restaurant. She, of course, wouldn't be caught dead working there. She worked at a clothes store in the mall. I LOVED working for her mom; doing office work here and there. The pay was great for a teenager just starting out; $10 an hour. Back in 1978, this was big bucks. Not to mention, it was a 5-Star, Continental restaurant, very well known in Southern California as being a premier destination restaurant. I could raid the kitchen anytime I wanted.

I worked at the Riviera, on and off for 12 years, and I've been a part of the Riviera "family" for 27. I went through two pregnancies there. The Riviera was known for only having male waitstaff. Unlike other restaurants, there was no quick server turnaround. The men that worked there, stayed there. And were happy to do so...it was, after all, a career and a vocation, not just a job. They were proud to serve there. We saw tons of famous people come and go, many of them always asking for the same server. The most popular server there was David.

When I first started working in the office there, David took me under his wing and showed me the world of continental cuisine and all the ins and outs of being a server. He walked me through the dining room, the kitchen, he helped me with inventory, reservation taking, and baquet planning. It wasn't even his job, he just wanted to help me. He said I shouldn't just be "stuck" in the tiny back office, I should know exactly how things worked in the front of the house too. He became an uncle to me and I adored him. His partner Roger was a server there too, and since I was the only girl on the premises (other than M's mom), they doted on me.

When Charlie and I met, started dating, and finally were planning our wedding; David and Roger were two of the first people we went to see. I showed off my tiny, little engagement ring, proud as could be, and they, being the gracious uncles they were, squealed as much as I did and made that ring seem like it was at least 2 carats. David planned the color scheme for my wedding and because Charlie and I had to pay for our wedding ourselves, David, with help from everyone at the Riviera, catered the food, and did all my flowers. Their gift to us, they said. We gratefully accepted. After all, we had no money and David had impecable taste. He turned our 5-and-Dime budget into Saks Fifth. We gave him little to work with. He created a masterpiece.

When I was pregnant with Averie, I worked part-time in the office at the Riv. M's dad, R, the epitome of the rude Frenchman, would teasingly call me names and say I was getting fat. I was used to him, after all, I'd known him since I was 17. He was known for his dry French humor and practical jokes. I could handle it...I thought. One day, nearly two weeks from my delivery date, he brought a handsaw into the office. When I asked what that was for, he responded; "Eet's to cut a hole into zee front of zee desk and make zee doorway beegger for your fat azzz to fit zru." I laughed. But after he left, those pregnant hormones kicked in and I started to cry.

David walked into the office and found me in tears. He immediately came over and wrapped his arms around me and asked me what happened. I only needed to say one word; "R". He replied; "Oh Honey, fuck that little French fucker. His brain is pickled from that French licorice shit he drinks. Besides, poor thing, his pecker's only an inch long. Did you know?" Within seconds I was laughing and David and I were on our way downstairs to the kitchen to share a slice of cheesecake because he said the baby "needed" it. As I recall, David said the baby needed a lot of food and he was always bringing yummy dishes back to the office for me. He took such good care of "us". He'd sit with me and we'd talk about everything under the sun. I could ask David anything, and I did. He made it seem so comfortable and so easy.

Charlie and I spent so many happy years at the Riviera. And David was always right there. With each baby, he celebrated with us. With each passing anniversary, he celebrated with us...as recently as our Super Bowl anniversary in January. He was a master at tableside preparations; steak tartare, bananas flambe. His culinary talents as well known as the kindness of his heart. For 27 years, people have come to the Riviera not only for their fine cuisine, but to wrap themselves in the warmth that is David.

Last night, M called. I heard Charlie in the other room say "No. Oh no." And then he walked quietly toward me with the phone. "Not good, Pua. I'm sorry." I slowly put the phone to my ear while Charlie sat next to me on the bed and listened to the sadness in M's voice; "Honey, I have bad news...it's David." No. It couldn't be. It couldn't be my David. My sweet "uncle" David. I listened while M told me that David was diagnosed with liver cancer only three weeks ago. He continued to work right up to last Saturday. Ironically, the very place we would have been on our wedding anniversary last Saturday would have been at David's table. On Tuesday the pain was too great and Roger took him to the hospital. He quietly slipped away on Thursday night, surrounded by the men he served with all those many years. They closed the restaurant that night. That's like dimming the lights on Broadway in honor of the passing of a beloved veteran actor.

David was a class act. I adored him. I will miss him. I will grieve for just a bit longer, but no more. He wouldn't want that. The show must go on.

Rest well Sweet David. Our kitchen raids may be over, but the sweet memories will live on forever. Thank you for all you taught me about life, love, and just being. I love you.


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