Thursday, August 24, 2006

Schmaltz Monger signs in with today's installment

Slinging Hash in the Borscht Belt

All the other college kids had fancy-schmancy jobs working on Wall Street or at Uncle Mordechai's furrier. Me, I waited tables in the Borscht Belt.

Waiters would crowd into the "bimmy" quarters--rooms that the hotels set aside for summer waitstaff and were only marginally nicer than a cinderblock dorm room. But hey--bimmy rooms were free, leaving us to save our wages on more prudent purchases such as school tuition, drunken nightclub excursions and Sunday night pizza at Crossroads. When I had a good station, I could rake in $350 to $500 a week in cash tips. Mind you, this was thirty years ago, so those were some pretty serious shekels.

Catskills Characters

We had our share of charactes in every station: kvetchy diners, alter-kockers who had downed too much schnapps, comedians. One I'll never forget was Death Grip Granny. Kind old Granny bemoaned her arthritis and her lack of strength, but G-d help the waiter who tried to clear Granny's plate before she was finished. Granny would grab your forearm with a grip that could crush a coconut and smile, "I'm not done with that yet, Sweetie!" Once you dropped her plate, she released her grip and you would scamper away with an arm that looked like it had a run-in with a meat tenderizer.

Comedians such as Henny Youngman and Buddy Hackett were headliners in the hotels, but some of the wildest entertainment came from the waiters themselves. One "bimmy" would retire to his room to enjoy a baked potato with butter. But he didn't actually eat them together. He would take a bite of the potato in one hand and then take a bite of a stick of butter he wielded in his other hand. Potato bite, butter bite. Potato bite, butter bite. It was like watching the cast of "Young Frankenstein" break for lunch.

After a couple months of this, all the bimmies would hanker for Labor Day Weekend, when the resort season was almost over and the blood-curdling cries of, "Where's my kreplach??" would soon cease. Of course, we came back during the High Holidays and school breaks to earn money and nosh on chopped liver in the hotel kitchens.

So maybe it wasn't Wall Street. But it was a blast. High finance? Gimme high cholesterol anytime.


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