I got my job at the St. Regis Hotel thanks to someone who couldn’t hire me because he had no open positions but who wanted to help me out. He made a phone call to his friend, the Executive Chef, and got me an interview from which I was hired as a rounds man, a relief cook, which meant I worked two mornings and three nights, each shift on a different station. I had Mondays and Thursdays off. Yes, that’s right! I had split days off and  worked late Tuesday night then early Wednesday morning with barely enough time for sleep in between.  The same was true for Saturday night to early Sunday morning.

When I reported for my first day of work, a Tuesday morning, I was an unknown quantity. No one knew me, I knew no one, and I certainly did not know anything about the “powers that be” there. I was shown where to get my uniform, then to my locker, and by the time I had changed, about 7:15 AM, an older man with a scraggly three-day salt and pepper stubble and a scruffy, unkempt grey mustache was sitting on the bench nearby waiting for me. One of his eyes was cataract-covered and noticeably wandering, but I would learn that this didn’t mean he didn’t see what was going on in the kitchen and all around him. He introduced himself as Raul, the chef legumière, and he told me he was one of the union stewards. I introduced myself and we shook hands.

Raul, I would discover, was one of the Mafioso. His first question to me was whether or not I had joined the union and I explained that I was in the process of transferring my book from Cleveland, where I had also worked for Sheraton, and that I would be making a visit to the union hall as soon as I could. This was a satisfactory answer, but he made sure to tell me to let him know when I had my book and current stamp (they actually stamped the books in those days to show you’d paid your dues). Then one of his “vegetable men” came by with a bottle of scotch and some Dixie cups. He introduced the man as Tarzan and indeed he was built like Tarzan. I would later discover that he was the six-for-five man, a loan shark, and he also ran a numbers game and was really quite rich. Tarzan spread three cups on the bench and filled them with scotch.

I was never a morning drinker and never liked drinking early in the day unless I was by myself and had absolutely nothing to do. I tried to decline the cup handed me but Raul would have none of it. “Really,” I said, “I don’t drink in the morning and I’m not used to it.” Raul simply wasn’t hearing me and finally, as it was now nearing the time we were due on the kitchen floor, I drank the scotch down. “Salute,” he said with a big grin.

We walked together to the kitchen floor and Raul personally took me around to meet everyone who was working. I would discover that almost everyone was already drunk or seriously drinking and Raul’s job was to get me, the unknown quantity and a variable, to drink so I would have nothing on any of them. For him, my drinking down the scotch was a fait accompli. For me, it meant that my very first day on a very new job, I was drunk by the time I reached the kitchen floor.

Drunk at 7:00 AM.

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