The first year, for the most part, I was the roundsman. Thanks to Miguel I learned how to cut mirepoix (for mirepoix it doesn’t much matter how you cut the vegetables) and the different garnishes for decorating the plates. Those matter. Thanks to Henry, the relief floor chef, I learned how to make all the sauces and soups; Henry taught me everything Miguel wouldn’t, at night, and Frank, the night saucier, taught me that station and how to be a completely-qualified first cook. By the end of the second year, I took over the night saucier job when Frank retired. Frank had bought into a taxi company and there came the point when he didn’t need to work anymore. He was Austrian born, European trained as a saucier.
Also in that first year, the union powers in the hotel fixed it so I was elected Assistant Shop Chairman. This, in reality, with their way of neutralizing me and making sure I used my college degree and proficiency in English to defend them. They saw me as a virtually unheard of asset in this area in hotels and a great asset for Local 6, the Hotel-Motel Worker’s Union. At one point I thought I would be drafted by the union and I would have been quite happy making that my career. But I wasn’t their material: not Mafia enough, not willing to do things that really went against my conscience and not willing to keep quiet and turn the other way when some really dirty stuff went down.
Anyway, in my fourth year I replaced Henry as relief floor chef. Henry taught me more about being a teacher than any teacher’s-teachers did. He taught me what to do and then left me alone to do it. He told me not to be afraid to try because we could always fix anything I messed up. Then, when I was a good saucier, he pushed me further. He told me any saucier could make good sauce from stock but a great one can make great sauce from water, so he started making me use water instead of stock. I learned both how to be a great saucier and how to be a teacher from Henry.
One of the duties of the morning floor chef was to collect requisitions from every station and then go down to the storerooms with the kitchen porter who piled all the requisitioned items onto a flatbed hand truck and carted that truck up to the kitchen via the freight elevator. Mostly I didn’t have to do anything but lock and unlock doors and make sure the only things taken were requisitioned. I did have to check the requisitions since some cooks (Miguel was notorious for this) would over-order and then waste things. This part of the job presumed I knew exactly what they needed, and by that time in my tenure there, I did. Overall, what I lacked in innate skills I made up for by being a quick-study and by hard work which included practice, more practice and more practice after that.
One very quiet Sunday morning, about 6:15 A. M., we were downstairs getting what we needed. This Sunday was like every other and the requisitions were all quite usual. We were nearly done and out in an open area starting to head toward the liquor room which was the last stop before the freight elevator. In rapid succession, so close together as to be almost simultaneous, two things happened: Julius came rushing toward us holding a film-wrapped package in both hands in front of him and following him was Mr. Schmidt, the Food and Beverage Director. Schmidt was obviously in pursuit of Julius. Julius, shielding it as best he could with his body, tossed the package into a trash can and came to us. Schmidt, right behind Julius, started reaching into the garbage cans. There were four cans all huddled together, and he found the package in the second can he searched.
The porter and I watched the scene unfold, completely innocent bystanders until Schmidt pulled me into it. “You see this? He tossed it into the can. I know you saw him toss it.” Then he started yelling at Julius. “That’s yours, isn’t it? You just tossed it, didn’t you? Answer me,” he demanded.
“Not mine,” Julius said in broken English.
I told Julius not to say anything and softly, politely asked Schmidt to stop yelling at him, to stop making accusations and speak to me, which he did. He told me he was firing Julius on the spot. I told him he could do that if he wanted but Julius was entitled to due process and that he’d have to pay him anyway so he might as well let him work and save me the hassle of getting another pantry man and himself the cost of having to pay double. “But he was stealing,” Schmidt said. “Allegedly,” I said. Schmidt went into a tirade in German, his native tongue, which for the Jewish son of a Jewish World War II POW in Nazi Germany raised the hairs on the back of my neck and put me wholly on edge. “I have work to do,” I said. “File the complaint you want and we’ll deal with it when it comes up.” Schmidt stormed off, pissed off.
The upshot of all this was I defended Julius. Schmidt, could not honestly say he saw Julius toss the package. He tried to tie the package to Julius circumstantially, but when pressed, he couldn’t get passed that he’d never seen what was in Julius’ hands and he hadn’t actually seen him toss the package into the can.
Innocent people get convicted. Guilty people get off. Julius didn’t stop stealing; everyone stole. For anyone who remembers: There are 8 million stories in the Naked City.