The summer after college I was a potato. I didn't want to do anything, I had absolutely no direction. Anything future facing was too scary. So I spent the first couple of months just laying around hoping that work and money would miraculously find me. The end goal was still New York, but in terms of getting there I really didn't know where to begin.
It wasn't long until my all night Netflix binges wore down my mothers patience, and eventually she insisted that I get a job. The trouble was I was applying for jobs in New York and didn't want to be tied down in case something came up. Additionally it felt a little dishonest to tell an employer that they should invest in me knowing that I was actively (well, somewhat actively) trying to leave.
I went on a few interviews, but no one was willing to give a job to someone who said "I don't actually want to work here, I just need money so I can move to New York." Not that I blame them of course. After a few weeks I came across a catering company called "The Wild Bunch" that was looking for someone to do part time catering. Their website was full of barbecues and weddings, it seemed like a lot of fun. My mother and her best friend had been running a catering company for years and I worked with them all through college so I knew it would be easy money. (Double D Catering for life) I set up the interview and went to meet with the owners.
Owner: So you have catering experience?
Me: Yes, I've been working for my moms company for a few years now and have done both the food prep and serving.
Owner: Excellent, how many hours are you looking to work a week?
Me: Well for right now as many as you can offer, you see I want to move to New York City to become a writer and need to make as much money as I can before that happens.
Owner: You want to be a writer in New York?
Owner: Ok.... Well how long do you see yourself being with us?
Me: Well I'm hoping to be out of here in the next few months.
Owner: Well... can you start today?
Owner: Great, by the way, just so you're prepared, we almost exclusively cater funerals.
I did not see that coming. Their logo was like a biker symbol with a hog on it. They specialized in pulled pork. So learning that their focus was on funerals and memorial services was seriously out of left field. But I needed the money and I knew how to cater. What could go wrong?
My first gig I worked with one of the owners and two other women. They took their time showing me how to get everything set up and prepared for the guests, they walked me through the process of refilling trays and staying in the shadows while the mourners grazed the different tables. All of my previous experiences had taught me that like any other customer service job, catering means all smiles and being overly friendly to your customers. It took one beaming grin to realize that this was absolutely not the place to be my fake bubbly self.
The room we were in was directly across the hall from the room where the service was taking place. There were speakers in the dining area so we could hear everything that was being said. The man that had passed was in his early 50's. His passing had been unexpected and he was survived by his wife and children. One of his daughters was around my age and got up to speak about the devastation of never seeing her father again. My professionalism melted as the gravity of where I was really started to sink in. This man was my fathers age, and that girl could just as easily be me. When I got home that night I walked straight up to my dad, wrapped my arms around him, and cried.
After a month or two the owner sat me down and said she felt like I was ready to run my first job by myself. Up until this point I had mostly been following other peoples leads so I was both flattered and completely terrified. This meant gathering the supplies, loading the van, driving to the location, unloading the van, setting up, managing the event, breaking down, bringing everything back, and cleaning up all by myself with no help or supervision. Was I really ready for that much responsibility? No matter my apprehension it felt great that they were willing to put their trust in me so I accepted.
The day of I arrived and I was nervous as hell. My black pants and white button down were ironed and ready for whatever the day had to bring. Slowly but surely I started going down my checklist of supplies. I arrived at the funeral home, grateful that at least so far everything was running smoothly. I decided to unload the food last so that it remained in it's warming racks and ice chests until the last possible second. The attendant gave me a 30 minute warning so I grabbed my rolling cart and headed back out to the van to get the final ingredient (get it...), the food.
Ever so carefully I placed each tray of food on each level of the rolling cart. Making sure that everything was secure, hot wasn't touching cold, everything was accounted for. At a snails pace I slowly made my way through the parking lot and up onto the curb. Meer feet from the door one of the wheels hit a crack in the sidewalk it couldn't seem to overcome. I stepped around to the front and there was nothing blocking it, so I decided to give it an extra nudge. Almost as in slow motion, that minute push jostled one of the top trays just enough that it flew up and landed face down on the floor. Horror fell upon my face as I ran to my fallen soldier, praying that this was wrapped tightly enough that I could just turn it over and all would be well. I barely touched the side when the tin foil gave and boiling hot butter potatoes went absolutely everywhere. The harder I tried to stop the flow the faster they came out. By the time the tray was right side up I had rescued only one potato.
Anxiety began to ripple through me. My arms and legs were now covered in butter, oil, and parsley. This was one of the main dishes being served and it was all gone. I had nothing to substitute for it and the service was winding down. I called the owner, and pathetically attempted to remain calm.
Me: Hey it's Melody, we have a problem. I may or may not have just dumped out the entire tray of potatoes onto the sidewalk behind the funeral home...
She was more than gracious and said she actually had an extra tray of a different kind of potato's and happened to be at the office and could be there in twenty minutes. I was still completely mortified but it seemed like by some miracle God was giving me a second chance to not completely fuck up this job. I went into complete spaz mode trying to get everything set up. The whole room needed to be perfect before she arrived so that she could see that I at least did something right.
In running back and forth between the car, set up room, and dining room my pants had been slipping down a bit and were starting to touch the floor. I didn't want to pull them up by the belt loops because my shirt was perfectly tucked in and somehow decided that the next best solution would be to grab them on the front of each thigh and pull up so that they would stop covering my feet. My downfall here was that I didn't calculate for the adrenaline rush that had followed my potato massacre. I didn't just pull my pants up, I yanked them. RIIIPPPPP. I somehow managed to rip two perfectly matching holes on the fronts of both of my thighs, and still failed to lift the bottoms above my shoes. Why was this happening to me?!
There was no time to stop. I powered through, looking progressively more homeless, but still determined to show my boss that she had put her trust in the right person. When she arrived we quickly plated her new potato dish, and she left. Whether it was pity or self control I'll never know, but she remained cool as a cucumber through the entire exchange and only said (repeatedly) 'It's ok, just relax'.
By now the family had entered the dining hall and were beginning to partake in the food. I slowly circled around like a hawk looking for anything that I could do, fix, or replenish. Between the tray disaster and ripping my pants my nerves were shot and I was counting the minutes until this nightmare would finally end. The water container was getting low so I decided to use it as an excuse to leave the room. I sat in the kitchen trying to calm my nerves, but after a few minutes I knew I couldn't keep hiding. I mustered all of my strength and walked back inside with the water container (that was basically half my size) in my arms and made my way through the crowd to place it back on it's stand. There was a man standing towards the end of the procession right next to the base of the water stand who looked incredibly sad. The closer I got to him the more I struggled to keep my grip on the glorified water balloon in my arms. He wasn't talking to anyone, and my inner catering autopilot turned on.
Me: (smiling like a deranged lunatic) Hey, how's your day going?
Man: Well my wife died, so not great...
What had I just done... I began to apologize for being so insensitive, but by this time my grip had lost it's will and I began to fall directly at him. He and two other men grabbed me as water sloshed absolutely everywhere. I mean what else does one need on the day of their wife's funeral other than a shower? The men who helped me place the jug of remaining water on the stand and asked me if I was ok. I looked pitiful, covered in potato butter and parsley leaves, pants ripped, and now soaking wet. I told them I was fine and left the room to use the ladies room and try to dry off before I was to start cleaning up the event.
Now this company worked with a series of funeral homes in the greater Phoenix area but this was not one that I was overly familiar with and so I wasn't totally sure where the restroom was. I made my way down the hall and saw a door that I could have sworn I'd seen other women use earlier and swung it open. This was not the bathroom. In front of me was a cold metal table, something covered in a sheet, and feet bluer than a white walker. I stifled a scream and slammed the door closed. (How ironic would it have been had I peed my (destroyed, ripped) pants in fear on my way to the bathroom?)
By some miracle the funeral ended. The families said their goodbyes, the plates were cleared, and I loaded the van to head back to the office. As I sat in the drivers seat all of the stress, panic, and embarrassment finally caught up with me and I started bawling. I called one of my best friends, Kayla, to share with her my awful day. All I wanted was to be comforted.
Me (sobbing): Kayla today was awful, I dropped the potatoes (gasp), I ripped my pants (gasp), I spilled water on the widower (gasp), and saw a dead guys feet (double gasp)!
Kayla: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You have got to be kidding me!
I was not kidding and I must say, at the time it was not funny. But looking back, the sheer amount of ridiculousness is quite entertaining. So if you live in the Phoenix area and need a funeral catered give The Wild Bunch a call, just don't order the potatoes.
(I didn't have a picture from my time at The Wild Bunch, so heres a snapshot of Double D catering featuring Bonnie, Andrea, my Momma, and yours truly. Enjoy).