Burnie had always appeared to be an idiot.
But he proved it the night of Ricky’s wedding.
I wasn’t there when it happened, but T was.
It all happened at the catering company’s owner’s wedding.
Ricky and Johnny own the catering company. It was Ricky’s wedding.
Ricky and Johnny have a very tight-knit extended family: religious, community-minded, and fierce. The family is of such size that there are several catered events a year: weddings, anniversaries, memorial services, holidays. If you work these events, you come, through reputation or by actually witnessing something, to know them.
A catering kitchen is a machine. Everything is a matter of timing; for the machine to run properly, it must fire on all cylinders, in order. One bad cylinder and the whole thing seizes up.
Burnie was a bad cylinder.
“Burnie,” said T, “had an inflated sense of his own abilities.”
Ricky’s wedding wasn’t a buffet but a banquet, that is, the tables did not line up to serve themselves at the buffet table but were served, family style. Ice water, bread rolls, butter and antipasto trays were already at the table.
On the menu tonight? Large bowls and platters of a classic Greek salad, mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, beef tenderloin and salmon on cedar planks freshly prepared on mammoth portable grills just outside the kitchen door.
Burnie was in charge of the salads.
In hindsight, of course, Burnie should never have been in charge of the salads. When you’re backed up on salads, you’re backed up for real.
And that’s what happened.
Despite Paulie’s repeated shouts of “You got them salads?” and “How you comin’ on those salads?” they were not ready when the call came to move on the salads.
Paulie’s mouth dropped in incredulity. Late delivery of the salads meant the sauces were off, that the meat had to wait, that the potatoes and grilled vegetables, nearing completion and ready for the warmer, would sit longer than optimal.
This was not cheap food.
Paulie roared. “What the hell have you been doing? Get on it. GET ON IT!”
Burnie, humiliated, threw a towel to the floor. “You can’t talk to me like that!” He stormed out of the kitchen and, in a move that caught T's eye and bode ill for the immediate future, into the reception hall.
Think of the loveliest wedding receptions you’ve been to: the extravagant floral arrangements; the sparkling crystal; the crisp linens; the beautifully dressed men and women; the children holding hands as they run, laughing, through the crowds. Everyone’s had a couple of drinks, partaken of the tables of fruits and cheeses. The hall is filled to the ceiling with happy voices.
Burnie charges into the reception in his kitchen whites.
He sees Johnny, owner of the catering firm and brother of the groom, standing on the dance floor talking to what appears to be a number of his aunts. Burnie interrupts their conversation, placing a hand on Johnny’s arm.
“I gotta talk to you,” he shouts at him.
From the window in the kitchen door, T watches, horrified.
Burnie is about to die.
In describing Johnny’s face later to a rapt kitchen crowd, T said: “You could see Johnny’s blood pressure rise. He went purple.”
Johnny removes Burnie’s hand from his arm, spins him around, and with a hand on his back, pushes him quickly back through the swinging doors, through the kitchen, and out the back door.
The cooks back on the grills watch as Burnie begins to gabble about how he has a right, dammit, and he demands to know – Johnny, dark red and glowering, whirls him around, grabs him by the collar.
Lifting Burnie off his feet, Johnny slams his body against the brick wall of the reception hall. He begins to shout, the F word liberally lacing his speech, a monologue that is as brief as it is explosive.
“You interrupt my @#$! brother’s wedding for this, you @#$-for-brains son of a whore? You step in a celebration dressed like that, !@#$ing complaining about your !@#ing working conditions?! Whatsammater? Paulie being mean to you? Have you lost your !@ing mind?! PAULIE! Get your !@#$ out here and bring Genius’s coat with you! You’re down one @#ing cook for the night!”
And we never saw Burnie again.