It is a night of starched pants, of large and surprisingly heavy pewter bowls, of stairs.
Oh, the stairs.
It is Saturday night at Nye’s Polanaise and I am, once again, numbered amongst the serving class.
Nye’s: home of a piano bar where the young and pierced bawl out Buddy Holly tunes with the mature and polyestered. Home of the prime rib and pierogies that got us featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
Home of the craziest, fastest-paced kitchen you’ve ever seen.
I turn around to a grinning Mexican on the line.
I smile at him, as I am wont to do. “Do you know where I can get a fork?”
“Fork,” I say. What’s the Spanish for “fork”? I make a motion of stabbing him. “Fork.”
“Ah!” he says, handing me a butcher’s knife.
“No, no,” I say, laughing. “We’re out of forks downstairs!”
“Oh, forks!” he says. “Already? Better ask the deeshwasher.”
But the dishwasher, who really does not speak English, has no forks to give me.
He shakes his head.
I pass a waitress in the labyrinth-like maze of the kitchen, which is to say that we both suck in our guts, stand sideways and agree to exhale upon completing the pass. “Do you know where I can get some forks?”
A pretty, punkish looking woman with black hair and black eyes, she grins, shakes her head. “If you find any, let me know!”
It is 6:30, there is a party of 30 upstairs (Peace Corps Reunion), a party of 70 downstairs (the Szyplinski/Wojciehowitz Family Reunion) and the tables, bars, and booths of Nye’s Polanaise are full to capacity.
I run downstairs, move swiftly between the tables of the family reunion. The party bus they arrived on had spit them and their coolers into our parking lot. It had taken a swift word from management to convince them that while yes, it is Northeast Minneapolis and yes, drinking is part of the scenery, no, you cannot sit on your coolers in the parking lot with an open beer while waiting for the rest of your party to arrive.
I reach the bottom of the steps in time to watch a guest step on a tomato.
I’ll have to get that later.
“Excuse me,” I say. “Pardon me.” In their inebriated enthusiasm for the elaborate spread, many of our guests have taken two, even three forks. “Excuse me,” I say, picking up surplus utensils, “If I could –“
I manage to gather 30-some forks in roughly a minute. I dash up the stairs, through the kitchen and back to the dishwasher. ..
Hot, shiny forks are ready in 120 seconds, and I fly down the back stairs with them, where I am greeted by the sight of a woman cutting into the center of the “Happy Family Reunion” cake.
“Whoops!” she hiccups. “Ya caught me.”
I smile as a line of sweat trickles down my back. “No cameras,” I say. “No proof.”
And I hand her a fork.