Leonora Carrington: And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur 1953

The restaurant business. You may leave it at some point, but it never leaves you. And working in the business for any length of time will inevitably curse you for life with restaurant nightmares. Most of them have to do with being in the weeds—overwhelmed—sometimes to the extent that there is no hope, much less survival. I’ve had more than my share of restaurant nightmares over the years. I still do. But one of them was particularly malicious because it added an element of performance anxiety from my years of playing the trumpet.

The dream took place at Bix restaurant in the City. The scene was a variation of the very first Labor Day Sunday night I worked solo behind the bar there, which can be only described as an utter disaster. The restaurant had only been open for a couple of months at the time, and the press—all very positive—had started to achieve critical mass. Add to that the fact that it was a holiday weekend with a lot of people in the city. Finally, for whatever reason, we were understaffed for a typical Sunday night.

The dream took full advantage of what was one of the worst shifts behind a bar I would ever experience. Mind you, at the time I was an exceptionally fast service bartender and could keep up with just about anything. I could get weeded–but rarely ever overwhelmed.

In the dream, I was working the shift with another bartender. He and I enjoyed a pre-shift Fernet behind the bar as per usual. Then the evening started start off slowly. Everything was just ducky. But in no time we got slammed with a tsunami of people, and in short order we were both completely screwed. In the middle of it, a couple sitting at the bar waiting for their table ordered a bottle of Champagne from me. I think it was a bottle of Bollinger Grande Année. I quickly opened and served it to them and then put the bottle in my ice at the service end. I then raced off trying to put out various fires while the service register printer was out of control spitting out cocktail tickets like a cartoon.

At some point I went to pour more Champagne for the couple and the bottle was gone. I had a moment of utter panic thinking I had poured the rest of the bottle off for an order of house sparkling wine by the glass. I was stunned. It was like one of those wildlife shows on TV where the wildebeest is at the water hole and suddenly a crocodile the size of Buick rises up out of the water and takes it down. At that moment I looked down to the end of the bar only to see the other bartender about to go under for the last time too. Suddenly, he raced up to me and said something like, “Aren’t you supposed to go on now? Don’t you have to play?” I looked at him completely mystified.

Instead of answering, he pointed to the backbar which had somehow transformed into floor-to-ceiling black curtains. When I finally found the part in the curtains and opened it, there was a stage with an audience of hundreds of people staring at me. I looked over to see a grand piano with a woman wearing a formal black dress seated and also looking at me. She was irritated and pointing to her watch. Next to the piano was a music stand and a chair with my C-trumpet on it. I walked over to the stand much like the aforementioned wildebeest and picked up my trumpet. Suddenly, I realized there was no mouthpiece in my horn. And there was no music on the stand. Then I realized I hadn’t touched the horn for over six years. How could I possibly play anything? I looked out at the audience and then back at the woman at the piano. The silence was menacing. At this point I woke up in a sweat with my heart racing.

The restaurant business. You may leave it, but it never leaves you.