Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bye, bye, Gerry......

Everybody has a Gerald Ford story. And everyone's Gerry Ford story is sappy and sentimental, as befits a genuinely kind old man.

Well, not everyone's.

My story is not exactly about President Ford....but kind of.

At the Crosby golf the AT& 1978, we were hired by a high-level San Francisco socialite named Clarissa Dyer to do a dinner party. She was sharing a house with Phil Harris and his wife, and the guests of honor were to be Betty and Gerry Ford.

We were excited, to say the least. My partner Valentine took care of all the hand-holding and the front of the house stuff while I did the food and the wine and booze. This was high end stuff for high end people: Clarissa's husband had a Maserati Countach parked in the garage of the house in Pebble. In 1978 it represented $300,000 cash up front, and a two year waiting list. Multiply by ten to compare to today.

I have no idea what the food was....something pretentious, no doubt.....and simple. We got to interface with the Secret Service, which was fine. The only place were were a little short was in staffing. We were new in town, and we had to reach out a little for help.

One area was the bar. We needed a real bartender, so that Valentine could walk the floor and run the captains.....and Tommy could run the waiters who would run the food. A friend of a friend suggested Camille, a bartender at Sade's in Carmel. Since Clint Eastwood was going to be a guest, and Clint was a Sade's regular, this seemed like a good move.

On the day of the big event, Camille showed on time and well groomed. She was a bit careworn, but presentable, and she ran a decent bar. At first.......

My kitchen was another story. I didn't figure on the counterspace necessary to layout the complicated appetizers and salads and soon every flat surface in the kitchen was covered. So, we expanded a bit.

Have you ever seen a Maserati Countach?

It is all about the flat surfaces..........

The Secret Service guys were cool. They mostly hung out in the back, like car parkers at a normal gig. A couple were up front, posing as waiters. They all had a good laugh at the Countach, buried in salads in the garage.

Very cool.

President Ford himself was just as cool. Not a rock star, just a regular golfing guy....who remembered everyone's name the first time.....even the staff of fifteen.

In the middle of the dinner service, Camille's eyes sort of glassed over and she started drifting. Now, we are used to a bit of gentle alcoholism and gentle drug abuse.....and gentle personality disorder......but this was different. Valentine steered her out of the dining room and the wine service and back to her bar. She was singing softly to herself......

Just as the entrées were dropped, Camille thought of something she just had to tell Clint, who was sitting next to President Ford. She headed his way, weaving through the tables with a look in her eyes that......have you seen ''Play Misty For Me"? Like that. Deranged. Full on Squeaky Fromme.

Valentine, smooth as could be, got to her just before she got to the Presidential table......just as the Secret Service waiter dudes were reaching for their pieces. (Ford had been shot at just a couple of years before in San Francisco). Valentine swooped up the chick and waltzed her gracefully back to the kitchen and out of danger without anyone noticing.

Camille was drifting through some universe I am not familiar with. We got her a glass of water....I got her some cash....we took her apron.....and gave her nice hugs goodbye. She seemed fine with it.....not even noticing she had just been fired in the middle of a gig for almost assaulting a president.

The next day I was doing the laundry, like all great chefs. I got to Camille's apron and felt something in the pocket. A business card. Embossed with gold. Nice.

Jerry Smith
United States Secret Service
Ford Protective Detail
Palm Springs, Ca

On the back was a note:

Camille: I really liked meeting you. Let's have some fun. Call me. Here is my private line: 555-1234. I am off at 11. Jerry.

We laminated the card and made a light switch pull out of it for our flourescents at the kitchen. It was there for years.

In the end, everything was fine with Clarissa about the party except one thing. We were short an entire case of Dewar's scotch on the gig, so we had billed her. The scotch had been in the garage as backup, with the Countach. The only guys back there were us and the Secret Service....We don't drink scotch, so.......a tip for the boys with the guns, right?

Mrs. Dyer was indignant: "The Secret Service wouldn't steal a case of my scotch!! They were here to protect The President!!"

She refused to pay for it, and never hired us again.

Simpler times: a decent man in the White House....two decent men in a row!!!......and the Secret Service not torturing terrorists, but trying to date them. With stolen scotch.....

I next saw Clarissa Dyer getting out of the limo right behind me at the Fairmount Hotel the next carrying a pig for Princess Margaret on behalf of the IRA.

I got the TV and newspaper coverage, not Clarissa.......and that was that.


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