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The World's Worst Waiter... Ever
By Jeff Kahn

Desperate, unemployed and on a powerful acting jones, I decided to hit up my famous friend, John Cusack. John, not wanting to be outdone by his fellow tall, limo-left-wing movie star friend, Tim Robbins, who had an acting company in LA, decided to start his own company in Chicago. The play he chose to direct, Alakazam, a forerunner to HBO's, Carnivale, was about a traveling carnival freak show in the 1940s. John cast me as a "half-man, half-chicken freak." Finally, I had lines, albeit in between a lot of squawking and clucking. Of course, I was paid nothing, so I had to go and get yet another waiting job. This time it was on the top floor of the windowless Water Tower Shopping Mall, in a Jewish deli "theme" restaurant called DB Kaplan's. There are over two hundred sandwiches we were required to memorize at DB Kaplan's, but all I can remember is: "The Jim McMahon," "The Oprah" and "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow." We also had to keep and make our own change. So at the end of the night, when we cashed out, whatever money we had over the gross amount of the totaled checks, we kept as tips. Besides being inefficient and easily flustered as a waiter, I also completely sucked at math. Night after night, the money I had in pocket was less than the totaled checks. I was, in effect, losing money by working. In order to keep acting, pay rent and subsidize my DB Kaplan's job, I took a second part-time job catering parties. This allowed me the unique opportunity to get fired from several prominent Chicago catering companies.

One day, during a particularly frantic lunch at DB Kaplan's, I scalded my hand ladling a bowl of cheddar cheese soup. One of the chefs, and by chefs I mean a Mexican guy who makes sandwiches and calls waiters regardless of their sex, "she," "her" and "you little girl," sadistically laughed at me as I held my cheese-scorched hand under cold water... "Did she get burned? Did the poor little girl burn her little girl hand?" I lost it... I took a knife and pointed it at him. "And so what if she did?" I said. "So, what if she did?" Holding any knife at a large Mexican guy, in this case a plastic take-out knife, is not a smart thing to do. He immediately grabbed his much bigger, much sharper kitchen knife and started screaming threats at me in Spanish. He doesn't back off until the manager agreed to fire me... Which he did. Interestingly, at the same, short time I was at DB Kaplan's, Andy Dick was also working there. There were rumors afloat that Andy was actually a worse waiter than I. There was his tendency to give away free food to friends in front of paying customers, hit on under-aged tourists and one time he told the night manager that he was "an ugly cock face." Who was a worse waiter is a debate for the ages...

My character in the play, Alakazam, Lenny Roostman, the half man, half chicken, wore a chicken suit made out of a pair of long underwear covered with real chicken feathers. In the stifling heat of summertime Chicago, my sweat turned the chicken suit into a hardened shell of stale, dried perspiration that grew stiffer and more malodorous as the play went on. "What kind of life is this?" I asked myself as I put the chicken suit on for another evening of acting in the theater. The truth was, it wasn't waiting tables that was turning me into a freak, it was acting.

Thankfully, that was all a long time ago and I'm happy to report I've been "acting free" for years. Of course I do these funny characters I make up for my six-year-old son, but only long enough to make him laugh or scream, "Stop it daddy, you're bothering me!" And every once in awhile a friend calls and offers me a part in an HBO show. I've been on The Larry Sander's Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage. But, c'mon, if I don't have to audition for it, it's not really like I'm still acting. I mean it's not like I need to act. I just do it for the kicks. You know, to be sociable. It's no big deal, okay? I can stop at anytime, all right? It's not like I want some big TV producer reading this on FRESH YARN to say, "Hey, that Kahn guy could be right for that great part on my show." Or some hot casting director to make a mental note to herself to call me in the next time she's looking for someone who's an odd mix between Roger Daltrey and Gene Wilder…

Okay, fine, so I'm still addicted. Lay off will you? Acting is harder to quit than heroin. Fortunately, I no longer have to wait tables to support my habit. I'm a writer. It's a lot more precarious than waiting on tables, but the benefits are better and I have yet to burn my hand on a computer keypad.

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