Seven presidents he's worked for, Herbert Majewsky boasts. You name the president, he'll name the drink.
Truman -- scotch. Eisenhower -- bourbon. Kennedy -- martini. ("You must remember the senator likes it shaken," Jackie Kennedy had pointed 18 years ago in McLean.) Johnson -- scotch. Nixon -- uhmm. Not much for sure. Ford -- bourbon and water. Carter -- just soft drinks.
Majewsky, originally from Poland, has been a waiter here for over 20 years. He was one of about 150 waiters and their families who attended the 75th annual dance of the Association of Private Waiters Saturday night at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad building.
These are the cream of the crop of Washington waiters. They're the ones the caterers seek for the highest official dinners. They are the ones who served Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter at dinner on the Israeli prime minister's last visit here. They are the ones who will serve dinner at the White House tonight after the peace treaty signing.
Cesare Sclarandis, who came to this country in the early '50s from Italy, learned to make a bloody mary on the job while serving then-Sen. John F. Kennedy at Hugh D. Auchincloss' house in McLean.
When Auchincloss asked Sclarandis to make him a bloody mary and the waiter said he didn't know how, Auchincloss guided the waiter over to the bar and showed him step-by-step, Tabasco sauce and all. "Now you'll always know," Auchincloss told Sclarandis.
For the past 20 years Sclarandis mainly has served all the secretaries of state in their private dining rooms each day. He remembers them all fondly and he also remembers their guests. One guest was King Faisal of Saudi Arabia who always brought his own food and two men to prepare it.
The waiters are fiercely loyal to the people they serve, and highly complimentary. "People are very composed at parties," said Manuel Costello, president of the association. "You'd be surprised. Washington people conduct themselves very well."
Costello has served them all.a the queen of England, Tito, Brezhnev, Sadat, King Hussein, the Brazilian president -- "what was his name -- Medici?" -- King Gustav, the queen of Denmark.
"Our waiters work very hard," said Costello. "When we serve we take this job very seriously. Any waiter who belongs to this association must know how to serve and must know how to set up a party all by himself.
"When a good waiter goes anywhere he hears nothing and he knows very little," said Costello, diplomatically. Costello came to this country 15 years ago from the Azores. Before, he studied four years in Lisbon to be a priest.
The hard work has paid off for many of the association's members, most of whom come from Spanish-speaking countries, Italy and Greece. They make $30 for the first four hours and $8 an hour after four hours. Some have part-time jobs in banks or in private homes. They work for all of the major catering houses in Washington.
"I served the queen of England three times in my life," said Majewsky. "Shes so delicate. Her hands were so delicate she could hardly cut the chicken. She didn't eat much, but she was a wonderful lady."
When Majewsky worked for Lyndon Johnson, who was vice president then, he remembers Johnson at a dinner for high Nicaraguan officials at the embassy. At the end of the dinner, Majewsky recalls, Johnson stood up and said, "Before I make a toast tonight, I ask that you give your people freedom." Majewsky shook his head at the statement. "God, I'll never forget that," Majewsky said.
Gino Capoccia, the treasurer of the association, worked for John F. Kennedy before he went to the White House. At the time, Capoccia, who is from Italy, had only a temporary visa. When it expired, he told Kennedy he had no way to continue working in this country. Kennedy sponsored him for American citizenship. "If it were not for Kennedy," he said, "I would not be here today. I would not have the life I have today."
Capoccia also worked for Johnson whom he remembers as being personally "very cool." Yet he carries a picture of his baby son which Johnson's daughter Lynda autographed for him. But President Kennedy was his favorite.
"He was a very good husband," said Capoccia. "I stayed in his house (in Georgetown). All that stuff about him being unfaithful -- that's all a bunch of lies. I cried when he was killed. I still cry sometimes."
At the dinner last night, while walters in suits greeted each other with arms around each others' shoulders, Ridgewell's caterers served the waiters. "I really had to beat the bushes to get help," said Ridgewell's president Jeff Ellis. "I've even got nine of my salesmen out serving as waiters at other parties tonight."
Ellis and other catering company representatives were special guests last night. But some of Ridgewell's account executives set up the buffet dinner and cleared away dishes. "I'm going to bartend tonight," said Elis. "I can't wait, I think it will be fun."
Ricardo Comos, the association vice president, has been working for Ridgewell's as a waiter for the past seven to eight years. "When I first started waiting, I thought as soon as I get a desk job of some type I'm going to stop being a waiter," and he eventually got a job as an accounting clerk at the Argentine embassy.
"But I found when I got the desk job that I preferred to work as a waiter. I just love waiting. I like to talk with people and meet all sorts of people I'd never have another chance to meet."