Long Days, Short Nights

I find that the longer I work at the pub, the stronger I get. This is naturally what’s supposed to happen. You can’t carry stuff that heavy and do what’s basically a cross between Zumba and hot yoga for six to eight hours at a clip and not feel a change in your muscle mass. Although I will admit that though I’ve been tempted, there’s been at least twice where I just wanted one of the guys to take over. I couldn’t bring myself to ask.

I’m short, and I have trouble dead lifting 50-60 lbs over my head. I also have trouble admitting that men have better upper body strength and are taller, because what comes to me first is that women can do anything men can do, and I’m just admitting weakness and proving to myself that they can’t. Simultaneously, I would kill for someone to say, “that looks heavy. Let me carry it for you,” while I am thinking ” I would legit fall over and die before I admit defeat.” I feel I am forgetting something important- that it’s not my femininity that’s the problem. It’s that I personally am short and weak after long years of computer butt. To my credit, the “I would legit fall over and die before I admit defeat” part of me won, and I muscled through. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of working smarter and not harder. The walk-in refrigerator is set up the way it’s set up. There’s nothing to lever, pulley, or otherwise physics into being. It’s just mind over matter. If I think I can or I can’t, I’m generally right.

It makes me feel good to see these changes in my body after such a long dormant period. Even working in an office is physically lazy, though I mean no offense. It is mentally taxing to an enormous degree. This has changed due to Bluetooth, people bringing their laptops to you on battery power, and wi-fi, but when I was low on the food chain in IT (late 90s, early 2000s), I did get workouts from climbing under desks to fix cabling and the like. In IT now, you barely have to get up.

Even with the relaxed atmosphere physically, depression and anxiety build up for two reasons. The first is that you tend to see the same problems every day, sometimes from the same people… every day. The second is that they’re always mad about it, and no matter what they did, it’s all your fault. I had one person get mad at me because their thesis disappeared- they’d stuck their floppy disk onto their refrigerator with a magnet and of course, had no backups, because why would they?

For me, the difference between working in IT and working in a restaurant is that with cooking, it’s always fresh hell instead of stale. It is also a proven fact that movement is an excellent treatment for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. None of my own mental problems were caused by working in IT, but if you’re already feeling all of these things, being mentally taxed and not physically makes it ten thousand times worse.

People haul off and call you a piece of garbage and you’ve agreed with that for years, despite the fact that you cannot help them fix their computers while their computer is on their desk at work and they’re out driving and just thought to call you from the car. I am sure that now it’s possible with remote desktop, but not if their computer is off and they’re in New York and you’re in Oregon. I’ve often been sorry for not being able to plug a computer into the wall from 3,000 miles away.

You might laugh at this, but I guarantee it’s a sad place to be, because the feeling is so helpless. You couldn’t do anything to fix the problem and even though you’ve just spent 15 minutes on the phone with a total idiot explaining in three different ways why you’re useless, it gets to you. You live for the moments when all you do is walk into a room and press one button and the entire office thinks you have magic powers.

IT jokes about idiot users conceal deep, deep rage for the very scenarios I’ve described… especially when the customer is always right and their idiocy has to come with an “I’m here to serve you” patois.

With cooking, there’s a buffer zone called waitstaff, and never think I’m ungrateful for it. While cooking is busy, it’s not nearly as abusive as working with the public.

It is, however, perpetually exhausting even as you get stronger, because I can’t speak for everyone in my profession, but my sleep cycles have gotten shorter as my body rebels against my natural circadian rhythm. If I don’t go to bed until 0200-0300, I’m still up by 0630-0700. Part of this is that there’s a ton of natural light in my room. Part of it still is that the rhythm of the world keeps going- traffic noise, lawns being mowed, construction… I try to nap, but so far, that isn’t doing anything for me. I just “keep calm and coffee on.” Because of the noise, even if I take a sleeping pill, it doesn’t keep me asleep. I just feel like I’m walking through a Jell-o mold at dawn.

Yet another reason why my shift drink is usually club soda with extra ice and lime. The sugar rush of beer keeps me up even later. I give in when I don’t have to work the next day, because sometimes a cold one after work is a good thing, and it is also important to say that I’ve at least tried our products…. I haven’t had a bad beer yet, and it is vital to me that what I’m drinking is local to my adopted hometown.

I have also learned the hard way that too much alcohol makes my medication less effective, and the last thing I need on earth is that happening. And, apparently, too much alcohol, for me, is having a beer every night… something lots of people do, and I joined them until I had my own epiphany about it. Too much for me is different than most people, and I’m okay with that.

Plus, beer doesn’t have ice in it, and by the time I get out of the kitchen, it is the first thing I want. I could take a bath in ice and it wouldn’t be too much…. and in fact, might be a good idea given how badly I have osteoarthritis in my back and hands.

But for all my aches and pains, I never think about what’s happening mentally with me. I just act on instinct. Childhood trauma and adult chemical imbalances mean nothing to the ticket machine, which, for me, is all about saving the waitstaff from customer abuse. In a way, it’s giving back to all the people who’ve helped me along the way.

I do get a break on Memorial Day, though. It’s up in the air as to what I will do, because there will be several parties going on that I don’t want to miss, giving toasts to the fallen… with extra ice.

That Moment When…

That moment when you feel like you’ve just run a marathon in the kitchen is one of the best adrenaline rushes on earth, but it is often thankless. Last night, it wasn’t…. a moment I want to record here for posterity. One of the waitstaff came into the kitchen after about a four hour run and said:

Ticket times were on point. You guys rock.

I swear to God I almost started crying, because emotions were already running high in a “we made it” sort of way. The bar was busier than usual due to the Washington Capitals game (which we won- go Caps), and to say it was relentless was an understatement, especially with only me, one other cook, and a dishwasher. It really helped that this same waitress took time out to help us expo, which is shorthand for calling out to us what she needed and in what order, because we had so much food to hand out. She was the real hero. We were just background noise.

Generally, on nights that busy, there is a permanent expo- another cook or the kitchen manager- but no one expected us to be that busy on a Wednesday. Generally, expo is reserved for the weekend. This particular weekend is all hands on deck, because it’s a holiday known for three days of Bacchanalian splendor. IMG_0024It seems to defeat the purpose of the holiday. I can’t help but give thanks for the veterans who made it possible for us to have picnics and beer in our American egocentricity, when we forget that we get all these privileges for which they died to protect.

I know that I have ancestors who have died in wars, but I don’t have any friends who have. Luckily, all my friends who have served have made it home in one piece… but not necessarily in one peace. Because of this, I believe Thank You For Your Service is required viewing in addition to all your hot dogs and beer this weekend. Not only is it about death during wartime, but the aftermath of what those deaths do to the living, and the absolute hell the survivors go through in order to get help for it.

So while I am slinging hash, I’ll be thinking about why. The above picture is one that I took at Arlington National Cemetery myself, surrounded by people ignoring the signs to be quiet and respectful.

This weekend, it’s them that deserve your praise. Being able to cook well is a distant thousandth compared to their bravery, even the cooks in the military. I haven’t done it, but I am assuming that cooking is even more stressful under the threat of the mess hall being bombed. It makes me grateful for everything I have, and everything I ever will.

My job is often thankless because I’m just doing what I’m paid to do. It’s nice to get thanked, but it is not necessary. I make good money to do what I do, and I am internally satisfied when it goes well.

If their job is thankless, we are not doing so well in the basic humanity department. So, no matter what you’re drinking this weekend, from Diet Cokes to margaritas, raise a glass to the fallen. It’s the least we can do because they allow us to drink them. If you see a veteran this weekend, make sure to say “thank you for your service and sacrifice.” This is because it ignores how they might feel about why they did what they did, and how they might feel about what the top brass asked them to do. It is a simple acknowledgement that when you sign on the dotted line, you serve and you sacrifice.. no matter the administration or the justification for the fight.

Yes, Memorial Day honors those who have lost their lives, but at the same time, it is not a bad thing to honor the living while we’re at it. Some soldiers suffer incredible survivors’ guilt, and though it is inappropriate to say so, you never know what kind of sacrifice you’re honoring that day…. and maybe, just maybe, it is exactly what that soldier needs to hear at the time he or she needs to hear it.

Dish

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Things in the kitchen haven’t progressed in thousands of years. Everything is done the same way, for good reason. The most important thing is that line cooks only have to be trained once… well, sort of. There are surface tasks that come with every new restaurant, but equipment is basically standard, and if you know how to clean one brand of range, oven, salamander, griddle, etc., you probably know how to clean them all.

What is different is staff personalities, and I am lucky in my kitchen that everyone gets along, even (unusually) the waitstaff and the cooks. There is not the back and forth blame game that generally exists between front of house (FOH) and back of house (BOH). For all you customers out there, never blame the waitstaff and stiff them if a) it takes a while to get your food b) something is wrong with the food. Neither of these things is ever their fault. It’s not like they’re lazy and just forgot to pick up your order.

Most likely, something was dropped, spilled, or otherwise ruined by one of my ilk and we’re not in the back trying to fix a mistake- we’re redoing it from scratch because nothing can ever really be “fixed.” I don’t think a customer has ever said “just pick it up off the floor… it’s faster that way.” It should be a comfort to you that we never do.

The other thing I’ve noticed that customers do all the time is tell the waitstaff that the food is fine rather than send it back. Especially in DC, food is expensive. I never want you to pay that much for a sub-par meal, even though I’ve done it because I’m sensitive to the kitchen- overwhelmingly so… even though I know that the cooks would be more embarrassed not to know that the food wasn’t great. Even if it’s something small, like the fries are cold, send it back.

Also, never blame the waitstaff if your drink is taking a long time unless you’ve ordered tea, coffee, water, or a soft drink. The bar is just as busy as the kitchen, and a table full of mojitos is manual labor. In fact, I would probably go so far as to say you should tip more for a martini, Old Fashioned, or a mojito than a beer, because the bartender has to take extra time just for you. Anything that has to be muddled or shaken takes longer.

Actually, let’s just put out the general rule that if you don’t have enough money to tip well, you don’t have enough to go out to eat.

Things in my personal life have also changed by going back to the kitchen. It feels overwhelmingly good, because the race brain of rumination has stopped. I love working with my hands for this very reason. As a writer and empath, I am all too often up in my head. The fast pace of a restaurant makes it impossible. I am only thinking about what’s right in front of me, and trying to anticipate what’s next. Before work, I have an amazing amount of caffeine and an anti-anxiety pill, because I need to be sharp and, at the same time, unfazed when I am ass deep in tickets. When there are 30-40 people waiting for food at the same time, I cannot afford to panic. The medication does not stop the feeling of being panicked, it stops the part where my heartbeat goes to 150 and I can’t breathe all the way down, can’t calmly do the math of what needs to go where and when. It’s worse in a pub, because in fine dining, people are seated in order, and though the pace is fast, it’s not the same as people seating themselves and literally fifty people ordering within two minutes of each other, all expecting food in the next 10. It is gymnastics, and we pull it off… I am still not sure how. All I know is at the end of the night, I feel like I should be standing on some sort of podium complete with a John Williams fanfare.

After work, I have a short adrenaline rush and then I can barely move, my brain leaking out of my ear. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I need to shower, because I’m covered in grease and maybe food. But I don’t have much luck in making myself. I walk into my room and see my bed and then it’s all over.

When I do take a shower, I have needed to change soaps. I used to use something non-drying that cares for my skin. Now, I basically need a degreaser, even on my face. I have not tried showering with Dawn™ yet, but it wouldn’t be out of place. I can just hear it now from my roommates…. “Leslie, why is there a bottle of Dawn in our shower?” “Oh, I worked fry station last night.” Every time I drop in French fries, taquitos, or anything else, a bit of grease splashes onto me. After six or eight hours, I have a vegetable oil facial…. which is actually not as much fun as it sounds.

I generally take an Uber Pool home, because the buses have stopped running. I get into the car and immediately apologize. “I just got off work and I’m really sorry if all you can smell is fried food.” Generally, no one minds, especially the driver, who’s just glad he didn’t come to a pub to pick up a drunk.

Although he might has well have. At that point in the evening, my mind works, but I have about as much control over my limbs as they do… my entire body feels like spaghetti and I can hardly lift my backpack, even when I’m only carrying my phone, wallet, knife (in its sheath), and shoes. I carry a different pair so that after work, the pressure points on my feet are different than my kitchen shoes. It helps.

I’m also wearing jeans in the kitchen until I can get my chef’s pants tailored, because I can roll them up and they’ll stay for about five minutes, and I can’t afford the time to keep rolling them OR to trip. If I trip on the line, I can easily take three people down with me. It’s a gift.

Well, the real gift is cooking altogether. I can’t think of any job I’d rather have, because while it is not known for making one rich, it is definitely known for making one happy. Even though I’ve said it before, I can’t think of anybody who has more complaints than a line cook… mostly about how much they hurt… but never, ever ask them if they’d rather be doing something else.

It’s, as Anthony Bourdain would say, “a tribe that would have us.”

And, like Bourdain, I am glad that I have a job that allows me to continue to write, because for all its flaws, cooking doesn’t have homework and there’s no tether to all my technology for e-mails that come in the middle of the night. Perhaps one day I’ll have that type job again, but for now, I can’t think of anything more perfect than a nice cup of coffee and a sit down, where I get to “dish.”

Dos Lenguas

I continue to be mystified by Spanish, and I am quite tired. I wish I had a Matrix-like existence that could just load the language instantly, because I would be in much better shape. This has nothing to do with my coworkers, but with me not wanting to be THAT white girl….. the one who insists that everyone speak English. I’m the outlier. I need to learn. Immersion is the only way, but right now, my phrases are limited and my comprehension equally so. I can have short conversations, and I was proud of myself when I said, que necessitas (what do you need)? and they answered seis zanhorrias, I understood that meant six carrots.

I only ask people to speak English if they are trying to explain something to me technically, and yet, there are only three people in the kitchen that can do so. Tonight I worked with two people who knew no English at all, and to say I was lost most of the time is an understatement. I am barely above “Spanglish” at this point.

The good thing is that in a kitchen, people say the same things regardless of what language they speak, and reading their facial expressions tells me most of what I need to know. But speaking so little Spanish is isolating to a tremendous degree, and I am trying to learn as quickly as I can. It would be nice to be able to contribute to a conversation that doesn’t have to do with camping or bears that go shopping (Why High School Spanish is Useless, by Leslie D. Lanagan).

The good thing is that Rachel (my chef’s knife) and I had a breakthrough in our relationship. When I got there, I was immersed in prep for a private party, and my knife callous finally came in… after seis zanhorrias, four shaved red cabbages, and 20 pounds of Brussels sprouts. The pain has stopped, and the fun has begun. I’m faster than I used to be, and people have noticed. Until my knife blister healed and rough skin covered it, I was in pain with every cut. It didn’t show in my technique, just my speed. Tonight I was called an “honorary Mexican,” and I believe I have never been more honored in my life. Keeping up with any Central/South American line cook is often a lesson in futility…. but I did it, and I did it well.

Nothing prepared me for shaving those red cabbages like being tutored by Anh Luu. I worked at Tapalaya for a bit, and was assigned to the salad station. As the then-sous chef, that was her area, and she was going to make me good at it if it killed her. If she has any grey hairs, I’m pretty sure I gave them to her.

Anh is easily the toughest sous chef I’ve ever worked for, so two things about that. The first is that I am not surprised in the least she’s the executive chef and owner of Tapalaya now. The second is that I understood from the beginning that her toughness was to make me better, and it did. In my head tonight, all that ran through while I was chopping were the things she said to me, when I was just a baby at fine dining (and will never make it past that due to my monocular vision, I’m afraid). If I was having trouble, her words would lift me up, and I’d get better and faster almost instantaneously.

I also got the break for which I’ve been wishing, which is it being my job to clean the griddle. I made it look brand new two nights in a row, and I think I am close to being asked to please stop. 😛 In fact, I was so proud of myself last night that I took a picture, just to remember over and over again how proud I was of myself…. that there is something in this kitchen that I can do better than everyone else.

Also, my new Crocs are really working out. The advice to buy a size smaller was crap, because even though they make my feet look like boats, they aren’t uncomfortable after six hours in the heat, when my feet have swollen in the clear message that they are not having it. Not at all.

It feels so good to be back in the kitchen. I feel like I’ve won some kind of award because if I can hang here, I’m truly worth my salt.

And that’s all any line cook really ever wants to know about themselves.

The best moment of my cooking life involves salt, and even though it’s tiny, it makes me choke up. If you’ve ever been a line cook, you’ll understand why. The rest of you will wonder what the big deal is. Trust me when I say this is a very, very big deal indeed.

Let me preface this by saying that people tend to call all cooks chefs. This is not so. Chef literally means “boss.” They are the eyes and ears of the entire kitchen, the voice of God as far as you’re concerned.

My chef asked me to taste something, so I did. I said, “it needs salt.” He put some Kosher salt into his hand and sprinkled it in, and I had a hard time not tearing up.

The chef asked for my opinion, and trusted it. So, you see, something that seems minute, is, in fact, enormous. It is a moment I will never forget, not in any lifetime.

And hopefully, eventually, I will remember it in dos lenguas.

Love, Love, Love

I have decided that Michael Curry is now my favorite preacher. No offense to Nadia Bolz-Weber and Thomas Long. You’re close seconds. But Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding was a barnstormer. I hope to God, literally, that everyone was paying attention.

…[Pierre Teilhard] de Chardin said fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

If only we could take the power of transforming love and apply it to ourselves right now, the world would be a different place. Love envelopes a grace and mercy not available anywhere else. It contains forgiveness that passes all understanding. It is the energy that drives compassion. If we could take the rose-colored glasses of love and apply them to every relationship, romantic and platonic, it would indeed set the world on fire.

It begs the question, if love is that powerful, why don’t we use it?

The simplest answer is that in all of our fallible “humanness,” we get stuck. It’s easy to love the people that love you, especially the ones that believe in your dreams and try to help you reach them. It’s so much harder to love people who have treated you badly, have stomped on your feelings, and though they may have done nothing wrong, the people you don’t know. We tend to be conservative with love when it comes to those people, even though people who have acted badly and the stranger need love the most.

For people who have behaved badly, it is the much needed peace of feeling secure in the fact that their sins against you aren’t held against them. No one should be trapped in the worst moments of their lives, unable to move forward. It is soul-crushing to lose important relationships because you were in an emotional place that carried no light, and aren’t anymore… but people still treat you as if the darkness is your only narrative. What would it be like to live in a world where we automatically assume that eventually, one’s internal candle will once again burn? What if we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that people recover more quickly when they see that they haven’t lost love while their flames were deprived of oxygen?

For strangers, it is the extravagant welcome that makes them strangers no more. There is a reason that the parable of The Good Samaritan is incredibly powerful. We recognize how badly the people who just walked by look to us, but often we are unwilling to apply the parable’s lesson, because we are frightened. It is hard to overcome fear of the unknown, especially when society perpetuates it by demonizing strangers so that the extravagant welcome they deserve is lost. What would the world look like if no one merely walked by? What would happen with recognition that we are all citizens of the world, not just the community in which we live?

Both philia and agape are the tools we need the most right now. Philia is defined as “brotherly love,” and agape is defined as “the highest form of love and charity, loving one’s neighbor as they love themselves.” We are often capable of philia, because loving each other is so much easier than loving ourselves. Relationships with others become a reflection of how we see ourselves, and if we look in the mirror and see ugliness, that is how we move in the world. We may not treat everyone that way, but often those closest to us. It is easier for us all to treat people we don’t know well with kindness, because we haven’t let them into our inner circle. They don’t know us well enough to know our flaws and failures. It takes loving ourselves to be capable of both kinds of love, the higher power for which we reach, but often fall short in the process.

We can’t help it, because again, we are human. It takes reaching into the divine to see perfection…. and it doesn’t matter what you call divinity. For some people, it is the love of God. For others, it is the power of secular humanism. It is a spectrum that encourages divine love no matter what, because whether you believe there’s a God, or that we are all connected to each other through human bonds, that is the power of the universe. All we need to do is tap in.

If we are capable of finding fire a second time, this is the form it will take. We will have a collective recognition of chords run between us whether we are partners, friends, or neighbors across the world. Each of the candles that burn inside us will set the world ablaze……………….

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

It Still Hurts

This morning was rough. The first thing I do when I open my eyes is check my phone, like most people, because I fall asleep early and I want to catch up with everything that happened from the night before. A large, large amount of my friends are on the West Coast, so hearing about their lives doesn’t even begin until after 9:00 PM my time. I also got a Facebook direct message that dinged last evening, and I was so completely dead to the world that I didn’t even hear my phone go off.

Speaking of which, if you’re trying to reach me in the evening, your best shot is to call, because the ringer plays longer. It’s set to Unsquare Dance by Dave Brubeck, which I hadn’t heard until I saw the movie Baby Driver (big fan of Brubeck, but I tend to listen to Time Out repeatedly….). Speaking of Baby Driver, the link is to the first six minutes of the movie, which I have watched, and this is a conservative estimate, 25 times.

WORTH IT. STOP EVERYTHING. GO NOW. I’LL WAIT.

Back to our regularly scheduled program.

This morning was rough, because the first notification was not from a friend in Oregon or California, but a birthday announcement. Carolyn Baker’s birthday is June 11th. If you’re bringing friends together, invite them by making an event. For the love of God. I have done everything I can, both on my own profile and on hers, to mark her as deceased.

This picture is the last one of all of us together on Mother’s Day, me FaceTiming in from DC. It’s the last one, and I’m blurry. I would give anything, including all future earnings, limbs, whatever, to be able to go back in time. 13138797_10153554247046596_1204332628069398810_n (1)But in order for me to know exactly how important this photo is, I would have had to know it was the last one, and you never get to know that in advance. What I do like about this picture is how happy and beautiful both my mother and sister look. It was originally in color, but given the situation, I think it looks better without it…. because losing my mother so instantaneously plunged me into a world of greyscale, anyway.

Perhaps Facebook still brings these things to my attention because an event marking her birthday’s importance even though she’s dead can be healing, but I don’t think they’re that observant. She also didn’t have a legacy contact, so there’s no way to go into her account and either close it or make it a memorial, etc. Because of this, I chose Caitlin as my own legacy contact, because I’m not planning on dying anytime soon, and she’s my youngest sibling by ten years.

Actually, I just thought of an idea. I wonder if I could find a way to e-mail or direct message Sheryl Sandberg, because if anyone would understand the situation, it would be her. I’m assuming that a lot of people already know this story because it was so public, but she and David, her husband, were on vacation when he was working out and had a heart attack while running on a treadmill, which caused him to fall and hit his head, dying instantly. Not only did he die young, but they were on a parents’ only trip, and Sheryl had to come back alone and tell her children, probably the most heartbreaking aspect of a sprawling mess. It reminds me of a quote from Harry Truman when Franklin Roosevelt died… Well, gentlemen, if you’ve ever had a bale of hay dumped on you, you know how I feel.

I think that’s the hardest part of my own grief now. Because my mother and I lived so far apart for most of my adult life, there are moments when the fact that she’s dead slips into the back of my mind, because we were not used to talking every day, anyway. I feel most of the time like she is still on the other end of the line, and pick up the phone to call her, the bale of hay dropping over and over again.

I am truly not that forgetful. I believe it has become a coping mechanism. Grief gets locked away so that I can still function, because living in the smallest emotional place of missing my mommy is intolerable in terms of still moving amongst the living. My inner child just cries out, unable to imagine a world in which my mother is not here.

Cooking, because of its fast pace and utter relentlessness, is the one area of my life in which I am too busy to dwell on my feelings. Even when orders aren’t coming in like gangbusters, there’s still prep and cleaning that has to be done fast, because you never know when a pop is coming. If I am knee-deep in grief, my mind wanders too much to be quick.

I come out of the kitchen, sore and exhausted, and grief still doesn’t bubble up because I am too tired to think about anything, much less emote. Most of my energy goes toward complaining about how much I hurt physically…. breaking a cardinal family rule about complaining before I’ve taken anything for it. I will rarely have a beer to take the edge off, because what I find is that my tolerance is so incredibly low that one beer, even at 3.2% alcohol, will knock me on my ass, and I feel like I can’t think clearly, the death of creativity for a blogger. I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said to write drunk and edit sober, but he wrote fiction. Diarists are a different breed, because they have to remember things accurately. I hate doing anything that makes reality malleable. But sometimes I give in, because that fuzzy feeling makes my back hurt less… or maybe it just makes me care less that my back hurts.

Whatever.

It also loosens my inhibitions so that I laugh a little easier, because I’m not all up in my head, working in the same way that cooking does. Using my hands takes me away from thinking, and sometimes I just need a damn break from the interminable march of Sundays away from October 2nd, 2016. At first, I counted them like a Lectionary, but let that go when I realized that no Sunday would ever be in Ordinary Time ever again. For the first year, every week was a terrible Good Friday on an otherwise lazy Sunday morning. For the first time in my life, I feel that I have lost my way with Christianity, and not the part that’s spiritual. The part that is community-based, because I don’t believe religion happens in a vacuum.

The difference between spirituality and religion is going into your closet to pray, as opposed to praying through shoe leather, working to foster the theology of liberation and inclusion. It will come again in time, but right now, every time I enter a church, I am enveloped in sadness that I cannot put away and just enjoy being in my community… even though getting through rough times is often why you need it.

I have severe problems with losing it in public, and sermons often pierce my heart with a knife so that I can’t keep it together. I feel like I need time to grieve in my own way, and for now, my process is making food that brings people together… even though in my grief I often reflect on the fact that I might be making The Last Supper. It’s a dark thought, but losing someone suddenly tends to kick you in the back of the face. That being said, my thoughts aren’t always that bereft.

Getting this job as a cook is the first time I’ve truly felt Easter…. resurrection happening in the middle of the mess (Dr. Susan Leo). I am learning new things, because every kitchen is different, and it is opening my mind to have to think in both Spanish and English.

Dios te bendiga.

Amen
#prayingonthespaces

Let’s Get Some Shoes

The tread on my Bistro Crocs was wearing thin, and I didn’t notice until we were cleaning the floors. I was sliding around more than normal, and started to calculate exactly how long it had been since I’d bought them. I got them when I was working at Biddy’s, so that’s at least ten years.IMG_0069 Plus, I’d gotten them a size smaller on the advice that they would stretch out, which they did, but they are also scuffed where my big toes stuck out in accommodation. So, it was time for a new pair. I asked my bosses what the rules were for crazy pants/shoes in the kitchen, and they said go for it. We don’t care. I probably need another pair of pants, but those can wait. I have a dish washing shift coming up next Sunday, so shoes take precedence. Bet you didn’t know I could switch hit.

Some of my chefs would agree with you that I cannot. However, there are long stretches of radio silence in which to catch up on a Sunday, so I’m not worried. I’d do anything just to be there. Being in a professional kitchen is where I feel the most alive.

I really want to meet Anthony Bourdain now, because he said on No Reservations that he’d never seen a white person apply for a dishwasher position before. I didn’t apply for it, that’s just where they needed me, but it still counts, right? Right?

Keep in mind that I would not be going for the crazy pants/shoes look if I was doing fine dining. I work in a brewpub, where our basic uniforms are jeans or chef pants and company t-shirts…. and most of mine are black and red, the logo for Lowest Lord ESB. Well, technically the logo on the beer tap/can is orange, but the t-shirt made for it is black with white, yellow, red, and grey printing. Even my official logo shirts are black. I am so in style now… well, for the kitchen. It’s not like I’m going to wear these to the opera (wait… I can’t promise anything).

It’s not enough to dress the part, though. Getting new shoes and new chef pants is just an adornment on what is often technically difficult and demanding work. For instance, we have the same french fry cutter that In-N-Out Burger does, the one that slices the whole potato into strings at once.

You cannot imagine how difficult it is for someone of my stature and lack of strength to cut through a huge baking potato lengthwise by pulling a lever that tends to get stuck halfway through, or the potato bends, without an enormous amount of pressure. Part of it is that my upper body strength is weak. Part of it is the placement of the slicer on the wall. I have even less body strength when I have to reach that far up. I’m only 5’4, and I always feel like I’m trying to slice a potato on a professional height basketball goal. For most of the guys, the lever is at their waist. On the plus side, I now have a gym at my disposal. Pretty much anything in the walk-in weighs at least 40 lbs, and cardio is 20 tickets on the rail and 20-30 that won’t fit yet behind them. Also pretty sure I could use the potato slicer as a chin-up bar (that was like, half a joke).

The reward at the end of the night is always a shift beer, but I’ve only taken them up on it twice. This is because all I really want when I’m done is a large pitcher full of ice water and a straw. But both of the beers I’ve tried were wonderful. One was Georgia Avenue White Peach Weisse, and the other was Third Party Belgian Tripel. I can’t recommend one over the other, because that would be like comparing donuts to Chevrolets. They’re both amazing in their own ways.

In terms of after-work activities, I don’t have any. I’m too tired. I’ve been watching a little TV, starting Fargo from the beginning. I absolutely love it 20 minutes at a time…. which is about how much I watch before I fall asleep and have to rewind when I wake up.

Last night I was so exhausted I left both Rachel and her sheath at my workstation. It’s not like anyone will steal/destroy her, but I am so possessive that if the weather weren’t this horrible, I’d go get her just to make sure. In a professional kitchen, I don’t even care if she goes through the dish machine…. or as my old chef reminded me, Leslie… it’s a dish machine, not a dish washer. What, you think when you press the button little elves are going to jump out and wash your dishes? Professional dish machines are mostly for sanitation, getting the dishes hot enough for reuse. Not much washing is going to get done in a two minute cycle.

That’s why human dish washers are so important- all the food has to be off the dishes and the pots have to be scrubbed before you put them into the machine, where the water is hot enough to burn Satan’s asshole.

Oh, look. My kitchen vocabulary is coming back. My mother will be so proud.