What Am I Going to Be Weepy About Today?

One of the universal signs of Aunt Flo’s arrival is that I can start crying immediately for no reason at all… or I just make them up as I go along. Menstruation, depression and anxiety are such a lethal combination. It becomes heightened awareness of everything I actually have to cry about, although the impetus is generally nothing and expands into everything. I finally got tired of not knowing when this was going to happen, so I found a period tracker online and signed up. I also track my ovulation, because sometimes that causes cramps as well, when I am tricked into thinking “it’s time,” and it’s not. I used to have a premonition of the big arrival, and it has gone away through the use of so much Aleve and Tylenol.

Why I didn’t think of this before is obvious. Why track it when I don’t sleep with men? Why track it when I’ve been abstinent for over three years? Why track it when women’s sperm count is incredibly low? 😛 As I used to tease Dana, my then wife, “maybe boxers would help.” Of course, this was when we were thinking of trying to conceive, and after that, it was just an inside joke…. because in the Lanagan family, if it’s funny once, just run it into the ground.

I also hate changing my usual underwear. I generally go for boys’ boxer briefs because they double as knock-off Spanx. I find tampons incredibly uncomfortable, so there’s really no way around having to wear those sexy “Granny panties” we all buy at Target.

As I have said before, this blog is about my own journey, and you’re invited. I’m not trying to exclude men, but I think it’s important to reach out to other women with this entry. Women are the majority, so saying “most Americans get periods” is entirely accurate. And, in fact, I am not entirely excluding men. There are plenty of men that get periods until their transition to male is complete, an awareness that most people just don’t have, but should. For transgendered men, they also have the ability to get pregnant, so unless they’re actively trying to conceive, it’s important for them to track as well.

Transgendered men get pregnant for all sorts of reasons, the usual being that their wives aren’t capable, so they offer. It’s convenient in gay relationships as well, not having to use a surrogate.

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

I am overwhelmed when I’m on my period, because unless I’m in the kitchen, I tend to flood out emotionally. I’m not generally irritable, but weepy and need contact comfort, which currently is snuggling with my Postman Pat doll. You can’t get the one I have anymore- my parents bought it for me when I was eight and we were on a trip to London. It’s one of the few things we were able to rescue from our house fire when I was 12, and I am entirely grateful for “him” now. He’s big enough to be the little spoon when I feel like hiding under the covers. I kind of want to put him away for safe keeping because he’s so rare that I don’t want him to unravel. For this reason, I started a birthday (Sept. 10th) wish list on Amazon in which I added a large stuffed dog. It looks incredibly lifelike and not something that looks like I  have wished I was still a toddler. But no lie, the Gund Grover was appealing. I added it to the list and then took it back off, because I realized quickly that I would get embarrassed by it and give it away, like I did with my Alf and bigger-than-life SpongeBob dolls. I shouldn’t have given SpongeBob away, though, because I remember clearly being in the ER at Inova Alexandria in 2001, when Kathleen brought him to me and I wept into it for most of the day, when there weren’t enough beds and the doctors just pumped me up with morphine and set me in the hallway.

That is an interesting story in and of itself. When I finally “got seen,” I was having abdominal attacks that looked just like appendicitis, and I was minutes away from being prepped for surgery when the doctors realized that wasn’t it. I had a hole in my esophagus that had become infected. I was actually born with that gap, but since it had never become infected before, I’d never noticed. But, I was doubled over in pain, and since it wasn’t like there was room (or even appropriate) for Kathleen to climb into bed with me, SpongeBob was an excellent second choice.

Why yes, I know I’ve revealed I’ve been married and separated twice. Thanks for noticing. It’s not painful or anything (/eyeroll). The reason I’m not officially divorced from either of them is that one is a civil union in Vermont and one is a domestic partnership in Oregon. For the civil union in Vermont, it was 2001, when it wasn’t even recognized in other states, so the legal advice we got was to just let it lie, the idea of national marriage not even on anyone’s radar.

Dana has said that she’ll file in Oregon, and as long as I don’t contest it, it will just be over. That was long, long ago, and I am still waiting……………. I should really take matters into my own hands, but I haven’t for two reasons. The first is that I’m really hoping for some follow-through on Dana’s part. The second is that honestly, I just haven’t cared enough. Why that is, I just can’t say. I could spitball a number of reasons, but it would be just that; I’d only be guessing, not knowing for sure. The one thing I do know is that it’s taken me years to get over losing her, so with no one on the horizon, it just made sense to put it on the back burner and wait it out. I don’t feel like it’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m fully prepared to receive said dissolution. It’s more like waiting to close a really great chapter in my life and move on to the next one.

I don’t know if the rules have changed for dissolution in Vermont or not. In 2002, you had to live in Vermont for six months before you could file, and neither Kathleen nor I thought that was a good idea. “We’re not getting along, so of course we need to move to a place where most of the time it’s cold and dark.” For that reason, I am surprised I lasted in Oregon as long as I did.

But now that I have two failed relationships with legal complications under my belt, I am gunshy about ever getting married again. It is now my view that commitment and loyalty don’t need a piece of paper…. and as long as there are no health insurance or federal and state tax implications, I think that advice to myself is sound. If a wedding is important to my next partner, should I be so blessed, she’ll get one. But that doesn’t mean we have to file a marriage license. Being supported by our community is way more important to me than getting the government involved. I feel as if I’ve already been there, bought the t-shirt… and now it’s way too small…. and the tag itches. Besides, it’s already got stains on it. I don’t want to wear it anymore if I can help it.

One of the things that really bothers me when I am in the throes of being weepy is that I can’t believe I have two divorces under my belt when all I really wanted in the beginning is to marry my high school sweetheart and be together for fifty years…. Ten years after we broke up, having been friends the whole time, she accidentally gutted me in a Canadian Starbucks when she said that she regretted not being able to be partners as adults, because she thought it was something at which we would have been good. My inner 18-year-old cried big alligator tears that night. But during the conversation, I managed to hold it together, even though my insides were screaming. Most of the screaming was due to, “I treated you so badly when we were young that how dare I come back and ask for forgiveness.” My inner monologue was just wailing that she’d taken away my choice to forgive her or not.

However, the angst didn’t last long, because I think what was supposed to happen did. She used to be the friend that knew me best in the entire world, and then years later inexplicably unfriended me on Facebook and stopped answering my e-mails. It was truly painful being ghosted by someone who’d been an enormous part of my growth and development, with no explanation as to the whys and hows. I can’t think of anything I specifically did to offend her, so to this day I have questions.

She did reach out when I posted on a mutual friend’s page that my mother had died, but after that one conversation, she was gone again. I didn’t even know you could message people who weren’t your friends, so after that, I completely blocked her. It isn’t that I don’t love and value her. It’s that seeing her comments became too painful to ignore…. something that I have done with other friends as well. It’s not about my feelings for them, exactly. It’s that seeing their faces/comments on social media, especially when Aunt Flo is telling me to cry about everything, is just a painful reminder of things ending badly.

The last time I got really, really angry was when I specifically asked Dana to leave my family and me alone after insisting on no contact with me directly, then liking a picture of my sister and me on my sister’s Instagram account. But did I do anything about it? No. I pretended it didn’t matter and just ignored her. But pretending is the key word, because obviously it bothered me enough to write about it…. this was about 30 days ago, so you can guess why it got to me…………

Perhaps Dana thinks it’s been long enough that these things don’t matter… but there are parts of that relationship I’ve had a hard time forgiving, and I’ll never forget. The first is that a relationship that was so mutually beautiful still ended in a fistfight of enormous proportions, the result of keeping so much bottled that it got violent when the Mento eventually dropped into the Diet Coke. The second is that Dana’s parents live relatively close to me (within 40 miles or so), and when she came to visit them, she made a point of telling my sister through social media (they don’t actually talk, because when someone hurts me, my sister also burns the bridge). I got butt hurt that she didn’t reach out to me directly and then I realized that e-mail goes both ways. I sent her a short e-mail saying that if she wanted to see me, I was open to it, and if not, that was fine, too. What I got back was an e-mail from her sister that said not to contact Dana again through any means. The double standard is rage-inducing, so I literally took a chill pill and got on with my life. I figured if that was the kind of behavior I could expect from her, I didn’t need that temperature in my life, anyway. I think I was shocked more than anything else, considering that when I first moved to DC, we talked a few times and it went well.

But the last thing I truly have trouble forgetting (although forgiven) is that she didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I didn’t need her there as my emotional support person. I already had “my person” there for that (thanks, James). I also wasn’t using my mother’s death as an excuse to reconnect with her romantically, because not only would it have been wildly inappropriate, I didn’t want it (not then, not ever again).

We’d had a great conversation when I was waiting to go to the airport, a distraction I sorely needed because at first it was crying, and then it was laughter until I was crying again, the kind of laughter where you’re just shaking in silence while tears and snot run down your face.

I continue to feel it was about respect for both me and my mother, and it was surprising to me that she was willing to be my friend for a few minutes, but not enough of a friend to come to the funeral of her former mother-in-law of over seven years…. and that a friendship of over four years before we ever got involved was not enough of a reason to just be there…. and not even for me directly. Just to look out into the crowd and see her face as I was giving my eulogy would have been enough.

And, of course, being weepy makes me miss the contact comfort of my mother’s hugs even more intensely than usual, because there’s nothing like needing your mom when you’re in pain and she literally can’t be there…. won’t be ever again.

I count on my friends who are mothers to fill that void, because as I have said before, they love differently than everyone else. It is enormously comforting to be in the room when they’re with their kids and soak up the mother love radiating through the room…. and with the exception of infants, remembering when I was those children’s ages and how my mom was (and what she was to me) at that time in my life.

The last thing that truly dogs me during these few days of ALL THE FEELS at once are the mistakes I made when not being as careful with Argo’s heart as I should have been, because it invariably leads to what could have been…. and how most, if not all of the destruction of that friendship was at my own hand, and I just feel that shame over and over, even though I’ve talked about it with therapists and have coping mechanisms not to get stuck in those moments, reliving them and empathizing with the pain I must have caused. There’s plenty of context, but not excuses. I hope I’ve taken enough responsibility that something like it will never happen again. It was painful enough the first time around to stop that behavior cold. Losing such a beautiful woman, inside and out, with my own cortisol and sin was akin to cutting out part of my heart with a dirty knife. When I am truly depressed about it, I think of all the things I shouldn’t have said and all the things I wish I’d said instead. Maybe things worked out the way they were supposed to, but I don’t really believe that. What I do believe is that it is a regret I will continue to carry, never truly letting it go because the reminder that I am capable of causing pain to others when I am not careful with my words doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

It only becomes a bad thing when the feeling that I can’t forgive myself rises from the ash.

Not being able to forgive myself is so much harder than forgiving others for what I perceive has been done to me. I am so much more infinitely tolerant of other people’s words than I am of my own.

It has caused me to become extremely withdrawn, so that when I’m around others I am reminded to think deeply before I speak, or let the moment pass and not speak at all…. and when I’m alone, thinking that it’s better that way because I cannot possibly hurt anyone if I’m not talking at all….. limiting what one friend calls “crazy spatter.”

Which will be infinitely worse for the next four to seven days.

The Top of My Game

I go to work in a little over two hours, and I really don’t want to. It’s not that I hate my job or anything. I absolutely love it. But between the pain and the shingles, I am still worn down to a nub and having to work at 100%, anyway. I am very proud of my body for allowing me to do this. During the adrenaline rush of service, I don’t physically feel anything. It’s nice to get a break, but then afterwards, I wilt like a flower. So far, the only thing I’ve done outside of work is sleep and watch Netflix.

I wish I had more energy. The laundry is piling up and I just can’t force myself to care. The most frustrating part is not knowing how long the shingles are going to last. Once they scab over, I am no longer contagious and can go about my normal life. But I am not quite to that stage yet, although I know it’s coming soon because it seems like it should be long enough by now. But even after passing the contagion stage, that doesn’t mean they go away. It just means I can complain around other people. All of my coworkers have had chicken pox, thank God. It would be worse to lose hours at work than has been to force myself to go…. and yesterday was actually really fun. Rachel (my chef’s knife) and I got to spend a few hours together and nothing makes me happier than taking her on a workout. She sliced through five pounds of carrots like they were nothing. God bless Chicago Cutlery. For the price point, they are seriously the best knives ever…. and having used really expensive knives before, I can tell you that it seems true to me that they need sharpening and honing more often. Perhaps it’s that the metal is softer- who knows?

When I finish tonight, it starts my weekend. I have Friday and Saturday off. In some ways, I hope I get called in anyway, because what cook knows what to do with themselves on Friday and Saturday nights? Please. The good part is that on my days off, I can actually go to bed early and sleep with my natural circadian rhythm so that I get even more rest than normal. There’s such a difference between sleeping and resting, because the sleep I get on off hours just isn’t as deep. I rarely dream anymore, which just tells me that I am only superficially asleep.

On my weekends, I get the chance to truly restore lactic acid to my muscles and don’t have to depend quite so much on pain meds (Aleve and Tylenol, no narcotics) and caffeine. It’s interesting to me that I am more experienced, more valued now as a cook than I ever have been… and right when I get to the top of my game, my body starts falling apart. The axiom “youth is wasted on the young” has never seemed more true. I have never felt more like an old person, having all these aches and pains and acid reflux and God knows what else is coming down the pike…….

But again, I am very proud of myself. I am at the top of my game, thriving even when service feels like drinking from a fire hose. Last night, I even took the time to take the pub up on a shift drink, because I burned the hell out of my thumb while cleaning the flat top (huge griddle). The alcohol is neither a pain reliever nor an anti-inflammatory, but it did make me forget I was in pain, and that’s not nothin.’ It was a Hefeweizen with a slice of lemon called “Foam Party,” reminiscent of one of the first Oregon beers I tried- Widmer Bros. Hefe. It brought me right back to shivering on the banks of the Willamette during Fourth of July fireworks.

For those who are unfamiliar with beer, Hefeweizen is a German style which is unfiltered, so it’s cloudy, hoppy, and just generally the best summer beer ever. I am smitten…. and yet, too old to enjoy too much, because did I mention acid reflux?

I take medication for it, but my biggest triggers are alcohol and tomatoes, not unusual for anyone, and I’d rather save the medication for an unlimited supply of strong coffee. It helps that I put whole milk in it- the fat is padding, because if there is anything I hate, it is coffee made too weakly to actually be called coffee in the first place. Right now I am buying different kinds of beans and mixing them all together, the way my grandmother made her cereal- buying six different kinds and putting them all in the same container. It’s delicious- some dark roast, some medium, some blonde. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Brands don’t really matter. I just buy whatever’s on sale that week. It’s the mixing of the roasts that make it pop.

And the word “pop” reminds me that it’s time to take a shower and get ready for service. It really means a lot to me, because I am still so sad about losing Anthony Bourdain that being in a kitchen feels like the best way to honor his memory. On Facebook, I often use the hashtag #DoitforTony when I’m checking in to the pub. If you’re a cook yourself, I’d be honored if you used it, too. Because he was such an inspiration to me, sometimes I still have to breathe deeply when I walk in and change into my kitchen shoes and apron.

That one still moment energizes me, and I think it’s what helps in terms of being at the top of my game…. inspiration and motivation all rolled into one.

I suppose I am just preparing myself to really let go, but I’m not there yet. Perhaps I never will be, and that’s okay. It can’t be a bad thing that his memory drives me forward in everything I do. I don’t think I’ll ever be half the journeyman cook he was, but perhaps writing about cooking and food is where our minds truly meet. It is as if my mind has opened up and said, “Anthony, you live here now. Welcome. There’s drinks on Thursdays and a pool in the back.” It is not unlike the way Obi Wan Kenobi lives in Luke Skywalker.

Now I feel like he’s nagging me to shower because I said I was going to five minutes ago.

That guy………

Ice Cream

Me: I should really write something.
Me to Me: Do it on Monday.

Then, I realized that today is Monday. Well, there goes that plan.

I really should spend some of today writing, because I have the day off. It’s a godsend since I feel so crappy. After putting in long, long hours at the pub, I am, as always, exhausted and sore. I also have shingles, which means that I itch, burn and am generally more run down than normal. Though I got a fair amount of sleep last night, even going to bed at a reasonable hour, I am still dragging ass. Coffee hasn’t even touched the amount of tired I feel. There will probably be at least one nap in my future. Then maybe some ice cream…. or perhaps some ice cream as soon as I finish this entry. Ice cream for breakfast can’t be all bad. I’ll put some cereal on it. That’s just health right there.

Of course, the cereal that I got to go with said ice cream is chocolate donut- fudge flavor with the texture of Froot Loops covered in sugar. #winning

Hey, it was on sale for half off. Don’t @ me, bro.

If I can summon the energy, I have a book review to write and two books to finish. On the book review, I’ve just been updating with extensions for at least a month, because with my busy schedule, it’s partly that I don’t have time and partly because when I get home, I can’t move, much less think.

Saturday night was absolutely insane. To put it in perspective, we did $20,000 worth of business. I don’t even know how many covers that is, but we were in the weeds most of the night. The ticket machine didn’t stop until we closed, and the noise was burned into my dreams.

One cook walked out over I don’t know what, but was there on Sunday, so it couldn’t have been that bad. But an extra set of hands the night before would have been infinitely easier than what actually happened.

Although for my own part, I think I did extraordinarily well. Because I was on pantry station, fewer dishes come from me, so I was able to shuttle back and forth between the line and the walk-in when no one else could. I also have a second set of fryers, and range with oven, so we were able to cook more, faster… and we needed it. After several hours of trying to keep up with a rail that couldn’t even hold all our orders, we gave up and just relied on the expo to get everything out. It worked much better and faster. We were trying like hell to keep to a two-beer maximum until people got their food. I can only hope it worked, because I was not in the restaurant to see what happened.

I am sure I have said this before, but there’s such a difference between working in a true restaurant and working in a brewpub. There’s no hostess/seating, so therefore, fifty people can sit down and order food all at once, rather than covers coming in waves. Also, except for me, everyone working was relatively new. There’s nothing like learning a menu on the fly. To their credit, they did incredibly well, but just by that one fact, I was much faster than them. I am not a better cook (I don’t think), but knowing the menu off the top of my head helped immensely… one of the reasons I could sling hash and support the line at the same time, because time wasn’t ever wasted on food. I also knew the timing of everything, so I could tell when I had time to run back and forth between orders and when I couldn’t.

For instance, at one point in the evening, we ran out of both corn and pita chips…. so in between orders, I was making more as fast as I could. I was able to do both fresh baskets and back stock. And if I do say so myself, I make great chips. I know the exact timing to get the perfect color, so much so that if I can help it, I won’t let anyone else do pita chips because they’re my baby.

I think all cooks have their Jack Palance one finger. Pita chips are mine, as are fried Brussels sprouts tossed in citrus soy sauce. Although I’ve learned not to actually toss them. Soy sauce goes all over the place, and it makes the dishwasher mad (because he mops). If I do accidentally get soy sauce on the floor, I try and clean it up before he sees it. 😛

It feels good to be in this place, where I am an experienced enough cook that the mistakes of my past are erased. Not that I’ve made bad dishes, but that I’m much faster and more accurate at the same time. However, I know that I’ll never do fine dining again, because making everything absolutely perfect is not my forté… and not for lack of trying consistently. It’s because I have monocular vision, so the way things look to me is different than for someone who can see in 3D. For instance, I think a cut looks exactly the way it did when I was shown, and they do not. It’s just true. I have accepted it and moved on, though it used to make me cry because I’d never be good enough…. and too proud to mention what the problem was, so I just constantly looked stupid, all brought on myself. It just brings to mind exactly why pride can be a sin. Sometimes, things come out perfectly and I think I have it. Then, for whatever reason, my field of vision changes and all of the sudden, consistency is a big damn problem.

It’s one of the reasons that even though I think they’re of the devil because of the many times I’ve cut the fuck out of myself using them, I love mandolines and meat/cheese slicers. Everything comes out even despite my malady, which took me to urgent care because I once cut off a piece of my thumb. I thought I could handle it myself, because in this particular kitchen, we had a blood-clotting spray. I used so much of it that the bottle ran out, and I was still bleeding. I was furious because leaving the kitchen before a shift is over is committing THE cardinal sin. It would have been nice getting the rest of the day off if I hadn’t had to sit there with my entire hand throbbing to the point that I was crumpled over with nausea. It also didn’t help that my ego was bruised.

But I was back at work the next day, bandaged and wearing what we call a “finger condom,” which looks exactly like it sounds, except it’s bright blue, and sometimes too small so it feels like it’s cutting off circulation… but no matter because it’s illegal not to wear one. I had to be extra careful, because the likelihood of gaining another injury while working with one is high…. kind of like breaking a second ankle because you were off-balance, even with crutches, when you broke the first one. In the kitchen, one dumbass attack often leads to several others, usually in quick succession.

It becomes completely mind over matter, because you have to let it go that you’ve royally screwed up something and not let it affect the rest of your day. One kink is enough. I understand implicitly that if I don’t compartmentalize, it can become a downward spiral…. a fairly universal feeling whether you’re in the kitchen or not.

If your attention is diverted in the kitchen, even for a few seconds, you’re going to miss something. Write it down.

The thing about working in a kitchen is that it’s all important, it’s all high priority. Between tickets and retrieving backups and prep, there’s a running to-do list and you can’t forget a thing. To do so is to let someone down, and possibly a career-limiting move. In my pub, there are no stars- we’re all line cooks. But mistakes in a Gordon Ramsey-type restaurant would get you incinerated. No one cares if you get injured- it happens too often. The chef would focus on the fact that you were dumb enough to hurt yourself, because if you’d been doing your job properly, you wouldn’t have injured yourself in the first place…. and while this is true, everyone makes mistakes. Even small ones lead to big disasters, because if you just graze a finger with a knife, fingers are notorious for bleeding all over the place no matter what you do.

Therefore, I am awfully proud that I haven’t cut myself once with a knife during the entire time I’ve been at the pub. In fact, the only time I’ve cut myself was shredding carrots on a mandoline without a finger guard (we don’t have them, and even if we did, none of us would want to look stupid enough to have to use them…. in IT parlance, imagine a coworker walking up behind you and seeing you actually reading a manual. Bitch, please.).

I have a fear of looking stupid or like I don’t know something, and I’ve made strides in getting over that, too, because then I don’t continue to look stupid. Fake it til you make it will not work in the kitchen meritocracy.

Lately, I’ve been told that I am a rock star- not only because I can cook, but because I’ve been able to drop everything when they’ve needed me on days I haven’t been scheduled. Cooking rapidly and accurately is a large part of the job, but even more important is showing up. The biggest brownie points you can make in a kitchen is showing up on time every single shift, and flexibility in your schedule so that everyone knows you can be counted upon when chips are down. Another large part is doing exactly what the kitchen manager/chef says without complaining because you hate change. Adaptation is key, and if that’s not one of your strong points, I don’t advise working in a restaurant at all.

In one of my restaurants, I actually witnessed a line cook talking back to the chef, and they were gone within two minutes. It doesn’t take more than that for the boss to decide that they’d rather have someone malleable than someone who can’t say, “yes, Chef,” and move on…. or worse yet, walk out during the middle of a shift because the chef told them to change something and they decided the entire job was bullshit and not even worth it.

Most cooks think that they can get rehired in a day. This is not untrue unless the new restaurant needs references. If you’ve walked out on your last three chefs, good luck. God bless. Most small restaurants won’t check, but I’m guessing that if you decide you’re good enough for Momofuku CCDC, that’s a whole different thing. It’s the DC restaurant in David Chang’s small empire, and they have an amazing chef named Tae Strain, hand picked by Chang to shake the menu up. When David Chang was actually the chef there, it was a sort of homecoming for him- his parents live in Vienna, VA. But every executive chef I know has decided at one time or another to let in new blood, and Strain is a rising star. There are only two people I can think of off the top of my head who would fit right in on the first day. I am not one of them.

I am just a pub kind of girl….. with ice cream.

Netflix and Ill

We are not amused.

There is a huge birthday party going on outside at my house, and I am no longer allowed to come. It’s not that the attendees do not like me. Before I tell you why, I have to tell you the setup first.

When I was in my 20s, I worked as a medical assistant at my stepmom’s rheumatology practice. We both had short red hair at the time, and as the MA, it was my job to go into the room first and ask the patient about their drug lists, chief complaint, etc.

So one day I go into a patient room and the patient, assuming that I’m the doctor 2018-07-07 15_47_35-Window(because at that point, we did look similar), drops her pants immediately. I am frozen in place, but I notice that she has a rash that follows the nerves from her abdomen to her back. I seem to remember the doctor saying something about this in a previous conversation, and because of that memory, I am also not worried that I’m going to catch it. I am young and have already had chicken pox. Shingles, in the majority of cases, affect older people.

Cut to last Wednesday…………..

I am a cook in a busy restaurant, and only had one day off last week. I get cuts, scrapes, and burns all the time that I can’t explain. So I did not notice the pattern  of bumps until I realized that firstly, it didn’t hurt like a cut, and didn’t even hurt at all until those bumps became blisters.

By today, it was immediately apparent to me that I had shingles, but because I am 40, I called my dad, who passed me off to my stepmom and she had me send her pictures so she could confirm it for me. She called back within a minute and said it was shingles all right, and that antibiotics are only effective in the first 72 hours, which I’d missed…. common because most people don’t notice the pattern until it’s full-blown, just like me.

I went around and asked a couple of the people who live here if they’ve had chicken pox. One of them said “no.” So now I’m upstairs hidden until work.

The nerve pain is not excruciating. I can handle it well with an anti-inflammatory and swabbing the blisters with witch hazel. It must not be that bad a case, but it’s early yet. If things get worse, I have the option of seeing a doctor and getting some Neurontin, but the doc said it would take two weeks to kick in, anyway.

Also, as long as I keep a dressing on it I’m fine to work, because it’s not airborne.

To say I am having a good day, though, is stretching things by a large margin. I’m not out of pain enough to feel like working, and I’m not in pain enough to stay home. Tonight I’m working the line, which will divert my attention greatly, and that’s a good thing. Tomorrow, I’m in the dish pit, which may or may not be a good thing because Sundays are a tossup in terms of how busy I’ll actually be. I don’t want to think about my health if I don’t have to.

The good news is that I put in a lot of extra hours this week, and next week, I have three days off instead of two.

I can just Netflix and ill.

Knackered

Despite getting sleep and coffee, I am already exhausted. One of our line cooks quit yesterday, so my day off today is canceled. We are closed tomorrow, so I will get some rest then. Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love what I do. Rest and recovery, however, cannot be underestimated. It remains to be seen how this line cook’s absence will affect future days off, but if I can’t get rest, at least I’ll get extra hours. It’s not a bad trade, but it comes at the cost of my physical health. I have mentioned this so many times before, but even if you don’t cut or burn yourself, after a shift, everything hurts. Everything.

My hands and feet get it the worst, followed closely by my knees. Anti-inflammatories help, as does Tylenol, but even after taking them, the pain doesn’t go away. It just fades into the background, the soundtrack of my life a series of pops and groans.

But there is nothing in the world that beats the busy rush of a pub, or prepping food that people will enjoy. Because we’re a brewpub, every snack and entree comes with a suggested pairing, food and drink that work together to make mildly happy into fabulous. That part is priceless, and I live for it.

It is the anti-office job, which is why I will still try to fit in as many shifts as I’m allowed if I get the job at UMD. The hiring process at any public university is a slow one, so I’m not holding my breath. It would be nice, though, to work with my head and my hands at different times, not forsaking one for the other. I am aware that my schedule will be full, but to me, it is worth it…. both in order to keep having fun and the fact that I will have two streams of income instead of just one. It is a win-win situation.

I really haven’t put too much effort into having a personal life, so my need for balance is different than most people. I am comfortable with the level at which my coworkers and I interact, I get together with my friends when I can, and for me it is (and will be) enough. I don’t have interest in dating or being part of a family, except for the one into which I was born. If that seems weird, I definitely have my reasons. I’m just not in a place emotionally to be that person, and I have no clue if or when that desire will arrive.

I put myself out there, once, and nothing came of it. Soon, it was like it never even happened…. and that’s fine. The reverberation for me was that putting myself out there was possible, and that I am too old to be worried about rejection. I just don’t care that much. It’s so much easier to talk to women when you feel you have nothing to lose, because your life is already amazing without them…. just icing on an already great cake.

The other piece of knowledge I’ve gained is that my standards are not quite impossibly high, and I won’t settle because the relationship is “good enough.” I am not interested in the mundane or the mediocre. I also feel too old to chase someone if they’re not into me the first time around. Better to cut losses and move on, something that has only come with age & experience.

There’s only one person in the world with which I have trouble taking my own advice, and that is because she is, as someone once called me, “the princess of mixed signals.” I never know where I stand. I take my own advice and leave the relationship be. Then something happens and my own advice goes out the window.

It’s a tumble and roll that leaves me, in a word, knackered.

Sleep

I have managed to get a lot of sleep over the past few nights, and I think it is really helping me out. I’m not in as much pain as usual, because I’ve finished early, skipped the shift beer (it keeps me up more than anything), and taken a sleeping pill as soon as I’ve gotten home so it kicks in within an hour. Sleeping with my natural circadian rhythm so that I’m up before the busyness of the day really starts is infinitely more restful than falling asleep around 0400 and waking up at 1200. Tonight I am closing down the restaurant, but it’s a Monday, so we won’t be open that late. I can be in bed at a normal time, and this is my weekend. Even though I don’t get an extra day off because of the holiday, it’s nice to know that I won’t get called in on my day off for it.

The only problem on Saturday was that I had Alexa set an alarm for Sunday morning, and instead of hitting “snooze,” I hit “stop.” I ended up sleeping until 1222, and I had to be at work at 1300 (Benedryl does not wear off easily for me- I slept almost 13 hours). Believe it or not, I still clocked in four minutes early, though it was a special kind of hell not to have time for a cup of coffee. This is because I was throwing on clothes and shoes while I was waiting for my Uber to arrive.

The only thing I forgot was my socks. Not a big problem because my Bistro Crocs are naturally antibacterial… just not as comfortable without them. I went shopping with Sam two weeks ago and finally splurged for some relatively expensive moisture-wicking socks that are a godsend… and Adidas brand so they look cute with all my shoes. One set of black, one set of white. I think I am most like Albus Dumbledore in this way. I am crazy for socks, both the kind that have special utility AND the kind that are weird patterns. I even have knee socks that look like the old Portland airport carpet. They were a gift from Lindsay when she used to have to work in Salem frequently.

Perhaps it was because I was so tired that when I was cleaning the fryer, I dipped my thumb right in. It was so painful in the moment, but the next day, there was no swelling, no burn, no redness. I joked on Facebook that I thought I saw Jesus. Because it healed so quickly, maybe I did. Who knows?

The restaurant was so dead yesterday that I left an hour early, and today might be the same if there are two people closing. I might volunteer to close down the restaurant if we get to pick who goes home, because my coworkers are better at it, but it’s the one thing with which I need practice. We don’t have a checklist in place yet, and it’s a lot to remember in one’s head. Checklists are being made, though, and that will help a lot. There will also be a lot less going home early for the next couple of weeks, because our main prep cook is going on vacation, so the time in which we’d usually be standing around because everything is already done will be filled with cutting vegetables and maybe cooking- things like sauces and hummus. Nothing big, but vitally important.

There’s two solid reasons we’re not as busy as we normally are. The first is that the beer garden is huge, and yesterday it was way too hot for most people to want to sit outside. The second is that July 4th is a big weekend for people to go out of town. So lack of business didn’t just affect us, I’m guessing.

I’m still trying to prime the faucet to get to something real, because even though I’m slamming iced coffee, it still takes a while for me to get from the “walking through Jell-o” phase of waking up after sleeping pills to the “now I’ve had too much coffee” stage. I tend to overdo it in the morning so that by the time I get to work, I’m just right. It’s not exactly morning. Right now it’s 1304. But for a cook, it’s close enough. I’ve actually woken up several times this morning, the sleeping pills not worn off enough for me not to fall right back asleep within minutes. I also didn’t think it was quite time for coffee yet, because getting as much sleep as I can, again, prevents pain.

My muscles don’t feel quite as much like they’ve been put through a pretzel maker, and when I feel good, I’m even faster and more focused than when I was younger. It makes me feel good that this time around, it is as if I actually learned something. 😛

Part of it, though, is the ability to compartmentalize better than I could then. So many things were wrong with me psychologically that I didn’t even realize, and my emotions would leak all over the place. Now, I’m not constantly doing something while thinking about something else. I do when I’m in the dish pit, because of the ebb and flow. But on the line, it’s impossible and necessary. And even in the dish pit, it’s not rehashing old wounds, but writing in my head. The most frustrating thing is having good ideas without the ability to write them down or dictate them on my phone, so that by the time I get home, those “great lines” are gone.

I think the most important thing I have to say is that being in the kitchen is lonely at times. Only two other line cooks besides me speak English, and when they’re not working, I have little ability to contribute to the chatter around me, neither able to comprehend it all or respond. I enjoy listening to the lilt of their voices, and the music they bring. As a writer, it is a good thing I am able to entertain myself. I know that because I am listening to Spanish language courses and completely immersed, the language barrier will close more and more over time. But right now, I feel like Marcus from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Indiana Jones: The hell you will. He’s got a two day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody’s got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan, he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, he’ll blend in, disappear, you’ll never see him again. With any luck, he’s got the grail already.

Later…..

Dr. Jones, Sr.: I thought you said he would blend in, disappear.
Indiana Jones: Are you kidding? I made that up. You know Marcus, he got lost in his own museum once.

Apt.

Noon

It is 10 minutes until 1200, when my alarm is supposed to go off. I got my schedule wrong last night- I thought I was supposed to work until 0130, but I was finished by 2230. It’s tonight and tomorrow that I “clopen,” slang for closing down the restaurant and being back in by Sunday at 1000.

I’m slated for the dish pit on tomorrow’s shift, which means that I will have to set up the restaurant for lunch. Of everything I have to do, that’s probably my least favorite, but there is only a small jump from last to first. Tonight is pantry station, which means cold foods and fried brussels sprouts, chips and salsa, etc. I get paid too much to think that anything is too bad. And what I mean is that being a dishwasher and line cook will never make me rich, but in comparison to other jobs I’ve had in the same industry, my hourly wage is insane. Plus, I also get vacation days (which I receive after six months), another thing I’ve never had from a small, independently owned restaurant. I also have the option to sign up for health insurance, but I like the state-run plan I’m on now, so I’m going to wait and see how my income averages out to see if I need to change it. If I switch to private insurance, my co-pays and drug costs will go up.

Although I am not a candidate for advancement, not wanting to go into management, I do get raises based on how long I’ve worked there and/or COLA (cost of living adjustment- my obsession with soda makes this my favorite acronym).

There is only one problem, and it has nothing to do with business. It’s that the woman who has slowly become one of my best work friends (despite the language barrier, closing more every day) is moving to Atlanta. I think either tonight or tomorrow is her last shift, after only finding out she was moving yesterday. I am heartbroken. Who else is going to hug me every day? Who else is going to make fun of me in a language I don’t always understand, just nodding and laughing because I am great at self-deprecation? But, in true kitchen wisdom, “go cry in the walk-in.” There’s really no time for emotion on the job, so that is a long-standing kitchen joke that works across all restaurants everywhere.

However, she is so loved that I’m not the only one with ALL THE FEELS. She gets along with everyone, from waitstaff to dishwasher. It also leaves us in a bit of a bind because she’s additionally a prep cook, so we’ll have to do a lot more at night rather than it all getting done before we arrive.

I wouldn’t mind a few prep shifts, leaving the restaurant earlier or getting doubles to increase my income… but to tell the truth, I’m really bad at it. This is because I will follow a recipe up and to a point, then decide I can make it taste better (ego, but not unjustified)…. but I do it with a pinch of this, a cup of that, so that I have no idea how to modify said recipe when I’m done because I don’t keep track of small improvements along the way. I can’t help myself- it’s a sickness.

For instance, Lanagan’s Pub Chili at Biddy McGraw’s was my own recipe, I always made it, and when I needed to write down the recipe, it took me two or three weeks, because every batch was a tiny bit different, as was my recipe for pancakes and oatmeal. I had several customers who came to the pub for brunch specifically to eat my food, something of which I am intensely proud. My pancakes in particular were a big hit, thin and crispy around the edges like a crepe with hazelnut fluff, the result of extra butter on the griddle.

It is always my goal to make foodies cry. One of the best chefs in Portland sent me a text and said, “even though it’s not a true Texas red, your chili is feckin’ delicious.” But he understood why I did it, adding light and dark red beans to make the ground beef stretch. That was 10 years ago, and I still remember that text dinging as if it were yesterday.

Sufficed to say if you have the ability to invite me over to cook dinner, you won’t regret it. The best indicator I have of this is that I made a French onion soup that sold out in less than one shift, and was supposed to last three days. Again, butter.

I have a keen sense that I am in the hospitality industry. My job is to delight people’s palates when I have free range, and I am comfortable with almost all nationalities. I’d love to work on my African food, though, learning to make Ethiopian injera, the flatbread you use instead of utensils for spicy beef stews that make my own palate dance.

There are two Ethiopian restaurants I highly recommend in Silver Spring. The first is Lucy, and the second is Arbol. Neither have web sites, you’ll just have to show up; you can also order from GrubHub or Seamless. I don’t recommend ordering from home, though. Get it fresh and hot, caliente y picante (temperature hot and spicy hot).

Also, if I cook for you, know ahead of time that portion control is important, because I have a blatant disregard for fat and calories. This is because I’ve read French Women Don’t Get Fat. Mireille Guiliano asserts that the reason Americans are fat is not because of the content of the food, but because we eat so damn much of it. Believe me, it’s true. Restaurant portions in the United States are generally out of control.

It’s also the entire reason I gained so much weight when I first met Dana, because as a Cordon Bleu trained chef, she fed me rich, rich food in stunning amounts. I took the weight off, and am now obsessed with keeping it that way. I don’t weigh myself, ever, but I back off the intake when I feel my pants are getting tight. I don’t want to go back to being overweight, and I don’t want to spend money on new pants, although it’s probably time, anyway.

Some of my Dockers are stretched at the seams, not from being overweight, but from the acrobatics involved with working in a kitchen. I have designated the black ones for work, because if I get bleach on them, I can fix them with a Sharpie. 😛

The thing I have spent money on this month is drugs. It is amazing how cheap Zyrtec, Tylenol, Aleve, etc. are on Amazon, because they sell Costco sized bottles that render each pill about .004 cents. I got a year’s worth of ibuprofen for $11.00, and 200 Zyrtec for the same price. If you’re not watching your cash flow, a year’s worth of Zyrtec is only $21.00. I just didn’t want to wipe out all my money until my next paycheck. I’m not the type person that particularly enjoys splurging one week and peanut butter sandwiches every meal the next.

I also have Uber to think of, because the buses aren’t running by the time I’m finished closing down the restaurant. I don’t particularly want to buy a car, because even though I could save up the money to buy one, I don’t want to pay for upkeep and insurance…. and it’s fun when someone else is in charge and I can just check out in the backseat and play with my iPhone…. and especially with Uber Pool, I only pay about five dollars a trip. They just add up, as does adding money to my WMATA SmartCard.

Public transportation is one of the reasons I love DC so much, because it’s cheap and readily available. Houston and Portland just do not have the infrastructure for it. Being one stop away from DC doesn’t hurt, either, because I can get nearly everywhere in the area in 40 minutes, even Silver Spring to Alexandria. Especially in heavy traffic, I couldn’t drive it that fast. So, at least for the moment, getting a car is not even worth it.

The only time I wish I had a car is for heavy shopping days, and those are so few and far between that it doesn’t really matter. Uber takes care of that, too, but I always feel bad when the driver has to wait for me to unload all my crap. But sometimes, it’s a blessing, because they’ll help me unload it. Some do, some just stare. It’s always a toss-up.

And now it’s time for me to slam iced coffee and get dressed, because I have officially written way past noon. I might even take a shower. Lord knows I need it. There’s probably aioli in my hair.