Mileage May Vary

I have silver in my hair and eyebrows. I am also only 5 feet, four inches tall. When I go to work, I wear either jeans or khakis, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap. Therefore, you can neither see my wrinkles or old person hair. When I am “all nellied out,” a phrase that makes me laugh because it comes from Nelly Olsen in Little House on the Prairie (code for lesbians and gay men dressed to the nines), I look every bit of my age. When I am “all dyked out,” I look barely above 15-year-old boy. I am sure that I will look older once I get my chef pants tailored and buy a coat to protect my arms (burned myself pretty bad last night and hope chicks dig scars), but maybe not, because I still have to cover my hair… and in a baseball cap, I look like I am wearing the universal uniform of “my daddy’s a lawyer,” or “yuppie douchebag brotard.”

I also really like getting mistaken for a boy, but not because I want to actually be one. It’s just hilarious watching people get flustered and be all like, “I’m so sorry, ma’am.” They’re bothered way more than I am, and I enjoy it immensely. There’s just this moment of OVER apologizing while I laugh internally.

As I have said before, I just enjoy boys’ clothes because the shoulders fit and I can still look crispy, while even a men’s small is too big…. thus, why I have to get my chef pants tailored because they fit in the waist and the cuffs go over my shoes into the tripping zone. It also wouldn’t hurt to get my shirts, Dockers,™ and blazer dry cleaned. When I am not working, I am all about the sharp. It also helps when I’m not wearing a hat and my hair and jewelry are all cute.

But this status update on Facebook slayed me. As you know by now, I work in a brewpub, where we brew our own beer on site and serve it with food:

2018-05-31 10_53_20-Window

When the van pulled up, the automatic door opened and the driver immediately said, “how old are you?” I said, “40.” “Good,” she replied. “I just didn’t want to get in trouble for taking a minor to a brewery.” I didn’t want to laugh at her, so I was absolutely shaking internally with laughter, the kind where no sound comes out but I am absolutely coming unglued.

It’s kind of cool that I haven’t been a minor for 20 years and I still get mistaken for one on a regular basis. I was in a liquor store a few months ago, and even though I was only buying spicy ginger ale, I still got carded because the cashier thought I was too young to be in the store.

I feel like I should have a t-shirt that says “Older Than Advertised.” There’s a reason I don’t dye my hair anymore. I am looking forward to a little more grey coming in. It’s a shame people can’t see inside me, because they’d instantly know how old I am by the way my spine corkscrews and the inflammation of 40-year-old arthritis.

Or, as I told my mother when I handed her an eyebrow hair, “your daughter’s first grey one. You can put that in the baby book somewhere.” She laughed and told me that she went grey much earlier than me and to just relax. It didn’t mean I was old.

Unsurprisingly, it was not comforting in the slightest.

It is now, though, because sometimes being mistaken for younger than I am is great, and sometimes it’s annoying.

Mileage may vary.

Empty

I feel as if my writing brain has gone empty, because my energy has been zapped for every minute I’m home. I just don’t have much brain power after I get out of the kitchen; for me, that’s part of the point. I am often wandering the earth with my head in the clouds, and not all memories/thoughts are pleasant. I got divorced, I lost a great friend, and my mother died… memories that are still extremely loud and incredibly close, because even though I can count years between all of those memories, I can’t often count distance. I am sure there is a lot I will forget about losing Dana and Argo. Losing my mother divides time into “before” and “after.” Grieving the death of a parent is infinitely more severe than the loss of the alive… or is it?

I am occasionally not sure which is worse. I will never see my mother again, our last conversation being truly the last. There will be no news of her. There will be no updates. There will be no future. It is devastatingly final. On the flip side, memories of the living flood my brain, and I think about both women, people I love dearly, out in the world living their lives without me. Grief that I won’t again know who and how they are is often just as painful as finality. Growing and changing with them has stopped.

Even the grief between them is different, because of their levels of participation. With Dana, I can honestly say that we destroyed each other, and with Argo, I can own up to the fact that because I was in the middle of the worst time of my life, shit rolled downhill. I abused the absolute privilege it was to be her friend. Our connection was explosive, to the point that the chord that used to run between us was akin to touching a live wire and living to tell the tale.

What sticks with me about the relationship with Argo is that we could be angry to the same extreme we could love each other- that live wire alternately overclocking my brain to its limits and burning me up inside. I have since come to believe that we are both minds you only meet once or twice in a lifetime… but for very different reasons. Logically, she can see all 75 sides to a problem and have them figured out before you can even tie your shoes. Emotionally, I am one of the most intense people that everyone who’s ever met me says they know. Therefore, I think we each served each other magnificent dishes in which the other had only a few of the ingredients.

She was my soulmate, but not in the stereotypical definition… in the Elizabeth Gilbert definition in Eat. Pray. Love. Argo was one of the people sent into my life to shake me up, to get me to see things that I could not see on my own, and those people are generally not designed to be permanent, and not always your partner. Anyone can be an Elizabeth Gilbert soulmate, and the analogy I draw is that she is Richard from Texas. It was a mistake to feel those in-love butterflies where she was concerned, but two things about that. The first is that I am not unique or special. It was transference, like falling in love with your therapist when they uncover the root of your problem and the AHA! moments they cause in you. The second is that I was aware the entire time that was all it would ever be. It was all my shit to work on, my shit to move past, and when that day came, there was much rejoicing (yaaaay). But by the point I could sincerely look at her as a ride-or-die, we’d broken so many plates it was impossible to glue everything back together…. or perhaps a better phrase would be that the live wire burned our whole house down….. and everything inside will always smell like smoke.

What sticks with me about the relationship with Dana is that I could have been better to her, and she could have been better to me. Our demise did not happen overnight, but a series of years in which we thought we had it handled and in fact, did not. Life gets in the way when you take your eye off the ball. But that time in my life is just one of the many things that make me want to be a better person in the future. I could have gone my whole life without learning all those painful lessons, thinking that she’s the only one I’ve ever wanted to chase around a nursing home. Because of this, it’s been years and I still feel like being in a relationship would be inflicting myself on someone else. I don’t yet have that internal sense that I would be a good partner for anyone until I have learned to be a good partner to myself…. and in fact, I think that was the biggest problem I had in the relationship with Dana altogether. My self-esteem was low, as well as self-reliance.

I feel that these years of being alone has increased both, and I am grateful for them. You have to find gratitude in divorce so that it doesn’t eat you alive forever. I count the good things about being apart from Dana like a rosary. I have to, because otherwise the self-esteem I’ve gained gets flushed down the toilet and I focus on all the mistakes I made that led me to this often lonely place. That being said, there is gratitude in loneliness as well.

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few humans and even divine ingredients can. Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender, my need for God absolutely clear.

-Hafiz

Gratitude for loneliness has allowed me to crack open to let some light in. But, there are things in which I miss specifically about being married to her, and things I miss about being a wife as a role, rather than being attached to a specific person. I don’t miss romance as much as I miss simple contact comfort. The former, I have learned I can do without…. the latter, not so much.

But I hear that in order to get those things, you actually have to put yourself out there, often where I fall short. It is a universal axiom that hurt people hurt people. and I am reminded of that fact every time I think I’m ready to date…. and then I hide. I keep thinking, “one day, I’ll be ready, and I have to be prepared for it.” But at the same time, there’s never going to be a moment in which I truly feel prepared, because introspection is a lifelong process. Some things I won’t know until I do meet someone, and have the chance to act on the things I’ve learned while in isolation.

I do take comfort that I am a good friend, that I have at least learned that much. It is the basis for all good relationships, and I feel solid in my ability to love my adopted brothers and sisters like the family they are.

For instance, I think the biggest lesson has been learning not to pour from a cup that is empty.

 

Pop

My Facebook status today:

I just got the best news I’ve gotten all day. I was supposed to be back in the kitchen at 1300. My kitchen manager just called and said, “could we change it to 1500?” Umm, yes. Yes we can. I worked from 9:00 AM until 11:00 PM yesterday without a break as the dishwasher- don’t feel sorry for me. I got line cook pay for all of it. But *not* having to be back so soon is a hug from Jesus. I might actually have time to write something. Life is beautiful and I love everything and everyone right now. God, I love my job, but it’s been years since I worked a double and 40 is so different from 28.

I don’t mean to complain in the slightest, because I am so lucky to be doing the work I want to do. But at the same time, I am constantly in pain, as well as perpetually exhausted. I thought I was going to have the day off today, but I was called in rather last minute. I only get one day off this week, though the rest are short shifts (relatively- mostly 5:00p to midnight or 6:00p until 9:00, though I often have extra hours added on those nights because we’re too busy to get all the cleaning done that needs to keep our kitchen up to code. I mean, I keep my station clean as I go, but stations need to be broken down and deep cleaned before I can really be satisfied with leaving. And the kitchen manager would rather pay me to get those things done than have me walk out and leave everyone else to do it).

Although today I am really not sure how busy we will be. Memorial Day is a toss-up, because we have a huge outdoor beer garden, but it’s supposed to rain. Also, on Memorial Day, people tend to grill outside in their own backyards. I have a feeling that most of what I will be doing is prep for the rest of the week, as well as stepping up to the line during an inevitable pop.

I had such an internal satisfaction in being the dishwasher yesterday, because I was so diligent about keeping up with the dishes that it only took 44 minutes to close down the kitchen. That’s the thing I love most about working in the kitchen- it’s all about self-esteem for a job well done, and I don’t need any external validation that it went well. Kudos are amazing, but never necessary. Also, because salaries are higher in this area, I’m basically $0.50 away from making as much as I did in IT. Like I said, I’m sending out resumes to places I think are interesting, but it feels good to be in a place where I’m not desperate to get out of the kitchen because it doesn’t pay the bills.

I just hope that I don’t get called in on my day off tomorrow, because Pri Diddy and I made plans for brunch at one of my favorite places, Teaism. If I do, though, it won’t be until the afternoon, so I don’t think I’ll have to cancel. I purposefully get together with friends in the morning because I never know what my schedule will be like. It’s hard not to be able to respond to messages until late night/early morning, but so far, my friends don’t seem to mind. I just always hope that they can sleep through their phone dinging…..

But I also hope they notice that I am happy, and that’s the best part. I get a place where, again, internal satisfaction is high, and I can relax with a beer or a soda at the end of the night with people I genuinely like. Heads up that we have Mexican style cola on draft. It is so crazy good that it’s officially on my Chef’s Game last meal. I don’t drink it too often, though, because club soda is still my favorite.

It reminds me of being 14 and visiting jazz clubs when I was too young to drink, yet still wanted to look sophisticated. One of the things I’ve lost in my many moves that I regret to the ends of the earth is that in one of those visits, I brought my Arban book (the Holy Grail of trumpet educational exercises) and Dizzy Gillespie signed it. He said, “man… I haven’t seen one of these in years.” It was just one of the highlights of my short career as a jazz trumpet player, and by “career” I mean high school.

And on that “high note,” I think I’ll actually take a shower while I still have enough energy to get in. Hot water and soap sounds delicious because last night, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in my clothes (double yuck). Believe me, I think you all want me to take a shower, because I’m betting you can smell me from there.

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.