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………

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