Life, Abridged

Today has been all about scrambling to find an original copy of my birth certificate, which I thought I knew exactly where I’d put it. It was supposed to be in my top dresser drawer, where I keep all my important documents, like my ordination papers in case anyone needs to get married in a hurry. So far, it’s just been the one. Since I have completely torn my room apart, and I have no other stashes in any other areas of the house, I have decided that I must have given it to an employer and they failed to give it back.

Update: I mailed it to my dad for safekeeping. Total dumbass attack that I didn’t remember. It will be here in plenty of time to get a rush passport.

I need it because my dad and I booked a trip to Paris just after the new year, and then my sister and her husband asked if they could come, too. My dad and Lindsay have been before- not sure about Mathew. Years ago, when I was living in Portland, my whole famn damily went to Paris for vacation, and I could have gone, but there wasn’t enough time to get a passport by the time they invited me, because they thought I already had one.

I did get a passport when I went to Mexico, but the story behind that is my (now estranged, but still Oregon legal) wife accidentally gave it to Goodwill, when I left it in a pair of shorts I threw in what I thought was the laundry pile. I’ve been thinking of her a lot lately, what with the cooking and all. Dana has actual Le Cordon Bleu badges, and I don’t. I would have loved to take her to the real thing. And while I still love her in a friendship sort of way, we’re also estranged for good reason. Mostly because I was a total jackass to her and vice versa. In separation, universally, no one gets away with clean hands.

There’s nothing I’ll ever hold against her, but there’s nothing I’ll ever (ever, ever) forget, either.

But I do remember her a lot, and Paris is a place we both wanted to go, both from the food perspective and the several couples we asked to leave locks on the bridge for us to find when we eventually made it. Those conversations are memories that now make me indescribably sad, because I will indeed experience the divinity of Paris, just not quite the way I imagined.

But then again, I experience the divinity of The District every day, but not the way I imagined, either. It’s a good thing that I now think everything worked out the way it was supposed to resolve. I am glad that we never took a vacation here together, as I love living in a place that doesn’t trigger me all over the place. As I was telling a friend, being with Kat in my early 20’s is the part of my memory that is not so good (we lived in Alexandria, VA), and for that I am grateful.

Many, many people have now given me their recommendations for places to eat, although I hear that I need to go to a cafe rather than a restaurant, because they take forever. I can’t imagine that we won’t go to a restaurant at some point, but it’s a relatively short trip, so we shall see…..

Paris also reminds me of Anthony Bourdain, because I’ll never forget that he stayed in the hotel where Oscar Wilde died, his last words being, “I’m in a fight with the wallpaper, and it’s winning.” Bourdain did the ritual of absinthe, dripping it over a sugar cube, and realized what Wilde meant. 😛

It tastes like Fernet Branca, rich and herbaceous in all the right ways. I know because they sell absinthe without wormwood in the United States. I may or may not try it. I hardly ever drink, so my tolerance for alcohol is incredibly low. But I’m sure my dad, sister, and brother in law all want to hear how much I love them at 0200.

The last cocktail I had was when my sister took me to a Mediterranean restaurant here in DC. I wanted a something that would complement the food, so it was pomegranate and ouzo. I thought it was delightful, but I love the black jellybeans. Lindsay was not nearly as enamored with it.

I’m glad that I will have a passport again. The next dream I have is going to Helsinki for December 6th,fid Finnish Independence Day. I would tell you why, but it’s a long, long story and one that I don’t want to let go…. more than I already have, anyway. I’m sure if you look through my archives, there’s something in there somewhere. But the story reminds me of a dark time in my life, and how one celebrated holiday had to become another, and Finnish Independence Day was available. I basically had to bring a lantern into the dark, and for better or for worse, it came from a country I’ve never studied, and never cared about one way or the other for most of my life. But now, sufficed to say, my love for it is real and it’s deep. Finnish Independence Day threw me a life raft, and I took it.

Plus, Anthony Bourdain went there and now I know some good places to eat, if they’re still open when I eventually make it. I don’t know what I’m doing with my culinary life if reindeer pizza isn’t #goals. I also tend to buy soccer jerseys when I travel, or ask for them if others are going to another country. I would proudly wear the Finnish one for the entire month of December…. although I doubt it would make as many people jealous as my Honduran one. Half my kitchen is Honduran, and every staff member there has said they wanted to steal it when I’ve had it on. I didn’t wear it during service, just over my t-shirt on the way there so I’d have something to wear afterwards that wasn’t covered in food. I had to make sure it was completely hidden, because I don’t think they were kidding.

It feels nice to relax now and be able to enjoy my day off, but I do have to put my room back together after completely tearing it apart in fear that my birth certificate was buried somewhere. I think it’s time to read or watch a movie. I’ll flip a coin.

 

 

The Inconsistent Vegan

First of all, I’m sorry for procrastinating on writing the next post on this blog. I know you’ve all been sitting on the edge of your seats waiting to hear what happened at The Big Show™ (that was a joke). My prediction about going into the interview calm and relaxed because I had nothing to lose came true. We all talked easily and laughed a lot. I wore black pants and a red and white striped shirt with a grey jacket (so DC), and the chairs in the conference room turned out to be gaming chairs, black with red piping. So I started the conversation by taking off my jacket and thanking them for buying chairs to match my outfit. The joke landed, and like that, we were off. I should know something one way or the other by next week, but even then, I will have another interview with the department head, which will be much more about HR kinds of things since I’ve already been given preliminary approval. And then the University of Maryland hiring process takes over, and that is state bureaucracy, so if I actually get an offer, it may be close to two months before I actually start. I’m not bothered by this- getting hired at University of Houston was the same way. It just comes with the territory of working for a state school.

The title of this entry comes from me committing to be vegan at home. I realized that with all the crap I eat (at work, dining out, etc.), at least some of my meals have to contain nutritional value. But the voice of Anthony Bourdain is always in my head. I remembered his treatise on the audacity of vegetarianism/veganism, and just how much I agree with it. Basically, he said that food is about hospitality, and when you reject someone’s food, you reject them. No matter what you’re offered, eat it. Choke it down if you must. It’s that important.

Maya Angelou once said (in an Oprah interview, I think), “when people show you who they are, believe them.” Nowhere is that more apparent than when someone offers to cook for you. If you sit down at their table, they are indeed showing you who they are. Food reflects both one’s self and family history.

I don’t have any food allergies, so when people ask me if I have any or if I have a preference as to what we eat, I used to say, “nope. Just the fact that you’re cooking for me is enough, because the last thing I want to do after hours of cooking for others is cook for myself.” Perhaps now I should say “make something that makes you happy.” I can think of several sub-par meals I’ve had over my lifetime (in restaurants, not at friends’ houses) that I remember as some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, just because of who was sitting at the table. I am guessing that the same is true for all of you.

Therefore, I just want to take care of my body when I’m alone. I don’t feel the need to make anyone else adapt for me, or preach on the evils of eating meat because I just don’t buy it. I have issues with buying meat where you don’t know your source, but other than that, I’m “game.” There are few people I respect more than Temple Grandin, and if you know her work, you’ll understand that to me, it’s not about giving up meat, but giving up the mistreatment of animals before we eat them. I believe in giving thanks for their lives, a nose-to-tail approach so that nothing is wasted, and eating lots of vegetables because humans weren’t meant to eat meat every day, a lot of what’s driving animal cruelty because the demand to do everything bigger and faster supports it.

Just being mindful is enough for me.

I will say, though, that I enjoy Quorn and Dr. Praeger’s meatless chicken a lot more than I enjoy poor quality nuggets and patties of the real thing. I have also discovered Dr. Praeger’s crabless cakes, and it was really hard not to eat the whole bag at once.

They’re probably vegetarian. I didn’t check. Baby steps.

But from now on, Pizza Night is one of those Daiya Supremes, because I can’t get enough of them. I was going to try and have it ready by now, because I’m working at 1800, but now I think I’ll bake it when I get home- note to all those who metaphysically show up at my house that dinner has been moved. I’m sorry if you don’t like vegan pizza, but if you get to show me who you are, then I get to do the same.

Choke it down if you must.

Parts Unknown

It was 0745 Friday when I got the news that Antony Bourdain killed himself. Even though Central Time is an hour earlier, I couldn’t think of anyone to call but my dad. We’ve both read all his books, we’ve both been fans of the TV shows, and I broke the news to him. He told me it was awfully early for a cook to be up. I said that I was asleep until the news dinged on my phone (I get alerts from Apple News aggregator). I went back to sleep as visions of old No Reservations and Parts Unknown episodes played in my head.

As it got closer to service, at first I didn’t want to go. I just wanted to stay in bed and mourn. But then I realized that there was no better homage to Chef than getting my ass into the kitchen, mourning with everyone else. The weird thing is that everything was normal. I’m not sure my coworkers had ever seen him, and I couldn’t have explained the concept of my grief in Spanish if I tried. “Triste y llorando” (sad and crying) were the actions, but not the reasons. They didn’t know how hard he fought for them. I am not sure whether my coworkers are illegal immigrants or not, and don’t care. What I do care is that whether their immigration is legal or not, Tony fought for them. In Kitchen Confidential, he said that there was nothing better than a Salvadoran line cook. He believed that illegal or not, immigration was key to the melting pot of culture, even if they were on the line at Les Halles, exclusively French food, because it wasn’t always about the line- it was about eating where they eat or having them cook authentic dishes from their homes.

All locations of Les Halles are closed now, but in New York, the building is still there. People are crowding the doors with flowers and memorials. The DC location of Les Halles closed in 2008, so I never made it. But Tony wouldn’t have been there, anyway. If he had, he would have introduced me to the real chefs- the Central and South American sous chefs (assistants to the executive chef) who really run the place. I know this because he did this on an episode of No Reservations, where he exposed the real manpower of the restaurant in New York.

Everyone knew something was up with me, because I was not the usual “Bob Esponja” I normally am. Thankfully, someone else closed for me, and I was home by 11:30. That gave me plenty of time to sleep off depression and anxiety, for which I feel no urge to kill myself in turn, it’s just that grief is its own situational depression, especially if it dogs you in other areas of your life and you just happen to hear something terrible.

I have an old, old picture of Argo and I couldn’t help but stare at it last night. The reason I did this is that she did something for me that is different than the traditional wisdom of “reach out,” although she did plenty of that, too. She reminded me that I had power in the situation, and I wasn’t using it. It’s so important for friends to remind you that you are loved, but what worked for me is reminding me that I was not powerless. I had agency. I had the ability to help myself. It was a strident, pull yourself up from your bootstraps, no crying in baseball kind of love. I can’t help but think it might have worked on Tony as well, because if there’s anything that Tony appreciated, it was no bullshit conversations.

Because often what happens is that when you are really down in the shit, you forget that you have the ability to dig yourself out of a hole, and someone reminded me that I was more powerful than my illness. That my illness was not my personality, and my personality was not my illness.

I have a feeling that the only reason it worked is that we were low-key fighting at the time, and the cortisol from it gave me an “I’ll show her” attitude. Cortisol gave me the short-lived strength I needed to get myself to a hospital, where I collapsed once I realized someone else was in charge now, and I could stop being strong. So, even if those words were designed to say “I’m tired of your crap,” that’s not what came across. What came across is “this is the only way I know how to help you, which is hopefully kick your ass into next week so you provide yourself with options instead of relying on others to do it for you.” I remember that the nurses were going to take my phone in two minutes, and in those two minutes, I took the time to send Argo a voicemail by attaching it to an e-mail, thanking her and telling her that I’d indeed checked myself into a hospital. I was so scared, and the voice mail reflected that. Because it’s stored on my Google Drive, I’ve listened to it since, my voice rushed and a different pitch because of fear that I wouldn’t get the voice mail done in time and even though I wanted help, asking for it was tantamount to a black mark on my employment history, especially in DC, where in terms of working with databases, you generally need Secret and Top Secret clearances- not because the work itself is hard, but because of the information you could possibly run across. I will not say hospitalization was a bad move, or short-sighted, just that it is unlikely that I’ll be able to get said clearance. My only move, should I get a job like that, is to disclose everything up front so that the government doesn’t find it on its own.

So, in short, I understand Tony’s demons. I understand what it’s like to go to that place, to feel like earth would be better off without you so that you are not a burden on your family and loved ones as they watch the roller coaster of your emotions, completely helpless in the process.

The thing about depression is that talk rarely works. Checking in on your friends is key, but unless you’re the type friend that is glued to them at the hip and you’ve been through a depressive scare with them before, they don’t want to be seen. I could be honest with Argo because she’d already seen how bad it gets. To everyone else, I was “fine.” If you’re not in the inner circle, it’s hard to fight your way in. It also helped that she was not in my inner circle physically, because the wall of anonymity across the miles allowed me to write the truth into the night, open and vulnerable in a way that I couldn’t be daily. Without ever seeing me in three dimensions, it allowed for the stranger on a train feeling that allowed me to communicate just as I was. Angry at the world, confused, needing her love, counsel, protection, and all the things mothers do. I am not extrapolating this into Argo acting as my mother in this situation, only that mothers love differently than everyone else. They have experience at carrying a cub through the mountains in their mouths, and no problem with tough love as it’s required.

If you are in the inner circle of someone who struggles with depression, don’t ask how you can help. It is too much energy for the person to try and figure it out on their own. Show up with trash bags and an offer to do the laundry. Get them out of their hole, because the likelihood is that they’ve stopped taking care of themselves when nothing matters, anyway.

If you are not in the inner circle, they won’t let you see that gigantic mess, anyway. Don’t say, “I’m here if you need me.” We don’t have the energy to return a phone call, and we don’t want to talk about it. As much as we’ll hate you for it, knock on the door or text and say, “I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care what your house looks like, I’m coming over in ten minutes. We’ll figure it out.” Don’t worry. We’ll be home. Some of us can make it to work, some of us can’t, but when all social commitments fall by the wayside, it isn’t that we don’t care. We don’t have enough energy to leave the house. Or interact, in any way, at all. Even if the text goes unanswered, there’s your indication that it’s even more important to ring the doorbell, and hope that they live with someone else who’s willing to come downstairs and open the door.

But this entry is not about turning Tony’s tragedy into my own story, it is about empathy and sympathy. I feel like I understand more than someone who’s never felt what depression and anxiety can do. It always knows the very best lies to use against you, like the planet still spinning for your family if you’re gone. It is truly my mother’s death that convinced me suicide was never, would never be the answer, because I got to see the planet turn upside down, never the same, as it never will be again for Eric Ripert.

If there’s anyone I feel truly sorry for in this garbage dump of a situation, it’s Tony’s best friend, Eric Ripert, who had the awful job of finding him hanging from the belt of a bathrobe. When people say their hearts go out to his loved ones, I wish they would say his name specifically.

We often try to make sense of the senseless. Maybe his addiction came back. Maybe he never pictured himself as an old person. Maybe he wanted to go out on top, rather than withering away. Maybe he’d just received some incredibly bad health news. But that’s just spitballing and the truth died with him. As far as the news has reported, there was no note, unusual for a suicide…. but my hope is that there is some explanation, some note, and the reason it hasn’t been reported is out of privacy, the press is allowing Eric, his girlfriend, and his daughter to read it first.

As a member of the service industry, even though my restaurant wasn’t ensconced in grief, save the pallor I put on the place, I imagine that there were thousands of others bogged down, serving covers as fast as they could not because they felt truly capable in their grief, but because it’s what Tony would have wanted.

As my friend Drew so eloquently put it:

Great service chef. You clocked out, now get your shift drink and head on home. We got you covered.

Where heaven is Parts Unknown, and you need No Reservations.

Let’s Get Some Shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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