Master(s) of Disguise

I am already dressed for the speaking engagement I am attending tonight. Jonna Mendez is going to present her newest (and Tony Mendez’ last) book, 51bYPeOnLvLThe Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War. The reason I am already dressed and ready to leave is that I am inexplicably anxious.

Well, maybe not inexplicably. First of all, Jonna is credited as an author on this book, but she also assisted Tony & Matt (Baglio) on Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History.

For those who are scratching their heads at why Jonna and Tony have the same last name, it’s because they were married for 28 years. Tony’s death this past January hit me extremely hard. Part of my anxiety is knowing in advance that I could be emotional, and because I’m going to be in front of his wife, I feel that they’re not really my emotions to have. I mean, I never met him (I wanted to, and I know for sure that if he was still alive and his Parkinson’s was under control, tonight would have been the night- he and Jonna were/are on the board at The International Spy Museum).

Even though he was not a personal friend and I can’t say I knew him, there are these authors that get under your skin to the point where you feel like you do. Tony is that author for me, and I am so glad that his stories did not die with him- that there are still more of his words for me to discover. After I finish The Moscow Rules, I’m going to read Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War, which, according to Jonna’s web site, is often used as curriculum for new CIA recruits, and was the first book that the couple wrote together.

Attendees are encouraged to show up early, as Tony’s notes for this book will be on display. I will get to see his handwriting, his process, and hopefully some of his humor… which was always on display in real life. For instance, when Ben Affleck was cast as him in the movie adaptation of Argo, Tony said that he himself was much better looking.

It is in this portion of the evening, wandering around the glass cases, that I hope my emotions bubble up, because it will be more private. I’m not overly fond of emoting in front of a bunch of people, anyway. That being said, you cannot control feelings, and the more you try, the more they fight you to get out.

I am sure that I have mentioned this before, but one of the reasons that Tony’s books have become so precious is that my great uncle, Foster Fort, was in the military and later worked for both the C and DIA in different capacities.

He was killed in a helicopter crash when I was very, very young. I wasn’t old enough to have a real conversation with him after he retired, because he never got old enough to do so, and he couldn’t have told me anything while he was still working. In a way, he’s become a legend in our family, because when you work for either clandestine service, your family only gets to guess what you’re doing, and are often very, very wrong.

I mean, maybe he was just a helicopter pilot. I think that if you get tapped by the C and DIA, though, there’s probably more to it than that. When I think of Foster, I imagine him “putting on the last suit he’ll ever wear,” and I laugh to myself. I laugh even harder when I picture Agent O doing his funeral. But on a more serious note, it is comforting to feel as if our family has a connection to one of the stars on the wall at Langley.

I have no idea what kind of stories I would have heard, but I do know that I will hear some amazing ones tonight. You don’t get to be Chief of Disguise at CIA without living through a few. There are a TON of YouTube videos (this one’s my favorite– the Homeland gag KILLS me) of her talks and they’re all so interesting you wish they’d go on for three more hours. At the end of one video, the comment that literally sent tears and snot running down my face as I shook violently with laughter was, “who else was waiting for her to take off her disguise and find out it’s really a black dude?”

One of the best things she explains is “the quick change,” which is layering disguises so that you can take off clothing, glasses, etc. in 37 seconds, changing your appearance even while walking in the middle of a crowd. They have to be so precise that they are rehearsed beforehand, because as she says, you don’t want anyone to know you’ve escaped. You want them to think that they’ve lost you and it’s all their fault.

If Jonna doesn’t talk about it, I want to ask her if she was a consultant on Atomic Blonde, because for me, it personifies the Moscow rules. Even if she wasn’t, I still want to know if she’s seen it.

One of the Moscow rules that I learned from watching other videos (I’d give you a link, but I don’t remember which one) is that there was/is a shoelace code in the CIA. It’s to be able to pass messages to other agents without being noticeable. After I saw the video, I retied my Adidas Gazelles. I have no idea what they say, though. I hope I’m not telling other case officers that they’re being followed. Hey, in DC, you never know who’s next to you in a crowd.

Case in point: I once rode the Metro for four extra stops just because I got into a conversation with a female intelligence officer stationed in Germany during The Cold War. I don’t even remember how I got her to tell me that…. I just remember thinking in my head that she must be military or C/DIA because there aren’t that many black people in Germany.

My feet didn’t touch the ground for hours afterward, because even though I have no interest whatsoever in being a spy myself, I managed to engineer a conversation in which intimate details were spilled without her feeling as if a game was being played…. and there was. It was “how much can I get her to tell me in four extra stops?” It wasn’t like I was looking for secrets- she was retired and all her ops were UNCLASS. It felt like accidentally walking into Bletchley Circle.

Every time I think I would be a good case officer, I remember that I only speak English, I am often a little slow on the uptake, and more than likely I would trip, fall and die before I ever reached my contact…. which leads me to two scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

Elsa: It’s perfectly obvious where the pages are. He’s given them to Marcus Brody.

Professor Henry Jones: Marcus? You didn’t drag poor Marcus along did you? He’s not up to the challenge.

Walter Donovan: He sticks out like a sore thumb. We’ll find him.

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.

[Cut to middle of fair in the Middle East, Marcus Brody wearing bright suit and white hat, sticking out like sore thumb]

Marcus Brody: Uhhh, does anyone here speak English?

Then, later…………………

[Indiana and Henry are tied up]

Indiana Jones: Come on, dad. Help me get us out of here. We have to get to Marcus before the Nazis do.

Professor Henry Jones: But you said he had a two day head start. That he would blend in, disappear.

Indiana Jones: Are you kidding? I made all that up. You know Marcus. He once got lost in his own museum.

If this isn’t an accurate depiction of me as a spy, I don’t know what would be…. and I promise, it’s not that I’m short-selling myself. I just know myself too well. One of the overhead pieces of audio at The International Spy Museum talks about people “living by their wits,” and I thought to myself that if it were my wits, we were all gonna die….. accidentally, of course, but it’s not the sort of situation where you can say, “oops. My bad. Should I leave a note?” Being a good case officer is learning to think 50 moves ahead- knowing how to checkmate the king before you’ve even opened…. like Jonna and Tony.

I am honored to be an audience member for Jonna’s current book tour, and am looking forward to more. There are a few other cities in which she’s speaking, so if you’re close to any of them, I highly suggest you go.

I am so honored, in fact, that I have changed outfits four times…. just not in 37 seconds.

Klosterman Conundrums

There are 23 interview questions in Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” I decided to answer a few, and will possibly answer more later. These are the ones that jumped out at me.



Let us assume a fully grown, completely healthy Clydesdale horse has his hooves shackled to the ground while he head is held in place with thick rope. He is conscious and standing upright, but he is completely immobile. And let us assume that for some reason every political prisoner on earth (as cited by Amnesty International) will be released from captivity if you can kick this horse to death in less than twenty minutes. You are allowed to wear steel-toed boots. Would you attempt to do this?


This is not a hard one for me. I would never put an animal’s value over a human’s, no matter how much I hated people at the time. Plus, the horse is already being tortured, so who’s to say death wouldn’t be welcome? As Dr. Hunt so eloquently said in “Grey’s Anatomy,” victory is the option where the least people get killed. And of course I would feel bad that I killed an animal, but not that bad. Plus, you’d really have to see my physical stature to know how little danger the horse would be in at my hand. I’m 124 on a good day. Even with steel toed boots, I couldn’t kill that horse for love or money.

At long last, somebody invents the dream VCR. This machine allows you to tape an entire evenings worth of your own dreams, which you can then watch at your leisure. However, the inventor of the dream VCR will only allow you to use this device if you agree to a strange caveat: When you watch your dreams, you must do so with your family and your closest friends in the same room. They get to watch your dreams along with you. And if you don’t agree to this, you cant use the dream VCR. Would you still do this?

My dreams actually get quite frightening, and I care enough about my family and friends to know that the movies that run through my mind would haunt them. I’d like to see the tape, but I remember enough already to be satisfied. Dealing with the blast radius after so many emotional bombs drop would be devastating. I am sure that my answer was supposed to be funny, but I just can’t with this one. Plus, with the way I roll on the Internet, I have very little private information left. It would be worth it not to have the VCR just to have something of my own, regardless of what my friends and family think. I know if there are people’s tapes I desperately want to see, somebody would want to see mine. But I can’t live on their opinions.

You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal; You find them physically attractive, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny, and deeply compassionate. However, they are one quirk: This individual is obsessed with Jim Henson’s Gothic puppet fantasy, “The Dark Crystal.” Beyond watching it on DVD at least once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with “Dark Crystal” references, uses “Dark Crystal” analogies to explain everyday events, and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the films deeper philosophy. Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?

My initial answer was yes. So many people have quoted that movie to me that I have lost all interest in watching it, and I think I’ve seen a scene or two walking by the television, and even the visuals were frightening. I changed my mind when I realized that this person would have to put up with every fandom I follow, too. I can put up with “The Dark Crystal” if they can put up with “Doctor Who,” “Outlander,” “Homeland,” “Whiskey Cavalier,” and every intel movie that’s come out in the last 20 years…. with a large dose of “Monty Python” thrown in for good measure. I am a fountain of media quotes that come out at both appropriate and inappropriate times.

A novel titled “Interior Mirror” is released to mammoth commercial success (despite middling reviews). However, a curious social trend emerges: Though no one can prove a direct scientific link, it appears that almost 30 percent of the people who read this book immediately become homosexual. Many of the newfound homosexuals credit the book for helping them reach this conclusion about their orientation, despite the fact that “Interior Mirror” is ostensibly a crime novel with no homoerotic content (and was written by a straight man). Would this phenomenon increase (or decrease) the likelihood of you reading this book?

Since I’m already a lesbian, I don’t think it would bother me much. But if it worked in reverse, that there was a 30 percent chance it would make me straight, I’d at least have to give it some thought. I once dated a man for about six months as an adult, and the only reason I had for hating it was heterosexual privilege, which you don’t realize is there until you have it when you didn’t before, and will most likely lose it if you’re not a three on the Kinsey scale. You notice micro and macro aggression, like people who tell awful, derogatory jokes about gay people without realizing exactly who they’re talking to……………. and that’s the least offensive example.

That being said, if I met a woman I adored at first sight who happened to be straight and loved books, I might be tempted to recommend it. I would tell her about the phenomenon up front so it didn’t come across like a shady ace up my sleeve. Worth a shot, right? I’m not going to bank on those odds, though. But, of course, the likelihood is that hearing about the phenomenon would create a subconscious affect that dissipated quickly. It’d be a great relationship for about two weeks, which is probably more than an introverted writer can handle, anyway.

You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000. The second option is ten minutes on the moon. Which option do you select?

Again, introverted writer. Shortest trip possible. I don’t even like to go to the store. Very few people can live in Europe on $2,000/month, anyway. Wait, that’s not true. I’m sure I could find a poor village somewhere. But moving wouldn’t interest me. I’ll never leave DC if I can help it.

Your best friend is taking a nap on the floor of your living room. Suddenly, you are faced with a bizarre existential problem: This friend is going to die unless you kick them (as hard as you can) in the rib cage. If you dont kick them while they slumber, they will never wake up. However, you can never explain this to your friend; if you later inform them that you did this to save their life, they will also die from that. So you have to kick a sleeping friend in the ribs, and you cant tell them why. Since you cannot tell your friend the truth, what excuse will you fabricate to explain this (seemingly inexplicable) attack?

The answer would lie in which friend was on the floor, because I don’t have one person I consider my best friend, and the person I view as closest to me isn’t likely to want to nap on my floor as it would require quite a flight. I’m relatively quick on my feet, though, and the trick is not to give too many details because you won’t remember them. See every intel movie ever made in the last 20 years. 😉

For whatever the reason, two unauthorized movies are made about your life. The first is an independently released documentary, primarily comprised of interviews with people who know you and bootleg footage from your actual life. Critics are describing the documentary as brutally honest and relentlessly fair. Meanwhile, Columbia Tri-Star has produced a big-budget biopic about your life, casting major Hollywood stars as you and all your acquaintances; though the movie is based on actual events, screenwriters have taken some liberties with the facts. Critics are split on the artistic merits of this fictionalized account, but audiences love it. Which film would you be most interested in seeing?

I would much prefer the big budget movie because I would enjoy answering the questions re: real vs. reel. Let me tell you, either way it’s a juicy screenplay if I lay all my cards on the table. It would mostly be character study, because even though I have moved places a lot, I tend to do the same things in my daily life…… and I am definitely a character. I would also like to make a cameo as a wacky neighbor.

 

Dame Blanche

This story starts at a restaurant near the Sacré CÅ“ur, but it won’t end there. There’s more to tell before and after. I am choosing to begin with dessert.49759214_10156642200665272_7175104310940794880_o Literally.

For all my Outlander fans, in Paris (or maybe all of France, I don’t know) a “Dame Blanche” is a vanilla ice cream dessert with hot fudge and lots of Chantilly cream. Not only is it rich and heavy, there’s a lot of it. The portion size is enormous. There is a chocolate version called Liégeois Chocolat, which is equally delicious but not necessary to my French Outlander experience. These are both presented in the same line on the menu (no space or slash), so I think it’s all one dessert, and the waiter is confused. I keep pointing, and the look on his face as he walks away clearly says “I hope she has a hollow leg,” but that is only in retrospect.

What arrives is two overflowing parfait glasses, and I proceed to take them down like I have never eaten before and am new to the concept. I think my dad might have taken a bite or two, and that’s being generous.

To be fair, I had walked with my dad for over four miles that day, so by the time we got to dinner I was famished… even after having what seemed like an entire braised and shredded duck with mashed purple potatoes (akin to Shepard’s pie) for lunch… and that was just the main course. The entrée was a cream seafood soup and bread. Dinner was a veggie burger and fries. Given the way I usually eat, this was way past “I had too much to eat” and solidly into the perfection of gluttony.

Not being hungry has never stopped me from eating ice cream before, and I have my doubts it ever will again. French vanilla tasted roughly the same as it does in the United States, but chocolate ice cream is beyond comparison… less sweet and much darker, closer to a 60-65% cacao.

Incidentally, the rich desserts sort of made up for the lack of good coffee. Perhaps I was just ordering it wrong, but I thought it was terrible. The one thing I didn’t try that they had at the Charles de Gaulle airport Starbucks was a chocolate cereal milk latte. The rest of the time, I went to independent cafes or had instant Nescafe in my hotel room, which was arguably better than purchasing coffee elsewhere. Go to France for the food, clearly.

Earlier that day, I got my Doctor Who fix. One of the most famous episodes of the show takes place in part at the Musée d’Orsay Van Gogh exhibit, and to see it in person was astounding. musee_dorsayEvery Van Gogh you’ve seen in print is there. I saw the real Starry Night. I saw The Church at Auvers. I was mere inches away from haystacks and sunflowers. If I’d had four or five weeks in Paris, at least one would be dedicated to that room alone. I am not a visual artist by any definition. I would have just stared. I would have let his crazy mix with my crazy and see what writing came out of “us.”

Since I was short on time, I fairly quickly wandered around to the other Impressionists, spending a good five minutes looking at one light green stroke of paint on a Monet up close, then backing away until it looked like a leaf. I marveled at Gougin’s use of color and how it seemed he was the only person who painted people of color in that era. I loved his use of bright, engaging colors with cartoon-like black outlines so that everything stood out, like words with every syllable accented. Gougin’s art didn’t so much speak to me as it yelled in my direction, screamed and dared at me to look. Simplicity was complex. These were island people with spartan houses and blank expressions, so the question for me was, “are they happy?” Perhaps they didn’t so much like being painted, but it was more than that. I wondered if they felt impoverished or empowered.

The next truly overwhelming installation I saw was Monet’s Water Lilies20190106_151827, in permanent residence at the Musée de l’Orangerie. It covers several rooms and defies speech. Yet another work in which you constantly get very close, then very far away, then very close, just to see how the magic is put together. Monet was in his eighties when the collection was painted, and then stitched together to be hung. If you look very, very closely, you can see the stitches, but like everything else in an Impressionist’s work, blends “seamlessly.” When people talk about Water Lilies, they generally only mean the light blues and purples, but the actual cycle is so much more. The way they are hung now is, in essence, virtual reality. You don’t so much look at the paintings as step into them…. Claude Monet in “Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.”

I am finding that talking about Paris is more suited to several entries and not one gigantic read, so you’ll see more as the days progress. My Facebook friends have seen all my pictures because I couldn’t snap a photo without posting it five seconds later. Sorry I’ve kind of left you out in the cold, Fanagans. I was too full to move, much less write.

And not nearly caffeinated enough. What is sold in the United States as “French Roast” is just a terrible, terrible lie they tell little kids at bedtime.

Chosen Family

I am so lucky. Today I made a new friend whom I hope will one day be my old friend…. and connected with an old friend who continues to surprise me all the time with notes of support that say exactly the right thing I need to hear, immediately when I need to hear it. I can’t say publicly what I’m going through due to other people’s confidentiality, but everyone needs that friend who is angrier on your behalf than you could ever be yourself. Technically, if you have that friend, you really don’t need many others…. which is good. I don’t get out much.

Even when I think I should. Really must remedy that. Although for two reasons, I find it difficult. The first is that I am getting older, and therefore enjoy spending time with me more than I did when I was younger. The second is that few outings can hold a candle to a good book, TV show, or movie…. because I also consider other media excellent writing.

For instance, I just found a show on Netflix that needs promoting called “Sick Note.” Rupert Grint stars as Daniel Glass, a loser in a dead-end health insurance scam job when he finds out that he has cancer. He tells everyone and all of the sudden, people don’t think of him as a loser anymore. He gets special treatment all over the place- most importantly, not getting fired from his job, or getting kicked to the curb by his girlfriend, without whom he would be homeless.

After a few days, Dr. Iain Glennis (played by Nick Frost) calls Daniel and tells him he’s made a mistake- he does not have cancer- but he’s going to get fired if he makes one more mistake, and could he not tell anyone? It’s the best farcical comedy I’ve seen in a long time, because things go from bad to worse very quickly while keeping such a large secret.

Another comedy on Netflix that I think has superior writing is “The Kominsky Method,” a buddy comedy with Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. I originally clicked on it because my favorite movie is “Argo,” so I will watch ANYTHING with Alan Arkin. It turned out to be the best thing I’ve watched in months. I finished it in one day, if that’s any indication (my days off are packed, clearly).

Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) is a respected acting teacher, and Norman (Arkin) is his agent. Norman’s wife is critically ill, which adds gravitas to the uproarious humor, mostly consisting of two old guys busting each other’s balls. The comedy and drama both turn on a dime, which is why I think the writing is so significant.

The book I’m reading right now is called “Less,” by Andrew Sean Greer. I started reading it because the main character is a novelist. I was sold just based on that one fact.

However, I did not know until I started it that it was about an aging gay author, and his need to escape watching someone else get married, so he arranges his own book tour. It’s all done with quite a bit of humor, because he’s not exactly well known…. most of the response when he shows up is, “who the hell is Arthur Less?” You would think that the comedy comes from a writer’s God complex, expecting that he would be recognized. It doesn’t. It comes from Less knowing exactly who he is in the world and the way he deals with it….

There is so much of me that wants to write “same” on EVERY SINGLE PAGE. Even if you don’t normally read queer fiction, if you’re a writer, you’ll identify just as much as I did. Pick it up anyway. Apparently, the Pulitzer committee thought it was pretty good, too. It won.

It tapped into a lot of my own emotions, because my recognition has come in both good and bad ways. Good is people telling me they read my blog and love it. Bad is conflict in which my old words are spit at me. I have occasionally had the feeling that this is unfair, because they are speaking about the me of then instead of to the me of now. But, to be fair, no one can beat me up with my own words better than I can. I am extraordinary at it.

Alternatively, I will go back and read some entries and realize how much I’ve grown and changed over the years. That part is stellar. I’m still me, just new iterations every day, which I don’t notice that often, but do when I go back even one year. God forbid I go back three or four…. sometimes it’s scary and necessary to realize how out of touch with reality I really became, and the drastic measures it took to right my worldview.

Like Arthur Less, when I realized everything I didn’t want to see, I changed my physical surroundings and, in effect, started my whole life over as the person I wanted to become, as opposed to the person I had been. At first I thought I had destination addiction, because I have moved a lot due to things I wouldn’t be able to un-see. But then I remembered that because of my mental health, I am much better with physical boundaries enforcing emotional ones. I am much better at growth and change when I am not constantly surrounded by the past. Because of everything that has happened there, I am not sure I ever realized how much I regress age-wise when I go to Houston. Visiting friends and family is great, as well as my mother’s grave site, which I find extremely peaceful whether the weather cooperates or not. Living there reduces me to the age I was when I got there, and negative triggers are all around me. If you’ve ever experienced any kind of abuse, from emotional to physical, you know what I mean. The smell of the air on any day that is the same as that one. Passing buildings that are familiar in a frightening way.

DC doesn’t offer me any of that. I have barely any history here, and the only trigger would be pulling up in front of my old house in Alexandria, which I’ve thought about doing for closure’s sake, and then decided I didn’t need it.

I did, however, walk around Dana’s old high school, and said a blessing of peace to let her go while I was on the grounds. I have never and will never go back, because I saw everything I needed to see from a diarist’s perspective. It worked- I left the place fully ready to move on with my life, and not let the past hold me back, whether it was that feeling of “we really were perfect for each other and God, I really screwed that up,” or “I have awful patterns in relationships and I never deserve another one.” I decided to devote my life to my friends, rather than trying to find “the one.” It makes sense to me.

If I can achieve healthy relationships with close friends, I will learn the basis of healthy romance. Walking with them on their journeys, whether single or partnered, has fed me in all the right ways…. mostly because I feel like I am supported by many people, instead of only looking to that one person that’s supposed to fulfill every need.

Spoiler Alert: They can’t.

So, if I’m ever going to be in a relationship again, I don’t want to be one of those people who cocoons and doesn’t call you unless we break up. I want to live in a world where when my partner isn’t there, it doesn’t feel like a part of me is missing. One of the mistakes I made with Dana is that over time, we just became danaandleslie. Especially socially, one didn’t exist without the other…. mostly because of my complete dependence on her to be the social director because over those seven years, I became a more serious writer and introvert.

Learning to be single successfully has come with being my own social director. I have found that my need to be with other people has diminished greatly, but when I feel lonely, deep emotion surfaces. The difference is that now, I’m not afraid to reach out. That feeling arrived with the true acceptance that my friends loved me, and I was not being a bother to them…. that sometimes, a text or a lunch was just what they needed, too.

It’s amazing how I feel loved and included just by text and e-mail, which is mostly how people my age communicate. We don’t always have an hour in the day for coffee or lunch. But this is where Dan comes in. She’s the friend that most often says, “let’s do lunch,” and it’s always exciting. When we’re not together in the same room, I miss being able to hug her- the only drawback of text messaging. The worst part of being single is that you just don’t get touched enough in the most simple of ways- a hug, an arm around your shoulder, grabbing someone’s hand when they’re talking about something emotional…. believe me, I could go on.

So, lunch with Dan is always a huge, huge thing….. simply because it comes with hugs.

Which reminds me of my new friend- he gives great big bear hugs and I really needed one today.

It made everything look brighter… as bright as my laptop screen with all the lights off, searching for the next great thing to watch.

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.

U Street

I never want to forget this day.

My dad read my last blog post, about how I’d wanted a signed copy of Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History from the International Spy Museum, and how disappointed I was that they were sold out, and how I’d searched the Internet for a copy and couldn’t find one, etc. Maybe everything IS bigger in Texas, because when he searched for a copy, he found one. It is on its way to my house right now. Because of the cover, I think it’s an early edition, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity. For the record, though, it was not $20, and does not come with a coffee mug. I do not need the Argo coffee mug. I know this because I saw it at the Spy Museum and it only holds eight ounces of coffee. So, while cool, utterly useless to me. The screenshot of the signed copy of the book and the words “deliver date” made me cry so hard that my dad couldn’t even understand me on the phone. Just unintelligible sobs of “it’s not even my birthday.” I was going to meet Lindsay for dinner, so I was crying as I got into my Uber and retold the story to the whole carpool, and then they were crying, too. The driver, a big teddy bear of a guy, wiped off a tear and said, “that’s just what daddies do.”

Then, we switched subjects. He said, “so, you’re going to the Metro station?” I nodded and he said, “then you’re going to my day job. I sell them the rail cars.” I got really excited telling him how much I loved the new ones with the better signage and the electronic voices that are loud and clear, rather than muffled and/or give no fucks. Then he puts his Metro access pass on the dash and drives me RIGHT UP to the entrance. I think he was showing off, and it worked. I was very impressed.

Lindsay and I grabbed some ceviche for dinner and frozen yogurt for desert. Then, we went back to her hotel and watched Shark Tank. I left around 9:30 and started walking toward the Dupont Circle Metro, realized I was going  the wrong way pretty quickly, and proceeded not to care. I just walked. It was a tiny bit rainy- Portland spitting- and perfectly comfortable outside. The street lights shone and music spilled into the streets. I stopped for a drink at a bar with an AMAZING jazz band that I wanted to hear- the trumpet player being the main draw, of course, but the entire house was packed. I couldn’t find a seat anywhere, so I just left without buying anything…. although would have taken the trumpet and run if I could’ve- it was a Monette, unlacquered, with a sound as viscous as motor oil. Even on fast licks, one note oozed into the other, a brass Southern drawl. I don’t know the name of the band, or even where the club is. I was just out walking, and happened to pass it. It’s a true testament to a local band when there are no tickets being sold, it’s just a regular Wednesday, and the house is packed. I would have waited for a table if I thought there was a chance in hell that anyone was leaving.

Eventually, I made it to the U Street/African American War Memorial/Cardozo Metro on the Yellow Line, and made my way to Ft. Totten, where I transferred to Red. The train was delayed for quite a while pulling into the station, so I sat somewhere between Takoma Park and Silver Spring playing Solitaire on my phone. By the time we actually arrived, my bus had stopped for the evening, so I Ubered back home.

I walked upstairs to the sound of a movie in Arabic, obviously coming from Abdel’s room because he’s the only one on my side of the house that speaks it (the layout is that the homeowners have one side of the house and the renters have the other, with separate kitchens, bathrooms, etc.). Though Hayat speaks Arabic as well, I don’t know if Lebanon and Morocco have the same dialect. My friend Anthony says that if I’m going to learn Arabic, learn the Lebanese dialect first, not because it’s the easiest, but the most beautiful.

I believe him. Listening to Hayat on the phone is one of my favorite pastimes. She knows I’m not eavesdropping, I’m listening to the lilt of her voice. I felt the same way about Nasim, whose Persian phone calls reminded me of Tehran. Literally every time she started speaking, Cleared Iranian Airspace would start playing in my head. It was apt, as her own escape from Tehran is much worse than being rescued by Tony Mendez.

We’ve lost touch, but that is the book I was going to write before Nasim moved to New York, and unfortunately hasn’t been back since.

Tony’s book will have to do.

Dogs

I woke up at 0500, as I am wont to do. I generally fall asleep to movies or podcasts, and last night it was Battle Royale II- Requiem. I made it through Battle Royale earlier in the day, because it just cracks me up. Yes, there is so much violence and not very much humor in the movie as a whole, but the instructional video makes me laugh until my sides hurt. I’m going to have to go back and watch the ending of II, because I should know by now that I cannot start a movie between 2030-2100. It reminds me of my dad coming home from a Covey seminar on time management, where the instructor told a funny story:

Instructor: I get my kids to wake up at 4:00 AM for a planning session every morning.
Guy in Class: How do you do that?
I: I put them in bed at 8:30 PM.
GIC: How do you manage THAT?
I: I get them up at FOUR IN THE MORNING!

I’ve puttered around the house for a little bit… went through the trash looking for recycling because my roommate is not so good about it. Made myself both a Hawaiian Punch and strong black coffee. Took all my psych meds so that I can ignore the “Meeting with Bob” reminder later (I call all my medication reminders “meeting with Bob,” and it really caught on when I was in the psych ward at Methodist. By the time I left three days later, I had my entire cohort saying “I have a meeting with Bob later.”

Yes, children. I checked myself in at Methodist thanks to an ass kicking by my precious Argo, who put everything succinctly: why do you expect everyone else to fix you? Can’t you see the common denominator is you? I didn’t realize that asking my friends to safety net me was in fact keeping me from moving under my own power, failure to take responsibility for my own actions. When you’re that far down into depression, anxiety, and PTSD, it’s hard to see. The kicker was suicidal ideation that I knew would go away with a trip to a psychiatrist who could adjust my meds, but I called and I could not get a new patient appointment for another three weeks. Anyone who’s been in that situation knows three weeks is way too long- halfway to SpongeBob Squarepants headstone (don’t think I won’t do it- not the suicide part, the hilarity of an actual SpongeBob headstone for all eternity).

Teenage trauma was compounded by my relationship with Dana ending in a fight to end all fights. Dana pushed me over and I just went off like a chihuahua with a God complex. All the fight was taken out of me when Dana punched me in the face so hard that for a moment, I thought my eye socket was broken. It wasn’t, but I had a pretty nice bruise under my eye that my glasses didn’t cover. I forgive, but I don’t forget. I concentrate on my hilarious memories with Dana now, because I cannot live my life in the smallest place possible. I take responsibility for not running away at the first sign that the fight was turning physical.

I, however, have stopped feeling that I deserved to be hit, because the fight absolutely made me come emotionally unglued. It took a while. The mobile assessment team that evaluated me at Methodist reassured me that I had a natural reaction to being pushed over, but that it was probably a bad idea to try and fight back with someone whose fist was three times bigger than mine. In the moment, my thought process was that it was a bad idea not to stand up to a bully. To Dana’s credit, she was immediately sorry and didn’t just give lip service to it. She really put herself through an enormous amount of self-help, which is why I can forgive her so easily. I wouldn’t be so laid back about it if I thought that there was a possibility it could happen again.

The one mistake I made was going home after hospitalization. I didn’t count on the emotional swings between us getting much worse. I made due by sleeping at friends’ houses and going to the house to pick up my stuff when I knew she wouldn’t be there. It wasn’t that I carried anger around. It was that I was trying to cut any and all fights off at the pass. It is a very, very difficult thing to go through that with someone you love so desperately, so my choice is not to be bitter and to remember all the things that happened between us that were overwhelmingly positive. It is enough that we are not in contact anymore, reducing the possibility of hurting each other again to zero, whether that means emotionally, physically, or both.

But that was a little over three years ago, and I cannot emphasize enough how much different my world has become. I’ve had an enormous swath of time to think things through and work on my own issues so that I’m less quick to anger, and trying to love my friends through their own problems, because so many people did it for me. I’ll never be able to pay it all forward, but it helps to try.

I am very open and honest about what it took to get past all this, but the stigma is there. People don’t always realize what it took to get you to the place of hospitalization, and only concentrate on how crazy you must be if you had to get that kind of help. It’s a black mark, whether it is deserved or not. I’d had severe psychological issues since I was a teenager, and I can’t help but think how much better my life would have gone had I been hospitalized in the moment rather than stuffing everything down into my socks. It made me feel like I was fine, thank you very much [Morgan Freeman: Leslie was, in fact, not fine].

I was able to lay everything out in front of Argo because she was a stranger on a train, not part of my physical life so she saw everything differently. She asked pointed questions that made vomiting up old trauma unavoidable, and I cracked into pieces. And then, with two sentences, I make no qualms about the fact that they probably saved my life…. yet another thing that I’ll probably never be able to repay.

I do, however, offer up prayers into the universe for her a lot. It gives me something to pray for her happiness, healthiness, and the joy of being alive with possibility. Her sunshine is bright, and it was a gift to stand in it. I simply would not be the person I am today had I not been able to see every place I went wrong in black and white.

It was an incredible motivator to keep going with psychiatry, talk therapy, and instituting behavioral patterns that keep me from going back to the dark emotional place that doesn’t allow for my own sunshine. I truly have a lot of it to give. It’s hard to notice when I’m spilling my guts on this web site, because most of my entries deal with problems I’m trying to process, but I am incredibly funny. My love is gigantic, from the personal to the international. I don’t just care about my friends and family, but the problems that arise with just being a human.

All of it shows more easily in person than it does while writing, something I am trying to change as both my marriage and the death of my mother fade further into the back of my mind. There are always going to be times when I’m incredibly sad over each, but especially my mother would be horrified to know that losing her caused me to lose my knack for both cracking jokes and laughing easily when others do it.

I am looking forward to a lot of laughter starting on Tuesday, when my little sister arrives for a work trip. What cracks me up the most about her is that when I say something sweet, her response is usually, “thanks, Boo.” It works on two levels; the first is that it is a loving term of endearment. The second is that my mood often bears a striking resemblance to Boo Radley.

Harper Lee is my spirit animal, and I will speak more as to why.

It is my unverified opinion that Scout and Boo are the same person, Harper Lee at different points in her life. Think about just how much she isolated after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, and I think you’ll see it, too…. keeping in mind that I’m wrong a lot. 😛 It seems to me, though, that there’s probably at least a grain of truth in my ramblings about somebody I don’t even know. The now unanswered question in my mind is whether Lee was reclusive before or after creating Boo…. did she base Boo on herself, or did writing about him put her into that place? Chicken, egg, etc. Either way, I’m not sure it renders my opinion invalid.

When I am able to support having a pet, I’d really like to get a dog. This seems unrelated, but it’s not. I often need forced interaction because it’s hard for me to do it on my own, and taking my dog for a walk provides just that. I know this because I used to live in an apartment complex, so letting my dog relieve herself in the backyard was not an option. Therefore, I met lots of other people who also had dogs, which not only gave me opportunities to socialize, but something about which to discuss that didn’t dig too deep. It was just fun. And, of course, if it’s a boy, his name will be Arthur. If it’s a girl, her name will be Louise.

Perhaps I should get a chihuahua with a God complex. Apparently, we’d have a lot in common.