Earning a W

My Facebook Status tonight:

Let me tell you about the best part of my day. One of the waitstaff came into the kitchen to tell me that one of the customers said the food was incredible. It’s the first time someone has said that and I could prove it was all me, because I was working solo. 🙂

I was only supposed to work until 2200, but life had other plans. I ended up closing the place down, and I have to be at work again at 1000. I actually had a shift beer tonight, my way of quietly celebrating putting one in the W column. The W column is why I love my job so damn much. As I was telling a friend, being in the kitchen is where I feel the most alive. You can’t imagine how high I get on adrenaline (and, let’s not get stupid… caffeine).

It was especially humbling to get a compliment like that on a night where I really didn’t feel like working at all, much less staying two extra hours. Loving my job and needing time to rest are two separate things. I’m hoping to get that Sabbath on Monday, because I’ve made plans with Dan, Autumn, and Jaime. The only reason that I say “I’m hoping” is that when you take a job as a cook, you also take responsibility for being on a team, and when they’re a man down and they need you, it’s difficult to say, “I’m so sorry, but…” In fact, I know I haven’t ever said no at this job and I don’t think I’ve said no at any others, either. I just can’t remember back that far. Having Dana, my ex-wife, on my professional team made it where if I was sick and she wasn’t working, she’d handle it, and vice versa. She’s technically a better cook than me, so the restaurant got the better end of that deal, anyway. I mean technically literally- she’s Cordon Bleu certified, and I am, in a word, not. Our joke at the time was that she paid $20,000 for her education, and then gave it to me for free. The longer I live, the more I realize that this was not a joke at all. It’s God’s honest truth.

Where I shine, and don’t get to often, is palate. I’m not the chef, so I have no menu control. What I’m good at is looking around the pantry and the spice cabinet and making shit up.

Because I’m a writer, “making shit up” encompasses a lot of my life. Not that anything on this blog is fictional, except where explicitly stated. When I’m not writing on this blog, I have a wildly active imagination, which mostly inserts itself when I think I’ve done something stupid and I go off on these downward shame spirals that legitimately have nothing to do with reality. But when I’m really in the zone, I sometimes have a knack for character study. World building and plot escape me, which is why most of the fiction I’ve written is only a few pages. That’s about as much fiction as I can write before the writing gods say, impatiently, “don’t quit your day job.”

Or night job, as the case may be.

One of the things keeping me as sane as I get is one of our dishwashers. There’s a cook that only listens to Tejano music… and while I do like it, after six or eight hours, it becomes a bit grating. I prefer to skip around on genres. I thought I was being a racist for thinking it was getting on my nerves when said cook left and the dishwasher says to me that he HATES Tejano and all of the sudden, Til I Collapse by Eminem starts BLASTING on the stereo as we begin the cleanup process. The dishwasher makes me laugh, because he understands English less well than I understand Spanish, but he knows every word to both Til I Collapse and Careless Whisper by Wham!

Why I think this is hilarious is a mystery to me. I can sing in just about any language put in front of me, because I learn it phonetically. I’ve done everything from the Romance languages to German to Bulgarian folk singing to Hebrew to Suomi (Finnish). But when said coworker and I have spent days communicating through broken English, broken Spanish, and hand signals, tears of laughter come to my eyes, anyway.

What I have learned over time is that one-on-one, my Spanish is improving dramatically. The other person knows I need them to speak slowly and clearly. Listening to two people talking in Spanish to each other, I get lost quickly, because they tend to speak faster than my brain can process.

And on that note, I think this entry should come to a close, because my brain can’t process English anymore, either.

Maybe some Eminem or George Michael would help.

Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later…..

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

Apt.