The Hours

I’ve gotten a lot more hours at work, about which I am incredibly happy. More money never hurt anybody. But at the same time, my life is exhausting. Not to the point of wanting more time off, it’s just a cook’s life that when you get home, everything hurts. I know I’ve said this many times before, but I’m really feeling it today. This is because not only do I ache in my bones and muscles, my arms are still recovering from being burnt to a crisp. Thanks to Dan & Autumn, this will stop somewhat, but it doesn’t help the burns that are already there. Once they start scabbing over, they hurt even more than when they’re fresh, especially the ones that start out as bubbles full of serum. I’m beginning to think I need to buy stock in the company that makes Neosporin.™ The kicker is that all of them are my fault, generally from moving too fast.

I know I have also said this before, but it bears repeating. Working in a pub is different than working in a restaurant. In a pub, there are no waves of seating. We are sometimes hit with 25 tickets at once, and we don’t want to make some people wait 15-30 minutes for their food. As a result, the kitchen is utter chaos, grabbing things from the fryer before they’re cool, etc. It’s the baskets that get me the most. When I’m taking things out of them, invariably my arm will touch the edge, resulting in burns that actually look like thin cuts. The rest of the time, I have no idea. Burns just happen, and I don’t notice them until long after the fact. I suppose that the silver lining is that I don’t have to deal with cuts as well. My knife skills are solid. I haven’t even gotten first blood on either of my chef’s knives, which in kitchen folklore means we are bonded to each other, and I’m not stupid enough to make it happen on purpose. Fingers, even when cut lightly, bleed all over the place.

The other thing about being a cook is that you’re so tired, you tend to sleep right up until the next shift begins, because your muscles need more time to recover after a job that’s so physically demanding. This turns out to be gross negligence in terms of taking care of yourself. I mean, why take a shower every day when you’re just going to get horrifically dirty again an hour afterward? Just please be reassured that in the kitchen, I scrub in like a surgeon multiple times a shift and wear gloves constantly. The only time I really get “all dolled up” is when it’s my day off and I have plans with friends. Yes, it’s disgusting. It’s also real talk. You also have little time for laundry, so I do several weeks’ worth of clean underwear and don’t care if there are stains on my shirts and pants. I’m just going to get more of them… to the point that when I had a tech interview, I had to buy a new pair of pants for the occasion, because every pair of pants I currently owned had food stains that wouldn’t come out in the wash, even the black ones, where the stains aren’t as noticeable. I do wash my clothes, just not as often as they need it…. and as high as my wage is, it’s still not high enough to afford a maid so that all the crap I have to take care of is done once I get home. I also don’t have a partner to share the load, as it were, so everything falls to me. But don’t think I’m not grateful for being single.

I am incredibly introverted, and being single affords me only as much human contact as I want. Though with a partner, there is no need to be “on,” there is still compromise and difficult discussions and a whole lot else I’m just not prepared for in the slightest… maybe not ever, but for sure not right now. I’ve been single for, oh, I don’t know exactly how long, but sufficed it to say it has been multiple years, and I’m okay with that. Sometimes I daydream about the kind of partner I want, and joke that the perfect girlfriend for me would be that since I live in Maryland, she should live in Virginia. That way, in order to get together, we really have to want it. Really.

Another bonus is that because I’m not busy with a girlfriend, I have so much more time for my friends. They’re people I love like sisters and brothers, so it’s important to me to stay in touch and available for whatever they need. That being said, we’re all so busy that life seems to be a series of text messages and DMs on social media. I am positive that this is normal for adults our age, especially for people with children. Alternatively, I am not the type that likes to go out in a major way. I don’t need clubbing excitement. I am happiest sitting on the couch and chatting or watching a movie. I think this is also normal for people my age. We’ve already done all the stupid shit we’re going to do, and have little patience for it. I feel like I’ve done all the stupid shit I want to do, or have done by accident.

If I get invited to do something I would consider “wild,” I just give them a dumb look and say, “I’m 40.” The wildest thing I like to do these days is occasionally have a shift beer after work. The rest of the time, the pub has this Mexican cola that is so good it’s on my chef’s game “Last Meal.” I would much rather have it than anything else.

One of my favorite restaurants, Cava, has started carrying a sugar free version of the same brand, and I am not ashamed to say that I generally drink four in a row, especially since they have the good ice. Diet soda is my last vice. Just give me this one. Nothing helps beat the heat of the kitchen than a soda with ice. The pub doesn’t carry sugar free soda, so I generally drink seltzer water the entire time. You’d think I’d be stuck in the bathroom every thirty minutes, but I stand in front of a gas stove, a 500 degree oven, an open flame grill, and a 350 degree griddle and two fryers. My body is constantly using that moisture. Every once in a while, it is a blessing to be sent to retrieve things from the walk-in refrigerator. It only takes about 20 seconds to cool down, because it’s cold enough to keep ice frozen for hours before it even thinks about melting.

But the very heart of my work is that I do not have any Anthony Bourdain “underbelly of the kitchen world” stories. We are clean and efficient, we all get along well, and for the first time in any restaurant I’ve ever worked, there is no “war” between the waitstaff and the kitchen. If front of house drops something, it’s a quick re-fire with no judgment. In a fast-paced kitchen, everyone messes up at one time or another. “Stuff” happens. We just roll with it. Plus, the waitstaff doesn’t get angry at us if ticket times are slower than normal, because all their customers are drinking and have no concept of time, anyway. We just try as hard as we can not to test it too much.

The only thing that really trips us up is an order with a whole bunch of modifications or substitutions, and that’s in all restaurants. It interrupts the dance we’ve created not to ever be in each other’s way. Not that we won’t do it, of course, but from our perspective unless you have a genuine food allergy, we’ve created the recipes so that everything complements each other. Change that and you change the way the food is supposed to taste. Maybe you don’t, say, like pickled onions, but you’ve never tried it mixed with our perfect aioli. Give it a chance- be surprised. Branch out. You might discover you like something you thought you didn’t before. Additionally, don’t add salt and pepper before you’ve tasted what we’ve created. If you think it needs something afterward, don’t be shy. Make it to your own taste. But at the same time, trust us first. You don’t do this for a living. We do.

My whole life revolves around cooking, and doing it well. Especially since I’ve gotten more hours at work.

When I Work

I have an app for my phone that keeps track of my schedule called “When I Work.” I also have a Google Calendar feed from the pub that syncs with my personal calendar so I can see work and social commitments all in one place. You know why this is so helpful? I rarely know what day it is. Since my weekends are no longer on Saturday and Sunday, life is simply a blur from one shift to another. I have reminders set to go off two and three hours before my shift, and when they go off, I get dressed. In effect, it doesn’t matter what day it is. When my computer and phone say “go,” I do.

0d6fba54c423e722f9f3f9ec2fe3b365I’ve tried to keep my schedule as normal as possible by coming home and going to bed at a reasonable hour, but I do not set an alarm. I need 10-12 hours of sleep to restore lactic acid, and if I’m in bed by midnight or 1:00, I have plenty of time. This morning, I woke up at 10:00 AM and stumbled downstairs to make the coffee. My roommate was jumping up and down because she’d just gotten a full-time job, and I really wanted to join in, but my energy level was at ZERO. I remember fondly the days I used to be a morning person. It’s just not possible anymore. By the time I wake up, my Aleve™ and Tylenol Arthritis XR™ have both worn off. By the time I start the coffee, I’ve taken more, but they haven’t kicked in yet. So, when I say that I am stumbling down the stairs, I mean it. The bones in my feet seem not to be strong enough to hold me up. I toddle down one step at a time, as if I have regressed to age three. So, after waking up to the feeling I’ve been hit by a truck, someone yelling “LESLIE, LESLIE, LESLIE!!!!!” is nails on a chalkboard. But at least it isn’t something for which I have to come up with an answer, just listen and say “congratulations.” It’s difficult to be so happy for someone and not be able to reciprocate in the excitement they might want.

I feel I have to catalog every moment of this adventure, because the last time I was a cook, it was hard… damn hard… but I look back on it and think of it as one of the happiest times of my life. With this repository, I hope I’m allowing time to slow down so that I can take it all in. Believe me when I say that despite the pain, it’s worth it.

The dishwasher surprised me last night when she spoke to me in Spanish and I understood every word. She told me that my eyes were beautiful. Since she has brown eyes as well, I said, “our eyes are both beautiful- they are the same.” She said that no, they aren’t, because mine have such clarity. The funniest moment was when she was rattling off what I needed to do in Spanish and I said, “lo siento, mi espanol es muy, muy mal. Habla despacio, por favor” (I’m sorry, my Spanish is very, very bad. Speak slower, please). She said, “that’s ok. So is my English.” I laughed until I cried.

The thing is, though, I am exhausted and sore right up until I get to work, and then muscle memory takes over and energy courses through my body. All of the sudden, I am on fire with passion and drive, when minutes ago I was walking around like I’d just been hit by a truck. When we’re the busiest, on Fridays and Saturdays, I sometimes feel as if I’ve volunteered to be in a car accident by the time I get home.

I’ve also figured out why I am usually in the dish pit rather than the line. It has nothing to do with ability. It’s that there are only three people in the kitchen besides me that understand English, and when none of those people are scheduled with me, it makes more sense to get me out of their way. Not everything can be done with facial expressions. But that’s only part of it. The second is that to my surprise, I’m faster in the dish pit than I’ve ever been, which makes the cooks grateful because we can all get out of there earlier. It has never been my life’s dream to be a dishwasher, but the fact that I can flat do it makes me incredibly happy.  Internal satisfaction is so incredibly high, especially since I have received “honorary Mexican” status. It’s like a video game level being unlocked because I’ve gained so many experience points. 🙂

I also think that the other cooks think I don’t like their food, because I won’t eat at work. We are generally fed “family meal” at the beginning of a shift, but what I have learned early and often is that I’m slower when I feel too full, and just need to hydrate. Every day, I say, “no tengo hambre, tengo sed” (I’m not hungry, I’m thirsty). I wait until after I’m done to eat, and try to eat lunch early enough that I don’t feel too fat and happy once I get there. The other cooks do not understand this, and are constantly offering me rich, rich food. Nothing in a restaurant is healthy unless you go to a vegan joint. Just trust me on this one. Lots of oil, butter, heavy cream, etc. I mean, that’s what makes it delicious, and also what makes me feel like there’s a rock in my stomach.

What I will take, though, is when someone makes limonada in the blender. A little sugar and shaved ice goes a long way. It makes me feel almost human again, often why I have a Coke™ or Sprite™ at the end of my shift rather than a “homemade” beer.

Speaking of homemade beer, the woman that started the brewery, Julie Verratti, is running for Lt. Gov. of MD. The LGBT PAC had a meeting at the pub, and I was cut early enough to make it. Remember in The West Wing when Josh and Sam realize Bartlett is “the guy?” Well, Julie is that person for me. At the end of the meeting, I went up to her and said, “it is such an honor to work for you.” She shook my hand and didn’t fail to notice the tears in my eyes. I’m hoping that at some point, I can either work or volunteer on her campaign…. but that would involve asking her if I could, and I’m not that brave yet.

Mostly because I have no idea what day it is when I work.

 

Craft

Last night’s dinner with Pri-Diddy was relaxing and just what I needed. Oh, how we laughed. It was good to get back into the normal swing of things. For instance, I found a really cheap parking garage next to the Metro that’s WAY less expensive than Lyft, and because we were meeting at 5:30, I can’t think of a less desirable place to be than searching for a parking place in Dupont Circle during rush traffic/Happy Hour. It was nice to have someone to “drive” me into the city, and I played games on my phone until I got there. Just for kicks, I looked up the route from Silver Spring to Dupont by car, and in addition to time to find parking, the route at that hour said anywhere from 28 to 58 minutes. This is partly because of traffic, and partly because the speed limit on 16th Ave. is mostly 25.

Going anywhere inside the Beltway during rush hour is a nightmare, because there are no freeway exits where I’m located that would drop me off where I need to be…. and yes, for those who don’t live here, I am talking about THAT 16th Ave… the one that when you arrive at Pennsylvania, you see a large, white house with many dubious occupants.

I don’t want to publish my exact address, but what I will tell you is that I’m a few blocks inside the Beltway between University and Colesville. Getting across the river into Arlington/Alexandria or toward Baltimore is easy.

Driving into the city would take away my sanity without my incredible lists of podcasts and the Bluetooth connected to my phone, so that I can talk to my family unimpeded. I don’t tend to listen to music because I’d rather have my brain engaged. It keeps me from road rage (not that I ever really had it to begin with), because there are often moments in which I like traffic because I want to finish a story. I have lots and lots of driveway moments.

And though I don’t drive it that often, I like being stuck in traffic on 395 between the Pentagon and the city, because it is breathtaking. You see every monument on the way in, and traffic is just an excuse to gawk at that beauty. I also enjoy the Baltimore/Washington and George Washington Parkways, because they are both beautiful- green space everywhere and, on GW, the thrill of passing Langley.

Now, I don’t know the difference between the George H.W. Bush campus and the one in McClean (or perhaps they’re the same thing and the road I’m looking at takes you to McClean, but I do know that on one of my favorite TV shows, Covert Affairs (on Amazon Prime now), Annie Walker works at GHWB, and she drives this little red Volkswagen that reminds me of my own little “spy car,” Eggsy (named after the main character in Kingsmen: The Secret Service… also because she looks like an egg). I think I’ve said this before, but every time I pass the entrance to Langley, I hear Austin Powers’ voice saying, your spy car’s a Yaris?

I don’t have any desire to work there. First of all, they’d never hire me, anyway. There are two main reasons I wouldn’t be able to get in, neither of them bad for a civillian, but not up to snuff when you’re talking about working for the government. I’d tell you what they were, because they’re not secrets of which I’m ashamed, just better saved for an in-person conversation rather than blasting it all over the world.

However, if there’s one thing I know I’d be good at (with the exception of only being able to speak English [and REALLY bad Spanish]), it’s interrogation. For all of my life, I’ve been one of those people you can sit down for a conversation and let the other person get up later not having realized the sheer amount of information I’ve been able to gather.

I know the questions that get people talking, because what do people like to talk about more than anything else?

Themselves.

I can’t see myself in a room with HVTs (High Value Targets) and having to do shit to them to make them talk. I am better at a party or a dinner in which I disappear with one person at a time, creating intimacy that makes people spill. It’s a game I don’t even know I’m running, because I am genuinely curious about people and want to know them, know their stories, their backgrounds, what makes them tick… but you don’t get that information without being willing to be vulnerable about yourself, either.

With my friends, I will spill as much information as they do. We are on equal ground. If I was actually in a position with the FBI or CIA, I’d be poring over alibis to be able to be vulnerable as someone else… spilling their details rather than my own.

But it is a fantasy, because I know where I really belong… outside of all the danger, outside of all the intrigue, outside the Beltway, period… unless my government job was the same thing I’d be doing for a private IT company.

I’m just a geek and a writer. I can live out my fantasies through fiction while my day job is tame and relatively uninteresting.

I’d rather fly under the radar than be a part of it. My great uncle worked for the C and DIA before I was born (or shortly afterward). I would have loved to hear his stories, but he was high enough up that he couldn’t have told me anything, anyway. Now that he’s been dead for 40 years, I might be able to get a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) casefile on him, hoping that his ops are declassified now. It would be great to have snippets for my fiction that echo my real family. But what I think I would get is a few sentences and a lot of black sharpie.

But there is a cost… and that is possibly finding out more shit than I would ever want to know. Would it make me a stronger writer, or wrap me uplike a burrito in fear?

Supposedly, he died in a coup in Africa… but the jury is still out on whether that’s what actually happened, or whether he disappeared off the grid like a Man in Black… putting on the last suit he’d ever wear. In my mind, he could have been Agent F…. he didn’t die, he just went home.

By now, there is probably a star on a wall for him somewhere… another thing that goes through my mind as I’m driving toward Alexandria, because GW Parkway is the shortest path.

Escaping into this fantasy world is one of the things that lifts me out of my grief, and I’ll take anything that will do it. Yes, it’s dark, but at the same time, all-encompassing, like a novel taking place in real time… If I could get away with it, though, I’d want to write a biography, because I am much better at writing in first person than trying to create a fictional world. I’ve proven that to myself over and over. I don’t want to give up on trying to learn to write fiction, but I’m not there yet.

Part of the reason I’ve started so many novels without fleshing them out is that I get stuck quickly with plot holes and transitions. This will change over time as I get more and more experience at it, but right now I am not confident enough in my abilities.

The parts that stick with me are the character analyses, because I can imagine a person, but not the environment where they live. I am trying to read more fiction these days, but the reason I haven’t in the past is that I tend to pick up other writers’ voices quickly, and the fiction I write down sounds like the last writer I just read instead of me.

When I first started with Clever Title Goes Here, my ideas were all my own, but the style echoed Ernie Hsuing, Heather Armstrong, Mrs. Kennedy, and all the other popular blogs I devoured on a daily basis. Clever Title doesn’t exist anymore- it’s a link to the Wayback Machine, where you can look at my old entries as archives. I owned the domain from 2003-2015, and the entries are still there, but the comments aren’t always because the links to them are broken. The only one I lost that really meant a lot to me was from Wil Wheaton. I was talking about a singing audition and feeling amazing about it afterward, saying that it felt like flying. He replied that it was the same for him after an acting audition.

I didn’t have a very thick skin in those days, and after a few comments from my friends, torched the entire thing… an impetuous, grave mistake because there were so few daily bloggers that I became very popular, very quickly… as evidenced by Wil Wheaton knowing my work.

I met Wil at Powell’s Books when he came to read snippets from Just a Geek. I introduced myself as Leslie from Clever Title Goes Here, and he smiled, then wrote in my copy, “To Leslie… Clever Inscription Goes Here. Love, Wil.” I can’t think about what might have happened if I’d kept my blog going from 2003 until now, because getting into the blogging crowd before everyone was doing it was paramount to real success.

In writing fiction, I don’t want to fill someone else’s shoes. I brought my own.

So,for now, the idea of “bringing my own shoes” exists in this space alone. In most cases, I’m doing okay work, with a few outstanding entries. That is mostly because I don’t work on them as craft. It’s a brain dump, unedited, all stream-of-consciousness all the time. Even my article on marriage took about 15 minutes to write, and it is the one thing I’ve done that’s consistently been shared all over the world, because I wrote about something so universal that anyone whose ever been married and read it have had the same comments, boiled down to #me #same.

Sometimes I imagine what I’d be able to do if I really put some thought into all this, but then I think, “nah.” My blog works for me because of everything it isn’t. It’s not for anyone else but me, being able to look back over my past and see with glaring clarity all the flaws and failures I need to fix, as well as the great moments along the way. If I took the time to worry about craft, I’d get stuck in Virgo perfectionism, and I’d never publish anything… Editing gnaws away at my courage until I think “it’s not good enough,” and the thousand or so words that I’ve written get erased with one CTL-A and one backspace.

I just try to tell my truth, which isn’t anyone else’s… something that’s gotten me a lot of kudos and a lot of anger all at the same time, as if I have a problem with someone calling me out on my own bullshit.

I don’t.

People are free to disagree with me all the time, and I appreciate comment threads that do so. This is because I appreciate people who are willing to see all the things I don’t…. the part of the story I don’t know, because it’s not mine… it’s theirs. It’s not my job to tell their stories, and it’s not their job to tell mine. I am responsible for my words, but not their responses… but I do take them in as valid, because all emotions are. It’s a clinical separation, a step back to hear people without internalizing it into the fear of never saying anything ever again… the reason I torched Clever Title to begin with.

What I didn’t know then that I do now is that writing on the Internet is like getting a tattoo on the face. I didn’t know that even if I torched everything on my own server, a cached version like The Wayback Machine even existed. There’s nothing I will ever be able to do that erases past mistakes. The only topic I am not willing to publish is how I’m doing at work. The term “Dooced” is so popular that it was even a question on Jeopardy! For those of you who’ve been reading Heather Armstrong since the beginning, who didn’t love her take on the Asian Database Administrator, et al?

I have to believe, though, that getting fired is what launched her into this higher plane, that the worst thing became the best over time. That being said, I’m brave, but not THAT brave… and I believe that Heather intended to teach all bloggers from her mistakes, and I’ve taken them to heart.

Although this entry from The Bloggess about work is my absolute favorite of all time, bar none. It was written in 2008, and still makes me fall out laughing, because had I been sitting next to her, I wouldn’t have been able to hold it together, either… like looking through the Methodist hymnal as a kid during the service and finding out that one of the composers/lyricists was named P.P. Bliss.

Now, had I been on the committee who put the hymnal together, I would have suggested we just go with Phillip, because I’m betting I’m not the only kid who’s ever had tears running down her face trying not to cackle in church… and then, knowing it was inappropriate to laugh while I was supposed to be paying attention, almost asphyxiating because I couldn’t pull myself back together.

It was absolutely as funny as some of the things Pri-Diddy and I joked about last night… but those are unprintable. 😛