Long Days, Short Nights

I find that the longer I work at the pub, the stronger I get. This is naturally what’s supposed to happen. You can’t carry stuff that heavy and do what’s basically a cross between Zumba and hot yoga for six to eight hours at a clip and not feel a change in your muscle mass. Although I will admit that though I’ve been tempted, there’s been at least twice where I just wanted one of the guys to take over. I couldn’t bring myself to ask.

I’m short, and I have trouble dead lifting 50-60 lbs over my head. I also have trouble admitting that men have better upper body strength and are taller, because what comes to me first is that women can do anything men can do, and I’m just admitting weakness and proving to myself that they can’t. Simultaneously, I would kill for someone to say, “that looks heavy. Let me carry it for you,” while I am thinking ” I would legit fall over and die before I admit defeat.” I feel I am forgetting something important- that it’s not my femininity that’s the problem. It’s that I personally am short and weak after long years of computer butt. To my credit, the “I would legit fall over and die before I admit defeat” part of me won, and I muscled through. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of working smarter and not harder. The walk-in refrigerator is set up the way it’s set up. There’s nothing to lever, pulley, or otherwise physics into being. It’s just mind over matter. If I think I can or I can’t, I’m generally right.

It makes me feel good to see these changes in my body after such a long dormant period. Even working in an office is physically lazy, though I mean no offense. It is mentally taxing to an enormous degree. This has changed due to Bluetooth, people bringing their laptops to you on battery power, and wi-fi, but when I was low on the food chain in IT (late 90s, early 2000s), I did get workouts from climbing under desks to fix cabling and the like. In IT now, you barely have to get up.

Even with the relaxed atmosphere physically, depression and anxiety build up for two reasons. The first is that you tend to see the same problems every day, sometimes from the same people… every day. The second is that they’re always mad about it, and no matter what they did, it’s all your fault. I had one person get mad at me because their thesis disappeared- they’d stuck their floppy disk onto their refrigerator with a magnet and of course, had no backups, because why would they?

For me, the difference between working in IT and working in a restaurant is that with cooking, it’s always fresh hell instead of stale. It is also a proven fact that movement is an excellent treatment for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. None of my own mental problems were caused by working in IT, but if you’re already feeling all of these things, being mentally taxed and not physically makes it ten thousand times worse.

People haul off and call you a piece of garbage and you’ve agreed with that for years, despite the fact that you cannot help them fix their computers while their computer is on their desk at work and they’re out driving and just thought to call you from the car. I am sure that now it’s possible with remote desktop, but not if their computer is off and they’re in New York and you’re in Oregon. I’ve often been sorry for not being able to plug a computer into the wall from 3,000 miles away.

You might laugh at this, but I guarantee it’s a sad place to be, because the feeling is so helpless. You couldn’t do anything to fix the problem and even though you’ve just spent 15 minutes on the phone with a total idiot explaining in three different ways why you’re useless, it gets to you. You live for the moments when all you do is walk into a room and press one button and the entire office thinks you have magic powers.

IT jokes about idiot users conceal deep, deep rage for the very scenarios I’ve described… especially when the customer is always right and their idiocy has to come with an “I’m here to serve you” patois.

With cooking, there’s a buffer zone called waitstaff, and never think I’m ungrateful for it. While cooking is busy, it’s not nearly as abusive as working with the public.

It is, however, perpetually exhausting even as you get stronger, because I can’t speak for everyone in my profession, but my sleep cycles have gotten shorter as my body rebels against my natural circadian rhythm. If I don’t go to bed until 0200-0300, I’m still up by 0630-0700. Part of this is that there’s a ton of natural light in my room. Part of it still is that the rhythm of the world keeps going- traffic noise, lawns being mowed, construction… I try to nap, but so far, that isn’t doing anything for me. I just “keep calm and coffee on.” Because of the noise, even if I take a sleeping pill, it doesn’t keep me asleep. I just feel like I’m walking through a Jell-o mold at dawn.

Yet another reason why my shift drink is usually club soda with extra ice and lime. The sugar rush of beer keeps me up even later. I give in when I don’t have to work the next day, because sometimes a cold one after work is a good thing, and it is also important to say that I’ve at least tried our products…. I haven’t had a bad beer yet, and it is vital to me that what I’m drinking is local to my adopted hometown.

I have also learned the hard way that too much alcohol makes my medication less effective, and the last thing I need on earth is that happening. And, apparently, too much alcohol, for me, is having a beer every night… something lots of people do, and I joined them until I had my own epiphany about it. Too much for me is different than most people, and I’m okay with that.

Plus, beer doesn’t have ice in it, and by the time I get out of the kitchen, it is the first thing I want. I could take a bath in ice and it wouldn’t be too much…. and in fact, might be a good idea given how badly I have osteoarthritis in my back and hands.

But for all my aches and pains, I never think about what’s happening mentally with me. I just act on instinct. Childhood trauma and adult chemical imbalances mean nothing to the ticket machine, which, for me, is all about saving the waitstaff from customer abuse. In a way, it’s giving back to all the people who’ve helped me along the way.

I do get a break on Memorial Day, though. It’s up in the air as to what I will do, because there will be several parties going on that I don’t want to miss, giving toasts to the fallen… with extra ice.

That Moment When…

That moment when you feel like you’ve just run a marathon in the kitchen is one of the best adrenaline rushes on earth, but it is often thankless. Last night, it wasn’t…. a moment I want to record here for posterity. One of the waitstaff came into the kitchen after about a four hour run and said:

Ticket times were on point. You guys rock.

I swear to God I almost started crying, because emotions were already running high in a “we made it” sort of way. The bar was busier than usual due to the Washington Capitals game (which we won- go Caps), and to say it was relentless was an understatement, especially with only me, one other cook, and a dishwasher. It really helped that this same waitress took time out to help us expo, which is shorthand for calling out to us what she needed and in what order, because we had so much food to hand out. She was the real hero. We were just background noise.

Generally, on nights that busy, there is a permanent expo- another cook or the kitchen manager- but no one expected us to be that busy on a Wednesday. Generally, expo is reserved for the weekend. This particular weekend is all hands on deck, because it’s a holiday known for three days of Bacchanalian splendor. IMG_0024It seems to defeat the purpose of the holiday. I can’t help but give thanks for the veterans who made it possible for us to have picnics and beer in our American egocentricity, when we forget that we get all these privileges for which they died to protect.

I know that I have ancestors who have died in wars, but I don’t have any friends who have. Luckily, all my friends who have served have made it home in one piece… but not necessarily in one peace. Because of this, I believe Thank You For Your Service is required viewing in addition to all your hot dogs and beer this weekend. Not only is it about death during wartime, but the aftermath of what those deaths do to the living, and the absolute hell the survivors go through in order to get help for it.

So while I am slinging hash, I’ll be thinking about why. The above picture is one that I took at Arlington National Cemetery myself, surrounded by people ignoring the signs to be quiet and respectful.

This weekend, it’s them that deserve your praise. Being able to cook well is a distant thousandth compared to their bravery, even the cooks in the military. I haven’t done it, but I am assuming that cooking is even more stressful under the threat of the mess hall being bombed. It makes me grateful for everything I have, and everything I ever will.

My job is often thankless because I’m just doing what I’m paid to do. It’s nice to get thanked, but it is not necessary. I make good money to do what I do, and I am internally satisfied when it goes well.

If their job is thankless, we are not doing so well in the basic humanity department. So, no matter what you’re drinking this weekend, from Diet Cokes to margaritas, raise a glass to the fallen. It’s the least we can do because they allow us to drink them. If you see a veteran this weekend, make sure to say “thank you for your service and sacrifice.” This is because it ignores how they might feel about why they did what they did, and how they might feel about what the top brass asked them to do. It is a simple acknowledgement that when you sign on the dotted line, you serve and you sacrifice.. no matter the administration or the justification for the fight.

Yes, Memorial Day honors those who have lost their lives, but at the same time, it is not a bad thing to honor the living while we’re at it. Some soldiers suffer incredible survivors’ guilt, and though it is inappropriate to say so, you never know what kind of sacrifice you’re honoring that day…. and maybe, just maybe, it is exactly what that soldier needs to hear at the time he or she needs to hear it.