Good & Plenty

I haven’t been writing a lot lately, and I think that’s because I haven’t been writing lately. Once so much has happened, you don’t even know where to start, so you get overwhelmed. And then you think, “I’ll blog tomorrow” ad infinitum amen.

Finally, today is the day, inspired by the candy box next to my desk.

I didn’t really become a fan of licorice until I became a singer, and then a cook. Singing because just about every throat recovery tea out there has anise in it, and cooking because roasted fennel is divine. And then I branched out into liking ouzo and Sambuca, especially good in black coffee.

Finally, finally I liked the candy, from the twisted braids to jelly beans to allsorts to the aforementioned little candy-covered bites, although I find that they are the best when they are fresh. Once the candy coating dries out, they just don’t taste the same. The best Good & Plentys have the texture of a Hot Tamale. With fresh ones, I pour a huge mouthful in so I get the maximum amount of sugar to licorice ratio. A serving is 28 pieces and I’m almost certain I’ve done it in one bite. My only wish is that they’d make them in flavors, particularly peach.

In Portland, there used to be a Greek restaurant downtown that you couldn’t miss because there was a huge purple octopus on top. Dana and I wandered in for Happy Hour, and their specialty drink was a “Greekarita,” frozen peach bellini and ouzo. It is one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth, thus my longing for peach flavoring to be added to the beauty that is the Good & Plenty sugar coating. When the restaurant closed, I tried making my own, to varying degrees of success.

But now that my cocktails are limited to every once in a while and we don’t keep (much) alcohol in the house (usually old because it’s left over from parties), I haven’t tried here. I don’t even have a martini set anymore, or even the glasses, because even though I love the classic (gin, not vodka, let’s not get stupid), I just can’t see spending the money when 100% of the time, I only get a drink when I’m out with friends, and even that is rare. I am much more likely to enjoy sugar free soda or iced tea with lemon and Splenda, plus the blessing of free refills (hey, if they’re gonna charge me over two dollars for something that costs less than a quarter to make, I’m gonna have five).

I just wish that more restaurants carried sugar free options that didn’t begin and end with Diet Coke. Not that I’m not a fan, I just wish I had more than one choice. For something a tiny bit different, I go to District Taco or Cava, because both have sugar free cola that’s a little higher-end. District Taco has Boylan’s, and Cava has Maine Root Mexicane in both regular and Splenda (if you’re not opposed to regular soda, try the blueberry…. plus, Cava has “the good ice.”). Even the ubiquitous Chipotle has both Diet Coke and Coke Zero, which is at least something.

Quick Coca-Cola fact:

The reason Diet Coke and Coke Zero taste so different is that Diet Coke is based on Tab (come on, it was 1982), and Coke Zero is based on Coke Classic.

For that reason (and now that my mother is dead and can’t wring my neck for saying so, I prefer Diet Pepsi, which she always thought tasted like moth balls and called it “that Pepsi mess.”). Of course, I have more variety at home, I just mention Diet Pepsi because that’s usually the only choice in restaurants that have Pepsi contracts (sometimes I am blessed with Diet Dew or Dr Pepper). I’m like, the one person in the world where Pepsi actually IS okay, at least in the South.

My actual favorite is Cherry Coke Zero, but you can usually only find it at the grocery/convenience stores and no one I’ve found has it on tap unless you find a restaurant with a Coca-Cola Freestyle…. but if I find one of those, I’m getting Cherry Fanta Zero).

I know this entry is starting a bit different from the usual emotional vomiting I normally do in this space, but I haven’t used my writing muscle in public very often lately, and I have to start somewhere.

The funniest thing that’s happened recently is that Facebook has added a dating app inside the regular mobile app, and since my relationship status is single, I was automatically added to it as a beta tester. So, this woman reaches out to me and in her pictures portion, there are only pictures of Jesus with writing in Spanish.

So, I sent her this message from my iPhone, and then I’ll translate:

Hablas ingles? Mi espanol es muy mal por que solamente estudio dos anos en escuela (no ~ hahahahahaha), y ahora tengo quarenta dos anos.

“Do you speak English? My Spanish is very bad because I only studied two years in school (no ~ hahahahaha), and now I have 42 years.”

Here’s why this is truly hilarious. Años in Spanish is “years.” Anos in Spanish is “asshole,” or anus if you’re not using slang.

So, what I ACTUALLY said is that I studied two assholes in school and now I have 42 assholes. The reason for this is that in English, for age you say “I am 42 years old.” In Spanish, it’s “I have 42 years.”

Really must check to see if special characters are on the emoticons keyboard……. didn’t think of it then, though.

Technically, this is not entirely true. I did study Spanish for two years in high school, but when I was a junior and senior in high school, I went on three mission trips to Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from McAllen, Texas (two between each school year and one at Christmas).

Immersion helped me more than anything else, because it’s amazing how fast you learn when you have no other choice. And while I didn’t know much Spanish, I knew more than anyone else in my group, so I became the de facto translator……………….. again, often to hilarious results, but God bless the Mexican people because they didn’t laugh at me, ever. Just gently corrected me, even when what I said should have made them laugh so hard they could have died from asphyxiation.

I enjoyed Reynosa very much, but the entire area was very, very poor and I couldn’t see myself living there because it was hard to find a proper house. Most of them were poorly put-together shacks with tin roofs…. of course, this has probably changed since I was last there, but if I did choose to relocate to Mexico, I would probably settle in Ensenada (please click on this link- it is gorgeous).

I didn’t go there on a mission trip- my stepmother took our whole familyactividades-principales_baja-california_ensenada_visita-la-bufadora_01 and all her employees on a trip that left from Long Beach, California and went to both Catalina Island and Ensenada. Though Catalina Island was extremely pretty, Ensenada was life-changing for me. It is a place that is both beautiful and practical.

Lots of restaurants and things to see (my favorite was La Bufadora, the second largest marine geyser in the world, capable of shooting water 60 feet in the air). It is also easy to speak English, because lots of Americans retire as ex-pats to Baja California when their medical costs in the United States get too high (ahem). However, I definitely would not suggest moving there speaking only English, because there are certain parts of the city where English is prevalent, and others where English will only get you a “that dumb American” look.

The weather is roughly the same as any city on the Pacific Coast. Our trip was during Spring Break, and it was in the mid-60s most of the time….. basically the Mexican Portland, Oregon. That didn’t stop us from snorkeling, though, despite a huge mass of jellyfish.

The absolute biggest thing that would keep me from really moving there is that I wouldn’t want to give up my United States citizenship (hard for me to live in a place I can’t vote).

I also believe that the United States will have universal health care eventually, and maybe even sooner than I think. Medicaid is already expanded to low-income people in some states, and either that will be broadened or the U.S. will come up with something similar and yet new.

I am all for universal health care because of my mental state. Most private insurances have no problem covering a new patient exam and 15-minute med checks with a psychiatrist, but when it comes to therapy, you usually get 13 sessions a year and then you have to start paying out of pocket. Universal health care says you can have as many medical and mental health appointments you need, rather than are allotted.

For part of the time, I was a psych major at University of Houston, then changed my major to political science because psychology changed me too much. I kept analyzing and trying to diagnose people in my head, and my speech reflected it. To put it mildly, it wasn’t pleasant for anyone, even when I was absolutely right.

I met a psychiatrist named Justin at a winery- we struck up a conversation while waiting in line for a taste. He said something so funny I will never forget it (this was almost 10 years ago). He put his finger horizontally on his lips and buzzed to indicate full-on crazy and then said, “you won’t find that in the DSM, but you know it when you see it.” It was a good thing we were just in line and not actually drinking, because either I would have choked to death or wine would have come out of my nose.

But by the time I decided to switch majors, I already had plenty enough hours for a completed minor. I bring this up because the most important thing I learned actually came from the overview class, Psych 101. It’s that medicine and therapy are two sides of the same coin, inextricably interrelated. For people with situational depression, lifting their mood will help a lot, but talking through the situation with an outside, objective person is what gives them the coping mechanisms to be able get back off the medication altogether.

For people who struggle with chronic illness, they do not have a choice. Medication is a given, because you can’t talk away a chemical imbalance. Going to therapy will not suddenly make your brain create the right amount of neurotransmitters. It’s different for everyone- for some, it’s seratonin. For others, it’s dopamine or norepinephrine.

When you have a chronic mental health problem, therapy is mostly about dealing with it, from anger that you’ll always be this way because there is only treatment, no cure, to the inevitable fallout from people with normal brains who just can’t understand why you’re so different, and why you tend to say things that make no sense in their brain and perfectly legitimate in yours. Communication is a large chasm, and you tend to beat yourself up mightily at the ones they’ll never remember and for you, it’s been four years (20?) and you still feel embarrassed. It also happens more frequently than you would think that a friendship between a neurotypical and a mentally ill person doesn’t work out, because you just don’t see eye-to-eye on what seems like everything…. or, the mentally ill person is having a rough time and is spiraling out and the neurotypical person mistakes that for how you’re going to be all day, every day, and they just can’t handle it.

You march to the beat of your own drum, because you don’t have a choice, and people are generally (but not always) terrible at making allowances because since they’ve never experienced depression/bipolar/ADHD/schizophrenia/etc. they don’t know what allowances to make, and most of the time, we don’t know exactly what it is we need, anyway… or at the very least, can’t put it into words that actually translate into action on their part.

In my case, things that are difficult for most people are easy for me, and things that are easy for neurotypicals get me overwhelmed and flustered…. for instance, creating habits that will help me take care of myself. I am not the kind of person that does well with managing laundry or finding anything. Well, actually, I am great at finding things, just not the thing I’m looking for at the time (oh, there’s the headphones I lost three months ago. Now where are my keys? I JUST had them in my hand.) Yesterday I spent a half hour looking for Bluetooth headphones that were around my neck.

Romantically, once the honeymoon period is over, I have trouble with those relationships. Being with a neurotypical person seems like a good choice because two crazy people in one relationship leads to bad patterns that feed off of each other for years on end, and neither one of you realizes that it just keeps getting worse. But “seems” is correct, because you walk on eggshells with a neurotypical trying not to let your crazy spatter drive the person away, or what’s even harder to admit, bringing them into your own dysfunction so that their normal changes, and your fucked up becomes their fucked up and there’s no one to say “this is bad. We need help.”

I don’t need or want anyone to enable the bad moods and behaviors I experience on my own, and I also don’t want to have to worry about my own mental health as well as my partner’s, because all too often, I stop taking care of myself and all my attention goes to “helping” the other person (too much of an empath for my own good)….

If you have a mental illness, the only one that can truly help you is you. Trying to lift someone else out of depression is like helping a little old lady cross the street when she doesn’t want to go, so she’s banging your head with her purse the whole time. But it’s your own fault, really, because if something needs to change, they have to want it. They can’t/won’t help themselves (depending on the level of spiral) just because YOU need/want it. The worst feeling in the world in a relationship is watching someone go through something in which you feel totally and completely helpless. The only thing you can do is keep yourself strong so that you can deal with what life is handing you, or get out of the relationship altogether because you can’t just keep living that way. You both get resentful at each other (maybe not at first. Empathy comes first.) because one person feels trapped and the other person feels nagged, because it doesn’t matter how you meant it. Perception is everything. Sometimes, your depression makes you feel so low that any suggestion that might make you feel better actually comes across as “you’re not doing enough. You are not enough. You are a bad person because you cannot do these things.” When depression is bad enough, the want to feel better goes away completely, because you just don’t care whether you live or die. Most mentally ill people do get suicidal ideation (normal, especially when embarrassed). Fewer people get to the point where they’re making plans, and even fewer get to the point where they’re invested in carrying them out and start preparing). However, those numbers are on the rise. But for the most part, mentally ill people don’t actively want to die. They just don’t care.

Whether they’re alive or dead is neither better nor worse…. keeping in mind that they are forgetting the repercussions for the people around them, only the way they feel because depression is inherently myopic. It’s acutely important to let mentally ill people know they matter to you, because depression uses the best lies:

  • No one will miss me.
  • You’re never going to get any better. Life is always going to look like this. It’s just going to be one long slog of trying to find medication that works… for a while, and then you have to do it all over.
  • Even people who do love you are also exhausted by you…. and you don’t want to be known as the burden of your family and friends your whole life, do you?
  • You are completely worthless. You bring nothing to the table.
  • You’re going to get fired because no one understands you…. that the hardest part of any job is getting there, because it’s just another day of trying to fit into a culture where everyone does everything the same way and can’t understand why you can’t “because it’s so easy anyone could do it….”

For most mentally ill people, bright ones, anyway, high level thinking is where they excel and mundane tasks are where they fall flat on their faces. They’re great with excellent ideas, not so much with the execution.

I think this is because high-level thinking is one of the few jobs that has the ability to cut through the depression, because it has positive consequences. Low-level jobs only have negative ones. People who can barely spell or add are thought of as so much smarter than you and not because they are. It’s because they can do these mundane tasks quickly and efficiently and you are the absolute dumbass who can’t.

But in any company, you start at the bottom, and by the time you get to high-level thinking, you’ve been fired long before that….. because you could possibly revolutionize or motivate or create something that would really contribute, but they hated you after six months to a year of saying, “no, we don’t do it that way.”

And in low-level jobs, the reason you’re so different is that your mind is eating you from the inside out. Rote is the enemy of depression, because lack of mental stimulation pulls you back into the drizzle of your mind. There are rarely thunderstorms, it’s just constantly overcast, with rain heavy enough to need an umbrella. You don’t care enough to find yours, and no one in any office will offer you one.

For Bipolar I & II people, coworkers don’t understand your personality…. how you can be so cheery for weeks at a time and then something will set you off and now you can barely make eye contact. So, not only do they think you’re a dumbass, most of the time they don’t even particularly like you…. but that’s okay, because you don’t really like you, either.

If you’re wondering why this entry jumps all over the place, my ADHD brain works in tangents. One topic starts a tangent, and that one branch starts ten more, all in different directions. It’s as if my brain is a tree with no trunk. I suppose it’s a good thing, because not everyone reads this site for the same reason. For instance, it is surprising just how many people visit my site when I mention Diet Coke.

And on that note, I think I’ll end here. You’ve got (good &) plenty to read by now.

 

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.

The Goose I Wish I Could Bottle

One of our dishwashers has left, so instead of being on the line last night, I spent my shift in the dish pit. Not a bad deal, considering that the restaurant was very busy and I was off in my own little world. Of course, I was just as busy as they were, just busting out baskets of dishes as fast as I possibly could, but it’s a different kind of busy than being on the brigade.

I had a lot to think about, and now that washing dishes has become rote, rumination ate my lunch… but this time, in a good way. I thought about all the good changes that have happened in my life with my mood & behavior. I thought about all the changes that might be coming in the future. I thought about my past and how everything has brought me to this moment. How maybe, just maybe, I had to lose everything to find myself… with the exception of losing my mother.

I don’t connect her death with “breaking eggs to make an omelet,” but I do think that learning to deal with that grief every day has changed me in ways that both hinder and push me to be a better person at the same time…. mostly that death can happen in an instant, and 65 not that much older than 40, which reinforced mortality for me and what I might want to do with the time I have left.

Most of it is continuing this quest for self-knowledge, something that my INFJ personality requires. My inner landscape is deep, and only one or two people are invited at any given time to walk in it…. although I am not immune to the fact that in some ways, I invite all of you at once, because my personal flaws, failures, and achievements might make you reach into yourself, another hallmark of an INFJ…. leading others by example. It is a journey of compromise. There are always going to be things I’m willing to let go of in a public space, because it allows me to say, “I’ve already thought about that. I can move on to something else.” There is also a part of me that is intensely private, and though I am very funny in person, just not willing to dive deep. The extroverted side of me limits me to topics in which I can make everyone laugh. Most people think that introverts aren’t good in social situations, but that just isn’t true. It’s just that true extroverts feed off of others’ energy, and after being with other people, I need time and space for my batteries to recharge before I venture out again. I am also more comfortable with small groups rather than large, or being in front of an audience/congregation where I am speaking, but not personally connected to everyone in the room. That part is too much for me, because as an empath and Highly Sensitive Person, large groups make my mirror neurons go off and I can feel emotions from everyone around me, both positive and negative. When they are negative, I feel the impulse to FIX ALL THE THINGS, and it is overwhelming to an enormous degree.

In fact, this is sometimes why being at any type of job is difficult, because I know all my coworkers, and therefore care about their energy just as much as mine. It’s not enough to make me stay home, of course, but my inner landscape keeps running no matter where I am.

I was in that space last night, trying to block out the world around me so that I could concentrate on both getting all the dishes done in record time as not to leave a mess for anyone else, and to give myself time to really think.

Because I was so closed off, I didn’t even hear one of my coworkers approaching, where she grabbed my sides and goosed me so hard that it both tickled me and scared the life out of me. I was laughing my ass off from the dopamine injection of happiness, and knowing that she really, really got me. I’d been had. I jumped sky high, which made her laugh equally hard.

I also smiled to myself that it felt like a cute little flirt from a straight woman, something that makes me happy because it’s not going anywhere, it’s just fun. Just because it seemed like a flirt doesn’t mean it was. It was just an ego booster that made my heart do a cute little flip, and a moment of wondering how I could get her back in kind. I’m not very good at that sort of thing, so I just let it go. The feel-good sensation has lasted ever since. It’s such a good feeling to know that I am liked and valued at work.

So much so that I wish I could bottle that feeling and spray a little on when I feel down. The “goosee” doesn’t speak enough Spanish to explain to the “gooser” how good I felt, but it reminded me of a comment I got on Facebook, that having a Spanish-speaking girlfriend would be motivation to learn much faster. Really must look into that in the future.

Right now, though, I am not even awake enough to speak English. I took two Benadryl last night in order to sleep deeply, which gives me vivid dreams and a monster hangover. I’ve had a lot of iced coffee, but also a Klonopin,™ so I am geared up and calmed down simultaneously. I find that it helps to take a Klonopin before work, because when things get crazy at the pub, I need the storm to be external and not inside me…. to be of it, but not in it, if that makes any sense at all. On a Saturday night, things will be relentless no matter what station I’m working…. although I have it much easier when it is raining because our beer garden is where the most people congregate. I can basically tell the flow of business before I even walk in due to the weather. Tonight is a toss-up, because right now there is a lot of cloud cover, and it looks like it’s going to rain, but no indication that it’s really going to happen. So I need to be prepared for all possibilities, from moderately busy to insane.

Tonight is a night in which I also need to come straight home and go to bed, because my night won’t end until approximately 0100, and my shift on Sunday starts at 1300. It is both a curse and a blessing, because it’s hard to be out that late and in that early, but the plus side is that I will end early and come in much later on Monday, and everyone else’s Monday is my Friday.

I have plans with friends on both Tuesday and Wednesday, something that does not happen often, but for which I am completely grateful.

I don’t have to bottle good feelings, they’re already out there, just waiting for me to grab them. It’s an excitement I hope is tangible to everyone else, because it certainly is for me. My Bob Esponja y los Pantalones Largos beating heart is in full force…. and in case you’re wondering, I do watch it.912ILZXp1fL._SY679_ Lots of my friends have said they picked up English from television, so why should Spanish be any different? I understand enough already to get the basic plot, I already know the characters, but TV in Spanish can and will up my game.

Watching Yo Soy Betty, la Fea when I’d go to Mexican restaurants in Houston was just as awesome. You probably know it as the adapted American series, Ugly Betty. As good as it is, though, SpongeBob Squarepants’ lessons of love, inclusion, and how to be cheerful even in the face of madness have stuck with me for ages.

One of the funniest gags that comes to mind is that Sandy Cheeks is originally from Texas, and she gets very homesick. So SpongeBob and his friends decide to throw her a party based on what they think Texas is. Ten gallon hats are represented by those giant water dispensers, and I laughed until I cried.

Because sometimes, just sometimes, being homesick for Texas is when I could use some of those bottled good feelings.

Throwing it Together

My kitchen manager could not have been more supportive of me. When I walked in last evening, he said, “I know your work ethic. What happened?” I said, “I would have stayed until everything was put away, but I got kicked out of the kitchen because it was so late.” He said, “I knew it must have been something like that, because it never would have happened under your watch.” And then he hugged me. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t exactly remember the words, but that’s the gist. So, everything worked out despite my stomach being in knots and practically tearing up all the way to work. There was just one slight problem.

I couldn’t explain it in Spanish. So, the person who had to come in at 9:00 AM and see all my mistakes couldn’t possibly fathom why I’d “fucked everything up.” I was completely speechless because I was all up in my head trying to pick a phrase I actually knew that would help. I had nothin,’ and no one to translate for me. My kitchen manager speaks better Spanish than me, but not enough to express everything I wanted to say. So he made up for it by letting her off early. I hope it was enough.

I would have been home pretty early last night if the dishwasher hadn’t decided to dump water all over the floor. Though technically, it wasn’t my fault, I am still taking one for the team on this one. I emptied all the traps as I’d been shown, but what I didn’t know is that you had to use a shop vac to get out all the water, too. That part of the training had been left out, through no fault of anyone’s, just an oversight. So, the kitchen manager and I stayed a little later with dry (at first) mops and got up everything we could, then turned on big fans. By now, it’s dry… or here’s hoping, anyway. 😛

By the time I left the kitchen last night, my mood had lifted, because I got fired up listening to Eminem and got it handled, as if Olivia Pope (Scandal) worked in a brewpub. My shift drink was a Mexican-style cola, one of the few things I attribute as a gift from God directly. Beer is one thing. Sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and a heavy syrup to soda water ratio that brings one right back to the drug store (that reference ages me) is quite another. As I have said before, it is on my “chef’s game” last meal list.

This morning, because it was after Eid, I made real Irish imported steel-cut oatmeal for my roommate, Abdel, and me… along with homemade coffee. And by this, I do not mean that I brewed it myself. I mean that one of my friends buys green beans and roasts them herself. It is insane.

I asked Abdel about something I’d always wanted to know. During Ramadan, do children fast? He said that unofficially, fasting begins at seven, but officially, it begins after puberty…. but that most of the time, children compete to fast so they can be just like Mommy and Daddy.

It reminded me so much of both Christianity and Judaism. In the Catholic church, seven is “the age of reason,” when you are accountable to God for your sins and start confession. In Judaism, puberty is also the sign that you are an adult. Dear God, we have so much in common, all children of Abraham. I just wish more people could see it.

Don’t get me started on Israel and Palestine, and the unwavering USG support of Israel. It just makes my blood boil, especially with one word- settlements. Never mind that Israel has a fully-functioning army (possibly a nuclear weapon, definitely chemical assault capability) AND a world-famous intelligence agency, Mossad…. Palestine has homemade bombs and rocks. They can barely sit up to Israel, much less stand. I realize that atrocities have been committed on both sides. I am not immune to the news. But the whole thing is ridiculous. Not our circus, not our monkeys…. mostly because the United States is such a young country that we legitimately have no concept of tribal wars that have been going on for centuries, and yet, we have unilaterally decided that Israel can do no wrong. And yes, I realize that the state of Israel is young, but the concept of an Israeli is not, and neither is the concept of a Palestinian.

I told you not to get me started.

All I can say now is “thank God for Ireland,” because without them, I would not have had the good breakfast I need to be happy enough to let go of this and move on to something else.

Lindsay is coming to town tonight, and this is my Friday, so we’ll have two evenings together before she goes back to Houston. I got her an amazing birthday present- I hope it scores big. Lindsay’s birthday is on June 17th, which often lines up with Father’s Day… so she still gets him a present, even though she is the ultimate gift.

I got my dad Eric Ripert’s autobiography, 32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line, and a multi-tool he’d forgotten he’d put on his Amazon Wish List. I was going to get him Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook for home cooks, Appetite, but unsurprisingly, it is out of stock…. or at least it was before Father’s Day. Thanks, Obama.

The Kindle version was available, but a Kindle cookbook seems somewhat useless. I mean, what is a cookbook without notes in the margins and stains that make some of the pages stick together? How ELSE would you make a ground beef trifle (that reference ages me)? It might have been okay, I guess. A few Christmases ago I got my dad a cutting board that has a slot for a tablet in case you’re cooking with a YouTube video. Still, though, not as good.

I am not a fan of cookbooks, because I won’t use them. First of all, I have no place to store them except my Kindle, and secondly, I trust my own palate and can throw together pretty much anything. The only time I ever need a recipe is when I’m baking, because cooking is an art and baking is a science; it’s a totally different skill set.

In cooking, though, I know innately what something needs to make it pop, and how to correct mistakes (acid balances salt, etc.). I remember fondly the days when Dana would make soup, taste it, then look at me and say, “fix this.” It is not that either of us is a better cook than the other, we just have different strengths. For her, it’s technique (unsurprisingly- Cordon Bleu trained). For me, it’s palate. One is not more important than the other.

For instance, I could beat the pants off Karen’s potato salad.

Dos Lenguas

I continue to be mystified by Spanish, and I am quite tired. I wish I had a Matrix-like existence that could just load the language instantly, because I would be in much better shape. This has nothing to do with my coworkers, but with me not wanting to be THAT white girl….. the one who insists that everyone speak English. I’m the outlier. I need to learn. Immersion is the only way, but right now, my phrases are limited and my comprehension equally so. I can have short conversations, and I was proud of myself when I said, que necessitas (what do you need)? and they answered seis zanhorrias, I understood that meant six carrots.

I only ask people to speak English if they are trying to explain something to me technically, and yet, there are only three people in the kitchen that can do so. Tonight I worked with two people who knew no English at all, and to say I was lost most of the time is an understatement. I am barely above “Spanglish” at this point.

The good thing is that in a kitchen, people say the same things regardless of what language they speak, and reading their facial expressions tells me most of what I need to know. But speaking so little Spanish is isolating to a tremendous degree, and I am trying to learn as quickly as I can. It would be nice to be able to contribute to a conversation that doesn’t have to do with camping or bears that go shopping (Why High School Spanish is Useless, by Leslie D. Lanagan).

The good thing is that Rachel (my chef’s knife) and I had a breakthrough in our relationship. When I got there, I was immersed in prep for a private party, and my knife callous finally came in… after seis zanhorrias, four shaved red cabbages, and 20 pounds of Brussels sprouts. The pain has stopped, and the fun has begun. I’m faster than I used to be, and people have noticed. Until my knife blister healed and rough skin covered it, I was in pain with every cut. It didn’t show in my technique, just my speed. Tonight I was called an “honorary Mexican,” and I believe I have never been more honored in my life. Keeping up with any Central/South American line cook is often a lesson in futility…. but I did it, and I did it well.

Nothing prepared me for shaving those red cabbages like being tutored by Anh Luu. I worked at Tapalaya for a bit, and was assigned to the salad station. As the then-sous chef, that was her area, and she was going to make me good at it if it killed her. If she has any grey hairs, I’m pretty sure I gave them to her.

Anh is easily the toughest sous chef I’ve ever worked for, so two things about that. The first is that I am not surprised in the least she’s the executive chef and owner of Tapalaya now. The second is that I understood from the beginning that her toughness was to make me better, and it did. In my head tonight, all that ran through while I was chopping were the things she said to me, when I was just a baby at fine dining (and will never make it past that due to my monocular vision, I’m afraid). If I was having trouble, her words would lift me up, and I’d get better and faster almost instantaneously.

I also got the break for which I’ve been wishing, which is it being my job to clean the griddle. I made it look brand new two nights in a row, and I think I am close to being asked to please stop. 😛 In fact, I was so proud of myself last night that I took a picture, just to remember over and over again how proud I was of myself…. that there is something in this kitchen that I can do better than everyone else.

Also, my new Crocs are really working out. The advice to buy a size smaller was crap, because even though they make my feet look like boats, they aren’t uncomfortable after six hours in the heat, when my feet have swollen in the clear message that they are not having it. Not at all.

It feels so good to be back in the kitchen. I feel like I’ve won some kind of award because if I can hang here, I’m truly worth my salt.

And that’s all any line cook really ever wants to know about themselves.

The best moment of my cooking life involves salt, and even though it’s tiny, it makes me choke up. If you’ve ever been a line cook, you’ll understand why. The rest of you will wonder what the big deal is. Trust me when I say this is a very, very big deal indeed.

Let me preface this by saying that people tend to call all cooks chefs. This is not so. Chef literally means “boss.” They are the eyes and ears of the entire kitchen, the voice of God as far as you’re concerned.

My chef asked me to taste something, so I did. I said, “it needs salt.” He put some Kosher salt into his hand and sprinkled it in, and I had a hard time not tearing up.

The chef asked for my opinion, and trusted it. So, you see, something that seems minute, is, in fact, enormous. It is a moment I will never forget, not in any lifetime.

And hopefully, eventually, I will remember it in dos lenguas.

Oh My God

The past few days have been the most exhausting of my life. I had Sunday and Monday off, which I truly wish hadn’t happened. The only cure for muscles that sore is to keep going, and not having that level of activity for two whole days has rendered me into spaghetti. I go to work in two hours, and I hope to God I can still move afterward.

My cuts and burns still haven’t healed, so I’m not looking forward to wearing gloves in the kitchen, because here’s the thing. Sweat gets trapped under the latex so that the glove fills with water, and no matter what you put on a wound, whether it’s a Band-Aid or Superglue, floats off. I did not cut myself with a knife, but shredding carrots on a mandoline. It’s not bad, but it looks like a cat scratched my palm. The burn came from my workstation being up against a convection oven and my knuckles accidentally touched it for less than a second, but that’s all it took. A blister bubbled up immediately. I also bumped my elbow on it, but luckily the skin was tough enough that it just turned a little red and healed overnight. Why convection ovens aren’t cooler on the outside like regular ovens is beyond me. Sure would make being cornered against one easier….

It’s been a while since I was in a kitchen, made even harder by the fact that I’m not fluent in Spanish. I am learning, but I’ve taken it upon myself to listen to a Rosetta Stone course. It’s helpful that since I’ve studied Spanish before, I could skip to the more intermediate lessons. But not being fluent has led to some interesting conclusions…. like only being able to talk around the thing I need and not ask for it directly. I asked for a carrot peeler, or thought I did, and I was handed a mandoline. I needed it anyway, but still. At least I’m in total immersion unless I’m really having a problem and need to resort to English because I’ve worked myself into a corner and can’t get back out. Immersion is the only way. Truly. I learned more in Mexico than I ever did taking Spanish in school.

I have made friends, though. I am particularly close to the dishwasher, because she’s the closest to me in proximity as well. It came slowly, because she speaks no English and my Spanish is still questionable at best. But everything is made better by kindness. I asked her if she’d like an ice water. Hours later, she asked me if I’d like half a sandwich.

As a cook, my favorite thing about Spanish is that there’s only one letter difference between ice and heaven. When the kitchen itself becomes a convection oven, they’re truly the same thing.

I wish I had time to write more, and I will… but believe me that the reason I haven’t been pouring out my soul is that I’m just too tired to do so. When I come home, I generally put myself into a coma with Benedryl and ibuprofen because sleep is really the only cure for muscle soreness. I don’t even have time to watch movies or listen to podcasts, because I fall asleep roughly three minutes in. I did just drink two cups of very strong coffee, though, and I’m scheduled for a short shift today. Perhaps tonight I’ll actually get some real writing done because my brain might not be leaking out of my ear. If I feel industrious enough, it will be time for more Spanish lessons.

The last one I listened to was about holidays, and it reminded me so much of David Sedaris’ Jesus Shaves that I laughed out loud.

It feels so good to laugh, and to be tired from hard, hard work…. mentally and physically, because not only do I lift and cut and stoop and carry, I (try to) do it in two languages.