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.

I’ve Been Changed for Good

I am a different cook than I used to be, because there’s no undercurrent lurking when I’m in the kitchen. I was focused and sharp. My mind never wandered. I only slightly messed up a few things, but they were tiny and standard for the first day. I didn’t cook anything wrong, there’s just two sets of dishes, one for the beer garden and one for the inside of the pub. A couple of times I had to re-plate, and that was it. It helped that everything was right in front of me because the prep cooks had taken care of most things, but I did chop tomatoes, lettuce, and onions. Even in the midst of incredible pressure, I was as calm as I’ve ever been. The chaos swirled around me and not inside of me…. although I have to wonder if part of it was the Klonopin. Not feeling the physical reactions to panic really helped me keep my shit together. But the other part was taking care of myself psychologically. I felt so much lighter not having to carry around this big emotional bag that had been dragging me down since 1990.

In fact, I made the kitchen manager laugh when he was prepping the griddle for toasting buns by spraying it with the industrial version of Pam.™ I said, “oh my God. That looks way too healthy.” In fact, I made him laugh a lot, which made me feel good, because I haven’t laughed this much in ages.

As I said in my most recent Facebook post:

I absolutely nailed the stage. #beastmode They have three other people to interview, but the kitchen manager was damn impressed and said so. If someone else gets the job, they beat me fair and square. I could not have been prouder of *myself.* Plus, my Spanish got a lot better, real quick.

Only some of the people in the kitchen were fluent in English, and I was so grateful that I knew enough Spanish to pick up even more. The funny part was asking César what different vegetables were in Spanish, and even he didn’t know some of them. We joked about speaking “Spanglish.” It was like this… I’ll write the conversation in English, but we had it in Spanish:

Me: How do you say this? (pointing to beets)
César: I don’t know.
Me: How do you say this? (pointing to carrots)
César: Zanahorias (but he pronounced it more like “cellerias”)
Me: So then, what’s celery?
César: I don’t know that, either.

And then we laughed… oh, how we laughed.

We danced well together, and for that, I am so grateful. It is the one thing about which I was truly worried- would I fit in well without incident? I think I did some things they don’t normally do which were extremely helpful, and that might have gotten me a few brownie points. Though I have to sit and wait for a few days, I know my efforts were solid. I might not have been Joe Gibbs, but I certainly wasn’t Steve Spurrier.

Everyone that signed my contract would have been proud. I made sure.