I Would Like to Speak to Your Manager

I got a new haircut, and it is very versatile. I can wear it parted down the middle or to either side, but when I put wax in it and really scrunch it up, I cringe. Swept to the side, it looks like the lesbian edition of “I’d like to speak to your manager.” If you’ve ever worked in retail, that can instantly be translated to “haircut.” As in, “there’s a ‘haircut’ on aisle five.” I just hope that I’m never typecast, because in restaurants and stores, I really try to be the nicest possible version of myself…. for two reasons, actually. The first is that I’ve “been there, done that.” The second is that I rarely have anywhere to be, and am never in a hurry. So my take on it is to just let the chips fall where they may. I’m not going to change anyone, I just stay out of the way.

The worst time I’ve ever “gotten it” in retail is that my first job was as a receptionist at SuperCuts. A 40-year-old-ish woman came after me over a bad haircut, not even stopping to realize that I only collect money and sweep hair. I didn’t cut it, and wouldn’t know the first thing about how. But that didn’t stop her from ripping me a “three bedroom, two bathroom double-wide asshole” (Bernie), anyway. The way I’ve been treated in the past deftly informs the way I treat others, as do the ways I’ve treated others that, in a few words, did not work.

I would rather be a quiet, sweet nerd who doesn’t ruffle feathers and go on about my day. There are exceptions, of course, but I’ve found as I get older that people don’t change. They just don’t. Better to cut and run than wait any longer than necessary.

Even I don’t change. My illness does. When I am anxious, or depressed, or hypomanic, it is not an indication of my true personality. It is an indication that something is wrong chemically…. when my brain chemicals are right, I have no problem with my emotions, whether up or down. Making sure my brain chemicals achieve homeostasis is a religion of sorts, because I know what it feels like to live life out of balance. The remembrance of it is “grievous unto me,” a daily reminder to do better, be better….. although I’m clearly not certain what “better” means as of yet.

Right now I am content to be in the middle of a great book, and editing another. I can’t tell you anything about either, because the former is a future birthday present for a friend who reads this blog, and the latter is by an author not willing to let her work be read publicly until it’s ready…. who also reads this blog. I can’t cheat and let you in on my Top Secret work. It’s enough to let go of the fact that my friend now knows she’s getting a book for her birthday.

You’re welcome.

I picked it out just for you- it’s by Heather Armstrong. 😛

During the last entry, I was talking about reading on the train to go to the airport to get TSA pre-check. I am now approved and have a Known Traveler Number, but it was actually reading that made me on time for the appointment. I generally take the Red Line to Ft. Totten and change to Yellow to go out to Virginia, but I was reading and missed my stop. I thought, “ah, well. I’ll just stay on til Chinatown.” At that moment, I looked up to see a video playing about how all Yellow Line trains were out that day. If I hadn’t missed my stop due to reading, I wouldn’t have known I needed to go to Metro Center instead to catch the Blue Line.

It doesn’t really inconvenience me much that the Yellow Line is undergoing improvements, except for EVERY FRIEND I HAVE IN THIS CITY save two lives within a mile of, you guessed it, the Yellow Line. Always helps to be further from where I need to go in 30F weather.

Actually, I take it back. Right now it is a warm and balmy 40 degrees plus rain…. looks kind of like Portland, Oregon 280 days of the year. Maybe that’s why I feel so at home right now.

Another feeling of home is coming toward me- my sister is flying up soon. She said “the first week in December,” so I’m assuming she’s on a plane right now. Of course. I’m probably wrong. She usually doesn’t text until she’s on the ground, so sometime within the next few days I’ll be able to “spend Christmas” with her. Depending our schedules, we might be able to see each other more than once. We shall see. Meshing a cook and a lobbyist’s schedules together hasn’t proved challenging so far- she’s generally here during the week, and my days off are never Saturday and Sunday. We also generally get together for dinner, which is great because especially if I’ve worked the night before, I’m still a zombie at lunch.

Speaking of lunch, I think it’s time to go make it. I work at 1800, so I have some time to contemplate what I’m going to make. I think it’s going to be a sandwich with almond milk jalapeno “cream cheese” and apricot preserves. Or it might just be a large bowl of chocolate and peanut butter cereal with chocolate “milk.”

Or both.

Noon

It is 10 minutes until 1200, when my alarm is supposed to go off. I got my schedule wrong last night- I thought I was supposed to work until 0130, but I was finished by 2230. It’s tonight and tomorrow that I “clopen,” slang for closing down the restaurant and being back in by Sunday at 1000.

I’m slated for the dish pit on tomorrow’s shift, which means that I will have to set up the restaurant for lunch. Of everything I have to do, that’s probably my least favorite, but there is only a small jump from last to first. Tonight is pantry station, which means cold foods and fried brussels sprouts, chips and salsa, etc. I get paid too much to think that anything is too bad. And what I mean is that being a dishwasher and line cook will never make me rich, but in comparison to other jobs I’ve had in the same industry, my hourly wage is insane. Plus, I also get vacation days (which I receive after six months), another thing I’ve never had from a small, independently owned restaurant. I also have the option to sign up for health insurance, but I like the state-run plan I’m on now, so I’m going to wait and see how my income averages out to see if I need to change it. If I switch to private insurance, my co-pays and drug costs will go up.

Although I am not a candidate for advancement, not wanting to go into management, I do get raises based on how long I’ve worked there and/or COLA (cost of living adjustment- my obsession with soda makes this my favorite acronym).

There is only one problem, and it has nothing to do with business. It’s that the woman who has slowly become one of my best work friends (despite the language barrier, closing more every day) is moving to Atlanta. I think either tonight or tomorrow is her last shift, after only finding out she was moving yesterday. I am heartbroken. Who else is going to hug me every day? Who else is going to make fun of me in a language I don’t always understand, just nodding and laughing because I am great at self-deprecation? But, in true kitchen wisdom, “go cry in the walk-in.” There’s really no time for emotion on the job, so that is a long-standing kitchen joke that works across all restaurants everywhere.

However, she is so loved that I’m not the only one with ALL THE FEELS. She gets along with everyone, from waitstaff to dishwasher. It also leaves us in a bit of a bind because she’s additionally a prep cook, so we’ll have to do a lot more at night rather than it all getting done before we arrive.

I wouldn’t mind a few prep shifts, leaving the restaurant earlier or getting doubles to increase my income… but to tell the truth, I’m really bad at it. This is because I will follow a recipe up and to a point, then decide I can make it taste better (ego, but not unjustified)…. but I do it with a pinch of this, a cup of that, so that I have no idea how to modify said recipe when I’m done because I don’t keep track of small improvements along the way. I can’t help myself- it’s a sickness.

For instance, Lanagan’s Pub Chili at Biddy McGraw’s was my own recipe, I always made it, and when I needed to write down the recipe, it took me two or three weeks, because every batch was a tiny bit different, as was my recipe for pancakes and oatmeal. I had several customers who came to the pub for brunch specifically to eat my food, something of which I am intensely proud. My pancakes in particular were a big hit, thin and crispy around the edges like a crepe with hazelnut fluff, the result of extra butter on the griddle.

It is always my goal to make foodies cry. One of the best chefs in Portland sent me a text and said, “even though it’s not a true Texas red, your chili is feckin’ delicious.” But he understood why I did it, adding light and dark red beans to make the ground beef stretch. That was 10 years ago, and I still remember that text dinging as if it were yesterday.

Sufficed to say if you have the ability to invite me over to cook dinner, you won’t regret it. The best indicator I have of this is that I made a French onion soup that sold out in less than one shift, and was supposed to last three days. Again, butter.

I have a keen sense that I am in the hospitality industry. My job is to delight people’s palates when I have free range, and I am comfortable with almost all nationalities. I’d love to work on my African food, though, learning to make Ethiopian injera, the flatbread you use instead of utensils for spicy beef stews that make my own palate dance.

There are two Ethiopian restaurants I highly recommend in Silver Spring. The first is Lucy, and the second is Arbol. Neither have web sites, you’ll just have to show up; you can also order from GrubHub or Seamless. I don’t recommend ordering from home, though. Get it fresh and hot, caliente y picante (temperature hot and spicy hot).

Also, if I cook for you, know ahead of time that portion control is important, because I have a blatant disregard for fat and calories. This is because I’ve read French Women Don’t Get Fat. Mireille Guiliano asserts that the reason Americans are fat is not because of the content of the food, but because we eat so damn much of it. Believe me, it’s true. Restaurant portions in the United States are generally out of control.

It’s also the entire reason I gained so much weight when I first met Dana, because as a Cordon Bleu trained chef, she fed me rich, rich food in stunning amounts. I took the weight off, and am now obsessed with keeping it that way. I don’t weigh myself, ever, but I back off the intake when I feel my pants are getting tight. I don’t want to go back to being overweight, and I don’t want to spend money on new pants, although it’s probably time, anyway.

Some of my Dockers are stretched at the seams, not from being overweight, but from the acrobatics involved with working in a kitchen. I have designated the black ones for work, because if I get bleach on them, I can fix them with a Sharpie. 😛

The thing I have spent money on this month is drugs. It is amazing how cheap Zyrtec, Tylenol, Aleve, etc. are on Amazon, because they sell Costco sized bottles that render each pill about .004 cents. I got a year’s worth of ibuprofen for $11.00, and 200 Zyrtec for the same price. If you’re not watching your cash flow, a year’s worth of Zyrtec is only $21.00. I just didn’t want to wipe out all my money until my next paycheck. I’m not the type person that particularly enjoys splurging one week and peanut butter sandwiches every meal the next.

I also have Uber to think of, because the buses aren’t running by the time I’m finished closing down the restaurant. I don’t particularly want to buy a car, because even though I could save up the money to buy one, I don’t want to pay for upkeep and insurance…. and it’s fun when someone else is in charge and I can just check out in the backseat and play with my iPhone…. and especially with Uber Pool, I only pay about five dollars a trip. They just add up, as does adding money to my WMATA SmartCard.

Public transportation is one of the reasons I love DC so much, because it’s cheap and readily available. Houston and Portland just do not have the infrastructure for it. Being one stop away from DC doesn’t hurt, either, because I can get nearly everywhere in the area in 40 minutes, even Silver Spring to Alexandria. Especially in heavy traffic, I couldn’t drive it that fast. So, at least for the moment, getting a car is not even worth it.

The only time I wish I had a car is for heavy shopping days, and those are so few and far between that it doesn’t really matter. Uber takes care of that, too, but I always feel bad when the driver has to wait for me to unload all my crap. But sometimes, it’s a blessing, because they’ll help me unload it. Some do, some just stare. It’s always a toss-up.

And now it’s time for me to slam iced coffee and get dressed, because I have officially written way past noon. I might even take a shower. Lord knows I need it. There’s probably aioli in my hair.

Where the Weather Takes Us

The meetup with the pen pal went well. Let’s call her “Zoey,” because there’s a connection that goes beyond New Girl. Of course if she becomes a regular and doesn’t mind me using her real name, that’s fine. But I’m not going to “out” her on a first meeting. That’s just rude. She is just as cute and funny as me, so I think it will be a great thing to have another person to pal around with…. although perhaps not so much in the immediate future, because she’s vacationing to Peru (I think…. my memory is failing in my elder years). But I definitely see hiking in the hills and walking around town in our future. Talking makes walking so much easier, because I am not constantly enmeshed in thoughts like, “my feet hurt…. my legs are sore…. how much longer?” Talking shuts down the complaint department. Yesterday was just about spending some time together and seeing if we’d click on any level. We definitely did, starting out at Kramerbooks and when they were slammed, walking to Teaism, instead. I love tea at every moment of the day, but for Zoey, she was disappointed they didn’t have hot chocolate. So we toasted to new friends with cold water. My pot of Darjeeling went quickly, and then we walked to the Metro.

Two things about that.

I started talking about the weather with my seatmate, who said that it reminded her of Germany and Switzerland. In my head, I was thinking she must be military, because obviously Germany and Switzerland are known for their large black populations. My assumption was correct. So, I asked her what her job was in the military, and she said slyly, intel. She’d retired long ago, looking for all the world like a sweet grandmother, the type no one would look twice at while carrying sensitive documents. But perhaps she didn’t look like that, then. She was retired now, having scouted out secret documents during the Cold War. My mind was blown because this was an absolutely random encounter, exactly the kind of thing I live for in DC. I am certain that by now, there are tons of movies that talk frankly about the types of ops we pulled off during that time, most of them declassified by now. It was also very interesting that she wasn’t stapled to CIA, that smash-and-grabs for documents also happen with soldiers. I don’t know why I didn’t make that connection until last night, because I saw 12 Strong, and even though the soldiers had a CIA contact to lead them through Afghanistan to the warlord contact who was willing to team up with them to overthrow the Taliban, he left after that and the soldiers were on their own.

So, this woman and I are engrossed in conversation and before I even really had a chance to ask questions, it was her stop. I was so lost in thought that I got off at the “wrong one,” or perhaps the right one considering that I was only a couple of blocks from Busboys & Poets. I had a vegan salad and vegan mac-and-cheese, possibly the first time I’ve eaten actual nutrition that wasn’t all carbs this week. MMMM, bread.

I’m not vegan, or even vegetarian, but I truly do not eat enough plants. I have to remind myself that veggies exist.

While I was eating, though, I had a truly surreal experience, because there was a mentally ill person at the bar trying to score free fries from the restaurant. Two patrons offered to have his fries added to their tab. Then, when he got them, he would neither leave nor get a table. In Takoma Park, there are literally two governments, because part of it lies in Montgomery County and part of it is in the city of DC. I had no idea where I was in terms of that line. But what I do know is that there’s no real way to call someone regarding the mentally ill except the police, which brought up such a dilemma that I’m still thinking about it. He was definitely harassing other customers, because they didn’t offer to pay for his snacks without him strong-arming them. And yet, he was black, which said to me, no one call the police under any circumstances. This is because there was little to be done except take him to jail, because there’s no way they would have taken him to a psych ward. It’s just not in their purview. So, what to do? No restaurant wants a loiterer asking for money and, oh my God, emitting such a smell that it cleared out half the bar.

It’s hard to be compassionate when you really don’t know how. He needed more help than he could get in the restaurant, and the police couldn’t give it to him, either. I think because everyone was so sensitive to racial bias, that made it even harder. We didn’t know whether the police that showed up would show compassion or wrestle him to the ground. It’s not even equal odds at this point. None of the people in the bar were worried about racial bias on our end, because it was never about the color of his skin. It was about mental illness, full stop. But we couldn’t count on the police having an equal amount of compassion.

What he needed, in my opinion, was a few days in a psych ward to get balanced again, and then a truly safe place to stay. Neither of those things would happen unless he went to the county intake facility in Rockville, now closed for the night. Having to sleep in a jail cell might have only exacerbated the problem, contributing to putting someone in the system that can’t get back out, because he has no concrete concept of acceptable behavior.

All I could do was pray that someone would stick with him long enough to get the help he needed, because nothing was going to happen in the moment. We were all just on pins and needles waiting for him to leave, and not because we weren’t trying to help in the moment. It’s that no one could stay in the restaurant overnight, and it was kind of a scary situation because we did not know the extent of his mood and behavior quirks. For instance, when the fries were brought out to him, paid for by the other customers, he threw them on the floor and insisted that new fries be brought to him that he paid for himself, completely oblivious to the fact that he had no money.

My superpower was an out-of-body experience, where I left the situation and went back to Teaism, thinking about new adventures Zoey and I would have in the coming months (years?). There is just so much to do and see around here that it doesn’t take much to find a glorious afternoon, and great conversations that begin with the weather.

Maxwell House Max

This morning I am sitting in the sun room with a large cup of Maxwell House™ Max, a new product that has 1.75x the amount of caffeine as a regular cup of coffee. I have some errands to run and chores to do, so I don’t feel bad about front loading a lot of chemical fortitude. If I had to take a wild guess, brewed coffee is getting its ass kicked by energy drinks, and this is basically “shots fired.” I like it black with a good amount of Splenda,™ because there are a lot of chocolate undertones you miss if you add creamer.

Plus, it’s not very expensive. Coffee can just be a beverage again instead of a lifestyle choice. Even I can’t pinpoint the percentage of my income that has gone to outrageously expensive beans, but I guarantee that it’s astronomical. That being said, I do save a lot of money even with buying expensive beans, because it’s still cheaper than going to a coffee shop and paying for one cup at a time.

Sometimes I marvel at how we got here- that the market will bear $3 for a plain cup of coffee. I save a little bit at Starbucks, because people give me gift cards all the time, and because I’m a Gold Member, I get free refills on coffee & tea. Because of this, I have learned that Venti is Italian for “too lazy to get up.” Also, pro tip- SBUX coffee is so much better if you buy the beans and brew them in your own coffee pot… two reasons. You can make it to your own taste, and you know exactly how long it’s been sitting there.

I’d like to support my local indie coffee shops, but since I get gift cards to Starbucks, free coffee is too good to pass up. One $15 gift card will keep me in coffee for two weeks.

However, I am guessing that you don’t come to this web site to hear me extol the virtues of coffee… well, at least, not all of you. You want to know what’s been going on in my life, and I haven’t updated you in a while.

Samantha has signed up for cosmetology school at the Aveda Institute, which is 223 feet from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop. She’d never taken public transit before, so she wanted me to go with her on a “dry run” to make sure she knew where she was going on the first day. It was absolutely adorable, really. I don’t know anyone who is better at “winning friends and influencing people,” so not only did we get where we were going fairly fast, on the way back we made friends with the bus driver… well, she did, anyway. I just sat back and interjected into the conversation, as I am wont to do. He told us that he was from Haiti, and he was about my age, so I asked him, you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but did you come here to escape Baby Doc? He said, and this is a direct quote, how the fuck did you know that? Get off this bus. He made a big show of opening the door. It was a Slumdog Millionaire moment as I remembered that my dad was a missionary in Haiti in the ’80s.

Then, a couple of days later, we had a wind storm that sounded like a freight train, blowing the side door open at our house and blowing debris and branches all over the ciy. So far, I only know of one person that died, a six-year-old who was hit by a branch in just the right spot to cause his mortality. In terms of history, one of the trees that President Washington planted at Mount Vernon was knocked over, as well.

Everyone in our household stayed safe, and we didn’t lose electricity… even though the wind at National Airport reached 70mph. As Ron White so eloquently put it, it’s not that the wind is blowing, it’s what the wind is blowing. He was talking about a tornado, but the point is the same. You might be able to outrun the wind itself, but not the car bumper it’s carrying.

I am now reading my second book for review, an advance copy that’s not even on Amazon yet… I suppose you would say that I’m a beta reader, because this is far past first draft work. I’m not far enough along in the book to tell you if the story is better than The Reel Sisters, but I can tell you that the writing style is much more advanced and closer to the fiction I’ve enjoyed before I started reviewing professionally.

I’m hoping my editor sticks with me, because even though I can’t send her a copy of the book (I’m sworn to secrecy), she can at least tell me if the review is good enough for publication or to go back to the drawing board.

As I told her, no one in formal writing makes it on their own…. or they lie. When my first review got published, my e-mail to her said, we did it.

This web site is absolutely not formal writing. It’s just whatever I’m thinking that day… and the very next day, I might say the exact opposite. Sometimes I’ve changed my mind. Sometimes it’s just cognitive dissonance in which each idea is true to me and I carry them both.

I don’t have a problem with thinking two opposite things at once. It’s like love. You never forget that your partner is an amazing part of your world, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t occasionally fantasize about smothering them in their sleep and collecting the insurance money when they haven’t taken out the garbage like you asked them to do two days ago.

Because I’m single, I get the pleasure of being annoyed at myself for those things. I can’t decide if that’s better or worse. Probably better, because I haven’t broken up with me yet…. even on the days I wish I could, like when I’m really mean to me before I’ve had my coffee.