The Hours, Part II

Working more hours has seriously put a dent in my inspiration for writing. It takes a lot of brain power to put words together in the correct order, and when I get home, I can barely pour myself a soda and walk upstairs…. which is better, I suppose, than pouring a soda on the stairs, so at least I got that goin’ for me. Even right now, when I’m supposed to be “rested,” as I have to leave for work in an hour, I am dragging ass. Last night I was on the closing shift, and I overdid it on the caffeine to prepare. As a result, I didn’t get to bed until 0400, and while that’s not a problem time-wise, I didn’t sleep deeply. I got the correct number of hours, but that’s about it. Lying horizontally with my eyes closed is not the same as drifting down into the depths of sleep one has to achieve to arise alert. I could have slept 12 hours like that and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I would still be in as desperate a need for coffee as I am right now. I will probably go to Veridian Market, the little convenience store that’s right next to the restaurant, for some type of cold brew. Starbucks has really upped their game in terms of their canned and bottled drinks.

Energy sodas don’t do as well for me as coffee. Maybe it’s the aromatherapy. I once did an at-home experiment with that. For a few days, I drank decaf in the morning, just made it as strong as I usually make the real stuff. The smell alone was enough to trick my brain…. for a while, anyway. Notice I said I made it a few days.

The biggest news I got yesterday was that I didn’t get the job at UMD, but two things about that. The first is that they encouraged me to apply again in the future, because they really enjoyed meeting me. The second is that I’m really happy where I am right now. So, all in all, not something I feel terribly bad about… just a little bummed. New opportunities are always around the corner. That this one didn’t pan out is not a real thing in terms of an ice cream level emergency. I am nothing if not versatile and easygoing… well, about certain things, anyway. I pick my battles, though sometimes not wisely. But, as Nelson Mandela said, “I either win, or I learn.”

Sometimes I feel as if I have “learned” enough, but that is neither here nor there. I can definitely put being happy at my current job in the W column, because people who are happy at work seem incredibly rare. Maybe it’s just not cool to say you’re happy with your job, because misery loves company. I have never been cool.

I wish that the people who were truly unhappy in their jobs would find a way to quit and do what they love, realizing that all jobs come with drawbacks and you have to find the positives yourself. My biggest positive is not working in any kind of customer service, whether IT, retail, or waiting tables. I have a very pleasant demeanor (especially through chat and on the phone) and will do it, but I prefer the layer of separation that comes from being in the (very, very) back of the house. You have to go down two flights of stairs and past the brewery before you can even open the door to the kitchen. Customers couldn’t even find me by accident.

Even with all my extra hours.

 

Prep

Yesterday was both easy and difficult at the same time. I am not used to starting my day in the morning anymore. I go to work between 1500-1700, so I tend to wake up between 1100 and 1300, depending on how jazzed I am from the night before and what I have to do the next day. Flipping my schedule around for one day threw me into the “I got up on the wrong side of the bed and I’m very grumpy” set of feelings. I got two Rock Stars from 7-Eleven and I am not ashamed to say that I drank both of them. I did not sleep well the night before, and with prep, I have to be alert, because to not is to hurt oneself… badly. For instance, my first job was par cooking French Fries, so that the people on the line only have to drop them in the fryer for a minute or two before they’re ready. Therefore, I was standing in front of a 350 degree fryer for almost two and a half hours. Had I been sleepy, that could have ended with blisters, or waiting for them to bubble. Even when I’m at the top of my game, accidents happen. I think I burned off one of my fingerprints on Wednesday. I got some ice on it immediately, so no blister bubbled, but for the moment, at least, I have no feeling on the pad of my left index finger and part of my thumb.

I was proud of myself, because since I was able to get ice and extraordinarily cold water on the burns immediately, it allowed me to keep working steadily. It’s a long story, but we’ve changed lead line cooks again, and it was magical. The same give-and-take that was there with the last one is still there with him. I got the compliment of my life- “I’m going to put you on all my shifts, because you can keep up with me, and I’m fast.” Also, I was absolutely kidding, but I told my kitchen manager, “of all the line cooks in all the world, you had to pick a Yankees fan?” Turns out, he’s actually a Mets fan, but from Brooklyn, so as he said, “whaddya gonna do?” I’m not even that much of a baseball fan, though I will watch it more easily than anything else, save soccer, especially if the Giants or the Dodgers are playing…. especially against the Astros. I’ve spent too many years of my life rooting for the Dodgers and the Giants to give up now.

Here, I root for the Baltimore Orioles, for a nerdy reason specific only to me. I can’t get behind the “Walgreens W.” Come to find out, the W belonged to the Senators first, which makes me feel sort of bad about it. Still. Just. Can’t.

Fonts matter. Also love that they call the Os park “Birdland.”

I do like Bryce Harper and his ever changing hair, though. Believe it or don’t, the rumor is that the Nats are thinking of trading him to the Astros.

I am sure that I will eventually get on board with the Nationals, only because it’s so much easier to take the Metro to the park than it is to get on the Marc to Baltimore. When I was thinking about moving from Houston to the Mid-Atlantic, I actually thought about Baltimore in addition to DC, because as I said then, “I’m really more of a John Waters than a John Boehner.” But again, what changed my mind was the public transportation infrastructure, because I know how to drive, but don’t. The traffic and parking around here suck. DC barely has room for the cars that the people own who live there. Bringing them in from Maryland and Virginia is just a “goat-ropin’ clusterfuck,” my favorite Texas swear.

Plus, because of supply and demand, the cost of parking for even a couple of hours is outrageous. As long as I have the time, taking the train is is easy. If I have to get somewhere fast, the cost of an Uber is infinitely less expensive than even buying a cheap cash car and trying to maintain it, plus insurance, plus parking if I go anywhere near “the city….” I have proven over time that I need a lot of it. Such a stereotypical woman driver who gives my gender a bad name. I would much rather zone out in the back seat with a good book or podcast.

For instance, I got a Facebook direct message from Dan, who told me she wanted to watch Argo with me, because it seemed like it was my favorite movie. I told her it didn’t seem like that, it was that. So even though I just watched it last Saturday, we watched it again last night. It was perfect over a glass of wine and some Wheat Thins, of which I am very proud I did not eat the whole box.

For that reason alone, it was nice to be done with work by 1600. It was also nice that I still felt caffeinated, because otherwise, I would have fallen asleep five minutes into the movie, especially after a glass of wine.

Meeting Dan has been one of the great blessings of my life, because not only did she fold me into her own life, but introduced me to a great friend circle as well. She is the connector- every friend I’ve hung out with over the past two years has invariably come from a chance meeting at one of her parties. Jaime lives the closest to me, in Columbia Heights, a quick trip down 16th street or a short train ride away. But even going out to Alexandria is faster on the train than I could drive it, because the traffic between Silver Spring and anywhere in Virginia is atrocious.

Every time, I am thanked for making the trek out there, but it is really no sweat. The yellow line connects two stops from my house (at Ft. Totten), and I can take it all the way to Braddock, which is one stop past National (the day I call it Reagan will never come unless I’m senile- which, incidentally, objects in mirror are closer than they appear).

Slowly getting ready for my interview at University of Maryland on Tuesday, mostly surrounding what I should wear. Business casual has changed so much over the years. I have no idea what I’ll see when I show up. For some universities, a collared shirt will do. For others, everyone will be in jeans and t-shirts. Generally for an interview, I wear a suit, and I will probably do the same now. Although funny story- when I interviewed at Marylhurst, one of the things they said to me after I started was, “when you walked in wearing that suit, we thought, ‘she is going to eat us alive.'”

I, in fact, did not.

I am the Type B poster child, so by the time I actually started, I was in jeans and t-shirts and/or Polos just like everyone else…. and like in all offices, a coat or a hoodie for my constant battle against the air conditioner. I am always thirsty and cold, the temperature made worse by drinking cold water. As I joke with my friends, “I drink a lot.”

At Alert Logic, everyone could hear me coming because I put ice water and an energy drink packet in my Nalgene, so it sounded every day like I was shaking a martini on the way to my desk. I’m surprised no one asked to taste it just to make sure. 🙂

We also had a free Starbucks coffee machine, so there were many days in which I overdid it, because hey, free latte. It was amazing because it didn’t taste like hospital coffee. I spend most days wired for sound.

In fact, I’m prepping for it today.

 

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.

Let’s Get Some Shoes

The tread on my Bistro Crocs was wearing thin, and I didn’t notice until we were cleaning the floors. I was sliding around more than normal, and started to calculate exactly how long it had been since I’d bought them. I got them when I was working at Biddy’s, so that’s at least ten years.IMG_0069 Plus, I’d gotten them a size smaller on the advice that they would stretch out, which they did, but they are also scuffed where my big toes stuck out in accommodation. So, it was time for a new pair. I asked my bosses what the rules were for crazy pants/shoes in the kitchen, and they said go for it. We don’t care. I probably need another pair of pants, but those can wait. I have a dish washing shift coming up next Sunday, so shoes take precedence. Bet you didn’t know I could switch hit.

Some of my chefs would agree with you that I cannot. However, there are long stretches of radio silence in which to catch up on a Sunday, so I’m not worried. I’d do anything just to be there. Being in a professional kitchen is where I feel the most alive.

I really want to meet Anthony Bourdain now, because he said on No Reservations that he’d never seen a white person apply for a dishwasher position before. I didn’t apply for it, that’s just where they needed me, but it still counts, right? Right?

Keep in mind that I would not be going for the crazy pants/shoes look if I was doing fine dining. I work in a brewpub, where our basic uniforms are jeans or chef pants and company t-shirts…. and most of mine are black and red, the logo for Lowest Lord ESB. Well, technically the logo on the beer tap/can is orange, but the t-shirt made for it is black with white, yellow, red, and grey printing. Even my official logo shirts are black. I am so in style now… well, for the kitchen. It’s not like I’m going to wear these to the opera (wait… I can’t promise anything).

It’s not enough to dress the part, though. Getting new shoes and new chef pants is just an adornment on what is often technically difficult and demanding work. For instance, we have the same french fry cutter that In-N-Out Burger does, the one that slices the whole potato into strings at once.

You cannot imagine how difficult it is for someone of my stature and lack of strength to cut through a huge baking potato lengthwise by pulling a lever that tends to get stuck halfway through, or the potato bends, without an enormous amount of pressure. Part of it is that my upper body strength is weak. Part of it is the placement of the slicer on the wall. I have even less body strength when I have to reach that far up. I’m only 5’4, and I always feel like I’m trying to slice a potato on a professional height basketball goal. For most of the guys, the lever is at their waist. On the plus side, I now have a gym at my disposal. Pretty much anything in the walk-in weighs at least 40 lbs, and cardio is 20 tickets on the rail and 20-30 that won’t fit yet behind them. Also pretty sure I could use the potato slicer as a chin-up bar (that was like, half a joke).

The reward at the end of the night is always a shift beer, but I’ve only taken them up on it twice. This is because all I really want when I’m done is a large pitcher full of ice water and a straw. But both of the beers I’ve tried were wonderful. One was Georgia Avenue White Peach Weisse, and the other was Third Party Belgian Tripel. I can’t recommend one over the other, because that would be like comparing donuts to Chevrolets. They’re both amazing in their own ways.

In terms of after-work activities, I don’t have any. I’m too tired. I’ve been watching a little TV, starting Fargo from the beginning. I absolutely love it 20 minutes at a time…. which is about how much I watch before I fall asleep and have to rewind when I wake up.

Last night I was so exhausted I left both Rachel and her sheath at my workstation. It’s not like anyone will steal/destroy her, but I am so possessive that if the weather weren’t this horrible, I’d go get her just to make sure. In a professional kitchen, I don’t even care if she goes through the dish machine…. or as my old chef reminded me, Leslie… it’s a dish machine, not a dish washer. What, you think when you press the button little elves are going to jump out and wash your dishes? Professional dish machines are mostly for sanitation, getting the dishes hot enough for reuse. Not much washing is going to get done in a two minute cycle.

That’s why human dish washers are so important- all the food has to be off the dishes and the pots have to be scrubbed before you put them into the machine, where the water is hot enough to burn Satan’s asshole.

Oh, look. My kitchen vocabulary is coming back. My mother will be so proud.