Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Crazy? Who's crazy?

Lets pause for a moment, and take a brief trip to imagination land...

Imagine me. A 31 year old man, sitting on his couch. Everyday I eat meals, and go to work, and read things, and talk with other people. I have a girlfriend who I'm about to marry. I own a cat. Every single day, I spend some time by myself, reflecting on my memories, processing new information, and trying to objectively look at the world around me. Every once in a while I try to write some of my thoughts down. It looks like I'm going to be offered a very significant promotion at work soon, but ultimately, I dream of opening a business someday.

Can you imagine it? Pretty easy to see? Nothing shocking or unusual right? Let's keep going...

The same 31 year old man. I smoke a lot of Pall Mall cigarettes. A few nights a week, I consume alcohol. I used to drink more, but I'm tiring of it as I age. Plus I work six days a week, so there just isn't time. Now I snack on a lot of pickles. I'm hypoglycemic, so sometimes when my sugar gets low, I smash a slice of wheat bread into a ball and eat it in one bite. I bite my fingernails and wiggle my big toes constantly. I also have a sleep disorder. I walk around and say crazy things while I'm asleep. Sometimes I light cigarettes or piss in the kitchen trash can while totally unconscious. I once kept a craw fish alive in a small tank on my kitchen counter for six months. Often it would escape and fight with the aforementioned cat in the middle of the night. I like to feed the squirrels in the park behind my condo. The sight of squirrels eating sunflower seeds relaxes me. My neighbor hates the squirrels, and I slightly resent her for it.

Are you still following along? Can you envision me still? I seem a bit more unusual now, right? But would you say that I'm crazy? Probably not I imagine. Perhaps you now see me as odd, but I doubt you'd call me insane....

Let's push it one step further...

Now, suppose that I told you that a unicorn lives in my extra bedroom. If you want to see it, too bad, because this unicorn is invisible. In fact, I can provide no physical evidence that it exists. Yet I assure you, it is very real.

Furthermore, I can actually communicate with this invisible unicorn. I talk with it every day of my life. While I can't actually hear it speak words, the unicorn speaks to my heart. I bring most every decision or trouble in my life to the unicorn, and somehow, in a way that is indescribable, the mythical beast tells me what to do. The unicorn helps me decide what jobs to take, or how to best deal with financial hardship, and even who to vote for. It really is pretty incredible. I've been living this way for so long, that I now realize that I would be nothing without it's presence.

Are you still trying to picture it? By now you think I'm a full blown lunatic, right? You probably would like to know if I've ever been diagnosed as schizophrenic, correct? I can imagine your faces now, looking at me as if you're worried about my well being....

How dare you! You assert that I'm insane? You ask if I have any other invisible associates? Of course not. That would be absurd!

Hold on for a second now, hold on. Give me a minute to explain myself. In fact, you may be interested to hear what I have to say...

I have to share something with you. The unicorn demands that I do so.

The unicorn wants you to know that it loves you. It loves all of us. Actually, the unicorn created you. It created me also. It created EVERYTHING, merely 6,000 years ago. All you have to do is truly believe in it's existence, and you too can have a relationship with this magical horse. I know this probably seems pretty confusing to you, but don't worry. I have a book that will help you. The unicorn's magic book. The unicorn didn't actually write it, of course, rather myself and a few dozen others did. It goes without saying, however, that the unicorn closely supervised the books construction.

What? You're going to stop reading this now? Wait a second! Hold on! Just one more thing. You see, you could be in danger!

Look, the unicorn loves you. He loves you more than you can ever imagine. But here's the thing... If you don't turn your entire life, will, and existence over to the white-horned horse at this very moment, the unicorn, in it's infinite wisdom, will wait until you die, and then it will subject you to an eternity of suffering that exceeds human comprehension! It's true. It's right here in the book.

I know what your thinking. You want to know how a horse that loves us all so much could ever send most of us into eternal agony, right? I don't have an answer. You just have to believe that the unicorn is far more intelligent than we are. Just accept it. The unicorn doesn't like to be questioned, OK?

All the unicorn asks for in return is your undying allegiance, a solemn vow to share the it's message with every human you meet, and ten percent of your income. That's gross, not net income. Oh, and if perhaps you could just show up once or twice a week down at the local....

Oh, really? You just aren't going to read anymore? Fine then. I've done what the unicorn asked of me. Out of the goodness of my heart, I'll still beseech the unicorn to forgive you, but I can't make any promises. After all, what more do you need? The unicorn has provided you with plenty of chances friend...

Somehow I suspect that if the unicorn was a man, and he lived in the sky rather than in my spare bedroom, you people could see me as the sane and rational human that I am.....

Things I've been accused of: Today...

People keep telling me that I'm offensive. They tell me I'm rude and that I get angry too easily. What follows is a list of my behaviors that some deem to be inappropriate, accompanied by my my personal justifications for my actions.

1) So called "road rage". There really is a laundry list of things I'm criticised for in this department. Constantly honking at people. Screaming at people. Obscene gestures. Intimidating the elderly. Swerving my car at other drivers. Extreme aggression. Frequent violations of state and municipal traffic laws.

Many of these stem from my frustration with perceived stupidity of other drivers. I fully understand that the average housewife or high school boy might not possess the driving skills or sense of urgency that I do. Some people are just more timid than I am. Some are too young to know the unwritten rules, and some are too old to keep up anymore. That's fine.

Yet some things are just too much for me to tolerate. Driving 10mph below the speed limit is 20mph too slow. Failing to notice the left-hand turn arrow for three seconds earns a scolding. I need to see a blinker before I see break lights. Don't even dare pull in front of me if you aren't traveling as quickly. At bare minimum, other peoples driving mistakes are an inconvenience to me, in the worst case scenarios, they endanger my life. That makes your driving habits my business. I have two rules: Pay attention, and Move your Ass! Failure to obey either will result in aggression on my part.

Traffic laws? Those are for idiots and cowards. Speed limits are a good suggestion for bad drivers. Traffic lights are an insult to my intelligence. I'm a grown man. I can determine for myself when an intersection is safe to pass through. No right on red? What am I? A child?

2) I'm not tolerant of children in public. I don't want to hear crying in a restaurant. I don't like children sprinting around in the grocery store. I wasn't allowed to do any of that shit when I was a child, so no one else should be either.

The world is full of idiots and shitty parents. It isn't my job or social responsibility to tolerate other peoples unruly children. These kids aren't nearly as special as their parents would like to convince us they are. Half the time they are moronic, loud, and ugly. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree most of the time...

3) I park in the space reserved for "New and expectant mothers".

There are four reasons for this. First, pregnancy isn't a handicap. Secondly, it's perfectly legal. Third, most Americans could use the exercise anyway. And finally, I'm not the one who got you pregnant. It just isn't my problem.

4) I scoff at flags and all forms of nationalism.

Look people, flags aren't magic. They're merely cloth rectangles with random patterns on them. They symbolically represent the concept of a nation, which is also idiotic. What is a border exactly? Isn't it just an imaginary line? The entire idea of a country is nothing more than a man-made device used to keep more resources for one group while depriving another.

And why would anyone be proud of their national origin? It's the equivalent of being proud of your hair color, race, or shoe size. If you did absolutely nothing to earn your status, why would you be so filled with pride? It's sheer nonsense.

Accordingly, I also refuse to engage in the mindless worship of the military that everyone else seems so fond of. This always seems to touch a real sore spot with the flag-loving dolts that surround me. People loose their minds if I even mention the topic.

The truth is this though. The military is composed of volunteers who are financially compensated for what they do. Don't try to convince me that I need to pay homage to a group of employees who do the bidding of plutocrats who in no way represent me. If you want to believe in the bullshit your fed, that's fine. But I'm not buying it. It should be mentioned however, that the level of worship the public heaps on soldiers is dangerously out of control. A public that doesn't question the motives and behavior of those who put military force into action is a public that would still throw roses at soldiers returning from duty in a concentration camp. Historically, mindless allegiance most always ends in atrocity, and if you look around, you'll notice an alarming quantity of mindless people.

5) My general lack of social grace.

By no means do I go out of my way to be rude to people. I don't generally bite my tongue though either.

If I think someone is being a dick to the cashier at the pharmacy, I call them out. If I find someone to be a bigot or simply a bad person, I have no other choice but to speak. If someone treats me in a manner that I find to be unjustifiably disrespectful, I'm most likely going to attempt to verbally humiliate them.

Sometimes I just don't like people. So I just avoid them entirely. I have family members that I haven't seen in years. There have been co-workers that I don't even acknowledge. I refuse to waist precious time on people who I find to be detestable, and I have no urge to hide my feelings.
I don't feel that any of this makes me a dick, I think it just indicates that I'm honest.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I am offensive and rude.
Either way though, I don't foresee any behavioral changes on the horizon. I'm comfortable in my own skin.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Not-So-Prodigal Son's Return...

I've been gone for quite a while now. Frankly, I haven't had the motivation to write. I'm not working in a kitchen anymore, and I'm entirely sick of arguing about real world issues, so just like that, the blog dried up and turned to dust.

I've considered abandoning the blog all together, and returning to the simple life of scribbling short poems and essays on sandwich wrappers and old envelopes before throwing them out of the car window on the interstate; all the while fantasizing that somehow, someday, some fringe person would collect some of them and track me down using the addresses on the envelopes. In my fantasy, I would be discovered once I was an old and crippled man, maniacal and bitter, yet I would quickly become an icon in the subculture's literary world. Just when public interest was about to peak, I would die, leaving my legacy forever shrouded in mystery and confusion. 100 years later, Freshmen Lit students would sit around a classroom somewhere in the Midwest, and one would passionately argue the benefits of post-modern leftist isolationism (or some other nonsense) based on my classic essay "The queen of hearts, a one-eyed jack, and the ace up my sleeve", which I originally wrote with a black crayon on several Taco Bell napkins while under the influence of hallucinogens in 1998.

Take that Kilgore Trout!

So anyhow.... I'm going to try to write again. I can make no promises, however, about what the content of future writings will contain. I'm just going to cut loose, stop trying to not offend people, and call it as I see it. If any of my friends, family, or regular readers are offended, then so be it. I'm no longer concerned with potential social consequences.

Anything less is a waste of my time...

Monday, October 4, 2010

A recent history of my time in the trenches...

I need a new home. I'm well trained, dependable, and eager to be part of a new team. I'm hoping to find a warm, welcoming kitchen, looking for a kitchen mercenary who is only moderately insane. Corporate entities and amateurs need not respond. I'm only interested in working for reasonably intelligent private owners. Please call soon. I'm getting really tired...

The last eight months of my employment have seemingly lasted for a miserable lifetime. Bouncing around from one nightmare to another. Hope fading slowly with every sunrise. Something has to give...

I don't need much. I'm not asking for anything great. Hell, I'm not even asking for a lot of money. I'm more than happy to work hard for average compensation. I just want a job where I don't find myself wanting to smash my car into a bridge embankment on my drive to work.

I've worked the line at a giant corporate restaurant chain. I'd describe the job as simultaneously stressful and boring. Stacking onion rings and wrapping assorted microwaved nonsense in tortillas as fast as possible, worrying about time, cursing at high-pitched fryer alarms, and watching life pass me by. This would be an adequate job description.

I worked as a grill cook at a giant corporate cafeteria. I'd cook breakfast and lunch for company workers at a large flat-top, taking the orders face to face and handing off plates. At the same time, I had to manage and fill a small breakfast bar type set up. It was a load of crap. Corporate, micro-managed crap. No one could seem to understand my lack of enthusiasm about making specials out of two-day-old reheated hash browns and ancient turkey sausage. Plus, about 20% of the customers I had to wait on were horrible assholes. Spoiled, passive aggressive, white-collar cowards. And there was a worker there.... Ah.... The bastard. Perhaps the most irritating person I ever worked with. Five feet tall. An ass-kisser. He'd smile to your face and talk shit behind your back moments later. The type of guy who often describes himself as a "team player", yet constantly tries to make himself look better by throwing the rest of his co workers under the proverbial bus. If I ever see that guy on the street, I'd honestly consider tossing him through a plate glass window.

I spent a few days working for a small Italian style restaurant that's been open for 40 years. My first day there, during my first hour, I saw the kitchen manager drop a piece of fully cooked and sauced protein on the floor. Without blinking, he picked it up and placed it directly on the plate. Besides not throwing it away, he didn't even bother to visually check it, or briefly re fire it, or rinse it off. Nothing. Just straight to the table. Another cook looked at me, shook his head, and said "Well, welcome to *name of restaurant*." I should add that this was the dirtiest kitchen I've ever seen. They didn't even own a mop. At the end of my first shift, I asked what I should clean before I left. They told me that they didn't really clean. Just wrap up the food and leave. That kitchen was so dirty that even the roaches complained.

I worked for a first time restaurant owner for a bit. The place that I was working went through an ownership change, and I stayed on. I knew this could be trouble, but the girl seemed enthusiastic, and I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I tried to remain optimistic. Soon, I'd realize that I was on a sinking ship. Bad ideas. Unrealistic demands. Complete ignorance. Zero experience. Total inability to manage people. An endless stream of idiocracy, incompetence, and righteous indignation. On my day off, she called me seven times to ask what type of plastic souffle cups she should purchase. The next day, she created a total shit storm (which I had endlessly warned her was about to occur), blamed me for it, and my time there was done. I packed up my knives and hit the road at 7:15 on a Friday night. The entire staff ended up quitting within about a 30 day time period. So it goes...

I'm not even going to mention the wild array of interviews and nonsense I've suffered through at this point...

Before that new owner took over, things weren't all that bad for me. It certainly wasn't the type of place I'd have worked the rest of my life, but in retrospect, I'd be happy to rewind time and do it again. I actually liked and respected the owners then. The woman who called the shots was a bit of a loose cannon, but so am I. In addition, she knew what she was doing, and once she became convinced that I did also, I was pretty much cut loose. All communications were honest if nothing else, and most all of my transgressions were forgiven on the basis of competency and my honest approach. And I genuinely did enjoy the company of everyone I worked with there. It really was fun sometimes. Hell, these days, I'm not even sure who owns the places I've been working. I don't even know when the last time I had fun was...

Please, please, give me something! This is my plea to the culinary Gods. Decent food, decent wage, decent boss. That's all I ask for. Can't someone provide a home to this humble orphan in a chef's coat?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Idiots, assholes, and thieves...

Today's topic is... The unhappy customer.

I read a lot of restaurant related blogs, and although every one of them has already covered this topic extensively, I still feel the need to share my opinion on the subject.

The main source of contention is this: The vast majority of customers operate under the impression that "the customer is always right". This belief causes a myriad of problems. Anyone who has worked in the industry, however, realizes that this is rarely the case. I would estimate that 80% of the time, the customer is in complete error, and needs to shut his or her mouth.

Granted, sometimes the customer has a right to complain. Sometimes, a server is shitty. Or a grill cook is having an off night. Or perhaps someone just made a simple mistake. A miscommunication. Errors do occur. Even the best servers and cooks foul things up from time to time. It's hard to go hour after hour, doing 20 things at once, without slipping up somewhere. On a few rare occasions, I've visited restaurants where everything seemed to be terrible. None of them were in business for very long though.

Being a restaurant worker, however, I'm usually pretty forgiving. I'm not going to throw a childish fit if on a busy Saturday night, my server forgets to bring my side of rice. I understand that shit happens. As long as an effort is being made, I'm going to let it slide. I know how hectic things can get.

Unfortunately, many customers don't behave the same as I do. They start bitching and making demands. I believe that there are three main reasons for this behavior. Any time that a person starts berating the staff, at least one of these factors is at play.

1) The customer is trying to get something for free.... This is probably the most common motivation for starting trouble unreasonably. And sadly, people engage in this behavior because it is affective. Most restaurants, especially corporate ones, will partially comp a meal or hand out a gift certificate in order to pacify a loudmouth. Often, the lower socio-economic classes are the ones guilty of this offense, but not always. I've seen customers who drive cars that are more valuable than my home launch into tirades when they discover that they were charged $2.95 for a dinner salad.

The really ugly aspect of these occurrences is the potential consequences that employees can face. Many people think very little of going out to eat at an Applebee's, going home, and then firing off an email to the corporate office about how terrible their service was. They include the name they read off of their server's name tag, and think nothing more of the experience once they receive their apologetic email response accompanied with a $25 gift certificate. A week later they go into the restaurant again, use their gift certificate, and again fire off an email. This time they hope to get a certificate for $50.

Meanwhile, if a server catches three of these complaints, they get terminated. Maybe even fewer. I've actually read reviews and blogs written by people like this who openly brag about how much free food they've hustled, and one customer who even expressed that she thought it was funny that her complaints had gotten three waitresses fired thus far.

2) The customer is a dumb-shit... Every server or kitchen worker knows these people. They order a steak rare, and then claim it isn't hot enough. They ask if the cheeseburger has meat in it. They order French onion soup, and then demand a refund because they weren't aware that it would contain onions. They can never read the menu, or find the bathroom, or understand why it might take more than four minutes to receive their food when they're sitting in the middle of a 200 seat restaurant that is packed to the gills and has a waiting time of 40 minutes to be seated. "How long does it take to cook a dinner?" Stupid asses. How long would it take for your idiotic, drooling, overweight ass to cook a dinner? How about 400 dinners? Sit down, shut up, and fucking wait. And if you even consider sticking your spoiled, pasty face in the kitchen door to "See what the hold-up is", realize that you're looking at a group of people who are more than willing to kill you in cold blood.

3) The customer is an asshole... You see these people not just in restaurants, but everywhere. I met them when I worked the butcher counter, when I painted, when I delivered pizzas, when I landscaped. I see them in front of me in line at the grocery store. Miserable, angry, short-tempered assholes. For some reason, these detestable sorts enjoy nothing more than attempting to dehumanize those who serve their needs. I dislike them the least, however, of the entire group. As a young man, I usually wanted to throw bricks at their faces. But now, I almost feel sympathy for them. I can recognize their banter immediately, and my first thought is always this: "What has happened to you, how terrible is your meager existence, how isolated and lonely are you, that your chief role in society is to abuse every service worker you meet? Is this the only time in your day-to-day life that you experience any empowerment? Is this the only moment today that anyone will listen to your pathetic bullshit? May God have mercy on your not-so-humble soul...".

Make no mistake, however. Despite the small quantity of sympathy and tolerance I have developed for these people over the years, I'm still not exactly Gandhi or Jesus. After about three consecutive negative exchanges, I'm going to switch gears, lock into "verbal kill mode", and engage. It's just my nature. And guess what? More often than not, I'm going to win. It's a mistake to discount my intelligence and level of cunning based on the job I may hold. I'm educated, sharp, and somewhere deep inside, I have an axe to grind. I can infuriate these people beyond comprehension yet at the same time, be vaguely technical enough to avoid having the management's hammer come down on me. If it ends up with me having to defend myself to my boss after the customer complains, I think well enough on my feet that I'm going to skate free 90% of the time.

For those of you who read this, and don't work in the service industry, I request that you don't react defensively to this essay. If you're a reasonable person, who while reading this remembers back on some poor experience you've had while dining, you easily could have been one of the 20%. Some complaints are legitimate. And any decent service worker will be more than happy to admit fault and compensate you accordingly. But you must understand that while you may have been in the right, we restaurant insiders deal with many more people who aren't. Every single day of customer service exposes us to idiots, assholes, and thieves.

And there are more of them than you could ever imagine....

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Getting back to normal, whatever that is...

I've been gone for a bit. The reasons are numerous.

For one, I went without a home computer for about five days. Being as I do most of my writing in the middle of the night, this situation pretty much eliminated the possibility of blogging. As for the other week I was absent, well, I can't really provide a clear explanation. I haven't really been communicating much at all. Suffice it to say that my cognitive gears have been grinding so to speak. Things have been rolling along less than smoothly. Nothing serious, just the typical psychological angst experienced by fringe people like myself, mixed with dissatisfaction in my employment and general apathy. Same old story.

But some interesting things have happened. I interviewed for a job at the world's most disgusting butcher shop, located in the world's worst neighborhood. I also was hired at another job, only for that business to cease operations and fold only 48 hours later. I met some of the stupidest people on the planet, developed a new ulcer, and performed some classic sleep-walking shenanigans. In addition, I had an epiphany, in the middle of a super busy Saturday night dinner service, that will surely alter the coarse of the remainder of my life.

In due time, I will write about some of these stories. Tonight will not be the night however. I'm just trying to make my return to the social world a simple one. Tonight, I only want to make one brief commentary.

And here it is.

Never again will I subject myself to the standards of the corporate restaurant world. Barring absolute catastrophe, I'm officially signing myself off. I will tirelessly pursue employment in privately owned businesses from this point on. I'm absolutely finished with this world of memos, bureaucracy, and hierarchical structure run amok. I have become fully convinced that the corporate structure dehumanizes the laborers, dilutes the quality of the product, and drives down wages for those who do the majority of the labor.

By no means do I desire to offend anyone, nor do I desire to burn any bridges. Yet at this juncture in time, personal principle outweighs all other motivating factors. The seeming efficiency of the corporate kitchen is nice, as is the clearly defined structure. A different kind of human could certainly enjoy that sort of thing. But I'm not that kind of human.

Once again, I am born anew....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wisdom comes with age, sometimes....

I tend to be nocturnal. Many of my fellow food-service employees also share this tendency. But for some reason, on days like today when I'm off work, it's even worse. I have this strange sense that I haven't done enough in order to sleep. So despite the early wake-up that is looming in my near future, I'm awake and typing.

I suppose that I haven't burnt off enough energy. Being as today was my birthday, I did as little as possible. In fact, I did almost nothing. I went out to get a pizza. Other than that, nothing. I took a nap, read some news, and looked at restaurant reviews online. Yes, I'm aware that reading reviews is a goofy and dorkish pass time, but I enjoy it. I really enjoy the negative ones. Sometimes you can find a link to all of that person's reviews, and usually, if they've fired off one scathingly terrible review, they've written several. Each one of which shows a deeper level of bitterness and contempt than the previous one. There are some really miserable bastards out there, who just aren't pleased with anything. Terribly difficult people.

I encountered one today when I was out for the pizza.

Although it was my birthday, and my girlfriend had offered to buy me whatever I wanted for dinner, I elected for a simple salad and pizza. We went to a local place called Stefanina's. I'm sure that many of my readers from the St. Louis area are familiar with it. It's nothing spectacular, just pizza and pasta type joint that's been doing business in the suburbs since the early seventies. Considering how much time I spend in restaurants working, it's probably understandable by most of my readers that I would want to keep dining experiences in my free time as casual as possible. I wanted something dependable, cheap, and unhealthy; in a place that would tolerate my dirty cargo shorts, flip-flops, and toenails which haven't been trimmed in two months. A place where the servers don't have to blow a bunch of institutional, up-selling smoke at me, and no one cares if I lie my face on the table while I wait. That's how I roll on my birthday. So casual and laid back that a stranger could easily mistake me for a homeless man who's had far too many barbiturates.

We went at 3:45pm, because I also desired to avoid both the lunch and dinner rush. I was in no mood to be inside of a busy restaurant. It makes me nervous and itchy when I know the kitchen is in the weeds and I can sense urgency from the servers. Plus, other patrons could be disturbed by my total lack of concern regarding my appearance. I'd much rather be the only table in the restaurant, watching the waitresses roll silverware and talk about how their ex-husbands are terrible assholes. This is the sort of thing that makes me feel good and relaxed.

So there we were. Eating a chef salad with some peppercorn-whatever dressing, waiting on a pepperoni and bacon pizza, when this old couple were sat in the booth beside us. The trouble started almost immediately.

The waitress came to their table. The conversation was initially comical, but began to grate on everyone's nerves as it continued. This is how it went down...

Waitress (W-) "Hi, how are you? What can I get you all to drink?"
Male customer (C-) "We need two small salads to start with."
W- "So just water? No soda or iced tea?"
C- "Two salads."
W- "Alright... What kind of dressings would you like?"
C- "We get a senior citizen's discount also."
W- "Alright, I can take care of that... What kind of dressings would you like?"
C- "We get a senior citizens discount."
W- (Now speaking louder) "Yes sir, but what kind of dressings would you like?"
C- "Two small salads."
W- (Now showing barely perceptible signs of frustration) "Sir, I cannot continue without you telling me what dressings you would like on the two salads."
C- "Oh. Uh, she'll have Italian and I'll have Ranch"
W- "OK. Two small salads, with Ranch and Italian. Do you know what you want to order for the entree also?
C- "Did you hear me say that we get a discount? Did you write that down?"
W- "Yes sir. Are you also ready to order the rest of the meal?"
C- "Yeah. I'll take the spaghetti, and she'll take the carbonara."
W- "Alright, I will get that in for you, it shouldn't take long at all..."

At this point the waitress starts to walk away from the table. When she's a few steps away, he calls out in a loud voice, "Uh miss! Aren't you going to ask if we'd like something to drink?" His tone is becoming a bit snotty through his country accent.

The waitress pulls the order book back out of her apron, and re approaches the table. "Yes, of course. Would you like something OTHER than the water you initially ordered?" The "other" part of the comment catches my ear. I glance at her face and notice a slight blush in her cheek and a pulsation of her jaw muscle. Her face is blank, but I'm very experienced in detecting hidden anger in the female face. She's at a light boil.

C- "Well I'd like a big beer (whatever the hell that means) and she'd like a diet Coke."
W- "Alright. And what kind of beer would you like?"
C- (Becoming combative) "A large draft beer!"
W- (Loudly, and no longer patient) "Yes. I understand. But WHAT TYPE OF BEER?"
C- "You know! One of those large draft beers you all serve. A big one."
W- "Bud light? Miller? Heineken? What?! WHAT KIND?"
C- "Oh, uh, well, Bud Light or whatever is fine. Whatever."
W- "Alright. Large Bud Light draft and a diet Coke. I'll have those right out."

As she walks away, clearly irritated, the old man and his wife shared a muffled conversation about how the waitress wasn't very friendly. The wife suggested that perhaps she is merely a bit "mentally slow". By this time, I'm starting to get a bit edgy.

The waitress walked immediately to the servers station, and began punching their order into the computer. She was really hammering away. I was slightly concerned that her index finger would snap in half.

When she was finished, she grabbed our pizza from the window and brought it to us. She inquired as to whether of not we needed anything else, like red pepper and such. We told her no, and that we were fine, and thanked her. As she walked away from our table, past their table, the older man stopped her again.

C- "Miss, are those drinks going to come to the table any time soon?"
W- (Now at a full-boiling rage) "It's been thirty seconds since you managed to order them, if you can manage to wait another 30, I'll have them here."

I was becoming frightened now. This waitress was clearly crossing into the danger zone. She was about to lose it. She went to the bar, grabbed the beer, and then fetched the diet Coke. She returned to the table well within her 30 second prediction. She set them on the table, and said "Alright, and those salads should be ready in just a second." Unfortunately, he cut her off in the middle of the sentence. "Now, miss, do you think you could get those salads? We're hungry..."

Her body turned and started walking away. Yet her head did not. It swiveled like the head of an owl, almost mechanically, keeping her eyes firmly fixated on his, as the rest of her body was walking briskly in the opposite direction.. The look on her face was one of sheer hatred. I once saw the same look on the face of a female bartender right before she tomahawked a bottle of Beefeater gin at some guys face.

Up to this point I had been laughing silently. I generally cut the elderly quite a bit of slack. They can't hear, and they often have trouble understanding some things, and modern life can be tough for them. But this guy was just an asshole. Plain and simple. Still, he was just too old for me to verbally accost. I can't say snide things to people who are tippering on the back edge of existence, regardless of how detestable some can be.

Things calmed down some then. A few other tables were seated. I saw two salads appear in the window. But the waitress let them wait for four or five minutes. She took other drink orders and hid for two minutes. Eventually, she dropped the salads, and later the two pastas, without saying a single word.

She made a pass by both tables asking if all was well and if anyone needed refills, or boxes, or anything. Both my table and the older couple requested nothing. She assured both tables that the checks would be coming shortly. She then went to the server's station, printed the checks, and stuffed them in her apron pocket. Next, she grabbed a pizza from the window, and started walking quickly to drop it off on the other side of the dining room.

While she was walking with the pizza, perhaps 40 feet away from us, the old man spoke once more. In a voice loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear, he yelled "Miss! I'm going to need a box!" at her.

She glanced briefly. The look on her face was terrifying. Otherwise she pretended as if it hadn't happened. She dropped the pizza off, then swung around and gave us our check. It was 24 dollars.

She then walked to the older couples table, and in a slow and maniacal tone, said "I'm sorry... Did you say... that you NEEDED something?"

My girlfriend dropped 30 bucks on the table and we split. Fast. I didn't want to be around for any more of it.

I'm a busy guy. I just wouldn't have had the time to testify at the trial anyway....

Monday, September 13, 2010

They come and they go....

Tonight was supposed to be an easy one. Three cooks were scheduled for a Monday night, and I was to be the first one cut. I figured I'd be out the door before nine.

So naturally, a cook vanished. He didn't show up, he didn't call, so they just took him off the schedule, forever. This meant I would have to close. Two cooks on a Monday isn't a problem though. I was just hoping we wouldn't get busy. So of course, it was busy. But everything went fine, I'm just tired now.

I'm am wondering what happened to the missing cook though. Unfortunately, I'll probably never find out. That's kind of the way it works in this industry.

At a normal job, people would attempt to find out where their fellow employee was, and what had happened to them. If I were an accountant, and the guy who sat at the desk next to mine just didn't appear one day, everyone would be worried. There would be repeated attempts to contact him, or his family, to make sure he was OK.

But in the kitchen, it's different. If a guy doesn't show up for his shift at 5pm, the boss generally calls one time, around 5:15 or 5:30. If there's no answer, and he hasn't been heard from by about 6pm, they just declare him fired and mail a paycheck to his last known address. And that's it. Over and done with. Shuffle the schedule around and look for some other live body to fill the space on the line.

Truthfully, the industry behaves this way because cooks are, by their very nature, somewhat erratic and odd people. Some are dependable and reasonable, yet a large percentage of them are fringe characters. And at any moment, they could be gone. They simply vanish, with little or no explanation as to why or where they are going. It happens frequently enough that no one is surprised.

He could be anywhere. Anything could have happened. Maybe he's locked up somewhere. Maybe he got the shit kicked out of him trying to sell stolen jewelry on the street. Maybe he just cracked up and decided he was finished. Perhaps he's hundreds of miles away, ripped out of his mind on a three day cocaine binge. Maybe he just forgot he worked today. Or perhaps he just decided to SAY that he forgot his schedule. Who knows. Really, it doesn't even matter. He's gone. I'm just left wondering, but soon I will forget about him all together.

At least there are some more hours available now.

So I'm just going to relax now, have a few drinks, and sleep late on my off day tomorrow. It's a little after midnight, which means it's now officially my birthday, which according to my rules indicates that I'm allowed to behave however I please for the next 24 hours.

When I do eventually decide to get out of bed, I'm considering eating a pound of bacon, and then sleeping for another hour. After that, who knows...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Six rays of sunshine...

Here's a brief list of things that I dislike. Some are from the present, some from the past.

1) Fryers.... I hate everything about deep fat fryers. They smell bad. They're dangerous. When I'm in a hurry, as I usually am, oil invariably gets on my skin, or occasionally, my face. And I'd rather burn in hell than clean one. It's a detestable job. After a full shift of kitchen work, the last thing I want to do is clean fryers before I can get the hell out of there.

2) People who are dirty and disorganized... I've worked with these types of cooks at some point or another everywhere I've ever worked. Everything needs to be kept in one specific spot. When something gets pulled out of a drawer or a low-boy cooler, it needs to be put back. Now. If I get crushed at dinner rush and my work space is filled up with all sorts of random items that someone has left out, or I have to search around for shit I need, I'm going to get angry. I used to work a large flat-top with another person. We kept four spatulas on the edge of it. My co-worker would set them down all over the place. I'd drop some food, and go to grab something else, and when I reached for a spat, they'd all be missing. Strewn about the area. This would occur ten times a day, and every time, I would instantly imagine myself stabbing him between the shoulder blades.

3) The chocolate fondue on the desert menu of the first restaurant I ever worked at.... Man that thing was a pain in the ass. I still get pissed off when I think about it. It required several steps and several minutes to construct it. It was by far the most time consuming item on the menu, and no one ever ordered it when I had time to spare. Whenever some table decided to have it, it was always at about quarter to seven on Friday night. As soon as you filled the ticket row, some diabolical suburbanite would request a chocolate fondue. One of the cooks I worked with there once told a regular customer, "You say fondue, but WE say fon-don't".

4) Communicating with servers, sometimes.... I'll be clear on this one. I like the servers. Most of them are great, and I realize that they have a difficult job also. But some of them, well, need to pipe down. If I'm more than 10 tickets deep, and some pissy server decides to come to the window and demand to know the whereabouts of their food, I'm most likely going angrily yell "trabajan". That's the warning. If it happens twice, I'm going to unleash a verbal beating of epic proportions, and for the remainder of our time working together, I will randomly "lose" their tickets, drag ass on their requests for garnish or lemon wedges, and as a general rule do any passive-aggressive thing I can to lower their tip percentage by 2% for the rest of their lives. We can be great partners and help each other out, or if they behave poorly, I can go silently psycho and irritate them 100 times per shift without management ever suspecting that I'm doing it intentionally.

5) Customers who don't order off the menu.... Stop it! The restaurant didn't go to the trouble of creating a menu and spending the money to produce them so that you can whimsically pick seven ingredients from four different entrees and ask to have them served on a croissant. Pick something and order it you picky, spoiled, P.O.S.! And if you've come to a restaurant which is featuring a Friday night special on crab legs, don't request to have them cooked in salted water rather than crab-boil. Just order something else. Or plunge the butter knife into your neck. Either is fine.

6) The "last-minuters".... Yes, I'm talking about those lovely people who wander in the door at 9:50pm on a Tuesday. Upon seeing the empty restaurant and a waitress vacuuming, they inquire "Are you still open?" And when the waitress shuts off the vacuum and responds blandly "Yes, we're open until 10", They smile and say "Oh! Perfect!".

No. Not perfect you morons. Yes, I know we're open until ten. Yes, I know that this is the service industry, and it's a customer oriented business. But you're still a pack of assholes.

Have you ever seen the movie "Waiting"? It's a corny movie, but that scene where the kitchen staff is standing around in a clean kitchen watching the clock tick away the last few minutes is very real. And when you walk in that door, we are infuriated. Not only do we now have to cook your food, we have to re-clean anything that is dirtied also. And none of us, servers included, can leave until your ignorant asses decide to pack up and ship out. You're basically robbing an entire group of 60-90 minutes of their free time. You people are absolutely detestable, and we all hate you.

Peace and love...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Broken bones, melted flesh, and a mouth full of shortening...

I'm tired tonight. And a little beat up.

I was fully prepared to coast through a short shift this evening.. I was scheduled to come in at 5:30, cook through dinner rush, and close. I figured the rush would never come. I mean how many people go out to eat on Labor Day? Don't all the sheep fire up their grills, get loaded, and destroy perfectly good meat on this holiday? Of course they do. I just knew it was going to be smooth sailing.

So I was a little shocked when I walked in the door at 5:15 and saw about six tickets hanging. I helped out the mid-day cook though, and we cleared the rail by 5:30. The other dinner cook arrived, and I clocked in. Two people, covering the whole line, on a Monday. No problem.

I was relaxed and happy. Four tickets came in around 5:40, but that is nothing to get upset about. Ten minutes later, I saw the hostess scrambling a little. I saw people coming in quickly. I heard two servers complaining about being double-seated. Time to start moving a bit faster. I'd better check my mise-en-place over really well.

I had some wholes in my line. The mid-day cook had screwed us over a little. Fine. That's why he's a mid-day cook. Because he's shitty. I heard the printer start clicking, so I ran to the walk-in cooler and grabbed a double armload of needed items. I can stock and cook at the same time as long as we don't get crushed. And I knew there was a light hit coming, so I was hustling.

By six I knew we were in trouble. The floor was filling fast. I was ten tickets deep, and people were still filing in. We were lightly staffed, poorly stocked, and the shit was about to hit the fan.

I walked three tickets out. Six more came in. I walked out two appetizers, tried to convince myself I was OK, and the printer spit five fresh at me. I was twenty orders in the hole now. Full bore. Rock and roll. Me and a 4'9" Mexican woman against the world. My blood pressure shot up to where I could feel my heartbeat in my face. The sweat started pouring. For efficiency purposes, we ceased standard communications and switched to kitchen Spanish, screaming "Pescado!", "Huevo, rapidemente!", "Trabajan, nueve minuto!" and things of this nature.

We were faced with two dozen orders now. Total chaos. Food was being thrown out at such an incredible rate and random fashion that the guy expediting the food started to get confused. Servers were asking for lemon wedges and being told to "Go f-ing cut one yourself! But not here! Stay out of the f-ing way!". In a three minute time period, I managed to break by finger in a refrigerator drawer, touch the base of my palm to the flat-top, and splash fryer oil onto my bottom lip. God had totally forsaken both myself as well as my vertically challenged Amiga.

"Cliiiick, click click click, cliiick- click click cliiick" said the ticket printer. Constantly. For two of the worst hours I've ever spent in a kitchen. And then, as suddenly as it all began, it stopped. The line was destroyed. Totally annihilated. Thank God it only lasted for two hours. We wiped the sweat from our faces, tried to rehydrate, and shared a cigarette out back. We had survived, and performed admirably. Not a single item was sent back. We suffered only two mis-fires, which we managed to correct on the fly before we sent the food away. There was nothing left to do now but rebuild, slap a few late orders out, and shut it down. Another fine day for the proletariat.

So I got out late tonight. I'm sitting at home now, trying to unwind while the rest of the world sleeps. I'm drinking a few "Milwaukee's Best" and trying to type with a burnt hand and a mangled finger.

I feel that familiar sense of accomplishment though. That sense of odd pride that I have done something that many people can't; something that most people would never want to do. I survived and excelled in an environment in which most would fold. A hellish storm of knives, and fire, and stress. Only a professional cook can understand this pleasurable and satisfying feeling, even if it is a bit deranged.

Yet a certain question keeps popping up in my mind tonight... How much longer can I do this? Can I still hold-my-own on the hot line when I'm 40? 50? At a certain point, you get too old for this shit. At that point, your name tag has to say "manager" or "owner". And even if I pull the trigger and open up my own establishment, I'm still going to have to step in and hammer out food.

I'm becoming convinced that I must strike while the iron is hot so to speak. The clock is ticking. The busted fingers and this burnt flesh will only take longer to heal as this carbon-based life form continues to age. I need to get my shit together and go into business for myself, by any means necessary....

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

There is definitely something wrong with me...

I haven't mentioned it yet, but I have a new job. Again, it's not the most exciting gig in the world, but the pros outweigh the cons I suppose. Everyone knows I'd prefer to avoid the corporate restaurants, but alas, here I am. That's OK though. The pay is fair, it's a new experience, and I'm learning a lot of Spanish. And at least I'm not in that damn cafeteria anymore.

So far, it's been fairly slow. Nothing too crazy. Until today.

I went in at eight, and performed three hours of prep before the doors opened for lunch at 11. As is usual, people began trickling into the restaurant very slowly. By 11:30, about a half dozen tables had been sat, and my two amigos and I were casually preparing sandwiches, salads, and wraps. Smooth sailing.

Around this time I noticed the hostess walking around briskly out on the floor. Looking towards the door from the service window, I saw a party of about 20 standing there. OK, that's a big table. Yet again, this is no cause for panic.

Then I saw an eight-top come in. And then a 12. And then just a thick stream of people. In a 25 minute time period, the entire floor was filled. An entire 200 seat restaurant had just filled up as fast as the hostess could sit people down. A sense of urgency suddenly took over the entire Wednesday morning staff. The servers kicked it into a higher gear and started really hustling. Around me, on the line, the Spanish became quicker, louder, and sharper. I began to struggle to understand it. The sense of urgency soon passed, and was replaced by sheer chaos.

The next hour and a half passed by in an instant. It was wild, and stressful, and confusing. I'm surprised the ticket printers didn't catch fire or explode. The tickets just kept coming and coming, showing no mercy on a kitchen which was already deeply in the weeds. On the other side, tensions ran high as servers implored about the whereabouts of their food, while the boss tried to quiet everyone and expedite. On my side there was heat, and Spanglish, and great suffering. I briefly considered chopping my own finger off in order to escape, but just when I picked up the knife, the printers stopped their diabolical clicking and screeching. As quickly as the carnage had began, it also ended.

So it goes. And we all lived to serve the dumb-ass populace another day....

Every time I'm part of a rush like the one today, I'm always reminded of those TV commercials that the culinary schools put out. Clean, non-sweaty Anglos slowly and carefully placing basil micro greens on top of some composed tuna carpaccio; Smiling young men who's teeth gleam as they toss mirpoix around in a pan; Chefs who look like Santa Claus caringly instructing some youngster in a large, clean, well lit kitchen. "Do you love to cook? Get ready for an exciting career in the world of culinary arts!"

What a load of bullshit. Trust me on this: If you're thinking of going to culinary school, go get a kitchen job first. The picture they paint with the advertising is far from reality. I advise anyone even remotely interested to be well informed about the industry they are thinking about entering. Do you love to cook? Yeah? Great. Stay in your kitchen at home. Going to culinary school or working in a professional kitchen because you "like to cook" is equivalent to joining the Army because you "like to jog". That shit you see on the Food Network is bogus.

I'd like to start my own culinary school. Here are some things I'd show in my commercials...

I'd show a line, three feet wide and 14 feet long, with five people working on it. Everyone would be yelling and running into one another. They would all be leaning backward slightly as they worked, in an attempt to not drip sweat on the plates. Everyone's arms and hands would be covered in cuts and burns. There would be a close-up of a thermometer, which shows the temperature as being 118 degrees Fahrenheit. I'd play ranchero music throughout the entire commercial. At the end of the commercial, I'd show the exhausted kitchen staff wandering out of the door at Midnight onto a loading dock, where some would drink vodka, some would smoke weed, and some would snort coke. Some would do all three.

These would be the words you would hear spoken... "Are you looking for a new career? Do you enjoy keeping strange hours and working every weekend? Do you work well with a wide variety of social misfits? Do you wish you could sweat more? Are you stuck in a dead end job where you aren't surrounded by madmen who all possess razor-sharp cutlery? Do you have a borderline or full-blown substance abuse problem? Are you ready to live like a modern-day pirate? (Something French) Culinary School could be perfect for you, contact us today and get ready for your exciting new future!"

As I type this, I'm reminded of something a chef told me while I was in culinary school. I'll call him "Chef H". He asked me if I really wanted to do this job. I told him I did and that I enjoyed it. He paused, and told me this... "If you are the type of person who really wants to do this for a living, then something is wrong with you."

I blew his comment off at the time, but now, looking back on it a couple years later, I realize that he was correct.

There is definitely something wrong with me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fear and distraction...

I've been doing something lately that I generally try to avoid. I know better. Yet some strange morbid curiosity seems to draw me back every once in a while. And every time I make this mistake, it hurts me worse.

I've been listening to the mainstream media. I've been exchanging opinions with average Americans. And when I hear what the voters are thinking, I'm horrified. Things begin to look hopeless.

Almost every story is the same. Fear-driven nonsense. Sensationalist propaganda. Thinly-veiled bigotry. And the public response? Outrage. Flag-waving hysteria. Righteous indignation.

The ugly secret, however, is this: It's all a scam. Smoke and mirrors. Simple bullshit hyped up to distract simple people. Those who are in control seek to keep the populace angry, scared, and pointing the finger at someone else. A giant, semi-educated mass who are so busy fighting amongst themselves that they are incapable of seeing through the fog and identifying their real enemies.

Based on what I've read, seen, and heard lately, these are some of the things we should all be very frightened and angry about...


Homosexuals. Society's punching bag for generations now. I must admit, I had been fooled into believing that this whole argument was over. Educational institutions, alternative news, and my own personal social community had brainwashed me. I thought we had evolved beyond a junior high mindset. Apparently I was wrong.

As it turns out, homosexuals are destroying the very fabric of this nation. Yeah, I know. I was shocked too. I'm now told that this great nation was founded upon the ideals of a Christian God, and it's health is dependant upon good, wholesome, Christian families. Homosexuals, it appears, are actively trying to undermine both these religious teachings, as well as traditional family structure. A few wise souls have gone a step further, and shared some really big news with me. Rumor has it that if gay marriage is legalized, it will cause the aforementioned God to withdraw his blessing from this nation (which he apparently created), thereby leaving us on some forsaken fast-track to utter destruction.

Scary right? Thank God I know now. All this time I was thinking that it really didn't matter what consenting adults did with their lives. I was living in ignorance, believing that it didn't affect me at all. I wasn't even aware that there was such a spiteful and angry God, and I had no idea that he liked America better than every other nation. I'm lucky all those blessed souls on the comments section of a popular news site were kind enough to scream all this sense into my head. I probably would have gone the rest of my life treating gays like my equals, rather than as sub-humans as this God character does. Whew. Close call.

Moving on, I'm going to attempt to lay off the sarcasm...


Yes, yes, I know all of the arguments. Immigrants strain the economy (that one is just funny). Immigrants raise health care costs (Yeah.... that's where the problem comes from). Immigrants participate in the drug trade (who's buying those drugs?). "I have no problem with them, as long as they come here legally" (try walking in someone else's shoes, you'll probably find yourself walking across a border).

My problem in understanding all of the fear and outrage is this: I've always approached the topic from a standpoint of compassion, and on top of that, I'm poor. I understand that drastic situations sometimes demand drastic measures. I've been over the southern border. I've seen what the living conditions are like. If I were there, I'd jump the border and get a job too. That's how my ancestors arrived here as well. Back then, however, it was a lot easier. All you had to do was show up and pass a rudimentary examination to make sure you didn't have tuberculosis. If you weren't coughing and you could pick up a tool, you were in.

It's time to quit crying about the massive influx of immigrants and come up with realistic plans on how to cope with this massive group of HUMANS. There are millions here now, and millions more coming. Immigrants just like our ancestors. And truthfully, half of the people who are clamoring about this are motivated by racism. Sad but true. Yet whether your opposition is racially based or something other, my advice is the same: Aprenda a hablar espanol....


I'm going to keep this one real light. A lot of people are very sensitive about this topic in the wake of September 11th, not to mention the fact that the U.S. is currently at war in two primarily Islamic countries. The agitation exists, mainly, due to a lack of education. Once again, it's not primarily intelligent people who are making all of the noise here.

I'm speaking chiefly about the uproar surrounding the proposed construction of an Islamic community center near "ground zero", in southern Manhattan. Avoiding all other arguments, I'd like to advise any bible-thumping, FoxNews-loving, flag-waving zealots to look over the First Amendment to your beloved Constitution. I'm willing to drop the debate right there. If that basic sentiment fails to change the mind of those who disagree with me, then it is a waste of time to share anymore logic with you. Logic does nothing to combat those who've arrived at their opinions using no logic at all.

And before I receive any hostile messages, comments, or emails regarding how terrible Muslim people are, I suggest that any such persons do a little reading before you type. If you have Internet access, it's quite easy to find a wide array of facts about the Islamic religion, it's different branches and sects, the history of U.S. foreign policy towards these peoples, and the actual intentions and beliefs of those who are trying to build this community center. If that proves to be far too time consuming for you, perhaps you could just look over the Bill of Rights.


I'm going to keep this very brief. And very simple. And I should preface the comment by making it clear that I am not a supporter of the current President...

Barack Obama is not a Socialist. No major figure in our present Federal government is a Socialist. This is the most rampant example of fear-mongering nonsense that I hear on a daily basis. It's absolutely false. One semester of political theory, at any community college in the country, will absolutely disprove these baseless accusations of Socialism. If you meet any person, and they tell you that Barack Obama is a Socialist, you can safely assume two things: They are an idiot, and they have no clue what Socialism is.

A man started parroting this Obama/Socialist bit at me earlier today. Yet he actively collects unemployment, and his girlfriend receives disability payments. He failed to see the irony when I pointed that out.....

So who should we be mad at? What should we be afraid of? Who is to blame for the economy, the war, the poverty, the violence, the vague sense of dissatisfaction that so many people feel? Who is really in control? Are we in control of anything? How do we change the present state of affairs?

We can start by turning away from the mainstream media, and beyond that, the remainder of the answer is complex. Yet under no circumstances should we follow like sheep, transferring our frustration onto whatever minority group is the designated target.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Good food, and good people...

Hello everyone...

I went to a restaurant I had never visited this weekend. Well, at least it somewhat resembled a restaurant. It is definitely worth mentioning though.

The place is called Mel's Famous barbecue. I happened to see it mentioned in some online reviews I was reading a while back, so we decided to give it a shot.

The location is very small, located in an older strip mall. It is truly a bare-bones operation. No decorations, no amenities, and three tables. Total seating capacity: 10 persons. Most business appears to be carry-out. The menu has seven entrees, four sides, and canned soda. There are no real plates, and no real silverware. Everything is served in styrofoam containers with plastic knives and forks. Mel's son works the counter and does most of the cooking, while Mel and his wife serve and bus tables. Both Mel and his wife are older people, in their mid-70's.

The food is reasonably priced, and good. They offer ribs, rib-tips, pork steaks, chicken wings, burgers, hot links, and brats. Side options are potato salad, slaw, baked beans, and green beans. They offer pulled pork also, but only on Wednesday and Thursday. All entrees are generously covered in homemade sauce, which is thick and sticky, with strong hints of molasses, brown sugar, cinnamon, and perhaps chili powder.

Is it the best barbecue I've ever eaten? No. But I've had some really mind-blowing barbecue before. There truly was nothing to complain about though, and the potato salad was nearly worth the trip alone.

The absolute highlight, however, was Mel.

While I suspect that the son is the owner and does most of the work, the family patriarch hangs around and helps out. But mainly, he likes to talk to people. And talk he does.

After bringing out our food, he disappeared until we were finished. But soon after, he re-emerged, and sat down at our table. If this sort of behavior turns you off, you probably shouldn't go, because Mel simply does not hesitate to sit down, make himself comfortable, and begin telling wild and entertaining stories for half of an hour.

While we found this behavior odd, the old man was simply too charming and entertaining to resist. He told slow winding tales covering a wide array of topics, including but not limited to: Growing up as an African American in pre-civil rights era Mississippi, being beaten for stealing apples, eating roasted barn-rats as a child, his life and career as a professional cook, secretly feeding his wife raccoon meat concealed in stew, raising his children, making barbecue sauce, and his battle with cancer ten years previous. He is one of those rare old people who possess the ability to be funny, touchingly sad, and wise all at the same time. We talked with him for some time, and when we finally bid him farewell, he thanked us, wished us a blessing, and promised to give me a mason jar full of sauce the next time I came in.

All things considered, Mel's has the combination of things I enjoy in a restaurant; good food, odd location, and interesting proprietors. It was a very good experience, and as long as you won't be freaked out by a socially-forward old man, I suggest you pay them a visit.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Yeah, THOSE people...

I've really been trying to come up with a nice positive blog entry; and uplifting story, or just something food related that happens to be interesting. I've been holding off on writing anything else that is negative in nature, but unfortunately, enough has accumulated that I now must spew it forth into cyber-space...

What follows is just one of a collection of occurrences which have irritated me, and my thoughts about the offending persons....

This morning I was sitting at a red light, next to a McDonald's. I was blankly staring at an older gentleman, perhaps 60 years of age, who was walking across the parking lot. He had some difficulty moving along, and was employing the use of one of those large cane-type things that have four separate feet on the base. As I was sadly contemplating my own mortality and wondering how life would be if I couldn't walk, A minivan pulled up. A dreaded suburbanite minivan. A housewife type, with phone firmly attached to her ear, emerged and proceeded to slide open the rear door. Three children, ranging in age from perhaps three to six, quickly emerged. They immediately began sprinting in random directions through the parking lot. The middle child, a boy, ran straight toward the hobbling man. And stunningly, collided with him at full speed.

The man took several staggering steps, made some quick moves with the cane to gather his balance, and with the help of a car he toppled into, somehow managed to stay on his feet. Suddenly I heard the child scream. As he turned around and began running back toward his mother, I could see that he had suffered a cut on the top of his head. I'm guessing he ran dead into the handle of the man's cane. A thin line of blood was running down the child's face.

To my shock and awe, the mother then began screaming at the handicapped man! I heard her clearly say "What is wrong with you?! Why aren't you paying attention?!" I could not hear the man's responses. He was somewhat confused it appeared. But the woman was mad and shouting loudly. The remaining two children now burst into tears also due to the argument as well as the sight of their comrade's blood. Suddenly another woman emerged from a parked car, I presume she was the wife of the gentleman with the cane. She was clearly enraged, stormed up to within a foot of the mother, and began screaming while pointing her finger in the lady's face. I couldn't hear the words exactly. I did hear the words "stupid asshole" though. Throughout all of this, the mother never hung up the phone.

At this point, I was startled by a horn from two cars behind me. Both myself and the driver behind me had become transfixed by the drama on McDonald's parking lot, ignored the green light, and were now impeding traffic. I had no choice but to move along, and miss the remainder of this spectacle.

Had I stayed, however, I would have loved to unleash a verbal barrage on that mother. The entire affair was her fault. She was the one not supervising her precious offspring, it was her fault the child almost knocked down a handicapped man (and was cut in the process). And it was also her inappropriate reaction that escalated the situation into an argument.

I can't stand women like these ones. Spoiled, stupid housewives. Phones glued to their heads. Poorly behaved children running rampant around them. Minivans with stick-figure representations of every member of their clan displayed proudly on the rear window. Fingernails, make-up, a functional IQ of 90, and a sense of entitlement. They just wander around suburbia, getting in the way and breathing up oxygen that otherwise would be consumed by valid lifeforms. These are the ones who love to tell you how great and special their children are, and will defend these offspring with great passion; whether said children are being tripped in a youth soccer game, or knocking down handicapped people in a parking lot.

These are the people who move to suburbia to avoid minorities. These are the people who's door locks I hear click when I walk past their car in the drug store parking lot at 9:15pm. These are the people you see being interviewed on the news, when every several years a homicide occurs near their upper-middle class neighborhood, who talk about how frightened they are. These are the people who drop 10% of their income into the collection plate at their multi-million dollar mega-church, and fail to see the hypocrisy. These people home-school, because it would be far too dangerous to allow their darling snowflakes to be exposed to, well, anything. And these people vote. They absolutely love voting. Especially when they can pass some anti-homosexual legislation, or drug law, or immigration reform. Anything to "keep their family safe". Nothing is more important. They'll dial 911 if they hear a noise, or the neighbors have a house party, or a new car is parked on the street. They can never be too careful.

Personally, I think they should all be LESS SAFE. I wish they would all move to homes that lie either directly on top of fault-lines, or perhaps at the base of steep earthen hills in a rainy environment. At bare minimum, they should be someplace that is prone to hurricanes and/or tidal waves. At least that's my opinion...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Zatarain's tried to kill me...

I think it may be time to start observing some standard food safety and sanitation rules...

Professionally, I play it straight. I've always been pretty careful with what I serve to others, and I'm sure to maintain cleanliness. But as far as feeding myself goes, I bend the rules a little. Or a lot. Or perhaps I totally ignore most everything I know.

I'm not totally irresponsible. I wouldn't cut salad up on a cutting board covered with raw chicken. And I do wash my hands and tools, but that's about it. If I'm the one eating, I'm more than willing to take some slight risks.

Undercooked chicken wing? Yeah I'll eat it. Expiration dates? I'll be the judge. Mold? Cut it off. I'm not scared. Questionable odors from a meat product? Perhaps I should rinse it. Ground beef of unknown origins? I'll take mine mid-rare.

I've been behaving this way for a long time. And for a while, encountered no problems. I've always theorized that my body was super-powerful, most likely do to my exposure to so many pathogens. I figured I was immune to food-borne illness.

This long string of good luck only encouraged me to make more sketchy decisions. I'll eat just about anything, anywhere, under any circumstances. But this past year, however, I got sick a few times. Not REALLY sick. Nothing that would frighten me into changing my ways. But these occurrences where a warning. A warning I refused to acknowledge.

So last night, I wanted to eat something. I was hungry, bored, and lazy. I wanted food, I wanted something I hadn't had in a while, and I didn't want to do any work. I decided to embark on an adventure to the back of the pantry.

There wasn't a wide array of items available. Nothing was calling out to me. But then, in the very back corner, I spotted a strange red box. Upon inspection, I discovered it to be a package of Zatarain's cheesy jambalaya mix. I had no recollection of ever purchasing it, nor any idea why I even would have. I immediately decided to eat it.

This was going to need some doctoring. After destroying the freezer, I discovered about a half pound of some ancient mystery sausage. It was wrapped in aged butcher's paper. Or perhaps it was papyrus. I couldn't quite tell what kind of sausage it was, but I'm guessing it was some sort of Chorizo/Andoulle hybrid that I must have made during my days in the meat industry, YEARS AGO.

I thawed it, and began to brown it. Once it was about half cooked, I gave it a taste. The texture was poor from being frozen for so long, and it was way too salty, but these were problems I was confident I could work around. It was time to add the jambalaya mix.

When I opened the package, I was shocked to discover that the contents had solidified into a perfectly rectangular brick. I tried to crush it, but alas, it was impossible. I checked the box for an expiration date. June, 2009. I briefly considered aborting the entire operation, but decided to press forward. I placed the jambalaya brick and a few cups of water into the pot. After a minute or two of boiling, the brick softened somewhat. I managed to first break it up, and then, using a fork, smash it into pasty chunks. Eventually, after around ten minutes, the mixture became homogeneous. Success!

The finished product was, well, edible. My seasoning made it palatable, I'd definitely eaten worse concoctions. So I filled a large bowl, and ate it. My girlfriend scoffed at this meal, and refused to eat any of it. I denounced her as a coward, and continued eating.

Twelve hours later, I came to the realization that sometimes there exists a wisdom within cowardice.

I'll spare you all of the details. But I was sick. Severely sick. This was no mild feeling of illness. This was full blown lie-on-the-floor-and-pray-to-God-for-salvation-while-repenting-of-your-evil-deeds sick. For a while I feared I would die, eventually, I wanted to die. It's not as bad as it was, but I'm still not anywhere near 100%.

Have I learned this time? Will I make this mistake again? I'm really not sure. It remains to be seen. But what I do know is that Zatarain's is a totally irresponsible company. They should make those expiration dates larger and easier to read. And perhaps warn people that the contents of the package are not to be consumed once they morph into brick form. Otherwise, somebody could seriously get sick...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Commuting with the missing link...

Today I had another job interview. I was a bit nervous. But I went, and everything went swimmingly. I was handling questions well, and inserting humor as needed, and then right at the end, we started to discuss salary. My instincts told me that I may have priced myself out of consideration. I was told I would be contacted in a few days.

As I drove home, I tried to remain optimistic. I did a fairly good job of convincing myself that perhaps I was just being paranoid. "Maybe they'll call?" I said to myself.

When I got home, I discovered that they had re posted the position online. Merely 90 minutes after I had left the interview. Ahhhh. Disappointment. So I ate an apple, and took a nap. A sad and weary nap.

It's ok though. They were looking for a prep cook, I was looking for something more. So it goes...

The drive home was rough though. 30 highway miles, from downtown to suburbia, at the peak of rush hour traffic. I saw a lot of craziness. Every day I drive, I'm sort of surprised that more people don't die on the roads. Nobody seems to be thinking clearly. And everyone is on the phone. Everyone. Being as most people lack the intelligence to reasonably operate a motor vehicle in the first place, I'm not sure why they attempt to use a communication device at the same time. These people are way too dumb for multi-tasking. I often want to drag people out of their cars and beat them, and then stomp on their phones before I leave.

I recently heard a scientist argue a theory that humans are now evolving into two separate species; one intelligent, one not so intelligent. I didn't put much stock into the idea, but while driving home today it came to mind. And he may just be right.

If I think about all the rapid expansion of knowledge, science, and technology, and the people who develop or discover these things, and then compare those people to the girl who nearly caused three accidents in a three minute time period while applying eye-liner in the rear view; or the guy who cut of a semi while talking on the phone and eating a cheeseburger, the theory starts to make sense. It begins to seem logical that perhaps these beings are on their way to becoming different species. Evolution hasn't stopped. Theoretically, we have to be moving toward something.

But if it is true, here's the scary part: The stupid people are reproducing a lot faster than the smart ones. Think about it. Who has more kids, the guy with the PhD? Or the guy with a functional IQ of 88 who spends all of his money on shoes and weed? We all know the answer. Have you ever met a man with a confederate flag belt buckle who didn't have children scattered across six counties? I haven't. And who is reproducing with the dumb guys? Generally, other idiots. Most often, people tend to naturally pair off with their intellectual peers.

I should throw out a disclaimer: This is not a racial argument, nor is it an argument of socio-economics. I don't want to hear any comments of that nature. There are idiots among every race, creed, and class of people.

I don't have any kids, but perhaps I should. Perhaps you should also. If you already have kids, maybe you should bite the bullet and have one extra. We have to keep up with the morons and religious fanatics somehow, right?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Episode #517

I've long held a theory that the last ten years of my life are all secretly part of a hidden camera type show, and that many of the people I encounter in my existence are actually hired actors. I imagine that there is a group of producers sitting around brainstorming up new situations to throw me into, and without me knowing it, millions of people sit in their living rooms every Thursday night and watch brand new episodes of "When Will This Guy Snap?".

Well, the producers are really putting on one hell of a show this week.

I had a job interview today. I have another one tomorrow which I am far more enthusiastic about, but I figured I'd go feel this one out just in case. Who knows what will happen, right?

Big mistake.

As soon as I pulled in the parking lot, I got a bad feeling. The joint looked bad. It's located in a pretty affluent area, so this wasn't what I was expecting. This place looked like it should be serving diner food in between a prison and an industrial park. But I convinced myself to give it a chance, and cautiously entered.

My feelings continued to spiral downward as I glanced around the interior. Torn up carpet. Filth. Tables shimmed with cardboard. Sad, broken waitresses milling around as if they had received lobotomies. Waitresses that I suspect were once successful and happy, but had come here, like wounded animals, to die. The decor was just depressing. It appeared as if someone had scavenged the remains of a sports bar which had burned down in 1984 for things to hang on the walls. There was a toy stuffed monkey, smoke-stained yellow, sitting on the bar. I was puzzled.

The hostess approached me and inquired, in monotone, if I would like a table. I replied that I had come for an interview, and told her the name of the man I was to meet with. "Hold on" she replied blandly, as she smacked a menu down on the hostess stand and shuffled away.

I stood, attempting to look calm and happy, and waited. Minutes passed by. My desire to break into tears and/or laughter was hard to deal with.

I was turned around, looking at grimy pictures of some long extinct softball team on the wall when I was startled by a sharp, loud, bark of "Hello" from halfway across the dining room floor. I turned to see a 5'2" Asian man walking briskly toward me. His face looked angry and somehow demented. I estimated his age to be somewhere between 50 and 200.

The following is an exact description of the conversation which followed. I will abbreviate his name as "AA", for "Angry Asian".

AA- (From 15 feet away, pointing at a booth) "Sit!"
ME- (Walking toward him with my hand extended) "Hello, I'm M...."
AA- "Sit!"
ME-"Uh, OK. Alright." I sat down.
AA- "You want kitchen job?"
ME- "Well, yes I'm here to inquire..."
AA- "You go to school?"
ME- "Yes sir I have. I graduated from..."
AA- "You cook before?"
ME- (I'm now tiring of being cut-off and interrupted in this manner) "Yes sir, I most recently worked..."
AA- "You want job?"
ME- "Well, perhaps, You see I have a few options to explore, and I..."
AA- "I give you (x) dollars an hour, you start tomorrow!"
ME- "Well sir, I actually have another interview tomorrow, and to be honest, I'm asking for a bit more than..."
AA- "You start tomorrow!"
ME- "Well, again sir, I have another interview tomorrow, so that won't be possible. Plus, I..."
AA- "I don't play games!!!"
ME- "What? I... You don't understand sir... You see I..."
AA- "Stand up! I show you kitchen."
ME- (Sighing, contemplating just running away) "Alright. Let's see the kitchen."

We stood and walked to the kitchen. Inside were two tired looking Latinos. The kitchen had clearly not yet been cleaned following a lunch rush which I'm guessing occurred sometime during the administration of Jimmy Carter. It was small, poorly lit, and totally in shambles.

"Hello" I said to one of the workers, "How are you?" As we shook hands he said "Como esta?" I nodded slightly, and turned to the other. "Como esta?" I inquired, and he looked at me very sadly and replied "Asi, asi" (so-so). "Si". I said. They both turned away. You could taste their depression in the air.

AA- "You work here! Tomorrow!"
ME- "Well sir, as I've explained, I'm asking for significantly more than (x) an hour, and being as I have another interview, I'll have to..."
AA- "I don't play games!"
ME- "Thank you for your time sir. I'll have to call you in a few days." I turned and broke for the door.
AA- "You want job or not!?"
ME- (Over my shoulder, still walking quickly, nearing the door) "I'll be in touch with you in a few days sir, and again, thank you!"

I could hear other orders being yelled at me as the door closed behind me. I got in my car and exited the parking lot at a dangerous clip. I immediately lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply and trying to wrap my head around what had just occurred. Five minutes later, as I navigated through highway traffic at 80 miles per hour, I burst into laughter. Just then my phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but I answered it.

AA- "Matt! It's (name of AA)! I thought about it, I give you (x).50 an hour. You start tomorrow!"
MT- (Stunned once more) "Uh sir, I'll have to get back to you later"

I hung up the phone. Then I turned it off.

Have fun watching this weeks episode everyone. I hope you're all entertained...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mr. Positive asks a question...

I've been neglecting the blog lately. There's a lot of things going on in my life, plus I've been spending the majority of my computer time arguing with social conservatives, so I just haven't gotten around to writing. My thoughts lately are definitely lacking cohesiveness.

I keep most of the important topics to myself, but I will mention that I have a job interview coming up soon. I'm hopeful that it goes well and we can agree on salary, because this is a gig that I actually want. It's a new venture by a successful restauranteur, in a cool neighborhood, with an eclectic menu. From a culinary standpoint, I would definitely be in over my head, but that's the sort of thing I'm looking for. It would certainly be an interesting piece of the timeline on my five year plan. Far more interesting than what I've been doing lately.

Right now, I'm feeling pretty positive.

And to keep my good vibe going, I'm going to take some time off from debating the FoxNews crowd also. As much as I'm drawn to combating bigotry and ignorance, it wears on me. It's generally a waste of time anyway, being as it's nearly impossible to change the minds of people who are that immersed in their own belief system. Logic does very little to dissuade pseudo-Christian Glenn Beck listeners. If they happen to be enraged by some anti-homosexual sentiment or poorly shrouded racism (as most of them seem to be), it's equivalent to arguing with a hungry coyote. Despite the fact that I'm a heterosexual caucasian, I've been on the receiving end of a lot of racial or orientation-based slurs in the last few days, so in the interest of maintaining positive energy, I'm retiring from all arguments for the next week.

I'm just going to relax and attempt to only engage in amicable conversations. Hopefully that won't require too much social isolation.

Changing pace, (again my thoughts are not cohesive) I'd like to ask a question for personal research purposes. What is your absolute favorite thing to eat? If you are unable to come up with one specific thing, you can tell me a few, or something that you just really like. It doesn't matter what it is, whether simple, cheap, processed, expensive, or finely composed; I just want to know what my readers and future customers are really interested in eating. You can comment on the blog, the Facebook link, or by my email if you have it. I truly appreciate any feedback I get.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A basic culinary theology...

I pay a lot of attention to food and cooking. It's a very large part of my life. It means a lot to me.

Unfortunately, I've spent a majority of my time lately hammering out shitty food in a cafeteria setting. Sure, you can try to ensure the quality of what you are serving. You can attempt to take pride in your work. But ultimately, it's hard to be enthusiastic about a strata made from day-old biscuits, or a prepackaged perfectly round veggie-burger. So when I talk about the food that actually means something to me, make no mistake, this isn't the food I'm talking about.

You would be wrong to assume, however, that I'm passionate about high-end ultra-modern food either. I couldn't care less about what is occurring in the world of fine dining. Frankly, I find it to be pretentious and asinine. Granted, new ideas and cutting-edge trends are somewhat interesting, and I do try to keep up with what the big-name people are doing. Yet I don't foresee myself ever embracing that style as my own. It's not my thing.

Truthfully, what more can possibly be done? How many proteins can be seasoned with out of place spices like cardamom, chocolate, or coffee and delicately placed atop some random puree of fruit or vegetable? How many "paints" or "glues" can we make from assorted food items and artfully drizzle or brush around a plate? At a certain point, doesn't the fine-dining scene just become a fashion show? Where we can all see WHO can afford freshly imported langoustine lobsters served atop organic salsify, confit of Peruvian potatoes, and a roasted walnut gremolata?

You have to keep it honest.

Food is a human staple. A universal art form. Every culture on Earth has a cuisine witch reflects it's environment, history, and personality. Much as all cultures have music, dance, language, religion, story-telling, and social structure, they also have food. Cooking and eating are beautiful and special things. Many of us have lost sight of reality.

Spare me the molecular gastronomy and the imported luxuries. I don't need my plates to be "composed". If I can't eat the garnish, get it out of my face. I don't need any smoke blown up my ass.

Likewise, all chicken-nuggets, hydrogenated whatever-it-is, frozen meals, fish sticks, and general prepackaged poisons can be done away with also. No one needs to eat this nonsense outside of emergency situations.

Fresh. Seasonal. Local. Organic. Free-range. These are the things worth eating. Just don't get too excited and try to make visual art work. Solid cooking techniques and good seasoning will work wonders. Avoid the corporate food-monster and cook like humans have been cooking for centuries. That's all you need, and that's all I ever aspire to cook.

Study the traditional cuisines of South America, Spain, Italy, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia. Study India if you are a vegetarian. All of these cultures excel at making delicious, one pot, family style meals which use available ingredients and excellent cooking technique. Many of them also use the entire animal being consumed, rather than just one specific portion of it as we Americans so often do.

Brazilian pumpkin stew. Spanish paella. African potjie or tagine dishes. Savory vegetable-based curries from India, sweeter rice-based curries from Thailand. Delicious Vietnamese Pho. I could name several from every region in the world, but you get the point.

I firmly believe that the best food is relatively simple, yet carefully and skillfully prepared. It should be served in a large quantity to a group of people. People who can laugh and love and enjoy the company of one another. And teach the children of the group to make the same things. This is the beauty of food. It can bring joy in the most somber of times, it can give us emotional relief, it can link one generation to another.

Food is a staple. A foundational part of culture and humanity. What does it say about a culture when they eat as Americans do? Walk through the isles of your local grocery store, and look at what surrounds you. It's a reflection of us. A painfully accurate reflection.

I'm not going to get too preachy. I'll let you all answer for yourselves. These are the questions at hand:

1) WHO is selling this to us?

2) WHAT is their motivation?

3) WHEN and HOW did this begin?

4) WHERE can we find an alternative?

5) WHY are we tolerating this?

I certainly have my answers...