thick skin

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I jokingly tell people these days that I can’t wait to be in my forties.

I tell them that I think I’m getting better with age, and that I wasn’t very good at being young. At least the parts of me that crave adventure come in different forms.
As a kid, I was not the bravest or loudest or most outgoing.

Knowing what I know now, as an adult, I was so nervous and apprehensive about the outside world. I craved affirmation and I wanted to feel good about the kind of person I was. It always felt right to be kind, and I believe that to this day. I treat people like I want to be treated, as archaic as that rule sounds, it works well for me.

And then came kitchen work.

Intense. Hot and fast with a million moving pieces.
I learn about myself in these moments. I learn about working hard and smart and humbly doing things for people they’ll never be able to repay you for.

Somehow, this works for me.

dish-pit-2

I take a break from my keyboard to squeeze my hands open and close. Yesterday was a 14-hour day involving a wedding where I spent most of the night emptying garbage cans full of beer bottles and half eaten pieces of food. The other part of the night was spent scrubbing hotel pans and jamming leftover bits of wedding food in my face so I wouldn’t have to partake in that Whopper Jr that so taunts me on my drive home.

It is always humbling to do this work.

I guess in the states, I struggle with the mentality that this work is for people riddled in confusion and transition and poverty. Granted, we do make up a big part of that work force. But some of us want to do this with our lives because we think it’s important. To me, I see a bride and groom who appreciate empty garbage cans so they can enjoy this moment with their friends and family. (I exclude the drunk bro-crowd who laughingly threw their trash in said garbage cans as I was straining to lift them through winding crowds of beautifully dressed Southerners.)

And so, with the steam rising from the tray of dishes I just pulled through the sanitizer, I think about the shootings in France. The massacres in Nigeria. I think about my friends who have recently lost loved ones. I think about my own heart being pulled in so many directions. I feel a knot in my stomach for some reason, and I also hum along with the sound of my muffled phone playing through its “closing down the kitchen” playlist.

It makes sense that our skin gets thicker with time, and that getting older helps us fit more into that skin.

We somehow make this world work for us even with the knowledge that there will be sadness supped with joy.

Hard times, come again no more, so the song says.

We sing, but we know they will. We still find moments to say we are good and happy and content. In those moments, it is all worth it to be human. To accept the give and take.

The ebb and flow.

The changing of times,

and perhaps a good word or two.

marriage and mashed potatoes

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I’d been eating the bride and groom’s mashed potatoes, with a dazed and gaunt look on my face.

That sounds weird, but when you cater, and there’s a lot of left over food they aren’t taking home, you get dibs.

Like, major dibs. Crab meat with remoulade stuffed into filo shells, popping them in my mouth like they’re peanut M&M’s on a long road trip. I did the same with their wedding cake too. And the jambalaya and the grits.

A little part of me felt guilty, because they paid for all of this food. There was just too much. We are poor cooks and servers. We eat when we can, what we can. Usually, it’s hunched in the corner, with a plate of food that used to be hot.

“What is hot food?”

I joke, but any cook out there will tell ya, shovel it in whenever you can, however you can and be thankful.

Ah, back to kitchen life.
And an interesting one at that.

Walking into a new kitchen is hard. You’ll probably be able to handle the work, but it’s the dynamic that shifts. You sort of have to prove yourself quickly. Generally, I find the person who is most organized, fast and clean, and I copy them. I get on my knees and scrub the ground too, if they’re doing it.

I was lucky to work for a chef that engrained in me a good, clean work ethic. Work clean, cool down and heat food to proper temperatures and use EVERYTHING. Never EVER put knives in the sink. SCRUB the sink every night.

I really love cooking on a line in the rush. I love being concentrated on making someone’s meal on a plate. I take a lot of pride in how it looks. I am restaurant owner’s dream, right now. Big availability. Love of food. Hard worker. Deprecating humor.

the wedding was NOT this nice. But you get the idea, right?

the wedding was NOT this nice. But you get the idea, right?

We are a big catering kitchen, too. Behind our kitchen is a giant event space which hosts a lot of weddings.
I guess as I was shoveling the used-to-be-warm mashed potatoes into my face, I wondered where they met. I wonder what hard things they will have to start talking about first.

I think about weddings, especially when you see them often, the brevity of the ceremony. The music. The pictures. The cake. Repeat. The event staff folds back the chairs, the DJ unplugs his wires and goes home already tired of his or her playlist.

It really starts to lose its appeal a bit.

“I don’t want no goofball eatin’ my wedding leftovers!” I jokingly say in my own head. I am at least glad that I can make myself crack up from time to time.

I wonder what they’re thinking about, as the bride and groom quietly eat their plates in the front room, before making their grand entrance to the reception.

Her gown is beautiful. Sort of off white. She’s sitting very straight with impeccable posture. I assume the dress has something to do with it. He’s looking pretty suave. Sort of spiky hair, five o’clock shadow and thick glasses. Like a way cooler version of me.

Their entire world has just changed. Their community recognizes them as a married couple now. The excitement of being newlyweds seems to have  put them in a state of shell shock. “I think that went really well!” and they cheers their glasses.

Precious.

Meanwhile, the hum-hum-hum of the giant dishwasher behind me beckons my attention. A fork is jammed in the drain, so I lift it up and water shoots out everywhere. Lovely.

I turn back around, and they are gone. Their plates still mostly full. I mean, you have a room full of people ready to dance and celebrate with you.

They dance the night away.

I clean.

I break down boxes, they throw bouquets.

I hear Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and no surprise, some lucky girl catches the bouquet and jumps up and down.

As I slam down the door to the dishwasher again,

it makes the same comforting hum-hum-hum

and I think to myself,

“Ya know…these mashed potatoes really aren’t half bad.”