I arrive for work at the usual time. Fifteen minutes of chit chat with the dinner chef, George (later, he’ll earn the nickname Jorge Flambe’ after burning his eyebrows off lighting the convection oven), before daring to walk into the dish washing room where I’m certain my friend Darrell has left at least three trays behind for me to finish.
It’s not that he’s lazy (though I know he takes an hour nap each morning between the two breakfast rushes), because I’ve seen him work. And I want to believe it isn’t because he dislikes me and wants me to start my shift with something unpleasant. I should just ask him outright, but I’m only 18 years old, and the thought of confrontation still fills me with dread.
I’ve talked to Joel about it. He works with Darrell each morning. Also, he’s my best friend.
Joel says they often run out of time, and certain things take priority- The pans that must be ready for the next shift. The line that cannot be covered in debris when George comes in to work. The floor that must be swept of all food and filth or the head chef will be angry (though the thought of an angry Stewart almost makes me laugh).
So I swallow my frustrations and clean the leftover dishes, rinsing them with water so hot it scalds my skin (I’ve lost sensitivity to the point I have to test shower water with my elbow, unable to trust my fingers). Then I send them through the *sanitizer* before making my way back to the kitchen where a massive pile of green beans waits to be cut.
I pull a tape from my pocket -Nothing’s Shocking, by Jane’s Addiction- put it in the grease covered tape deck and press play. George hates this music, but allows me the honor of the first selection each shift. He gets to play all the classic rock he likes when the restaurant opens and the bus tours arrive.
On bus tour nights, I’ll be running between the dish room and the grill for the entire five hours the restaurant is open. There are only two of us and when 85-170 people descend on the dining room, George can’t cook all the burgers, fish, and chicken by himself.
I’m the jack of all trades- Dishwasher, food prep (I make the best cheesecakes, Cajun potatoes), short order cook, errand boy. Sometimes it is overwhelming, but most of the time I enjoy the routine. Even the days I get yelled at by the asshole who runs the front end become comical stories, and we all have our tales for sharing.
This night there are no buses at the hotel, only a few guests here for a midweek mountain getaway, and we are not anticipating much of a rush, so we talk more, laugh more, pause between tasks. George tells the same jokes, and I laugh at them like this is the first time I’ve heard them.
The tape ends and George puts on something atrocious by Aerosmith, and since I’d rather chew nails than listen to this, I excuse myself to run silverware to the dining room. The lights are still out and I don’t hear the usual bustle of servers getting ready for opening. Puzzled, I return to the kitchen.
“Hey George, isn’t John supposed to be opening tonight?”
“I think so.”
“Well, it’s quarter to five and there isn’t anyone out there.”
He replies with a string of profanities, then walks to the office to call the asshole who runs the front end. He shuts the door. I pour myself another coke from the soda machine. It is one of the perks, free soda. Also, we get one free meal a day, and 2$ a night lodging at the hotel. It’s a good gig, really. One night after my shift, I made a steak and cheese sandwich with the trimmings from the beef fillet. Best. Sandwich. Ever. I figure retail on it was close to 25 dollars.
I hear some muffled talking, then George’s raised voice. A curt goodbye and he is back in the kitchen.
“Someone will be here by 6. You’ll have to be host and server until they arrive.
I’ll have to what? I’ve never waited a table in my life, and how can I host and serve?
“George, look at me.”
I motion to my working clothes- A dirty pair of jeans, a stained apron, a grimy black Brian Head t-shirt, shoes covered all sorts of yuck, a greasy baseball cap.
“It’ll be fine. And we likely won’t get anyone in that first hour anyway.”
By the time I wash my hands, try and make my hair presentable, it is 5:05 and one couple waits at the still locked door. I swallow my nerves and unlock the restaurant.
“Sorry folks, We’ve had a bit of trouble this afternoon. Two for dinner?”
They don’t appear too upset and reply kindly to my inane questions on the way to the table with the best view.
I hand them menus and offer bland suggestions as to what they might like. The woman looks me over, most likely noticing her server is covered in kitchen filth and smells like deep fryer oil mixed with stale sweat.
“I’ll give you a minute to look over the menu and I’ll get the drinks.”
I smile, turn and walk briskly back to the kitchen. George laughs at me as I overfill the glasses and spill all over the floor.
“You’re making more work for yourself.”
They order the baked chicken. I check on them twice after taking their order, bringing them refills and a basket of poorly cut bread.
I’m still too nervous to stand still and wander back and forth from the front desk to the kitchen, sure it’s taking way too long for the food to be ready and the couple will walk out very soon.
Finally, the chicken is done. I carefully carry both plates to the table and place them in front of the couple.
“Can I get you anything else?”
No, everything looks great.
I retreat to the host desk, hoping there is no one else waiting. From my stool, I can see them cutting into the vegetables, the meat. They seem pleased.
George wanders out from the back, gives me a wink. Just then, John arrives.
“Sorry guys, I totally forgot it was my night to open.”
“It’s cool,” I say, hoping I’m not letting on how glad I am he is here. “Just the one couple and they seem alright with my service.”
“I’ll take over from here, but I’ll bring you the tip.”
Back in the kitchen, I finish making a pan of potatoes, put them in the oven. The Aerosmith tape ends and before I can put in some Oingo Boingo, George slaps in something from Supertramp. It could be worse.
Ten minutes later, John comes up and hands me two bills. Both ones.
They tipped me two dollars on a 30 dollar meal.
John laughs, tells me to keep my day job.
I didn’t write last week. My wife took the day off (Valentine’s Day), and we spent some time hanging out, watching movies, eating too much chocolate. I planned to write, I really did.
Then, on the way back from some adventure or other, we stopped for a warm beverage at a place near our home. Waiting for our order, a breaking news story on the television caught our attention. Another school shooting had taken place, this time in Florida. I didn’t want to write after that.
I’ve spent most of the last week shifting through all sorts of emotions, and I’ll be the first to admit that many of my responses were irrational. I got into snarky debates with old friends, commiserated with like-minded allies, had flat out angry arguments with acquaintances and friends of friends. I stated opinions, backtracked on them, then restated them later. And while I certainly was not at my best, I watched on social media as people said far worse to each other. What an ugly event, and how unfortunate that tragedy brings out so much extra awfulness in us, in me.
Answers continue to elude me. I’m trying to be patient, to pay attention, to hope (but)…
…the tone hasn’t become any less terrible this week, and the rhetoric being tossed out, the flat out lies being spread about children sickens me. I honestly do not care what political ideology people cling to, and I certainly don’t pretend to have all the solutions or be correct in my assumptions (facts in my favor or not), but the vile behavior of adults towards young people is inexcusable.
Disagree with their political aims, but do so in a constructive manner. The world is certainly a callous place where most of the time what we want or need is irrelevant to it. Not ever situation turns out the way our kids might want, and we want them to learn to be resilient, but deliberate cruelty disguised as political debate destroys any opportunity for understanding or growth.
I still cling to the belief that humans are at their core, decent creations, and that at our best we can accomplish difficult things.
I also believe that the way to a happy and fulfilling life is pretty basic-Take care of yourself. Take care of each other.
That’s pretty much it.
I honestly didn’t realize I’d missed blogging last week until Saturday. I’ll pretend it was because of all the bustle leading up to my family hosting TWO Thanksgiving dinners. Yeah, that’s the reason. I was certainly distracted by the massive list of things I had to do, clean, cook, prepare. When you are about to welcome and feed close to 50 people, the pressure can get to you.
I’ll stick with that. I was too busy.
But really, Thanksgiving was great! We usually host both families, but have one group over on Wednesday night to make things a bit less stressful. That didn’t work out this year, so we decided to have my family over at noon, Sheryl’s at 6. That gave us just enough time to smoke turkeys, make sweet potato casserole, prepare gravy, cook stuffing. We rely on the others for the rest of the food, and they always come through with fantastic pies, sides, rolls.
I’m fortunate to have both parents and all my siblings living near me, and while we get together often, Thanksgiving is still special. I’m also extremely lucky to have fantastic in-laws. I love my wife’s family as if they were my own. They are a huge part of my life and I am thankful for their love and friendship.
I’ve become quite sentimental in my old(er) age. My emotions run closer to the surface, and being in the same room with the people I care most about makes me insanely happy. This year was particularly poignant. Several times I found myself close to tears. I am grateful, thankful, joyful.
And the best part- I get to have all these wonderful people in my house again on the 24th of December for another fantastic evening of food and family. It really is a pretty great life.
The leaves are changing on the mountains. Temperatures are hovering near perfection. I get to wear sweaters and long sleeve shirts. Autumn is here! Oh, and also, it is the first Wednesday of the month which is when the Insecure Writer’s Support Group gets together for their monthly blog hop. Check us out and sign up HERE
From the website:
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.
You can also answer the optional question each month.
for October the question is: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?
When I first read this, I thought in terms of identity theft. You know, something like I wrote my social security number on page 17, or maybe used my current street address. I can say with surety I’ve never done that.
But slipping personal things about myself, stories, traits, desires and dreams, sure.
When I was in my teens and twenties, the majority of my protagonists were loose representations of myself. I’d write about actual events, slightly tweaked, but anyone who knew me or was there could see through the flimsy disguise.
With practice, I got better and hiding things. Like many writers, I was able to create characters who could do and say things I might never dare try in my actual life. I would write idealized versions of who I’d like to be (and on one creepy occasion, someone I’d never want to be). The fictionalized adventures would be mine, become something like my memories.
If I’m being honest with myself, I think I still do this more than I’d like, but rather than jumble all these things into one character, I spread them out over everyone in the story. Maybe others are talented enough to write complex and interesting characters based entirely on speculation, void of any connection to themselves or anyone they know. That is beyond my skill.
On another note, I finished the second round of the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge. Hopefully this story is more well received than my last effort, which honestly wasn’t very good. This time, I wasn’t sleep deprived or unable to focus. Hopefully, I’ll actually score some points and maybe advance to the final two rounds. If not, it was a fun and challenging experience.
My only complaint about the contest is the rigid use of genre and accompanying expectations. I know it makes judging a bit easier to have set criteria, but it makes the writing feel very controlled. I mentioned my story wasn’t quality work, but one of the critiques was, in romantic comedies, we expect a happier conclusion. In other words, don’t play with the genre. That seems a strange and vapid critique.
What about you clods? Any good words to share?
I’m struggling this week with the hectic and frightening mood permeating my country. The dieification of the military, the proliferation of forced patriotism frightens me.
I cannot help but shake my head and wonder what terrible thing lurks around the corner.
I do not believe my government really acts in the best interests of its people, and I do not believe that any of the current conflicts are doing anything to preserve my freedom or protect my rights.
Governments do not give rights, but they sure know how to suppress them.
As I looked up, streaks of pale pink and yellow stared back at me me. For a moment, it seemed as if the sky were moving at an incredible rate of speed, stretching the clouds, and the earth lurched to keep pace. I stumbled, confused and dizzy, forgetting why I had come to the city, who I intended to meet. A passing stranger spoke to me, but his words were a jumble of incoherent sounds. I could only stare at the fading light, awestruck.
Three deep breaths, three rapid blinks, and I regained a recollection of my surroundings, who and where I was. She was waiting for me in the bar around the corner, a cold beer already placed on the table in front of the empty chair I would soon occupy. I was excited to see her again, share some conversation, one hundred laughs with someone I did not see enough of during the autumn months.
And in that moment, as I fumbled with my phone, framed a picture, instead of thinking how much she would appreciate the stunning sunset, the mountains dark silhouette like an oil painting, all I could think was how I wished you were right here to see this with me instead.
Last weekend, I drove 8 hours from Salt Lake City to Lake Tahoe to attend my brothers bachelor party. I like driving long distances. It calms me, gives me ample time to think. Also, it allows for excellent conversations with travel companions. On this particular trip, it was me and one other fine gentleman, a close friend of two of my brothers. We talked sports, kids, dogs, politics, music, anything that came to mind. The first four hours passed quickly.
After stopping in Winnemucca for gas, my traveling companion crawled into the back seat for a nap. Out in front of me, the road stretched straight and unbending for what seemed like hundreds of miles. I put on some music, made myself comfortable in the seat, and drove. Hours passed. My mind wandered through so many topics, lingering on some for a while, allowing others to slip by almost without a complete thought.
Rhythms of the road.
When I find myself in that state of mind, I can go for hours without stopping. Small towns and cities passed by, and while driving through Reno (oops, I should have exited earlier as we were heading to Stateline, Nevada) was nerve-wracking, I adored the drive.
As for the party, well let’s just say that I am clearly too old for that sort of shenanigans. I love my brother and enjoy spending time with him, but this weekend I felt nervous and out of place most of the time.
At first, things were great. I drank some delicious beers, went on a spectacular group hike where we found a rock formation to summit. From there, the views were stellar. The lake was to our right, a sprawling valley of farms to our left.
This was my favorite moment of the weekend.
We stayed in an amazing place- three floors and ample bedrooms for all of us (between 12-15 fellows depending on the day).
All the elements were there for an epic gathering. I can only blame myself for not having an amazing time. Apparently, I’ve become a crotchety old man, always worried about everything. People were too loud, too happy, too drunk, too outrageous, too destructive for my comfort.
Maybe I should have drank more, allowed myself to be buzzed for three straight days, get into the spirit of things, but honestly, most of the time I just wanted to be anywhere else.
That worries me some.
For months, I had been looking forward to this weekend, anticipating the stories we’d have to tell afterward, the craziness we’d create. To then have a continual gnawing in my stomach, an anxiety that grew deeper each day; I have a hard time blaming that on age (even if it is super convenient).
I’ll have to ponder this some more.
The drive home was equally as pleasant as the ride out, and the conversations I had with myself (as my travel companion was exhausted from the weekend and slept for much of the ride) kept me stimulated and engaged. I’m super entertaining, really.
Also, the puppy love I received upon my return was epic.