Monday, December 28, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Chris was a cop, and apparently a pretty good liar. I've known him for about 13 years, when I started here as a cop he was a cop in the next town over. We used to pass an hour or so of night shift parked on the line where our towns met, just shooting the shit, sometimes we'd catch a meal break together.
Chris had won the Silver Star, the third highest Army citation for heroism, during the Gulf War, was an officer in the Army Reserve, was one of the very few cops I had met who had been in an officer involved shooting, and always came off as someone who knew his shit, someone you would want covering your back if things went bad.
Not long before I left the police department here, he transferred over...problems with the new chief over there. He wasn't the only one, a couple more made the same move around the same time for the same stated reason.
Chris was aways the guy who you expected to climb the ranks. A stickler for policy to the point of being annoying, he was still the guy to seek out for a midnight legal opinion or help throwing a criminal complaint together at the end of shift. I think everyone expected him to be chief someday, and not how some become chief, climbing over the friends they've stabbed in the back on the way up, but by consistently doing the right thing.
The last couple of years Chris had been doing a very good job at the high school as a school resource officer. The kids (mine included) really liked and looked up to him, as did the staff.
Chris got arrested the other day. Seems he wasn't an officer in the reserves, probably never had been. He forged military orders claiming that he needed time off for mandatory training and collected city paychecks for that time off. He's charged with felony fraud and forgery, and more charges are likely.
He was four years away from retirement from the police department. He'll likely spend that four years in prison.
I say we were friends, we never hung out off duty, he wasn't someone I'd call to help me move just because he had a pickup. But Richard was.
Richard was a friend of mine in Oklahoma. He was my supervisor until I caught up with him in rank. We worked together, we did security work off duty together, we painted houses together in our off time, we went to Christmas parties at each other's houses. We were in a couple hairy pursuits together, we responded to several bad calls together, including one where a mutual friend died of a heart attack.
We were pretty inseparable for a couple of years, until I got promoted to the same rank and had my own shift. But even then we stayed close, until politics got in the way. The city was trying to push out the old chief. Richard was backing him, I backed the new guy. Even then it was a friendly rivalry, just like it had been when I backed a young Arkansas Democrat against his Republican incumbent for president. It was just one of those things we'd argue about and then go get breakfast.
Then Richard fell off of a ladder while doing an exterior painting job. No one was there with him at the time, and he crawled into the house with two shattered ankles to call for help.
By that time the new chief was in place and I had been given the choice job of commander of detectives for picking the right horse.
Not long after that, before he was even off of medical leave, Richard left his wife for a young clerk who worked in one of the convenience stores we frequented. That's when my new boss, the guy who I thought was going to be an improvement over the old guard, came to me and ordered me to prepare a case against Richard under a 100 year old adultery law that hadn't been prosecuted in decades.
I balked, he threatened. I called the DA, he assured me that there was no way in hell that he would pursue the case and advised me to just prepare it and bring it to him and he would refuse it. I felt filthy while doing it, but I did it, and it went down just like the DA promised, no charges.
That's when I knew I had to get out of that department, and it was the final shove that pushed me to New Mexico. But by then Richard and I didn't talk anymore.
A few years after moving here I heard that he had gotten another job in police work in another Oklahoma town. Then I heard that he had been arrested for burglarizing businesses while on night patrol.
Luis did the same thing. Luis was one of my supervisors when I first started in the department here. He was lazy, but a nice guy. Sometimes he'd bring his banjo in and play for us to pass time on a slow Sunday. One weekend I went to the lake on my days off and came back to find that Luis had been arrested and that I had been promoted. Weird feeling, that.
Luis had come under suspicion of burglary and our own detectives had set him up with a sting operation and had caught him with stolen property in the trunk of his police car. Embarrassing yes, but at least our guys had done the catching. It's always worse if someone else has to do it for you.
There was the guy that I went to the academy with in Oklahoma...two of them actually...both went to jail for fraud or burglary. The guy who was sheriff in my own home county back there, a guy who I had ridden the school bus with when we were children, who just got sentenced for that most cliche of rural cop stereotypes, shaking down out of state motorists for cash.
Then there was Billy. Billy was a retired captain from San Antonio PD who started working in the same neighboring town as Chris while I was still a police officer here. As with Chris, I would often meet Billy at the town line and shoot the shit with him. Coming, as he had, from a big city, he had great stories and seemed to really have his shit tight, procedurally and tactically.
A couple of years later and Billy had transferred over to a neighboring county's sheriff's office to be closer to the house he had bought. He was mostly working around a very small mountain town with another acquaintance of mine, Bob, who had transferred over there from our own sheriff's office. Bob was a native New Yorker who had fallen in love with the west and all of it's trappings and had moved out here to be a real western lawman.
One night Billy and Bob were sent on a call of a domestic disturbance just outside of that tiny mountain town. Bob went to the back of the house while Billy approached the front. Inside, the resident, a convicted felon and member of a white supremacist prison gang, was shoving his dead girlfriend into a closet. He had shot her just before the deputies had arrived. He exited the back door, leaving his young daughter cowering near the closet that held her murdered mother, and encountered Bob near the back door. For a split second, Bob was engaged in what he may have fantasized about before coming west, a showdown with an armed desperado. Then he was dead, shot once in the forehead.
Hearing the shot, Billy ran around the house, the bad guy coming around in the other direction. Billy found his friend and partner dead and went back around to the front where he came face to face with the suspect. Both raised their pistols and fired, but Billy didn't miss, and Bob's killer fell wounded. Billy then did what we were all trained to do after wounding someone, he secured the bad guy's gun, and handcuffed him. Even if the suspect appears dead that's what you do because you never know.
Billy called for help, then went inside, and found the little girl and the dead woman. He then walked back out into the front yard, in front of God and his patrol car's video camera, and put one more bullet in the wounded, cuffed suspect.
Billy half-heartedly tried to portray the shooting as justified, but ballistics and video nailed him. He was ultimately convicted of manslaughter, a lesser charge than murder, because of lack of premeditation. The prison gang who's member he killed put a hit out on Billy before he had even entered the system and many of them are now doing extended sentences for that conspiracy.
As far as I know, Billy is still ok and still doing his time, but when he gets out there will be another sentence hanging over him, some piece of shit with something to prove will always be out there ready to take a shot at him or his family.
There is no way to justify what Billy did that night eight years ago, cops cannot appoint themselves to the position of judge, jury and executioner. Our society does not and cannot work that way. All of us who do that job at some point have our gun pointed at someone, knowing that the world would be a much better place if we could just stop this fucker from taking one more breath. The majority of us take our own deep breath, send our finger on that long trip from trigger to safety, put our gun in our holster, and reach for our cuffs.
I also know that Billy's betrayal of society's trust lasted all of a second, just long enough to pull the trigger. Actually, one third of a second; not days, months, or, as in the case of Chris, years.
In a way, to me at least, his betrayal is the least offensive.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Danny and I went to Hell*Mart and replaced the missing cafe phone and looked at the new movies and video games, stopped at Scronic for breakfast, then headed for work. Here and there we could see where a tree had been removed from the road, the bark and twigs still on the road, the fresh cut logs of the trunk and bigger branches dragged off to the side of the road, the roof of the Shell station piled up in the empty lot next door. I occurred to me then to wonder how my fence was holding. I think this is foreshadowing.
About 9 am the power went out. To be expected when the wind blows even a little bit up here. We live in a pine forest, pine trees not only have shallow root systems, but many of them also have been afflicted by bark beetles, which have left thousands of dead and weakened trees standing around just waiting for a reason to fall over on something, and Tuesday they did, in droves, knocking out power all over town.
I was sitting at the counter drinking the last of the coffee and thinking about putting on a pan of water for cowboy coffee when a police car pulled up out front. The officer got out and came to the front door.
'Shit, what now?' I was thinking as I unlocked the door. "Can I help you?" is what I said.
He told me that my neighbors had called them since they couldn't get through to me at the cafe, and that my fence had blown down and my dogs were running loose. I am a convicted misdemeanant due to two of those assholes (the well-behaved ones at that) and now they and the two younger ones, the ones with no social (or survival) skills are running around the neighborhood? Shit.
So, I drive the fifteen miles home, the wind trying to push me off the ice-slick highway. My cell phone rings...a 336 number, must be one of my neighbors.
It's Sonja, she lives just up the road from me.
"...yeah, I heard. What are they doing?"
She assured me that they weren't going too far, it was trash day and everyone had put their carts out earlier in the morning and the dogs were feasting on spilled and blowing trash. She also let me know that my fence was in the road.
A little bit about the fence. It is a six foot high wooden privacy fence that I had built last year after years of leaving the dogs in during the day, or on runners, and after one miserably failed attempt at constructing a chain link fence, which the dogs stared at for three minutes before pushing under it and running down to the creek, ignoring my pleas to cease and desist.
They returned from that escape at sundown, covered in mud and happy as hell, in spite of several porcupine quills. Assholes.
I like my wooden fence a lot. It covers a pretty good sized chunk of my property and looks nice, which is to say that it looks better than my backyard. Having several fair sized dogs, my backyard alternates between dust bowl and mud pit, depending on the weather. In a fit of optimism I put a nice little bench and a chiminea back there when the fence was first built. For a couple of nights I sat out there, watching my little fire, drinking some beers, and imagining the stone walk I would build up to the back corner of the yard where I would build a small deck to surround the hot tub I would have installed there. Right about then I would catch a wiff of something foul as one of the dogs finished taking a dump. So, the barren wasteland that is my backyard is forever to be the realm of the dogs.
I would have liked to build the fence all the way around the house. Then I could have built towers on the corners, and I would have then spent my dotage dressing up in a cavalry uniform and singing "She wore a yellow fucking ribbon" at the top of my lungs while rattling a sabre at my neighbors.
As soon as I pulled into the drive, three of the four escapees bounded around the corner, Po shouting at the top of his lungs, "DAD, DAD, DAD...DADADADAD...DAD...DAD!"
Tori and Sadie just smiled.
"Where's Heidi?" I asked.
"DAD!" Po answered. He's not real bright, that one.
Tori and Sadie just smiled.
I got them inside with Chloe the Chiweenie, and went back out to look for Heidi.
Yeah, that's right, five dogs. Five.
Now, a little bit about that. Let's start with the oldest, Heidi, a golden retriever. She was Z's, just a puppy when we started dating. The first time Z brought her over, Danny, who was five, got out his plastic doctor bag and gave the puppy a check up.
When Z moved out, Heidi stayed with us until she had a place where she could keep a large dog. Heidi promptly ran away. This happened a couple more times and Z brought her back to the house, and that's where Heidi's stayed.
Heidi is now 11, her face white, her sight is getting poor and she has arthritis, but she loves nothing more than being out in the woods, and will still chase anything that runs from her. She cannot pass water without getting in it. She is the sweetest tempered dog I have ever known. She sleeps on a cusion next to my bed. She snores. Loudly.
Tori is Heidi's daughter from her only litter. Heidi met Barks when we moved into the house we now live in. Barks was the neighbors' dog, a handsome Black Lab. They were a great match, they took walks down to the creek together, and he would not eat or drink until she had finished. He was an awesome dog and we were happy when she got pregnant by him. But before the puppies were born, Barks was hit by a car and killed. Heidi was miserable for days.
So, Tori must be about eight now. She's got her parents' temperament, and is very fat. When she goes to sleep the Chiweenie curls up on her back and sleeps there. When she was born we kept her because Z wanted to have one of Heidi's and Barks's pups. She is supposed to be my younger daughter's dog.
So is Chloe. Chloe was born to Pepper, Z's wiener dog, and Chopper, a Chihuahua that also belonged to the same neighbors as Barks. Again, Z wanted to keep a puppy, and again it was supposed to be Em's dog.
Em claims this is not the case, and says that she gave Chloe to Danny. Danny ignores this information. Whoever's dog she is, I know that I am the one who picks up after her, feeds, and waters her.
Like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, she bolts at any opportunity, but immediately announces her freedom by barking her head off as she runs the neighborhood, often going through or under other people's fences so that she can let their dogs know how cool she is.
Sadie is a beautiful Border Collie and again she is Em's dog. Em actually claims this one though. She bought Sadie after wearing me down for about a month about how she was good kid and how she got good grades and how she never got in trouble like her siblings...on and on and on. Same tactics that she's using now to wear me down about her going to Austin.
Sadie is supposed to be intelligent, but I have seen no proof of this. She is very sweet though, is interested in cats, but scared shitless of them at the same time since getting mauled when she put her nose up to a pregnant cat's ass last year.
Then there is Po, of all the dogs he is truly mine in that I made a conscious (and sober) decision to take him as a pup this past spring from my mom and dad's place, which is apparently the dumping ground for unwanted dogs in McIntosh County, Oklahoma. Po's already pregnant mom being the latest of no telling how many dogs that have been dumped nearby and then found their way to my folks' place.
Po is a mut, very long legged and skinny, but with the head and markings of a Rottweiler. He actually is smart, having figured out doors and their operation from an early age. He just has no common sense.
Where was I? Oh, yeah...where was Heidi?
After getting the rest of the neighborhood terrorists locked up I went in search of Heidi, calling and whistling...nothing. By then the storm was getting worse, any attempt to face west being dissuaded by sleed driven by winds which were measured at the airport at 77 mph.
My house is on the east end of a bottleneck which opens into the valley holding our subdivision.
I'm not sure, but I think the sleet stinging my face was doing eighty.
Well, this is already turning into a two-night-movie-event-on-CBS, so I'll cut it short. The rest of the story isn't really that interesting anyway.
Heidi showed up about a half hour later, covered in freezing mud, and was so shocked to see me standing there that she barked at me. She almost never barks.
Busted, dad's not supposed to be home right now.
The next day I borrowed a pickup and got the lumber and hardware that I needed to fix the fence. Thursday and Friday were mostly taken up with removing the old concrete footings. There were three that had to come out and I got the first two on Thursday in a little over four hours, chipping away with a pick and a large breaker bar, the third took over three hours. Then I set the new posts, mixing and pouring fresh concrete footings.
Saturday morning I could barely move, I felt like I had been beaten with a rod, my hands were deformed claws, but I did get to sleep in, so that was nice. Of course, the wind was back up that day and maneuvering the fence panels into place and keeping them there single handed was...dumb. Kind of like trying to push a sail in a wind tunnel.
But I got it. It's not perfect, there are some sections that need more work to be a little more cosmetically correct, but as Emily helpfully pointed out, "Who cares? We can't see that side anyway."
She's right but I'll still fix it.
Oh, it took all of one day for Sadie and Po to figure out that they could easily dig out where the once-packed dirt was now loose. Sunday night I came home to find Sadie outside the fence, and Po missing. He hadn't turned up the next morning, but Em found a note stuck to the door from one of the sheriff's deputies letting us know that he had picked Po up and taken him to the pound.
So, I went to bail Po out and on the way home he hyperventilated and threw up in my front seat. Twice.
Anybody want a dog?
Monday, December 7, 2009
Older daughter's roommate is moving out.
Younger daughter has at least accepted the fact that she's not going to Austin. I knew that I was ok when she brought me half of a candy cane (one of the big, soft ones, sorta like the wedding mints, my favorite) and when I smiled at her she shoved me.
Still avoiding my email in box, but feeling some relief at having passed on the bad news.
Using a fresh coffee cup for every cup I drink...just because.
The phone is missing. Really. No one knows where it is. Ok, this is sort of a problem, but it's a problem that can wait for a bit, and the quiet is nice.
Still in need of a massage...or muscle relaxer...or a trip to Vegas...or New Orleans...or New York...or Uruguay. Yeah, Uruguay, no one would find me there. No one would even look for me there.
I did shave this morning, I usually have a beard in some stage of growth, only trimming it down to stubble, but today I am smooth. I look and feel 10 months younger.
And, the walk in? This morning it was running 10 degrees. Did I mention that it's supposed to be fridge, not a freezer? Do you know what happens to produce when it freezes?
So, yeah, that sucks.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
That's how I feel. I don't want to be here today, I don't want to do this today. Problem is, I don't want to do it tomorrow either. Tuesday's not looking too good either.
Older daughter is having roommate problems that are going to end in me having to help her get another place to stay after just giving her the money to move into the place she's in now.
Younger daughter is giving me the cold shoulder because I won't let her go to Austin for the New Year to see a boy she met over Thanksgiving. It's not even that I don't trust her judgment (ok, I sorta don't), but that is the busiest week of the year for us and I need her here.
Just had to write an email to two very good friends who helped me finance the purchase of the cafe to tell them that, sorry, but I won't be paying them back as scheduled.
My dishwasher is late.
The phone keeps ringing, and it's not anyone I'd like to talk to.
The muscles running from the base of my skull to my shoulder feel like a radio tower guy line.
And no, M, there is no dallying. Haven't dallied in a couple of years now.
To dally would be nice.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Friday is sorta kinda an almost day off for me. I was happily sitting at The Quarters, alternating between reading my book and watching a fifteen year old game between the Packers and Cowboys, had just finished my steak, and was well into my second beer (I saved you a seat, T) when Sonja came over to tell me something. She didn't feel very well then, but an hour later she was throwing up in the dish room trashcan. Time for her to go home.
The walk in compressor had failed the weekend before after struggling along the past couple of weeks, and had just been fixed Friday afternoon. Knowing my luck (and used compressors of dubious origins) I opted not to prep up for the weekend, which would have filled the walk in. In the event that the compressor failed over night I didn't want to be stuck with a bunch of food with no place store it. So, short a cook with a ton of prep to do first thing.
From there it went down hill.
Something went horribly awry with the batch of dough that I started first thing in the morning. Ok, I went horribly awry. Like a dumb ass I forgot to add the second of the two gallons of water that make up a batch of dough. I cranked the bowl up into position, set the timer, hit the start button, and wandered off to do something else for the fifteen minutes the dough would be mixing. About seven minutes in Danny walked by and asked, "What the hell did you do to the dough?"
Nothing, I thought. Did I?
Checking, I saw that yes, I had screwed the pooch. The dough wasn't dough at all, it was a mess of still-dry flour with randomly sized chunks of something almost dough-like spread throughout. This is never recoverable, for the flour particles which did get bathed were saturated and adding the second gallon of water would only result in a very loose batter with thousands of small clumps.
So, of course, that is what I did. Then I added more flour so that I get the paste out of the mixing bowl more easily. And paste is a very accurate description of what I pulled out of the bowl in handfulls. Fifty pounds of paste. This I put in a tub and left on the floor in the back kitchen, where it has given us hours...ok, minutes of entertainment since as it has risen, threatening to consume passersby, until punched, kicked, or stabbed to collapse and start over.
The rest of the day went about the same, as did the next. No matter what I did, it was wrong. I added an extra cup of water to my cupcake batter, which actually turned out to be a good thing, and whatever I prepped, it seemed to be at the wrong time. Since a lot of stuff was still spread throughout the various small coolers where it had been shoved when the walk in died, it was impossible to easily tell what was over, under, or just plain stocked. I thought I should do cheese, but we're running out of sausage; I started chopping bells, only to hear Danny yelling for ricotta.
Add to this chaos a ton of Mexican tourists, Saturday being a holiday commemorating one of their more popular revolutions, the usual dining-in-public-challenged crowds of our neighbors to the east, a handful of locals with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, and the young lady who seems only to want me on the back burner just in case someone better fails to come along, and it makes for a very miserable day at work.
Yesterday was pretty much the same. All of it.
After work I went home, fed the dogs, made myself three grilled cheese sandwiches, parked the Boston Lager next to the couch, and settled in to watch Donatella Arpaia judge on Iron Chef and Next Iron Chef. Not a bad night.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
When I came here as a 29 year old copper it was The Winner's Circle, and it was good for a fight almost every weekend, the bouncers adept at stomping people with their steel-toed boots. I never had to shoot anyone during my cop years, but I came really, really close one night on the front step of the Winner's Circle.
Though it can still get a little rough from time to time, The Quarters is a lot calmer these days. The place shows its age though, the roof leaks, like mine, and, like mine, once it's patched the water finds another way in, so the ceiling is painted black to cover the years of water and tobacco stains. An old frosted glass window, partially hidden by the addition of a foyer years ago, still proclaims the place as being Nottingham's Pub. For some reason it also depicts an arrow passing through an apple.
Today as I walk in the place is nearly empty except for the usual bunch of midday regulars in their usual places, most of them close to the large fire in the deep, stone fireplace...Greg the night shift convenience store clerk, a couple of construction guys who seem to use the bar as an office, an old man, bent like a question mark, stares at something a thousand yards past the rows of bottles lined up across the bar from him. Irish Tom has loaded the juke box with the likes of The Pogues, The Dubliners, and The Wolftones and a Republican protest number is playing as I settle at the far end of the bar and order a draft amber and the roast beef sandwich. I open my book and begin reading, wishing I was closer to the fire, the copper-clad bar glows with a warmth it does not possess, but the beer is good and the sandwich, an open-faced mess of beef, thick brown gravy, mash, and Texas toast is hearty and hot, perfect for this winter's day in the middle of autumn.
Summer, with its warm days, thunder storms, beautiful nights, and, yes, the constant flow of commerce?
It is gone, and with its passing I note that the summer of my life is over as well. I am entering autumn, and, if I may milk this silly cliche for just a little while longer, sooner than I expect, or wish, I will find myself in the winter of my life.
And already, before I even noticed their bright golden flash, the aspens have gone to brown, their leaves mostly gone in the wind, and the rain falls in those peculiar splats of slush.
Where did autumn go?
Monday, October 26, 2009
Since Maria insisted, I shall try to describe our little Oktoberfest to you, hopefully without offending anyone associated with it because the group that puts it on every year (this was the 28th) really does do good work and all the proceeds go to local charities.
But…our little Mardi Gras (actually, they call it mARTi Gras), which is a fundraiser for the local arts council, sucks ass, and I told them so after being associated with it a couple of times, so perhaps my hopes of not pissing off any nice, well-meaning people who might stumble across this post while googling “Ruidoso Oktoberfest” are dashed before we even get started.
Speaking of starts, this is how this one went…
A few weeks ago a lady called and asked if I’d be willing to stand in for the Lion’s Club this year at Oktoberfest as they weren’t going to be able to participate and didn’t want to lose their spot for next year. I guess I should explain that different groups rent the booths and then sell food, the Republicans sell slices of Black Forest and apple spice cake, the Lutherans sell apple strudel, the Kiwanis sell potato and apple pancakes, and the Run for the BEACH group re-sells store-bought desserts, which is just dumb.
Anyway, I agreed immediately, a victim of my own vanity and an optimistic blindness that has afflicted me for decades.
Why yes, I do like camping. And you say that I can join now and not leave for a few months? Sure, I’ll join the army!
I know that we’ve only been dating for a short while, but the sex is really good and occurring frequently, so why don’t we get married?
Well no, I haven’t ever made sushi, but I’d love to cater your wedding.
Two years to pay back $50,000, where do I sign?
So, I did what I always do, I waited until the last minute, the pushed through in a fit of panic and rage…or at least stress and annoyance.
I started by ordering 200 pounds of potatoes, because that is what the Lion’s club lady said she used, for the Monday before the event was to start, figured out my portion size, how many portions I was likely to get and how much to charge. Since the Lioness had said that she never had any problem selling the all the soup, this all pointed toward a huge profit on a very modest investment of about $200.
This should have been a clue. Nothing ever goes according to plan, especially if the plan is, “This should be easy, and make us a lot of money.”
The soup itself wasn’t difficult as I’ve been making soups from scratch for a few years now. Here at the café we serve a Portuguese (Azorean, actually) kale soup that’s based on the original owner’s mother’s recipe. It has been on the menu for about sixteen years now and we go through hundreds of gallons of it every year.
While I’m typing this sentence, Danny is cutting linguica and chourico for kale soup as a ten gallon stock pot comes up to a boil on the stove.
I started by peeling 50 pounds of potatoes (ok, the dishwasher peeled the potatoes), and smoking several pork bellies that I had already cured. Lots of leeks, celerly, and onions went into a pot to be cooked down while three stock pots came to a boil. The potatoes were then rough chopped and tossed into the pots along with the diced pork bellies, some beef stock and some salt and pepper. When the potatoes were nearly soft the other vegs were added and the soup simmered for another hour or so. The soup was then split into smaller containers and chilled.
The next day I ran the soup through the Robot Coupe, one of my favorite tools. Like a squat little red ninja, this food processor on crack makes very short, very quiet, work of any chopping or shredding job and looks extremely cool while doing so.
A lot of our tools have names, some obvious, some not so. The walk-in was built by the Warren company, so it’s name is…yep, Warren, same with Hobart. Two of my knives are named, one is Howard, one is Margie. I’m the only person who knows that Margie has a name. We call the Robot Coupe the R2 unit.
So, after the soup was cooled I ran it through the R2 unit to make a smooth puree. At this point it was a very nice vichyssoise. Apply heat and it becomes kartoffelsuppe. Magic! I did this process three more times over the course of three days, staying at work until 2 am two nights in a row, sleeping on the couch so that I’d be less likely to roll over and go back to sleep when the alarm went off at 5:30 am.
The second day I already felt like the guy in the old Winchell’s donut commercials, the one where he’s shown getting up at some ungodly hour, stumbling to the front door, mumbling, “Time to make the donuts.”
About the third time as opens the door to walk out, he meets himself coming back in saying, “I already made the donuts.”
Other stuff that needed to be done included digging chafing dishes out of storage, then hunting down appropriate sized pans for soup since all we had were shallow ones, going to Hel-Mart for Sterno and crepe paper, and going by to visit the field office of the friendly folks of the New Mexico Environment Department to apply for our temporary permit, required for any food service outside of the restaurant. In the mean time, there was also the usual barely controlled disaster that is day-to-day operations of the café…the seventy year old Italian lady and the eighteen year old black kid pulling knives on each other in the dish pit (two men enter, one man leave), the prep kid misreading the chocolate chip cookie recipe and adding six and a half cups of four instead of six and a half pounds and unable to figure out why he has batter instead of dough, the toilet in the women’s room shooting water three feet into the air upon being flushed, not to mention the cooking, cleaning, and accounting that has to happen everyday to make sure that we don’t sink.
Friday afternoon arrived far sooner than I wanted it to and I was rushing around trying to get everything transferred over to the convention center, change bag put together, soup reheated to serving temp, and some sort of half-assed decorations done. Finally about fifteen everything was mostly set up. I had a chafing dish set up on the serving table full of hot soup, another pot in a warmer in the convention center kitchen, some blue and white streamers, a giant potato head with a sign that read, "Eat Me", and, since we were standing in for the Lions, they asked that we display their logo as well, with its two lion faces and the words, Lions International.
With everything ready to go, and my oldest daughter, Joey, minding the booth for a moment, I headed to the beer stand for a hefeweizen. When I got back she said that someone had asked which Lion's club we were with. She glanced over her shoulder at the logo and told them, "The international one, I guess."
And this is pretty much how the night went. The line for the bratwurst stand often stretched past our stand and we sold some bowls to those folks, others would walk up and read the signs, including the one that read, POTATO SOUP, and ask what we were serving. Several young men came over for no other reason than to hit on my daughter, which was...awkward, and by 9 o'clock no one was eating any more and the band might as well have been playing for an empty room.
The next day was better. The event goes from noon to 11 pm on Saturday and my younger daughter, Emily, and I were set up and ready on time. More of the same, questions about the Lions, more apparently illiterate folks, and one older vegetarian lady who sneered at me when she asked if the soup contained any meat and I told her that, yes, it had pork and beef stock. Should have just lied and served her the soup with a big smile.
Sometime during the evening, a elderly lady in line for bratwurst picked up our menu, which I had put on the table along with one from Cafe Z, and asked where Cafe Rio had moved to. I assured her that it was still in the same place, the same place it's been for something like sixteen years. She didn't seem convinced, "I've looked for it and can't find it," she told me.
"Well, we did remodel the front of the building a couple of years ago," I said. "But, we still have a sign."
And the same fucking phone number, I added to myself.
And so the afternoon and night went, rotating soup from walk in to stove top to chafing dish, spending as much time in the kitchen as I could, talking with either the retired chef with the Kiwanis, or the nice old lady with the Republicans as she mixed, baked and decorated one Black Forest cake after another. "Yes, you can use the Republican Ladies cookbook, even if you're a Democrat," she assured me, laughing.
Oh, and then there was the other Republican lady, this one about my age, wearing shorts and heels and drunkenly hitting on me. After about two minutes of her slurred business advice, "You nnneeeed to take shamp...shamples...out to people," while resting her hand on my forearm, I began to McGyver a homemade version of pepper spray from spices and cooking oil.
Luckily, I didn't need it and she was soon showing me that she was right by wobbling out into the crowd with a tray loaded with slices of black forest cake and returning with it empty moments later.
Even though my legs are nicer than hers I decided against it.
Saturday night was definitely better than the night before, more people, more lively, a very beautiful woman with one of the dance troupes walked by several times while doing an admirable job of completely ignoring my Jedi mind shit.
Look at me...you want me...I am the love of your life.
No dice. Gonna have to watch this when it comes out and see if I can pick up a few pointers.
But, by 10 it was pretty much over and I started putting stuff away, was able to get everything packed in my car in one trip, and dropped the left over soup at the cafe, before going home around midnight. All in all it wasn't the worst convention center experience I've had, I'm pretty sure that the gumbo cook off at mARTi Gras will forever hold that honor, and though not as profitable as hoped, it did bring in a pretty good, much needed infusion of cash that weekend. So, if asked I'm sure I'd do it again.
Maybe I'll call the Run for the BEACH crew and see if they might like to sell something with a better profit margin next year.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Try not to suck – Spray painted on the dishroom wall.
Please put the fucking shit back after you use it. Thank, and fuck, you. – Magic marker next to the cleaning supplies.
Go Away – Tile mosaic on the floor at the entrance to my office
Life is a chingadera, so get jiggy. – Painted in the back kitchen.
The customer is always wrong – photo of a sign in Mexico, hanging in the dining room.
There is a place online that sells cynical versions of those annoying office fixtures, I have this one in my office.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Listening to the Ramones' Too Tough To Die, which, sadly, has to be the most ironic album title ever.
Wishing that Balloon Boy was real, and that he and the Beer Bear could go have adventures together and we could all watch and cheer and exclaim, "Oh, how clever the two BBs are, bringing peace to Dafur, and an equitable solution to the problems of Israel and Palestine!"
Also wishing that I was lying on a couch somewhere with my head resting in the warmth of someone's lap, just watching TV, or a movie, or just napping the day away as she reads.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Doing all of the above yesterday, today, and tonight making batches of potato soup, kartoffelsuppe, for our local Oktoberfest tomorrow and Saturday.
I haven't been to this Oktoberfest in over five years because, frankly, it had gotten pretty lame. After my more recent experiences with our weak assed excuse for Mardi Gras, I'm not hopeful.
At least there will be plenty of Warsteiner on hand.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I'm not one of those types who lives for drama, I hate drama, can't even stand to watch reality tv unless there's cooking involved, and even then I'm thinking, Quit bitching and get back to the flippin' lamb shanks.
But for some reason I love it when things are going wrong, love to be in a bind and work through it, kick its ass, knock it down, stand over its crumpled form and yell into its face, "You thought you had me? Huh? Don't you know who I am?"
As I beat my chest, of course.
Now, I must close to deal with some more shit.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
I'm guessing the cafe is the plane...and maybe Goose...or maybe I'm Goose.
If so, at least I was with Meg Ryan.
And, the grocery store has 80s rock playing on the sound system...the music I listened to in high school and college...the Clash, for fuck's sake...is playing in a grocery store.
So, I'm already feeling old when I get to the checkout and pull a fitty out of my wallet and realize that I could be looking in the mirror...I have turned into Ulysses S. Grant.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Good news: Jessica Biel is single.
Doesn't really even out.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
I was driving home, sick of all my CDs, I turned on the local classic rock channel...you know, the one that has a Pink Floyd Power Hour! every Thursday...and then it was suddenly, crystal clear to me, Bon Jovi kicks ass.
Archimedes had his bath, Newton his apple, and I got this. Shit.
Friday, September 25, 2009
After untangling the mess of hoses that feed the soda dispenser, cleaning everything up, painting the wall, and getting it all back together, I climbed up on the roof.
No, not to jump off. I went up to (hopefully) seal all the little cracks and holes that have been letting water through this rainy season. Water which then finds it's way onto peoples heads at table 3...and table 6...and in the men's room...and in the hall to the men's room.
We have finally had three completely rain-free days and everything up there was nice and dry so up I went, by way of a brilliant stair case which I build out of plastic milk crates, as the ladder I used to use is broken.
See you in the ER, T?
I actually like it up on the roof. The view is not too bad, and it's away from everyone. I often think that I might build an apartment up there after the kids move out. There would still be room for a giant deck out toward the street and some raised beds for a garden. Of course, I'd have a fire pole installed that would drop me into the back kitchen because that would just be kickass.
Anyway, while I was up there, slopping white goo on all of the likely weak spots, and my shoes, I heard a commotion toward the back of the building. Through my white roof and sunshine constricted pupils I could see that the commotion was caused by my friend Chris climbing up while trying not to drop the two red plastic cups that he was carrying.
Now, lots of things can be served in red plastic cups, but around here it means a tasty alcoholic beverage...especially if Chris, a well regarded amateur bartender, is bringing it to you. On the roof.
And I was not disappointed. A couple of Painkillers and bad jokes later everything just seemed so much better. Until it was time to get back down. Gotta get that fire pole.
4 oz. Pusser's Navy Rum
4 oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. cream of coconut
1 oz. orange juice
Serve on the rocks. Stir and top with fresh grated nutmeg.
The reason I will stab myself in the head has the grand name of The FloJet Beverage Pump System. Imagine, if you will, all the hoses and pipes and pumps and gauges that kept Neo patched into the Matrix. Now, imagine them all wadded up like some sort of nightmare ball of Christmas lights...covered in corn syrup.
Now, where's that screwdriver?
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
There is an old joke here that goes, "How do you know when it's autumn in Ruidoso?"
"The license plates turn back to yellow."
Hilarious, I know, but it's true. During the week, at least, there are almost no white Texas tags, almost no foot traffic, very little happening for a while.
Which is why I have a headache this morning. No, not because sales are down, that headache will hit next week and remain pretty constant until Christmas. I have a headache today because since Tuesday I have been cleaning and painting and generally inhaling a lot of stuff that probably shouldn't be inhaled.
No, not like that...I prefer my chemicals in liquid form.
Oh, and the staff has me about to kill. Not all the staff, not even most of the staff. Actually, just just a couple of 'em are giving me a headache lately. I mean, they all bug me from time to time...
For instance, Randy's music sucks and I constantly have to tell him to turn it down because the dish pit is right next to the dining room and folks on that end probably don't want to hear songs which, from what I can tell, are all about fucking, blow jobs, and killing Eminem. Not that I'm against any of those things, I just don't think most of the customers want to hear it.
New Kid Josh has done what most people (ok, kids) do when they get hired, which is he started off doing an ok job, leading me into believing that he'd get better, that there was hope, but has now gotten comfortable and is slacking off. So, he's gone from mediocre to shitty.
FNG Clayton, or whatever his fucking name is, did the same thing in half the time. I will switch J & C around next week, putting Josh on the floor as buser/ice cream bitch, and Clayton in the dish pit. Josh will do a better job than Clayton on the floor, and Clayton will quit, and then I'll do what I should have done in the first place: hire a Mexican who has three kids. Problem solved.
Jared is a very good friend. With Brett off at Cafe Z, Jared is now my right hand. Jared has been waiting tables or tending bars for over half of his 33 years. Due to that, Jared now hates people. We have a saying, "Fake it 'til you feel it." Jared can't fake it any more, and even when he can he has a degenerative disease that means that he is in pain every single day. It also means that he can't do any of the jobs that would get him away from the public.
He has just gotten a part-time job much closer to his home (he commutes 45 miles one way to work here) and I think he will probably quit soon. I will miss him, but I also think it'll be a good thing.
Wendy is bat shit crazy, but would do anything for anybody. When one of the kids who used to work here didn't have food at home, she bought him food and vitamins.
She is 43 and just found out she is pregnant from a guy she had already broken up with. She also has a fifteen year old son that has lived with his father for the past year since she and her son were fighting all the time. She has smoked all her life and has a raspy, deep voice and if you've ever eaten in a truck stop or old school diner (not the Denny's insta-diners), then you've had a waitress very much like her.
She also has a bachelor's in psychology and is working on her master's but says that she cannot see working in that field. She tends to analyze people too much and broach subjects you don't want to talk about. Because of this, and a couple of episodes when Wendy became "Wanda", her drunk alter ego, Sonja hates her.
Sonja is my chief line cook...I guess if I was a chef she would be my sous. I've know her since she was about 15...about nine years. She started working here then as ice cream bitch during the summer and then left to bus for her dad, he worked as a waiter in what was then a fine dining restaurant about a block away.
When I went back into police work I spent about a year taking runaway reports from her mom and dad when she'd refuse to go home for days at a time.
She came back to work here around the same time I did, five years ago, and when the then owner sent me to open a sandwich shop on the north end of town he sent her with me. There, I fired her, or she fired herself, when I sent her home after showing up late the day after she had showed up for work drunk. I didn't tell her she was fired, she just never came back. Until two years ago when I bought the cafe. I hired her then as a dishwasher and she soon moved up to pizza cook.
She is 1/4 Mescalero Apache, weighs maybe a hundred pounds, her favorite drink is Sailor Jerry's rum, she loves ska and punk and rap, if it's by a Hasidic Jew, and thinks most everything else is shit. She has absolutely no problem letting people know what she thinks of them and has very nearly gotten me into bar fights twice.
In short, she can be abrasive, but you always know where you stand with her, there is nothing fake. Natalie Portman in this video reminds me of her.
She also is working on a degree in psychology, but does not analyze, unless calling a dishwasher a choad is analyzing.
Reference the hungry dishwasher: Sonja's answer? He shouldn't spend all his fuckin' money on weed if he wants to eat.
Wendy says that she is an evil bitch.
Danny, my son, is one of my best, and I'm not just saying that because I love him. Having gotten As and Bs all the way through school, he decided a couple of years ago that he wasn't going to go anymore. Having been down that road with my oldest daughter, when all else failed, I knew that fighting wasn't going to work. So, I let him quit and put him to work full time.
In that time, I have watched him drift away, angry and devastated by his step-mom leaving, turning to drugs and drink, only to come back closer than before. He scared the living shit out of me for a while.
He is smart, articulate, and a good worker. I have no doubt that when he figures out what direction he wants to go, and he's working on it, he will be going balls to the wall.
Emily, Danny's twin, has also had nothing but As and Bs in school. Other than that, they couldn't be more different. She is headed to UNM next fall, intent on being a neurologist.
Em only works a couple of days, since she's back in school now. On Saturdays she either preps or cooks on the line, on Sundays she waits tables with Jared. She has gotten very good at both.
She is in many ways the strongest of my kids. Like Danny, she was extremely close to her step-mom, but has been able to stay close to her since our divorce.
Her last couple of boyfriends had been her age, or a little older and had both been manipulative dicks, both times she suffered through it quietly until she'd had enough and bailed. Now, she's dating a boy two years her junior, other girls at school call her a cradle robber, she answers that no, she's a couga. The other night she wanted to leave work early, I started to ask why, but then asked, "What, you gotta tuck Brady in?"
She just grinned, "Hells ya."
Before my grandpa's funeral, at the viewing, she wanted to go even though I had told the kids they didn't have to if they didn't want to. Danny didn't, but Em said that she did and she held my hand as we walked toward the flag-draped coffin which held my grandfather's remains. After grandma died, grandpa kind of let himself go, his hair was often greasy and his mustache, which had always been twisted up into neat handlebars, was shaggy and ragged.
At the viewing he was laid out in a crisp western pearl snap shirt, his mustache trimmed and neat, and his silver hair clean and combed. "He looks like a king," Emily whispered. He was.
Brianna is the newest crew member, she started as a waitress about a month and a half ago, and so far, so good. She's young, 19, but works here and as a cocktail up the street six days a week. Like so many kids, she did very well in school up 'til high school and then said, "Fuck this noise," and quit. She doesn't really like waiting tables, but is proficient at it and can work a full dining room by herself.
Elijah has been coming in with his parents since he was little. Now sixteen, he works Sundays as a buser. He is funny and walks in and immediately starts working. He is short, stocky and black. The other kids call him Black Hobbit.
And then there's Marissa. I hired her about three months ago after some fuckhead of a good Samaritan called to tell me of this poor old Italian woman who had just lost her job at this Italian place that had gone tits up.
She has worked in restaurants the 30 years that she has lived here, some of them local legends, all of them right up until they closed their doors. Sonja says that by hiring her I have doomed the Cafe.
She speaks very softly, with a very heavy accent, in a very loud kitchen. She also talks to herself. Many times I have turned off whatever noisy piece of equipment I've been using to ask, "Huh?" only to find that she was singing along to fucking Aerosmith on the radio.
She is also too weak to do much of anything, Jared would actually be able to do more, and she is constantly asking for help moving this or that, so the dishwashers hated her immediately. After three months here she still needs guidance daily on what to do.
"You want I should do the cookies, or the bread for pizzas," she mumbles.
"Gee, I don't know; we've got forty full dough trays and three fucking cookies..."
I look forward to her days off like I used to look forward to getting laid.
She never puts lids back on anything that she uses and, since there's not a fucking marked lid on any of the containers, she licks the tip of her finger and sticks it into whatever white crystals are handy to determine if they are salt, or sugar. I have told her that she doesn't need to do this, shouldn't do this. Please, don't do this. "Sugar shiny, salt dull," I say in my best cave-Italian. "Shhhhhoooogar Shhhhhhiny..." She just nods and smiles.
Even after cooking in restaurants all that time she still hasn't figured out English measurements and tells me that she doesn't use recipes, she uses her hands. This would be so charming if she were cooking in some Tuscan trattoria that I was visiting, "How quaint and charming," I would tell my imaginary girlfriend. "Look at how she cooks from her gut, the way she was taught by her mother, and grandmother." But, you want to cook that way in a restaurant? Well, you'd better own it. In someone else's kitchen, that's a bullshit cop out. This is my food, this is the way you do it, you want to do it your way then you'd better open your own place.
Sonja's probably right, we're doomed.
Now, I really should get back to my paint fumes.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
As far as the “Cook’s Tale” series that everyone…well, two of you…were enjoying so much, let me just say that the next three years were pretty uneventful…as far as food goes. I did do, say, and think a whole hell of a lot of stupid things, but I don’t really care to go into any of that. I will say that my dear mom says of those days, “I always loved you, but I didn’t really like you very much.”
When we first moved to Oklahoma and lived in that first house at the base of what passes for mountains back there, I once went squirrel hunting with my grandpa and great-uncle, Osil. We hiked through the hills for a couple of hours without seeing anything…probably something to do with their taking a noisy ten year old along…but eventually found a spring running clear and cold. I still remember how good that water tasted, as well as I remember my first taste of well water from a rusty can that hung from Osil’s cast iron hand pumped well three years before that, as well as I remember any food I’ve ever eaten. To this day I find it hard not to drink from any spring or clear-running stream I happen across.
One very cool thing during that time when I was less lovable was that we lived about six miles from a Civil War battlefield, Honey Springs. Back then it was still “wild”, there was nothing but a metal historical marker on the side of the road to even show that anything had ever happened there.
One of my friends and I used to ride our bikes out there during the summers and hike around and imagine ourselves as brave Rebels fighting off the damned Yankees. Once, I found an old rusted mower blade and was almost able to convince myself that it was a sword. We’d stay out there for hours in the 100 degree heat, drinking from the namesake springs when we got thirsty.
To get to Honey Springs we rode our bikes up the two lane highway a couple of miles north of town and then turned right on what was pretty much a one lane strip of asphalt that passed through the town of Rentiesville, an “all Black” town, before reaching the dirt road that led to the Springs. Many of the Native tribes that had made up the Indian Territories prior to the Civil War had been slave owners and had sided with the South during the War. Afterwards most of these “Freedmen” were given tribal citizenship and continued living within the tribes, but as the territories were opened up for settlement there was also influx of freed slaves from the rest of the South and many of these settled and built all Black towns. Rentiesville is one of the few remaining, and it still has an overwhelmingly African American population (that population is about 140, by the way).
Once when we were riding out to the Springs during a particularly rainy summer we came upon a long section of the road that was under the water of a nearby creek. Nearly the whole town of Rentiesville must have been out there that day, wading through the water, carrying gunny sacks. We stopped and watched as the people moved slowly through the foot-deep water on the road, stooped, and intent on something at the bottom. Every once in a while, someone would reach in and pull something out, crawdads. Until then I had no idea that a crawdad was anything other than something to watch out for when splashing around in the creek. Many people were slicing off and only keeping the tails, casting the heads, claws grasping in confused anger, aside. Many of the sacks were quite full.
We sat and watched for a long time, no one giving the two white kids from town much more than a glance.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
For one thing, it hadn’t really been three days off. Tuesday was Café Day, and we did have a pretty good time, but it was a lot more mellow than the last time: no one passed out by 4pm, there was no crying in the bathroom, there was no blood, there was no under aged drinking (that I noticed), and the police were not called…in other words, it was kind of boring.
I don’t really know why, maybe it was because some had classes or work the next morning…but that’s never really slowed anyone down…or maybe it was the presence of three little people who weren’t around last Cafe Day, two-year-old Zoe, five-month-old Noah, and tiny, five-week-old Ophelia…or maybe we’ve just spent so much time together over the summer, spent so many hours at the Café, and gotten on each others nerves so often that none of us really wanted to hang out there…together.
We did have plenty of beer, there were a couple of trips to the bar for shots, and we did cook steaks, brats, and ribs on the grill out front on the sidewalk, and had Wii set up for anyone who wanted to play. But for some reason, it was just…subdued…and that’s ok.
Wednesday was mostly a waste due to a cluster fuck involving our alcohol permit for Café Z. I did make it home before dark and spent a couple of hours reading on the couch, and I really can’t remember the last time I’ve done that, so it wasn’t a total waste.
Thursday morning I got up early and met Brett to finish what we’d been working on the day before, and then I headed to Albuquerque, a three hour drive. I ate miso soup, twice, saw 9, and I wanted to like it more than I actually did, but that’s happened before and I’ve ended up loving some of those movies. I ate raw tuna and eel, I drove all over looking for a great bookstore that I couldn’t remember the name or address of, heard a very offensive conversation a guy was having on his cell phone, ate vanilla ice cream on the sidewalk, and, not finding my great, unknown bookstore, headed to Page One. This, I thought might not be a bad thing, since they have used books as well as new, and maybe I’d be able to find the out-of-print book I’ve been looking for, but no. I know, I know, I could find the book with a couple of key strokes right now, but that’s no fun. I did get the second and third installments of the trilogy I’m currently reading (and why the hell do fantasy authors all feel like they have to write trilogies? I blame Tolkien), picked up a book for Danny, and by then was ready to start toward home.
I had thought about getting a hotel room near downtown and heading to this great, nasty little bar that throws a fantastic rockabilly night every Thursday, but I really didn’t want to face waking up at the butt-crack of dawn and driving home after all that, so I went home, watched TV, and then went to bed to read before falling asleep.
The next day, as I sat in the office and the staff was getting on my nerves as I tried to sort through last month’s paperwork, I was really wishing that I could have had a couple of more days like Thursday.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Yesterday was just a blur, on a wait all day long, people waiting for an hour to get in and then another forty-five minutes for their food, and most of them did it in good humor, a welcome relief since the crowds all summer have been in pretty foul moods.
By the end of the night I was definitely feeling my age, my shoulders hurt from pounding countless dough balls flat and then tossing them out to size, the constant lifting of dough trays, pizzas into and out of the oven, and my legs and back ached from the hours of standing, interspersed with quick drops into a squat to grab something from the lowboy cooler.
Several of the chef memoirs that I’ve read compare cooking at this intensity to combat, the chatter of the printer spitting out order after order like that of a machine gun, and the cooks are often romanticized as soldiers. Cooking, they say, is the last meritocracy, where the only thing that matters is ones ability to produce quality quickly and consistently, and the ability to do it under miserable conditions or while in pain, emotional or physical.
That’s a load of bullshit. I also read somewhere that the reason male cooks have such high machismo is to make up for the aprons.
I was lucky, I never saw combat while in the army. I did see some nasty scraps and tense moments as a cop though, and cooking is nothing like that. Ok, there was this one time when a guy got so pissed off at the previous owner that he grabbed an olive oil-filled wine bottle and threatened him with it and we all ended up in a pile on an oil and blood-slicked tile floor. That was fun.
I have heard machine guns though, and you know what a printer sounds like? It sounds like a fucking printer, and I’m sure that plenty of other grunt jobs are meritocracies, the fact that you show up and do your job well far more important than who you know, what level your degree is, what color you happen to be, who you choose to sleep with, and whether or not you have a penis.
But we do have three bachelor’s degrees in this little restaurant of mine, all of them preferring the world of restaurants over the world of cubicles and weekly meetings. Things are different in this world of ours, a certain amount of drunkenness and debauchery are tolerated which wouldn’t be in an insurance office. Punching another employee in an accounting firm would be grounds for dismissal, and probably police intervention; here it would be a few minutes on the back steps to cool off…if there’s time. If not, we’ll sort it out later, now get your sorry asses back to work.
Now it’s over. Labor Day is done and summer is over as far as we’re concerned. We shut down it 3pm, ordered some burgers from the Quarters, had some shots and some beers and cleaned for a couple of hours. In the dish pit Randy and Danny are still at it. No dishes and no trash left behind as we’ll be closed for the next three days. Tomorrow will be Café Rio Fun Day…when we drag a grill out onto the sidewalk, drink in public, and play drunken Wii all day long. Wednesday and Thursday, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m thinking about finishing the tile in my kitchen…or going to Albuquerque and eating sushi ‘til I’m sick, catching some movies in a nice theater, and staying in a quiet, clean hotel room with the “do not disturb” placard displayed.
I’m thinking that the tile can wait.
Breakfast: Amstel Light
This morning I just wanted to mention a few things about New Mexico that rock.
1. Breakfast burritos with chorizo. Nearly every convenience store in the state sells breakfast burritos, they’re always big and the best ones are filled with chorizo, a spicy Mexican sausage.
2. The light. The early morning light is breathtaking. This morning at 7am the hills were a bright golden green. Often, this time of the year, the sky will be covered in dark clouds, it will be raining, and everything will be lit up from the sun peering underneath the clouds from one side.
3. Green chile roasters. I’ve said it before, but the smell of green chiles being roasted is one of the greatest smells on earth and right now our home-grown Hatch chiles are tumbling in roasters all over town.
4. Pinon smoke. It’s getting cool at night, soon I’ll walk out of the restaurant at closing and someone nearby will be burning pinon in their fireplace, the fragrant smoke lying close to the ground in the cold air.
5. The grim pride that comes from living in a fly-over state. We’re not chic New Yorkers, cool Californians, or prideful Texans, but plenty of New Yorkers have come here to write or paint, plenty of Californians have moved here to live better, and nearly one hundred and seventy years ago when the Republic of Texas decided it wanted Santa Fe it was a handful of Nuevo Mexicano militia that stopped the invasion. We also tend not to die from things like the latest flu-of-the-week…we get stuff like the Plague.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
I don’t remember much about the bus ride, other than thinking that the driver looked really cool in his uniform; that there was an English guy with B.O. who tried to teach me how to play backgammon; that we stopped in Flagstaff during a torrential thunderstorm; that one night a car went off the road and then flipped right in front of the bus; and the layover at the Los Angeles bus terminal.
The L.A. bus terminal was, and I’m sure still is, a huge shit hole. I remember being fascinated by the little coin operated TVs, the vending machines full of sandwiches and slices of pie, and the dirty desperation of the whole place.
We were stuck there for several hours and at one point I had to pee really bad. Mom didn’t want to let me go in the bathroom by myself, but, at ten, I was a little big to be taken into the women’s restroom. I remember the restroom was filthy, full of men not using the facilities, and I remember my mom standing just outside the door with Kelli until I was done.
After that I guess she decided the neighborhood surrounding the bus station had to be safer so we went outside and walked around for a while. The bus station was in a Hispanic neighborhood and the sidewalks were full of people. We stopped in a little Mexican bakery that smelled of yeast, sugar, and caramel and bought some pan dulce and ate it on the sidewalk. I had never seen pan dulce before and was amazed by the pastel colors and the lightly sweet taste of the bread.
Later that night as the bus rolled through Hollywood I looked for movie stars but saw only poor people.
Friday, September 4, 2009
I'm looking at this little place in Uruguay.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
So, Friday afternoon I’m in the back prepping when Jared comes back and tells me that some guy wants to talk to me. “Who is it?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” is the answer. “He’s got a card with your name on it.”
Now I’m thinking 1. Great, I’m about to get served a summons, 2. Well, it could just be an amateurish hit man, and 3. I’ve really got to get the staff to ask a couple of questions before turning me over to people.
The guy turned out to be Marcos, a big sixty-something Mexican who’s worked on ranches all his life, mostly as a shearer, traveling all over the West shearing sheep. Marcos is one of those guys who smiles constantly while he’s talking to you, not in a used car salesman or politician kind of way, but a genuine smile that gets only bigger when he’s talking about his animals.
We talk about what he’s got available, no lambs right now, and won’t have any for a few months, but he says he’s got a three year old wether (castrated male sheep) that he’ll let me have for a hundred bucks.
I balk for a minute, mutton can be pretty unpleasant, that’s why people eat the lambs, when they’re young the meat is much more tender and hasn’t yet acquired the gaminess that a lot of people don’t like. But Marcos assures me that the meat will be fine.
“Okay, let’s do it.”
“When do you want it, I can kill it tonight, have it to you in the morning.”
Wow, I just ordered an animal killed. I don’t feel good about this, but we have become so detached from our food, forgetting or never realizing that something, be it plant or animal, has to sacrifice so that we may live, the circle of life so obscured by popular entertainment, and mega-mart shopping where our hunt for sustenance takes us nowhere near the source of the food, no way to know how it was harvested, or by whom.
But here this man is matter-of-factly telling me that he will kill my sheep that he had just described with true affection.
So, I feel badly, for the animal and the farmer, but I know Marcos doesn’t feel bad about it. It’s his job, he’s done it all his life and he wouldn’t want anyone else do it because he does like the animal and he knows he can slaughter it more quickly and cleanly than anyone, and in his mind the animal is meant to be eaten, my backing out would only postpone the inevitable.
“That will be fine.” We agree on a delivery time before the restaurant opens since the last time we carried a large dead animal through the dining room some folks got a little upset.
“How do you want it?”
“Just dressed.” I want to do the butchering myself, so I just want it skinned and cleaned.
“Head on, or off.”
“On, please.” This gets a smile and a nod, maybe this gringo does know what to do with my animal.
The fact is, I’m really not sure what I’m going to do with his animal and I spend the night tossing staring up at the ceiling, thinking that I have to make sure every bit of this animal gets used, it’s dead right now because I said to kill it, there can be no waste.
The next morning Marcos arrives and I walk out front to his truck and there is the wether, skinned and gutted, legs locked in rigor, the face with no skin a bizarre mask.
“You say you want fresh, so I wait and kill him this morning.”
Wow, that’s fresh alright.
“Ok, you take him. I cannot help, I shattered my pelvis last year.”
‘Awesome, good thing I left the fuckin’ head on,’ I’m thinking, as the crazy-eyed, bloody, no-lipped thing flops back and smacks the side of my leg when I lift the carcass. Luckily there are not a lot of people out and about yet, but we do get some appalled stares. "Don't make eye contact, Margaret." I imagine the accountant in the two wheel drive SUV telling his wife as they pass.
Also lucky that the one and only person walking by is a cook from a place a couple of doors down who is more than happy to help me get the heavy and awkward carcass inside and on a table in the back kitchen where I’ll break it down. He grins and nods. "Cool," is all he says.
Then Marcos and I have a couple of strong americanos and he tells me more about where he came from in Mexico and of his animals. He talks most about his fighting cocks, saying that he doesn’t fight them much anymore, but he enjoys breeding and raising them, and then about his ex-wife, and how she cheated on him, and how he went to kill her, but that with him in jail and her dead there’d be no one to raise his little girl, and he’s still smiling, but it’s a hurt smile, and for the thousandth time I am reminded of how arrogant and judgmental I was as a younger man and how I would have looked down on him for his, to my mind, outdated views and customs, but now I can see him as just another man, doing his best to get by, and we can drink coffee and laugh at each other’s stories, all because of this animal on my prep table.
Later, as I’m breaking down the carcass into manageable cuts I’m thinking the same things as I had been the night before, but I’m starting to know what I’m going to do with each part, and at the end of it there is very little waste, mostly gristle and silver skin. Everything else is wrapped and put up, and one foreleg sizzles away in a roasting pan having been rubbed down with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper and topped with two sprigs of fresh rosemary. On the stove top the spine simmers away in a big stock pot, the collagen and marrow being slowly turned into what will turn out to be an amazingly tasteful stock.
I roasted some potatoes with the fat from the leg and made a sauce from those same drippings by whisking in just some butter for what was an absolutely delicious dinner, and today I made sausage with some of the trim and scraps and it was the best sausage I’ve made yet.
Marcos was right, the meat is wonderful, rich and flavorful. He knows his animals.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
When we first moved to Oklahoma from California my mom’s mother warned her that we’d only last six months and come “crawling back.” About a year later we were still there though and had moved a couple of miles to a larger farm owned by preacher who said we’d be able to buy the place after a year of leasing, and my dad’s folks had moved into a little house about a mile from us.
The new place sat on 40 acres adjacent to the cemetery that now holds my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins and which sits directly across the road from the land my grandparents farmed as a young couple in the ‘40s. My parents will be buried there, and I imagine I will be as well.
There, we still had our milk cows, a couple of new pigs, plenty of chickens, a couple of ponies, one Shetland and one Welsh, and a pair of ducks named George and Martha who would walk side-by-side down the long driveway every evening. My dad was still trying to make it by doing farm labor and my mom had taken a job through the state as a caretaker for an old couple up the road.
It wasn’t as wild as the first place on the “mountain” but it was still pretty cool; we sunk a borrowed wash tub trying to cross the pond to the tiny island in the middle, built huge forts out of bales of hay, and Uncle Mike helped me with my shifting by clocking me on the knee with a fifth of cheap booze every time I popped the clutch or didn’t shift smoothly while driving his drunk ass around on the back roads. I collected terrapins for a while, naming all of them after tanks, and keeping them in the bathtub while I was at school. When I got home I’d let Patton, Sherman, Panzer and Juggernaut roam around the house until one day one of them crawled across my mom’s bare foot while she was cooking (she wasn’t pregnant), all crawly things were then summarily banned from the house and I moved my platoon out to an empty rabbit hutch.
One day, Kelli and I went out to collect eggs from the hen house. Kelli was doing the actual collecting, I don’t remember if I was holding the eggs, or just goofing off, but I do know that she stuck her hand into one of the shadowy wooden boxes where the hens nested and let out a scream that would have made a B horror flick starlet envious and was out the door. I never saw the snake that she had grabbed instead of an egg, didn’t even know it was a snake, I just knew that I’d better do my best to at least keep up with her
Before long, Dad accepted that he was never going to make a living hauling other peoples hay or digging their potatoes for a share of the crop and went back to what he had been doing all his life, driving truck. Like me, his first driving had taken place in the fields, but he had started even younger, standing in the seat to see over the dash as the truck moved down the rows in low gear as my grandpa threw sacks of potatoes onto the bed.
His new outfit was a small trucking company in Checotah, a small town about 30 miles away. With them he hauled a little bit of everything and I was able to go with him during the summers. I loved those rides, sitting so much higher than everyone else, even at 10 years old, the absolute power of riding something so big and heavy, the chatter on the CB, my being “Little Scout” to my dad’s “Trailblazer”, falling asleep in the sleeper to the drone and rocking of the truck as Dad drove on. To this day I still love the smell of diesel smoke, and have an embarrassing love for the hokey old trucker songs that I used to listen to on the truck’s 8 track player as I sat in the cab playing trucker for hours while the truck sat in the driveway.
One of my favorite trucks was the ’52 Peterbilt that he drove when he first started driving again. I rode with him once to Muleshoe, Texas with a load of grain, returning with a load of tomatoes. In one of the storage compartments of the sleeper we found a tattered copy of the novelization of Star Wars, which I read for the rest of the trip.
I learned that preachers lie, just like everyone else, when, as our lease neared its end, his son showed a sudden interest in the farm and we had to move again.
We made a trip to Muskogee and looked at mobile homes and ended up buying one, which dad moved with the Pete to our new home in a trailer park in Checotah. In two years we had gone right back to where we had been in California, Dad driving truck and Mom driving school bus, but the plan was to get back out to the Lenna area, this time on our own land.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I’ve always had a thing for mustard, and still do; yellow, brown, Dijon, mustard with seeds or horseradish, sweet, spicy, mustard flavored pretzels, honey mustard salad dressing…I love them all. Ketchup (and it has to be spelled K-E-T-C-H-U-P, what the hell is catsup?) only belongs on french fries, keep it the hell away from my corndog, thank you.
Some of my earliest memories are of a Chinese restaurant we used to go to on Sundays after church. We walked through a door and then up a long flight of poorly lit stairs that really scared me, and then through another door into a strange and wonderful world of reds and yellows, lacquer and fake gold, with incomprehensible yelling and fabulous smells coming from behind a swinging door.
I only remember ever eating egg fu yung there, and right now I’m craving the stuff…I wonder what time Yee’s closes…and my grandpa used to trick me into eating the scorching Chinese mustard. Every time. He thought it was hilarious.
When I was a little older I would sometimes stay with my great-grandma, I don’t remember what she looked like, other than she was tiny, but I remember that she lived in a little old trailer in one of those trailer parks where all the trailers are lined up perfectly along little streets with speed bumps and everyone has a little picket fence around their little yards.
I used to think the speed bumps were cool and would play on the edge of the street, pushing my toy cars up and over them and at some point great-grandma would make me a sandwich, plain yellow mustard on plain white bread. No meat, no cheese, just mustard and bread. I loved them.