Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mixed Bag

Bad news: the walk-in cooler was dying when I got to work this morning. Moved everything into smaller coolers, packing them out completely. Hopefully it will be fixed in time for the shipment coming in the am.

Good news: Jessica Biel is single.

Doesn't really even out.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I had one of those oh-so-rare moments of clarity the other night. You know, the ones where something just clicks and knowledge that has been just out of reach for so long is suddenly there, in your hands.

I was driving home, sick of all my CDs, I turned on the local classic rock 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


Everything is better now.

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.

Painkiller Recipe:

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.


If I'm not on here again it's because I have stabbed myself in the head.

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


How appropriate that Tuesday night, the autumn equinox, we had our first frost and as I was walking to my car the air was infused with the smell of woodsmoke from someone's fireplace.

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

The still arrived Monday, but nothing to report yet. My second anniversary of owning the café is coming up, which means that I’m also due for health and fire inspections, and I don’t want to be explaining to those folks why I’ve got a large trash can full of fermenting corn in my back kitchen. So, no moonshine stories for a bit.

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

I want to be excited about Saturdays again...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gotta Lay Off The Peyote

Apparently I bought a still today. Yep, a in moonshine. Whatever am I to do with it? Hmmmmmmm...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Days Off

Within 10 minutes of getting to work yesterday I knew one thing: three days off hadn’t been enough.

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

She only wants me when she's drunk.
Sounds like a country song.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day

Saturday hurt, but not nearly as bad as yesterday. I haven’t counted out yet, but Sunday looks like it was bigger and we did it with two cooks on the line instead of three.
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.

New Mexico

Listening: Cake
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

We arrived in Oklahoma on April 1st, April Fools’ Day. Dad had committed to going back to work in California that first summer and sometime in July we followed by bus for a visit.
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

Does anyone else ever have the desire to run away to someplace where no one speaks English, where you could sit in a cafe and not understand any of the conversations around you, where the most mundane or hurtful conversation would only be pleasant- sounding background chatter?
I'm looking at this little place in Uruguay.