Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You Think Morning Breath's Bad?

I spent a good portion of Monday night and Tuesday morning elbow-deep in my old friend the grease trap. It started innocently enough with the men’s restroom flushing slowly…the women’s followed suit and then the floor drain started backing up in the dish pit. This is never good, this trinity of waters not going where they should.

For those of you who may not know, a grease trap is a simple device for keeping grease and other food solids from entering the wastewater system. It is basically a metal box with baffles, water enters from the dishwasher and sinks by way of a pipe at one end and the baffles catch any grease or solids as the water passes freely toward the pipe at the opposite end to join the rest of the wastewater exiting the building. Once a month some big smelly guys in a big smelly truck come and use a big smelly vacuum to clean out the grease trap and then send me a bill for seventy bucks. About once every three months a guy from the Village comes by to make sure that the guys in the truck have been by. He almost never checks my records or looks in the grease trap but takes my word that it’s been done, I initial a form and he goes on his way.

Usually this process works well and any problems are easily handled by my maintenance staff…me. This is what my friend Burt, who owns a clothing store up the street, refers to as “pride of owership,” and yeah, it’s supposed to be spelled that way. Owership is the state of being in perpetually high debt so that you can lie and tell yourself (and anyone else who will listen) how much happier you are to be your own boss and how fulfilling it is to work for yourself and not be just another cog in some corporate, or worse, government machine. I also go out of my way to handle some jobs, especially nasty ones, so that the staff sees the old man doing something that they are glad not to be doing themselves, and thus I have become a specialist in the grease trap and our ancient, decomposing roof. Plus, I’ve never respected a boss who wasn’t willing to get dirty with me.

All that said, I was not feeling like the noble leader I want to be, or feeling particularly thankful to not be dealing with municipal police politics as I lay on the dish pit floor with my face six inches away from what had become an open sewer as I alternated between using a 25’ snake and then a plunger on the clog that was somewhere beyond my reach. With every flush of the toilet the water in the grease trap would churn and even with heavy rubber gloves on I could feel the water become colder and I would think, more than once, that if I got hepatitis from this shit (pun not intended) after years of work that exposed me to other peoples body fluids on a regular basis, I was going to punch God in the head.

Finally, the professionals arrived, wheeling in a big smelly snake that plugged into the wall and made a menacing growl as it made short work of the clog. Then they went ahead and pumped out the grease trap even though by then with all the plunging and bailing of overflows it was pretty much clear.
“Well, you are due,” the guy explained.
Yeah, I’m due all right.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Becoming A New Yorker

To say that New York City is amazing is very much an understatement; it is mind-boggling. The engineering, the infrastructure, that keeps this hive going is incredible; I’m always fascinated by the things that go on behind the scenes, the things people take for granted that keep any community going, and New York has this stuff in droves.

It's the giant pumps that are keeping me from drowning that are most on my mind as we drive through the Midtown Tunnel from Queens into Manhattan. Opened to traffic in 1940 and over 6000 feet in length, it carries nearly 18,000 cars into Manhattan on an average weekday morning, and even at one in the morning there’s quite a bit of traffic.

We emerge from the tunnel into a different world, and I am suddenly driving in Manhattan traffic, four cars wide we crush south, horns blaring, my rental a splash of blue in a sea of yellow and black and the occasional suicidal cyclist. The only way to survive this with your sanity intact is to join in. Don’t use your peripheral vision at all, imagine that you’re wearing blinders, ignore anything behind you, and if can see the tail lights of the car in front of you, you’re too far back, a Town Car will soon wedge his way in that spot. Oh, it helps to honk and yell out the window. All part of the show, folks, all part of the show.

We survive with no paint transfer and the adrenaline rush has me ready for food and drinks. We luck out and find a good parking spot in Greenwich Village, exit, and Keith leads the way toward…a fuckin’ Mexican restaurant. I just came from New Mexico where almost every restaurant is a Mexican restaurant, many of them very good, from the high-end gourmet southwestern cuisine of Mark Miller’s Coyote CafĂ© in Santa Fe to El Localito, the little burrito shack a block up the street from my place.

“Why are we going to a Mexican restaurant in New York?” I want to know.
“They have great drinks,” Keith answers. Well, that sells me on the place, and pretty soon we’re sitting at Panchito’s and I’m enjoying a really good margarita and chips with pretty damned good salsa. The waitress is nice too. Keith’s a little disappointed though as Panchito’s no longer has the extensive drink selection he remembered and we soon move on.

Next is Mamoun’s for falafel and spinach pie, the former is excellent and latter…not so much, I love spanakopita (in fact, I’m tossing one in the oven right now), but this is just tepid boiled spinach with little seasoning wrapped in greasy, soggy phyllo. On the upside, unlike someone else eating his way through New York City’s street food this night, I will not be constipated later. We walk around Greenwich Village for a while then stop for pizza at a tiny place that I’ve lost the name of (the pizza was ok, just ok) and talk to some young Navy guys and some long-stemmed young ladies who have apparently just walked off of a catwalk as we all stand on the street corner eating our slices, momentarily occupying the same few square feet, brought together from every corner of the country by bread slathered with tomato sauce and melted cheese. So, maybe the pizza was better than ok.

I’m pretty sure there was another bar in there somewhere, but I don’t remember it, then I popped into a tiny shop to get my souvenir buying out of the way. I pay way, way too much for a few t-shirts, but I am happy to have this chore out of the way early in the trip instead of right before leaving for the flight home.

At Seventh Avenue and Bleeker Street we pass Bleeker Street Pizza. It’s covered in signs proclaiming it the best pizza in New York City, according to the New York Post and the Food Network, so I’ve got to try it, and yeah, it’s flippin’ awesome. I’ll try the pies at Tony Mangieri’s place, Una Pizza Napoletana (along a lot of other places) before I claim that this is the best pizza in the City, but it shouldn’t be missed.

By now we’re wandering back toward the car and by the time we get to it I’ve got to piss like a…why the hell does a Russian racehorse have to piss any worse than any other horse…but the bars and restaurants are behind us and now I just want to get the 45 minute drive to our beds over with. It’s almost four in the morning and we’re parked along a little sliver of a park, so I just go right there behind the car. Yes, I did.

I could really get used to this city.

Coming Soon: Times Square with the Honeymooners.
Ok, somebody explain Twitter to me please.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cafe Quote #8

Caz gets it this time with, "It's not rare for me to want to hit someone else's kid, but it is rare for me to want to hit one this badly."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Did You Really Just Say That?

Frack yeah, that episode aired tonight!

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Cafe Quote

Sonja gets quoted again with, "She's not bad 'til you get to know her."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Gauntlet Picked Up

Maria challenged the readers of her blog a few days ago to write about one of their loves. I thought about this one a lot, wondering which one to write about. The love of my life? I don’t even know if I believe in that, and won’t my life have to be over before I can tell who that might have been? Writing about either of my marriages didn’t appeal to me; the first is old news and the second…well, there are places even burly men don’t tread willingly in the dark.

But one day, a couple of years ago, I was craving a Dr. Pepper and said so. My youngest daughter asked why as I almost never drink sodas anymore and when I did it was almost as rarely that I’d drink a Dr. Pepper. I knew why but said that I didn’t. This is the story of why.

I met A sometime in 1997, I think; I do know that I disliked her almost immediately. She and her husband M were bartenders at one of the local bars when I was a cop. A fight or something had happened at the bar one night and we had them and a bunch of others at the police station for interviews. I remember M was being a dick, so was I, and A was defending her man and being a real bitch in the process.

Somehow though we all became friends, I guess through repeated contacts (we did a lot of bar checks back then) we decided that the other wasn’t so bad. Not long after my first wife and I separated A set me up on a date with one of her friends. We were all to meet at the bar and I arrived before my date. I hadn’t danced in something like ten years then and A offered to give me a quick refresher so that I wouldn’t step all over her friend’s feet. As we two-stepped around the small dance floor A became the first woman whom I had held since my separation.

The date itself was a flop, A’s friend and I had absolutely nothing to talk about. She and I danced a couple of times but there was no spark. A and I danced a couple of more times and sometime later she and M got into an argument and that pretty much ended the night. I don’t remember how things progressed from there, but by spring A and I were pretty strongly attracted to each other.

Sometime around the beginning of summer I had a little bit of a breakdown. I was a single dad of an seven year old and twin five year olds, I was working graveyards, shuffling the kids around to friends for babysitting, and living on four or five hours of sleep a day while the kids were in school. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and I was not doing a very good job of being a father. My parents offered to keep the kids for the summer and I took them up on it, driving them to Oklahoma the next week.
With no kids to worry about I did what most single men do, I started spending a lot of time in bars, on duty doing bar checks, and off just to talk to A.

One night I went in for a bar check and A wasn’t there for about the third night running. We didn’t call each other then, we just talked when I was in the bar. M was working, but I asked one of the other girls where A was. She glanced over her shoulder before whispering that M had hit her.

I drove to their house and knocked on the door. A answered and we both kind of started when she opened the door. I think she because I was the one standing there, and I because of the sight of her with a bruised face and broken nose. Yeah, he hit her alright. We hugged and she pulled me inside where we sat and talked about what had happened. They had been arguing for days and she did what a lot of domestic violence victims do to have some amount of control over a situation in which they feel powerless, she provoked her tormentor until he struck out, thus controlling the time and place of the attack. It had worked. She begged me not to do anything, not to file a report or charges, which, by law, I was required to do. I looked at her for a long time before saying that I wouldn’t, right now, but if it happened again…

We hugged again, long, at the door before I left.

After that we were on the phone every day. We talked for hours between when M left for work and when I’d get ready for work myself and then I’d ask her if she needed anything. Usually she’d ask for a large Dr. Pepper, sometimes a pack of Marlboro lights. It was nothing but an excuse for us to see each other and I’d drop by her house soon after I started my patrol and we’d sit on the couch and watch TV and talk. Each time when I left we’d hug and each time it was a little harder to let go.

One night, standing just inside the front door of her house, we stood holding each other, he head against my chest, my cheek touching her hair. We pulled away, but not all the way and stood looking into each other’s eyes. We both knew that we were about to kiss, we both wanted to but we both knew that it was wrong. I smiled, kissed her lightly on the forehead and left.

I justified what was to happen by telling myself that M didn’t deserve her, that by hitting her, by messing up her perfect nose he had no rights as a husband. The next time we parted there was no hesitation. We hugged and when we parted I reached up to her cheek as we stared at each other and I leaned down and kissed her.

So far in my life it is the kiss. Warm. Firm, yet yielding; shy, yet knowing. Sweet with just the right amount of smoke. I have measured all other kisses against it since, some have come close, but none have matched it.

After that it was more of the same, clandestine meetings at night while M was at work, me stopping by her new job at the hospital to drop off her Dr. Pepper, walks around the golf course at night, running through the areas where the sprinklers could reach the trail; a picnic in the forest so we could have lunch without the rumors and sidelong glances inevitable in a small town and, always, the long, long phone calls where there were no silences while trying to think of what to say next. It was wonderful; it was horrible. It was passionate, brave, foolish and wrong.

By then we were in love and we wanted to be together, but she didn’t want to leave M, she still loved him. One night she was out driving around and called me at home. We talked about what she was going to do and she told me that she couldn’t leave him, the marriage was too important to her. I asked her to come over – she declined, she was having an attack of conscience. I knew where she had been driving and that she would have to drive by my house on her way home. I walked down the driveway and waited for her. She stopped.
Later, we held each other in bed and then started to kiss. To her credit it didn’t go any further. She couldn’t, so we stopped, held onto each other for a while longer, she apologizing, me telling her not to, and then she left.

I guess I decided then that she wasn’t going to leave M, that I was just hurting myself for no reason. So, soon after when a pretty waitress flirted with me during my dinner break I flirted back. Desperate to feel normal (or was it just to get laid, I don’t know) we were soon dating.

One night while the new girlfriend and I were in bed, almost asleep, A called. She was out driving again, getting her head together, and wanted to talk. I told the new girlfriend that I had to go to help a friend who was having a hard time. “Go ahead, if your friend needs you go help him,” she said.
“It’s a her.”
I drove to where A was and picked her up and we drove around in my car. I don’t remember the conversation, it was really just a how-are-things-going type of talk, but after that we didn’t see each other or talk anymore, it was time to move on.

I didn’t stay with the new girlfriend for very long and soon after starting dating the woman who would become my second wife. I was happy and the next time I saw A she was pregnant with M’s baby and seemed happy. I was able to tell myself that all was right in the world.

After that I would only see her periodically, it’s a small town so we’d run into each other and it was always a little awkward, the attraction was still there.

She and M separated, then divorced and I briefly wondered if maybe I hadn’t waited long enough, but things were really, really good with my new wife. A moved out of state and I completely lost track of her. As time went on the feeling that I had made the right choice grew stronger.

Until things fell apart. Seven years later I was divorced again and of course I started to play the "what if" game when I ran into A for the first time in years and felt that little ember start to flare once more. She and M are married again and have more kids and their lives are good. I even made it a point to talk to M one day when he came in for lunch where I now work. He was alone and we made small talk. He has known all along what happened and I’ve felt for years that if he decided to kick my ass I would have no recourse but to just to take my richly deserved beating. Before he left I apologized, surprising him. As he said, it’s too small of a town for grudges.

So, destined to not to be single at the same time, and determined to not commit the same old sins I have nothing of her but the memories now written down, a picture of her on an old cell phone that I recharge from time to time so that I can see it, and Dr. Pepper.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wow, Hell Week is officially over. I guess it actually ended around 7 pm last night, but of course it’s impossible to know how busy a restaurant is going to be until it actually happens so we started today with a heavy crew and started sending people home as the day progressed.

We started the week (actually Hell Week runs from the day after Compulsive Guilt-Driven Shopping Day until the Sunday afternoon or Monday morning after the New Year) minus a couple of red shirts that I dispatched to the planet You’re Fuckin’ Fired the week before the CG-DSD. Cruel, I know, but it had to be done, and I was able to replace one with a past crewmember who was back from college for the break and the other, unfortunately, with another red shirt. This one’s shirt is really, really red. I foresee his demise in an episode to be titled, "Did You Really Just Say That?" that I expect to air soon.

Actually, the Star Trek analogy is silly and makes me sound like a total dork. Cafe Rio's crew is totally more like this bunch.

Anyway, we are now starting Jesus H. Christ on a Popsicle Stick, What Just Happened? Week, wherein vast herds of Mexican tourists wander in and out of the restaurant, ordering to go then wanting to eat here while we’re on a wait list all the while complaining about the cold and not watching their children rip stuff off of our walls. It is one of my least favorite holidays if I am not drunk. Drunk, I almost enjoy it. Buzzed with the right soundtrack also works.

Hopefully I’ll be able to add a chapter to the New York story soon, and there’s some stuff I want to write for a friend’s blog challenge. I’m also working on a new Rio Rag and we might be opening another restaurant very soon. So, lots going on, but that means lots to vent about, to write about.

I hope all of you have a very happy and prosperous 2009.

Cafe Quote #5

"I should probably be dead right now; I woke up at three and ate a whole jar of peanut butter."