Friday, October 12, 2007

bits and pieces, the heat of the kitchen

Crying in public is freeing.

I wanna cry. I wanna cry. I wanna lay down on this rubber mat and fall asleep. Just wanna sleep.

A day of choices yesterday, and the autumn leaves in the East Bay breaking down my speech. Oh my god. Oh my god. My tiny tin heart.

I Have Something For You is the currency of the week. Sometimes it’s words of advice or concern. Lengthy emails up and down the hills. Are you still happy there? Or the cake tags on the El Cerrito-Richmond border along the expanse of industrial railroad track, the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, because even though I didn’t have time I found them. And then wound my way through those familiar roads to the ice cream store on College Ave, a scoop of persimmon and one of rosemary pine nut brittle, and another gift.

We are all of us manic to talk. Talking for hours about ice cream base. It’s always been Claudia Fleming for me, milk kissed with slight cream and an abundance of egg yolks but this time, too sweet, but to cut it down by four and halve the sugar will it be okay? Will it all be okay?

I make my choice on that corner, lingering far too long, strategizing over the noodle kugel ice cream until it’s ridiculously past the time I should’ve pushed on to Oakland, but I go to Oakland anyway and find miraculously, or not, the thousand dollars in the mailbox of my old house, where no one lives any more. The on the road and the car feels good, the air, it’s getting to be fall and I’ve got an intriguing gift riding shotgun.

We are the sum of our choices and I am half an hour late, but I know how to blend into the crowd. Fake manners, nice smile, deferent tone, yeah I know this drill. And Stanford is just like Harvard, all old men with tufts of white hair, a sea of whiteness, and I smile and pass through.

Heat in the kitchen, even in an outdoor kitchen, how it crackles. I know the currency of that fire. We trade in it all day long. This chef is long brown hair piled on top of her head, cute glasses, hoodie peeking out under her chef coat, tall and lean. And screaming. We carry her frantic actions out beyond the borders, rush back, try to be good. Some time through service I feel a pang for the way she works the service. And I owned how I felt about plating just the other day but there I am Hey Chef You’re Missing A Garnish, And I Need A Wipe. With my little eyes on their details. She reaches for trays as she tells us to grab them but my hands are there already, my fingers a shade faster than hers and she takes the measure of me. Smiles. Back to work as my feet our of chef clogs start aching, back to work and I am reminded of a former friend who got into the business.

I Just Know What To Do she said, and we her roommates scoffed. I’ve written about this business. But I can’t seem to leave it behind.

What it initiative? What does it mean to take initiative? Especially when the par is perfection. And you’re still trying to gauge that measure in every mark.

I Just Know What To Do.

Spin and turn and heft the weight you haven’t hefted since May. Nod in deference, move fast, through tight spaces, curry favors with the chef. I Just Know What To Do. Order around the others, Hey You Is This Your Station Got To Get It Looking Like THIS.

There is even someone there from my restaurant, because this is such a small industry.

Sometimes you just know what needs to be done. You see the measure of it without needing to ask what needs to get done. You find your supervisor and tell them I’m Gonna Do This Now, Unless There’s Something You’d Like First.

How to take initiative. When you are a pastry assistant the first thing you learn is that you are replaceable. It’s often taken for granted that you are only passing through but you are made to feel it in every action anyway. Not like this. Like this. You Fucked That Up, I Don’t Know How. The boss himself is always confused, irritable, moving on anyway and you sense these currents in the air, tense your muscles. What few duties you are given are stripped down, changed, what was promised you in your interview was not given, will not be given. You are a girl with no name, an underground queer, in a damp basement or leaky old kitchen, you are in the corner, you are alone in the daytime with a room of people who don’t speak your language. What is appropriate, what are the boundaries, when is it okay to pull the plug on a failed work relationship? Moving on, moving on, it’s all you do, there will be someone else to take your place if you don’t like the hours or the pay or the menu. You do what you are able but the system falls apart on you, you remember one day screaming about apples and were surprised to find that rage in you, your boss leaves for an hour or so no explanation and is always outside smoking cigarettes or worse, staring at the traffic, he’s on his way out so it’s as if you’re never really there at all and the chef skulks, is that amber colored liquid in his glass what you think it is? What are the rules in this world when you do what you can, and that gets taken from you? When your questions are met with deferrals for a promise you eventually realize means nothing to anyone but you.

You could leave this world. Right? But you don’t. You never do. You move on and out across to where you think you need to be, to learn the things you know you are weak at. You move so far because there’s no mobility on the market at home. No chance of something better. Or different. You grow passive because more of the same is what you get on every trail, every phone conversation, and you know not to believe the promises.

Before you leave you have a brief, happy experience. It doesn’t always have to be this way, but for five out of seven of your culinary class it is. You describe everything that came before as Joyless. Where has the love gone? Where is the curiosity, the generosity?

The conversation continues, circular. You are all trying to get somewhere but sometimes it feels like you are alone. Your tiny tin heart. The big wide world.

Throw yourself into work, and the conversation. Intimate. Advice is given when it’s not asked for. It’s okay if you cry and work just cry and work. I just wanna be sleeping just wanna be sleeping But How Come You’re Not Happy You’re Working With ME?

What does sixty pies look like? You try to envision it. You ask around. You think is it fair, is it fair to me, is it fair to my other job, will I get any sleep? Can I ask for more money? You think it won’t be that bad if only you know how to prepare. Mise and go forth. Your valiant battle plan.

Why Do You Always Need To Please People?
But I Don’t.

I Don’t Wanna Get In Over My Head And Let Everyone Down.

I’ve Never Felt This Way Before SF. Happy At Work. Don’t Wanna Fuck It Up. {When you are made to believe that you are replaceable, that you are impermanent, how do you take initiative? Ask for more money? Can you say no? Refuse to bake all night? Can you let everyone down? Do you have to let everyone down, why do you see it that way, why do you think you are a bad worker? Especially when all you do is work?

You, who would rather be right than happy. How do you take the measure of yourself if you are always moving?

To have faith that the structure will hold we must not be afraid to break it down.


Anonymous said...

i'm confused again. do you have two jobs plus you cater and freelance? why do you work so much? sorry if i'm too nosy. you don't have to answer.


Busy all the time. said...

hi pixie. you can ask...tho i might not always answer ;)

i cater occasionally for different temp agencies around town and have catered with temp agencies for maybe 3 years now. it's a good backup plan for being between jobs, needing extra cash etc.

i work so much because i'm poor.

the baseline pay for pastry assistants is 10-12 per hour without benefits and if i ever become a pastry chef per se i will be making far less than the chef. this is the reality of the industry. as for writers, we make NO money. i don't freelance (writing or cooking), but i do try to get my work published in journals, and i am involved with literary journals, etc.