-for Olivia Gatwood
Another take out meal, bought lunch, thoughtless consumption of food,
my wife asks, "Why don't you eat at home?"
Because fast food grease still burns,
and rice, potatoes, eggs, beans still blacken pots in my imagination.
Because I still dream about food,
about restaurant kitchens,
fast food shake machines and consumable lubricant,
contraptions that slice tomatoes with merely a push,
steamer cabinets that hiss and moan as you open them like you are opening a safe,
heating element plate warmers melting cheese on full plates
that I pull from the "sky" with callused hands,
forearm skin that remembers the splash of hot sauces,
water dropped in hot oil,
and the stench.
Because grease coated my clothes and shoes
as I scrambled for change in my sash.
Because I still dream about not getting to my tables in time,
not filling that iced tea fast enough,
or about having another conversation with the bar regular who comes here for fun
while I pour a slightly stronger rum and coke, gin and tonic, screwdriver
and wonder how he got out of work so early, so early every day.
Because of my canceled vacation because of one cook's broken collar bone,
another bartender's ruptured knee,
my awkward firing because one waitress brought a gun to my bar and showed it to me,
one regular's 86ing after putting a hole in my wall
and then the quiet reflection as I read the daily paper
and saw he'd been killed in a standoff with APD the next day.
Because my day bartender laid naked in his room after a death dealing aneurysm for two days
before they found him.
Because my night bartender was hospitalized after shooting up, getting his arm infected,
and visibly shook from withdrawals when I saw him at the hospital.
Because my evening cook thought it would be okay to "dose" the other boss.
Because my morning prep cook dealt pot out the back.
Because cooking makes me remember
the early mornings, late nights, damaged waitresses, drunk managers,
bosses who looked down over eye glasses
and then expected me to sit down with them and their wives over dinner.
Because my feet hurt even now
and I don't want to stand
behind a counter, in a dish pit, on the line, behind the bar, at the host stand, on the floor
and crunch numbers at the end of the night to make sure it all adds up.
Because the last restaurant job that I had was waiting tables
and I listened to the owner break down how many shakes I sold as his wife pulled up in a new SUV.
Because I paid for that SUV.
Because I worked in restaurants for 20 years in every position at every conceivable type.
Two decades of learning how to cook,
of watching my specials become menu items;
my drinks get highlighted and sold,
my policies and management style leaving me with being many people's first boss.
Because the hospitality business is anything but hospitable.
Because too many drink and smoke and try anything to get away from their day.
Because our kitchen is too small
and my imagination is too big.
Because our spice cabinet is lacking
and the size of the meals I make can feed a family of six.
I don't eat at home because I want to be on the other side of it for a while.
I want to be a customer, a regular, some patron everyone is glad to see.
January 5, 2014