Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Mind of a Kitchen Cook

There are a few love affairs on the top tier of enjoyment for me. This is enjoyment in the purest form, even above my love of videogames and zombies. Things like sipping on a micro-brewed beer or a smooth glass of wine, seeing a movie by myself, traveling to places without the distractions of cell phones or multiple travel partners, and food.

I’ve always said that if I were laid off or fired from my current job, or if Sallie and I were able to un-bury ourselves from my student loan debt enough, I would go back to the restaurant industry where the schedules change and you never get a weekend night or holiday off..

I miss having a constant flow of new and expensive kitchen gadgets at my disposal. The sort of gadgets that have such a niche need, like a lettuce dryer, that only a restaurant can use.

This is either an instrument for holding wood or coring and peeling apples.

I miss the knives, oh god the knives. Once a week, they would be picked up and sharpened and when brought back could slice through metal. It was like getting a Christmas present.

I was quick with the knife. I have more finesse and grace when cutting veggies than I have when walking. I forgot how good I was until last Christmas, Grandma Leonard watched as I sliced a cucumber Rondelle style faster than any food processor could and was impressed. I’m the John Henry of cutting.

You have the butcher knives, the serrated knives, the machetes, and that three foot long cheese knife. That thing was like a Nintendo. Countless people tried to use it to cut the 80lb blocks of Parmesan cheese, but only a few seemed to master it. I was one of those. When my old manager, Tom, wanted to show off skills to the new guy, I was handed that knife like I was being knighted. I’d be able to cut and shred all 200 lbs of cheese and mix them up into a fine parm/romano blend in less than an hour.

Then the new guy would take the knives and use all of his body weight, unable to even break the wax covering on the cheese.

I miss having thousands of ingredients at my fingertips. Alann and I on those idle afternoons, creating monsters in the kitchen like a couple of mad scientists, eventually producing next week’s special of the week like the Flaming Mac and Cheese or Spinach Pesto on Bowtie noodles.

The thing I miss most though is the rush. It’s a cheap thrill, sort of like an energy drink that doesn’t count against your caloric intake for the day.
That ticket machine would start spewing orders out and we would get 15-20 tickets deep. The ticket machine would haunt my dreams some nights, where I would hear that mechanical cranking printing on the carbon paper and sit up in a full on panicked sweat at 3 am, desperately looking for a wok to flip or some veggies to dice.

A large table would come in and throw off our whole system. But it didn’t matter because, as any cook or chef can tell you, there’s some sort of instinct that governs every movement of the kitchen vet.

Often given less than 15 square feet of kitchen space to maneuver in, 2-4 full grown humans find a way to roll in and out of each other’s space, not interrupting the other’s work. It’s something that clicks in your mind after a few shifts as a line cook. You become aware of your environment. You sense when something changes in it.
If you don’t believe me, next time you’re in a place with an open kitchen, look at the cooks. None of them are usually discussing what they are making. Usually they are having highly inappropriate idle chat or singing along to the music from the dishwashing station.

You will also notice the body language when someone orders something special, or sends food back, or wants sauce on the side, or the worst punishment known to cooks, a manager tries to step into the kitchen to “help out,” all the cooks faces show either intense anger or intense frustration. This is because in my experience, managers are the worst people at cooking.

And my final reason for loving working in the kitchen is my OCD for cleanliness is applauded and not an irritant. Sallie and Cory often reprimand me for not being able to sit on the couch and enjoy a movie when my space is dirty, especially the kitchen. While they are having a drink, I’m usually finding some ridiculous piece of equipment to clean. Something they might have dirtied, but the normal person would never think about cleaning up. That is the mind of the kitchen cook.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Training While Looking Into a Mirror Darkly

It’s weird training other techs.

We’ve brought it so many new people as of late, that you really don’t have an option not to train someone.

You never know what their tech level is, so you spend the first few hours tip-toeing around certain things. Seeing if they face lights up at the mention of Active Directory or if they look bored when mapping a network drive. You don’t want to insult a fellow tech by questioning their knowledge.

Also, that Saturday Night Live sketch, Nick the Company Computer Guy, isn’t far off.
Most new techs try to assert their dominance by being a sarcastic assholes.

Then something happens, usually boredom. The trainer can’t surf the web like normal because he wants to set a good example. The trainee doesn’t know what he can get away with yet, so he idly stares at the decorations on the desk and his phone every 2-3 minutes. You’re forced to… gasp… interact with each other.
Eventually it’s like some sort of war vet reunion.

The techs start swapping stories about the person that thought wireless internet was just available. Like on the eight day, got created a broadband wireless network, bonded with oxygen molecules so that people could access the internet in their car, in the mountains, or even at a remote South American resort.

Then there’s the guy that was screaming at me because he downloaded a virus and I couldn’t help him out. It’s the same guy that blames the helpdesk for him forgetting his password.

Or what about the person calling the helpdesk to change a lightbulb above their desk.

It’s a weird bond that customer service people form. Not as intense as one you form during war time, but a bond none-the-less.

I like training people, but I don’t like the one on one training in my cube. That’s my personal space someone is invited into it. I don’t like people even seen my desktop, let alone sharing real space with me. I might as well give this stranger a key to my house and tell them which underwear drawer is mine.

I feel like a person’s desktop is a reflection of who they are. For instance, my desktop is green, with a hilarious Dilbert cartoon about tech support on it. I have my icons arranged neatly, and try to keep the desktop from being cluttered by them. I’m a hilarious, clean guy to envy.

Anyway, I’m going to try to hide under my desk when trainees are getting assigned tomorrow. I’d like to have the desk to myself.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hitting the Plateau in 10th Grade

I think fondly of 10th grade.

I have some of my most memorable conversations, my favorite girlfriends, and best friends placed in 10th grade.

The world still hadn't crushed me. I had the freedom of a car with the lack of responsibility of a child. I spent my time doing what I wanted, hanging out with people I wanted to. I recently looked through my lyric/poem notebooks and roughly 1/3 of what I have is filled at this time. How can I grab onto that time of life again?

The next year things got much more complicated. More credit card debt started racking up, student loans entered the picture, more important tests, more work. All of those illuminated images of people from that time start to blur as they too move on, get married, have children, buy into the world set up hundreds of years before we were conceived with their 9 to 5 cubical job.

Its a world set up to trap the next generation. No matter how much the generation tries to fight it, saying they'll never be like their parents, you can bet they too leave college and are efficiently beat down and too tired to keep fighting. Case in point, how many greasers, hippies, or punks do you see running around now a days. I mean real ones, not just people that live that way as a fashion statement. Sometimes I think we should just scrap the world and start over.

The other thing I think plateaus in 10th grade is how we deal with romantic rejection.

Before 10th grade, you always could fall back to the trustworthy "Coodies" rule. If you were dumped, didn't matter, because they had coodies of some sort. (In North County, it was probably not coodies, but Hepatitis)

10th grade, you've developed as far as you will. Your hormones are raging, and in the deepest pit of your soul grows this pain of rejection, even if you haven't felt it. It goes both ways, even if you're the one doing the rejecting.

It never really gets easier.

The dumped questions what they did wrong. They become their biggest critic as every mirror in the house is placed behind a microscope. Every time you see your former significant other with a person of the opposite sex, red hot nitro-burning rage fills your face. This is the point in your life where you will say the things you regret most. Common sense has no place in this dead, ashen filled world of loneliness.

The dumper lives with guilt. Feeling horrible about what they did. For a while, its a charity case. You want to be extra nice and have every intention of being friends, but as soon as they find someone new, all those feelings that got you together in the first place come rushing back. All you can think about is how much they've betrayed you by moving on. You start questioning if they started dating this person while you were still together, and until you get that glorious moment of clarity, (that always seems to come late at night, when you're alone, driving around)you are hurt, sad, and alone.

We never grow out of this. I still largely see it in my adult counterparts. We always hurt. We're meant to hurt if only to make those small times of pleasure that much better.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Sports Fanatic

I've never been a huge sports guy, but I've always been able to BS any conversation about sports.

You know, those people that can spout off the most ridiculous stats. In college, I found myself surrounded by people. I had a room-mate that knew all the stats of every highschool football player in Missouri. I had two other room-mates that would go back and forth for hours about baseball stats... from the 1980s... when we were less than six years old.

Hockey is the only sport I can have a semi-knowledgeable conversation about. But for the past few years, I've felt this need to educate myself a little more. See if knowledge encourages loves for the sport because the intense emotions attached with sports have never made sense to me.

It's an experiement that has worked in some ways and not in others. My love for the World Cup and Premier League football has grown. It helps that I now am great friends with an Englishman, know the owner of a soccer bar, and team USA had a great run this year.

Baseball I'll never get. I find the game boring. Not even downing beer after beer at a game can numb the pain of sitting in the heat, watching a play happen every few minutes.

Football I can understand the love obsession with, but having the Rams as your hometown team doesn't help passion grow.

During this experiment I tried to figure out what made people so passionate about their team.

At first I thought maybe it was a religious experience. Soon I found this not to be true, because too often people turn to God when their team is having trouble.

Then I thought maybe it was just the sport, but too often my buddies are too drunk by the end of the game to really know what's going on.

So naturally I thought it was a social aspect, but hell, half my friends will sit at home alone watching a NASCAR race or football game.

Then I realized its local pride.

It's hard to be patriotic for America because so much of what our country represents is out of our control. People like Terry Jones, the Westboro Baptist Church, or hell, even our politicians give our country a horrible world rep, but freedom rings true and there's not much we can do to stop these maniacs.

We can't be pride-filled for Earth until the aliens start arriving.

That's not even including religious extremists, terrorist, and haters the world round that at any moment, for no justified reason, can kill you just for going about your day.

Sports are on such a local level, that there's almost this feeling of control there. You know your enemy, Cubs or Red Wings fans, and they know you. There aren't any suicide bombs, corrupt politicians, or book burnings. There's just two different colored jerseys, beer drinking fans, and a 2-4 hour event to prove who's better.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Running Sucks

You’ve probably noticed my updates here and there about running a lot, losing weight, etc.

Sallie and I are training for this half marathon. I’ve never been much of a runner. My fastest mile run time was 7:23. At the track and field events, I often found myself in the field. And really, there’s no worse punishment for me, than to force me outside to run.

What was I thinking?

To be fair, I started seeing great results. I had more energy. I’ve lost about 16lbs since my official weigh in. I’ve definitely lost some of my mass. (I can no longer grab the side love handles.)

For the first time since my 5th grade 7:23 run, I was able to run a sub-10 minute mile.

Also, for the first time, I’ve been able to run more than 2 miles consecutively. My current record is 5.3 miles in one sitting.

So, thus far, this experiment has been a pretty huge success.

The past two weeks though, I’ve had major setbacks and problems.

First, with Lacy coming in town, and certain obligations and events popping up, I’ve not had a normal training week in about 2 weeks. Last week, I was forced to workout 5 days in a row because I missed two at the beginning of the week. By Sunday, when I was helping with moving, I wanted to collapse.

Second, I’ve been hitting a wall. Not a medium height, 3 foot wall. I’m talking a 10 foot tall, lined with barbed wire, Berlin type wall. Every time I start running, I hit a point between 1.75-2.25 miles where my body just can’t seem to push itself anymore. I started running awkwardly with my feet hitting the pavement hard and sort of pointed outward like a duck.

My breathing becomes labored, which is hope is merely my allergies, and I can’t seem to find a breath of air. On one particularly short run outside with Sallie, I was hyperventilating after only a half mile.

Then there’s the motivation, both before the workout and during.

I wake up at 9 am. This is after often going to bed between 2-3 am. When I wake up at 9 am, I have a routine. A routine that has to be followed to a “T” otherwise I have the worst day ever. I brush my teeth, pour a huge cup of coffee, pour a bowl of sugar enriched cereal, and watch an episode of King of the Hill on Netflix. Once the episode is done, I immediately grab my pre-packed lunch and clothes and hop on the scooter.

Recently, the episode ends and I just sit on the couch for 5-10 minutes contemplating going back to bed, contemplating calling into work, contemplating just giving up and living as a fat guy.

I’ve only given into this contemplation a few times, and of those few times I always end up feeling bad about it at night and spend the first hour of being home, running outside. But its getting much harder to fight the urge not to go.

Once I get to the gym, I have a problem of remaining motivated. I guess motivated isn’t exactly the correct word, more like entertained.

A podcast would fill my hour at the gym easily, but I find when I’m running, a podcast doesn’t keep me going. I have to listen to fast pumping music so I can close my eyes, forget about the pain I’m going d in the band through, and picture me as the lead in the band.

Problem is trying not to stare at that console every song and seeing what little progress I’ve made. As soon as I see I’ve gone less than half a mile, I’m ready to give up. Then I start looking every half song. Soon all the aches and pains and shortness of breath is highlighted and I really just want to give up.
I’m worried about this half marathon. I don’t feel like there is enough time to prep. I really could use another 2-4 weeks. The few times I’ve ran outside, I’ve been lucky to beat 2 miles easily.