Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Old Testament reading was from II. Samuel, 16:5 on.   A man of the family of the house of Saul comes forth and curses David.  "... and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son; and, behold, thou are taken in mischief, because thou art a bloody man," continues the man, cursing David.  David, holding back his own forces, says, "so let him, curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David."  And David speaks of how his son, Absalom, "seeketh my life: how much more may this Benjamite do it?  let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him."

The New Testament reading, read by Father Hurley himself, related the story of the man at the far side of the sea, the man inhabiting a graveyard, unable to be restrained with chains, who's afflicting demon's name is legion, who Jesus saves by casting into the herd of two thousand swine.

And when he finished the reading, the Father gently mused about how 'here we have two unhappy families...'  And the final point of his sermon, was that even in such cases, there was, ultimately, the mercy, love and kindness of the Lord who loves us.

When we sat down to our family meal supper at the round table near the kitchen, those of us gathered for a Monday night shift, a Jazz night for those of us up at the wine bar, of this the second week of Restaurant Week the winter version, the chef joined us, and explained a bit of the difficulty and the weariness of the back of the house.  Pushing the restaurant week menu, he had to throw out some of the mainstays from the regular menu for having gone bad.  (And I thought, you threw out a cassoulet, surely we could have eaten it for staff meal and profited by it in our stomachs, particularly when ten o'clock rolls around...)   I picked up on what may have been a hint, but later on people still seemed obsessed with the restaurant week deal, and indeed, though a lot of traffic had come through The Dying Gaul, there was not much in the way of profitable food costs.

We parted, after speaking of the low numbers of a few things, only eight orders of escargot available tonight, and I went upstairs to finish getting ready.

The door was unlocked, no customers were beating down the door, and then the figure of the chef came up the stairs, I expected for an adjustment to the night's menu, a change of vegetable perhaps.  He asked us if we'd heard the news about the Swiss chef, our chef himself being Swiss.  The suicide of a prominent European chef whose restaurant had been proclaimed "Best in the World" had made the Google news.  I said, yes, I'd heard the news, but...

And so he went on to the tell the tale of chefs, and of the pressure they are under, the pressure he felt he was under when he first came to us, when the restaurant could have gone either way.  "Yeah, you don't want that, you don't want that pressure of Michelan stars, because then all you can do is lose them."  He told us, me, the busboy Don José, and the new very competent bright active guy from Brazil, how he cannot read a bad review without it ruining his day.  Yelp.  You do everything right, but you make one mistake, let one thing stay in the oven one extra minute, and they get on your case. What you can hope for is consistency.  But really, a chef doesn't do it for the money.  You want to make money, do a place like Old Ebbitt, recognizable basic uninteresting (creatively mediocre)...  Try to be creative, you just end up killing yourself, and I'm getting too old for it.  It's really not worth it.  He turned and mused for a second.  You want the real story of the restaurant, read Kitchen Confidential.  I was already engaged at this point, the guy can write, references to Orwell...

We empathized with him, and he mused that he should have been a hotel GM, something like that, if he had to do it all over again.

Somewhere within that, he spoke of the pressure, how he used to cope with it, the anger, the frustration, by drinking.  "It worked just fine," he laughed.  "But now," he said when I pursued the matter, interested in the subject of how one might quit, "I talk.  You have to talk.  Even if there's no response...  Talk to someone."  Then he turned, and walked, with his aging knees, back down the stairs.

My new co-worker is wise.  From Sao Paolo.  A musician.  He's had a lot of experience dealing with the restaurants.   People start to come in.  And then, a prophecy of the evening, he says to me, "man, how come it's always the crazy people who sit at the bar."  Yes, this is very true.  "Are they lonely..."

The night was just about over, the last cheese plate served, the band wrapping up, when the usual late night glad-hander came up the stairs with handkerchief just so out of the breast pocket of his jacket, explaining his life was chaotic, and this added another hour to my night and a push into the wine I didn't need.  "Which wine do you think I should have," he asks me, after I pour him two then three tastes to see what mood the wine is in.  "See," I explain to the woman who has demanded my attention talking for much of the night, rambling about which champagnes she likes, what she keeps in her fridge should friends come by, all of which I am not judgmental of, "this is how he gets me into drinking," and the fellow is the drum major of many a party that floats from bar to bar.  It's always something.  And the jazz is done, and the kitchen is closed, and the barman just wants to clean up, eat something, wait for the kitchen to be clean, that's it, lights out, go home.

I finally got home on my old Bianchi road bike, and found the lovely book my lovely old scholarly mom wrote, and I flipped admiringly through it, how much sense it all made, what a great point, many great points, and such beautiful readable prose, Reading and Writing Ourselves into Being, but I was too tired to read much of it before turning the lights out.

Buddhist or not, one is reminded of that feeling Fitzgerald rendered, looking across a bay at the unattainable lights of the other Egg.

And the next day I had that great need to write, just to corral all the things that were bringing me curses and anguish.  You don't write for the money.  It's something in your blood, the need for prose, to make things manageable, to ameliorate the sins of the world.  I thought of all my sad mistakes over affairs of the heart, of bad career choices that grew out of the need to write as a way of, sort of, redressing grievances and the constant pangs of heartache to start the day and the sense of being trapped on a train you don't know where is headed, and other manner of unhappy thoughts.

I woke, sat in the sun, not much time to read Mom's good book, but I'll sit out in the sun for a bit, make green tea, hot water with lemon, do the dishes, maybe roll on the bike indoors a bit, or do yoga, cook a hamburger, get ready to show up at work and experience more of the life not always intellectual, my own fault for it being so.

You have to talk, the chef said, and I remember that.  And we all, I suppose, even the different blood types, have their own ways of talking, talking in order to remember the saving grace of Our Father Who Art In Heaven.

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