Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sitting out in the sunlight I suddenly become aware of my own lack of sensitivity unto myself and the inner lover the poet (Kabir) speaks of.  And how could that be, one asks, me of all people, at this age, after such a life as one thought would be conducive, as if one had been not one's own inner lover, but one's inner frat boy.

I go for a walk in the woods, along the path by the creek, and the path, the earth, is soft under foot, and the perfect amount of firmness for just this sort of a walk, the stream to be there and then described, the woods, the leaves brown and laying on the ground, having done their job of summer.  We are made of this same earth, how could we not love this same earth, and indeed not be Whitmanesque poetic lovers of the same earth and ourselves?  Have we not shunned a certain part of that self, the self the child knew when he too walked in woods and by streams long ago?

It is dusk, and one apologizes to himself, walks more, enjoys being outside, and then walks back to the small city and a bookstore where people come and go, then alone, heads home, carrying a new found knowledge, that the inner lover, eros, is the same as that spirituality one craves for in this (broken) world.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Coming up the hill, finally, late, on the old street, the bamboo thicket high and full of nests, I hear the same rustle up on the steep bank, and what would be awake at this hour, besides me, or a cat, a possum, or a raccoon, is a fox, up there, by the chain link fence line that runs along downhill on the  backside of the old S street mansions of the Chinese and Lao embassies obscured by the trees above the narrow one-way street.

I turn my bike helmet headlamp to follow the fox up on the bank, and up there, is the fox, red, the long tail.  Above me the fox stops and freezes, before the street lamp, the light showing the leaves fallen on the steep ivy bank, dry and browned on the trees.  Its eyes shine back into the headlamp reflecting light.  It is red, indeed, furry, accents of white, dark down toward its paw, the tail out straight, and then it moves forward and up into the bush, the bamboo and a break in the fence, disappearing into the darkness.

I remember her, after she'd gotten mad at me, rejecting, over the phone, she wore a fatigue jacket, like Taxi Driver, there in the dining hall, and it was, I had the impression, she had a sense of just where I was, eating my dinner with friends but bummed out.  She stood up by the salad bar, and her hair was movie star.  And like she could spot me out, knew just where I was, how I felt, how I wanted to see her.  And she showed up, which made me very happy, though I did not make any move to capitalize or use that recourses when she had been rough with me.  Her little tribute to my effort.  She was alone.  Her indirect look a direct beam at me over the heads of seated dining hall conversation.

The Cranes are Flying, 1957, a Russian film--he goes off to war without being able to say a proper goodbye to his girlfriend lover--is on the television when I get home, and I ride the bike indoors, rolling away, absorbed, wanting to turn away from the inevitability of the storyline.  They start young, happy, in love, beautiful.

My friends have shared with me a poem, a very old poem, by Kabir, in talking to me.  She refers to it is The Radiance, by its topic.  The poet left it untitled and it can be found at Poets.Org, translated by Robert Bly, by the first line, "I talk to my inner lover, and I say, why such a rush?"  It's a short poem, and the lines stick with you.  "The truth is you turned away yourself, and decided to go into the darkness alone."

A day off comes, I pull out my notepad, and write, just for myself.

In some ways I had a hard time feeling good about myself.  I wrote about them, but that may just have increased the pattern of sad thoughts in a feedback loop, greatly repeated.  A seemingly harsh word, misread, not all that harsh perhaps, but internalized.  That had not been my intention.  Writing is supposed to be, and is, cathartic, helpful.  As if you're trying to figure something out, and can only do by writing it out on paper, to read and then understand.

But there is that radiance the poem speaks about.   And of this, one is an 'inner lover,' strange as that sounds.  Having an intimate relationship with that radiance, that radiance glossed over, ignored, mistreated by the world.

Was Sherwood Anderson writing something about that in his introduction to Winesburg, Ohio and in the following stories, the inner armored Joan of Arc within the old writer who is friends with an old carpenter?

It is a radiance which does not go away, and strange that those with a decent sense of that radiance might often come to suffering in their attempts to make manifest the beauty, innocently enough, the language one speaks, private, but able to, perhaps in rare moments, convey, conveying the innocence the gentleness, the appreciation of all things, the sense of peace and all the things that loud selfish self-profiting minded people seem to neglect and can largely just ape.

The poem concludes.  "Now you are tangled up in others, and have forgotten what  you once knew,/  and that's why everything you do has some weird failure in it."   All the more reason to remember that radiance to you as you were created unique "in your mother's womb."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

It's Saturday evening, my Monday morning.  I heard them call me from downstairs and I came down and through the main dining room, always set up, always clean, orderly, the signature display plates with the golden yellow trim at each place setting, in through the swinging door to the congregation of the kitchen, brightly lit, choice of music playing on the boom box, there to my left at the window, where the entree plates come across, the staff meal.  I am hungry.  I cooked lamb merguez sausages before I came, eating one for breakfast along with green tea not long ago.   What do they have for us, pasta, rotini pasta in a stainless steel pan along with a little bowl of tomato sauce.    That's it?  You gotta be kidding me.  But yes, I've been here before, and that's going to get my stomach, and my energy, through the next seven hours.  Nothing in the way of any animal protein.

I retreat upstairs, pangs about to eat me from within, and with the time I have before the door opens--I don't have time to order carryout now--I take out my stash of the cooled sausages I just cooked an hour ago, dipping them into the tomato sauce and eating them with my hands, grainy they are.  Not so inspiring.  They were intended to be my back-up from the hunger bonk later in the evening, but I have no choice.

Later in the week, the chef comes up and sits at the bar.  "You should change this bar top, it doesn't look good."   I turn the conversation to diet and the alcoholic..   Alcohol is sugar, a very pure form.  Carbohydrates, pasta, let's say, are sugar, soon enough.  Sugar, like opium, like cocaine, like booze, gives that immediate flush in the brain of neurotransmitters.  Craving sugar, no longer a drinker, you eat the whole container of ice cream when you go home.  My grandfather always kept sweets around after he stopped.  If not pasta, if not bread, if not...  the addictive opiate quality of the modern city-settler diet, grain-fed, dough eaters, doughnut eaters, the cuteness trendiness of crispy creme and pizza paradiso and two amys, a sandwich fresh from the market and a good baguette.

To eat such things is not the sort of diet that will help the person in recovery, the recovery of getting the neurotransmitter mood back in shape.

Election  night, at the end--I had to take everything out of the cooler so that the thermostat switch could be fixed, just as I had to get in early to put all the wine and beer, etc., back in after the temporary fix from the guy who fixes such thing--it's late.  The lights are off at my brother's house.  Up on Q Street there's a massing of fire trucks and emergency vehicles in front of Kew Gardens.  Firemen are running hoses in hurriedly.  The man at the truck hooks a big sturdy tube from the front of the truck by the fender to the fire hydrant, turning the fire hydrant on, the tube swelling with water. The people who live there are out on the sidewalk, and I think of the Peggy Lee song, "Is That All There Is."

At the end of the week, on an unhappy day, a day of shock--my friend the bass player of the jazz trio that's lulled us through the night, having lived in the area his whole life remembers the shocked silence of the Cuban Missile Crisis--the boss and his wife are having a late dinner at the bar and after making a double espresso for her and sneaking away from the bar for a moment I find the Turkish cafe has closed the kitchen early, and out front, standing in front of the Chinese restaurant next door, I am three minutes late.   I come back upstairs and the boss is telling me a table needs their check.  Okay.  I sort of shrug.  Is everything on the check?  Where's F?  I shrug again.  F appears coming up the stairs with desserts in hand.  I drop off the check to the couple in the back.  I need some meat, and pick at the salami salvaged from the boss's charcuterie plate.

After closing I get back and cook ground grass-fed beef with onions in the iron skillet.

And sometimes it is very hard to avoid the feeling that the job is catching up with you, and now, at a certain age, what can you do, who would hire you, to do what, to get out of the cycle.  One got into the job thinking you'd have the time and energy to do other things, like write, like self-explorations, but then you get trapped in it, it becomes consuming.  The doors to other good things of life, many, have closed.  Though you tell yourself, to be helpful, it's not too late.

I have my diet, even if one can't always be perfect about it.  Apologies to the planet for being a meat-eater.  The Type O person cannot live on grains, and in fact, just about all the modernizations intended to feed the settled masses do not work for that digestive system.  It might be a lonely task, to follow the strictures, and I look at all the healthy young people eating the things I cannot, and I wonder, how they get away with it, and they look perfectly happy and have social lives.  My physiology, my biochemical responses, do not allow me in the omnivorous club.

I feel like Jonah sometimes, not the busboy whose name is Jonathan and comes from Cameroon, but the one of the story, who knows he is hiding from, shirking, his great spiritual responsibilities.  Meditation, spirituality in general is helpful, obviously, to ease stress and regain balance, and it's a long way away from the bar sometimes, even a fairly civilized one.  A sense of serving people the wrong thing, the wrong message.  No wonder, then, the current sense of things gone wrong, a storm of wrath upon the one hiding from his work, sneaking away from it but unable to hide.

In the story he is tossed overboard, and swallowed into darkness by a leviathan for the symbolic period of three days, and then, released he is, on dry land, to admit that he needs God's help and message.  His head is cleared.

Dostoevsky, it is said, hated electric lights.  He comes to my mind, an anxious person, prone to addiction, falling in with the wrong political crowd, the firing squad, saved from at the last minute, shipped off to Siberian prison colony work camp.  Even in his return, he is a man with a large gambling addiction.  Nervous, mindful of his brain chemistry, he wrote, meditatively, drawing in margins, at night when his home was quiet, rolling cigarettes he was not allowed by the doctor to smoke.  There, by candlelight, alone, away from the things that directly made him anxious, the peoples, the conflicts of life, the stresses and the strains, he could digest things, and probably, he needed to.

He wrote that fine fictionalized memoir of life in the prison camp, of the people he met there, all about it, and about how one day, they let him go.  He had his years of being Jonah before the ship and the storm and the creature of the deep.  As he grew, continuing on that troubled path of being a writer, perhaps some spirituality inched into his writing, cropping up here and there, amidst being fallible and human and all the things that can go wrong in life, pathetically enough, until becoming a theme, directly, as in The Brothers Karamazov.  It's there earlier, in The Idiot, if you look for it, and elsewhere I would imagine, somewhat muted behind the guise of the psychological thriller and his sense of attending courtrooms for materials that would be popular enough in the general readership to allow him to support himself.

And me, too.  I came to town, not knowing what I wanted to do, but to keep at some form of journal or writing.  I was often depressed, and by cultural habit ingrained in me, a drinker, as if that were a way of being of good cheer, and humor.   When, privately, it was probably more an attempt at self-medication.  And these, it seems to me, are my prison years, the kid working his way up from busboy, his companions offering him friendship with a caveat.  There are tales from those years, but I have not the energy or wherewithal to put them down, not having much a chance anyway with coping with the latest batch and how to deal with them all.  There are the jokes of the captives and the witty wine guys and people who've seen a lot in their years around restaurant life, Bourdain-like.  A stiff observer rather than a participant in such by nature, well, a glass of wine to loosen the nerves and ease the burden of wanting somehow to do some good for people but not knowing quite how, I fell into it my own way, wishing I was far away, back home, safe, with a life I knew, my parents, books.  Not the fallen young man once full of promise, but with an inner weakness or tendency to the neurochemistry, to the dietary needs missteps to such things as the sugars and the giddy Hamlet reaction to them, euphoric, then sinking.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Jonah was there behind the bar, putting the dirty towel bin and the trash can in place, when I came in Monday.  He's in loose athletic shorts and high tops, but well-groomed with shaved head and mustache, and he will change before the door opens.  "Hello, Sir, my strong man," he says to me, and I greet him back with the same words.  I've come to appreciate his work ethic very much, though his fastidiousness would cause him to interrupt or question me as to a better way of doing things in the course of service, and I've been a bit grumpy a few times this year, trying to, but not always rising above the moods of stress.  I turn on the power amp and put the iPod's Pandora Luigi Boccherini station on and Jonah says, thank you, sir, thank you, as the calm music comes from the surrounding speaker system above the room's panel of indirect lighting.

The furniture needed to be rearranged for jazz night set-up, and I had some stocking to do, post inventory day's low stock.  It has been the year of not having a busboy assigned to the upstairs wine bar, those nights I work by myself when anything can happen, and tonight I will have at least a conscientious busser to help me set up before he goes downstairs to be the downstairs busser, my food runner, appearing occasionally to ferry plates up from the kitchen as they are ready, as well as taking the dirty plates I will clear from the tables.  He'll bring bread up, warmed with great pride.

I ask the lady downstairs, the server, the French veteran who is taking time out to study her healing practices on a laptop at table close to the front door, not looking up, if I will have any help tonight, and my voice quavers a bit, out of a season of frustration.  That's the business, sometimes, they ask too much of you.  "Yeah, F. is coming," she says, without elaborating, going back to her studies.  Her dining room is all set up to go, but for the one table she's at, cleared of place settings.  The downstairs servers never seem to have much to do when I come in, but they answer the phone, which is something I, on the run of set-up, have no extra focus for.

I lug some mineral water up from the basement, some lemons and limes, Sancerre, soda water, fresh towels, and eventually, as the clock ticks toward 5:30 when the door opens, I proceed to, along with Jonah, start moving tables around.  The previous night there was a sixteen top back in the wine room.  The little Ukrainian server helped handle the party, taking the order, distributing the wine and the food orders to the appropriate guests, but again the shared busboy between downstairs and upstairs left us with a food runner, and because of her short reach I had to help clear the plates of each course and pour water, etc., while keeping up with the bar, more or less full, and a few other customers seated at the low tables.  At the end of her evening, as she helped out downstairs some, came back to serve the birthday cake, she asked me if there was more she could do, anything else, but I was busy handling the regulars with their own demands, and by the end of the night as Hugo, the veteran, a bull in a china shop, came up from downstairs and stormed through, demanding if I wanted the trash taken out, still having plates to clear, the back room was left unset, not even the silverware in folded napkins for the 14 place settings was done, and soon it was midnight, left alone with a plate of veal cheeks.  Alina was in the ladies room by 9 or so, and came out dressed as a genie in green and I wasn't about to stop her as she bounded out, smiling at a customer lady's happy chuckle.

I am setting up the back tables now, putting what I have set up on them, the mats, wine and water glasses, and all of this with the clock ticking, and no one of server form showing up to help me, and we are all supposed to be pooling our tips, a fair allocation of work between us all.  Finally at 5:20 the kitchen puts on the family meal, scraps of Greek style chicken that must be hunted for on the odd bones along with some rotini pasta I have to avoid and I am hungry.  "Yes, F. was called in, he had to go home and take a shower, he'll be here at 6."  Oh, you could have told me that.

The staff meals this year and the one past have not been so great at The Dying Gaul.  Often enough just pasta, and even one who knows how bad pasta is for his system, his medical condition of being a Type O, hard to resist a bowl when you're starving, stressed, and the door is about to open on a busy night and you feel you need something in your stomach.  Before one could count more on a  decent serving of animal protein.  A whole chicken cut-up would be out on a baking pan with onions and jus, meatloaf, at the least shepherd's pie.  That was the old days.  Before the new chef, who is now no longer new and indeed a good friend.

F shows up at 6, as I stand leaning against the closet door by the bar's entrance, just five minutes ago all set, even the tables dirty little sticky spots treated with a rag and windex and a light bulb changed. Just call me if you need me.

Jazz Night is never easy.  There's an extra multiplication of the things that normally go on, a condensing of too many things into not a big time slot.  The music trio persists periodically hounding me for water, and soon balancing this and that, engaged as I can be with the bar chit chat, the table checks, the credit card payments processed, are piling up in a stack below the POS screen above the cash drawer, no time really to sort things out, in the meantime putting the glass washing machine through, wiping all the glasses off inside and out.  There's a nice couple having dinner, lightly dressed for Halloween in green frog and pink pig snout, in from the Palisades, a general pleasant mood, and I get the order for the band in to not keep the kitchen along with my dinner, the hunger rising in me.  I have to get the filles du jazz dinner order in before the kitchen closes.

Jonah comes up from time to time.  He wants to completely finish up downstairs before returning to help me do the real clean-up, sweep, etc., which leaves me with more tasks to do, keeping busy.

And all the while, of course, blood sugar levels are dropping, hunger is rising, stress is rising, the tasting of wine has been celebrated all night, and everyone else is having a glass, so, eventually, jangled by the singer putting an empty glass in front of me with the implicit understanding that she needs more water, having left the pint glass I gave her before to serve that purpose on a table nearby, what are you going to do?  The immediate fix-all, looking away from it as you might try.

Sleepy eyed server, the six top canceled anyway, has stayed on 'til ten to collect his share of the weekly tip pool point.  By the time I pull my dinner plate out of the oven, it's 11:30, and after I eat, wolfing things down, there's enough to keep me busy 'til 12:45.

The next night is wine tasting night, and it's a grower blanc to blancs champagne with apple and orchard floor notes distinctly within, and I can give my line about how champagne is an existential wine, a long process of decay, and I do not particularly care for the sour notes, but that's where I guess the bubbles come in.  Acidic.  The versatile food wine.  A slow start, the wine rep has time to do her iPad tablet paper work as I entertain the arriving guests as their appearance slowly escalates.

A good job I do, a lot of knowledge I have, she tells me as she prepares to leave, having enjoyed the crowd, the possibility of a wine I had her taste being corked, which provoked my assessment that no it wasn't corked but I could see why it might mimic that mustiness.  "Has a strange woodiness," I said, and that provoked howls of laughter at one half the small bar, spreading across to the rest.  I smiled.  The Englishman is leaning in to the amiable regular couple over their wine glasses.  "Yes, I thought I'd slip that in."

But again, there's a lot of running involved, the entertainment of regulars with their regular questions and interest in what might being on on election night.  The wine that initially seemed corked I'd opened for the large party back in the room, having lugged all that up for another large group of fifteen or so, my assigned help having a day job so he won't be in til six thirty or so, the party not til 8:30 anyway, Spaniards, I pour for a regular couple enjoying the specials, a wild boar ragout and monkfish medallions.  They like it.  The Spaniards will only be seven, and they have radically changed their wine choices, talked through it by the boss, who is perfect for the job and the semblance of order, for which I am the grounding of to good extent.

The last night of my workweek, the most popular group, playing for an animated crowd, a full-house, everything reserved, even seats at the bar.  The start is slow, then the rush to seat everyone, and then later to find room for the later wave, and a new rush to close the kitchen at 9:30, not 10:00, though the musicians play their jazz til 10:00...  At one point late in service a big man comments how enjoyable it is watching me move, 'like an octopus.'  Many arms.  But it is all tiring, and by 10:15 the desire to calm the nerves and put some sugar back in the blood and fool the neurotransmitters into some form of working under less stress again, the urge to have a sip of red, and I always pick the one lowest in alcohol, is overwhelming.  A nice couple I've cultivated come up to the bar for a chat.  There are the tannat wines of Uruguay he's had, he tells me about over the cognac I've poured for him.  He's the French Alps version of Sean Connery, and his lady told me how in old Persia one who pours wine is a spiritual being.  I come clean about how I was too shy to say hi to them when I saw them two summers ago at the Pride Parade coming back from a baby shower.  They hit it off with the elder couple who sat next to them, pointing out my happiness that they were juxtaposed.  We talk about growing up out in the country side, his small village, the fun of driving uphill in the wintertime, and of her foray into Spain teaching English.

The percussionist plays a lone drum so a tipsy lady can dance belly dance style who's stayed at the bar.  The guitarists have gone home.

I'm there 'til late, struggling to clean up and restore order.  I eat my cassoulet, run a report, clock out, and go back to the landing of the wine room and lay back on a few red seat cushions to fall into an exhausted nap for a good forty minutes before rousing myself up to fill out the paper work.

The pattern of such a night, six straight attentive hours on your feet, no time to eat, the dip in blood sugar levels, the rise of stress, the craving, the glass of wine to smooth out the barman's long night, the chain reaction of released neurotransmitters that alcohol brings followed by the sudden drop of them, that's what happens every night in the restaurant.  And strangely enough, as I research the web on the link between hypoglycemia and alcoholic tendencies, the battle is won through nutrition, through not sugar or carbs but the proteins and fats, a steady intake of them.  In fact, that prescription of diet is pretty much identical to the blood type O diet, to the eat like a caveman to restore yourself, a crucial part of that being the nutrients to restore the natural balance of neurotransmitters that caffeine, sugar, stress and that pure form of sugar found in alcohol throws very much off.  Meat, animal protein, fish, eggs, vegetables, avoid the carbs.  In the rush, though, your guard down, it's hard to make room for that bite to eat, or is it that I just feel too self-conscious about everything.

The first day off I have no energy, none, don't want to do anything.  Good thing the refrigerator has some decent nutrition to offer, sliced organic turkey breast, the bit of bolognese meat stashed away from a previous staff meal, lamb sausages if I'm up for cooking them.  I'm a couch potato all day after calling my mom to check in, napping in and out.  It's not until late that I rise with energy to take the trash out and do a load of laundry.  But this is boring stuff, the dishes you accumulate, and there is some good wine still in the fridge, and the late hours are after all that nice to have to yourself and the last crickets.  But again, this is not a good habit for the animal with Type O blood trying to take care.