out of service

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It all started by a waterfall with cliff divers.  Okay and there was also a mariachi band and a large orange monkey. There was also magicians, an old drunk couple with guitars and the gloppy enchiladas that should probably be considered a hate crime against Mexico. Little red flags popped up and me and a bevy of other teenagers would magically appear with chips and salsa and sopapillas (this puffy, fired dough pillow creation best eaten at mouth scorching temperatures and drizzled with honey.) Later, they’d tear me away from all of this glamorous action and sequester me to a hot steamy kitchen where my loud thin Vietnamese manager Hong would yell at me, “Do something!” Suffice to say, I didn’t last very long.

Yep, it all started nearly 30 years ago when I was 15 and working at a ridiculous Mexican restaurant/theme park/Denver anomaly called Casa Bonita. The “it” in question is my almost 30 year on and off again career of waiting tables, working behind retail registers and dealing with the general public. These restaurant/retail gigs have always made for good money makers while I’ve persued drugs or writing or getting sober. Now at age 44, my time behind the counter and I’m sad to report by fake waterfalls with cliff divers has come to an end.

While I won’t say, “I’ll never go back!” to working in cafes, shops or restaurants, I will say for the time being it looks like that chapter of my life is officially done. On Saturday, I said goodbye to the part-time gig I’ve had since I moved to Portland at a culinary shop/cooking class hub. While aspects of it were fun, I did feel a little like the daytime stripper way past her prime. Bitter, slow and armed with one liners ripe for any possible thing that could come up, it became clear that my time in this arena had run its course. The fact that no one got stabbed and my sobriety remained in tact means my time there was success. My new adventure, working as a peer counselor for the State of Oregon will put in me in an entirely different realm of the word service but will certainly take me out of this weird wonderful, fucked up world that I have known since my teen years.

It’s an over-simplification of the highest order and a snap judgement anyone can and has made probably any time they’ve left their house, I can confirm that people are the worst. Entitled, rude, awkward, racist, homophobic, cheap, dishonest, mean-spirited and generally awful, people put it all out there when their shopping and eating out. I also happen to be people too so I know this is true for myself as well. We like to think “everyone’s doing the best they can” but I’d argue that when we’re shopping or eating out that we are often on autopilot and the first things to evaporate are our common sense, manners and general non-shittiness. Like we don’t go places with the intentions of being awful but we don’t exactly set out into the world with the opposite intention either. However, I will say after you’ve worked with the public long enough, you no longer flinch when cray-cray shit flies out of their mouths. Somewhere around Year 500 of me working with the public, I developed a protective shield, one that kept me free from reaction while also making everything and everyone seem funny, human and really not that bad. Naturally curious and nosey, I do actually like talking to people, the big weirdos. So as I took on these gigs in sobriety I was able to have fun with them and promptly forget them when I went home.

Back when I was waiting tables, a friend once optimistically chirped, “But as a writer waiting tables must be a great insight into people, right?”  I’m sure I agreed and muddled sure, sure, sure then followed it up by some insightful, funny story about customers. Yet now I’m not so sure. After all, it’s a micro-glimpse into their lives and not really who they are. Yet I will say as a person who loves to write dialogue, working with the public has been invaluable. Plus, people are really vulnerable(read: insane) when they’re eating and shopping so you get to see them in a heightened state which is great for dramatic purposes. Yet for all the drama and all the years waiting tables only a few good stories remain and they are simplistic at best. Here are a few of the most memorable:

That time I waited on Isabella Rossellini. For obvious reasons– duh!

That time I watched a sleazy guy cut his girlfriend’s steak for her. Despite watching people vomit or get in fights, this sticks in my brain as one of the grossest and oddest things I ever saw waiting tables. I don’t know why but it’s forever lodged in my conscience.

That time I got to escort Harrison Ford backstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. Harrison. Goddamn. Ford.

That time a customer posted a negative Yelp review of the place I worked at and singled out my shitty, snotty attitude. She wasn’t wrong.

That time I got to send clothes to Cher’s house for her to try on and she in turn sent me a signed cd.

That time I helped Roseanne pick out body glitter and punk rock records.

That time a couple had sex in the changing room at a boutique I worked at.

That time Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks sang Happy Birthday to her friend at the restaurant I worked at.

That time Rene Russo ate in our restaurant while her kids ate Domino’s in her car.

That time I got hit on by a customer at lunch and later hooked up with him in between shifts.

That time a D-List actor rudely yapped on his cell phone and ignored his 4 year-old kid while dining at my work. He even left the kid(!!) alone while he went to the ATM and he didn’t tip.

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That time, despite being really high/drunk I actually made a lot of money. Okay. That was most of the time.

Did I mention Isabella Rossellini already? The point is the fodder isn’t nearly as juicy as you might think. And without the celebrity sightings the cache of my illustrious customer service career completely bombs. I’ve mainly learned that people want to be heard, people want to be noticed and people shouldn’t be fucked with if they’re hungry. Also, this makeshift career of helping other people has oddly opened the door for me to want to help them even more, beyond bringing dessert menus or helping them pick out body glitter.

Service, as fate would have it, is a necessary part of my recovery. At nearly 9 years into this jam, I am constantly on the hunt for new ways to be of service. They say helping others keeps people like me out of our heads and I am all for that. Thus my new career and even writing have pushed me into a life less about Sean. Or at least that’s my hope. Plus, if all else fails I can return to this old wacky world. That’s the thing. Once you’ve conquered it you can do it anywhere and at anytime.

Meet me by the waterfall and I’ll bring you some menus.

 

Jalapeño Business

jalapeno business

Blame it on 15 years in Los Angeles and growing up with green chili loving parents, but my obsession with all things spicy is nearly at the point where I become one of those people. One of those hot sauce collecting, chili pepper printed apron wearing, spice obsessed people. These people are well beyond the hot sauce in the bag meme of 2016. These people heard that joke from Loni Love 10 years ago and were armed with their own long before that.  These people can identify chillies from sight and cooked in with other ingredients. These people aren’t screwing around when it comes to spicy stuff. I am not yet among them but I could be in the forseeable future.

But I am also not one of those food rules people. Those assholes who say that in order to be human and show your face in public, you have to cook and/or eat in a certain way. In fact, that whole idea of food being only okay if you do it by the way someone on the internet tells you to do it, negates the beauty of food in the first place. A recent, idiotic, local foodie kerfuffle over (deep sigh. help me sweet baby Jesus) “food appropriation” recently proves my point. The openness, adaptability and interpretation of food and how we all choose to prepare it is the one damn thing we have left to help bind us together. We all need to fucking eat and in my mind however we choose to do that is terrific. This said, I do feel bad for those souls out there who have not, as dictated by Sporty, Posh, Baby, Scary and Ginger, spiced up their lives. I wouldn’t tell these people that they had to learn to love hot and spicy and, by the way, goddamn delicious food but I do feel sad they don’t or cannot.  I get why many can’t due to disagreeable stomachs or just plain dislike and I am sympathetic. This week, however, I personally needed spicy food in the worst way possible.

“I just want to burn my face off” was the first thing that came into my mind on Sunday. Over the weekend, I picked up the congested and wheezing summer cold that my husband was laying down. Of the many incredible gifts my mister has given me over the last 7 years, this one was not one of my favorites.  I felt wiped out and sort of unable to enjoy anything including food. For someone like me who loves to eat, not being able to taste food is a particularly shitty side effect of having a cold. So I called out from the day job and sat on my couch armed with reality TV from Hulu, chicken wings from the grocery store deli and two bottles of hot sauce from my refrigerator. In times like these, where breathing is impaired and my energy level is lower than the current White House approval rating, spicy food is the only thing I want.

I guess the old wives, whoever those clever bitches were, say that spicy food when you’re sick loosens up the sinuses. While the hot sauce on the wings assisted in that mission to the best of its ability, the main goal for me is always flavor. Now, I don’t put hot sauce on everything as I believe most dishes are best enjoyed the way they were initially seasoned and prepared but there are foods (lots of them) that benefit from an additional kick. Naturally, my beloved tacos and burritos are such items but fried rice is helped out by a big squirt of sriracha and a bowl of chili comes alive with some red pepper flakes. And eggs in any form, for me, are merely a vessel for Tapatio. After devouring my wings, chugging a gallon of water and sleeping most of the day, it was time for dinner which was of course also spicy. It was time to take matters in my own hands. Desperate sinuses call for desperate measure so I channeled my old boss who was a master at Mexican cuisine and who made salsas and hot sauces that were downright awe-inspiring. She taught me that a genius pico de gallo (literally meaning the beak of the rooster) can be had if you had the skills and the right ingredients. Hence our taco salads for the evening were getting a proper punch in the face with homemade pineapple pico de gallo.

Pineapple pico de gallo

Half pineapple, peeled and diced small

1 jalapeno, diced

Half a red onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of oregano

Dash of red pepper flakes

Juice of one whole lime

Generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Place fruits, veggies and spices in a large bowl. Top with lime juice and stir. Drizzle with olive oil and stir until the salsa is incorporated.

It’s that easy. The stirring and the olive oil are both super important because they take it from being just fruit with some stuff in a bowl to becoming a legit badass condiment you’ll want to put on everything.  I had half of a jalapeno in mine to start but given the sorry state of our sinuses, the husband and I figured we’d throw the rest of the pepper in there and we were glad we did. Turns out, we picked a really sweet pineapple which could have thrown Operation: Burn My Face Off out the window had it not been for the remaining pepper.

5 days later, I’m still sniffling and not 100%. Thus, the quest for spice continues. Last night, I made our favorite chickpea curry in hopes of a different culture holding the key to cold relief thru cuisine. While delicious, I still feel the same. Still stuffed up and lagging in energy. But better overall. More importantly, I realized something bigger happened in my pursuit to burn my face off: I was having fun being creative and cooking. I’ve been working a lot over the last two weeks and feeling like my summer and my life aren’t big enough or festive enough. No beaches or fancy vacations or summer Instagram moments. From a superficial standpoint, it felt like I wasn’t nailing life these last couple of weeks. Yet these adventures in the kitchen, feeding the people I love and having a hell of a time, they feel bigger and more significant. They feel like enough. After all, my old idea of spicy was buying drugs from a stranger in an alley in downtown Los Angeles and having my nose burn for entirely unnatural reasons. No, thanks. I’ll stick to my delightfully, dull, domestic pursuits. And if needed, I can always had more jalapeno.

burritos & broken hearts

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The burrito in question

It wasn’t the end of the world. Because if it was the end of the world they’re wouldn’t have been burritos. See, Mexican food is at the very epicenter of my emotional core thus if it should suddenly somehow not exist, I will know that we as a society are really screwed. A disturbance in the force looks a lot like a lack of tortillas and hot sauce. So it wasn’t the end of the world yesterday because I gobbled down a burrito at lunch. It was just a broken heart.

Go ahead and mock the humble burrito but if you’re some white person who thinks that just random crap in a tortilla constitutes a great burrito then keep that shit to yourself. Seriously. There’s an actual art form when it comes to burritos. A great burrito is all about ratios (not too much rice, not too little salsa) and amazing condiments (homemade guac and hot sauce only). It’s a delicate balance that begins and ends with a good tortilla and well-made ingredients. Don’t get too fussy and in the same note, don’t half ass it, either. Trust me. I’m not some pinche gringo who pretends to know everything about Mexican food. My affinity for the cuisine started at childhood and carried on through adulthood as I waited tables ta not one but three Mexican restaurants. Also, being an Angeleno for 15 years meant that Mexican food became my religion and people were judged on what taco trucks they were loyal to. I had a mental map of that town based on what Mexican places were where. I even dragged my husband to the Mission district in San Francisco to try what was dubbed the country’s best burrito (totally worth it, by the way). So when it comes to a great burrito, I know what the hell I’m talking about. And yesterday’s offering, while a decent Portland college try at a Mission style burrito with its charred chicken and toasted tortilla, couldn’t erase what was happening inside of me.

Getting sober sometimes means letting things go in order to get better. For me in 2009 that meant letting go of my dog Jake and cat Phoebe. I could barely feed myself and was just trying to get through the day without being loaded. It was a heart wrenching decision but I had no other choice. Jake passed a few years ago loved and taken care of by my ex while Phoebe has lived for the past 8 years with my friend Regina. I got a Facebook message yesterday from her and she told me that Phoebe was being put down. At 17 years old, the girl had a good run and I am eternally grateful that she wound up being cared for.

Nevertheless, the news for some reason knocked the wind out of me. Feelings of loss and sadness bubbled up inside me. My body temperature raised and I felt like I was going to burst into tears. As usual, I’m unable to deal with any genuine emotion unless I turn it into a social media event so I tweeted about it. Yeah, there isn’t anything more 2017 tragic than tweeting and crying. “Tweetin’ and Cryin'”, my new country single. Still, it sort of helped and forced me to go for a walk. I went and had a cappuccino and some chocolate biscotti. But much to my dismay they weren’t prepared by a wizard and therefore couldn’t make all of my sadness go away. As I sat in the cute faux Euro cafe flipping through some shitty free newspaper, I started crying again. “Tears in My Cappuccino”, the b-side. My heart was really hurting and I knew exactly why: even though I’ve been sober for 8 years and even though my life has changed for the better in every way possible, sometimes the past just fucking hurts. And sometimes my heart hurts too. Not just for those two poor sweet animals, either. I was also devastated for me. Poor Sean, who was so mangled by addiction and alcoholism, who had to make that kind of choice. I texted my husband and cried more until I realized I better get out of this cafe before some concerned Portlander asked if I was okay.

After more walking, I wound up back at home. I didn’t feel better but at least I was tired. As if he knew how shitty I felt, Larry came and laid down on my chest. Larry, for the uninitiated, is my rascally black cat and, despite his name, not our building maintenance guy. The miracle of this moment wasn’t lost on me but the pain didn’t vanish either. As I tried to turn the heartbreak off with some Netflix therapy, I finished off the rest of my burrito. A few hours in the fridge did it some good and made it saucier. However, it was still only a 7.5 on the Mahoney burrtio scale at best. To fair, however, the kind of relief I wanted didn’t exist inside of a tortilla or cappuccino cup.  I sat in my bed and watched whatever the hell I was watching until my eyes got heavy. I went to bed knowing that I’d feel better today and I was right.

All of this is to say, it wasn’t the end of the world. There’s more burritos and more heartaches to come. But there’s more miracles to come too. In the end, I’m lucky to experience all of it even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. So for now, pass the hot sauce.