Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Mullhawk and the Memory

I felt rather lazy this Saturday. The only thing I wanted to accomplish today was to actually sleep in... Okay, so I crossed the first thing off of my to-do list... Actually, there are plans to spend St. Patty's with my family enjoying corned beef and cabbage. (Unfortunately, Craig had to work and wouldn't be able to join me.) So, I have no where to be until 5:00....

I decided to indulge in some Court TV..... I know, it's a morbid and sickening way to spend a beautiful afternoon, but everyone has got a vice and mine is true crime. So, as I was sitting there watching the FBI close in on a killer, I hear a very loud expletive come from the direction of the backyard. Since I also heard a hedger running, I assumed that someone's husband was having an altercation with his yard work. Besides, the FBI was now interrogating our suspect and he was starting to sweat.... Then, I heard it again... "$@%$%^@%!!!!!!!!!!" I was thinking to myself..."God buddy!! Just deal with the fact that you have to do your yard work and quit ruining my afternoon!!!" So, other than the sound of the hedger, things started to quiet down....just in time for the FBI's suspect to start his trial.

"Mother@#@%^^@!!! God@%#%^$!!! Sh@%!!!" Now, I was pissed. Not only was I having to constantly rewind the show on the TiVo, I was also feeling bad for any neighborhood children exposed to the word vomit... I walked over to the sliding glass door and looked at the yard that directly backed up against mine. I saw the orange of the hedger as it darted in and out of the bushes and when the last high branch of the bush had cleared, I got a good look at my articulate neighbor. I was expecting to see a middle aged man with a beer belly. However, that wasn't the case....He was sporting a mullhawk similar to the one below and he was freakishly tall... The fence stood at least 6 feet high and his shoulders and head were above the top of the fence.


He started to pace back and forth, sweating profusely while continuing his springtime soliloquy. I slowly started to close up the blinds and the shutters..... But something kept running in my mind. Why did his behavior seem so oddly familiar?? Then it dawned on me.....

One of my first jobs out of culinary school was as a pantry chef in a popular restaurant in the touristy historic district of Sacramento. It was my first exposure to life in a real restaurant and it wasn't anything like the professional disciplined environment I had experienced in school. Most of the other cooks in the restaurant looked as though they were recently paroled. Pot and alcohol flowed like water and everyone seemed to enjoy carnal knowledge of each other.

Back then, women weren't as prevalent in the kitchen as they are now. Other than myself, there were two other women that worked on the line...Thelma and Michel. Thelma was a tell-it-like-it-is kind of woman and her face bore the lines of a hard-lived life. She was tough and everyone respected her; some of us out of fear and some of us out of genuine regard. Thelma mostly worked the day shift, so I saw her going as I was coming in. Michel on the other hand, usually worked with me at nights.

It is at this point that I must add that Michel, although attractive, did not spend alot of time tending to her appearance, often showing up for her shift, dishelved and dirty. I on the other hand, still fresh from culinary school, wanted to maintain a professional image. My hair was always neatly pulled back, my make up on, my chef's coat freshly laundered and pressed, fingernails trimmed and cleaned, and my shoes always scrubbed of the previous evening's work..... Just because my job was messy, didn't mean that I couldn't still be attractive...(this was definitely a philosophy of my mother's).

In my youth and naivete, I failed to recognize Michel's obvious problem. Recently, Michel had lost an astonishing amount of weight and her personality appeared to have kicked into permanent PMS. She was surly, quick tempered and known to burst into tears at the drop of a hat. And....she hated me. As the waitstaff started to notice her treatment of me, one of the girls pulled me over for some enlightenment.... Apparently, Michel was a single unwed mother of 25 with a new and nasty crack addiction. In addition, she had recently been involved in an ill-fated romance with the sous chef. The very same sous chef that had been paying me a great deal of attention. It was known around the restaurant, that Michel thought me to be an insipid "pretty girl" without the culinary chops to deserve my position.... After my conversation with the server, I started to keep my eye on Michel out of fascination and fear. I noticed that she would pace...alot. And she would sweat and curse and have violent little outbursts while on the line sauteing orders....

One night, I was downstairs making carrot cakes and working on prep for the next day. Lost in my own thoughts as I sang to the music on the radio, Michel came into the room and stared at me as she stood in the doorway. I looked up (it was the first time in my life that someone looked at me with real hatred) and she said, "You'll never be as good as me. I would have had these cakes done by now and would have already been working on the prep for the weekend." I had to agree....if I was on crack, I would have gotten all that done too! I decided to ignore her hatred and finish up my work. "I'm almost done here. Did you need me to work on anything for your station?" Kill her with kindness..... Her only reply was, " Hurry up and get your ass up on the line." I smiled and said okay. I forgot to add that she was 6 feet tall so she had about 7 inches on me..... There was no way I was going to antagonize her.

I headed upstairs about 15 minutes later. The line was unusually quiet.... Orders were coming in, food was being cooked and plates being taken out to the dining room. Tracy, one of kindest waiters we had, came up to the line and asked on an ETA for his table. The whole order for the table was pasta and that was Michel's station. She ignored his question. Tracy then came over to my station to pick up dessert for one of his other tables and asked his question to Michel again. Before anyone knew what was happening, Michel flew from behind the line directly heading for Tracy. I saw it coming as she swung back her steel tipped boot. All her hatred of me and all the unhappiness pent up inside her landed hard on Tracy's shin. He actually crumpled to the floor as the beautiful berry tart I made him landed on my foot (which would be scrubbed off before my next shift). It took 2 waiters and 2 cooks to wrestle her off poor Tracy as she attempted to pummel him with her boots. Apparently, when on crack, one has the strength of an ox....We all stood there for a moment in stunned silence as the manager took Michel to the office. Then the printer started spewing more orders and we focused on the work at hand. WOW! They never went over this kind of thing in culinary school.

The next day, the kitchen staff informed the executive chef that none of us would come to work if Michel was allowed to stay. The restaurant kindly allowed her to resign and no one ever saw her again. However, it was Michel that I saw in the Mullhawk man. The sweating, pacing and cursing. The manic behavior. It scared me. It was the first time I had thought about Michel in years. I wondered what had become of her. Did she got off drugs? Did she find some happiness? How old would her son be? And then, I thought of the Mullhawk.... Why so much anger toward yard work? Did he think it was wise to operate heavy machinery under the influence of so much rage?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, I decided to stay inside until I left for the St. Patty's party. I didn't want to be on the receiving end of anyone's boot......

5 comments:

doggybloggy said...

nice story...I hate when people hate me

buffalodickdy said...

Wow. I tend to be kind of oblivious to drugs or people on them. Certain industries see more of that than others. The drug testing that goes on in manufacturing keeps alot of that down to a dull roar.

Michelle Ann said...

Doggy-it was very strange to see that someone actually hated me...it made me grow up rather quickly...

Buffalo-restaurants are really the epicenter for overundulgence and reckless behavior. Although I dabbled here and there in my youth...I stayed rather close to the center. I didn't want to lose my way...

pinknest said...

i had no idea you went to culinary school and worked in a restaurant!!!

Tanya Kristine said...

you are an eloquent, extremely talented writer.

you should not be wasting your time at the state.