The industry in all of its manifestations; to dine and drink in a place of work and play and stress and nonchalance.
“Hey boys listen up! Table 40 is an order-fire-pickup! Grill, Sautee Sides and Hot Apps you are on that with them for entrees!
“Heard!” they yell in unison.
My chest swells like a mamma bird after a return from 4 days in a city that nearly swallowed me whole. I missed Detroit and found home in a city most shy away from. I missed this.
They have all moved up in stations. Sean on sauté, Nick on hot apps, Noodles learning how to roast marrow in 12 minutes, Erik on sides., Pedro expo-ing. I saw them start at garmo. Fluffing lettuce, raw root veggies and chickpeas in a giant metal bowl, moving on to the eruption of pure fire on those burners, thundering of pans again metal, taming them like wild bulls. The adrenaline that poured out of them with their sweat.
The bar is full and no one occupies the seat next to me, and more often now I wish one of them shared a meal with me, perhaps rubbing my sore feet from 8 plus hours skittering back and forth in leather Converse All Stars, feeding me with their fingers, nails bitten down to the callused nub, stained with charcoal and grease, and my tongue would search for the salt and oil there.
The drive home conjures up memories of the shift, the boys, my boys, all of them, their hands working against the grain, tendons taught underneith their leathered skin. And I wonder:
What do they go home to at night? And who? Their yawns, unrelenting and consuming after 15 plus hours on their feet, These men move in listless shuffles through hallways and doors, acrossed tiles, carpet and hard wood. They do it with purpose, their metabolisms dwindling, breath and heartbeats tempered. They wash off the sheen, the salt, all of which I’ve tasted on the peripheries of my mouth and the soft, fleshly part of my lips. What do they smell like when they step heavy and dripping from their late night showers? Perhaps, still, the sent of salt with a hint of mint, that tangy bite of bar soap. I bet they smell like brand new mornings.
French trills leave his tongue in the random words that replace English ones in his self-meditation.
Mis en place
“On y va!” he will yell, splice the French in between English like a sandwich au jambon. He will do this when he’s feisty or nostalgic.
“Parlez vous francaise?”
“Un peu,” I pinch the air with my thumb and forefinger.
“Ah, bien. Tres bien.”
The oysters are nestled in a shallow trough of ice, monstrous and engorged with their own briny juice, more than a mouthful and begging to be sucked down in the most distasteful and raunchy manner.
“Dude if I ate this serving of oysters I’d have a raging hard-on for DAYS.”
“Oh my God. Norm…TMI…you’re like my older brother.”
“Tough love, Halle. Think of it like kindergarten. The more we give you shit, the more we actually like you. “
They push my buttons; know how to tease me, what pisses me off and what makes me crack a smile. They say I don’t smile enough.
Pedro likes to fuck with the cuffs of my t-shirt. I roll them twice for preference, and because I hate it when t-shirt sleeves nearly reach my elbow. But Pedro likes to flick at them, unroll them with a quick little flick of the wrist.
“Reeeeelly Pedro?” I like to mock his accent…he likes it too.
“Stoooooop.” He wines, mocking me back.
“Gahhhh you’re all like big brothers GEEZE.
“You love it.”
“Yo.” I don’t look up from my polishing.
“What do you love?”
“…What do I love…” heads tilt, movements lag nearly to a steady stop. “Milk foam. I fucking love the foam left over from a well-made cappuccino, have to get every last little bit from the bottom of the cup. And I have to use my finger, doesn’t taste as good with a spoon.” Silent responses seep into my skin, nods and snickers, a few grunts of approval. I like to think they enjoy my less than normal persona. Anywhere else, any other time in my life I would have hidden, scampered off or changed the subject. But they make it ok to me. I know who I am now because of them.
“What else?” A voice to my left, from garmo, I think. I smile and bite my bottom lip. They want to know more. “Warm sheets, you know, right out of the dryer with a little zaps of static electricity. Oh god, and fresh bread, Jesus when you guys throw those massive loaves of sourdough over here on the cutting board I immediately start drooling.”
“You know it.” Those baguettes of sourdough and multigrain remind me of my adolescence when my father tackled baking his own bread, especially on Christmas, a stoli dotted with bits of fruit and a sheen of butter and sugar and dinner accompanied with homemade rolls little puffs of steam spurting from them when they were torn into with two thumbs., a hint of sweetness if you held the soft dough near the tip of your tongue. The kitchen is home.
“I love the sound of fresh baked bread.” Norm paused from pulling meat for beast of the day.
“What? The sound? Don’t you mean the smell?”
“No, the sound. You can tell when bread is the highest quality, has been made nearly to perfection when you can hear that crust pop as soon as it hits room temperature after its pulled from the oven, here, ill show you right now actually.” Norm places his knife beside the cutting board and I already know where to follow him to the back line.
“Right behind.” Noodles and Bam Bam pivot slightly as I shift between them. Norm is waiting by one of the large ovens where I can feel the waves of heat seeping out the edges. He opens the door and grasps the large sheet tray with a rag, putting his face close to the steaming loaves.
“C’mere you’re going to miss it!” I shuffle over to the oven and put my face close, oven heat flushing my face peachy red and I can here it like rice krispees in cold milk, that little crackle. We don’t need to say anything. I just smile.