Deep Dives and Fine Dining

Valentine’s Day was my first day as a barback at the fancy restaurant. There was a lot to learn on Day 1, and given the nature of the establishment and the holiday, all space at the bar was reserved for the entirety of the time we were open. I got there a bit early so I had ample time to familiarize myself with the layout of the bar and ask some questions I had about any number of things that can come up during service at a bar.

Honestly, I’d say it went pretty well. Luckily, they were restricted to the tasting menu, so I just had to memorize the order of the menu, what silverware, plating, wine-pairing, etc. went with each course, and who was ready for what when. It certainly wasn’t a small task, but it was doable. By the end of the night, I had most of that down, and I was able to sneak away from time to time to help the folks downstairs polish glassware and silverware, then hall it back upstairs for immediate use.

It’s really just about letting yourself fall into a rhythm – check plates, check water glasses, check glassware, check faces, check bus tub, check with bartender, check with dishwashers, repeat. Stressful? Sure, but again, manageable. I mean, I only had one tiny breakdown where I had to crouch behind the bar and remind myself to breathe. Totally normal, right?

I woke up on Friday feeling ready to get back in there and kick some ass. I walked the dog, did 30 minutes of stretching and breathing meditation, and got myself ready for work. On the way to the bus, I always check the bus status on my phone to see if it’s necessary for me to run the two blocks to the bus stop, or if I can stroll leisurely. It said APPROACHING when I looked, so I put my phone in my pocket and ran. The bus did that thing where it sort of stops, then stops all the way on the other side of the street because the driver realizes there were people hoping to get on.

I ran a little faster, thanked the driver for stopping, then found my seat toward the back of the bus. I was glowing because I was going to be hugely early that day, which was good because I would get family meal and have plenty of time to fill out my new hire paperwork. I reached for my phone so I could schedule my dog’s walk for the evening, and it wasn’t in my pocket. I frantically patted all my pockets and looked all around me – nothing. I asked the people who got on after me, “Hey did you see my phone fall out of my pocket?” They said no.

I immediately pulled on the cord to request a stop (maybe four blocks from where I got on). I jogged briefly but thought, Meh, there’s no need to hurry – I’ve got plenty of time and I can just call a Lyft once I’ve got my phone.

I saw three or four people walking in the opposite direction, and I considered asking them if they saw a phone, but I thought, Meh, they wouldn’t have been looking for a phone. I’ll be there in a minute.

I retraced my steps, scanning back and forth along the sidewalk and the grass I had run through to catch the bus. No phone. I did one more back-and-forth, looking into potholes and small divots I might have overlooked the first time. Nothing. Well fuck. My phone was gone. I didn’t have time to brood – I needed to get to work. So I got on the next bus thinking, It’s just a phone. The most important thing is that I call Wag customer service and schedule Max’s walk when I get there.

I got to work on time for family meal, I ate, I filled out paperwork, then I got right to work cutting limes and lemons. I looked at my watch and realized it was already about the time I should be clocking in normally, so I rushed to the phone to call Wag. I sat on hold for eight minutes, tapping my foot impatiently, sighing heavily, and putting all my effort into not throwing the phone across the room every time the woman’s voice said, “Thank you for your patience.”

At the eight minute mark, I pressed 2 so that they’d call me back when a customer service rep was available, and ran back to the bar to help with setup. When I got there, the bartender said, “I just had to do all of the prep work by myself. I’m only going to say this once – that wasn’t cool.” I made a weak attempt to explain the situation, but it was too late – I had already fouled up the start of Day 2. I had a small panic attack right as the first customers of the day walked through the door, and the bartender sent me away so I wouldn’t be seen breaking composure.

I went out of sight and collected myself. It took fifty breaths, but I got my head back in the game. I went back in with a smile on my face, but I still got a talking to from the restaurant manager about how important it is to keep your cool. I assured him I could, then went behind the bar to get to work.

The rest of the night went pretty smoothly. I did hit my back twice on the metal cover over the entrance to the bar, which makes a loud metal-on-metal noise that you can hear across the whole restaurant. And at some point, I asked a question with too many Um’s and Uh’s in it, and got reprimanded for not being concise.

A married couple (Cory and Lorie [you can’t make that kind of shit up]) who were regulars came in, and engaged me a little, which was my saving grace for the night. Rapport is my fucking wheelhouse – I can charm the shit out of just about anyone. I did, and it redeemed some of my mishaps.

The manager and the bartender were nice enough to let me go right at close because Wag never called back, so my dog was just stuck in my room the whole shift. I asked for notes on Day 2 before leaving, and initially the bartender just said, “Oof. I’m not ready for that, yet.” Finally he said, “My two main points are that you need to work on decisiveness and conciseness. Be confident in yourself. You’re a smart guy – we wouldn’t have hired you if you weren’t.”

That felt encouraging. I felt better. I got home as quickly as public transit would allow to clean up the urine and feces that were largely a result of how much time Max was in that room by himself.

Here I am a few days later, though, and I find myself questioning the value of my employment there. Can I learn a lot from those folks? Absolutely. Do I really need that information? I’m not sure. Given that I’m not planning on making bartending my lifelong career, I don’t know how good at this I really need to be. I can learn a fair amount from the folks at the rooftop bar about bartending, and I have the greatest potential for actually becoming a bartender there. I can learn a lot about bar management from the folks at the honkytonk pub, and I feel like I really fit in with those people.

I talked it out with a close friend, and she encouraged me to read my own blog – I’m overwhelmed by how quickly my life is changing. I’m not going to reread anything because writing it is hard enough, but thank goodness she’s reading it because I needed her insights. I’m stressed the fuck out a lot of the time as it is. Do I really need to add to that considerably just so I can say I’ve worked in fine dining for a bit? I can do this job, but should I? Maybe not.

Especially considering that none of this post was decisive or concise, and after rereading it, I have no edits.

But I do have an addendum (I added this bit a few days after the original post): I was offered more hours and thereby more money at my other job, and given my plans to move to Europe in less than a year, the money really is important to me. After spending another two days at the fancy place, I really started developing a rhythm, and once I fell into it, things ran very smoothly. I worked there a grand total of 4 days, and in retrospect, I loved all of them (stress included). I was pushed to be better, to work harder, and to think faster. I enjoyed the patrons, and I enjoyed providing them with excellent service and a warm smile. I was fulfilled there.

When I told my manager that I had to take the better monetary offer, I could tell he was hurt. He had gone out on a limb for me because I was passionate in my emails to him – both about the restaurant itself and the industry. I sat down with him after my last shift and it felt like a breakup. I hope I was able to communicate clearly enough that I love him and his staff and the masterpiece of a restaurant he helped create. I am ultimately sad to go, and sorry to have let him down.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 7

I did not start the day well. I woke up a little later than I anticipated, so I rescheduled my first free trial class of Jiu Jitsu at the gym I had found close by. The dog was getting on my nerves a little more than usual. I was upset about the trash and the lack of groceries and the tree outside (I just took down my Christmas tree, and it only made it as far as the fire escape). I started reading my meditation book, but I just couldn’t focus. I was hungry, and I hadn’t had coffee, and I was frustrated – my attention was all over the place.

I decided to get up and do something about all of those feelings before I began my second week of meditation practice. I walked the dog around the block. I walked to a local cafe I’d been meaning to check out to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while just being present, a task I usually love, but today it didn’t work quite like I wanted it to. The music in the small shop was some sort of Ukrainian pop house music, which isn’t ideal for relaxation. Financial news was running on a TV at both ends of the place, with tickers and scrolling headlines and a general jumble of nothing but incredibly important information. The coffee was good, but they brought it in a foam cup, which to me negated the point of me ordering it for there.

In my haze of frustration, I decided to use Dr. Brené Brown’s voice and resonant worldviews to soothe me. First I looked up her bio and found out that she hadn’t even gotten her bachelor’s degree until she was 30, which immediately put me at greater ease. Okay, I thought, I can still do this. After settling into the first few minutes of her audio book and finishing my coffee, I wandered to the two stores I had to go to in order to get everything on my list, and a few extra things determined by whimsy (like strawberry jam cookies).

After I got back home, put away the groceries, and had a snack, I felt ready to pick up the book again. Like in Week One, I read all of the material associated with Week Two first, then went back and reread the meditation instructions for today – Body Scan Meditation. I set myself up on my yoga mat, reset myself up after my dog whined outside my bedroom door and I brought him in and put him in his kennel, then reset myself up a final time after removing the bones he was banging against the sides of the kennel.

I closed my eyes and mentally scanned from the top of my head down to my chin, then down the back side of my head and neck, then along the sides. I moved my attention down my arms and felt each finger tip individually. Then I went down my torso, all the way to my feet, where I primarily noticed the pressure of my heels against the mat.

That journey throughout my person wasn’t quite as straightforward as that, though. I spent what felt like a lot of time lost in my thoughts. I’m infatuated with a coworker, and I kept seeing her radiant smile. I kept enjoying my stored mental loop of her gait. I replayed little tidbits of what she’s said to me or in groups that I found funny or endearing. Then I’d spend time thinking about how I was going to tell all of you about those thoughts and their intrusion. Suffice it to say, I worded it better before I sat down at my computer.

My coworker appeared a lot today, but there were other distractions, too. Fantasies about the lunch I’d make for myself, confusion about whether or not the gentle water noises and birds chirping was the alarm I had set, or just the outside world, thoughts about when this lying down thing would be over. I was, however, able to continuously bring my focus back inside my body. Feeling my the contact points with the floor, feeling what was getting heavier and what was getting lighter after the 18 or so minutes I had been there.

Finally the alarm did go off. I opened my eyes and slowly rose form the mat. I will say that much of the stress inhabiting my body earlier has vanished. I am presently more relaxed and less heavy. I don’t think that any of my problems were solved in those 20 minutes – they’re still waiting for me now, actually – but I am able to consider them as truths, and let them stay there. The fact about most of them is that their existence doesn’t adversely impact this moment that I’m in, or the next.

I’m not going to ignore them because they all very much need addressing, but I’m also not going to let them ruin whatever I’m doing right now, and I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point. Or at least that’s what I’m getting from this experience so far. I look forward to upping it to four sessions this week. Until tomorrow!

The Wasp and the Hound

We were about 45 minutes into our long walk for the day. My mind was stuck on my persistent lack of money (mostly my fault for spending it all as soon as I get it). I was sick and resentful for being outside. My knee has developed a constant, dull aching that I feel comfortable chalking up to a combination of old age and constant straining against an easily excited 75 pound dog. His legs are notably more muscular than when I first took him home – who needs weights or resistance bands when you can drag your owner around for hours on end each day?

We came to a corner, and he’s learning (slowly) to stop before crossing the street, but this time his attention was on something – anything at all – down the road. I got frustrated and jerked him around to my side, but his gaze never left whatever he was staring at. I got down to his level and I held his face to mine, trying desperately to be entertaining enough to pull his attention from whatever he was transfixed on, but no luck.

When I finally stopped drilling my eyes into his skull and looked around, I saw a tall, well-dressed, waspy white woman with short, blonde hair look at me with clear disdain behind her designer sunglasses. She averted her gaze and sipped her latte, and I didn’t hear it, but I felt the, “Hmph!” as though she had slapped me in the face with it.

We started across the street, “What even is it that you’re looking at?” I asked my dog with as much sincerity as I could pack into a single question. “There’s nothing even there! Silly creature.”

Clearly nobody with a smooth tone and sincere interest in their dog’s likes and dislikes was capable of the consistent beatings my momentary lapse in poise suggested I was doling out at home. Or at least that’s what I hoped went through the lady’s head after I said it. Given my mood, I was already prone to guilt and sure enough Guilt took full advantage of the opportunity, and I felt my shoulders hunch forward on their own.

“You know what, fuck that lady!” I thought as I pushed my shoulders back again with some effort. “Let’s see you try to handle this dog for longer than five minutes without getting frustrated!”

Furthermore, let’s see you re-navigate the struggles of your youth with that haughty aplomb. Based on your clothes, and her “better than you” attitude, I’d say she was sitting pretty comfortably in her middle age. Get off your high sybian for a second, and try dealing with the litany of concerns milling about in my head without getting a little physical, why don’t you?

I laughed to myself at the thought of her trying to wrangle my beast – at the picture of her being dragged down the street after a rogue squirrel – knees scraped, clothes tattered, sunglasses humorously askew, yelling, “Peace, puppy!” or some other ineffectual hippie nonsense.

If she turned around then, I’m not sure cackling to myself would have added to her opinion of me, but we were beyond that now, weren’t we? Slowly, reason and guilt crept back in, and my shoulders found neutral ground, between shame and defensive hubris.

Of course, my anger wasn’t really at her, or my dog, but at myself. It’s always at myself, in all likelihood. All we can control are our actions and our reactions, after all, and I had failed myself, my dog, and the wasp in a moment of weakness when I whipped my dog around the sidewalk. Still though… Fuck that lady.