The Lost Kids
I walk into work on Thursday, slightly dazed from all the wine Dennis and I drank the previous night. When I get into the locker room, I’m surprised to see Dennis there, since Thursday is usually his other day off. “The fuck are you doing here?”
“Devon called in. I’m filling in.”
“Sucks for you. Should’ve let the call go to voicemail.”
“Believe it or not, I don’t have Downton’s number saved in my fucking phone, so I thought it was the delivery guy calling up with the food I ordered this morning.” I give him a look of sympathy and laugh.
“Well, you’re lucky I’m here. How are you feeling? I feel a little shitty. I kind of think that ice wine at the end sent me over a bit.”
“I’m fine. Takes a lot more to bring me down. But I am slightly worried that we’re gonna hear about that table cloth.”
“Fuck it, dude. I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure the karma of the birch bark is on our side. Just don’t pick up your phone if Demo calls you. As a matter of fact, just stop answering your phone unless it’s me. It’s safest that way.”
“Oui.” We walk into the kitchen and set about our days. Andre is in, mouthing off about the concert he went to on his day off. He claims his cousin hooked him up with a backstage pass to meet Drake and that he smoked a joint with him, but we never believe his stories. I mean, really. If Drake wanted to smoke weed with the likes of Andre, I would take back both my mild enthusiasm for his music and my childhood crush on him as Jimmy, the wheelchair kid from “Degrassi.”
Prep goes as usual, without any major hitches. Although I’m fairly bored prepping the hot apps station, I take slight sadistic pleasure in watching Andre go down waiting for all the ingredients he needs to come in on second run. Since Chef realizes Andre can’t continue prep for another thirty minutes, he puts him in charge of making the protein and starch for family meal, which is amusing and makes my life about one batch of polenta easier.
Andre catches me smirking as he huffily browns ground meat in the tilt skillet and glares my way. “Too hungover to help a brother out, then? Don’t pretend. I see your red-ass eyes.”
“I’m not hungover, man. I just smoked a joint with Drake out in the alley. He and I are pretty tight these days.” I’m feeling snarky and not in the mood for Andre’s normal bitchery. He ignores me and continues his work; Dennis holds his laughter. To avoid confrontation, Dennis and I eat Andre’s crappy family meal, but our cease-fire is too difficult. “I’m really glad you’re taking chef’s hypertension into account when you make family, Andre. I mean, salt, shmalt, am I right? It’s the devil’s spice, if you ask me.” Dennis snickers.
“Aw, fuck you guys. If you want good food, maybe you should lend a hand.” I can feel Andre’s love for me waning with his patience. Maybe it’s a good thing. I never considered myself “too nice,” but maybe signals got crossed. This new enemy could be much more tolerable.
We finish up our bland food and set up for service. It’s a slower night, so things move quietly and steadily at first. Tension in the kitchen dissolves, and everyone is focused. About an hour in, though, I put up a scallop, and as Chef reaches for it, Andre says, “so what’s up with the great pepper shortage of 2015?” Chef snaps his head toward me, and my breath catches as my hands go cold and sweaty. Fuck. Andre had started to laugh at his seemingly harmless joke, but it’s clear it isn’t funny, and his face goes serious.
Chef turns purple but doesn’t yell. “Gretchen,” he starts: “Get the fuck out of here.”
“Now.” My chest fills with anger, and everything seems surreal. Andre has blown my cover, and I am suddenly jobless. What a goddamn idiot. I stay calm and put my knives in my bag, as chef pulls a sous off the pass to work my station. But I can’t just leave. I walk down the line to Andre, grab his ears, pull his face down to mine, and lay a long, passionate kiss on his lips.
“Is that what you wanted, motherfucker?” I let go of his face, slap his right cheek, and walk out the back door. Although I’m still freaking out about getting kicked out of the restaurant, I feel a heavy adrenaline rush. And if Chef really wants to lose me over black pepper, he can suck it.
I take the train home and decide to drink away the events of the evening. I can worry about finding a job tomorrow. But for now, I have to take my mind off this shit. Once I’m back in Queens, I plant my ass on a stool at the bar of the Gentry House, a well established local bar. I know the bartender, and when he sees me, he says, “Fernet and Coke?”
“Nah, Ben. I’ll have a Modelo and a Jameson shot.”
“Coming from work, then? Ah, I guess not. It’s only nine.”
“No, I am. I just fucking lost my job.” Ben looks sympathetic and puts up the beer with two shots.
“Long story.” I drink my shots consecutively and leave my beer a minute to feel the burn of the whisky in my throat. Then I down half of the icy lager. I feel my shoulders drop as my reality begins to fade. Andre can go fuck himself. And so can Chef. “Ben,” I say, “Hook me up with a Fernet and Coke.”
“Yes ma’am, I’ll make it a double.”
“You’re my only friend, Ben. I love you.”
“You have lots of friends, Gretchen.”
“Duh, I know. But you wouldn’t tell Chef that I’m a fundamentalist anti-black pepper radical.”
“I would not.” I drink the rest of my beer and then start my cocktail. A few girls next to me at the bar have noticed my heavy drinking. I size up their situation, guessing their mostly full, clear beverages are my arch nemesis cocktail:
“Vodka-soda?” I ask, making eye contact with them. Bitches love bubbly booze water. The one closest to me is a pretty blonde, the one next to her is a brunette Latina looking girl, and next to her is a chubby Asian girl. Kind of a motley crew, but it seems they might all have the commonality of enjoying the swill of basic bitches.
“How’d you know?” The brunette asks.
“So you’re pretty thirsty, the blonde says, looking at the plethora of glasses in front of me.”
“I lost my job today.”
“Oh. That sucks.”
“I didn’t like it there anyway. I was gonna leave soon. Maybe do my own thing”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a cook.”
“Are you a chef or a cook?”
“It depends on who I’m talking to. You’re pretty. Maybe I’m a chef, then.” Ben laughs. The girl can tell I’m being an asshole, but she also doesn’t fully understand the joke. “What do you do?” I ask.
“I work for a PR firm.”
“Nice,” I lie. Although I respect a good PR person, I secretly hope she won’t talk about the business. I’m still sizing up her friends, and I notice the Latina girl I originally pinned as mostly basic has a bunch of ghetto tattoos all over her forearms. I briefly wonder if she’s dangerous. Or basic and dangerous, which kind of equals dramatic prison material.
“I’m Olivia. This is Natasha and this is Gina.”
“Nice to meet you all,” I muster. I’m starting to feel a little drunk, which I think is a good thing, considering my new friends.
“So what do you want to do on your own? You said you want to do your own thing? I’m actually a really good cook myself. It’s funny, but I have friends that are cooks, and I cook much more advanced stuff than they do at home. I’m just really good in the kitchen.” Here we go…another civilian with over-confidence in their cooking ability. There’s probably nothing more gratifying than talking to a normal person who has no regard for the lifestyle cooks take on to hone their craft. “What’s something you make well?”
“Well, my favorite thing to make at home is fresh pasta. Usually with a braised lamb ragu. I braise lamb shanks with like dark beer, thyme, juniper–”
“I would use rosemary instead.” I pause. Bitch, are you serious? I’m mildly incensed that she’s asked me what I like to do only to give her civilian input on one simple dish I like to make at home. I don’t really know what to say, but I let it go. “So what do you want to do next? If you could do anything, what would you do?”
“Um…” I’m losing steam, but I figure I’ll give it one more shot, since I have no one else to talk to, and Ben’s boyfriend has come to the bar and started talking to him. “Well, it’s not a traditional concept, but I want to throw pop-up dinners in museums around the world. And it would just be about the art. And the food would be awesome, but it would sort of be like in the background.
“I just don’t see how that would work. I mean, you say you’re a chef, but you’re all about this art. I don’t understand how that connects. If you’re not one hundred percent focused on the food, how are you supposed to market this to anyone? Who would want to just go look at art and kind of maybe eat some food?” This girl is getting super annoying, and my patience is wearing thin.
“OK, you asked me what I wanted to do, and I’m telling you. But you’re being annoying as fuck, and I’m not really into being cross-examined while I’m drinking in a bar after losing my job, if that’s OK with you.” She looks shocked.
“I’m just trying to have a conversation with you, and you call me annoying as…” And she’s sensitive. This is what I get for being surrounded by guys all the time.
“I’m sorry, but I’m just not feeling like this is a conversation. You’re so confident in your shit, but you’re gonna sit here and shit on my dreams, because they don’t fit into your cookie-cutter idea of how the world works. So let’s just drop the topic.” Olivia looks annoyed but intrigued.
“Olivia, I’m getting so bored at this bar. Can’t we go somewhere with better music?” Natasha is starting to get antsy, and I fear her mood could quickly swing toward belligerent. Olivia confirms:
“she’s about to go crazy. We better go. You should come with us!”
“Really.” I am mildly surprised by her suggestion, considering my bluntness.
“Yeah! I mean, you seem cool, and I feel like it could help to have a badass chef around when I need to hold back Natasha from a fight later on.”
“I’d rather not. I think I’m just gonna go home. But you could come with me,” I smirk. She looks up and catches my eye, laughs, and declines my offer.
“Not tonight, but here’s my card. Let’s get a drink sometime. I live around here. How old are you anyway?”
“Old enough to know better. You?”
“Thirty-two. But really, what about you?” Damn. Hmm…
“Twenty-nine,” I bluff. But what’s in five years? What I lack in age, I make up for in crankiness. “Well, I gotta go. I’ll see you around. Ben, can I close out?”
“It’s on me. Just this time. Don’t need you taking back to the streets, now, do we?” he jokes. Olivia shoots me a sideways glance. I give her the poker face, pick up my stuff, and head out the door. Always best to keep them guessing. As I walk into the night, my phone buzzes, and I see a text from Chef. It says, I’m not gonna lie, that was awesome. I will give you your job back if you come in tomorrow, eat a tablespoon of black pepper, and swear to use it when I fucking say. I’m surprised at the offer but uncertain. I always knew Chef hated Andre. For now, I put it out of my mind, get in a cab, and take a five minute ride to my bed.