The Process

Category: Fiction

The Lost Kids

SEVEN

Since it’s a Monday, there’s no real line to speak of at Electrode.  We get in, get creepy little red armadillos stamped on our wrists for entry, and grab gin and tonics at the bar.  I always love the way the quinine glows around black lights, so gin and tonics are my club drink of choice.  That is, when Jay Z isn’t buying bottle service for me and my crew.  You know.

The club is basically empty, which would be depressing, but we are all having too much fun on our own to give a shit. Plus, the DJ is so discouraged by the turnout that she has granted our requests and started drinking herself into oblivion.  Hem and I are dancing our stupid dances and singing like the idiots that we are.  High or not, I am always aware of the strangeness when we’re dancing to rap.  It looks something like if you watched the characters dancing in Charlie Brown’s Christmas but replaced the festive music with Nicki Minaj.  “Fucking little whores are fucking up my decors…couldn’t get Michael Kors if you was fucking Michael Kors!” we scream, laughing.  Some people think Beethoven’s Ninth is a classic…but really, what’s more exquisite than “Dance A$$ Remix?”  Answer: few things.

Izzy dances over to me and leans in close to my ear.  “Want to go do some more of this?”

“You have the blow?”

“Yeah.  I took the rest with us.  Kinda figured we might want it…Let’s go!”  I follow her to the bathroom, not really worried anyone else would see.  Hem and Hannah are square dancing to “Get Silly,” and the DJ is half asleep at her post.  The bartender is talking to the only other three people in there, who seem to be a group of German tourists.   “Hem told me he surprised you tonight coming to the city.”

“Yeah!  I had no idea he was coming.”

“That’s really awesome.”  She opens the door to the women’s room.  It’s small, damp, and dim, but the sink has flat sides, which is satisfactory for our snorting pleasure.  She does a line and then cuts one for me.  When I come up from the sink, I’m face to face with her, and she leans in, her nose close to mine.  I must look surprised, because she smirks and says, “you didn’t really come in here with completely innocent intentions, did you?”

“Well, I—“ she leans in and brushes her lips against mine.  What the fuck?  I really did think this girl had a boyfriend, but maybe that old dude in her profile picture is her dad.  That shit can happen.  So I go in for a full kiss, and it’s good, but then there’s a knock on the door.

“Guys!”  It’s Hannah.  Hm.  “Do you have the stuff in there!”  Goddamnit, Hannah.

“I’m gonna let her in, but let’s just go back to my place,” Izzy whispers.

“Alright.”  We open the door, and Hannah looks mildly confused.  Is that dude in her profile picture her boyfriend or her dad?  I ask her, telepathically.  She doesn’t get my message, so I remain in the dark.

“Hannah, here.  I’m feeling kinda shitty, so Gretchen is gonna walk me home.  Sorry…I’m really just too drunk.”

“Um, bullshit, but OK.  Have fun, guys!”  Hannah is too perceptive and has too high a tolerance to all substances to miss a beat.  Oh well.  She doesn’t give a shit.

We wander back to Izzy’s place off Union Square, which seemed a lot closer when we left the bar.  However, it’s still not very cold out, which wouldn’t really matter at this point anyway, so the walk doesn’t suck.  She lives in a tiny studio.  It makes sense, considering anything more in that area would require some financial set-up like Hannah’s.  The paper really doesn’t pay enough for them to even look sideways at Manhattan, but neither of them will look anywhere off the island.

“Do you even have a sink or kitchen in here?”

“No…just a bathroom.  I don’t cook, so it’s not a big deal.  I just live on dollar pizza.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” I look at her, at once jealous and turned on.  I had to give up my dollar pizza diet, because my body was not having it.  Or my pants were not having it.  You know.

“Think I look good, then?” she smiles, goofily, and comes closer to kiss me again.

“Maybe.”  She pushes me onto her bed, which is barely a feat, considering it is more difficult not to fall onto it in such a  small space.  As she kisses me, her long brown hair brushes over my chest, sending a chill through my body.  She’s even more beautiful than I thought she was before.  Lucky me.  As she takes off my clothes and continues to kiss my body, I become aware that I still can’t feel all that much.  Oh, alcohol, the thing that at once lures us to bed and kills the fun.  Oh well.  Nothing wrong with play for play’s sake.  “Mmm.  That’s good, babe.  Hm, fuck–Jenna…”  Oh, shit.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing.  What?”

“No.  Who’s Jenna?”  Goddamnit.

“No one…It’s just my ex…It’s not even a big deal.  Don’t be so upset!”  Izzy looks entirely displeased, and I can’t really blame her.  Awkward.

Jenna was my writing professor at school.  Professor Gransford, I should say.  I took an intro class my second year in college, and she was this new professor fresh off the boat from England.  Everyone in my class hated her, because she made us work so hard.  She was so funny about it, too, because she acted like she had no idea she was doing it.  She would have us workshop each other’s writing in class some days; other days she would lock us all in the classroom and blast trap music the entire period.  Then she would post homework online, and it would be like, “read ninety pages of such and such book and then write a ten page essay on how such and such relates to such and such.”  And usually it would be completely difficult, and everyone got an F.

I found it intriguing.  F on everything.  Of course there would be a curve, but what a nightmare.  And then this one day, I wrote a paper about how the two subjects had nothing to do with one another, and how the proposed topic was a load of shit, and I got a D.  A D!  A glorious, shining D.  So naturally, I was the one who ended up with an A in the course, but that’s besides the point.  After I got the D on the paper, I felt I had cracked her code and therefore felt entitled to visiting her in her office and having these intellectual spars every now and then.

And that’s where I fell in a little.  Of course I was attracted to her earlier on: she was gorgeous.  Long, brown hair, green eyes…she was only thirty and looked twenty-five at most.  But it was the office visits that got me.  I wouldn’t say she was as funny as I am, but she could hold her own in a battle of wit.  And I never really met anyone else who could.  Plus, that British accent thing…I’d be lying if I said even a bum with a British accent didn’t turn me on just slightly.  But nothing ever came of it for a while.  Until this one day.

Since I knew I was going to fail the next assignment anyway, I wrote an essay on why hairless cats are a superior species to humans and would ultimately take over the world.  It was completely unrelated to the assigned topic.  So, of course, I got an F.  But on my paper, Jenna had written, “I have three.  Come visit them today at five,” with her address below.  I absolutely wasted no time on that one.  I went to her house, and, as promised, she did have three Sphynx cats.  Hansel, Gretel, and Bill.  Bill was kind of the loner, which seemed appropriate.  I played with the cats a while, as Jenna and I argued about whether we thought the nerdy engineering students in the class were wearing Nike sneakers as shoes ironically or genuinely.

We had a few beers while we talked. After a while, I realized that it was late, and I had work to catch up on after spending the previous night writing bullshit about hairless cats dominating the world.  I made moves to leave, and she walked me to her door.  I was saying goodbye and something about how she shouldn’t fail me on the paper, since she should have faith in her cats taking over the world, and she cut me off.  I’ll never forget—she just looked at me and said, “you’re such a wanker.”

I looked up, because I had developed a nervous habit of avoiding eye contact with her sometimes.  And she just kissed me.  Just like that, and all of a sudden, I’m outside my damn body, watching myself take this lady’s clothes off against her living room wall.  I had been with plenty of girls before, but this was totally different.  The smell, the taste, the feel…it was at once the most energizing and slow experience of my life.  I felt colors.  That’s all I could really say to get near describing it.

I was with Jenna over the next two years of school, in secret, of course.  That was very fucking hard, being with someone I loved that much and not being able to tell anyone.  Seeing her and having to act like I didn’t even know her.  It was exciting, feeling like I had this big secret, to be sure.  Sneaking quickies in her car before classes and then exiting ten or so minutes apart to keep a low profile.  But it got exhausting after a while.

I had planned to stay in Evanston with her after graduation, but I had to abort that mission.  April of my senior year, I walked in on her sucking the department head’s dick in her office.  Even though our arguments about the future had been getting worse, I never suspected any bullshit like that.  And the whole fucked up thing, too, is that I tried to let it go.  But in the end, she actually went with that guy.

The last thing she had said to me was, “who I am with you is just not who I am meant to be.”  Not who she was meant to be.  Not who she was meant to be.  The words still haunt the little rhythms in my life.  When I chop, my knife makes the sound: Not-who-I-was-meant-to-be.  When I walk, when I scrub my dishes.  It’s totally a disaster.

I moved to New York right after school and didn’t answer her calls for the first six months.  I had started to let go of her, but she called again recently, and I picked up.  We talked a dead talk, and at the end, she said she was pregnant.  I was silent for a long time.  Are you there?  She had said.  No.  I had answered, and I hung up.  Then, I took the last letter she wrote me, after I left, which said,

“Gretchen,

All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist…it is just an illusion we have here on earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.

Always yours,

Jenna” (a quote from her favorite author, Vonnegut), and wrote on it in red Sharpie, “Then you are sucking Sutner’s dick for all of eternity.  –G” and put it in the mail.  I haven’t returned her calls since.

Things are too awkward now, with Izzy, so I get my stuff and leave.  “Sorry, Iz.  I really didn’t mean anything.”

“I’ll talk to you later.”  I get on the train back to Queens, and although I don’t feel good surrounded by the stale air of the subway, it beats the bright sun coming up outside.  I put on my headphones to try to drown out the feelings.  But the come-down is on me, and soon my cheeks are hot and wet with my tears.  I try to decide what the fuck I’m crying for, because I haven’t in so long.  I am sad that all this, all these people, all these places will be gone so soon.  Mortality.  I cry for mortality.  And in this moment, I am aware that I am being weak.  Aware that I am being dramatic.  But I wrap myself up in the weakness and the drama like a big bear skin, and I am all of it.

The Lost Kids

SIX

The rest of the work week is all the same.  Searing, basting, passing, yelling, oui-ing, peppering, white peppering (even worse).  And then it ends, like it does every Monday, and I wonder whether I should drink it all away or go home, sleep, and get “more” out of my days off.  And, like I do each Monday, I choose to go out, because Tuesday is never certain, as life goes.

I pull off my black socks in the locker room and put on my weekend socks of choice—indigo with green toes today.  When you’re a cook, you develop little psycho rituals to try to separate life inside the restaurant from life outside.  Mine is sock changing.  I consider wearing black socks in the real world a sign of giving up, conformity, and loss of identity.  I think Mr. Rogers was spot-on, although I don’t think we ever knew where he was coming from that he was so dressed up before the show…an affair?  Was he cheating on us, his loyal viewers?  Who can say…

I walk out the back door, and it’s raining.  Not too bad, but holy hell—it’s warm for the end of January.  I take off my hat and put it in my bag…wait, where is my purse?  Goddamn it, it’s back in the locker room…I better go get it before one of the dish washers orders pizza with my credit card again.  Fucking A.  I turn around to go back in, and when I do, my heart jumps into my throat.  “Surprise, biatch.”  It’s Hem.

“Oh my god, dude, what the fuck are you doing here!”  I jump on him, attempting to hug him and possibly squeeze the life out of him for scaring me like that.  “I don’t get it!  It’s you in the flesh!  How?  Why aren’t you in Paris?”

“The job I landed working with that paper sent my boss to New York on business, and he took me with him!”

“Of course.  Naturally.  Because why wouldn’t you be on a business trip a month after you started legally working in France…Only you, man.  Jesus.”

“I know…Come on!  Let’s go!  I can already taste the Fernet.  I really need a break from absinthe.  I’m finally starting to like it, but it took weeks of faking it.”

“On that Stockholm Syndrome then?”

“Almost.”

“OK, let me just run back in and get my purse.  I’ll be right there.”  I run in, and as I’m turning into the locker room, I see Don holding my bag.  “Son of a bitch…Don, hands where I can see ‘em.  There will be no pizza ordering today.  Not on my watch.  Jesus.  I leave for one second.”  Don laughs as I snatch my bag out of his hands and take inventory of my cards.  “I know you stole my doubloons, asshole.  I needed those for laundry, but whatever.”  Ain’t nobody got time to fight for three dollars in quarters, and we don’t even have an HR department to speak of, anyway.  Don walks back to the dish pit, pockets jingling, and I run back outside.  “Let’s go, Nicholas.”

“Ay!”  He hates when I call him by his first name.

“Niiii-cho-laaaaaas!” I taunt him to the tune of the Ricola commercial.  He looks playfully annoyed, so I run toward the bar, continuing the chant, as he chases me.  He can’t catch me, because he smokes too much and has terrible lungs.  I, on the other hand, am designed for a quick getaway with my small, light frame and freakishly functional heart and lungs.  I never work out, but I can run like a Kenyan if need be.  When he looks winded after a couple blocks, I stop and let him catch up.  “I assume you want to hit up The Nail first?”

“Duh!”  The Nail is our favorite bar downtown.  Before Hem moved away, the bartenders knew us as “the kids that come in and take down a whole bottle of Fernet in a night.”  One has reputations to uphold in this life.  You know.

“Can I get a double Fernet and ginger, please?” I ask the bartender.  “Actually, make it two.”

“Keep it open?”

“Ou—er, yes.”

“Oui oui oui oui oui,” Hem teases me.

“Well who’s French now, motherfucker?”

“Mmmeeeee.”

“Gretchen, I haven’t seen you in here in a while,” the bartender says.

“Sorry—what’s your name?  Have we met?  I have a shitty memory.  Slash I been drankin’.”

“Uh…I’m Tom…you gave me your number a few weeks ago and invited me to your friend’s holiday party.  I couldn’t go, but I thought maybe we could go out sometime soon?”

“Awkward…yeah that sounds about right.  Sorry, Tom.  Nice to meet you again!”

“Well do you—“

“Thanks, Tom!” I lift my drink and walk back to a table with Hem, laughing.  Poor Tom.  Balding, ginger Tom who is probably just a few years older than us but looks forty and probably hasn’t gotten laid since junior year of high school.  Hem giggles and pulls up a meme on his phone to show me.  It’s two pictures of a scene in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet.” One is captioned, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks.  It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.”  And then the picture of Juliet is captioned, “I’m a lesbian.”

“Ha!  That’s amazing.  I could use a t-shirt of that.  Anyway, tell me about your life!  I can’t even believe you’re sitting next to me right now.  This is the best thing that’s happened to me all winter.”  We talk some, but soon Hem decides we should dance, and I can’t disagree, because the DJ has put on ’90’s music.  We dance on, and then I feel a tap on my shoulder.  Please don’t be Tom.  I turn around to find three of my old co-workers from the hot minute I worked at a magazine after college.  “Daryl!  Hey, girl.  What are you doing here?”

“We never got our shit together for a company holiday party, so a month later we decided to get drinks here and then go back to Hannah’s to continue the fun.  We’ve been here like three hours already.  Do you guys want to join?  She lives like three blocks from here.”  I’ve been to Hannah’s a few times, and it is close.

“Dude, this is Daryl, Hannah, and Izzy.  I worked with them at PaperJam.  Want to go to Hannah’s for a little?”

“Wait is this the girl you told me gave her cab driver a hand job for a free ride?” he whispered in my ear.

“Yes…Shhh!  Not everyone knows she did that,” I grinned, knowing he was intrigued.

“Let’s go!  These people sound awesome.”

“Alright, D, we’re in.  Vámonos.”  We walk to Hannah’s, and when we get inside, I am overcome with jealousy.  This bitch lives in a huge two-bedroom apartment in Chinatown, and one of the rooms is vacant because her mom “uses it for business.”  That means she stays there once a month when she goes out in the city and feels too drunk to go back to Staten Island.  Must be nice.  Hannah occasionally rents it out on Airbnb so she can afford drugs, but usually she just uses the bedroom as a crashing place for friends.  I guess I could feel fortunate for that bit.

Hemingway decides he’s become close enough with Hannah after he establishes that they’re wearing matching Toms, so he takes it to the next level by asking if she has any blow.  Normally, I would worry he was making an ass of himself, but everybody loves him from the get-go and never questions his sometimes brash idiosyncrasies.  Of course, Hannah has a bunch of coke, since she was away last week and rented out both of her rooms.

“What can we do it off of?” Hem looks around for a flat surface, none of which seem to exist.  You would think someone with money would have a table, but that’s not always so.

“Oh, here.”  Hannah grabs her full-size mirror off the wall and lays it on top of Daryl and Izzy, who are passed out drunk in her bed.

“Well, that’s ratchet…but I guess we never claimed to have standards,” I laughed.  Hannah hands us a rolled up $50. “Bitch, are you serious?”  I unroll the bill to see what it looks like.  Well, I won’t be seeing a bill this big in a while.  C’est la vie.  To me, it’s healthy to act old money when you’re really piss poor once in a while.  It’s good for self esteem.  I roll it back up and cut three lines.  “You first, Frenchie.”

The drunken fatigue wears off, and then we do a couple more bumps.  Hem turns on The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps,” and we all get on the extra bed and jump around.  “Mix your milk with my cocoa puff!  Milky, milky cocoa puff!”

Izzy rolls over, knocking the mirror off the bed.  “Ugh, guys…whyyyyy…”

“Iz, come on!  This is your favorite song!”

“What?  I hate Fergie…What are you talking about?” She looks confused.

“Izzy, we’re gonna go to Electrode.  Wanna come?” Hannah asks.

“No…what the fuck?  I’m so tired.”

“Come with us!” I shout.  I don’t talk to Izzy much, because I find her mildly too attractive to hold a conversation with, but I’m not about inhibitions by now.  I didn’t even know we were going out again, but I could continue the party.  It’s only two thirty, so the club will be open another hour and a half.  And it’s right down the street.

Hem is grinding his teeth around, and I really can’t feel my face either.  It’s like you never really know you’re high until you’re numb or you see the sun come up.  Or you’re dancing on a bed to Fergie.  Well, I suppose that would make you either high or a sober twelve year old, but let’s not overthink things here.  Surprisingly, and much to my excitement, Izzy is getting up to come out with us.  She bumps some coke off her keys and tucks Daryl into bed.  She has a meeting at nine tomorrow, so we don’t wake her up to join us.

“You guys are stupid,” Izzy grins, catching my eye as we walk out the door.  Aha.  This could be a good night.

The Lost Kids

FIVE

While I change, I think about my prep for the day…I’ll have to make the goddamn parsnip puree again, because Charlie forgot to steep the fucking sachet of herbs in the cream when he made it yesterday…gotta make pickled chestnuts, soak cherries in Armagnac, make roasted pear consommé, chicken skin chips, cut foie…It’s all definitely doable, and because of the law of hangovers (which states that all mise en place will get done miraculously early), I will be set.  If only I could get this fucking agar agar stain out of my apron, my life would be perfect.  But life is never that.

I walk into the kitchen and set about starting my day.  I gather all my shit and then get started on setting up the hot apps station.  During my first hour of work, I usually don’t talk much, just to make sure I’m headed in the right direction and so I don’t get in trouble for dicking around right off the bat.  After an hour and a half, when I’ve gotten my major projects out of the way, I usually start talking to Dennis.  Dennis works roast, and he’s usually pretty on point with picking up on my jokes, so we get along.  “Go out last night?” Dennis can tell when I’ve been out drinking regardless of any effort I make to look like a normal, healthy human.

“Sí.”

“What’d you do?”

“Creative drinking with Seamus.  You know.  The beers, then the ciders, then the wines…the equal opportunity drinking.”

“Anything else equal opportunity happen?”

“No, asshole.”  Thank fucking god…

“Hey, monsta’.  How ya doin’ this fine day?” I turn around, and It’s Andre.  Goddamnit.

“Hola, biatch.”

“How was your day off?”

“Why don’t you ask your mom?”

“So cliché, Gretchen, really.”

“Ask her!  OK, walk away.  Doesn’t negate the situation.”  Andre stalks away in a half-serious tizzy.  What a dildo.  Last time we all went for drinks, he got wasted on three shots of Fireball and proposed to me.  Beyond the fact that I thought only white yuppie girls and their boyfriends drank Fireball, I lost any shred of respect for him when I realized what a lightweight he was.  I mean…come on.  We’re cooks, are we not?  Get it to-fucking-gether.

“Nice,” Dennis grins, clearly relieved I have driven Andre away from our prep area.  Dennis hates Andre.  Mostly everyone has some disdain for him, but Dennis hates him most, ever since this one day in service a couple months ago when Andre sabotaged his mise.  Dennis had just gotten moved to roast, and Andre got stuck on entremet.  He’d been on that station for the past seven months, and he assumed he was next in line for roast, but Dennis jumped to roast from hot apps.  Dennis has natural ability, and Andre is just one of those people who will always be in the shits.  It’s as if he knows entremet like the back of his hand, but then he tripped acid and said “oh my god, man, who’s hand is that!”  Ever since the mise sabotage, they have been mortal enemies.

“I just can’t handle his love,” I start to complain to Dennis.  “It’s getting motherfuckin’ creepy, dude.  Like just because you have girlish hips doesn’t mean I’m gonna grant you access to my exclusively female dating pool.  Is that so difficult to understand?  Like one time I mentioned a guy I dated in high school when I was telling a story, and he goes, ‘oh, so you’ve dated guys before?’  Like oh…you got me…because you have made such a valid point, I suppose that I should date you, right?  Wanker.”

“Oui.  Wanker.”

“Oui.”  The first thing I’m gonna do when I get out of this kitchen is stop saying “oui.”  I’m not fucking French.  It’s a terrible habit, and I’m seriously over accidentally using it colloquially with non-kitchen friends and family.  I could almost think of nothing douchier.  Bartender: ‘Do you want to keep it open?’  Me: ‘Oui.  Er…’ Face palm.

We finish up prep and set up for service, and then we steal some bread from pastry in lieu of eating the grey meat that Charlie put up for family meal.  Fuck that shit.  I’m living proof that coffee, alcohol, and refined carbs (and one glass of water per month) are all a person needs to survive.  “Brah, let’s bust out this service and get the fuck out of here.  I’m tired, I want to go home, and I’m sick of cooking foie and scallops all night every night.”

“Oui.”  The first ticket comes in, and everyone on the line focuses up.  I return to my station down the line.

“May the odds be ever in your favor!” I announce, quoting the Hunger Games as I do every night.  Andre laughs his stupid laugh.  Service starts strong, and I’m selling scallops like foie never existed, which is unusual.

“Devon, fire one octopus.”

“Oui.”

“Puss on fire!” I smirk at Devon down the line.

“Grizzly, maybe some new material would be worth considering,” he laughs.  I do say that every night, but to me, it never gets old.  My hangover is starting to get a little exhausting, but it only makes me a little more delirious.  I’m not fucking anything up so far, so I’m in a good mood.  As long as Chef doesn’t throw anything back at me, I’ll call it a solid Monday.  Well, it’s Thursday, but my Monday.  You know.

“Hey, Jimmy, forty-two has a vegan for second course, but there’s a foie with it.  I’ll let you know when you can toss the salad.”  Elijah, one of our runners, laughs.  Jimmy doesn’t get it.  I look around, sort of bummed to have a joke fall on deaf ears, but then I see Dennis hunched over, trying not to lose his shit.  Great success…

“Oui, salad tossing postponed,” Jimmy replies, finally catching on.

“You know, Jim.  Gotta buy me a drink first.”

“Oui, chivalry.”

“Quiet the fuck down, please!”  Chef pretends he doesn’t like my shenanigans, but I know he appreciates some good sucio humor.

“Ouiiiiiiiiii.”  The whole line quiets to a hush.  Best not to push my luck…it’s gonna be a quiet service from here on out.  All I need to do is focus up, sear, baste, pass.  Sear, baste, pass.  And never forget to shut the fuck up.  That is key.  Around nine, Chef comes over and asks if I’ve been seasoning the scallops with salt and pepper.  “Just salt, chef.”

“Why the fuck are you not using pepper on the scallop?  I told you to fucking pepper the scallop, Gretchen.  So why is that not happening?”

“Oui,” I reply, not really intent on starting anything.  Fuck pepper.  Salt makes food taste amplified.  Pepper makes food taste like fucking pepper.  It makes no fucking sense to season everything with salt and pepper.  Why not season everything with salt and cinnamon?  It’s the same level of crazy.  Fuck pepper.  I kind of consider myself constantly in active rebellion against pepper.  I could practically argue against adding it to anything other than steak au poivre, just because it’s gotten to me that bad.  Chef leaves me alone, but I still can’t bring myself to season the scallops with pepper.  It makes them look stupid and taste stupid.  Around ten, Chef comes back and throws a scallop on my station.

“Pepper!  Where is the fucking pepper?”  By now, I’m too tired to give a shit.

“Black pepper as a seasoning goes against my moral belief system, Chef.”

“Oh, is that so?”

“I mean, yeah…it’s a spice…so…”

“Well you know what goes against my moral belief system?  Employing cooks who don’t do what the fuck I tell them to fucking do.  Yeah?  Do you want your job?  I could find thousands of cooks looking to fill your spot right now who would do whatever I told them to do.”

“Chef, I want my job.  I just…”

“I’m going to tell you to use pepper, and then you’re going to shut the fuck up and say ‘oui,’ or you can get the fuck out right now.  And you’re going to use it—not just say you will.  The door is that way.  Your choice, but we’re getting in the fucking shits waiting for your food.  Let’s fucking go.”

“Oui.”  If I didn’t have bills to pay, I probably would have walked out right at that moment, but I need the money.  Pepper it is.  Fucking A.

On my way out of work later, I pass Chef in his office.

“Gretchen, you better watch your attitude, you hear?”

“Sorry, Chef.”

“Do it again, and I’ll kick your ass out.”

“Oui.  But Chef, I’m the only girl.  Don’t you think that would look suspicious?  I mean, I noted my gender on my papers when I started working here, and I believe that was an optional move in case we needed to file a claim anytime down the road, so…”

“Gretchen…watch it,” Chef is slightly amused by my fake threat.

“I’m not trying to start anything, but what ever happened to the two brown guys that used to work here?  I’m just sayin’.”

“Go home.”

“Oui.”

“Gretchen!  Wait…are you going for drinks?” Andre pops up out of nowhere.  Goddamnit.  I wasn’t going to go, but if everyone is going, it could be fun.  Fucking Andre always has to ruin shit.

“I don’t know, man.  I haven’t been feeling really well lately, and I’m kinda hungover.”

“I noticed you’re off one of the days I’m off this week.  Tuesday, I think it is.  Want to grab a drink with me that night?  We can hit that bar you were talking about.”

“Um…thanks…but I don’t think that will be your scene.  I’m not really sure, but thanks.  I’ve been trying to do a lot of stuff in my free time, so I don’t have a ton of time for going out.”  Lie.

“Like what?”

“I’ve been going to a lot of museums and shit.”  Also untrue.

“Oh, well we should go to the MoMA together.  I’ve been wanting to check out this one exhibit lately.”

“Andre?”

“Yeah?”

“This will never happen.  Ever.  OK?  You’re a nice dude, but half of that statement disqualifies you from dating me.  And it’s not the nice half.”

He acts natural, as he likes to do.  “I just meant as friends.  God, Gretchen.”  Right.  Friends.

“Have you ever seen “When Harry Met Sally?””

“No…wh—“

“Well get with the fucking program and watch that shit.  I gotta go.  Bye!”  I walk out the door into the frigid January night.  What a wanker.

The Lost Kids

FOUR

I wake up in a strange mix of comfort and hazy stupor.  As I piece together the reality of the new day, beginning with the daily assessment of, “am I hungover?” followed by, “did I even drink last night?” (not drinking water warrants both questions), I become aware of another being.  Who’s arm is this arm that is not my arm?  Oh, goddamnit.  Please don’t be naked…Please don’t be naked…I turn over to see Seamus half-spooning me in his sleep.  Oh dear…well, we are dressed, and based on the evidence around me, I deduce the events of the previous evening: neon orange crumbs on the floor and in the bed, rolls of duct tape here and there, some shards of glass and sticky residue on the floor—we got white girl wasted and ate a bunch of Cheetos while trying to fashion shoes out of duct tape.  This happens sometimes…all in a night’s work.

I am too dazed to think, so I go into my living room and curl up in the lumpy easy chair.  By now, the shape of my ass is sunken into the poor thing.  At least I get good use out of it.  It’s leather, and I found it down in Alphabet City outside someone’s apartment while I was waiting to meet my friend Sasha for dinner.  I sat in the chair and quickly became attached.  Long story short, we canceled our dinner plans and devised a plan to get the chair back to Queens for free.  Truth be told, it did involve a mildly untrue post on TaskRabbit, which involved payment in beer.  Beer that did not yet exist.  So the guy who drove it back to Queens with us had to buy the beer himself.  I will say that the Christening of the chair party we had together made it worth his while (as threesomes do), so no remorse resulted.  I should really call Sasha to hang out sometime soon.  I miss that bitch.

I really wish that Seamus would go home.  I have to go to work in four hours, and all I want is to lay under my faintly Cheetos-stained down comforter and lament the awkward swimming in my head.  Possibly while eating a bagel.  Ah, a bagel.  Good idea.  I creep into my room and wake up Seamus.  It’s awkward, since I’ve never had to get him out of my bed before, but there’s simply no other solution that will get me back under my own covers quicker.  “Hey, Shay,” I tap his foot, which is jutting off the end of my bed.  “Seamus!  Let’s go!  Shay’s world!  Shay’s world!  Party time!  Excellent!”

“Gretch…stop it…nooooo.”

“Come on, dude.  Let’s go get bagels.  I’m starving.  Por fa-fucking-vor.”

We are still at the stage in our friendship where one degree of politeness and awkwardness is necessary, so he gets up.  He groggily gathers his things, assessing the sad duct-tape shoe he had worked on last night.  He tosses it in the garbage and then follows me out the door.  At the bagel shop, Seamus orders a cinnamon-raisin bagel with veggie cream cheese.  This is something I’ve only witnessed my Jewiest friends do, and it appalls me.  And I knew about it, early on, because my mom’s parents were Jewish, and they did it too.  But back then, I thought it was some old people thing where they were trying to find the highest fiber combination possible.  Not so.  I get my usual poppy bagel in a bag, untoasted, much to Ishan’s chagrin.  Ishan, the main counterperson, thinks all bagels should be toasted.  As much as I like him, I prefer when José works the counter.  José is probably eighteen years old and may or may not be in love with me.  The result is that he takes immense pride in remembering my order.  When he’s there, I enter, he tells me to cut the line, and he says, “poppy seed bagel in a bag, medium coffee, milk-no-sugar?”  And I smile and nod.  “Three dollars.”  Done.

We get our stuff to go, and I bid Seamus goodbye at the train before I shuffle away to go back to bed.  Well, I don’t shuffle away.  I have this awkward pirate-swagger-y walk I developed from the combination of years of fatigue and being mildly pigeon-toed.  So I do that.  Back at home, I take a shower, lint-roll the crumbs off my bed, and get back in.  Everything smells like wine.  I must have spilled some, but it’s unclear where.  Oh well.  I turn on Pandora and drift off again.

When I wake up, my chest hurts, and my stomach feels low in my body; my palms are wet.  I must be dying.  But as my brain shifts back onto the horizon, I become aware of the song coming through my speakers…”Annie are you OK, Annie are you OK, are you OK, Annie?”  A tear sneaks up in my left eye, and I push it back, turn off the music, and sit up, my back against the Bowie poster on my wall.  I slink down and hear it rip a little, but I’m in my head watching something else.  I’m back in Evanston, cooking dinner in Jenna’s house.  She’s watching “This is It,” the documentary about the dancers training for Michael Jackson’s final tour before he died.  She’s seen the movie seventeen times already, but it’s her favorite, and I don’t mind the repetition.  It’s worth witnessing her fascination throughout the documentary.  “Smooth Criminal” is her favorite song and routine in the show.  She’s obsessed with the lean.  How the hell do they do that?  She’s always trying to do it, so I’m constantly catching her before she falls to the ground.

I force myself to exit the vision and stop thinking about her; she doesn’t deserve the consideration.  Coming out of the flashbacks always reminds me of Harry Potter coming out of the pensieve.  It’s ridiculous, and the inability to forget is exhausting.

I pull myself together and get ready for work.  Pants, hat…apron…ah, goddamnit, I forgot to wash my aprons with the rest of my laundry…I’ll just wear one backwards…wait…where the fuck is my hat?  I rush out the door, since I’m cutting it close and need to pick up a new hat before work now.  Hopefully, Chef won’t bitch about my apron.  After only seven months at Downton, I am tiring of the douche-y, pretentious kitchen.  But fuck it—I need a job, and it’s good experience.  Once I’m there, I walk in the back door and through the kitchen to the locker room.  “Grizzly bearrrr, what up, girl?”

“Hey, Devon.”

“Sup, monsta?”

“Charlie.”

“Grizzlllllle!”

“Dan, hey dude.”

Luckily, no one is in the locker room anymore, because I’m a minute late.  I’m the only girl in the kitchen, so I always have to wait for the bathroom to be free if I want to change or just suck it up and change with the boys.  I wouldn’t really care, either, except for this one dude, Andre, is obsessed with me.  One has to send the right messages in this life if one does not desire to be hassled.  You know.

The Lost Kids

THREE

After drinks, Seamus and I decide to grab a growler of something and continue the shenanigans at my place.  It’s not our fault that we both have Pringles syndrome.  It’s a genetic problem, where once you pop, the fun don’t stop, and you just sort of drink until something interesting happens or you pass out.  I grab a gallon of cider from the place on the corner.  We’re on the other side of Queens, so we request an Uber.  As Seamus rambles about his next set of sculpture ideas, I watch the small car icon circle around the nearby blocks on my phone screen.  The driver is lost, of course.  The driver is six minutes away.  The driver is 18 minutes away.  The driver is approaching.  The driver is seven minutes away.  The driver has arrived.  Bullshit system…

We get in the car.  “Are you Gretchel?”

“Huh?  My name is Gretchen…I don’t really know how that gets messed up…It’s like…a pretty normal name.  Dude, did he just call me Gretchel?  Is that a name, ever?”

“Gretch, shut up, man…who cares?”

“Ugh..”

Seamus is sitting in the front of the car.  The chairs are plush, which is something that reminds me of children and their boogers.  You know, when you’re a kid, and your friend’s mom has that mini van with plush seats, and you just always know that your friend’s little brother rubbed his snot all over the seats, and it will forever be encrusted in the soft material?  Leather seats just make so much more sense…But as I sink into the seat and start to warm up in the heat of the car, I get tired.  The driver is talking to Seamus about the food he used to cook.  He’s from the Caribbean.

“…and we always usin’ de coconut in ou’ cookin’, unnastand?  Now I buy de coconut milk in de sto’.  Bat we used to be crackin’ opun de coconuts and poundin’ de meat wit de wata inside…”  He talks about his cooking a while longer and segues into a monologue about how lizards are pets over here, but in his home country, they’re food.

“When I was a kid,” Seamus starts, “my mom took me to a store where they were selling rabbits and asked me which one I liked best.  I thought we were getting one as a pet, but as soon as I chose it, they hung it up, stuck its throat, and skinned it.  I was horrified.  I can’t eat meat to this day.”

I ignore Seamus’s meatless lifestyle, because I want to stay friends.  I just can’t stand vegetarians or vegans as regular dining companions.  Them and their speeches about where to find protein, as if it was some scavenger hunt.  It’s terrible.  In fact, I went through a phase in which I used that dating app, Tinder, to rebel against the vegan institution. For some reason, lesbians and vegans are almost as mutually inclusive as peanut butter and jelly.  I gave up, though, after I had enough conversations that went like this:

Stranger: “Hey cutie”

Me: “Are you a vegan?”

Stranger: “Um…yes.”

Me: “There is no valid reason for your eating habits.  Please discontinue your useless avoidance of animal products!”

Stranger: “*silence*”…

But that’s neither here nor there.  Or anywhere, maybe.  Anyway, the driver is surprised to hear that Seamus’s mom allowed him to choose what he ate:

“When I was a kid, ya didn’t have no say in what ya madda makin’ fa’ dinnah, son.  If I even look at my madda the wrong way, I get my ass beat.  Back den, you get a beatin fa’ everythin’, son.  And dese days, ya hit ya kid, dey call de cops, an’ it’s a crime.  I tell ya, son, I got a daughta’.  She’s twenty yea’s old.  I say, “we goin’ on vacation.”  I take dem back to my country, I teach ha’ a lessun, son.  I tea’ ha ass up.  And den we come back here, I don’t lift a finga’, son.  But de kids dey don’t have de respect.  I don’t do nuthin’ illegal, son.  But ya gotta teach dem, unnastand?  You know, son? When I play hooky as a kid, my madda break a chai’ ovah my back, son.  She don’ play.  An’ I don’ evah play de hooky again, son.”

As I try to decide if I’m hearing all this right, I begin to feel nauseous.  Who is this guy’s daughter?  Where is she?  What did he do to her?  The plush is on my skin, and the heat makes breathing thick.  My feet and hands tingle and sweat, and my lips are wet with saliva.

“Shay, let’s walk.”  He turns around and looks sorry, embarrassed for not saying anything to the driver, maybe.

“Excuse me… can you pull over, dude?  Here is good.”

“You sho’, son?”

“Yeah.”  We don’t tip the bastard, and he starts mouthing off about the entitlement of our generation as we shut the doors over his lunacy and walk away.  We’re about ten minutes from my place, anyway.

“Shay, that guy was such a douche…like how the fuck does Uber employ people like that?  You can’t fucking say that shit to people you’re driving around.  He was bragging about abusing his fucking daughter.  Like what the fuck is that shit about?  How are we supposed to hear something like that and then not be able to do anything to fucking help?”

“I know.”  We open the cider and start to drink it from the growler as we walk down the street.  I have this theory that there aren’t any cops in Queens.  There are just these garden gnomes that ticket cars parked in the wrong places.  It’s cold, but the cider starts to warm me up and removes the recency of our car ride.  When you’re powerless, sometimes you have to fill up the powerlessness and be it, I have found.  The truth of it makes me sad, sometimes, but it’s a rare occurrence.

We get to my place, and I open the door.  “Jesus H. Christ!” Seamus flares his nostrils and purses his lips at the stench emanating from my building.

“So…there’s this cat that dies in its own feces about once a week in one of these first floor apartments…sorry about that, but I find four days out of seven, the place smells like glade, man.  I swear…”  We run up the four flights of stairs to my place to escape the nastiness, and I shut the door as soon as we’re in to seal out the demons.  One of my roommates, Vanessa, is burning some fucking Yankee Candle in her room that is supposed to smell like cake and fairy poop or grape soda or some bullshit.  It beats the dead cat.

“Gretchen…I don’t even know if that was a cat shit smell,” Seamus continues, bitter for being hostage to scents. “Have you ever heard of scaphism?”

“Is that the one where ancient Greeks took someone they sentenced to death and rubbed them in honey and then force-fed them honey and milk until they were shitting themselves and then tied them in between two canoes with their hands and feet bound outside the canoes so that pests would be attracted to them and come feast on them as they died in their own poop as they floated around in a lake?  I have looked at all the names on the mailboxes here, and they’re all Russian.  I don’t think any of them know about scaphism.  I do think they know about cats.  It’s cats, Shay.”

“If you insist.”  Seamus goes to the fridge for a beer, since we drank all the cider.  I wait for his reaction with a buzzed grin.  “Where is all the Stella!”  There is no beer in the fridge, because I drank it all the other day after a long night at work.

“Can you go to the store?,” I ask, widening my big, blue eyes to make him feel guilty.  “I’m tired and cold.”  Seamus is the laziest bastard on the planet, but I know he’ll do it for me, because he’s secretly in love with me.  It might sound cocky, but it’s true.  It sucks for him, because the Stella was technically his.

My great-great-aunt Barb taught me that you always keep your best friends’ liquor in your house if you’re a good person.  She used to have us sneak airplane bottles of whiskey into the nursing home for the two men in her life (both named Jack, as convenience would have it).  Jack one liked Makers Mark, and Jack two liked Jim Beam.  Jack one was a douchebag, if you ask me.  Now, Jack two, I could respect, because I never held up well against Jim Beam, and as far as I know, Jim Beam was not Jack two’s primary reason for shitting his Depends.  Barb never drank either Jack’s whiskey.  She knew how to keep it chill like a true gangster, and I just don’t have her collectedness.  But I digress.

“Ugh…I hate you…What do you want?”

“Whatever you want, dude.  But actually there’s this place down the street that sells decent white wine for like five bucks on sale, and I don’t really know what’s wrong with it.  I think it’s actually a mistake.  Go grab a couple bottles of that, and we can get house-wife status together.  C’mon.  I have new yarn.  We can scarf-knit race.

“It’s winter!  You want white wine?”

“Yeah please…Or surprise me.  I don’t care.  Grab a bottle of Fernet, actually.  We can Skype Hem!”  Seamus doesn’t really like Hemingway.  He thinks he’s a bad influence on me, but I can’t honestly say who is worse.  And Seamus has only met Hem once.  “OK we don’t have to Skype Hem, but just get ye’ to the store!  Jesus, man, I can feel the sobriety coming on…ain’t nobody got time to be hungover at eight PM.”

“Yes ma’am.”

After he leaves, I open the fridge to look for some food.  I only have some leftover dumplings from a couple days ago.  Vanessa has hummus, and Eddie has spaghetti and meatballs.  I cut off half a meatball and gulp it down, ravenous.  To cover my tracks, I turn the remaining meatball half on its side, propping it up against some spaghetti to make it look whole.  Hopefully, Eddie will be high when he eats it and not really notice or remember the strange half-meatball.  Then, I take a few spoonfuls of Vanessa’s hummus.  Fuck…it’s so good.  I eat half of the tub before putting it back.  I will buy her a new one later.  Or something.

When Seamus gets back, he pulls out two bottles of cold Chardonnay.

“Woooo–the housewife hour is upon us!”

“Woo!”  He smiles, clearly priding himself on his ability to stir up some enthusiasm from my normal monotonous stoicism.

“Oh!  There you are!  With the sun setting so early in the winter, there are only so many hours in a day I can see you when you’re not smiling.”

“Bitchhh…”

“Cheers, dude.”  I open the two bottles, and we drink straight from them, like the fancy people that we are.

“L’chaim, biatch.”

“Something like that.”

The Lost Kids

TWO

So I call up Hem, and it goes to voicemail: “I am not here…or you aren’t.  Is anyone here?  I am not.  What is a phone?…Hey, it’s Hem.  If this is real life, leave me some words of encouragement.”

“Hey, dude, it’s Gretch.  Just calling to say hey and catch up.  I don’t know if this is real life.  If this is a dream, that would be amazing, because I just dumped half a cup of cream in my coffee thinking it was milk, and I don’t want to buy another after waiting in line and spending three dollars on it at fucking La Colombe.  Goddamn hipster unlabeled pitcher of dairy product bullshit.  Oh…I think it’s half and half.  Still, ugh.  Alright.  Call me back.”

I don’t like any sugar in my coffee, and I only drink cappuccinos or cortados on my days off, because money.  On work days, I drink coffee with milk.  Not skim, because that’s bullshit.  Not almond milk, because that’s water thickened with various gums with a touch of almond added for the name…not soy milk because why…not coconut milk because why…not rice milk because I don’t put rice in my coffee…you know.  It’s all OK, what you people are doing to your coffee, because that is what you do.  But I drink my coffee with milk.   La Colombe is good but also distinctly for the posers and masochists who like to wait in line.  I am the latter.

I walk out into the streets with my nose in my phone as usual.  I compulsively check it every few minutes.  It’s a nasty habit I picked up from being alive in this generation, but it happens.  I check my bank account and want to shit my pants.  Maybe I should email that guy on Craigslist who wanted to get spanked for two hundred bucks a pop.  Maybe not.  Tomorrow is pay day.

I get on the subway home; I had gone into the city to wander around, but it had proved pointless.  On the subway, there is a woman with a razor scooter.  She must be about sixty or thirty-something with a meth habit, but it’s unclear.  Who still rides a razor scooter?  I put on my headphones and turn up my lady, Iggy.  “And can’t nobody turn me off.  And if I was a dick, I would be hard, but you would make me soft–my godddd…” Everyone has their creep move on the subway.  Mine is laughing to myself about rap lyrics.

The thing I hate the most about the subway is being a hostage to mouths.  Talking, chewing, clicking, licking, smacking, singing…everyone and their mouths.  I’ve had a terrible time on subways watching all the mouths while I’m listening to my music…I’ve felt surrounded by aliens with this gaping orifice for excess and monotony.  It’s quite ruinous after a while, really.  The way to go about it is to get above ground for air as quickly as possible after the ride.  I don’t know what the fuck it’s about, either, but it’s what happens.  Occasionally, I think to myself that one only has to ride the subway to boost one’s self esteem.  In life, there is beauty and ugly, but down in the train, it’s a different class of it.  Looking at my subway compatriots is the time I most consider taking care of my health.  I mean, Jesus.

Once I’m back in Queens and above ground with my air, I get a few texts from friends also off work.  Seamus wants to grab a drink, and I can’t think of any reason why not.  Seamus and I met at a local AA chapter.  I remember it well, although it was over a year ago.  Seamus was this quiet black dude who never spoke at these fucking meetings.  At the fifth meeting, I finally decided to talk.  It’s every bit as cliché as it appears in the movies.  “I’m Gretchen, and I’m an alcoholic and an addict.”

“Hi, Gretchen.”

“It’s been five weeks since my last drink.  I never thought my drinking was that out of control, but I drank a lot every day.  I was visiting Austin, TX to see family, and I went to explore the city one day while they were all going to see a movie.  I forget what it was.  Some bullshit.  Ah–“Twenty-two Jump Street.”  So I thought, fuck that movie–I’m just gonna go check out the town.  I had never been to Texas before.

So it’s evening, and I pass a strip club.  “Bare Austin,” I think it was called.  I’d been to a bar earlier, and I had a few beers and whiskies, but I was fine.  I go in, and there’s some girl dancing on the pole, but it’s not too packed in there.  I grab a Modelo and sit at the pole.  I reach into my bag for money, and by some fucking awkward circumstance, I only have dollar coins.  I have no idea how I got them.  But I’m aware that pelting the stripper with Sacagawea-printed metal is not the way to go.

So I’m making neat little stacks of my coins on the side of the stage while she shakes her tits around and tells me about the cool spots to visit in town.  It was an oddly tour-guide-like pole dance.  But whatever.  So time gets away from me, and I’ve been there drinking for like two hours, and suddenly I’m being shaken awake by the bartender.  And she’s all like, “excuse me, ma’am but you can’t be sleepin’ in the bar…” And I’m all fucking embarrassed and dazed, so I pay and run out of there.  So I get in my cousin’s car that I borrowed and head home, but right when I’m turning onto her street, I hear a siren and realize I’m being pulled over.

Long story short, ten minutes later I’m walking the line, and ten minutes after that, I’m in fucking hand cuffs in the back of the cop’s car because I blew a point-one-eight.  And I had to do all this bullshit like have a mug shot taken and get finger printed and the like.  And I swear to god, the guy taking my prints had the least efficient method for finger printing.  It took him three times longer than necessary, at least.  I should be a cop, for fuck’s sake….”

“Gretchen…language, please.”

“Ah, fuck off.  I’m done anyway.  We all know how the story ends anyway, right?  I’m here.”  I sat down and listened to a few other sob stories.  Why did I even go?  I should’ve just sat and listened, but I guess I get bored.

And after that meeting, Seamus came up to me after and started laughing like he was gonna piss his pants or something.  I’d never even seen the guy smile, either.  And I thought he was older, but up close I guessed he must’ve been somewhere under thirty.  “Your parents make you come here?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Want to grab a beer?”

“Yeah.  Let’s get out of here.”  We emerged from the dimly lit church into the blindingly bright winter day.  All the snow had melted and refrozen as ice in the streets, and the wind whipped our cheeks as we wandered around the block to an old pub.  It’s weird on the Upper East Side, how there are a smattering of old, shitty pubs amongst the ritziness.

We got to talking and drinking.  I don’t really give a shit about Guiness, but it’s the first thing I could think to order at a place like that, and having gone five–er, three–weeks without a drink, I didn’t much care.  I’m not a goddamn alcoholic…I just made a mistake.  “You’re not an alcoholic until you quit,” I’ve heard some Irish people say.  I agree.

Seamus grew up in Harlem.  He had gone to Columbia on a full ride, but his drinking got in the way, and he got kicked out.  C’est la vie.  He since became a sculptor and dabbled in other media as well.  He’d been in this AA thing for a few months, but he was tired of it, like me.  I mean, maybe this guy had some real issues, but it wasn’t my life to judge.  And he’d been back on the bottle for a couple weeks already, so it wasn’t my fault he was drinking again.  After that, I would go workshop at Seamus’s apartment with him.  Sometimes he would teach me to sculpt, sometimes I would write while he did his shit, sometimes we would take shots and race to see who could knit a longer scarf during one hour’s time.  I always won at that one.  Mine always had runs in it from dropped stitches, but that’s not against the rules.

It turns out Seamus is in Queens visiting an art dealer, so I meet him for a beer.  After a couple rounds and going through the usual updates, he asks me about work.  “Fuck…”

“Oh, here we go…”

“So I’m having this crisis where I don’t think I like food anymore.”

“Do elaborate.”

“It just doesn’t make any sense.  Why care about it?  It’s nourishment, right?  And we want it to taste good, sure.  But I’m losing faith in the ritual/fetishization of the meal.  It’s a meal.  People go out, order food, spend all this money, and it’s like fucking done in an hour.  Often, the food is a let down.  There’s so much wrong with it.”

“But people love going out to eat…I understand, but I still don’t see what your problem is.  You love cooking, right?”

“Well I had this dream recently, right?  So in my dream, I’m making this elaborate meal, and suddenly I feel this sense of ecstasy and calm.  And I think to myself, I love cooking.  And when I woke up, I felt so weird about it.  I haven’t felt that way about making food in so long.  And I have so many problems with cooking.  Garnishes, for example.  Why does every dish need a bright green garnish?  Why?  There is only one possible answer.  One way to make sense of it.”

“What?”

“That makeup is to women what garnishes are to food: code for “please eat me.”

“You’re disgusting.”

“You know I’m right!  Or like a male peacock.  I am bright. Let us mate.  Bright garnishes are like a dish’s way of saying, “please mate your mouth with me right now.  And I guess that’s fine, but I still think it’s ridiculous.  Like, at least the birds’ feathers still function.  How often have you felt that some little piece of chive made your meal worthwhile?  Fuck that.”

“You’re overthinking it…”

“I don’t know, man.  And like, food is the most ephemeral high you could have.  You put it in your mouth, it’s good.  Done.  Soon you’re bored eating the food.  Soon you’re full.  It’s in the past before you know it.  No lasting effects.  It’s not like drinking, where at least you know you may be up to no good later.  Or perhaps that over drinks you are slowly becoming more attractive to your companion.  Right?  Agree with me.  We’re three beers in.  I’m gorgeous, no?

“Of course you are.”

“Food is an enigma, man.  Sometimes I think I’m only in it because it was my first muse.  I’m gonna join the dark side.  Foray into non-funtional art.  It’s easier without the blurred lines.  Food is either food or art or an abomination of the in-between.  Or the best combination of both.  But it’s dangerous to not know.”

The Lost Kids

ONE

I stopped feeling lonely when I remembered to check in with Hemingway.  It’d been a long time, and the bastard hadn’t texted or called.  But he’s just the type of friend that reminds you you’ve got people despite the ostensible.  I had just finished up with some business on the Upper East.  Stranger things all the time with these narcissistic art people.  One day it’s Warhol and his movie of couples macking it, and the next it’s a guy planning to recreate the film starring himself.  Well, to be honest, I didn’t mind co-starring, considering the money.  I had found the dude online, looking for a girl to come make out for a hundred bucks.  I’m no whore or anything, but money talks, and I’ll be damned if a college education wasn’t enough to teach me that a hundred bucks for twenty minutes of my time is a higher rate than the ten fifty an hour I’m getting downtown at the restaurant.  I took Economics; I know about high risk-high reward.  That is why I went with a pair of scissors in my bag.

When I got to the place, I wasn’t entirely sure about the high risk part, but the address was to a brownstone, so I walked in.  It was a fancy neighborhood.  And yeah, I know about facades, but don’t forget about the high reward part.  So I walked in, and I smelled weed, so I knew I was probably at the right place.  Sure enough, this scruffy artist emerged from the door up the stairs when I knocked.  If you’ve ever met a stranger like this, it goes like “hi”/ “yes, hello..”/ “come in”/ “thank you…” and then the door shuts and they offer for you to put your bag down, and you think about your scissors and locate where the person’s kidneys must be before you see the person’s Shiba Inu in the corner and decide it must be okay and surrender your bag to the offered chair back.

I looked around at his posters, wine bottles, shiny floors, and furniture.  Must be nice, I thought.  I mean, the dude wasn’t young.  Maybe by the time I’m fifty, I won’t be needing roommates either, but that depends on how far I can get in my career before I lose my shit.  A guy at the bank today was asking me if I was a chef at my job, and I was too hungover to smile when I said no.  Everyone assumes you’re the head fucking chef.  I should’ve asked him if he was the owner of the bank.  Anyway, this artist shows me his idea for the film, shows me the windowsill where our makeoutery will occur, shows me his nice filming equipment, etc.  And I’m there like let’s do this thing, because I have a date and I need time to brush your saliva and my guilt out of my gullet beforehand.

So we make out in three different takes.  It’s awkward because I’m tiny and he’s tall, awkward because I haven’t kissed a man in over a year, awkward because it was at once the longest kiss I’ve had in a while and the worst.  I wondered if he agreed it was terrible.  Or if it was his first kiss.  By the end of the last take, I did start to contemplate whether I would sustain post traumatic stress issues from it, but there was this healing moment when he handed me the hundred dollar bill.  I was like, well that’s what that bill looks like.  And then I got all socialist and divided the money amongst a number of bars downtown.  No trauma was sustained.

So anyway, I woke up the other day feeling all crappy and alone in the world.  I got out of bed and walked to the corner for a bagel, and Ishan finally stopped questioning me on my untoasted bagel preference.  It felt OK to be accepted on that end, but being a regular at the bagel shop wasn’t the sense of belonging I was looking for at the moment.  I bought a scratch off and lost.  It was one of those stupid crossword ones.  I used to win them sometimes–fifty bucks, once.  But anyway, when I went back up to my apartment, I saw something my cousin posted on Facebook about France, and I thought of Hemingway.  I love the guy, but I think moving to Paris after college was a douche move on his part.  Look, I hate America too, but New York is easily as good as Paris, and either way you slice it, Ebola will get to every country eventually.  So maybe I’m a little bitter that he left.  But we have our adventures overseas from each other, and when we compare notes, it’s more of the same shenanigans.

I hadn’t checked in with him in a while, so I pulled up my last email to him to see where I left him.  It read,

“Hey man,

How’s that Paris life treating you, you fancy fuck?  Come back to New York so we can sit in bars together and talk about the merits of butt sex when we’re sitting next to people who are clearly on their first date!  I miss you.  I’m finally settling into my new neighborhood, and I think it might be a secret lesbian Mecca.  I’m not sure yet, so I’ll keep you posted, but I’m seeing a lot of butch haircuts and Birkenstocks.  Oh.  And there’s this lady who rides around town in a scooter for disabled people with a parrot on her shoulder.  A goddamn parrot!  They don’t write this shit in the movies.

I had the weirdest night last weekend.  Remember I told you about the girl I went home with from that 80s party?  Well I ran into her at this bar the other night, and it was awkward, because I left her that fucked up haiku about sorry for falling asleep in the middle of it, and it turned out she was straight anyway.  Total wannabe bi girl, but straight as an arrow.  On the bright side, she let me crash on her couch after the bar.  And her roommate offered me coffee and a phone charge when I woke up like it was some four star hotel or something.  I’m not making this up.  And we got to talking about beer, and she gave me a bottle of her favorite brew.  I’m pretty sure I’m ok with free beer from kind, cute strangers.  Unfortunately, I don’t think she was hitting on me, though.  Everyone wants a big butch these days.  I don’t get that.  I made this horrible mistake of eschewing the institution of categories, and it’s not working out well.  Someone called me a chapstick lesbian, but I’m thinking I’m more of a “needs chapstick lesbian.”  Real talk though, this weather is drying out my lips like a motherfucker.  Maybe that’s the issue.

How are you, though?  I feel like I only get random snapchats from you all captioned, “Don’t drop the baguette!” from various raves you’ve attended.  You really need to come up with a catchier phrase.  Haha..catchy…I think I’m punny.  Speaking of, how are the boys?  I’m guessing they love your American ass, but who knows.  I’ve heard Parisians can be bitches.  I want to hear about your life!

Love you,

Gretch”

He had responded,

“Gretchennnn!  I miss you more.  Calm your horses on this meeting people thing.  It sounds like you’re getting enough for us both.  And what the hell with these nice people inviting you into their homes and offering you free beer in the morning?  Was there a turn down service?  I don’t understand.  I’ve been kicked out of people’s flats here.  Like “OK, this is not a thing, bye, I’m going to bed, go back to whatever arrondissement you came from.”

Still, though, I have been having a lot of fun.  I finally straightened shit out with my work visa, so I can finally get a job.  I don’t want to work, but I’m down to my final Euro, and I’m getting a little partied out, too.  These French people can hang!  Like if you and I thought our blood was made of a 30% wine solution, I fear for the vampire that tries to feast on the Parisians.

You’re done with “don’t drop the baguette”?!  It still gets me every time.  Unclear why.  Ughhh wait so this is so annoying, but I think all French toilets are low-flush.  Everyone has a toilet brush for deuce-dropping purposes, and it freaks me out.  I think as soon as I get rich, I’m gonna get a fancy, American style toilet in my place.  It’s awful.

Oh, I actually do have a story for you.  So I met this guy at a club, and we left at like two in the morning, which is pretty early still for me these days, and we went to buy some blow.  We each do like two small lines, go back to the club, dance our asses off, and then leave to go back to his place.  And at this point, we were starting to come down and we bumped some to keep going (he was going to skip work).  So we’re walking into his place, and this tiny little old lady catches me grinding my teeth a little, and she grabs me by the arm (you know that intense old lady grip–like rivaling Jack and Rose in Titanic).  She looks me in the eyes like she knows what’s up, and then she says in this raspy French, “can I get some?” I died.  She had to be like 90 years old.  I absolutely did not give an old lady coke, but nonetheless…what is my life coming to?

Alright, well I have to go, but we should Skype sometime.  I know our schedules never work, but you know…one day.

Bye, bitch (haha my phone always auto-corrects it to butch!  It knows!)

Hem”

What a guy.  Basically the male version of me, but not at all.  I thought about booking a trip to see him, but I was pretty damn sure I wouldn’t have the money until tax returns come in.  I mean, with my luck, I’ll owe money back to the government, but whatever.  I hate thinking about the government.  Just the other day, my friend, Jen, was telling me her family was all on her dick to vote.  And I didn’t vote either.  The way she saw it, her parents were Republican for money reasons.  And she has Democratic values, but she’s also not making enough money to give a shit either way.  We decided we are definitely fucked either way, so fuck voting.  At least until we read up on what exactly is going on.  We are pretty sure no one really knows.