The Process

Tag: Gretchen

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

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.