The Process

Tag: lost kids

The Lost Kids

THIRTEEN

I wake up to the blinding brightness of day coming through the living room window and fumble for my phone to check the time.  I feel more out of it than usual; maybe I’m still a little high, but it’s unclear.  I stay still for a few minutes and float, which is something I like to do when I wake up hungover.  When I feel like my head is drifting through the universe, if I stay still, I feel my body going with it, and I’m weightless.  It can be a little nauseating, though, so after a few minutes, I sit up and become one with my tired body.  My feet hurt, as usual.  My spine aches at the top, where my shoulders connect, and I wonder, briefly, if I could ever maybe swap it out with a new body.  That would be ideal.

To re-orient myself with life’s tangibility and the oppressive gravity, I drag myself into my leather chair.  It is always comforting to have a thing surround your body with so much familiarity.  As I sit, dazed, staring at our faded blue carpet, I muddle through the events of last night in my mind.  The memory of arguing with Olivia makes me giggle.  What a strange girl.  Or am I strange?  Either way, I’m glad I didn’t end up finding out what the night had in store for her and her bruiser friend.  If Hem had met her, we would have run our fingers through our hair in true chola style.

Well fuck…I start to wonder about Jed.  Does he really think we’re going to Canada?  Is it even safe to travel with a drug-addled dude I barely know?  Should I actually just go back to work?  The idea of passing chef’s black pepper challenge makes me nauseous.  Fuck that…Maybe I should go to Canada pending Jed’s current state.  My stomach starts yelling at me, and I realize I haven’t eaten in a while.  I don’t think I have any food, but I shuffle to the fridge and open it anyway.  As I stare at its contents, I blank out and fall into a daze.  The sadness of Jed’s story creeps back up in my chest, and I lose focus, seeing only the dish of pills he had pulled out last night and hearing his tired voice say, “they were gone-gone…they were gone-gone…they were gone-gone…”

“Gretchen!”  I’m startled by Vanessa’s energetic voice, and I come out of my trance fast, overtaken by the sudden urge to poop.

“Uh…hey, V…What’s up…”

“Ermagerd…you look exhausted!  What is wrong?  Have you slept this week?  Have you been hanging out with Hannah again?”

“Uh…no…I just didn’t sleep well, and I’m kind of hungry.”

“Gretch, like, why were you sleeping on the couch, though?”

“I dropped off my laundry yesterday and haven’t gotten my sheets back yet,” I bluff.

“Don’t you have another set to change them out?”

“No…”

“Do you want a smoothie?  I’m about to try this new recipe I found online.  Oprah recommends it as a great energy booster for when you’re trying to lose weight.  I mean, not that you need to lose weight or anything…I do…I still need to drop that pound and a half I gained over the holidays…I’m so jealous you can stay as small as you are and be a chef and all that.  It’s totally not fair.  Do you have thyroid problems?  Because if I had thyroid problems, I would definitely not do anything about it if it was working in my favor.  I know it’s not healthy, but let’s be serious.  Some comedian once said that if AIDS was curable, women would get it on purpose to lose weight, and I’m not gonna lie…I totally agree with that.  Well…maybe.  So do you want a smoothie?”

I am not prepared for this burst of energy, but I oblige out of fatigue and ambivalence: “Yeah…sure…does it have kale, though?  I don’t want a leaves smoothie.”

“No, but it has spirulina powder.  It’s algae.  Is that OK?”

“Sure.”  As Vanessa starts pontificating on the benefits of consuming algae, I wander to the bathroom.  My guts feel disoriented and weird.  As I sit, mentally discombobulated, on the toilet, I wonder if I should have declined the smoothie.  A bagel sounds much better than algae at the moment.  I take a picture of my dropped pants and send Hem a Snapchat captioned “pooping.”  Oh…fuck…I sent it to my mom by mistake…Well, these things happen.   She may not even know how to open a Snapchat.

“Smoothies are ready!  It’s so good!”  I hear Vanessa yell.

“Coming…”  I walk out, and Vanessa is holding out a tall glass of blue-brown puree.  It looks gross, but I really don’t have the mental capacity to decline.  I take a sip, and it’s odd, but the cold feels good.  “Is there carob in here?”

“Yes.”

“Is there cayenne in here?”

“Ermagerd…only a little!  You’re good!”  I cough at the spiciness and try to ignore the fact that the smoothie tastes a little like cold barbecue.

“Thanks, V.”  Just as I prepare myself for the second sip, there’s a knock on the door.  “You have friends coming over?”

“No.  Do you?”  My phone buzzes as I head to the door.  It’s a text from my mom that says, “why are you so disgusting!?”  Oops.  There’s another knock, so I put my phone in my pocket and open the door.

“Buenos dias, Gretchen!”  It’s Jed.  Vanessa looks confused.

“Vanessa, this is Jed.  Jed, this is my roommate, Vanessa.”  A door opens behind me, and Eddie emerges from his room.  He looks up at all of us, surprised to be greeted by a group, and nods while ducking into the bathroom in an effort to expediently hide his morning boner.  “That’s Eddie.”

“Gretchen and I are going to Canada today,” Jed announces, looking excited and more energetic than he was last night.  It actually looks like he showered, but his hair still looks a little gross.  Maybe he just changed clothes.

“You didn’t tell me you were going away!” Vanessa exclaims, looking hurt to be left out but also excited.

“Um…yeah, well, it was a little last minute.”

“How do you two know each other?”

“Jed actually lives next door.”

“Wait, you’re the guy who gets all the tiny packages in the mail all the time?”

“Yes.  I collect Pokemon merch.”  Vanessa is starting to look judge-y, so I take her into my room to talk.

“Vanessa is gonna help me pack real quick, Jed.  Sit down for a minute, I’ll be right back.  Here!  Have this smoothie.”  I’m glad to be able to pawn off the beverage now that I’ve decided it’s not palatable in my current state.

“Gretchen, when did you meet this Jed guy?”

“Last night.”

“You can’t go to Canada with him!”

“Yes I can.”

“What about work?”

“I left Downton yesterday.”

“What?”

“I’ll find a new job when I get back.  I have enough money for next month’s rent.  Don’t worry.”

“I don’t care about that…I mean, I do…but isn’t it kind of stupid to be going on a trip with this stranger?  He looks kind of grimy…”

“He doesn’t have anyone, V.  I feel like this would be good for him.  I’m not stupid…I’ll be careful.  But I think he’s really harmless.  And he’s sweet.  I get him.”

“OK.”  I grab up a couple outfits and stuff them in my backpack.  I don’t really know how long we’ll be away, but I’m sure I’ll be able to make it work.

“Jed, how are we getting there?”

“I’m using Bobo’s car.”

“Who the fuck is Bobo?”

“My boy from the grocery.”

“The drug dealer?  Are we gonna get followed by the cops?”

“No.  Chill out.  It’s fine.  I booked a hotel in Montreal through Wednesday.”

“OK.”  I realize that Jed has artfully dumped the smoothie and washed out the glass.  Lucky me.  I guess I’m not going back to Downton, so I text Chef, “I’m not coming back.  Sorry.”  And put my phone in my pocket.  “Bye, V.  I’ll see you on Thursday, then.

“OK…Have fun and be safe.  Text me when you get to the border.  And then when you get to your hotel.  Will you call me later?”

“Sure.”  I walk out the door, and Jed closes it behind me.  “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!”

“Trust the adventure, right?”

“I fucking guess so.  Have you ever been to Canada?”

“No.”

“Me neither.  Can we go get a bagel before we leave?”

“Sure.  Let’s go to Bean Bros.”  We walk in, and José is at the counter.

“Hey, José.  How are you?”  He looks right past me to Jed.

“Jed, brother, what’s up?  Ishan!  Jed stopped by!”  What the fuck…Ishan emerges from the back.

“Jed!  What’s good?”  Lots of fist pounding takes place, and suddenly I feel like the outsider in my own bagel shop.  Without even taking our order, the boys put together a medium coffee with milk, a cappuccino, an untoasted poppy bagel, and a toasted everything bagel with bacon-scallion cream cheese.  No charge.  Jed and I thank them, and then we head toward the door.

“Sit down or hit the road?”  Jed asks.

“Let’s hit the road.  Doesn’t it take forever to get there?”

“I guess we’ll see.”

“So, how do you know them so well?”

“Ishan is a customer, you know.  And sometimes I give José a bunch of money to do hand-offs to my customers at the bagel shop.”:

“The bagel shop traffics drugs?”

“Well…sometimes.”

“Jeez.”

“We all benefit.  And you know, there are no real cops in Queens.”

“Just garden gnomes that ticket cars!”

“Exactly.”  He hits the unlock button on his keys when we near a dark blue van.

“We’re taking a kidnapping van to Canada?”

“It’s a good car.”

“We’re gonna look like Bonnie and Clyde meets the ice cream man.”

“I like the sound of that, though.  Don’t you?”

“Sounds like a good premise for a band, anyway.  Alright.  Let’s do this.”  I dump my belongings in the back and climb into the passenger seat.  It’s a tall car for me to get into, but riding high up always makes me feel powerful.  After I settle into my seat, I text back my mom, “whoops, wrong Snapchat.”  C’est la vie.  “Oh, by the way, Jed, I can’t drive, so I hope you got all the coffee you need.”

“Even if you could, Bobo made me swear not to let anyone drive his car, so it’s all good.  Why can’t you drive?”

“DUI.”

“Ah.  You shouldn’t leave Queens!  There are cops out there.”

“Speaking of leaving Queens.”

“Yes ma’am.”  Jed puts the key in the ignition, starts the van, and pulls out of the spot as he takes an overzealous bite of his bagel.  Cream cheese oozes out and falls onto the seatbelt.  “Ah, fuck,” he licks it off.

“Ew!”

“What?  It’s delicious cream cheese!  I’m not letting it go to waste.  I’m trying to forget what that smoothie tasted like!”

“True.  I’m sorry I tried to give it to you.”

“You’re forgiven.  Put on some music.  Your choice.”  I turn on the radio, and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Rocket Queen” comes on.  “Did you know Axl Rose brought a girl into the studio and fucked her for the sex noises in the background of that bridge?”

“What if I told you that was me?”

“Right.  And how old are you again?  Eighteen?”

“Twenty-four.  OK, it wasn’t me.  But it’s still cool.”  I rip off a piece of my bagel, spilling poppy seeds all over the floor of the car.  I would feel bad, but there’s still cream cheese on his seatbelt, so fuck it.  I rest my head against the window and listen to the music as we drive off, as Axl Rose sings, Here I am, and you’re a rocket queen…I might be a little young, but honey, I ain’t naive…

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

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.”