The Process

Tag: queens

The Lost Kids

TWELVE

I walk into my building and run up the stairs, because apparently someone’s cat has died in its own feces again.  Once I’m safely in my room, I exhale in relief, my breath still heavy with Fernet.  I sit down on the end of my bed, take off my boots, and toss them into the corner.  They hit my trash, and a Heineken bottle falls into one shoe, dripping the last of its contents inside of it.  Goddamn it.  The way my feet smell, now with beer.  Frat boots.  Yum.  I’m about to change into pajamas, but I hear music coming from the room next door.

Normally, I don’t really pay attention to the sounds from beyond the wall, because it’s just unfortunate that the walls are so thin.  I would rather consider the voices part of the nature in Queens than invite the details of strangers’ routines into my own.  But this is different, because I’ve never heard music coming from next door.  It’s always just banter.  The song is slow and haunting, and although it has a familiarity to it, I’m sure I’ve never heard it before.  While I know it’s strange, I feel the need to find out more about it.  It’s possible I’m still a little drunk, but that’s never stopped me from doing anything.

I open my door and walk into the hall in my socks.  My toe pokes through the right sock onto the cold tile in the hall, and it bothers me.  The hallway floor in our building is no place for the toe of a lady.  I bend it to shrink it back into the sock to little avail.  Another song has started, and it sounds something like the first one.  I walk a few steps and put my ear to the neighbor’s door.  And maybe I’m just a bad person…well, baby, I know…my curiosity trumps my hesitation, and I see my fist rise up and knock on their door.  Fuck.  I think about running back into my place, but that seems stupid, so I wait when I hear footsteps approaching.

The door opens, and a pale, skinny guy with stringy brown hair opens the door.  “Hello?” he says.

“Um…Hi.  I’m Gretchen…” my face turns red, betraying my determination to play it cool. “I live next door.  I heard your music playing, and I thought it was great, so I was just curious what it was.”

“Because Shazam doesn’t exist and all.”

“Um…right…duh…”

“I’m kidding—just being an asshole.  I’m Jed.  Want to come listen?”  I look past him into his dim apartment.  For being next door, it looks far more dismal than mine, but I spot a record player behind him.

“Oh, it’s vinyl?”

“Yah…Of Monsters and Men.  You don’t know them?  Their song “Little Talks” was wildly popular like two years ago.”

“Oh, that’s why it sounded familiar.  Weird.  OK, now I look like a total retard.  Yeah, I’ll come listen to some.”  He opens the door, allowing me to walk through into his room.  It’s a studio, which surprises me, because I only ever heard about two or more bedroom apartments in the building.  He flips the record and starts the other side as I glance around to size up my surroundings.

The glass over the light on his ceiling is cloudy and has little shadows in it suggesting an insect graveyard, and the air is slightly more humid than in the rest of the building.  The smell of tobacco, weed, and sweat hang in the air, reminding me of the time Hem and I lived in a room in a frat house our sophomore year of college.  Jed seems about thirty-five, so I briefly wonder how he’s never heard of air freshener, windows, or even deodorant.  Strange.  “So what do you do?”

“I’m an actor.”

“Ah.”

“Kidding.  I dropped out of NYU ten years ago and I’ve been working at the corner grocery ever since.  That’s kind of just something to do.  I’m living off the money I got when my parents died.”

“Jeez, I’m sorry, dude.”

“Thanks.  I’m OK—it was a while back, while I was in school.  They were on this plane home from California, and something went wrong with the engine of the plane.  Only a few people survived the crash.  They thought my dad might make it, but he didn’t pull through the surgeries in the ER.  Anyway, not trying to air my sob story, so how about listening to the music?”

“Yeah, sure.”  After a song, he sticks his hand in a drawer in his desk and pulls out a small, lacquered wooden box.  He opens it, and holds it out:

“Drugs?”

“Dude, what the fuck is all that shit?”

“Whatever you want.”

“Are you the one who gets little packages in the mail downstairs all the time?  I always thought it might be some sort of Silk Road type situation.”

“Those are my packages, but all that shit is actually collectable Pokemon merch.”

“Actually?”

“Yes.  All this shit is from my boy at the store.  Xanex, Klonopin, molly, I have some weed over here if you prefer something a little lower on the guilt spectrum.”  His face is pale and drawn, and I suddenly realize I’m hanging out with a total junkie.  Awkward.  “If you’re into the harder stuff, I’ve gotta say, I’ve been listening to this music on heroin lately, and it’s like the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Fucking heroin?  Are you serious?  Like, the last thing I need in my life at this moment in time is to a) get addicted to heroin, b) overdose on heroin, or c) all of the above!”  He looks slightly embarrassed.

“Sorry…I…we can just listen…I smoked too much weed before, and, um—“

“No, it’s OK.  I’ll smoke some weed and listen to the other disk with you.  Sorry for being a drug prude, but just no in regards to heroin in general.  I would probably tell you that you should stop, but I’m not like your mom or anything.  Fuck….um…sorry.”

“OK, let’s just stop talking and smoke some.”  We take a couple hits from his bong, and he puts on the second disk.  I’m starting to relax after all the excitement from the events of the day, but I’m still trying to avoid thinking about whether or not to go back to work.  Curiosity gets the best of me after a while, and I re-open the conversation.

“Do they make your situation easier?  The drugs and shit?”  Jed looks up, eyes a little glazed.  He looks like he would be handsome if he took a shower and changed his shirt, and that makes me sad.

“For a little.  But it never goes away.  I’ve made my peace with it, though.  Hard to do, but I did.”

“God, dude, I couldn’t imagine what that fucking takes.”  I take another big bong hit and hold my breath while he begins to talk.

“Shit got so bad after they were gone.  I left school, I didn’t have any money, I lived on the street for a week.  But then my extended family found me and set me up here with the money my parents left me.  I wasn’t totally alone, but I wanted to be for a while.  I spent the first year in here just thinking it all through.  Trying to understand where to go from there.  I never really believed in religion…to me, the idea was that god was like some excuse…like just some sort of…”

“Like a scapegoat.”

“Yeah.  So after they were gone, trying to grapple with having no faith in heaven and knowing that they were gone-gone.  Forever.  Finding out that loss is permanent, not temporary.  That no one is ever ready to lose, but it happens, and that’s it.  Like, it changed the whole world for me.”

“How so?”

“I don’t keep anything now.  Everything I own, I consider a rental, and everything I buy, I throw out after a bit.  I delete my pictures, documents, whatever.  Being ready to lose everything at any moment feels more sensible to me.”  Fuck, this is some heavy shit I walked into.

“I understand that.  People love things and each other, and losing is such a major stress.  Like, losing people is terrible, but we maybe shouldn’t be so wrapped up in attaching ourselves to material things only to stress when they eventually break, get lost, stolen, et cetera?”

“Right.”

“I’ve never lived that way, but I am one for living for today over the future.  I don’t plan.  Just take each day as it comes and trust the adventure.”

“What do you mean ‘trust the adventure’?”

“Just to know that all good things in the past occurred on random days when maybe they were least expected, and that will continue to happen at any random time.  So if you trust the adventure, you accept that life could bring anything to you at any given time.  Bad or good.  And it’s a dead end, literally and metaphorically, because there’s no end-game to trusting the adventure.  We all end up in the dirt.  But it’s sort of like being open to existing, because all other methods of living involve goal-orientation, waiting, and future-living.  And we both know the future is highly uncertain.”

“I see you’ve thought a bit in your day.  How the fuck old are you?”

“Old enough to know better.”

“How old?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Eighteen?”

“Twenty-four,” I grin.

“Well, twenty-four-year-old-Gretchen who trusts the adventure, what would you like to do today?”

“Today?  I was gonna go to bed before I came here.  It’s two AM now.”

“Night is a technicality, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes, but I’m actually really stoned now, and I’m tired as fuck.  I can’t believe I’m even talking right now.”

“Would you like to go to Canada tomorrow?”

“Canada?  I just lost my job.  I’m broke.  I mean…”

“I have a lot of money.  Let’s go.  Just like a week.  All of this trip is on me.  You can teach me to trust the adventure.”  I’m not entirely sure what to say, especially considering how high I’ve gotten, so I agree.  What else would I do during my indefinite unemployment?

“Alright, let’s talk in the morning.  I’m so fucking tired.  I’m going to bed, but if you still want to be my vacation sugar daddy tomorrow, text me.”  I put my number in his phone and say goodnight.  “It was nice to meet you, Jed.”

“Mm.”  He is smiling with his eyes half shut, slouched to the side in his navy beanbag chair.  I walk out of his place and shut the door, and I feel the cool tile on my right big toe.  Ew.  I walk into my place, lock the door, and face-plant onto the couch.  I don’t remember the last time I felt so tired.  And a little sad.  I drift off to sleep, and the little pit in my chest dissolves into the night.

The Lost Kids

ELEVEN

I walk into work on Thursday, slightly dazed from all the wine Dennis and I drank the previous night.  When I get into the locker room, I’m surprised to see Dennis there, since Thursday is usually his other day off.   “The fuck are you doing here?”

“Devon called in.  I’m filling in.”

“Sucks for you.  Should’ve let the call go to voicemail.”

“Believe it or not, I don’t have Downton’s number saved in my fucking phone, so I thought it was the delivery guy calling up with the food I ordered this morning.”  I give him a look of sympathy and laugh.

“Well, you’re lucky I’m here.  How are you feeling?  I feel a little shitty.  I kind of think that ice wine at the end sent me over a bit.”

“I’m fine.  Takes a lot more to bring me down.  But I am slightly worried that we’re gonna hear about that table cloth.”

“Fuck it, dude.  I don’t think so.  I’m pretty sure the karma of the birch bark is on our side.  Just don’t pick up your phone if Demo calls you.  As a matter of fact, just stop answering your phone unless it’s me.  It’s safest that way.”

“Oui.”  We walk into the kitchen and set about our days.  Andre is in, mouthing off about the concert he went to on his day off.  He claims his cousin hooked him up with a backstage pass to meet Drake and that he smoked a joint with him, but we never believe his stories.  I mean, really.  If Drake wanted to smoke weed with the likes of Andre, I would take back both my mild enthusiasm for his music and my childhood crush on him as Jimmy, the wheelchair kid from “Degrassi.”

Prep goes as usual, without any major hitches.  Although I’m fairly bored prepping the hot apps station, I take slight sadistic pleasure in watching Andre go down waiting for all the ingredients he needs to come in on second run.  Since Chef realizes Andre can’t continue prep for another thirty minutes, he puts him in charge of making the protein and starch for family meal, which is amusing and makes my life about one batch of polenta easier.

Andre catches me smirking as he huffily browns ground meat in the tilt skillet and glares my way.  “Too hungover to help a brother out, then?  Don’t pretend.  I see your red-ass eyes.”

“I’m not hungover, man.  I just smoked a joint with Drake out in the alley.  He and I are pretty tight these days.”  I’m feeling snarky and not in the mood for Andre’s normal bitchery.  He ignores me and continues his work; Dennis holds his laughter.  To avoid confrontation, Dennis and I eat Andre’s crappy family meal, but our cease-fire is too difficult.  “I’m really glad you’re taking chef’s hypertension into account when you make family, Andre.  I mean, salt, shmalt, am I right?  It’s the devil’s spice, if you ask me.”  Dennis snickers.

“Aw, fuck you guys.  If you want good food, maybe you should lend a hand.”  I can feel Andre’s love for me waning with his patience.  Maybe it’s a good thing.  I never considered myself “too nice,” but maybe signals got crossed.  This new enemy could be much more tolerable.

We finish up our bland food and set up for service.  It’s a slower night, so things move quietly and steadily at first.  Tension in the kitchen dissolves, and everyone is focused.  About an hour in, though, I put up a scallop, and as Chef reaches for it, Andre says, “so what’s up with the great pepper shortage of 2015?”  Chef snaps his head toward me, and my breath catches as my hands go cold and sweaty.  Fuck.  Andre had started to laugh at his seemingly harmless joke, but it’s clear it isn’t funny, and his face goes serious.

Chef turns purple but doesn’t yell.  “Gretchen,” he starts: “Get the fuck out of here.”

“But—“

“Now.”  My chest fills with anger, and everything seems surreal.  Andre has blown my cover, and I am suddenly jobless.  What a goddamn idiot.  I stay calm and put my knives in my bag, as chef pulls a sous off the pass to work my station.  But I can’t just leave.  I walk down the line to Andre, grab his ears, pull his face down to mine, and lay a long, passionate kiss on his lips.

“Is that what you wanted, motherfucker?”  I let go of his face, slap his right cheek, and walk out the back door.  Although I’m still freaking out about getting kicked out of the restaurant, I feel a heavy adrenaline rush.  And if Chef really wants to lose me over black pepper, he can suck it.

I take the train home and decide to drink away the events of the evening.  I can worry about finding a job tomorrow.  But for now, I have to take my mind off this shit.  Once I’m back in Queens, I plant my ass on a stool at the bar of the Gentry House, a well established local bar.  I know the bartender, and when he sees me, he says, “Fernet and Coke?”

“Nah, Ben.  I’ll have a Modelo and a Jameson shot.”

“Coming from work, then?  Ah, I guess not.  It’s only nine.”

“No, I am.  I just fucking lost my job.”  Ben looks sympathetic and puts up the beer with two shots.

“What happened?”

“Long story.”  I drink my shots consecutively and leave my beer a minute to feel the burn of the whisky in my throat.  Then I down half of the icy lager.  I feel my shoulders drop as my reality begins to fade.  Andre can go fuck himself.  And so can Chef.  “Ben,” I say, “Hook me up with a Fernet and Coke.”

“Yes ma’am, I’ll make it a double.”

“You’re my only friend, Ben.  I love you.”

“You have lots of friends, Gretchen.”

“Duh, I know.  But you wouldn’t tell Chef that I’m a fundamentalist anti-black pepper radical.”

“I would not.”  I drink the rest of my beer and then start my cocktail.  A few girls next to me at the bar have noticed my heavy drinking.  I size up their situation, guessing their mostly full, clear beverages are my arch nemesis cocktail:

“Vodka-soda?” I ask, making eye contact with them.  Bitches love bubbly booze water.  The one closest to me is a pretty blonde, the one next to her is a brunette Latina looking girl, and next to her is a chubby Asian girl.  Kind of a motley crew, but it seems they might all have the commonality of enjoying the swill of basic bitches.

“How’d you know?”  The brunette asks.

“Wild guess.”

“So you’re pretty thirsty, the blonde says, looking at the plethora of glasses in front of me.”

“I lost my job today.”

“Oh.  That sucks.”

“I didn’t like it there anyway.  I was gonna leave soon.  Maybe do my own thing”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a cook.”

“Are you a chef or a cook?”

“It depends on who I’m talking to.  You’re pretty.  Maybe I’m a chef, then.”  Ben laughs.  The girl can tell I’m being an asshole, but she also doesn’t fully understand the joke.  “What do you do?”  I ask.

“I work for a PR firm.”

“Nice,” I lie.  Although I respect a good PR person, I secretly hope she won’t talk about the business.  I’m still sizing up her friends, and I notice the Latina girl I originally pinned as mostly basic has a bunch of ghetto tattoos all over her forearms.  I briefly wonder if she’s dangerous.  Or basic and dangerous, which kind of equals dramatic prison material.

“I’m Olivia.  This is Natasha and this is Gina.”

“Nice to meet you all,” I muster.  I’m starting to feel a little drunk, which I think is a good thing, considering my new friends.

“So what do you want to do on your own?  You said you want to do your own thing?  I’m actually a really good cook myself.  It’s funny, but I have friends that are cooks, and I cook much more advanced stuff than they do at home.  I’m just really good in the kitchen.”  Here we go…another civilian with over-confidence in their cooking ability.  There’s probably nothing more gratifying than talking to a normal person who has no regard for the lifestyle cooks take on to hone their craft.  “What’s something you make well?”

“Well, my favorite thing to make at home is fresh pasta.  Usually with a braised lamb ragu.  I braise lamb shanks with like dark beer, thyme, juniper–”

“I would use rosemary instead.”  I pause.  Bitch, are you serious?  I’m mildly incensed that she’s asked me what I like to do only to give her civilian input on one simple dish I like to make at home.  I don’t really know what to say, but I let it go.  “So what do you want to do next?  If you could do anything, what would you do?”

“Um…”  I’m losing steam, but I figure I’ll give it one more shot, since I have no one else to talk to, and Ben’s boyfriend has come to the bar and started talking to him.  “Well, it’s not a traditional concept, but I want to throw pop-up dinners in museums around the world.  And it would just be about the art.  And the food would be awesome, but it would sort of be like in the background.

“I just don’t see how that would work.  I mean, you say you’re a chef, but you’re all about this art.  I don’t understand how that connects.  If you’re not one hundred percent focused on the food, how are you supposed to market this to anyone?  Who would want to just go look at art and kind of maybe eat some food?”  This girl is getting super annoying, and my patience is wearing thin.

“OK, you asked me what I wanted to do, and I’m telling you.  But you’re being annoying as fuck, and I’m not really into being cross-examined while I’m drinking in a bar after losing my job, if that’s OK with you.”  She looks shocked.

“I’m just trying to have a conversation with you, and you call me annoying as…”  And she’s sensitive.  This is what I get for being surrounded by guys all the time.

“I’m sorry, but I’m just not feeling like this is a conversation.  You’re so confident in your shit, but you’re gonna sit here and shit on my dreams, because they don’t fit into your cookie-cutter idea of how the world works.  So let’s just drop the topic.”  Olivia looks annoyed but intrigued.

“Fine.”

“Olivia, I’m getting so bored at this bar.  Can’t we go somewhere with better music?” Natasha is starting to get antsy, and I fear her mood could quickly swing toward belligerent.  Olivia confirms:

“she’s about to go crazy.  We better go.  You should come with us!”

“Really.”  I am mildly surprised by her suggestion, considering my bluntness.

“Yeah!  I mean, you seem cool, and I feel like it could help to have a badass chef around when I need to hold back Natasha from a fight later on.”

“I’d rather not.  I think I’m just gonna go home.  But you could come with me,” I smirk.  She looks up and catches my eye, laughs, and declines my offer.

“Not tonight, but here’s my card.  Let’s get a drink sometime.  I live around here.  How old are you anyway?”

“Old enough to know better.  You?”

“Thirty-two.  But really, what about you?”  Damn.  Hmm…

“Twenty-nine,” I bluff.  But what’s in five years?  What I lack in age, I make up for in crankiness.  “Well, I gotta go.  I’ll see you around.  Ben, can I close out?”

“It’s on me.  Just this time.  Don’t need you taking back to the streets, now, do we?” he jokes.  Olivia shoots me a sideways glance.  I give her the poker face, pick up my stuff, and head out the door.  Always best to keep them guessing. As I walk into the night, my phone buzzes, and I see a text from Chef.  It says, I’m not gonna lie, that was awesome.  I will give you your job back if you come in tomorrow, eat a tablespoon of black pepper, and swear to use it when I fucking say.  I’m surprised at the offer but uncertain.  I always knew Chef hated Andre.  For now, I put it out of my mind, get in a cab, and take a five minute ride to my bed.