Kitchen Facts & Fictional Living: Feeding Starving Minds at a Buffet of Questionably Prepared Food for Thought
Being unemployed makes you think of death. Until you have been damned to sit on a couch and be subject to the myriad commercials of trade schools promising riches in “only nine months” in some career area of which you have never heard or the ambulance-chasing ‘non-attorney compensated spokesperson’ “getting money for your pain and suffering” or all the pharmaceutical discoveries that cure every inconceivable malady, (Wait! I have that!) you do not know that maddening sense of desperation. Imagine a field, little nubs of corn stalk standing, frozen, on the side of the road. Forgotten. Cold. Very much alone. The news reports the busy commute for the hustle and bustle of getting to work; the streets of little neighborhoods are nearly empty as mostly everybody is making their contribution to society; the loneliness is unbearable. What if this lasts a long time? How do I pay for the house... food... the car? What are the options? Is it possible to plan on winning the lottery? That would be such a great answer! And it always comes down to money, even when you don’t care about money. Isn’t that what it always comes down to? A hippie lifestyle means nothing without groceries. So, this is written during that spell of unemploy, between the shore of safety in an unfulfiliing position and the shore of “what’s next.” Yes, it is a bridge. And believe me, it is a bridge from which I have contemplated making a silent plunge. Yeah, it is that type of maddening desperation.
What’s the story? Is it teaching? Is it cooking? Is it something else? How far back does it go? Start with being at the end of my run? Or maybe as teacher of the year? In Finding Forrester, Will Forrester said, Just write! So, that is exactly what I am doing. Author Lewis Norden said that after the first sentence the rest of the story writes itself. That doesn’t bode very well right now, does it?
***I don’t remember my first day at school. What I remember is a mosaic of the first few days being patched together with some actual events and some manifestations of what my mind likes to think happened, some of which may actually be true. This is not a diary, mind you. Therefore, this happenstance palaver is part memoir (although, who the hell am I to be important enough to have the chutzpah to write a memoir?) treatise on teaching, observation of the digital natives and their respective lives in the world and the world of kitchens. There will be an occasional meandering in the land of make believe as there will also be serious food tales. If a treatise on a self-serving cook turned teacher with no formal training whatsoever, with gastronomic adventures, post-adolescent whimsy and hormone-charged forays is what you seek, I shall try.
I am a fan of reading just about anything. I read. But, I don’t always retain coherently. So there are misquotes, distortions, profound insight that I will claim as my own but belong to somebody else’s intellect. For that, I apologize. And that is about all. No other apology offered. I will wholeheartedly do my best to make myself appear brilliant. Oh, and I changed a bunch of names for obvious reasons. They know who they are and so do the people around them. Alas, this is not a work of nonfiction. Well, not entirely. The flavor is in the fat, so some indulging simply had to take place. So, no more apologies.
Being number two
I did not get the teaching job. I was number two. After getting the call, I felt like a Number Two. I had turned thirty a few months before the teaching position became available. I was the chef and food service director for a cable company at one of their more populous call centers. I say ‘chef’ because that is what I had presumably pawned myself off as before being the punching bag with this fun, cable-connected bunch. I say ‘Food Service Director’ because I had to pay the bills, do the hiring, process the payroll, talk to the client that ******* up and hired my company and cover the shifts that were left vacant by the alcoholic grill cook left open on, incidentally, the day following pay day. Or cover the cashier’s position left hollow by the waifish cashier after another, ahem, 'rough night' with her boyfriend the evening prior. That, too, seemed to coincide with pay day. She was all of ninety-pounds, alabaster as the Antarctic beach and he was eleven feet tall, ripped and... big. So, I guess she she was hurting, from time to time. The food we served was dreck. The kitchen had no kitchen. It was a closet with four portable, butane burners and had an oven that was really a toaster with attitude. I have seen meth labs with more fire power. Oh, and the hand sink doubled as a mixing bowl. The people to whom I served my Bunsen Burner, butane-injected food were jerks. I apologize. No, no they weren’t. They were much worse. Jerks will walk past you if you trip. These folks would point, laugh moronically, and then complain that you were making them late by blocking their intended path of egress with your slippery blood.
I had it! Starting at the barely pickled age of fifteen, in one capacity or another, I had been in or around a kitchen. It was no longer fun – not sure if it ever were – and had grown painful, mundane and crappy. I just did not want it any more. There was nobody’s life that I was positively impacting and there was certainly no six-digit bank balance to justify the anguish. Hell, there weren’t even six digits if you included the numbers after the decimal.
I did the dreaded walk of shame (not that walk of shame) through the mall to get a little part-timer to fill in the blanks and supplemented serving the cable swine with an evening gig at the hyphenated kitchenwares’ store that sells really expensive, counter-cluttering cooking tools for domestic non-cooks. As if I needed another layer of kitchen anything in my life.
My chance encounter at The Hyphenated Store was riddled with good fortune. I couldn’t remember his name and he couldn’t remember mine, but we remembered working together during another illustrious stint in the corporate feeding segment. He mentioned his teaching gig and I drooled. I wanted to teach for a long time; maybe it was the opportunity to live vicariously or perhaps the more noble calling of being able to share my pretend knowledge with impressionable minds. Here stand before me, a glimmer of hope and a chance to break out of my rut that, until now, seemed break-less. At this point, I did not realize how much of an ass Herman was. I would, however, discover that as I was able to get to know him as I joined the ranks of the education nation. But that comes later.
Herman told me of an opportunity that may be available. I leapt! I scurried! I worried! I leapt at the near possibility of finally being able to do what I really wanted to do – it was the first I got to make a choice of the path I could go down. In the past, those choices had been very neatly been made for me and made out of necessity; better money, better benefits. This time, there was a choice to be made. I scurried to learn everything about teaching that I could, books on books about teaching, classroom management, grading, tests and interviewing to become a teacher. Later, I would learn, all things that hold little in common with what actually goes in a school. Much, I have learned, similar to the study of, say, law and the actual practice of law. Then again, the study of anything and its actual practice is a path that seems to, rather inconveniently, split just as the pavement ends and the real world begins.
Worried about my formal training to be a teacher, I was. But, hell, they wanted a cook and that is what I was going to give them. I went to a really good high school back in Pittsburgh and had fancied myself a bit of an intellect. Or could be that I was living in Delaware and feeling smart isn’t really all that much of a challenge. Thoughts formed differently for me, sometimes faster, but almost always more craftily than others. No, not the egotistical brainiac, rather just not quite as damn stupid as nearly everybody else. I actually read the books I anted-up for at the Mega Book Emporium, Inc. So, superior intellect and all, I had Herman coach me. Possible interview questions, scenarios, insight from his rich experience of a sum total of ten months in the classroom.
I got an interview. It sucked. No, I surely don’t remember the questions, save for one. Something along the lines of, There is a busy day, one of the students is misbehaving. What do you do? I bullshitted my way right through with some well-timed teacher-speak about ‘redirecting’ and ‘counseling’ and ‘empowering’ and other overtly flowery terminology. I exited the interview past a few of the students, dressed in my mismatched jacket and tie, only to overhear “Yeah, he’s a cop.” The appetizer of what was to come.
But, I didn’t get the job.
A restless week after the interview, anxious for news, I got the letter – and Herman called.
“There is another school in our district opening soon. You can try then.”
“Yup,” I said as “Hell no” ran through my head. I had my one swing towards the fence.
I lamented with a trip to New York with boss and my crack addicted, part-time grill cook. We hit a food show at the Javits Center as I feigned interest. I really did not give a damn about the show. I was more interested in going to the souvenir shop at NBC studios so I could buy a West Wing shirt. Crack Head and I made the trek in the oh so delectable January air of Manhattan. Delightful.
Returning from NBC – no shirt to be had (damn you, ‘out of stock’ sizes!) my phone rang.
“Hi, this is Matt Poor of Dilbert High School. Do you have a second to talk?”
Who is this *****? Calling me to rub it in? The letter wasn't enough to get the point across?
“Ahahaha! You didn't get the job, Feather Nuts, just wanted to remind you!”
“Sure. But, my battery is dying, can I give you a call?”
I borrowed my then-boss’s phone to make the call.
“We wanted to talk to you about the teaching position you interviewed for.”
“Yes, sir, I got the letter,”
“Well, you see, the individual that was ahead of you in the selection process has, umm...
uhhh... declined the position. Would you still be interested?”
“I’m sorry. Can you say that again?” as I tried to keep from soiling myself.
“Can you stop by the school tomorrow?”
And that’s that. I didn’t get the job. Until I did. I was number two. Number one, apparently, just wanted to see what it was worth. When he was made aware of the glorious salary package, he realized his Country Club in the Woods chef gig was too lucrative. I’m in.