Monday, July 20, 2020

All Good

It’s over. My years at the Lafayette Club have come to an end, and I’m enjoying three days off before I start my new adventure. I’ll be enjoying three days off every week, in fact, part of the draw of this new journey. Many of you have asked me where I’m going, and I’m not quite ready to publicly list them on this rather personal blog of mine, but I’d be happy to share that information with you privately if you know me well enough to ask. Funny thing about it, when I do mention the name of the restaurant to people in passing or in depth, nearly everybody has heard of it, even though it is in a small town, far away from the hustle of the cities. It receives its reputation from the care and dedication of owners who take pride in their work, and require passion from those who work their line. This will be an experience I will absorb in its entirety, and I hope I am able to impart some of my years of knowledge on those who need it, as well.
Amanda’s third trimester is approaching quickly. The baby is constantly wiggling and turning around in her liquid apartment. It’s 7am, and I just felt her move through mama, which I don’t feel very often, but more and more, I can sense her little legs or arms flailing about, probably in response to Daddy’s masculine baritone voice. The baby’s room is coming together nicely. We’ve decided on a Dr. Seuss theme throughout, and slowly Amanda has been finding deals on EBay on relic Theo LeSeig merchandise and books. This is quite an experience. Our house has transformed so much in the last two+ years, and this one small room means more to me than any other project I’ve taken on, and I can see the future of our loving and laughing family every time we put up a new book or toy on the shelf. I’m also seeing books I haven’t read since I was a kid and it’s pretty cool to read them again.
Yesterday we all went to the cities to Mac's memorial BBQ. I can’t believe it’s been a year since he died. I got to see a few of my friends from prison; the ones who are doing well. It’s a great feeling to see people from such an awful time, doing something with their lives. Mac didn’t make it, but we reminisced of better times, and saw life in each other’s eyes that grows every year. We are the few that made our time away work for us. We all have families, and we all do everything in our power to make this our permanent life. We know what awaits us inside, and we are drawn toward this light, but we know the darkness looms. The time grows longer between every visit with each other, but we know it is because we are doing well that we are obligated to be near our homes.
Time is life’s scarcest commodity. Ten years ago, I used to say, “I can’t believe that was ten years ago!” Everything flies by in the blink of an eye, and living in the moment is more important than ever. This is why I altered my career path; family has become the most important thing. An extra day at home is worth its weight in gold. Try doing that math. 52 extra days a year I can have breakfast with the girls, sleep in, take the dog to the park, take my wife out for coffee, scrub my toilet (the wife would appreciate that I said that even though I won’t actually do that), make artisanal coffee in my syphon brewer, lounge, and create a new world for a baby that will be completely dependent on us. WE need me here more. And here I am. I’m here for you, my ladies.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

A Stagiaire

Writing time doesn’t come as easily as it once did. When I started this thing years ago, I was single, jobless, incarcerated, and hopeless. Things have changed dramatically over the years, and instead of sitting down to write out my thoughts and my story, I’m trying to harness the energy of two children, a German shepherd, and a pregnant wife. These are all my favorite problems, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Today I mowed the huge lawn surrounding our home, and I kept thinking it was a good time to write: the hour between the lawn and going to the dog park, lunch, fixing the vacuum cleaner, doing the dishes, etc. I know, all of this is normal for normal people. I’m not normal. I have two belly buttons. I work a lot. I work three 12+-hour days, two eight hour days, and sometimes a sixth and even seventh day. In order for me to be useful to my family, I needed to take a step back, so when an opportunity presented itself, I pounced. I interviewed, worked a one-night stagiaire, and submitted my resignation letter this week all in the blink of an eye. I’ve been at my current place of employment for over three years—not bad for somebody that cooks for a living—and I’m not leaving for any other reason than I need to be at home more. I’ll be taking a step back in pay, title, and most importantly, hours. I will work under 40 hours per week, and only four days. It will leave me at home every Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and I will be home on Wednesday nights. As a professional cook, it is truly the best schedule I’ve ever had. As a dad, it’s the only schedule that will work for me. I’ll miss wearing the fancy coats, developing menus, creating specials, food costing, and management in general, but I won’t miss the stress and the long days. I will also be saving about an hour in driving every day. This, of course, was the brute before and after every shift that took even more away from my days. As I was weighing the pros and cons internally as I drove back from my stage (staj), that weighed heavily on my decision which I all but made when I realized I had already driven all the way home after just fourteen minutes. Home in fourteen minutes; I kept repeating that in my head the next day. I informed the powers that be that I was considering a change in hopes that they might offer me a little more work-life balance, but there was no offer of sympathy. I turned in my letter on the next shift. That’s all I’ve got. Who knows if I’ll start writing more again? The time will certainly open up, but I haven’t got a clue yet what I’ll be doing with all of it. Peace.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Perspective

I know it’s hard to see. People that aren’t familiar with 12-step programs and their principles really have nothing that teaches them how to see things from other points of view. Everybody that reads this I’m sure has picked a side in many of the 2020 issues that are all still very well alive. You either wear a mask or don’t. You think the virus is a joke, or you don’t. You think the president is the greatest thing ever, or you think he’s an idiot. You understand Black Lives Matter, or you don’t.  You think the murder hornets are coming for you, or you don’t. Both way, you are right, and you are wrong.

I liken this to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Personally, I remember it vividly. I was working in a busy diner in Palm Beach and we were all glued to the TV when the second plane hit. A woman shrieked and started to cry. She was from Manhattan. I was saddened and I was angry that people would want to do this to our country. But looking back and remembering some interviews I had seen years ago, I realized that there is another side to it. We are the terrorists to the Al Qaeda, and they cheered at the towers fell while we wept and grieved. This is of course an extreme(ist) example, but it illuminates perspective, and maybe we can use this to understand the people we are fighting with in our own country right now.

Fear is driving anger in this country, and it is all coming from disagreement on opinion. We all treasure our opinion, and hopefully, in most cases, opinion should be based on some facts, or maybe how you interpret facts. I believe I have a strong opinion, but that doesn’t mean I’m right, or that it is only my opinion that matters. Politically, I don’t agree with only one side. I like different points of view, and I believe we could all do a better job of listening to each other.

In my program of recovery, I was asked very early on to take inventory of all of my resentments in life—past and present—and find my mistakes in those relationships. It threw out my previous vision that everybody was always out to get me or fuck me over, and I started to look at situations from another angle before I reacted. When I saw that I was also very capable of making mistakes, being wrong or stubborn, or creating chaos, I understood that others were capable of the same, and that allowed me to be forgiving and understanding of others and their views.

You aren’t wrong, I just don’t agree with you. Obviously there are extremists in any wing or religion that I couldn’t agree with, and I should clarify that I do not condone terrorism, racism, intolerance, or anything else that produces violence due to fear. And obviously I don’t think my opinions are wrong, but neither do you. I don’t want to change any minds, as I don’t want mine changed. But I would relish the opportunity to talk it out with anybody that holds different views; not to persuade, but maybe to understand.

I make a lot of assumptions when I form my opinions about racism lately. I assume it’s all white people in the middle of nowhere who have never been exposed to culture. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s also people in urban areas who have had negative experiences with certain races or cultures, or maybe they learned it from their parents. But not all racism is from white people, it goes several directions and none if it is useful or helpful. That part is a fact.

How can you be more useful to your God, or your neighborhood, or your friends? How can you be more constructive on Facebook? How can you be more tolerant, or helpful? Can you see other’s outlooks without finding something to differ with? Can I? We are becoming more divided each day, we are more critical of every little thing we see. Me, too. How do I stop? How do we stop? Should we stop?

Paradigm=opinion. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

There Goes the Neighborhoods

The last time I wrote a post, Covid was just knocking on the door of our economy and patience, and the worst thing in the world at the time seemed to be that we couldn’t go eat at restaurants for a couple weeks, and we had to take a new look at how to serve members at our own restaurant. That was just over two months ago. In that span, the world began to crumble, and a virus became political, and there were only two sides. Then it got worse: the cops killed another unarmed, handcuffed, black man. I haven’t heard a word on the coronavirus since.

I’m a white male in a sub-suburban town in rural Minnesota. But I’m from the cities, and I’m an ex-con. I’ve seen both sides of the law and more sides of fences than most people. I’ve resisted arrest, run from the cops, and I’ve only had guns pointed at me by other criminals. I’ve been punched by an officer, but I really deserved it, and cops have lied in statements to make a crime I committed seem more severe. More often than not, my interactions with the police correlated directly with how I began the situation. I have white privelage, and I use it because I have it, even if I don’t intend to do so. I believe most cops aren’t bad, as I believe most criminals aren’t bad people. I also believe that when a person is handcuffed, they pose a lesser threat than if they had their arms free. Additionally, I believe a handcuffed man face down in the concrete poses even less of a threat. If you see a person in this position, you should not kill him.

I spent my teens in the Midway area of St. Paul where every color combines freely in a stir-fry of people. Even before that, I was raised in New Brighton, where my daycare provider was part of a mixed-race family, where I probably developed my sense of broadmindedness for things outside the white-box.  When I drive through the cities on 94, I get this feeling in my chest that makes me happy, even though everything has changed. I immediately think of food, culture, diversity, and the excitement of daily commotion. I/we stop for Pho and spring rolls every time we get there. These are the things I miss about the cities. I miss the iconic Montgomery Ward’s building, although that no longer exists. Just as familiar is the A-1 Lock Service on Snelling and the Turf Club around the block on University Ave, both of which have been damaged in the riot. Lloyd’s Pharmacy, Foot Locker, Furniture Barn, all damaged and/or looted. The list goes on and on: TJ Maxx, NAPA, Big Top, CVS, and Walgreens, Discount tire, TCF, Goodwill, Game Stop, Gordon Parks high school. There are more. There will be more.

Since 1619, Africans were forced to do what white people have told them to do, earlier if you click another Google link, but 400 years or more. George Floyd represents yet another show of force by the law, indicating that oppression of black people is not yet in the past.400 years and counting, even in modern America, racism exists.

If you’re reading this and you don’t like it, stop reading. 400 years and counting, black people have been shoved down, murdered, castigated, whipped, lynched, ostracized, criticized, and worse. This was just another straw on the proverbial camel’s back, and just like 20 years ago, when the cops are all acquitted, there will be more rioting and looting, and who knows what else. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with how black people have responded to this killing, I don’t get to opine on that, much like I don’t opine on abortion. I’m not thrilled that others have taken advantage of the unrest to stock up on TV’s and Lego’s, but again, this is what happens when shit isn’t fixed. I’m more upset about the murder of an unarmed black man than I am about insured buildings and merchandise. Maybe now is the time we look at how the criminal justice system works, and treats different people differently. It took the BCA four days to arrest a cop that obviously murdered a man. But the cops arrested that man solely on a suspicion of forgery. I was also arrested immediately for committing the crimes I was charged with and convicted of. I could have done a lot with four days. Three more cops who are just as guilty for doing nothing are still free. This is why there is still rioting.

This is solely my opinion; please feel free to have your own. I’m not looking for a rebuttal, or an argument. I’m not looking to be validated. I'm just venting from my cozy home in the middle of nowhere. 

Sorry, George. I hope something changes in the roots of our society and system that makes your senseless death mean something significant. I hope you know that there are people fighting for you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Beating


I sat astounded; my eyes welled up with absolute joy, fear, love, and bewilderment. I had never seen something so perfect, so helpless, and so truly miraculous. I saw our little fetus for the first time yesterday and I will never be the same. I’m going to be a daddy-from-the-start for the first time.

We’ve known for a little over a month. For days, the counter tops were littered with pregnancy tests, some eerily crossing the line between indecipherable and maybe, but some quite clear. When she peed on a fancy one, the result was quite specific: Pregnant. Holy shit, life is going to change as we know it.

Of course, we already raise two children that I call my own. I’ve just never done this from the beginning, and I am so grateful that I have the sober mind to deal with all of this. When we went to the clinic yesterday, we were greeted by several surgeons. I only assumed this because they were wearing face masks.  I was generously let into the building, even though guests and visitors were not allowed because of the virus. This was our first OB appointment for the baby, so they gave me a wrist band stating that I was a visitor, and we checked in to get Amanda an ultrasound.

We know her doctor well; some of you have probably met her at our wedding as she and her husband hosted it, so when she walked into the room, I made several awkward jokes and comments about using the probe on me, and then she went to town. Vagina town. Not my vagina. One thing, on TV and in movies, they always rub the lube on the belly and slide the thing back and forth. Real life is different. There’s a wand with a condom on it and it really gets the job done, as it were.


  • At first, all looks like a tunnel. That’s a pretty accurate description. Then it becomes clear; there’s an orb of sorts which was described as the yolk sack, and then magically, layer by layer, all is revealed. In an instant my views on life changed. To me, I wasn’t just seeing a blob or a fetus; this was my baby. Doc moved the wand here and there, and then I saw it; a heartbeat.  My baby, my life, my love; you are alive. And then s/he wiggled around like a rock star. It was dreamlike.

Sitting in that chair next to my wife and an ultrasound machine, I deliberated the next years of my life, but then I brought it back into the moment. One day at a time is a common saying in my life of recovery, and I will try to apply that to this pregnancy, and to the days, months, and years after. This is a weighty instant in my calamitous life that will surely be on my mind for a very long time. The next seven months will be a test, and a delight. We have a spare room that we are going to finish for little wo/man, and whatever else goes with getting ready for a baby. I don’t really know this stuff yet, but I have a great leader who has done this a couple times, and I will look to her for strength and guidance. My wife is strong; she has been through a lot, too. Together we make a great team and pretty good parents so far.

Six years ago I didn’t have a shot. I was withering away and rotting at life. I didn’t have the essentials, or the desire to obtain them, and I didn’t care about the trench I was digging myself. I didn’t have a five-year-goal, nor did I think about the next hour. And then it all changed. The police, the judge, the prison, the parole, the meetings, the sponsors, all of it contributed to re-shaping my existence. I had no idea that this was it; that this was the life. This is where happiness is. This. I don't know what to expect. I don't know what the world is going to look like after this pandemic, but I know that all of our children will grow up in a loving home, with everything they need.
Unless the virus shuts us down for months. Then we'll see.

To clarify a statement above, my baby is currently both a blob and a fetus. I’m not making a political or religious change based on my epiphany, nor will endorse any of the “God loves babies” billboards so heavily prevalent around my town. Every woman has the right to choose.
Now here are a few pictures from Oregon.


The first two pictures are from my aunt's back porch overlooking the Umpqua River and a mountainside.

The hummingbirds were everywhere.


One of several attempts at a good picture.

My loves.

My aunt Connie and the girls.


Maybe my favorite picture in a while. What is she thinking?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Viral


I’ve never worked from home. Before I went to prison, is suppose you could say that I worked out of cars, hotels, and people’s couches peddling meth all willy-nilly. But in my sobriety, as a functional human being, I’ve never had to do my work with a cell phone and laptop. It’s different.

I don’t like it. As I wrote a few posts ago, I was recently promoted to Executive Sous Chef at my place of employment. This came with a plethora of new responsibilities atop an already full workload. But I embraced this opportunity, and after our family vacation in Oregon last week, I was ready to give it my all. But while we were on vacation, the news started flowing of the novel carona virus, and its impact on our country.

On the last day in Oregon, two states had already made the decision to shut down restaurants and bars.  I knew this could happen in Minnesota, I just didn’t yet understand the implications. As we landed safely in Denver for our layover on our way back to MSP, I took my phone off of airplane mode, and almost immediately, I saw several messages from coworkers and vendors with the news. All restaurants and bars in Minnesota were to close their doors. Shit.

As I pondered what to do we all stopped at McDonald's, I had the wife order me something called a quadruple Big Mac. I just kind of pointed at it, and continued my calls in English and EspaƱol para la cocina, and waited for the girls to get their happy meals and proceed to the gate. McDonalds is the absolute worst. It goes against everything I have ever learned, and eating something that I could hardly fit in my hands I’m sure made me look like a disgrace. People saw me randomly with a bouquet of french fries or an awkward grip on a burger that was losing its lettuce all over the concourse switching between languages and cursing in front of children, wondering what I was so animated about. Fair enough, strangers. Fair enough.

I was cancelling all of the orders that were going to come in to the club the next day, phoning my employees to tell them I didn’t know what to tell them, and strategically planning my own existence should the industry shut down for good. On my third call, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed at work for two weeks following travel, which also applied to my wife as we work at the same club. Shit.

It was a 45 minute layover, and as I was starting my last call, I received a message stating my grandmother was found unresponsive, slouched over in a chair. “Now boarding flight 669 to Minneapolis.”

I had an hour and a half long flight to consider all scenarios and conversations I would need to have when I got back. Then I realized it would be nearly midnight when we got in and I had some time to think. I needed the time. So did everybody. There is a lot of management in a big club like ours. We have 950 members last I checked, and they all have spouses, kids,  guests, etc. there was a lot to contemplate.

On the way home, the wife said she was hungry and since the McDonalds at the airport was so bad, she wanted to try again. So, I obliged and we sat in an essentially unattended drive-through for fifteen minutes so she could get her fix. As we drove away, I shoved a bouquet of fries in my mouth and wondered when I would have a heart attack.

I’m on day three of working from home and it is incredibly frustrating and stressful. Orchestrating a show that I can’t see is maddening, and I don’t know if I’m doing all I could be, but I’m doing what I’m allowed to do. I am on the phone constantly, monitoring emails, sending thoughts and ideas to people, ordering what I can from a distance, and relentlessly thinking about how to make the most out of this dire situation. The club is doing carryout like most other restaurants and it has gotten off to a good start. We are a private club, so we do have some exclusivity to provide to members in an era where everybody provides pickup availability. We are thinking of family style, or even mimicking something like Hello Fresh, packaging raw ingredients for members to assemble and cook. Yes, yes, I know we have to have a HACCP plan for that. Let’s just pretend we do and keep on thinking of other ways to satisfy the never-ending call for prepared meals.

I have twelve days left at the minimum to work from home. Maybe I will write more. This took me about twenty minutes, so I certainly can find the time. I hope all of my fellow foodies out there are handling this well. I would love to hear comments on what you are doing differently these days to cope with the closures.

P.S. Grandma is okay. She has low blood-sodium, and sometimes symptoms mimic stroke. It's happened a few times before, so I wasn't incredibly worried.

Stay safe out there.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Good(bye) Charlotte


High above the ground in a 717, I see the rivers, streams, and shades of corn and pine that make up the right side of the country. Or maybe they don’t grow corn here. Maybe it’s just some other yellow shit. I do like that sentence though, so I’ll leave it in. We’re now surrounded by white (clouds), much like I am when I’m in my small town. I’ll miss the culture, the people, the diversity, and the food of North Carolina.

Backing up yet again, as some of you know, I drive a pretty sweet minivan. Currently, I am driving my mother’s Mini Cooper, because she is out of the country, and I’ve assumed her identity while she’s away. But, my vehicle is a minivan. Months before we left on this trip, we purchased our tickets, and rented a car; a Hyundai Accent to be specific. When we landed, got our bags, and walked up to the garage after checking in at the car-rental desk, there seemed to be some confusion as to our arrival, and the nice lady informed us that there was only one vehicle available; a 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan, identical to mine in every way but color. I was disappointed but I suppose at least I had a vehicle I would be familiar with while navigating unfamiliar territory.

We departed the airport parking garage, and plotted the directions to the hotel for our first night, which, unknown to me at the time of planning, was about 25 miles away from our main destination, and the big city. I simply Googled hotels in Charlotte, and didn’t pay much attention to where it was. I must’ve clicked on an ad, but nonetheless, they had beds, running water, and the first BBQ joint I wrote about nearby, so we were good.

Currently, cruising along at about 500mph, we have encountered some turbulence. It’s frustrating to type when my computer keeps moving around. But I’m going to keep at it because I have two hours to kill, and I’ll likely not write again for a while, as life at home is busier than ever.

This trip made me think about life at is is: it’s fragile; simple. At any moment, we could drop out of the sky and we would never remember any of this. Life is happy, tragic, and full of mistakes. The more I think about the terrible dinner we had the other night, the more I recall being in the moment, and laughing and sharing common stories and goals in the business. I know that if I want to enjoy life as I have, I have to keep doing something that I love doing for work. And in order for me to love it, I need to keep shaking things up, trying new ideas, and taking risks. I am currently writing a menu for a beef and wine tasting in early April, I’m taking a private dinner for eight into a home at the end of March, and I’m teaching the ServSafe class to 28 people on the 23rd of this month. All of these would have scared me years ago, but I’ve built myself up to handle the stress of the kitchen life, and I take these challenges as learning experiences. I’ll still make mistakes, but I’ll learn from those as well.

I miss my family. I miss the girls, my wife, our dog, and our home. I can’t wait to see them all, and feel their love around me again. We will all leave together in about a week for a trip to Oregon to visit my aunt where we will hike, eat, and bond, and enjoy our time away from work. We will talk about life, and where it is going to take us.

Over the next few months, I’m going to make a decision about the blog that I’ve pondered for a while. I went over a month without writing, and I didn’t really miss it. Readership is down, and time is the scarcest commodity. I do enjoy writing, but I would like to do it in a different capacity, and start writing another book. It’s either that, or I stop altogether, and focus on career and family. That’s the decision I have to make. I’ll write a post here and there, but I need to take my time and come up with the best idea for all of us. I have struggled to find recovery-related topics, and in my mind is growing a story that I don’t want to contain, but I can’t write publicly because you would all think I’m crazy, or at least really fucked up.

So, for now, I’m signing off. I’ll post this when I arrive at home, and I’ll pick it up again when the feeling comes.  Until then, eat well.

All Good

It’s over. My years at the Lafayette Club have come to an end, and I’m enjoying three days off before I start my new adventure. I’ll be en...