JT’s Culinary Career Becomes A Pile Of Crap

 

 

J.T. Hilltop… (From Zen and the Art of Culinary Maintenance)
The freaking manager and Maitre D’ of Cavarleiri’s Restaurant ran off with the Payroll and my hopeful culinary career was cut short. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t used to the fecal matter hitting the rotary oscillator but Cavalieris closing was a lot to deal with. I thought I had found my calling in the restaurant industry and the furthest thing from my mind was not being part of the gastronomic cosmic enlightenment enhanced with copious amounts of weed. No longer was I an apostle to a culinary madman, no more waitresses to flirt with, no more free beers, no more sneaking joints in the basement. I was now saturated with disappointment and disillusionment. I guess that’s how my Dad felt about me, but I’m not here to wallow in self pity, I’m here to tell my story. No money meant no weed and no weed meant I needed to seek another avenue of employment. Fast! I needed to shed the dry burnt out snakeskin of the restaurant industry and turn on to some other form of capitalism. I needed to get far away from any kitchen, any Chef or any sexy damn waitress. I need a sacrificial rack of lamb so to speak. I should do what James did when he was here, some fast money landscaping. So it came to pass that I had became the new landscaper for James olf boss Muncie at Muncies Field of Dreams. More accurately put, I had left the bottom rung of dishwashing to join the bottom rung of lawn mowing leaf raking topsoil carrying shit spreaders. I had chosen to become a hard working laborer and have my skin scorched everyday by burning threats the summer sun makes good on while enjoying the hearty aroma of freshly decayed organic manure. Enough about the perks though; let me tell you about the downside. Everyday ended the same, my arm and back muscles pound out a rebellious beat building to a painful crescendo. As I reach to cool my aches and pains with a cold beer it seem as though all my muscles tightened up into ball of overworked subdermal tissues and tendons screaming at every movement. My skin radiates a pinkish aura from hours spent unprotected by those relentless threats of the harsh sun. It left my neck and shoulders feeling like James gave them an Indian neck burn adding to my misery. As if that weren’t enough, the omnipresent stench of decaying crap had implanted its neverending stink carousel deep into my nasal cavity. Olfactory nirvana! Out on the field one of my less enviable jobs, if that’s even possible, was to take compost which was Muncies name for decayed animal shit, and spread it across a field. At first the smell of evaporating morning dew so earthy and rich comes rising up off the ground like a wisp of warm steam in a tease just waiting for its vile replacement. Breathe deep and enjoy the best of nature while it lasts because within seconds comes the dank aroma of compost. Its a blend of some of the most offensive smells I could ever have imagined. Horse shit, cut grass, worm infested leaves, and decaying matter are the less offensive stench. Once dumped on the ground the aromas of a horse stable had a meeting with a quarantined rest stop bathroom, and then joined forces with spoiled milk and dead mouse body to create a cacophony of disgust that slowly crept up my nasal passage and made an all out assault on all five of my senses. There it would stay to hang out for hours even after my day was long over. A rank reminder of my newly acquired hopelessness that was eased, but not eradicated by the beer. With a cannabis chaser of course.
Partying had come to a new intersection as well. Turn right and head up the morphine highway that was one step away from the dreaded H. Heroin, horse, dope. A dangerous path to be sure but as long as we kept just to the pills it seemed okay. To the left was an array of uppers and downers that had become much too routine for us. From the ritual of lighting up to the ritual of popping pills. Ken the salesman was in big demand and was spending way way too much time with the low life dealer Arthur. As for me I was required to wake up early 6 mornings a week and work my body into a pile of mush. But I had every night free to do whatever I chose. I had begun spending more and more money on drinking and drugs, supplying not only my head but Carries as well. And many evenings I took care of Sue as well because my best friend Ken was always out copping drugs to sell. I had begun doing diet pills every morning to keep me awake and give me the energy to bust my ass out in the shit fields and then popping downers to take off the edge of diet pills so I could sleep. As if that didn’t suck enough on days when it rained I would be sent home and not make any money for the day. I quickly went through my head money after a week of solid rain. The summer was coming to an end and I was making less money. Soon it would be too cold to do landscaping and I would be out of work again. Fuckin A man! I couldn’t remember how the fuck I got here but I knew I needed to get the fuck out real soon.
As if on cue that week of rain and crappy weather had set me in search of a new destiny. Again fate reared its ugly head and out of the blue came an offer to become an assistant groundskeeper at a local Nursing Home. How cool to be able to use my newly acquired skills on three locations and get paid even if it rains. That’s how it was that I became something different. Now I was a shit spreader with a title. The assistant groundskeeper with a special attribute. I was in charge of manure movement. Whatever, I was working and making money on a regular basis again. And the work wasn’t nearly as exhausting. Life was good again. Now I could concentrate on saving up my money. I began working in the yards of the three nursing home properties at Vierno’s Nursing Homes Inc.

To Be Continued

Culinary Nirvana Takes Center Stage

 

(From Zen And The Art Of Culinary Maintenance by J. T. Hilltop)

Working in a restaurant at age 14 was more than just a J.O.B., it was a spiritual transcendence. It was being part of something that lifted an entire staff of “Restaurant People” to a higher plane. At that impressionable age I was fortunate enough to find myself in the employ of Cavalieri’s restaurant in the socially envious position of pot washer. Four nights after school, and Saturday nights, I was the head pot washer. But, being the envy of my high school buddies was short lived when I discovered that the “head pot washer” had nothing to do with pot and even worse, I wasn’t really in charge of anything other than some sudsy water that involved way more than merely washing pots. I was also permitted, implored even, to use my hands to scrape and clean the organic food remnants and other indefinable residues left on the plates by our satisfied customers. So it was that this head pot washer was cleaning everything that anyone found so objectionable it was left on the used plates in the restaurant. Poised at the suds busting helm I decided that I was going to be the best Goddam pot washer they ever had.
On one particular night an epiphany of sorts smacked me in the head so I felt compelled to let everyone in the kitchen know my lofty intentions of becoming a black belt in the art of pot and pan scrubbery. When I told the chef, the sensei, the absolute ruler of the kitchen of my plan I was certain he would beam with pride. I really looked up to the chef even though he was so old. Man that dude must have been in his 50’s. I believe he always worked hard and the years had been kind to him, although not without consequence. Deep furrows stretched into spaghetti lines across his face, and he always seemed to be deep in thought even when he was drinking. I noticed he was quite fit for an old dude, and he was deceptively strong. Crazy coot could throw 50 pound bags of potatoes halfway across the kitchen with ease. Sometimes directly at me! He always wore a dirty and tattered black bandana which concealed the badly receding headline and his eyebrows sported the thickest hair he had. Like angry caterpillars on steroids those eerie brows housed some very dark and serious eyes. Eyes that narrowed instantly at the first sign of anger. Like holy shit man it wasn’t only the eyes but that bulging vein that stood out and threatened me personally. Eyebrows that said grab a scour pad you insignificant piece of shit the are dirty pots to be assimilated. Every second I prayed it wasn’t the angry face that was building up inside his maniacal mind but the funny one. Not siree it was not the anger I was about to get a full emasculating dose of. He looked me directly in the eyes and with his most compassionate paternal demeanor his eyebrows alloed his eyes to tear up as he laughed uncontrollably. A laugh that came all the way from the balls of his feet. In between his deafening guffaws the chef attempted to tell his sous chef Andre what my intentions were, and that was met with a roar of laughter that could cause a soufflé to fall to it‘s knees. Regardless of their snickering daggers of contemptuous chuckling I maintained a stiff upper lip, and decided I would take charge of my own soapy destiny.
The fuck with them! As empowering as it may seem it wasn’t the joy of busting suds for a living that kept me coming back. It wasn’t the dream of one day being admired, no revered as the Chef Ultimate, the absolute ruler of the kitchen. It wasn’t that soul warming food, it wasn’t even the lure of the attractive and flirtatious waitresses that continually tempted my teenage libido with a false sense of possibilities beyond imagination. No, there was something else about this experience that taunted my inner Cheshire cat. They paid me money so I could but weed.
So despite all the bad karma that seeped out of the sink drain I thought nothing could possibly drag me away from the restaurant industry. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be the Chef, and become a raving lunatic who screams at anyone dumb enough to stay within ear range of my booming voice. An insane Guru who proudly sports a tall white hat accentuated by a bulging forehead vein that popped out with ease whenever challenged. A slightly touched man who is permitted by law to carve carcasses with an array of razor sharp knives of all sizes. I can’t help thinking how proud that would make Mom and Dad. Oh the hell with the Stock Exchange Mom, I wanna make Chicken veloute and dine of foie gras. Trade in the stock market returns for recipes. I want to carry big ass knives around. My gastronomic voyage would be completed once I became the all powerful illustrious Chef
Anyway that was the dream. Truth be told the restaurant industry simply jumped up at me and shouted “This is it” Este Este Este!!. This is what you ask? It was the people, the “restaurant people”, an almost cosmic group of mix matched misfits. I was spellbound by this diverse group of dedicated individuals who work together in a form of impromptu performance art centering around biodegradable remnants of the tastiest and most orgasmic morsels of nutrition I had ever indulged in. Each person plays an integral role in this drama. Like an experienced stage hand I set up the props over and over so the chef could turn organic ingredients into edible works of art, perfectly arranged on the plate I had cleaned. Our lead waitress, Laura would put six of these recently cleaned, now presently food adorned plates on a large oval tray, also cleaned by yours truly, and with swanlike grace effortlessly carry it off to be placed in front of some more than likely alcohol saturated patrons. The patrons would then eat the wonderful dish of blissful organic delight, inadvertently leaving something on the plate that would eventually become my responsibility. The waitress would entertain them with a variety of skits, ranging from cute and flirtatious to downright suggestive. The performance continues. Meanwhile, backstage the chef, Jimmy ( his given name was too hard to pronounce) is performing voice exercises and using my deer in headlight eyes as his focal point. Rapidly building to an everlasting crescendo I listen intently to the chefs advice, disregarding the part where he assures me I should either procreate with myself or leave this God forsaken establishment. Or die. Sufficiently emasculated, red-faced, and disenchanted, I returned to my potsink in a highly evolved state. Taking a “the show must go on” attitude, I needed to ready myself for the onslaught of table remnants that our patrons found objectionable. In walked the lovely leading lady, flashing me that piercing knee buckling waitress smile, and began emulating the chefs thunderous performance. Thankfully, it was not directed at me, but rather on the only person here that was truly as lowly as I am, Rod the busboy. Now I got an opportunity to view my peer’s reaction to a brutal lexiconic workover, so I might hone my anti-beration skills for the next portioning of verbal abuse. It would not take long, and I unfortunately had little time to study my new mentor, so I was left to my improvisational skills. The burning narrowed eyes of my dream vision, the waitress, met mine and for just a few seconds held me in a frozen state. While flashing her signature seductive smile, Laura’s eyes softened, and in that songbird like voice, she asked, “JT, will you set up my next tray?” With a wink, she was gone, the busboy was fighting back tears, the chef was deciding my fate, and I of course, was oblivious to anything that didn’t involve setting up Laura’s tray like it had never been set before. As the chef pondered the proper selection of various swear words and insults in his bi-lingual assault ability to more effectively crush my spirit, I arranged Laura’s tray smiling silently. The chef began to explain to me who I was working for, but fortunately for me his lung busting performance was interrupted by the appearance of anther equally as enigmatic presence. The next character to enter, stage left, was a tall, tuxedoed, and very suave Frenchman bearing the title of restaurant manager. Didier. Didier’s job, as I understood it, was to make the entire cast so miserable we would reach deep down to our inner selves and come up with the performance of a lifetime. I wanted to reach deep down and pull out a Smith and Wesson but then again, I was young and impressionable back then, and of course a pacifist commie bastard, so I did indeed find myself motivated by the threat of that French penguin. Not to mention another opportunity to allow Laura to know that I may be way young, but I am also an awesome dude willing to please. Didier began to roar at all of us, and yet then again, to no-one in particular. It was delivered in a language foreign to me that sounded oddly complementary. Rod the busboy assured me that those seemingly sweet words that came thundering out towards the entire cast were in fact foul vulgar French slang that could make the onions break down and cry. As Didier loudly and cantankerously explained to us how important it was that we comprehend the significance of his tirade most of us merely trembled. Even Jimmy looked worried when Didier was in the kitchen. Oddly the only one that was not intimidated was Laura, my fantasy vivacious waitress, who seemed to render our fearful leader speechless using only her eyes. Or was it her gorgeous thighs? No matter like the Wicked Witch of the West Didier disappeared in a puff of smoke. Or maybe Jimmy was burning something, I really don’t remember. But he was gone, Laura’s tray was set to absolute perfection, Rod the busboy had regained his composure, and Jimmy was ready with the next round of tantalizing treats arranged in artwork on my clean plates. All had performed admirably in Act I, but Act II is yet to come. Rush hour, when the dining rooms reaches maximum capacity, the pressure elevates, tempers hone their skills, and back in the kitchen the shit really hit’s the exhaust fans..
TBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A July Fourth To Remember , A July Fourth To Forget

brass moon

 

J. T. Hilltop
I left my job as line cook at Windows On The World to become a working chef in a 40 seat restaurant in SoHo. I believed my career was on track now that I was the number one man atThe Smoking Moon Café, a quaint littlerestaurant in a very hip part of the city where happy customers sent back drinks or even the occasional joint to me in my kitchen domain.. A limited menu restaurant with a focus on specials, like eight entrees a night. My staff was one dishwasher, one waitress, one bartender, and me. But we all had the right attitude and abilities to make it a fully functional team.
Our clientele were mostly young hip professionals with an edgy style. It was an ultra cool place to work, the owner treated us like family, even when he wasn’t there when our shift was over he allowed us to lock up and have a few drinks at the bar before heading out. Whenever its really busy I bitch wishing for down time, and whenever there’s too much down time I bitch wishing for customers. Typical of foodservice workers. But on July 4th, 1986 I experienced the most excruciating downtime in existence followed by a near impossible power service. The city was alive with celebration, the streets packed with people in anticipation of the annual fireworks display. This year we celebrated the centennial of The Statue Of Liberty so the fireworks were on the West side that year. Being near the West Side ourselves lunch was crazy busy, I had to come in early to assist the lunch chef but by dinner just about everyone was out jockeying for a good spot to view the works. By seven o’clock we had had one single customer who only ordered a burger. The area was like a ghost town with everybody and their brother on West Side Highway. It was so slow Moss, the waitress, Eddie the dishwasher an I sat at the bar chatting with Stolie, our favorite bartender.
I mentioned that a customer who had requested a very hot meal had given me a bottle of Mt. Gay rum. I made some my patented dragon juice, assorted hot peppers stepped in sherry vinegar to an order of lamb couscous which I topped off with some harisa. When I came out to chat with him his face was covered in sweat but he loved the meal. He asked me if I like rum. Of course, who doesn’t so the next day he bought me a bottle of Mount Gay, his favorite, to say thanks. Before I knew it Stolie, Moss, and I were in a rum drink competition making each other rum drinks. Eddie didn’t compete but happily accepted the privilege of judging. My concoction was a combo of 151, Meyers, and Bacardi with a drop of every juice I could find then a splash of coke. Delicious and deadly. By 10:15 the four of us were toasted and still not a soul to serve, not even anyone passing by. Closing up in 45 minutes. We were laughing loudly when the door opened and a couple walked in. Shit! Now I am really buzzing and have to cook some dinners. As I half walked half stumbled back to the kitchen I hear Moss say, “Holy fuck!”
From the kitchen door I could hear the decibel level increase rapidly. It was like the floodgates opened allowing customers to come charging through the door. The fireworks were over and we were right smack dab in the middle of the path of hordes of happy hungry people leaving the highway extravaganza in search of a place to eat. Within ten minutes every table was full with a line of hungry revelers out the door. Half hour to closing time, but now closing time no longer existed.
Most restaurant people stay in the field working because we thrive on the pressure. All four of us were thriving our asses off. Moss handled the tables expertly, Stolie made the customers drinks and helped Moss by bussing. I really would need a new ass, thriving or otherwise if I didn’t cook it off I was certain to sweat it off. Eddie was promoted to assistant sous chef and he did a fantastic job. For the next two hours the four of us worked together half drunk on pressure, half drunk on rum. For me the best part of the crazy scene was after the last two tables had been seated, while things were semi calm, Moss came back to the range with her cocktail tray holding one large drink. “The happy customer on table seven wants to send a drink back for the chef so Stolie made you a JT Rum Special.”
I was literally drenched in sweat, rivulets of saline trailing from my temples. I was breathing hard because I had been cooking non stop even slapped myself hard and shook my head many times to try instant sober up, and Moss was standing there, also exhausted, but still smiling handing me a drink. “Are you fucking kidding me? A drink now?” Moss tilted her head, lifted her eyebrows, smiled at me shaking her head yes. All I could do was smile back, “That sounds about right.” I accepted the drink with a laugh, giving half to my newly promoted assistant. We didn’t have our usual close up drink that night, all of us wiped out, but we talked about our fourth of July experience for months after. Those were the days….PEACE

It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Humility

humid

Humidity is a dish best served cold, preferably in an air conditioned dining room. Humility on the other hand can be served either hot or cold but damn its only May and already seems too hot to be preparing any kind of dish. Yea well if you can’t stand the heat don’t work in a kitchen. It’s that time of year again, when we forget about how much we bitched about the cold and couldn’t wait for it to warm up. But these days it warms up with an angry faced humidity snarling a chuckle at us now bitching that spring no longer springs eternal. Not one month ago everybody was offering to help me out working near the ovens to escape the deep freeze. Or perhaps to avoid shoveling the mounds of incessant snow. But now the chef’s clog is on the other foot as everyone springs out of the kitchen in search of air conditioning. Oh the Humanity, Oh the Humility. Oh, the Humidity!!

What happened to those days when young love and beautiful roses bloomed amid the even keeled gorgeous spring weather? Could it be global warming? Well let’s not open up that political can of worms or we will only bait each other over unrelated issues. The bottom line here is….Where the hell is spring? Not even one month of casual warmth? The four seasons are now nothing more than a fond memory and the name of Frankie Valley’s band.

The basic kitchen heat index equation is this, take the heat you feel outside, double it and add ten more degree’s and that’s what make a chef’s pores open up pouring sweat like a power shower headspray. On an extremely hot day there are nine circles of infernal hell around a stove and even Dante doesn’t want to be there cooking. Maybe a dip in the River Styx will cool things off.

Is it hot enough for ya? Too hot to handle? It’s a moot point because once you decide you want to be a chef heat is what you signed up for and heat is what you get. But who signed up for the humidity!? Actually the relative humidity itself seems relatively harmless. I mean its nothing more than the amount of water vapor in the air. But when the air is hot and the water is hot the vapor gets downright ornery. A hot and humid day can best be described as a sweltering steamy stifling sticky muggy oppressive heat that makes one all sweaty and clammy. Put that near an oven and that’s a chefs summer of love. No wonder so many of us chef’s consume so much beer.

As is often the case however I digress. Bottom line is I did choose to become a chef and it is a profession which requires a great deal of passion to take all the heat that both a kitchen and nature can throw at me. So I continue in my kitchen as always to bring the tastiest and best quality food I can create to the inhabitants of my universe. The main thing here is humility and as a humble chef to the universe I maintain my kitchen standards with passion, pride, and an iced cold IPA. Stay cool Y’all…

How Ya Gonna Keep Em Down On The Farm After They’ve Cooked Puree

cook

the continuing adventures of J T Hilltop’s Potsink Diary
From pots and pans to rakes and snakes I took to landscaping fairly well. Sun burnt arms instead of grease burnt arms, just as hot as a kitchen, and about as physically as taxing yet still I missed cooking. It‘s been three months since the restaurant closed and fate stuck its fickle finger in my life interrupted my path to culinary enlightenment. Leaving me to care for the property of a nursing home and placing me every day at lunch just outside of the kitchen where the sounds of culinary exploits pounded out a rhythm of longing. It stirred inside of me making me miss working in a kitchen with all my soul. Aware of that fate wasn’t done tossing curve balls at my life because on one Monday I learned just what a practical joker fate can really be. Apparently destiny is equipped with a bag full of tricks containing an abyss of irony and has a knack for playing emotional table tennis with me. Like a ping pong ball I got paddled back and forth hard forcing me out of the restaurant across the net to a field of hard labor, then smashed back into another kitchen. Fred had driven me to Mimi Dee’s early in the morning to manicure the lawn while he ran about town “performing” some chores. Popular belief growing on the rumor vine claimed those chores he performed were for one of the nurses at the Huntersville location. Whatev, not my business and besides it was fine by me as it left me alone to work the property at my own pace.
Left to my resources, my new tools of the trade, and a cheap lawnmower I set out to give the yard a neat trimming and edging. A mani-pedi for the acreages of land. An hour and a half into my solo performance was the moment fate chose to sneak an ominous looking dark cumulo nimbus cloud slithering across the horizon setting up cloud camp above my head. One loud crack of sneering thunder and a few seconds later I was the focus of a drenching downpour. Not a dipping of the toe in the pool, but one soaked to the bone bucket full of rainwater followed by another. The skies blushed dark crimson as if foretelling the twisted new path fate had in store. Having become somewhat intimate with fates and destinies I had to assume that this new path would be lined with irony. “Jesus Christ this shit’s really coming down. Can’t get anything more done here so I guess I should go inside.” I mumbled it to myself to validate it was proper for me to stop work an seek shelter. As soon as I entered the back door a very familiar sense filled the room. The clanging of pots and pans as they jockeyed for position on the stove, plates chattering while being pulled and stacked from the dishwasher, and a general sense of culinary atmosphere called me by name. A private culinary symphony all for me supplied by that devious enigma called fate. The air was full with the smells of a variety of meats and vegetables with wafts of consommé memories from a large pot of chicken infused liquid hoping to one day soon become a soup. The smells and sounds were the familiar frantic state of culinary urgency shortly before service. The aura of intense pressure was reminiscent of Cavalieri’s restaurant, my one time Mecca. It was crunch time even in this institutional kitchen and I was so taken aback by my memories I shook off the rain and blurted out to the Nurse in charge of the kitchen, “Can I help? I know a bit about food.” Without a smile a very attractive Jamaican woman in a not very sexy nurses uniform yelled “I need zeese onions peeled and cut, tink you could a’handle dat?” Nary a word more need be spoken as I rushed over to the table with the onions, grabbed a familiar feeling knife and pulled out a cutting board. In a matter of minutes I had peeled, cored, and diced the onions. “What else do you need?” The Nurse stopped in mid stride and asked “You gotta all dem onions done?” I could tell she was doubting me so I held them up and said “Yup, where do you want them?” She smiled at me with a huge open mouth and I noticed a small gap in her front teeth. Suddenly something seemed more sexy about her despite the uniform. As I looked closer I realized the uniform fit pretty tight allowing me a gratuitous view of her shape. She was in her late twenties or early thirties, slender and very pretty with firm looking curves in all the right places. Her skin was smooth and silky with an exotic ebony glow. She looked at me approvingly with dark brown eyes that twinkled sweetly in contrast to the sharp authority she normally displayed on the staff. “Put day inna pot dare witt dee carrots.” When I asked her if she wanted a mirepoix I thought she was gonna run over and kiss me full on the lips. Maybe I hoped she would but either way she flashed me that huge tiny tooth gapped smile. “You do know your way round de kitchen. My name is Margie and yes, I needa celery in dare too. Tink you canna hanel dat?” Time to respond with my innuendo laced charm, “I can handle whatever you got Margie. My name is JT.” She teased back, “Zhay Tee huh? What kina name is dot, can‘t afford whole name? ” It was feeling good, cooking and flirting again, “My real name is Justin, but my friends call me JT because I am Just Thrilling to be with. It seems we are friends now so I guess you should call me JT.” “Yes indeed it do Mr. Trilling. I tink maybe we work well togetter.” She punctuated her statement with a suggestively tender wink. I won’t tell you my thoughts at that moment but they would make a beet blush. It felt great as I assisted Margie in the kitchen getting lunch together quickly and efficiently while the rain continued to pound on the back door just begging to come in for a visit. I smiled at how great it was to be back in a kitchen cooking and flirting again.
After lunch I helped clean up then went outside to put away the tools I had abandoned in the storm since the rain ended as abruptly as it had begun. As I was surveying the yard deciding what else I could do before Fred got back when I heard someone yelling my name. Margie was calling me from the front door of the mansion. When I got there she smiled a huge smile saying to me “I got some good news for you Zhay. I jus talk ‘a Misser Viero an him say you canna work here wit us inna de kitchen and aroun’ de home full time. We canna use the help and you no have to work inna da rain no more. What jew tink Jussa trilling?” There it was. Right there fate dangled its fickle tickle of decision in front of me chuckling at what ominous repercussions would come of my choice. But was it a choice or had fate already made up my mind for me? If I say I would love to Fred will be mad but if I say no I will be saying no to old man Viero and who says no to an owner? Yes also means no more shit spreading, being back in a kitchen, and the chance to do some more serious flirting. Round the clock nurses aides as well as a kitchen job. It really had felt awesome working in the kitchen with Margie. I could definitely see myself working with her and her crew of nurses. Not to mention all the young chicks who help her which I would be working with. Okay, go ahead and mention it I know I will. True I have a steady girlfriend and all, but like my Mom says, “You can look at the menu as long as you remember what your entrée is.” Not sure exactly what she meant but give her credit for trying to speak restaurantese to me. Decision was made while fate laughed. “I think I would really like that Margie, when can I start?” She looked as excited as I was and told me I should finish out the week with Fred and start next Monday. Once school starts we will work out a weekend and afternoon schedule. My new job would be to maintain the inside of the home, help in the kitchen and whatever assistance the nurses may need. All in all it seemed like it was nothing but gold, at least until I learned what new adventures were in store for me. I neglected to remind myself that things were not always what they seemed but that’s okay, I would find out in good time what new tricks fate had in store for me to tickle its devilish funny bone. As intimate as I thought I was with fate I never realized it was planning to teach me about some new adventures which would include urine stains and enema’s. I still had a lot to learn.
TBC

Out Of The Frying Pan Into The Fertilizer

field

Last time: “Maybe you’re right Buddy, maybe I need a break from restaurants. Tomorrow I’ll go check out Muncies’s Landscaping.”

By J.T. Hilltop

It wasn’t like I wasn’t used to the fecal matter slamming into the rotary wind oscillator it‘s just I wasn’t thinking the said fecal matter would be literal and figure so prominently in my life. The closing of Cavelieri’s restaurant was a lot to deal with and frankly the furthest thing from my mind was me needing a new job. No longer was I an apostle to a culinary madman, no more waitresses to flirt with, no more free beers, but worst of all no paycheck. I was now saturated with disappointment and disillusionment believing the universe had let me down. All my meditating and chanting was for naught. Maybe what I needed really was new path to follow, a change for the better. Time to seek another avenue of employment, to shed the dry snakeskin of the restaurant industry and molt to another field. Actually field sounds right Ken was right I should get as far away from any kitchen, knife wielding Chef or teasing waitress and do some fieldwork. I need a sacrificial rack of lamb. I should do exactly what Ken suggested and go work landscaping for Muncie and earn some cold hard cash. As fate would have it and timing being everything my brother’s ex boss was in need of one more laborer. Hell man I can labor! So it came to pass that I had became the new landscaper laborer for Muncies Field and Dreams Landscaping. More accurately put, I had become the new lawn mowing leaf raking topsoil carrying shit spreading go boy. I had chosen to become a hard working laborer having my skin scorched everyday by dermal burning threats the sun makes good on while also enjoying the hearty aroma of freshly decayed organic shit. Not just any old shit, but class A number one horseshit Munson got from the stables. Enough about the perks though, there’s also a downside.
Every day ended the same, my arm and back muscles pounding out a rebellious beat building to a painful crescendo. I try and cool the aches and pains with an ice cold beer but it seem as though all my muscles tightened up into ball of overworked subdermal tissues and tendons screaming at every movement. My skin radiates a pinkish aura from hours spent unprotected by those relentless threats of the harsh sun. It left my neck and shoulders feeling like they were rug burnt adding to my misery. As if that weren’t enough there was that omnipresent stench of decaying crap implanting its neverending carousel of stink deep into my nasal cavity. Deep! One of my less enviable jobs was to take compost, decayed animal shit and who knows what and spread the malodorous mixture across a field. At first the smell of evaporating morning dew so earthy and rich comes up off the ground like a wisp of warm steam in a pleasant tease just waiting for its replacement. Breathe deep and enjoy that nature while you can because within seconds the dank aroma of compost rises triumphantly up the nasal passages. Its a blend of some of the most offensive smells I could ever imagine, if dogs smelled that stench when they sniffed another dogs ass the species would go extinct. The steaming stench of a mountain outhouse combined with a quarantined fraternity bathroom joining forces with week old spoiled milk and assorted cheeses creating a cacophony of disgust that slowly creeps up my nose making an all out aerial assault on my entire being. The assault continues for hours even after my work day was done. Like pigpen the stench takes on an identity of its own following me everywhere even stalking me all the way to the shower where it finally meets it’s match and scurries defeated down the drain. A small portion of it sets up camp in my clothing as a rank reminder of my newly acquired hopelessness that was eased but never eradicated by the cold beer.
I began taking diet pills every morning to keep me awake and give me the energy to bust my ass out in the shit fields and then swallow down pheno barbs at night to sleep through the amphetamine rush. An expensive proposition because on days that it rained I would be sent home making no money for the day, needing extra beer and weed to calm me down from the pills. Between the pills, beer and weed I went through all my savings after just one week of solid rain. Penniless I was gloomily staring out Munson’s tool shed listening to the rain wondering how the fuck I got here. As if on cue fate suck its fat foot inside the door forcing its way in. Out of the blue my friend Patrick came by with an offer to become an assistant groundskeeper for a local dude who owns three nursing home properties. It’s a full time job despite weather and Patrick was quitting. The job was open and he promised to recommend me. Think how cool it would be to be able to use my newly acquired skills on three locations where you get paid even if it rains. That’s how it was that I became something different. Now I would be a shit spreader with a title. The assistant groundskeeper of the Vieros Healthcare facilities. I was still in charge of manure movement but now I can add garage cleaner to my resume. Whatever, I was working and making money on a regular basis again. Besides the work wasn’t nearly as exhausting so life was good again. Adios Muncie, now I can concentrate on saving up money to get the Hell out of here. Maybe even look for a new kitchen job come the fall.
I found myself spending most of my time at one specific locations, Mimi Dee’s. That was the nickname used by the staff at the Miriam Deegan Adult Home owned by the Vieros one of the richest families in town. They also owned two other homes but I only worked at each once a week. Vieros Ault Home was a full scale nursing home, and the Lighthouse was a health related facility, which is a fancy name for old folks home. The only difference in the two being that about eighty percent of the “patients” at The lighthouse and Mimi Dee’s could care for themselves. Those at Viernos couldn’t even wipe their asses but that was already too much information for me. My concern was making sure all the properties were well kept, trimmed and mowed so the families of the patients would believe that no expense was spared in the upkeep of their parents dwelling. Mimi Dee’s was sort of their flagship home so most of the attention was bestowed on that property. But I was happy mowing lawns and raking leaves, even trimming the shrubs which I knew by name. Not the Latin names, the names I made up for them to keep me sane while spending hours alone caring for properties. Big Zebra, Burning Bush, Sticks, just weird names to entertain me. One great benefit was not having the shit stink hanging around me all day and night.
So here I was in a quaint little Long Island community called Cool Springs working on a property of a former Pratt Mansion turned Rest Home. Tending to the chlorophyll producing floral zoo of colorful organic plants and flowers busy enjoying their days photosynthesizing away and looking pretty. My boss, Fred drove from property to property and left me alone most of the time. He drove me to Mimi Dee’s, gave me daily chore lists, like mow the two acres of lawn, trim the hedges, or weed out the flower beds, and went about his business. A questionable bonus was being invited inside for lunch everyday. Not the taste bud tingling foods Jimmy made but it was decent and best of all free. The best part about eating inside the nursing home was the company at lunchtime. I sat around the table with two other guys, six cute young nurse’s aides, and two nurses. On most days I was the center of the aides attention and I dug that. The free meal was back, the flirting was back, and the paycheck was back. What could possibly go wrong? Little did I know at the time, but fates fat foot was a mere ten feet away teasing me by tapping out the familiar sounds of pots and pans banging, plates clinging, and sizzles sizzling out a kitchen concerto. How I miss and love those sounds.

Cooking On Empty, The Disappearance Of A Restaurant

another

J.T. Hilltop
Cavelieri’s Restaurant was more than just a job to me it was my Mecca, Café Nirvana, a culinary cathedral where I was transformed from just another suburban punk kid to an integral ensemble cast member of a gastronomic theater troupe. I was a cast member of great importance at Cavelieri’s and having put in many hours of work in the kitchen I had graduated from understudy to be in the main cast of an improvisational culinary troupe. From scrubbing floors to stuffing mushrooms (sometimes while doing mushrooms) to making salads, plating deserts, and even light sauté work I had become an integral cog in the culinary Karmic wheel. We were all equals in terms of contribution, each of us being essential pieces of a performance art jigsaw play. I adored my time with the staff, the laughs, tears, and beers. At the end of each shift the manager bought rounds of beers to all of us, even to us underage cogs. Many an evening we even hung out after shift for over an hour. I had total seniority over the weekend warriors, the kids from high school who were lowly part timers. Hordes of classmates had come through those doors searching for restaurant enlightenment but only a select few achieve it. I was one of those who reached the pinnacle kitchen edification and Cavelieri’s was my Taj Majal, my temple of pleasing palatable worship. I had earned my position of assistant to the high priest of chefdom. All the kids knew I was the head suds buster at Cavelieri’s having dominion over all the other cogs that came to work were to be trained by the holy soapsud Shah. It gave me a sense of purpose organizing and training the utility staff. The entire staff was my family without the blood relation drama. Alone we were circus sideshows, freaks and geeks all totally misunderstood, but when the Cavelieri family was in the house we were a force to be reckoned with. I was looking forward to going to work on this warm spring evening if only to get away from the chaos that cluttered my daily life. Being a central figure in the restaurant absorbed my inner spirit projecting me to another realm.
I had learned so much at Cavelieri’s, not just about cooking but about life. Jimmy had taken me under his wing like I was his son although he’d never admit it. I alone was privy to his paternal advices and concerns. He had become my sensei, my benefactor of chefdom. Even Andre had begun teaching me things although I suspected his motives were more about getting me to do his work for him. Either way I had become the kitchen protégé in line to one day have dominion of my very own kitchen. All the basics plus some tricks of the trade on soups and sauces. The more he taught the more I absorbed. I had became a gastronomic sponge soaking up everything they offered. Plus I was earning as I was learning.
The second I walked up to the back door of the kitchen finding it locked I sensed something amiss. I peered through the grease smeared window but it appeared all the lights were off. I double checked my watch then looked to the parking lot. Jimmy’s car was parked in front with a few other cars so I walked around. Fuck man I hope Jense isn’t gonna yell at me again for using the front door but what else could I do? I could just hear him in his condescending European accent, “Chay Dee! Vat do joo tink dis iss here? Zhew tink we air r-r-rrunning a pup-you larraty conest? Deese eess a r-r-r-r-r-eeeerrrrestarant!“ I opened the front door staring at the abnormal scene perplexed. Across the dining room at the bar sat Jimmy, Andre, Didier, and Rod the bus boy with John behind the bar. I walked up and noticed an almost deathly glumness on their collective faces. “Hey guys, what’s up? The back doors locked.”
The all stared at me as if they had no idea who I was. Jimmy broke the ominous silence and said “Zeet down JD. We gots some bad news today. Johnny, give JD a beer.” My happiness was rapidly running out the drain allowing concern to sneak up in its place as John poured me a cold beer. It was Didier who spoke up next. “ Vucking Jense und Laura have run off with all zee restaurant money. Zey broke into zeee safe, took alla da cash.Tooka zee cash fromma registers und dezzappeared.” My face turned a whiter shade of pale. “WHAT?” If I told you I was stunned I would have been doing the emotion a terrible injustice. As Roget could more accurately put it I was bewildered confused dismayed astounded stupefied flabbergasted floored and blown away. My entire world and every world within a hundred light years had been rocked to it‘s apple core! I looked intensely from face to face hoping one of them would reveal the fact that they were punking the shit out of me but none offered a scintilla of a smile. “Jeeeeesus fucking shit! When did what, how did they, fuck man did anyone call the cops?” I was good at the obvious. While Didier explained everything the harsh news slowly seeped into my cerebellum chased by the cold beer. He came to work this morning and found the front door open and the alarm shut off. The cash register was open and empty, there was an empty bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne on the bar with two empty glasses. He ran to the office which was also wide open as was the safe door. He called the cops first, then Jense. Jenses wife said he left for work early and should already be there by now. Didier started doing the arithmetic and called Laura whom he had expected of having an affair with Jense. The cops came and took away the champagne bottle and glasses but it was pretty obvious what has happened. “I put all zee numbers togezzer, und she come out zero.”
Man this was a lot to digest. So many things raced through my mind. Classic restaurant scandal, the head Maitre d’ and head waitress give each other head then rip off the restaurant and head off into the sunset. For someone who was at the helm of the stainless steel pot and pan bathtub so often it took a while to sink in. “Wait-What?! Laura and that fucking airhead asshole Jense did it? The bastards took all the money? They-they took ALL the money? Wait, what does that mean?” I turned to my mentor, “It means JD my boy that we ain’t got no more restaurant. No mas trabajo amigo.” I looked at Jimmy with an empty confused stare. So that was it man. No more job. No more Laura. No more money coming in. No more Cavelieri‘s. It was painful. Didier explained that the restaurant would have to withhold my paycheck until the investigation was over. The six of us sat at the bar and drank for hours until it was time for everyone to leave. We said good bye to each other, Jimmy and I talked at his car for another 30 minutes where he assured me when he found another job he would call me. A nice gesture but I knew this was the last time I would ever see of Jimmy again. Or any of the other people who had become such an integral part of my life. Now they would all just be in my rear view mirror, a speck of dust in my memory bank. Feeling sad and somewhat broken I walked home. Actually I sort of stumbled home having consumed more than my share of the free flowing beer. The summer was barely beginning and Cavelieri’s days were over for good! I stopped off on the way at Kens to score some ludes to ease the pain.
When I got to Kens room he was flying high and slurring even worse than me. “Hey bro, what’s the matter? You look like you been crying or something. Here man take these, they‘ll cure anything.” Ken had handed me two white tablets that looked like huge aspirins. “Jesus shit man, what the fuck are these things elephant tranquilizers? I trusted Ken to the end so I downed the tabs without waiting for a reply but still I was curious. “Morph tabs bro”, gonna kick your ass six ways to Sunday. So what’s eating you bro?” I pulled a joint from my cigarette pack, “Oh man, fuckin’ Cavelieri’s closed down man, like forever. That chick Laura ran away with the dickhead Maitre d’ and took all the fuckin’ money. They even downed a bottle of Dom Perignon before running off. Now I ain’t got no job. Sucks man!” Ken seemed shocked but was so stoned he had a hard time convincing his face to respond in kind. Almost vacant. “Whoa! Holy Jesus fuck man! That does suck. Hey man, I hear Munson is hiring, you can mow lawns right?” Ken’s eyes were tiny slits and he was nodding. “Dude how many of them morph pills did you take?” Ken held up four fingers laughing goofily and accepted the joint from me which we puffed halfway down. In the middle of toking Ken fell asleep so I laid him comfortable in his bed. “Maybe you’re right Buddy, maybe I need a break from restaurants. Tomorrow I’ll go check out Munson’s Landscaping.”