Zen and the art of Culinary Maintenance by JT Hilltop

 

Centerlawn, 1971
Centerlawn. That’s where I grew up, in my parents suburban dream just east of the Gold Coast Great Gatsby section of Long Island. In the backdrop of this little utopia was a huge cauldron of a media inspired sizzling hot generation gap. A war in Viet Nam, a disregard for civil rights, women’s rights, and youth rights, added to the police brutality all over the country had boiled to the top and threatened to spill over into the kitchens all across Centerlawn pitting sons against fathers and daughters against mothers. It was no wonder all we ever cared about was getting high. My brother was in the army likely headed for Nam soon and if things continue the way they are my entire neighborhood would be in Viet Nam in two years. Being in high school sucked, but it sure was better than dodging bullets and bombs. Anyway, time for some old fashioned get high so let the search begin.

Chapter II The Dream Is Born

A typically boring day in high school where cutting class was a necessary event to keep from dying of boredom. Some of us made it an art form which most often was accompanied with a search for a little buz or someone to share yours with. Three years ago pot smokers were a small group but now the non pot smokers are a small group and most of them were considered “narcs”. So much pot was smoked daily in school that we sometimes wondered if that was how it earned the term “high” school. We knew that was just a joke of course but the amount of marijuana exchanged in the hallways was really was substantial. My particular clan of cronies had earned a reputation for being some of the most prolific pot puffers. I could smoke a huge doobie all by myself and still be able to go to any class and function. At least I thought I was. Any class except maybe gym anyway. Yea the “jocks” Those boneheaded sports enthusiast loved to pick on longhairs. They talked in what I assume was the Cro-Magnon vernacular saying well thought out repetitive jokes like “Hey, is that a girl in our gym class? Hey girlie, the girls gym is next door.” So many times I wanted to say something like “Oh I know, I share a locker with your girlfriend”, but I am much too nice a guy. Then again maybe it was because they would have kicked my ass with their Charles Atlas biceps. Not wanting to get sand kicked in my eyes I opted for keeping it an inside joke. They really would kick my ass if they ever found out I had sold and smoked pot with many of their girlfriends at one time or another.
Anyway, whenever I got bored, which usually only happened on school days I engaged in a ritual tradition that Ken and the rest of my band of merry marauders enjoyed called “Find some Buzz”. We would go in search of anyone that had a joint, or a chunk of hash, and ask them to front us a hit. More often than not when a good friend came by they would ask us if we wanted some buzz before we even asked because we always shared our stash, no one really liked to smoke alone. It wasn’t unusual for Ken and I to run into each other in the hallways because we had a certain few places we always hung out at that were prime hiding spots while cutting class. Today would be no different. My best friends voice startled me, “Hey dude, I have a fucking brilliant idea.” Ken was the idea man and had tons of them. “And we should start saving money for it right now.” As always, Ken immediately garnered my curiosity having blown me away with truly great ideas so often. Ken was brilliant and creative. Many of the other students laughed at him back in Jr. high, because when he moved here from Oklahoma he was the first boy in school to have really long hair. All of five foot six, he had long flowing blond hair that was parted in the middle cascading over his shoulders and half way down his back. He had a rebel soul and I was drawn to him instantly. Like most of the male students I had started growing my hair long in part to look cool, but more importantly to piss off my Mom and Dad. Most all of us had developed a twitch from keeping our long bangs out of our eyes. We all wanted to be Beatle “moptops”back then but Ken was ahead of the curve and had already grown his hair long like……well like a girl. That was also part of Kens appeal. He seemed to know ahead of everyone else what would be in style before it actually came in style. He had gone from a long haired geek freak that was made fun of to a well respected member of the hippie rebellion ranks. Proudly I admit I had much to do with his rise to “coolness” because for some weird reason I was always allowed to hang with the cool kids since fourth grade. It wasn’t that I actually was cool, but I had an older brother and even older sister who had created reputations with the teachers. Those reputations preceded me so you could say I was cool by association. I played kid rules football and baseball with the “older” kids , got rides in my sisters boyfriends “Surf Woody”, and just always hung out with the older kids. So my becoming Kens friend had helped him gain acceptance and move up the hipster social ranks quickly with my friends. It wasn’t long until they too saw how insightful he was to popular culture and trends. Before the end of the 9th grade we were all growing our hair long, and wearing cool clothes like bell bottom pants and double breasted balloon sleeve shirts. Checks, stripes, paisley prints, the brighter the better and no worries if it doesn’t match. Now we all had real long hair, afro’s, long straight hair, super curly locks or like mine long wavy banana curls.
But the first order of business was to relieve the boredom with a little herbal remedy. “Cool dude, but lets go out to La Bomba and do a bowl first. You still got that hash?” As usual Ken came through. “Of course bro, some nice opium streaked black Afghanistan. Lets go asshole.” I hated his “lets go asshole” phrase but he always sang it like a commercial jingle and everyone laughed, so I just dealt with it. Off we went to the parking lot to climb into my car to smoke some hash. My little red Simca, A French sedan type car that was Frances answer to the Volkswagen, “La Bomba” is what we called the car and it was our entire groups pot smoking haven. I never locked the doors because so many of my friends used it at various times of the day, even if I wasn’t there. But this day, at this moment, no one else was around. I could tell Ken was happy about that because he really wanted to talk about his idea. Tell you the truth, I was pretty anxious as well. As he filled his chamber pipe with a small piece of black hash I needed to know. “So Ken, what’s this new idea?” Not a ground breaking or earth shattering question but it‘s hard to talk while smoking hashish. “ Well, here’s the thing.” I heard the match strike and light up as he put the pipe to his lips and lit the hash. He spoke as he was inhaling and his voice got lower and stranger as he talked as if gasping for a last breath but had to get a statement out. The interior of my little red bomba filled up with the sweet herbal haze of hash smoke. In between inhaling and holding the smoke Ken laid out his plan. We would be graduating in two year’s and with no job or plan for college Ken was open for an adventure. I did have a job but at the time I thought it was just a job not a career. I was up for adventure too and most likely not attending college either. The choice was basically go to college, get drafted, or leave the country. I was smart enough for college but my grades had fallen substantially over the last two and a half years. I stopped putting in any effort after my Dad called me a worthless communist because I did a project about the dreaded USSR and the positive side of Socialism. I took the point of view that they had some redeeming values. Controversial but worthy of an A+ from my liberal social studies teacher. Instead of being proud he freaked on me. What an asshole! Anyway our fates will be in the hands of our government considering we would more than likely be shipped off to Viet Nam. Ken thought we could save up some cash, get a video camera and supplies, and head out to Chicago. “Jesus shit man, we can burn our draft cards and just get the fuck out of town.” His idea was to start at one end of Rt. 66 and travel to the other end to Santa Monica where we could settle in with the hippies of California. “You know man that’s a great fucking idea, we can be like those two guys on Rt 66, I’ll be Buzz and you can be Todd.” Ken gave me a punch, “No fucking way man, I’m Buzz, you’re more the Todd type. If either of them dudes were around today Buzz would definitely be in a band. Todd would have a silver pen!” Ken had a love of guitar and film and I wanted to write. His idea was to basically make a kind of documentary of the trip, Ken with his camera and me with my pen. “Bro, you can write the whole thing down in your notebook.” Yea, my notebook, JT’s bible. I took my notebook almost everywhere convinced I was the next James Michner, Jack Kerouac, or maybe even Ken Kesey who wrote about the life of the Merry Pranksters. My book was full of poems, short stories, or just a few of my abstract observationsand Ken’s idea blew me away. To me it was brilliant, the chance of a lifetime. RT 66 was so historic, a television show, the route for all the dust bowlers of the 1930’s who fled to California to escape poverty. Route 66 was the sort of scenic route people took who just wanted to migrate to Los Angeles. I mean Jesus shit, the fucking stones do a tune about it. Brilliant choice, from Chicago to Los Angeles via Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. Ken shot me his infamous shit eating grin and said, “whatcha think, lets go asshole.” I was sold instantly.
TBC

 

A Slice Of Life (from Zen And The Art f Culinary Maintenance)

 

J.T. Hilltop
I was seriously depressed, spent 33 days as an unwilling guest at a South Carolina correction facility on my way to Arizona, and I never made it any further west then freaking Georgia. I played around in Atlanta, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach, and finally realized it was time to get back home to Long Island where I could at least waste my life away with some friends.

After two wasted years and a week of senseless sporadic hitchhiking in the south I finally made it back home to Centerlawn. It had only been two years yet as I quickly learned it’s a strange new world around here. Nearly everyone I hung out with has either gotten married, moved, or joined the “Establishment” and are doing their nine to fives. As for me I‘m officially unemployed and living at home with my Dad of all people. My next tattoo way just as well be a large “L” on my forehead so everyone can see what a loser I’ve become. What a cruel world. I had to do something, I was relented to the ultimate embarrassment of getting cash from my old man for doing menial tasks around the house, which had been seriously neglected as of late. A twenty three year old earning a teenage allowance. I needed to move out on my own again really bad but jobs were scarce, and I have zero money let alone security and rent for a month. Then my old friend Universe created its mysterious cosmic connection and the answer appeared in front of me. My cosmic companion placed fates ironic ad in the classified section of the local paper, “Looking for line cook for six day week. Room and board included. Inquire at Glen City Country Club.” “Fore!”

Thank you destiny! It opened up a whole new world to me. Long Island has tons of country clubs and most of them offer room and board as part of a compensation package. I could bounce from club to club until I get back up on my feet. Hey its not like Maggs Garden Apartment but it’s a room with a bed. I went to GCCC the very next day in my best clothes wearing my best attitude and charm. I got the job on the spot thanks to all my previous restaurant experience. Zen and the Art Of Culinary maintenance is back in the house.

The country club circuit is different from restaurants. For one thing it means split shifts. The members get breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday, and dinner Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday which meant a break from 3-6 on those days. Mondays the kitchen was closed so we all had a day off. The hours were very mixed up but the work was steady and the pay was decent. A great staff, quality food, lots of waitresses, and we all got along and had fun. The room and board left a bit to be desired, the staff referred to it as “The Monkey House.” A small room with a cheap bed and dresser with showers down the end of the hall but what the Hell man, it was still better than having to see Dads face everyday.

Alas, I’ve learned that anytime anything good happens to me something has to come along and fuck it up. After losing at love three times in a row I opted to not get caught up in any serious relationship but that didn’t mean I would stop flirting. As I have also learned I have a pension for flirting with disaster, this time disaster being the General Managers daughter. Eight years younger than me but she was just too hot to let pass without making a pass. I put my flirtatious charm into overdrive and soon their was a very thick air of sexually charged tension. As the Rabbi said before the Bris, “It won’t be long now”

I was employed at Glen City Country Club for just under a year when the ill advised flirting with the bosses daughter teamed up with that old practical joker JT‘s fate and raised the level from disaster to catastrophic cacophony. An accident that would send me to the hospital would set off the next series of unfortunate events in my life.

The members of the clubs get a lot of perks and have a lot of all day golfing tournaments. On most big outings we had to set up two refreshment stations serving soda, beer, water, a hamburger grill and cold sandwiches. We loaded up a golf cart with folded tables, food and drink, and ice buckets to keep stuff cold. The tournament was over and one of the other cooks, Jose, was driving the cart we had just loaded with all the tables and leftovers from the refreshment stand at the 9th hole. He was driving the loaded cart along an elevated tee, a two foot incline, when he noticed something fell out of the cart and jumped out to get it. The cart kept moving towards the edge of the incline so I reached my foot over to hit the brake. Unfortunately the gas pedal bore a striking resemblance to the brake pedal so instead of coming to a stop the cart, full loaded with me in the passenger seat picked up speed. Or it’s quite possibly the beer I snuck or the two Valiums I washed down with the beer an hour ago, but either way I put the pedal to the medal and the golf Cart took off. Literally. Not enough speed to break any golf cart speed records but enough to send the cart full speed ahead to the edge of the elevated women’s tee into a triple one and a half twist gainer with a perfect swan dive straight into the ground. … I remember seeing a bunch of things rolling around with me but don’t remember any pain. In fact I was shocked when I saw the amount of blood coming from my arm.

Jose freaked of course and in his broken English I believe he said “Jesus and crackers JT, you losing focking blood”. Indeed I was, I grabbed one of the table cloths and wrapped my arm as Jose took off towards the main house screaming “help, help, help” That’s when I passed out. I awoke in and ambulance but I was seriously disoriented. The medic told me to relax and I told him I was in considerable pain.Next thing I knew a familiar feeling of warmth spread across my body. My old friend morphine was entering my bloodstream for a reunion. I closed my eyes, smiled, asked the medic to throw away the pill box in my pocket and drifted off into a different state.

I woke up about one or two days later, my arm was tied up top a pole with this huge sock that would be too big for Shaquile O’Neil, and sitting across from me smiling was the managers daughter. I knew instinctively that nothing good could come from this, so naturally, I asked her out which was extremely awkward considering when I got out of bed I realized the tied on hospital robe I was wearing exposed my big white hairy ass….. Was tha a good thing? Or a bad thing? Time and fate would tell….
TBC

 

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