TODAY

 

 

Nine fucking eleven. I wasn’t going to say a word about this Day, too many emotions. The shedding of fear for family and friends in Florida, the memories of my days at Windows On The World and all the hours spent commuting through the WTC. Everyone telling me not to forget without considering for one second it hurt me so deeply I could never forget. Believe me, sometimes I wish I could…

 

Then I started thinking about how we define our lives according to traumatic experiences both societal and personal. I was far too young to understand the implications of the murder of President Kennedy but I clearly remember how the adults were so unilaterally shocked and hurt. In my lifetime it was similar to the day Reagan was shot and for one collective night we were all Republicans, praying or chanting for him to be allright. I was far more conscious about the deaths of Martin King Jr. and Robert Kennedy as my political views were beginning to form. The trials of the Chicago eight, the civil right denial of our brothers and sisters, the emergence of a group of young kids who cared about every culture proudly assumed the name of “Flower Children”. My question tonight is WTF happened to those children? Did half grow up to be angry white racists? Seems like it to me. Many of the kids who locked their arms with mine now question If people of other faiths and cultures are worthy of the standard my one time brothers and sisters felt were open to all. WTF happened to your souls?

The terrorist attack on NYC, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC wasn’t committed by the people but of a religious cult bent on hatred. It was committed by a break out faction of Islam not that far from Joel Osteen and his band of fuck you if you’re not Christian Faction. Sound harsh? Racism is a harsh reality we need to confront. I am relieved that most of my Florida family are safe, I am relieved that the evil religious zealots have been compromised , but TBT, I have many reservations of who my fellow Americans blame to ease their minds, while turning a blind eye to their own racist assumptions.

I had a long history at the WTC. It was a marker for me, a family member, and when they fell I cried for days. I still cry when someone posts the planes flying into the buildings… It hurts me as if I lost a family member. I have so many fucking memories tied into the Twin Towers that every year it hurts a little more, almost as much as losing my daughter. It hurts…… it hurts us all, but today I am a bit more concerned My family are safe, I grieve for all the families, but I am not willing to target a specific group of people because of their beliefs, or Christians would be on my hate list too If you truly believe yourself to be a believer in God, now is the time to prove it . Jesus didn’t argue, he preached love…..Or at least that’s what I was told ……Live and Love in Peace……

 

racism,

Interview On Top Of The World

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It was June of 1980 and I had just graduated The Culinary Institute of America. Oh, hell yea I was ready to take on the world with a knife and a saute pan and was scheduled for an interview on the 107th floor of One World Trade Center, the glorious Windows On The World Restaurant. I was so nervous about going there I had butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I arrived at One WTC. Standing by the elevators the thought struck me that I was about to enter into a room the size of a broom closet and be transported up to the clouds. The butterflies became anxious and aggressive when the elevator opened and I got on. The second the broom closet began its lift off the butterflies began to migrate, some up into my throat and others downward. I thought it was either their migration or my excitement that kept popping the Hell out of my ears until it hit me I was flying upwards in a box higher than the Manhattan skyline and it was the rapidly changing air pressure that caused my audio dilemma. When I stepped out into the foyer it took me about thirty seconds to get over the body rush I’d just had and with a weak voice, I asked the concierge where Chef Henri Boubee’s office was.

The dude rushed me towards the kitchen and at first, I believed he was simply enthusiastic to help me. How awesome is this? Consequently, I would find out he was getting me away ASAP from the strict jacket and tie code at the entrance to the restaurant. Whatever, he walked so fast I was sure I would never find my way back in this corn maze of a complex 107th floor. A work of pure brilliance, the kitchen was in the center of this maze and the complete perimeter of the floor was used for some form of dining service. I reached a familiar feeling as I passed through a double door and spotted the familiar red tile flooring so many kitchens I had worked in had. Past three giant steam kettles on my right and a massive waiters station on my left I continued on to the Chef’s office.

In the scheme of things, his office was rather small and unassuming. The chef himself was a tall thin European looking man. As small as the office was, and as friendly looking as the chef was I was intimidated beyond words. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I was in the WTC, talking with the chef of Windows On The World!!

The Chef asked me some summary culinary questions to test my basic knowledge and then some questions about me I assumed to get a psychological profile which frankly worried the shit out of me. Then he stood up, looked at me which I mistook for a thank you – we’ll let you know, but to my surprise, he said, “Come, I vill take zhoo on a tour”. With that, the chef began power walking through the kitchen with me in tow trying to keep up while at the same time looking around the kitchen trying to absorb the culture. Over twenty dudes and dudettes in checked pants, white coats, and tall toque blanch chef hats checked me out like I was a new meat prisoner in a movie like Brubaker. The chef continued his power walk and I followed finding myself in a huge dining room. Holy shit! All windows with a view of the city that was mind-blowing. We were above all the tall New York City buildings looking down. The Chef continued his pace and mumbled something about dining rooms A B and C, led me through the Brooklyn view mentioning something about a Cellar In The Sky, and we ended up in an Hors d’oeuvres restaurant peeking down at The Statue Of Liberty. I was totally blown away, had gotten numerous head rushes and it was all I could do to keep my balance from the dizzying walk while looking outside of the top of the world. I would eventually develop “sea legs” like the chef had and learn that the buildings were designed to sway so they don’t snap. On a windy day, all the sauces would make waves in unison.

At this point though, when we got back to the Chef’s office I had absolutely no idea how we got there. The Chef looked at me and asked, “So… Do you vant to work here?” I thought back to all the advice the school had given me, all the questions to ask about salary, hours, compensations, and how I should never commit but ask the interviewer to allow me time to think it over. Then I thought about who might be coming in to interview after me and my intuition, as naïve as it was, told me if I didn’t say yes the next person just may get my job. I said, “Yes Chef, I do. When can I start?” He dismissed me saying “Come in Monday at 3oclock and Ask for Ovidio, he’ll get you set up.”

So that was it. I had no idea what days or hours I would be working, no idea how much money I would be making, and for the first and only time in my life, I accepted a major decision job on the spot. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

I met Ovidio, a Latin dude with a kind of lisp who showed me around. He and I became very close, and within days I became one of the group. To them, I was a funny hippie dude who played his harmonica into the expediters mike on downtime, and to me, I had a new family. Donald, a good ole southern man who I swore would work barefoot if he could. He used to sell his grill mistakes to the wait staff. “C’mon now, take that steak and leave me 8 bucks. Hurry now, this ain’t no damn buffet now, let’s go”. Benji, a chef from Jamaica who shared my love of Bob Marley and taught me so much about cooking, the most important thing was his constant yelling at me “Let it cook Mon!” I guess I was over-anxious and flipped my food too much. Victor, a sixty-something old buffet chef who did spoons of coke in the walk-in fridge and drank half the brandy that was supposed to go in the sauces. Steve “Stevo”, a pill-popping saute cook who was so high by end of the shift the fell asleep changing in the locker room. But Stevo would give you the shirt off his back. He stole my Adidas sneakers once because he needed some shoes. They were like three sizes too big but I never called him on it, just bought myself a new pair because he never had any money but would do anything so he could to help any one of us. Speaking of shoes, one of the best sauciers in the city who taught me how to make a thirty-pound butter hollandaise wore sandals every day. We chipped in and got him some very expensive Nikes. He was almost brought to tears but the next day he came to work in those Nikes cut out to look like his sandals. Can’t argue with something that’s worked your whole life. There was Willie the vegetable cook, James who taught me the fastest way to cut up 60 portions of roasted duck in a half hour, John B who drank half a gallon of cheap cooking wine every night, Ralph, who grew up next door to the famous pastry chef Albert Cumin and learned so much he was the youngest pastry chef in the city, his assistant Carmen who was every bit as talented but overlooked because of her sex, and Herman, my Sous Chef, who busted my ass every single night. Herman was relentless and it took me nearly six months to realize the more he busted ass the more he liked you. Herman taught me more than anyone about the entire industry, beyond cooking to managing and admin. His stories of how he learned his craft in Austria were terrifying and fascinating. There were so many more, other cooks, wait staff, utility people, ES friends, Miss Ann was in charge and we became friends instantly. She gave me extra chef coats on Fridays and Saturdays so I could change out of the sweat-laden coats on those busy evenings. (Her assistant ran the illegal numbers for NY and Brooklyn for us). There were no barriers at Windows. Race, color, religion, orientation, we were all family and exchanged many cultural and ethnic practices with interest. I learned a lot about the world at Windows, giving a double meaning to the On The World part.

The family that worked at Windows were extremely tight because we had to be. Service was so fast and furious, on busy nights over one thousand dinners served, and the pressure was so intense that we had to have fun together just as intensely. It was by far the richest work experience I have ever had, I worked there for two years and had more real friends in those two years than I did through youth. I learned to appreciate other forms of lifestyles and customs. Even today I have friends who worked at Windows at different times than I did which made us instant friends who could exchange endless similar stories. It was more than a job it was a deep relationship.

Some 20 years later Maureen and I had our first little café not twenty minutes from the city. It was a breakfast, lunch, and dinner restaurant we called it The Petite Cafe and catered to the working crowds. A strong breakfast and coffee accent with two TV sets that ran news channels through the day for our customers. We were attempting to upgrade it with a more modern ”Pan Global” cuisine and had been opened only a week. We kept the TV’s and morning crowd as they were so the two televisions were on the morning of 9/11.When the first tower was it was an arrow through the heart, when the second tower got hit it ripped it out. I was working stunned, a crowd had gathered knowing we had the TV’s and the café was packed yet silent and somber. I was in denial until the first tower crumbled. When that happened I broke down and cried. I didn’t see a tower crumbling, I saw a huge building full of people, full of stories, full of memories that will never get told. Full of life. A profound relationship had ended in death. For the next week every time I looked over towards Manhattan Island there was a huge plume of black smoke that just hung over the city. The normally airplane busy sky was crying in eerie silence. My heart broke.

Sometimes it seems like an impossible task to pick up the pieces of such a devastating tragedy in our lives and every year we commemorate our pain and anguish with an anniversary. This is the fifteenth anniversary and for me personally I have not yet been able to sort it out completely because it will never make sense, never offer any closure, but I try very hard to be comforted by my many memories of not just working at Windows On The World, but the years of commuting through the Trade Center in the years I worked at various financial district kitchens. Thank you for indulging me in this bittersweet memory.
Live and Love in peace….

Concrete Mistress

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The moment I met her she had my heart
When I was merely a wide eye child
She stole that heart held it firm in her hand
With reckless abandon our love ran wild

As I reached my prime she drew me in
Down the moonlit romantic streets
Seduced with the beautiful mysteries
Enticed my soul with heavenly treats

Lured in with her voluptuous secret
Oh the places she brought me to see
I swore to her my complete devotion
Allowed her to exert her magic on me

She’s my concrete mistress I love this city
I left her flat now I wallow in self pity
No matter what happens she’s always got my heart
It couldn’t last forever we knew it from the start

Left my home just to get deep inside her
We shared a love of the nethermost bonds
Together for always, now and forever
Along the boulevard of our beau monde

But all good things they must come to an end
Luxurious maintenance soared far too high
Packed all of my things and I then I moved out
Across the river where I stare and I cry

When I walked out the door she acted so livid
Vowed that with tears I will rue this day
She’s New York City and she’s my mistress
I wouldn’t want it any other way

She’s my concrete mistress I love this city
I left her flat now I wallow in my pity
No matter what happens she’s always got my heart
It couldn’t last forever we knew it from the start

New York I Love You!

Many years have passed
All has been forgiven
We get together often
It seems we both are driven
I recall all our days together
Best days I ever had
As I stare across the river
It always makes me sad
My city she’s a lady
Alive in every way
We shared a life together
I love her still today
Broke her heart when I left
But mine hurt so much more
The city she’s my mistress
And I’m the cities whore
I think of her so often
She always made me smile
I miss the way she held me
Showered me with guile
But still we have our memories
Relations of love and hate
I’d reside inside her if I could
Won’t say that its too late
******
And I feel guilty not being with her
On that day she was attacked
My love for New York City
Goes far beyond abstract
Every time I see a vision
Of the mighty towers slide
It hits me in the stomach
That day part of me had died
Some people call her thoughtless
Some people say she’s shady
I know who she really is
New York she’s my lady

New York, I will always love you

Last Day At Windows On The World

a window

Smell ya later

Working at Windows on the World was the most awesome experience I ever had in the restaurant industry. Fast paced and crazy during service but the waitresses were gorgeous. In fact the waiters were gorgeous too, most of waitstaff were Bohemians. The war between the front and back of the house was non existent because the expeditor was a buffer between the two factions and took shit from all sides. The pace of service was so intense we never really had time to build up animosity anyway. But nothing in my career has ever compared to the camaraderie in the kitchen.
Eight cooks on the hot line, four in the pantry, an a dozen or so prepping, and about sixty workers in the kitchen at any given moment. In the kitchen we spent what little quiet time laughing and getting to know each other better. It was like a damn fraternity. For four hours of service we were all we had to rely on, we all had each others backs. We snuck extra chef coats to each other, beers, joints, whatever. We got high after service and met for drinks before heading out to our homes or wherever we went. We became extremely tight nit.
The thing that I remember most was my last day there. They have this cute little ritual they perform for the people that leave that they love. And I was well loved, the hippie cook who played the harmonica into the expediters microphone, made everyone recognize the moment of silence for John Lennon during the global memorial at his death, and the teller of numerous jokes and puns that kept them chuckling for hours. So I was destined for their ritual which to be honest made me happy despite what the ritual consisted of.
In the back of the kitchen were three huge cauldron kettles for soups and the like. Considering we served over a thousand people a night the kettles had to be big. For the last day of any coworker they loved they reserve the largest kettle on the end filling it with an array of obnoxious liquids. Outdated fish stock, outdated eggs, vinegars, wines, anything they could find to make a disgusting smelly bath to dip the departing warrior in on his last day. My last day!
When the shift ended I knew it was coming because I had seen it before. Some fight like hell and end up getting bruised up, some try to sneak away before anyone grabs them, and some, like me, take it as a sign of love and a sort of torch passing. I passed by that kettle two or three times and I gotta say they really went all out for me. Stunk like rotted skunk anal glands, ripe with overripe vegetables, fish guts, and many things I decided were better not to try and identify. This was going to be one gnarly shit bath and I am going to be stinking for days.

My time came, and my coworkers grabbed me and dunked me like four times, worse than Ollie Dee from March of The Wooden Soldiers. I kicked a little and made a big scene out of it but in truth I went in it willingly rather than fighting a losing battle with ten ornery line cooks. Besides I wanted them to have as great a memory of my last day as I would. A lasting memory, although mine would have an added lasting effect of carrying around an odiferous array of decayed and rotted stenches for the next day or three. I came out dripping with gross puddles of digestive waste. Needless to say I gave them all hippie hugs which they tried in vain to escape always happy to share. I always shared my weed and beers with them so I felt it only proper to share my nefarious lingering funkfest of stink.

What I hadn’t considered was my trek home. Even after washing and changing into my street clothes the elevator ride down 106 floors had people congregating as far away from me as possible, and at least two women gagged at the fetid aroma. I was like a walking silent but deadly rank fart after an evening of beer and eggs. I had visions of a visible stench trailing behind me like a stink shadow. Everything in my wake gasped for air. Everywhere I went people turned to look at me shooting me snarly looks. I had no dog to blame and it was clear I was the epicenter of the situate of smell. I stopped in The Market Bar on the ground floor for my last drink with the crew and the bartender asked me to leave. From there I got on the E train to take the subway up to midtown. I felt like Pigpen from Peanuts as people moved to the other end of the car. Finally I decided to ride the subway in between cars hoping the wind would remove some of the foul smelling carousel around me.

But the aroma offended any in its path, even me. Its not like when you let one slip out and wonder why everyone holds there nose because being the owner of the fart, the one who dealt it, the smell never quite seems as bad. But this odiferous cloud of decayed matter clung to me as if it would never let go even offending me. My olfactory senses were forming an official protest threatening to impeach me if I didn’t shower and scrub with entire bar of Irish Spring and then douse every inch of my body in cologne. If I hadn’t gagged six times already from the stink stream I would have been offended but I knew I was about to take the advice willingly.

When I walked through the door I was greeted as I was every night, with the most enthusiastically happy hound on earth, my Afghan Hound, Stella Blue. No matter what kind of day she had she was always overwhelmingly happy to see me and shower me with canine affection. Unfortunately not one second after jumping up on me her ultra sensitive nose began twitching and I know dogs are not supposed to register emotion but there was serious disappointment in her eyes as she stared at me, shook her ears back an forth and ran the other way. Into the shower I went before any further embarrassment. I decided I needed to burn the clothes and I showered four times in a row. I then marinate myself in so much cologne I could have driven a taxi. It took me three days to completely eliminate that dark cloud of revolting essence of BO emanating from my body, and while the “O” finally skulked away the memories of Windows On The World has never faded. Stella finally got her groove back and forgave me, and the ten dozen or so flies that followed me home that night have since relocated. All in all being dunked in a kettle of decomposed shit water was like a dis-initiation imparting not just the squalid stink but a memory of a lifetime to always take with me for surviving that intensely hot and brutally fast paced kitchen, and if my memory serves me correct I loved every stinking second of it……PEACE