A martial arts master under whom I used to study passed out a piece of wisdom to us one day. Nothing in particular solicited it. We hadn’t had any talks in class about the subject, but I suppose in his passion for teaching he just decided to give it to us, well, just because it was useful. He said, “Other people are only mirrors. You cannot dislike something in someone unless you see it in yourself. Before you begin to think negatively about someone, ask yourself why you feel so strongly.” I’ve given thought to these words time and time again and find them continuously practical, applicable and poignant. It makes sense that a cliché model or cheerleader would be contemptuous of a fat person out of fear of becoming fat, herself. Similarly a tycoon looking down on the impoverished would focus on fear of losing all he has. Contemplating your contempt can be amazingly insightful. It was for me.
I think this mirror principle can also be used positively. We tend to appreciate and commend traits and accomplishments in others that we have, or want in ourselves. Expanding on this mindset can foster a great deal of compassion for others and pride in yourself. Put simply, though, people are always, whether they mean to or not, ready and willing to offer us lessons. We can emulate their examples or dodge their mistakes. One such person was quite educational because of how completely different from me he was. This dude named Logan.
I mentioned Logan in my last entry but after further contemplation I realized I didn’t give the guy the screen time he deserved. Not because he was an admirable example of the human potential, or because he happened to sneeze some albeit debauched wisdom my way, but more because he was such a character I would come to rely on for future lessons. Logan would become a permanent archetype in my psyche. I’d find myself saying, “Oh god, don’t be a Logan” or trying to sum up some guy thinking, “Alright, is this dude gonna be another Logan?” The guy would become true proof of Stockholm Syndrome. It amazes me how we remember extremes; the people that have the most positive and most negative effects on us. We all remember the one who taught us to love, but we also remember the one who broke our hearts.
If it had to be one category or the other, Logan would have to fall into the Heart breaker category. No, we weren’t romantically involved, but he certainly isn’t someone I remember fondly. I met Logan as I have ninety-five percent of the people in my adult life: through work. He came to work at a little two to three man kitchen on East 6th Street in Austin, Tx. I would end up having many a clandestine conversation with the Chef, Brandon on how the hell we could fire this asshole. What reason could we think of to ethically rid ourselves of him and spare us future misery? I’m sure that legally Brandon could have shit-canned Logan on a whim but he was a more conscientious guy than that, bless his Swedish death metal-lovin’ heart.
It is easy to say that this place had a Before Logan period and an After Logan period. Any time BL was easy-going. You could always depend on the other street rats working with you, and stress was minimal. No one there had any class, code of conduct or line of taboo they wouldn’t cross, but they were solid guys to work with and they gave a shit about the food. Even the dishwasher was a bad-ass when it came to showing up at a moment’s notice, which was saying something considering his eleven-mile bike ride to work. Any time After Logan was time filled with tension. Gaps in the workload were dragged on painfully by all of us having to put up with him; like a rusty needle slowly threading your stitches.
Logan was thirty-five and this place was not the kind of place with which you wanted any work affiliation at that age unless you owned it. It was small and the pay was pathetic. It was a punk’s kitchen in music and in character. Maybe that’s what attracted Logan. He was a shithead punk after all. Logan thought he knew everything. This was a guy who sincerely believe he had nothing left to learn; that no one had anything worth teaching him. In my mind, that means you’re dead. Useless. Garbage. And that’s exactly what Logan was. It was unanimously agreed by all who worked with him. Whenever he had a question about the job I would answer it, but if I had a question for him he’d say, “Really? Really, Casey, you don’t know this? How long have you been cooking, how many places have you worked?”
The pedestal on which he hoisted himself left him perpetually stressed. He felt like he had nothing to learn, and everything to prove. He was constantly judging himself, talked shit about everyone and not-so-secretly trusted no one. He was his own conspiracy theorist. Granted, all this in a kitchen that routinely had maybe three people working in it. I feel it is safe to say he was unjustifiably high-strung.
And he never shut up. He always went on about places he worked (that weren’t that impressive), things he cooked (that we all could do) and things he did (that we never believed). He referred to his possibly fictitious girlfriend as, “My chick.” It drove us nuts. Especially because everything he said about her was usually bad. I had never heard anyone use “bro” so frequently in common speech. He would become the first hipster I ever met. Before him I didn’t even know what a hipster was supposed to be, but with his beaten-up bike, rolled-up pants, total lack of hygiene and ever-present case of PBR, Logan was the perfect poster child. He was a lot for me to process.
But I did process him. I spent a lot of time thinking about him. What drove someone to be that way? To never accept help, to never take criticism, to have an absolute shit fit about every tiny thing? After getting to know him I realized he had no complicated past. There were no troubles at home. He just woke up and his default setting was douche. But why? One thing I’ve noticed in this business is that many cooks know what it is to suffer. I’ve mentioned that there are those who have taken to cooking as a second profession, sometimes because their first choice fell apart. Some stumble into the job after a brutal divorce, or returning from the Military finding no other work. Some have just done it long enough and had enough industry psychos tear into them for no apparent or logical reason that they don’t sweat the small stuff. In the months I worked with Logan in close quarters I never heard a single sob story. No tales of defeat and retribution, of live and learn. The guy had no depth. He freaked out about everything because he, at thirty-five years old, hadn’t a clue what it was like for life to really go wrong. Everything was the end of the world. …At eight bucks an hour.
If I haven’t made it annoyingly clear or you for some reason have just started reading, I did not like Logan. I found him cocky, rude, and insecure. He made everything into a confrontation, and made every confrontation about him. I know now, though, that aside from being a hipster, a resistance coil and a walking billboard for all things patchouli, Logan was also a mirror. I was nearly obsessively annoyed by him because his excesses were also the parts of me about which I was self-conscious. This was a time when I was first put in a position to work with people, regulate them and teach them. I was calculating and aware of how I communicated with my coworkers and what presence I portrayed, and was terrified of doing it wrong; of being a big, nasty Logan. But I realized that I couldn’t be that abrasive if I tried. The amount of work it would take me to make people hate me that much would be enough to finance and run my own restaurant, so I was fine. Just remember when you meet people that rub you the wrong way, think less about them and a little more about yourself and see where that friction is coming from. There’s always a possibility that you’ll run into a Logan. Someone who is just too much the way they are to fall safely within the realm of rationality. Leave them to their own devices and keep focusing on yourself. And please, don’t be a Logan. Nobody likes a Logan.