Moving to Austin was great at first. I had more than enough money in my savings account and all the time in the world to be picky about where I worked. I worked at a 24-hour diner at the very busy intersection of 6th & Lamar, but after three weeks of being overwhelmed by the lackluster food, volume of orders, chaotic expectations and the sous chef being a bipolar psychopath I was kicked out after attempting to put in a two-week’s notice. Fuck those guys; I had enough money to be picky, and was no longer in the mood to have waffles hurled at me mid-service. I left Louisiana and making 12 an hour so I wasn’t ready to settle for less, but, life doesn’t always obey what you have in mind. As a matter of fact, it rarely does. Learn to get out of the way.
I don’t skateboard. I never claimed to be able to. I have a couple long boards but I’m cautious and clumsy at best. So when Lil’ Chris, a fellow cook I’ve mentioned before, asked me to try out a new hill by my apartment, I agreed hesitantly.
July 7th, 2010, a day that will live in infamy. I remember it for two reasons. First of all, it’s one of my ex-girlfriends’ birthdays. Whether or not I like a girl after we’re done dating, I remember these things. I’m marriage material, damnit. Secondly, it became the date near the top of every bill statement sent to me by the hospital for years to come. To keep the physics short, I bobbed when I should have weaved and I went down head first on a steep hill. I completely broke the fall with my face; ate a total asphalt sandwich. I broke my nose, tore a hole in my bottom lip with the circumference of a dime, and knocked out three of my front teeth. I looked like a true Louisianan. My Austin friends would come to call me their Bayou Brother. It was hard for me to argue.
Three doctors, seven stitches, a pint of blood, three scars, many X-rays, a lot of needles, a few pills, months of dental work and about seven thousand dollars later I was out of cash, out of dignity and out of options. I went from rightfully choosy about work to taking anything I was given. Through a very particular set of circumstances involving my now dear friend, Michelle, I started working at, wait for it, Babies R Us. I ended up swallowing what little pride a guy with missing teeth has and accepted their pathetic 8 bucks an hour. And I mean no pride. I had three other job interviews and a driver’s license photo before I had some new chompers. If I hadn’t taken the job I wouldn’t cover rent the following week. As fate would have it, one of the people working there was married to Chef Brandon from The Good Knight where I had done a stage a few months before. The stage hadn’t amounted to anything but Brandon’s wife knew how horrible Babies R Spoiled was and a few morbidly funny stories about it forwarded to Brandon via the wife were enough to get him to give me a call. It wasn’t any more money than Babies R Exploited, but at least I was back in a kitchen.
Working at The Good Knight turned me into, for the first time, whether I knew it or not, a real cook. By this day and age I feel like it’s no longer any big secret that true cooks are not normal people. I know I’ve discussed it. We don’t operate during normal business hours, we tend to be socially awkward around regular folks and we don’t invest our money in the on-the-surface legitimate economy. We’re basically pirates, working in a meritocracy to earn our keep based not only on our skill, but our resolve, resilience, ability to take shit and dish it right back out. Burns, cuts, blood, scathing remarks, late hours, needy customers and sociopathic associates and friends are things that are dealt with regularly. We don’t flash Rolexes, we flash scars and tattoos. Most of this sort of thing I had grown accustomed to but this was all work-related albeit cultural. What I hadn’t dived into was The Life. The style and times in which cooks live their lives and do their thing; going to bed at six in the morning and sleeping until two in the afternoon. In a state of perpetual hangover. Experimenting with numerous types of drugs and testing the limits of one’s own alcohol tolerance levels nightly because, “Why the fuck not? I ain’t gotta be at work in the morning.”
I left The Good Knight each night very late and we worked next to a full-service coffee bar at which we earned a considerable discount. All of the places in which Randal, the owner, had a hand were like that. Even after I worked there I’d go to an old bar and simply ask, “Do you get a discount for working at The Good Knight?” He’d nod his head and hook me up without so much as a false claim from my innocent lips. Shifts were so slow I’d usually sit outside by the open window in the door to the kitchen, book in one hand, cheap cigar in the other and one ear on the ticket machine inside Next to that, a free, strong cup of coffee I’d be drinking at midnight or later. I began a good bit of writing here. Before this job I didn’t enjoy coffee or cigars; Or late nights for that matter, but there I was.
To Be Continued…