Yes, Universe, yes

If I could experience an orgasm of gratitude, this would be it. One of my customers made it a point to stop in to thank me for my restaurant, the safe atmosphere, the good food and the best waiters any restaurant owner could ask for! Then shortly after I received a call from another customer that had just had lunch here. I immediately thought that she was calling because she had lost something, but instead it was an out-pour of thanks for hard work well done. I almost started to cry from the rush of gratitude.

This has been a time of challenges and adjustments for all of us. In no way do I want to glorify a pandemic that has taken peoples’ lives and livliehoods, but I also can’t ignore the lessons. We have had to re-evaluate what it means to be polite, to allow others to go ahead instead of plowing through life with selfish intent. To be generous and compassionate to others all the time, not just on special occassions. Acceptance. That even with all of our i-shit, we are not in control. Appreciation for lifes’ simple joys. I have watched diners happily sit outside during a drizzle, just enjoying being out of their homes, eating and being together. People have learned a new meaning of patience while those of us working during the pandemic have been trying to figure out how. How to make the extra time it takes to shop, how to work around shortages, how to remain in a state of physical and mental health, how to take care of others and not let their freak outs freak us out. How to blow a bubble of protection around where we are and what we do…we hope.

Since I started writing this 2 days ago, I have learned of 2 customers that have died of COVID. I am grateful for the blessings, support and appreciation that have showered upon me. I am grateful for life.

Bobbing for Apples

Anyone that has met any of my past boyfriends knows that picking men is not my forte, better send me to the market in search of the perfect avocado under piles of unripe rocks or over-ripe mush. I have customers that have told me that I need my boyfriends to be approved by a select commitee formed by my regulars. But I really thought Pepe was different. He had a profession, he installed my security cameras and fixed some electrical wiring. He had a relaxed disposition, soft spoken, non-violent, wasn’t an alcoholic or drug addict. Plus, he was a very attentive, loving father to two very sweet kids who, according to Pepe, had an abusive mother. He was fighting for custody of the 8 year old daughter while being the sole provider for his 13 year old son. Pepe showed me the videos of his son, Dereck, scratched and bruised by the mother, talking to the psychologist. I could relate. Many years ago I was in child services fighting against my kids’ abusive father. So, being the mother hen that I am, I offered to give Derek English classes once a week and arranged for a friend to give him art classes during this time when an already poor education has been reduced to brief online schooling.

Derek and I got along great. We spent Thursday afternoons together at the restaurant where, at the end of the work day, Pepe and, when possible, his daughter, Camila, would join us for dinner. They loved going to my house to eat and play parcheesi. It felt like I was being given a second chance at being able to play and mother kids, so much of my kids’ childhood I spent trying to make ends meet. I was stressed-out, over-worked and resentful that their father took no responsibility in the raising of our children, not the fun mommy I wish I had been. So, when Derek asked me if he could have a Halloween party at my house with 5 of his closest friends, ofcourse I said yes.

He started planning for lights, decorations and costumes. I started buying candy, a chocolate cookie haunted house for them to put together and planning a dinner menu for the boys. A week later Derek asked me if he could invite another 2 friends. Again, no problem. Another week went by and Derek informed me that his guest list had grown to 20 kids. Still ok, but the party needed to be held at the restaurant instead of at my house. We started putting together a playlist for the party and thinking of activities. My friend, Efrain, Derek’s art teacher, suggested bobbing for apples. During a pandemic? Probably not a good idea, so his girlfriend said she would organize a raffle. Pepe did mention that some of the kids might be a little older than Derek, so to avoid having some of the kids bringing in alcohol we would make a jug of watered down margaritas.

Halloween arrived. I prepared a buffet of guacamole, cruditeés with ranch dip, buffalo wings and pizza. Derek and his 2 cousins came early to help decorate. Then his aunt, who was there to chaperone, showed up. The kids helped her unload bags of ice, a big bluetooth speaker and a bunch of boxes. She introduced herself and proceeded to make herself at home changing into her costume and putting on make-up with the kids in the bathroom. I went to the outside bar to place cups next to a vat of hibiscus water and saw she had set up a bar of tequila, plastic shot cups and mixers. 8 o’clock sharp the guests started to arrive. Way more than 20 and they continued pouring in. There were over a hundred and a line of teenagers still trying to come in.

“No more,” I ordered. My son, Kauil, went to the gate where Pepe’s niece, Valeria, was letting everyone in and, turns out, was selling tickets. There was a struggle while Kauil was trying to keep the door closed and Valeria was trying to let more kids in. I had pulled Pepe and his sister aside, explaining to them how they were putting my business at risk of being closed down, I could be fined for breaking every COVID rule and probably sent to jail for hosting a party of this magnitude where there was an open bar for minors. Valeria stepped into the circle, batting her fake eyelashes and tattling how my son had pushed her. Kauil chimed in, apologizing for having pushed her, but she was trying to open the door while he was trying to keep it shut. And did I know that they were charging 70 pesos to come into my business to drink and eat the party food I had provided out of pocket? And the kids that had bought tickets and were being denied entrance wanted their money back! I saw police lights outside my gates. Once they passed I told Pepe to go help Kauil at the door and I told Derek that this was not what we had agreed upon, that he could pick out his 20 friends and everyone else had to leave.

Somehow, I think with threats that the police were going to be called in and the reality that the police were circling the block, most were herded out and the group was reduced to about 15.

“Noren, there are only 15, you said we could have 20,” Valeria said.

“No one is coming back inside,” I told her. I looked at Pepe. “You did not behave like much of a gentleman,” I said, tossed him a pack of garbage bags and went inside. The next thing I heard was Pepe’s Harley. He had Camila on the back of his motorcycle, told his sister to gather her stuff and leave.

“This is the way you are going to leave things?” I asked. In part referring to the disaster in my restaurant and in part to us. He just turned away from me, got on his bike and split. The next day there was an exchange of messages through which I discovered he had hacked into my facebook and had been reading my messages to friends for months.

In the future I will definitely be consulting with the commitee.

Red Light

My staff and son asked if I knew about the red light. The first thing that came to mind were the new traffic lights that we have here in San Miguel de Allende. Yes, I stop when red, go when green and in my opinion they don’t give enough yellow time. It’s strange having something as common as a stop light infiltrate my putt putt pueblo. When speed bumps, cobblestones and the unspoken understanding of taking turns has become a way of life it’s hard to adjust to lights and painted asfault, as if you have been bleeding watercolors freely on blank sheets of paper and suddenly you are forced to color within the lines. But after almost a year putting up with chaotic construction and gridlock traffic, any change is welcome.

They, ofcourse, were referring to businesses being forced to shut down. I still don’t really consider my business to be open since we have been working with our gate shut for months now. Although many thought in the beginning that my reasons for deciding to keep my doors closed was to not comply with regulations, really it is all about keeping everyone safe from violence and thievery. I refuse to live in fear, not of a virus, and not of desperate people with guns. So, I had cameras and a door opener installed to let my customers in, not having to bother with, or bribe, government officials is just a perk.

Kauil, my son, scolded me for not taking things seriously.

“Do too!” I declare, just because I don’t want to go back to 90% delivery business doesn’t mean I don’t take the pandemic seriously. We wear masks, gel hands and disinfect everything. I’ve bought all the antibacterial virus killing products around and it appears that concern for the planet has been out-weighed by trying to save our own asses with plastic gloves and disposable masks. My restaurant has more socially distanced outdoor space than anyone running a restaurant during covid could ask for. Sacrificing my sense of humour isn’t going to bring anyone back to life.

Still, I’m the defiant driver that wants to run the red light.

An Introduction to Remembering How

I feel like I should have been writing every day. Ok, every week. Shit, at least once a month! But I haven’t been, not even with the decision to open the restaurant 5 days a week as opposed to the 6 that I have maintained for the past 15 years. Not even being alive to witness this historical pandemic . This is not about making excuses for creative constipation, nor about self flagellation, rather a struggle with the how and where to start. I feel like there’s so much to say, an overload of unexpressed thoughts flip-flopping around in my head, usually at 4:30 a.m. from alcohol-induced insomnia. It’s that trunk full of old junk you put off sifting through, don’t dare open, better yet, lock it up and set a big t.v. on top so nothing can get out. The numbing and crossing off the days like a homesick child who’s stuck at camp got old. My mind, body and soul started kicking and screaming for a fucking point. Am I all about the unfolding of the morning’s shopping list, the next ticket I stab on a nail, the next holiday’s menu? Or is today’s special simply Today? If I don’t write it, can’t remember it, did I really live it? Or was I just holding my breath until they said it was safe to come up for air?

Days and Days

IMG_20200522_170319

I have two songs left on my semi-melted USB plugged into my car stereo. Both are by Concrete Blonde and as I bumped over the cobblestones on my way home after another day of running a restaurant during COVID-19 I realized this was the theme song of the past 2 months. Time being pissed away as the days lose their meaning. I have to admit that in the beginning it was a refreshing change after my 15 year work marathon, only Sunday to recoupe from 10 hour work days 6 days a week.

I decided to close the doors when we were still in the early stages here in Mexico. The supermarket was packed with people stocking up on toilet paper and emergency food, shortages of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectants were starting. One waiter was having teeth pulled. The sous chef, who had been here a short time, was grabbing the dishwasher’s ass and for no apparent reason reached accross the grill that the chef was cleaning and burned his arm from the steam. The dishwasher was getting a soar throat. I hadn’t taken any time off in 2 years. Without prior notice I decided it was time to close.

But after a short week and a half of any time being tequila time, sleeping until 1:00 p.m., playing Parcheesi, Yahtzee, Rummy Cube and UNO with my kids home for the quarantine, I got sucked back into work. It was Passover, customers wanted their dinners and there was no lock-down on my bills or the staff’s salary. The delivery insanity began. Orders were coming out of every orofice of communication. Emails, Facebook, Whatsapp and phone calls that I couldn’t keep up with. Who wants what where and when along with the cooking and packing with my reduced kitchen staff of two. Yet again I was faced with another one of the situations that I created and wished I could walk away from. The massive brisket we had spent the whole day before baking was extremely fatty and cooked down to nothing and neither the butcher nor the supermarket had any brisket. After fulfilling that days’ orders I went in search of a hunk of meat I could bake all night and pretend was brisket for the next days’ dinners. When the storm of orders were delivered, calls and complaints quieted and I stopped whining about what a pain in the ass delivery is,  I said to the staff, “we can do this!”

Breathing Fire

grill3

Every Wednesday I grill filet mignon and salmon on an outside grill across the patio about 40 feet away from the seating area, so that the smoke doesn’t bother the customers. It’s a popular special and, now, during high season it gets crazy, especially at dinner time when it’s dark and the cold, January air cools the grill down every time I have to open it. Large groups ordering both steaks and salmon across the range from rare to well done. Some tables everyone orders off the menu, except for one, so the kitchen is waiting on me before they can serve the rest of the plates. I have to run back and forth to deliver the orders to the kitchen and coordinate the timing of the next plates.

I used to enjoy it. The rush, cooking outside, even the running back and forth. But now I’m tired. My right knee is giving out. Between the exhaustion and stress of all the life changes going on, like having to find a new restaurant space and trying to sell my house while another is almost finished that I’m going to have to find a way to pay for, I can’t make my way through this head fog.  And then there’s the dizziness, I feel like I’ve had too much to drink and the ceiling is spinning all the time. And then there are the mood swings. No one is safe. The butcher sent me a brisket with 2 kilos of exessive fat, he had to listen to my ranting about being a Jewish girl who knows how much fat a brisket should have and how dare he try to teach me about brisket! The kitchen staff doesn’t know how to turn down a flame or pay attention to any food on the stove covered with a lid, so they burn the pans and the food, which makes them, well, incompetant and wasteful! The waiters walk past dead plates and dirty tables and neglect to check the beverage deliveries for which I’m over-charged or shorted half a case of wine.  Johnny just has to breathe in a critical manner while I’m driving, change the music to Selena or some hokey country shit, spend too much time gelling his hair, be a computer game zombie, color coordinate the candy (this could go on and on) and he’s toast.

What I’m saying is that this particular time of my life is blowing the irritating stuff I deal with constantly on a daily basis out of proportion and at some point my fuse shorts. So, when I’ve run over 2 miles back and forth to the grill, it’s not a good moment to have to deal with kvetching customers. Wednesday night, smack in the middle of a dinner rush, not a single indoor table available, a table of three women start to complain. My son has just walked in with no intention of staying, but gets caught in the web of restaurant insanity and stays to help. While I’m at the grill, one of the three women starts whining about how long they have been waiting for the food. Kauil goes to the table to show them the slow food snail printed on the bottom of my menu, explains to them how the specials are all grilled by order and this is not fast food, something that should have required no explanation as this was not their first time and they had front row seats watching me limp my way through the last stretch of my grilling marathon while they down wine and margaritas.

“Bullshit,” one lady snaps at my son right as I’m walking in with the next order up.

“Well, you have 2 options, you can wait patiently or you can leave,” he tells them.

“What’s going on?” I butt in.

“We’ve been waiting for two hours and I’m hungry!” she yells.

“You have NOT been waiting for two hours!” I yell back. Only 30 to 40 minutes before I had opened the door for the third person at their table. That the other two ladies had arrived earlier and were having drinks waiting on their friend was certainly no fault of ours.

“You’re being rude,” she snaps at me.

“Well, if you speak to me like that, then this is the way I respond,”

“You’re always rude, I was here since 5:15” one of the other three says to me, neglecting the fact that her friend did not arrive until 6:15, the order not taken until 5 or 10 minutes after that and it was 7 p.m. sharp. Then I heard “Fuck you!” from the other one.

I don’t remember if I made any nasty remarks back, because my head was sizzling with rage while still trying to focus on my full grill. I grabbed the pots I use to transport my steaks and salmon and took their two salmons and steak off, however rare they were, when they had asked for their salmons well done.

“Let me know if you’re going to stay before we plate these,” I said as I walked by them. They stayed. They ate. When I saw they had finished I told one of the waiters to give them their checks, so they could leave, not only so that I didn’t have to look at them anymore, but so that the people waiting for a table could take the table.

I was outside grilling the last of my steaks and salmon as they were walking out. Johnny tells me he’s going to go talk to them.

“Don’t,” I order. “Customers that speak to me like that while I’m busting my ass to cook them dinner shouldn’t come back.” One of them starts to say something back to me, I cut her off. “You don’t deserve to be here!”

And they don’t. Maybe perimenopause is just what I needed. And a long, hot soak in lavender and epsom salt.

Receiving Roses

roses

Having restaurant customers is much like having children. You pick up after them and keep their forgotten belongings safe until they return. Obviously you feed them, often remembering their likes and dislikes and accommodating the fussy eaters. With some you are in a constant communication battle. Some even stomp out swearing they’ll never be back and the next thing you know there they are. And sometimes you even have to clean  their shit.

The most recent wasn’t the first, there have been many unpleasant bathroom incidents, many smeared toilet seats and splattered bowls. One woman even wiped her ass with my wall (I’m sure not on purpose), dropped a few turds on the floor, stepped in them and tracked them all the way out the front door.  Usually I’m the one to discover and clean up these messes, that or the staff ignores them so that they don’t have to. But the most recent was by far the worst.

I was squatting in the kitchen shuffling through a shelf before making a supply run, when I hear a deep, loud “baaahhh”. It was Johnny, I see him running outside. I’m thinking ‘dog fight’. We get a lot of customers coming in with their dogs and sometimes they don’t get along and Johnny will run out to break them up. But instead it was my brawny boyfriend with a weak stomach looking for someplace to puke. One woman is leaving the restroom and immediately a man rushes in. One of the waiters points at the floor and I yell at her to watch her step as the woman who has just left the bathroom steps in one of the droppings, she’s oblivious as she tracks the diarrhea on to my doormat.

The man stays in the bathroom, he doesn’t even lock the door, he just stays inside my small, one toilet bathroom. I open up the cabinet under the sink right outside the door, ready to start my clean-up routine. Plenty of paper towels. Spray Cloralex. Hold my breath and try to have a brief out-of-body experience. But the reality is the mess outside the bathroom is just the beginning, so we do a quick clean-up with a bucket, soap and an old mop we just throw away. Then I start to plan what to do when the man comes out. One of my customers, who has been witnessing the event, wisely tells me that he is going to need a change of clothes or at least something to wrap around his waist. I remember that I have a pair of women’s capri sweat pants in my car, so Johnny goes to get them just as the man has started to come out of the bathroom. I tell him to stay there. We’re getting a change of clothes and a plastic bag for his beige, soiled bermudas. I hand him the pants and bag and he disappears again into the restroom. One can only imagine his embarrassment as he stepped out to face us and the army of cleaning supplies. He promised he would return my pants. He kept saying he needed to give my dishwasher, who had bravely stepped up to the bucket and then the bathroom, some money. I knew no one wanted him to start digging into those shorts for his wallet, so I assured him it was ok and not to worry.

Two days later a well-dressed, balding, American man in his 70’s walks in carrying 3 dozen roses, his elegant wife wearing a full, floral skirt by his side holding a reusable shopping bag with my washed and folded sweats. I’m so impressed by their graceful manner of responding to a situation that so many would hide from and never show face. They thank me, they stay for lunch, they swear I’m an angel. I’m not. I’m just a mom who also has customers.

Shattered

th

The other morning I was laying in bed thinking about what to title this story that has been needling my thoughts and shaping the direction of our lives for the past 3 months. The Rolling Stones’ song played in my head. The image I have when I step outside my house is this.

It was about 5 a.m. Sunday morning, September 30th. It was my birthday and it was San Miguel de Allende’s birthday celebration too, Every year they celebrate the founding of this historical town with at least an hour of fireworks before the break of dawn, people gather in the main square, here called el jardin, they party and watch the fireworks. The next day is followed by parades of indigenous dances and more fireworks. Johnny and I were laying in bed listening to the incessant thundering when one of the shots sounded too close to home. Then there was pounding on my metal door and screaming. We both jumped out of bed and ran up the stairs, the two dogs with us barking.

My son, Kauil, had been out partying with his half brother from Holland (Yoris and his mother, Olly, had been visiting for a month and were to be leaving the following day) and his two cousins from Monterrey. Apparently a car had rear-ended him at a speed bump. That car was filled with angry young men and was caravanning with another car full of thugs. Kauil thought he had lost them, but the 2 cars ended up in front of our house. They shot at his car, then continued to smash the windows with night sticks. Kauil and Yoris were getting beat with the night sticks and his two cousins, one who is a large girl and the other a gay young man who had hooked up with a guy at one of the clubs they had been to and invited him home, were trapped in the backseat.

Johnny ran outside barefoot in boxers. He told me to hold onto the dogs, something he regrets, in retrospect thinking they would have helped, the other possibility is the guys with the guns would have started shooting aimlessly. But I held the dogs back and called the police. Johnny jumped in front of Yoris, who had already been hit in the head with a nightstick, and started swinging when one of the guys said his name.

“Hey Johnny.” Johnny squinted to make out the guy’s face, he didn’t have his glasses on and is pretty blind without them, but from his voice and taking a good look he knew.

“I know you, I know where you live,” he yelled. Then proceeded to take the nightstick away from one of them and beat him with his own weapon. With that distraction the two cousins and the lover were able to get out of the car and run into the house. Kauil was half way down the street, he wanted to get some of our hoodlum neighbors for back up, but was stopped by two of the guys. Johnny continued swinging until they finally left. Shortly after the police did show up, they examined the gun shots to the car, the broken glass that covered the seats and the street and requested paperwork. Then came the ambulance, the day had only just begun.

When Kauil finally got in the house he laid down on his bed bleeding.

“My arm’s broken,” he said. He had a head wound and seemed like he was losing consciousness, so Yoris and his cousin accompanied him in the ambulance. The police told us we had to go file a report and left. Johnny and I went to meet them at the hospital, first stopping by the restaurant to leave a note saying we would not be going shopping and they could order all the vegetables from the veggie store. When the x-ray came out it was determined Kauil would need pins and a metal plate to put his arm back together. He had used his arm to protect his head from the beating with the metal night-stick, so his bone wasn’t just broken, it was shattered. But thanks to that arm, his head only required a few stitches. Yoris also got stitches in his head and Johnny had to have the glass removed from his feet. The car was also going to require putting back together, they smashed almost every window of his Volkswagen Sportsvan, which has quite a few panels of glass, plus the tail lights and side view mirror. Unfortunately we had not yet acquired insurance, since it was a used car that we had just finished replacing engine parts for. Kauil had a full schedule of yoga classes he was teaching and new wheels and in a flash it was all taken away.

To make matters worse, the thugs that were responsible put word out amongst the gang at the bottom of our hill that it was Kauil and Johnny that had attacked them. So, one Sunday on our way to brunch, while stuck in the middle of traffic, one car coming towards us and one car behind us, a fist comes at Johnny through his open window. I honked and revved until the taxi in front backed up. We no longer drive down that street, instead we take the less direct highway route. Johnny, who has many family members at the bottom of our hill, no longer visits them. And I have put my house up for sale. The police were given all the information we had about the culprits, but have done nothing.

San Miguel de Allende has been my home for 23 years, I fell in love with this Libra town where beautiful brass scales and paintings of St. Michael holding his sword over the devil bellow his feet were sold in every home decor shop in town. I  knew the moment I saw the churches and stone walls dripping in bugambilia and walked the cobblestone streets that this would be my home. I have never felt scared or threatened until now. Whenever there has been negative press about Mexico I have always taken the stand that bad people exist and bad things happen everywhere. The difference is that in most other places something is done about it. My son has now decided to go to college, so I am hoping that this event happened to take Kauil down the road he is meant to travel. But still, the scales have been tipped and my sense of home has been shattered.

Lost and Found

26971842_268805436983684_266400103_o (1)

Of course when you have a restaurant, especially in a fairly small city, many customers become so much more than just customers. You learn what they like and how they like it. Their presence becomes a part of your routine, a stability that anchors you through a turbulent job, because while you have impatient complainers there’s the comprehensive look from the kind regular. Rick Roberts was one of those people for me. He wasn’t my best customer, he could spend hours sipping on refills of iced tea while working on his poetry or reading a novel. He always wanted to know what I had left over, especially if it was something I had made just for my family. It was rare that he ordered a full plate. He would order Monday’s meatloaf special without the mashed potatoes and green beans on Tuesday, cold with some ketchup.

Even for a man in his mid-seventies he was still cool and sexy. His hair pulled back into a ponytail, a well-trimmed, grey beard, his Mexican, cotton button down shirts open revealing his grey chest hair and Buddhist emblem prayer beads hanging from his neck. He rode a motorcycle. He had a bold smile and always called me “baby”, “beautiful” or “sweetie”. And then there was his poetry. I’ve never met anyone that could recite their poetry like him, a trait that I truly admire, because I don’t have it! Some of my most mundane moments were interrupted by Rick reciting a love poem that would move me to tears. One day when he commented on the beauty of one of my female customers, I suggested he ask her out, he was about 15 years her senior, but for most men that would be ideal and he said,

“Baby, I’m at the age when I can still taste, the problem is I can no longer chew.”

So, when one morning last September while standing on line at the supermarket another customer told me that Rick was missing, I knew I was fixing to get bad news. For a few days it was a mystery. Both his motorcycle and dog were in his house, there was no forced entry or apparent robbery. He was not a wealthy man, so very doubtful that he would get kidnapped. He didn’t go out at night drinking and pretty much frequented places close to his home, like my place. We hadn’t seen him in close to a week and actually had been commenting on it, but there had been weeks that he went home to visit family or had come into some money and was frequenting places other than mine. After all, it’s not like he was required to check in with me or forbidden to eat elsewhere.

It turned out that Rick was not missing, he had had a heart attack and died on the floor right next to his bed. The police had looked for him in his home, but apparently not very hard. When they finally did find him, the smell making it impossible for them not to, a close friend entered with the police to identify the body. For some unknown reason the friend did not make arrangements for the dog who was lucky to be alive after a whole week alone with Rick’s body. So, when the body was sent to the morgue Rick’s dog was sent to the pound.

The morning I found out there was a rescue mission going on by 2 of Ricks’ friends who thought that maybe the dog was still in the house, but finally discovered that he wasn’t there. I got on the phone and called the police to find out where he had been taken. To the pound they told me. I called the pound to find out what I needed to pick him up. Just a photo they told me. So, I called the women who were on the rescue mission and asked them if they wanted to go or should I?

“You go,” they said.

“Ok, but I need a picture.”

“The only thing is that the only photo we have is of Mella (Rick’s dog that had died a year and a half before), but they probably won’t notice the difference, because both Mella and Jackie are black and white,” one said. “And also, don’t count on keeping him, because Rick’s family or other friends might want him”

“So, what are you saying? Should I leave him there?” I was annoyed and heart-broken at the thought of Rick’s dog, Jackamo, spending another minute at the pound. So, I walked out of the restaurant at about 2:30 with a picture of the wrong dog on my phone and a piece of meatloaf in a plastic bag and headed over to the office that handles the paperwork for the pound.

When I get there and finish with the red tape, the secretary tells me how to get to the actual pound, which is across the highway from the office down a dirt road. And also informs me that the workers at the pound were called away on an emergency and wouldn’t be back for at least an hour. Hmmm, what to do? Well, I wasn’t going to hang out waiting at the pound for an hour in the hot September sun, so I decide to pick up some things I need and go back to the restaurant. I sucked back an iced tea and had a bite, then called the secretary that had attended to me to see if the dog pound attendants had returned. By this time it’s 3:40.

“Yes, but they leave for the day at 4,” she tells me.

“Well, can you call them and ask them to wait for me? Please tell them I was already up there earlier, I might be a few minutes after 4, but I’m on my way.” She assures me she tell them and I haul ass up the winding highway on the busiest day of the weak in that part of town due to the big Tuesday market. I find my way down the dirt road to a weed-filled lot with metal structure and a locked fence, there are no signs, but I imagine it’s the pound because I can hear the barking and there are a few strays up front. I’m furious and instead of declaring defeat I decide to go back to the office and yell at the bitch I had been dealing with. The first thing she says when she sees me is,

“They were waiting for you.”

“Really? What time is it?”

“4:10,” she says after checking her phone.

“So, they waited maybe 3 minutes? I’ve spent my day trying to retrieve my dead friend’s dog and they couldn’t wait more than 3 minutes? And don’t you think you could have informed me they only worked until 4?” She looks at the floor and kind of shrugs.

“Well, can you ask them to go back? Or can someone else open up and give me the dog?” I ask.

“They’ll be there tomorrow morning,” she says. But if I learned anything from my high school years in Italy, when you really need to get your way with government officials, cry. I plopped my ass down on a chair, curled my knees in, dropped my arms to the side portraying a heaviness that means I’m not moving and just let the tears roll. “You might have to wait a while,” she says.

“That’s ok, I’ll wait.” Shortly a friendly looking man comes out of an office, he has a walkie talkie and tells me he’ll meet me over at the pound. I head back over to the fenced lot with the barking dogs and the nice man opens the gate to doggie hell.

There are about 10 cages of really funky looking dogs. Now my problem is that I only met Jackamo a couple of times and the photo I have is a lie.

“What does he look like?” the man asks. I have to tell him the truth.

“I really don’t know, but he black and white.” There are at least 6 dogs in the cages that are black and white and one female puppy tied to a tree. I know none of these are him, none of them have so much as a collar and none of the males are neutered, but still he takes me in front of each of the dogs like I’m identifying mug shots.

“Is that him?” He asks looking at the black puppy tied to the tree.

“No, that’s a female puppy, I’m looking for a male who’s about a year old.”

“Is that him?” He points to a growling pit bull-like dog who’s standing against the cage.

“No, that’s not him.”

“How do you know?” he asks.

“Well, he has balls, Jackie doesn’t.” They laugh. He calls the dog pound attendants that picked Jackie up and that didn’t wait for me. They tell him he’s tied to a tree, but not the female puppy that’s tied to a tree, but tied to a mesquite tree away from all the other dogs. He walks over a mound of rocks and through some tall weeds and motions me to come. Tied to the mesquite shaking inside a wood dog house is a black and white, mime-faced boarder collie with his tags hanging from his collar. “That’s him,” I declare.

“Does he bite?” asks the man.

“I hope not,” I say. He pulls on the rope to get him out of the house and I hold out my fingers that I had stuck in the bag of meatloaf before I walked in. “Come on Jackie, let’s go baby.” I clasp the leash to his collar and lead him to the car. I open up the bag of meatloaf, but he’s too scared to eat. When I take him in the house his tail is curled between his legs, he sniffs throughout the house, Maddy, our other dog follows and sniffs him. She’s wagging her stump, she’s interested. That’s my biggest worry, that Maddy and Jackie wouldn’t get along,  But by the second day it was clear Jackie found his new home. And now it’s clear Jackie and Maddy found each other.

They Lay Waiting

medusa

The past few months of my life have been a restaurant owner’s nightmare. Being short staffed and having to ping-pong myself between the kitchen and the tables. One lawsuit from a waiter still hanging over my head, plus the inevitable lawyer’s fee to pay. Trial kitchen help comes and goes and in the mean time the steady kitchen staff gets frustrated and resent having to share tips with those that aren’t pulling their weight. I ask a waiter who had left me in the lurch, but needs the work and wants to return, to come back on our busiest days because one of the other 2 is periodically absent. But the two full-time waiters elbow him out of the job. So, I hire a part-time 18-year-old girl to come in and have a restaurant work experience before she goes of to college. I figure they can’t resent this innocent, young girl and they don’t have to split tips evenly with her, just throw her a bone. But they behave like spoiled children that don’t want to share and hate their mean mommy that’s making them. Meanwhile I’m spreading myself across toast as thin as melted butter, doing the work of those that aren’t there and strangely enough watching the balance of my bank account and cash stash dwindle. I spend my closing time doing the numbers over and over. The lists of groceries for the next day were long, so the food was going, but where was the money? I know you don’t have to be a genius to throw away a ticket and take the same amount of money. But right in front of my face?

I didn’t consider myself to be totally naive. In my 23 years here I’ve certainly been stolen from enough. My gold jewelry left with the very first maid I had when I went to spend Christmas with my family in Mexico City. All that was left for those that followed were things like flatware and underwear. In the boutique I had there was quite a bit of theft until I started doing inventory, after which there was only the occasional item taken by a sly customer. There have been many car batteries and stereos. Plumbing supplies and ceiling fans taken while my house was being remodeled. But here in the restaurant I thought that my constant presence was enough of a deterrent. I did decide to move the expensive bottle of tequila up to the front fridge because it seemed to empty awful fast in the back. But my 2 waiters were trusted to make change out of the till and my restaurant being the simple, rustic place that it is there were no computer systems or cameras to keep them in check and being as overextended as I was I suppose you couldn’t really consider me present.

The tip off came one morning. Johnny gets a text from the waiter that was elbowed off the job telling us not to let the 2 waiters, we’ll call them Alex and Miguel, in the till. This bite of info was gnawing through my brain for about a week until a Saturday afternoon when I’m throwing a small going away party for my plaza neighbor, Gayle, who was moving to Greece. I put out some hummus and Greek nachos (pita chips topped with a spiced jocoque, goat cheese, olives, roasted peppers, chopped parsley, olive oil and a squeeze of lime juice) and sit myself down with a glass of red wine to join the party. Shortly I realize that the only waiter in site is Alex, something I had noticed earlier and stepped out into the parking lot only to find Miguel leaning against a car chatting with the guy washing cars. So, I walk inside and ask the rest of the staff, “And Miguel?” They all shrug, except for Alex, who says he went to look at his car.

“And where’s his car?” I ask.

“Out in the parking lot,” he says.

“Well, I already checked the parking lot and he’s not there.” Alex just shrugs and he and I wait on the tables. A half an hour later Miguel walks in and barks at the kitchen staff.

“What am I going to eat?”

“Well, Miguel, since everyone already had their lunch during the hour that you were gone, go grab a pita bread and some hummus and feed yourself.”

“It wasn’t an hour, it was 40 minutes,” he argues. I don’t bother arguing, instead I return to the gathering. No more than 10 minutes go by when Miguel bends over and huffs in my ear,”Why did you tell everyone that I was hanging out in the parking lot while they were all working?”

I look him in the eye, wanting to say, ‘you’re not going to intimidate me you macho, Mexican fuck’. But instead I say in a deep tone, “because it’s true.” I was so angry the rest of the workday. I felt the waiters stampeding over me and that the kitchen staff was standing with them. I asked Johnny to pay out the salaries, because I didn’t want to look at them.

The next day, Sunday, my day off, I had an appointment for a massage with a woman who I also considered a friend. My stress level was maxed, plus I had severe burns on my chest from a wave of hot oil splashing on me while frying fish. I felt feverish and dizzy from the heat that was being emitted from my body, The oil sizzled on my skin until I cried, out of physical pain, out of anger and exhaustion. When the massage was over I thought I was going to faint. She put wet towels on my chest that turned into hot water drenching my body over and over. Then my massage therapist/friend started chiming in,

“They’ve been stealing from you, you can’t let them back here, you know that!” She was into her first or second glass of wine. There wasn’t enough water to re-hydrate me or ice to cool me down and her words kept spilling like a drunken pour. Until finally, sometime after a lunch I invited her out to, I flipped, I jumped out of her SUV in the middle of the country (I say that meaning in a place away from my car and town):

“Fuck you both (massage therapist and boy friend, Johnny, who spent the whole afternoon telling me everything I had to rearrange in my business)! You have no idea what it’s like to be MMMEEEE! Let’s see you guys jump behind the grill and cook when someone doesn’t show, take the orders, pay the bills, do the menu planning, organize caterings and events, deal with lawsuits. On top of it I have to fire the waiters who are probably going to sue me. Let’s see if you want to pay all the money they’re going to suck out of me. Fuck YYYOOOUUU!” I stomped and screamed and cried and steamed heat, the relaxed ball of silly putty I should have been after an hour and a half massage turned to Medusa,  snakes slithering out of her fire-red, frizzy hair, blistered, bare feet jumping in a puddle of bubbling lava. So, it was decided, Johnny had a new position in the restaurant, the cashier.

Monday we came to work with new receipts from Office Depot and told the waiters what the new system was going to be: No Hands in the Till Except Johnnys’ and Norens’. Miguel huffed and puffed and like a cocky teenager bellowed,

“That’s just perfect!” The next day Alex didn’t show up for work, I immediately saw the increase in cash and Miguel walked out by Thursday. Yes, he hit me up for a nice chunk of money, but it was worth it to have it over with swiftly.

That happened about 8 months ago, I finally got a chance to finish this story. That was also the last time I got a massage. Being the tangled up wad of stress that I am after all the holiday events, I finally scheduled one, plus I still had another hour and a half coming to me from my prepaid package with the masseuse/friend. Having long ago received and spent her money she cancelled last minute on me 2 weeks in a row. Sometimes employees aren’t the only ones that need to be fired.