Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A lot of moving parts




Here's a strange irony of opening your own restaurant: I have not had a moment to even contemplate cooking. 

I have eaten more crappy fast food in the past two weeks than the past two years and I certainly feel the worse for it. The thought of coming home, firing up my modestly priced residential gas oven and cooking something creative is such a distant and unpleasant concept that I sometimes wonder if I've lost myself in this process. I think the term 'process' is telling. Andrew Richmond, restauranteur, chef and owner of La Carnita and now Home of the Brave once gave me a piece of advice many moons ago when I was first contemplating this venture. He said that a restaurant is a complicated machine with lots of moving parts. At the time this simply did not have the resonance that it does now. Indeed, there are so many of these moving parts that if you can't keep a tight and updated to-do list, you enter an upside down, alarm-blaring uncontrolled spinning descent. Sometimes I feel that I am moments away from a critical malfunction, like a washing machine that has broken free from it's moorings and wildly oscillates until it inevitably self-destructs into a million wet chunks of scrap metal.

Here's an example of the mania that can overcome someone who is in this 'process': the other night, I was in bed, I took off my glasses, marked my spot in the book and snapped off the light. I started to drift off to sleep when I was suddenly and violently jolted awake. A vision of disaster smacked me square between the eyes. 

A little background: I had been mopping the floor in the restaurant kitchen earlier that day, preparing it for new subflooring. At the end of the day I opened the faucets, and ran the water in the stainless steel kitchen basin to rinse out the mop bucket. It suddenly occurred to me, all those hours hours later whilst lying in bed, that maybe I had forgotten to shut the water off. I vividly envisioned an overflowing and untended sink left for hours, water flooding the room, rushing down the stairs towards the basement like a horrible but strangely beautiful miniature of Victoria Falls, blowing electrical junction boxes along the way, causing fire-igniting short circuits, collapsing the basement ceiling and generally FUBARing the whole joint. 

With this desperate and dare I say, incredibly creative disaster scenario firmly ensconced into my forethought, my adrenal gland immediately started pumping a potent mix of chemicals into my blood not unlike a biological synthesis of Tabasco sauce. My heart started hammering and the profuse sweating started. It was 11:30pm. Of course I shut the water off. Honestly, who leaves a faucet running? As it is, whenever I close up the place at the end of the day, I have a choking OCD fit and I triple check that the door has been locked properly, sometimes even walking back after getting half way home because I'm convinced that locking the door was some kind of false memory. With that kind of care with the door lock, how could I eff up a running faucet? This kind of logical thinking was of no use. The adrenaline kept coming hot and fast like a seltzer siphon spewing methamphetamine directly onto my aorta. What else could I do? I got up and got dressed. My wife drowsily inquired about my actions. I told her the situation and she was actually very sympathetic. I grabbed the keys to the restaurant and started the long dark walk to make sure that I had indeed shut off the faucet. The air was cool and given the time of night and the sleepy nature of my neighborhood, things were generally quiet. A few stragglers at the Green Dragon Pub were out on the sidewalk sucking back the last cigarette of the night. A 24 hour bus with its spectral blue lights noisily thundered by. I soldiered on to the papered over front door of my dream. (And I should really add here how incredibly convenient it is that I can walk to the restaurant.) A turn of the high-security key brought me into a silent and unremarkable darkness. I immediately noted that there was no obvious sound of running water. Further inspection proved that the restaurant sat quiet, safe and as perfectly sound as I had left it. I locked up. Triple checked that it was locked. Then unlocked the door, re-entered to make sure that the water being turned off was not a false memory, locked back up again, and walked home. I slept soundly. 

To try and make sense of all this, is perhaps to draw a rather crude parallel with parenthood. When my first daughter was born, she came early and unexpectedly. I had not yet assembled her bassinet, and it lay, useless in its cardboard box by the front door. With little choice, we settled her into the hastily assembled, jury-rigged sleeping arrangement: a dresser drawer. During those early days, I recall how my wife and I would constantly check that the little bundle in the drawer was breathing. Sometimes, we would poke the poor thing and rouse her from a deep slumber just to hear the reassuring sound of her fussing. In the dead of the night, as a new parent, that squeaky sound of newborn vocal chords can be the sweetest song. 

Now, I don't want to compare the joy and beauty of my children to a structure made of brick and mortar, but I have never loved a non-living thing as much as this restaurant. It is an utter blessing to experience the fulfillment of a dream. And yet in some ways it is is a burden. A sublime, life-changing burden with a literal shit-load of moving parts.

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