Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Checked Out: The Day Job Chronicles, Part 1

As I type this, I have been officially unemployed from the Pima County Public Library for exactly one month. Before that, I was an employee of the library for nearly seven years. The way I left wasn't how I thought I'd leave that job. The reasons I left were both bizarre and substantial. For some reason, I just want to get it all out in words. Seeing as this is my only platform to do so (the Weekly wont publish my struggles of being day-jobless), food and drink is taking a break to make way for a jaunt down a scurried memory lane of a full time job life now lost.

It was an easy gig, the library, but it was far more difficult than I had ever imagined.

Let's go back to early summer of 2012. At the time, I was the kitchen manager for a burger place out on Irvington and the I-10, in an industrial section of potholed roads and RV centers. Before that, I was working in the kitchen of a popular "boutique hotel" under the thumb of a newly appointed Tucson Iron Chef winning executive chef. He was younger then, had a bit of an ego, but my decision to flee came when one morning another cook and I discovered that he had rolled out a whole new menu...without training us or, get this, even telling us. Yeah. When tickets started to buzz out of the machines, we just stared at the orders, looking at one another, puzzling: The fxxk is this? That's when the servers handed over the 'new' menu and told us that, well, a new menu was introduced.

Uh huh. Okay then.

We looked at the ingredients then surveyed the line and tried to get by as best as possible. It went passable, as it wasn't really busy, but not really. Same went for lunch. Whole new sandwiches and pasta dishes were listed. We had no idea. We improvised. Then after lunch when the head sous chef and dinner crew meandered in we told them about the day service to which they looked both curious and indifferent. They obviously knew what was in store for them, because most likely got trained and, yes, informed, so when we cleaned up and left we went out for beers and decided that it was time to ditch that place.

The next day when we approached the executive chef about what had happened, he literally cowered and hid in his office saying it was the responsibility of the daytime sous chef. Blame was thrown and when I heard that this burger place, that was owned and operated by very casual contacts, was having staff issues I offered my services, got hired on the spot and put in my weeks notice, to which the hotshot executive chef told me "Well...you can't use me as a reference you know."

That's fine.

So off to sling burgers and train recently released inmates how to do so.

Now, the title of 'kitchen manager' is one wrought with some boast along with a shrug of some 'yeah, so' tones from industry professionals when you mention that you are one. Honestly, kitchen managers, in fact, service or restaurant managers in any capacity, are a dine a dozen. And this is coming from my wife, who is, thats right....a restaurant manager.

Why you ask? Well, because locking yourself in an office, collecting a paycheck and telling young dumb servers/cooks what to do and somehow feel superior is the mindset of the shallow and generally misguided. But when I took the helm as KM for that burger joint, I did so with an air of approach mixed with fair professionalism. What I learned early on with the job was that I was hired to basically fire surly meatnobs the owners hired at far below minimum wage once they showed promise of discourse or, better yet, tried to hit on the usual miasma of "hot" servers and bartenders, most of which were daughter age to those flipping frozen meat patties or frying stringed potatoes dumped into oil out of a large brown bag. The owners were that bizarre with their hiring and firing. I had no say in the hires but when it came down to drop the hatchet, I was called in early to be informed that "Well, (your name here) was late again and was upset that we couldn't give him more hours. We just have to move on. Can you tell him after his shift this Friday?"

Yeah. They had me fire dudes that have been lifting cinder blocks in "the yard" for years that, well, because there was a mild infraction and, sure, you're trying to get your life back together / feed and take care of your (insert large amount of offspring from various women/hookups/2nd cousins). I, some dorky ex-skate punk with Earring Magic Ken-esque arms who saw maybe one episode of "OZ" before saying 'Jeeze, this sure is gritty!' before switching to reruns of 'Silver Spoons', had to do their dirty work. One guy actually stayed in the parking lot one night watching me until I left way past midnight and followed me halfway home before I turned off into some bar marked with a line of Harley Davidson biker type bikes, mainly because the whole god awful "white power" threat might throw him off. The (ex) line cook was a 7ft black guy, one who could easily crush me into honky dust if he sneezed on me hard enough. It sucked, and I hated to do what I did, but at least I am still here to write about what really goes on in the kitchens, and soon to be exposed library, of your neighborhood hangouts.

Plus it turned out that the motorcycles belonged to a group called The Gray Hair-ly Davidson Riders, a bunch of elderly men and women who like to "ride" on occasion and drink lite beer in supposed biker bars (to gain some remnant of motorcycle club respect I suppose) and not tip the so over it bartenders. I had one drink and left.

That job really started to get to me. A slow descending paycheck crawl into cramped kitchen madness. The money was acceptable but the work and the responsibilities were under mad duress. One night, my wife caught me punching my head because I was so frustrated. I just couldn't bear another day, or night, there. That's when she took it upon herself to do job hunting on my behalf. One day I came home early, as I had to be at the restaurant at 5am to make dough because the dough guy they hired, yep, didn't work out and, that is correct, had me fire him...over the phone. Which I did a few times. It's actually better than confronting them in person, usually after a shift, but it always felt underhanded and lazy to me. If I could leave a voicemail and say "Thank you but it just didn't work out", all the better. Still, in a very strange way, I preferred to say "Yeah, no", face to face. I don't know why. Probably because it felt less cowardly. I'll take my lumps if need be. Lumps that ached in a more emotional then physical manner. If you catch my drift.

Anyway, when I came home, my wife said four words that would change events in my immediate future: 'The library is hiring'.

As I took off my stinky chefs coat and crusty kitchen shoes, my first response was "Well, I don't have a degree in library science." Actually I have absolutely NO college degree....of any kind. After dabbling in city colleges taking random theater and English classes, after leaving high school a year early, I just grew sick of being a student. So I stopped, moved to San Francisco and started writing about heavy metal bands.

She then stated that the open position in question did not require a college degree. Just a bunch of experience. If you wanted to be a librarian, then yes, you would need a masters degree, but for the listed job, program instructor, a part time gig where you oversee classes such as job and computer help, you needed a lot of skills in teaching, computers, customer service, stuff like that. Which I did. Which I can get into later if you want. So I applied, sent in a resume and then waited.

And waited.

During the time to hear back from Pima County human resources, I got a few warnings from people that had previous government jobs. Mostly they stated that a guy like me, whatever that means, would not do too well in the confines of a strict government job.

"Working for county is crazy," a casual acquaintance, who happens to be a bartender, told me. "I did it for like ten years. I remember the breaking point being that an order we put in for some flashlights, just in case the lights went out, which they always did, took like over a year. Just for some flashlights! But we couldn't just go to the hardware shop and buy some flashlights. They had to be 'county approved' flashlights. My idea was to have some that would plug into an outlet, so they'd always be charged. What they sent, after a lot of red tape and a lot of waiting, were some dirty old battery operated types from the 80s. So I quit and started bartending."

Eventually I got an interview, two in fact and then....more waiting. The burger place was going in its usual state of crap circles: there'd be a pop at lunch, some bar crowds after 5pm, maybe some hits right before we closed along with the normal hiring and firing of dudes willing to work below minimum wage until they show some dissent and then I'd have to fire them. So dumb. And numbing.

I had actually forgotten about the library job, or at least given up on it, since it had been so long post application and interview. Then one day, as I was doing my taxes, I received an email which read:

'Welcome to the Pima County Public Library. Your training and orientation begins on Monday at 9am.' Or something like that.

Oh. Okay. Cool.

It was a Tuesday or Wednesday that I got the job at the library via email and my training was to begin the upcoming Monday. Pretty short notice but...whatever. So after finishing my taxes, I walked up to my wife's work, told her the good news, got in the car and drove out to the burger place. When I walked in, the co-owner and general manager looked at me with some distress. She didn't say hello or ask what I was doing there, instead she just belted "You're not on the schedule today."

That was perfect. That made what I did next all the easier.

I reached into my pocket, grabbed the collection of restaurants keys, removed them before dropping them onto the bar creating a distinct 'Khh-chank' noise. That made some leather vested and flannel shirt wearing customers perk up from their frozen patties and Bud Lights to see what the commotion was about.

"I know," I said. "I quit."

Before leaving I went into the kitchen to say goodbye to the guys, some of which seemed to not care or even appear surprised while some had just been hired and had no idea who I was. Then I walked out into the warm springtime sun with a wishful smile on my face. My time in kitchens had finally come to an end.

But my time at the library had yet to begin...

Part 2 coming soon...

Monday, March 11, 2019

Girl Power!

Just like you, my mom is a woman. Thing is, though, I don't have a sister. Or a brother for that matter. Pretty typical only child currently typing this. You know, whats mine is mine and whats yours is mine too.

No, I'm kidding.

Unless you own a deli, then, yes...what yours is now mine too.

Do you own a deli? Rad.

Wow, way to get off the subject here.

But, man, or woman (yeah, sorry), when Tucson Foodie hosted the recent 'Vida/Celebrating Women' event, coordinated alongside International Women's Day, an afternoon dedicated to the ladies behind Tucson's thriving culinary and art scene, I was more than stoked to be a part of it. The turnout was a sold out crowd. The best part being, among other aspects of the perfectly pleasant afternoon, was that the food, and beverages, were really, really tasty.

Although, honestly, when I walked in I did so with casually high expectations. Through the years of being a food writer and blogger here in Tucson, I have been exceptionally fortunate to enjoy the cuisine and even befriend some of the chefs featured, including Wendy Gauthier of Chef Chic, Maria Mezon of BOCA Tacos y Tequila and Janet Jones from Tanque Verde Ranch. Included among the delicious food was a bevvy of crafts and goods, such as stickers, fashion, essential oils, soaps and henna tattoos, all provided by and handmade by some of Tucson's most talented sisters. Plus the female DJ kept the mood going with an eclectic funk and pop mix.

You know, as I step back from this writing, the fact that I am identifying all of the above mentioned badasses as "female" or "ladies" or whatever, kind of bores and bothers me. The chefs cook incredible food, no matter the gender; same relation goes to the artists, designers and DJ. Having a day dedicated to women is a definite step forward toward further acceptance that no matter who, or what, you are, as long as you do good stuff and are totally cool, it shouldn't matter if you got that X or Y chromosome.

In a progressive town such as Tucson, for my observance anyway, being a chick or dude has little effect on the response to whomever made your duck confit dish or latte or macrame jacket or who fixed your transmission or threw you in the poky for disorderly conduct in an Arby's bathroom. The overall factor though, within the confines of stilted expectations and antiquated beliefs, which still permeates a gobsmackingly large populace of this tightly packed world of ours, needs a reminder that women can, easily, do what their male counterparts can do. And still have children on top of it.

Can your dad or brother or roommate Carl do that? Yeah. No.

And that's what the Vida / Celebrating Women get together was all about. To me anyway. A memento that women are a force to be reckoned with, in any capacity of hustle or inclusion. Some of whom do so in heels and dealing with a monthly inconvenience from time to time.

Let's see your roommate Carl try that one.

Cheers ladies! And thank you Tucson Foodie for the invite.

So without further ado, let's check out what went down...

Vida / Celebrating Women

If you want something said, ask a man; if 
you want something done, ask a woman.
Margaret Thatcher

HUB Ice Cream chef Dominic Stoller and her tally of supporters

We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women's voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.     
Sheryl Sandberg

Dom's ice cream tacos were a definite highlight of the event

Women are the real architects of society.
Harriet Beecher Stowe

Strike a pose

Women are leaders everywhere you look -- from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household. Our country was built by strong women, and we will continue to break down walls and defy stereotypes.     
Nancy Pelosi

Dammit, Janet, I love you

Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size.     
Virginia Woolf

So much awesomeness happening...that it's time for a nap

Women have always been the strong ones of the world. The men are always seeking from women a little pillow to put their heads down on. They are always longing for the mother who held them as infants. 

Coco Chanel

Rica infusing the goods with lavender smoke...wow

I hope the fathers and mothers of little girls will look at them and say 'yes, women can'.
Dilma Roussete

Enough said

The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.     
Aung San Suu Kyi

Gluten free, sure, but still packed with flavor

Women are not the problem. They're the solution.
Sheryl Wudunn

Greens, greens and, yes, more greens

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.
Susan B. Anthony

Fame has obviously (not) gone to chef Maria's head - werk gurl!

Don't just stand for the success of other women - insist on it.     
Gail Blanke

I wanted a henna tattoo that said "Cumquats!" but it didn't go over well

I'm tough, I'm ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.


Its always nice that the Tucson Foodie kids put up with me...cheers!

I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard...we cannot succeed when half of us are held back

Malala Yousafzai

I know her....I know her!

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass.

Maya Angelou

Simply beautiful

Camera, Typing and Eating of the Foods
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
 International Women's Day, 2019

Metal Influence: