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Category Archives: Kitchen Stories

kitchen-4

So the more Mary got into her own head, the worse it was for her. If she were into her own head, into her thoughts, and Bea happened to go downstairs with Bill, or after him as she actually did it so she could get some, the thoughts got worse, more and more dark. Mary was a person generally prone to dark thoughts anyway, and her imaginings of Bea and Bill together in the storeroom, or maybe her on the counter or against it in the staff ladies’ room, put her into a morose humor. Then, when Bill would come upstairs, she would take it out on him, even when he assured her he was only doing work and Bea’s being down there was simply coincidental.

Those times were coming more and more often now. But they were not without their own pleasurable, maybe even truly meaningful, results. If nothing had happened, which more than most likely was the case—after all Bill had promised Mary he would be ending it with Bea and was actually actively working on it—Mary would be open to cajoling such that Bill could, with special effort, calm her, assure her, appease her and excite her. It was kind of like make-up sex even though they hadn’t fought and mostly he had not done anything he shouldn’t have done.

He would start with a gentle shushing her. Then, after she was finished with a scornful pushing him away, he would hold her close to him taking her close enough so that he could whisper in her ear the things he really wanted to say to her just like that, meaning without having to have some reason to say them other than because he wanted to. Left to himself, in this world there was no way he could just tell her he loved her, he cared for her, he didn’t want her just sexually. No. Like for Mary, it had to be a forced action or an existential one.

When he had her calmed, appeased, softened, they would make a time to meet downstairs or set it up by him saying he was going down to cut meat and her telling him she needed some things from downstairs. She would make sure nothing on the stoves would burn or get ruined and he would help her with anything that needed to be done immediately.

At these times, times which were unintended consequences of Bea’s actions, they would lock themselves in the ladies’ room downstairs and Bill would slowly, softly, carefully, minster to her.

Everyone knew where they were. Tommy knew. Drenovis knew they did this, but they never did it when Drenovis was there. That would have been tempting the devil. Not that Drenovis could have actually done anything other than possibly embarrass and humiliate them. Or he could have. He could have fired them both or fired just him or suspended them. But Robert would have intervened and Mr. Bowman would have had to make another trip out east to set the crew and Drenovis straight. In any restaurant there is only one main goal and that’s to get the dinners up on time every time and every time the same way.

Ministering to Mary meant easing into taking care of her. She would be ready by the time they would get to whatever space they were using, always. So Bill could have just taken her and pleased her that way. But in his own mind that was never enough for what he wanted to do. He wanted to let her know that with her it meant something, that she meant something, that she meant more than just something.

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kitchen-4

At her age, Mary thought a lot more about loss than Bill did at his age. He would discover later in life that everyone had loss, some of us more than others, and some people’s losses were worse than others. His, for example, would be pretty severe by the time he put them up against some other people’s. Already he had experienced his mother dying overnight, healthy one moment and dead the next. Later he would suffer the loss of his father in a hit and run car accident where his father was a pedestrian. And so it goes. He would come home from being out with his wife that night to discover that his father had been killed. This was still many years off in the future and something he would not know about until it happened.

Bea, for her part, had not had much loss. She hadn’t had any miscarriages or abortions. Her husband had not left her. Her children, well, she didn’t have any children and that was by choice. A good choice, she would say to anyone who would ask her. From there, her response included some choice negativity regarding children and sensual positivity regarding not having anyone to have to support other than herself. Life was pretty good for her, and it was even better when she was getting some from Bill which she began demanding more and more the more she understood that Bill could usurp her kitchen power and the more she understood that Mary truly cared for him.

If something was festering with Jim, the dishwasher, something surely was festering with Bea, the salad lady, the lady in charge of the kitchen. She had no designs on Henry Lee and could care less if he was doing Marie or anybody else. She had no designs on Bill either except getting it from him when she wanted. She liked the strange and she liked the vigor of his youth. And she liked the white boy, her lollipop. She liked her kitchen power too, and keeping that was of primary importance. Once they’d offered Bill the management job, she felt threatened

Mary was much more pensive than Bea ever was. Mary was heady, like Bill was. In order to do something such as be with Bill, it had to be an existential decision.  She had to reason that in the end it didn’t mean shit to a train, that it was a what-the-hell. But even when she reasoned it this way, it wasn’t that. For Bea, it didn’t matter how long or how many times she enjoyed Bill’s sex. It was just sex. For Mary there was an intimacy about it and that intimacy translated to emotion and that emotion ran to…

Goddammit, Mary would think many times in her quiet time. Just plain Goddammit. Then she would get down on herself, ask herself why she had to start up with him in the first place, why she let herself get sucked into him. It ended in tragedy for her. She knew that right from the start. For Bill, he and his fiancé went away, wherever they went, and she was left there alone, left alone like she’d been when Yulie killed himself.

Worse, there was her boy, Eddie, who hated Bill just because he was white, who hated her because she allowed herself to be with a white boy.

“Why you gotta go with a white boy?” he had asked her several times already.

“Ain’t I taught you we all the same?” Mary replied. “Ain’t I taught you that color don’t make no difference?”

“But it does,” Eddie would say. “I hate him, I hate you and I hate Mr. Charlie.”

“That’s a lot of hate for a boy young as you,” Mary would say when Eddie would let her. She would try to hug him, to hold him close to her, but that was getting harder and harder.

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kitchen-4

The rest of January was fickle. One day was relatively mild, just as a tease. One day was wintry, but not too bad. Snow fell three more times, but no big accumulations. Enough snow fell for one of Bill’s friends, the one from Miami with no experience driving on snow, to rear-end a car while it was sitting at the end of an exit ramp from the highway. Bill told him he had to brake, told him when to brake, but like any true know-it-all, his friend knew better. It was an exercise in futility. The only saving grace was that no major damage was done.

The tenderfoot. It reminded Bill of the famous short story they’d studied in school, the one where the tenderfoot died because he scoffed at the experienced locals, the one where the dog who didn’t want to set out in the first place knew better than the tenderfoot and managed to survive. So he, not the dog, started the fire in the wrong place. That was after he’d done a few other stupid things.

Bill could relate to stupid things. He could relate to doing stupid things. He could relate to not listening to people who knew better in kitchens. Maybe if he’d been experienced that first day, he wouldn’t have burned those fingers and would still have the feeling in them. But that time he hadn’t ignored experienced advice. He just didn’t know better. It simply happened.

Throughout his career Bill would run across cooks who were dangerous. They were dangerous for the very same reason that the tenderfoot in that story was dangerous, for the same reason his friend had had the car accident. In the kitchens, when the experienced cooks ran up against a dangerous one who wouldn’t heed advice, they distanced themselves.

The dangerous ones were relatively easy to spot. They generally had disregard for advice. They generally thought they knew better than anyone else. They  generally were rude, loud and abrasive in their personalities. They generally made rookie mistakes like tossing things into hot grease or placing them in in the wrong direction so that they splashed forward instead of back toward the splash wall. It was bad enough when a cook burned himself, but when a cook burned another cook, that was worse, and when he did it wantonly, or stupidly, that was the worst. That caused fights. That caused cooks to get fired. Disrespecting hot and sharp meant tragedy sooner or later. Bill would see his share of tragedy in his career. When all was said and done, Bill would see his share of cooks with less than ten fingers. And personally, he would have stitches several times.

February was a bitter month. It demonstrated the city’s worst winter characteristics. Not much snow fell. The winds kicked up pretty bad and the temperature hovered close to zero for long periods of time. The only good thing was that Ohio State was holding the lead in basketball and so it was drawing phenomenal crowds for the games. This meant that both restaurants, despite the nasty weather, did great business. Henry Lee and Bill spent a lot of time in the meat room cutting steaks. Bill became quite proficient at meat cutting. He also spent a lot of time with Mary doing the prep cooking. He became fully versed as a prep cook and there were days when Mary allowed him to do all the prep work. On those days, Mary stayed downstairs with Henry Lee. She sat, like she always did, up on the stainless steel counter, swinging her legs and lost in her thoughts. Her thoughts were mostly about Yulie and the loss when he killed himself with the overdose.

“I seen enough over there,” Yulie would say.

Mary would run her fingers through his hair. “Lord have mercy,” she would say.

Lately, thinking about Yulie, more about the loss, her loss, loss, she was thinking about Bill. The clock was running. It was dead of winter now, but in a few short weeks…

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kitchen-4

It snowed. And it snowed. And it snowed some more. Bill did trip and it didn’t matter. They were so s!ow Bill and Marie could have both disappeared from the kitchen and not have been missed for long periods of time. Only two waitresses worked, the two who lived closest to the restaurant. Bill was too blitzed for most of the evening to worry about how he was getting home. Mary, Bea and Henry Lee left as soon as Jimmy got in. The west side did not bother to come for steaks and decided they would simply use up whatever they already had.

Winter. But then, by the weekend, the streets and highways were cleared. The city settled into its usual harsh winter pattern of bitter cold with brisk winds and an overall sense of barrenness that didn’t seem to pervade other cities in winter. Or, as Bill thought about it, the city had all of the bad parts of winter with just about none of the good parts.

Ohio State did play three straight home games, Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Not that Bill particularly cared, but they won all three and were having a good season thus far. Their having a good season meant good crowds at the games. Thursday and Friday saw early dinner rushes before the games and a late push afterward. Saturday was a gangbuster day. They got busy after the game cleared out and they stayed busy all night.

Bill was doing his best to keep Bea at bay, but she was getting antsy. Being busy was a blessing since no one had time to really fool around. Even Bill and Mary were all about business. Henry Lee and Marie were too.

On Saturday, when Alfrieda came with the van to pick up meat for the west side, she was perky and pesky. She bothered Bill every chance she could get. That was whenever Henry Lee was not around, like when she was behind Bill going up the stairs while he was carrying meat trays. Then, when they were on the van and he was stacking the trays he’d carried, she felt him up shamelessly. He repeatedly told her to cut the crap, but the more he said something, the more brazen she was.

All the waitresses worked Saturday night. The poor business days they’d had on the snow nights were quickly forgotten and the university basketball crowds more than compensated for the slow nights. Everyone worked hard and everyone was about business. Even when it slowed down late Saturday night, everyone was too tired to mess around. The waitresses ordered their dinners and quietly sat to eat. The cooks rested in the hall. Marie sat on Bea’s stool and read the paper.

Lorraine came in around eleven with a beer for Bill. He had not gotten high at all and he had not had any bourbon. When he knew they were going to be really busy,  he played it straight for the most part. It was bad enough when they fell behind. It was worse when it was because he was messed up. Bill didn’t ever want to give Drenovis a reason to get on his case. If Drenovis wanted to start stuff, Bill wanted to be sure he could give it back and was not in any way vulnerable.

So mostly the weekend, beginning with Thursday that week, was all business. It was fast-paced, even hectic. At times it was frenetic. Bill and all the cooks earned their pay and then some. The waitresses made out like bandits. The dishwashers ate steaks and had unlimited sodas. Bill made sure they were well taken of and had everything they needed. Jim complained again, several times, about not having a beer when he saw Bill drinking one.

“Really think you’re something,” he said to Bill. Jim was more agitated than usual and  once again Bill sensed something was festering.

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kitchen-4

“What do you have to do for the afternoon?” Bill asked Mary. He stood close by her by the screen door, close enough so that she could feel him against her. He felt her shift on her feet so they were not touching.

“Nothing too much,” Mary said. “I got enough of just about everything until tomorrow and I’d rather start fresh tomorrow when we have more business. This way you can throw away a lot of the leftovers tonight without wasting much.”

“Think we have enough prime rib?” Bill asked.

“I think we should use up what’s there. If we run out, we run out and that’s best.”

“Henry Lee and I don’t even have much meat to cut,” Bill said. He leaned in close to Mary and whispered in her ear. “I think I’m gonna trip.”

“I think you are tripping,” said Mary. “And don’t be coming around rubbing all over me, either.”

“What you  mad at?”

“What was you and Bea doing in the store room?”

“She was getting salad dressing. I was rotating stock that should have been rotated and re-stacking what I had to move to get to it.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

“Well you can bet on it.”

“The bitch.”

“It’s not her I like.”

“But you still hit it, don’t you?”

“It’s easier than not. Turning her away is gonna make a fight I don’t need to fight in here right now. Give me a little time to  put her off.”

“You would do that?”

“Of course. You’re the only one I care about. You know what I mean. I care about Lorraine, but that’s different. She’s different.”

“Why you care about me?” Mary asked.

“If you have to ask, you really are stupid,” said Bill. “And I know you’re not stupid.”

The snow started to fall again as the lunch was ending. The lunch was abysmal and Tommy was clearly unhappy. He came to the table where Bea, Henry Lee, Mary and Bill were eating. His first question was quite simple, about how much food they had left over. Mary looked down into her plate when she told them they hadn’t sold much of anything. The steamship round, she told him, would be enough for the next day so that they didn’t have to cook another one. The lunch special was hardly touched. She was thinking about what she could make it into for a special for the dinner.

Henry Lee reported that they hadn’t sold many steaks either. He said he didn’t have to cut much for the evening and that he would talk to Robert about what they needed over on the west side. He said he couldn’t imagine they needed much over there.  He said he didn’t want to get too far ahead in the inventory, but that they could probably make up some of the lost business over the weekend when Ohio State was playing basketball at home. That of course would depend upon whether or not it snowed anymore.

Bill, as usual, ate very rare roast beef with lettuce, tomato, pickle and mayonnaise on a hamburger bun. Mary and Bea ate tuna fish salad sandwiches. Henry Lee ate a steak. Like any good meat cutter, he would make sure to get an extra steak out of one of the top butts to make up for the one he was eating. Here, at Suburban, the cooks really looked out for the owner. Altogether, this was a small operation, two stores, and the kitchen crews were pretty much interrelated. They knew as a unit that their livelihoods depended upon the success of the restaurants. None of them wanted to lose their jobs. They might complain about how hard they worked, how little they were paid and what a pain in the ass Drenovis was. But despite the snow, life was good.

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kitchen-4

Bill should have supposed that Mary would get pissed. It started when he and Bea came up the stairs together even though Mary knew Bill was helping her. Bea was simply gone too long for her liking, and she supposed, she would tell Bill later, that they were fooling around in the storeroom. Whether it was actually the case or not didn’t matter at all.

Being pissed didn’t stop her from getting high or from sitting on the counter with her legs crossed at the ankles watching Bill and Henry Lee make the hamburgers. She swung her legs as always, and at one point she got up to get herself a good drink of bourbon. While she was up she handed Henry Lee the bottle and waited while both he and Bill drank so she could put the bottle back in the drawer before she sat down.

Then it was time for lunch. Or, it was almost time for lunch in that Bill and Henry Lee still had to cart up the meat for the service and Bill still had to do the inventory of French fries, fish, onion rings and anything else that was needed for the service.

“You did start the potatoes baking, right?” Bill asked Mary.

“No I’m stupid,” said Mary.

“Well we know that,” said Bill.

“Keep it up, boy.”

“You two gonna fight?” Henry Lee asked.

“I ain’t fighting,” said Mary.

“Me either,” Bill said.

“Good,” said Henry Lee, “cause I don’t want to hear no shit.”

Bill was busy breaking off the bleu cheese and gouging holes into what would become the bleus. Not only did he not like eating bleu cheese, but he did not like touching it either. He did not like the smell. He did not like the feel. He did not like anything about it.

Bleu cheese would not be the only food he did not like to eat in the kitchens. However, he would discover that if he wanted to get his paycheck he not only had to handle the foods he didn’t like, but he also had to prepare them and even taste them. Sweetbreads and liver were two of the things that could easily make him puke if his paycheck had not depended upon him tasting them. Then there would be other things he disliked doing, like messing with live stuff such as lobsters and trout from a live fish tank. Regarding those, he would learn that the best and most efficient way to deal with them was to do the killing quickly and cleanly.

Killing trout was a whole story unto itself. One was not accepted as a cook in one of the restaurants he would work later on in his career until one could easily capture the trout and artfully kill it without mangling it. In another place he worked, one was not accepted as a cook, stupid as it seemed, until one could open a beer bottle with the backside of a knife.

Bill learned all of these things. Bill, as a cook, learned many things, most of which he would have been better off never having to learn.

As always of late, Bill pulled the baked potatoes from the convection oven two at a time in each hand. As always, since that first day as cook when he burned his right hand, he felt almost nothing in his fingertips there. But the potatoes were the proverbial hot potatoes for his left hand. Meanwhile, Bea, Mary and Henry Lee were out in the hall. Henry Lee was telling Bea to close her legs when Bill walked out. Mary was standing by the screen door looking out into the snow. The snow had finally stopped, but the weatherman, as per the radio, were predicting more snow later in the day. They didn’t think, as Mary related it, that it would be another significant accumulation.

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kitchen-4

The menu called for a nice, thick cream of broccoli soup which Mary started as soon as she got upstairs and finished her coffee. Bea sat longer than usual on her stool sipping her coffee and reading the racing page in the Dispatch. She asked Bill if he wanted to place a bet or if he wanted to play a number. Bill did not play the horses, but he did play the numbers for both himself and Mary. Those number bets would end up in the hands of Robert who would hand them to Mr. Bowman. Robert was the numbers runner, why he had been busted in the first place and how Bill had met him when Robert was on his work detail. Mr. Bowman ran the game. He was the money man.

By 10:00 AM just about all the work for the day was done. The snow had settled into a flurry pattern and the streets were well plowed. More than a foot of snow had fallen. The University was on a delayed opening schedule, so morning classes were canceled. Bill had still not heard from his fiancé. He tried to call home several more times but to no avail. She could have called the restaurant, but there were no calls for him. Any call would’ve been forwarded to wherever he was at the time.

Bea met Bill downstairs while he was straightening up some things in the storeroom. He had brought up everything Mary needed for the rest of this day and for tomorrow as well. He and Henry Lee were about to start grinding meat for hamburger and making the patties and the bleus. She snuggled on him from behind while he was bending over straightening up a stack of stewed tomatoes cases. He’d had to move the stack in order to get to some things that should have been rotated forward but were not. It caught him by surprise when she goosed him, so much so that he almost dropped the case of tomatoes in his hands.

“Goddammit,” he said. “What the hell?” He turned to see it was Bea. She was already chuckling, her throaty chuckle, and she was reaching out to take a more intimate feel of him.

“So you slept  at Mary’s, huh?”

“It kind of seemed like the best solution given the weather.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet. Where were her kids?”

“They stayed by her mother. Don’t ask me anything else cause I don’t know nothing.”

“I suppose all you did was go to sleep.”

“No,” said Bill. “We got high. We took some Quaaludes. I took a shower and then we went to sleep.”

“And that’s all you did?”

“Nope,” Bill said. “We slept, we got up, we cleaned all the goddamn snow off my car and we drove here.”

“So I guess you got some left for me,” Bea said.

“Some what?” Bill asked.

“Some something,” Bea said.

“I always got some something. But I got to help Henry Lee make the hamburgers. So maybe we could meet sometime later.”

“You putting me off boy?”

“Not at all darling. I just got some stuff to do.”

“Well I need some salad dressings,” Bea said. “Want to help me carry them upstairs?”

Bill could see no way out of it. So he finished straightening up while Bea watched him work. Then together they carried up the gallon jugs of salad dressings that Bea needed for her station. When he had helped her put them into their place, he checked the steamship round and checked to see that Mary had put in the baked potatoes. The potatoes were not in yet. He washed them and put them into the convection oven. Then he told Mary all she had to do was turn the oven on when she wanted to.

“What you doing, boy?” Mary asked.

“Going down to help Henry Lee make the hamburger. You want to get high come on down.”

A moment later Mary joined Bill and Henry Lee in the meat room.

In A Few Short Days 

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Please do pick up a copy of my already published works here: 

Books by Peter Weiss.