Stevenswood Sous Chef Takes A Dive

by Flynn Washburne, February 10, 2016

It's a hell of a thing when your day is ruined before you even get your pants on. It's even heller of a thing when something so commonplace as a cup of coffee can determine the tone of your whole day. And it is the hellest thing of all when you can't get it together enough to be able to assemble the components of a cup of (instant) coffee capably and effectively and forestall said day-ruination, but that's what happened this morning.

That first cup of joe is far and away the highlight of my day. It's all downhill after that, mostly. The odds of anything happening here at Desert View that can match the invigorating power of caffeine as it eases me from the sweet escape of dreamland back into the rote drudgery of prison life are slim. So if I botch it up, the day's a wash and I may as well climb back under the covers, which I would do if I didn't have responsibilities.

Here's how it all went down. Spooned coffee into cup—check. Added hot water—also check. Now, as I am an early riser these steps are performed in the dark, so I like to sample the bev before adding the milk to ascertain that I've measured out the proper amount. It tasted funny, but I wasn't laughing. This was serious. I took another sip. It tasted worse. One more and it dawned on me. The cup I was using had been employed as a mop bucket the previous evening, I'd mixed up a soap solution in it to clean my floor and neglected to rinse it out afterward. I was drinking apple-shampoo flavored Taster's Choice! My frugal nature balked at the waste but I regrettably poured the vile brew down the drain, rinsed and wiped out the cup, and went back to square one. Coffee, water, exploratory sip—perfect. I added the milk, took a deepish draught, and what the-? That unfunny funniness again? Had the milk reactivated some latent shampoo traces absorbed into the cup? I took another sip and encountered something you never, but never, want to find in your morning joe—clumps. The milk had curdled.

Retching, I dumped another cup down the drain and realized: after all the stress and excitement of my beloved Broncos winning the AFC Championship, I'd packed it in early and neglected to re-ice my makeshift cooler as I usually do right before retiring. There was only one thing for it, to disinfect my mouth and my cup and soldier on through breakfast, after which I'd have a fresh milk and a quieted gag reflex and could take a stab at salvaging the remains of the day.

1 recall a morning prior to my incarceration when my overall condition on waking demanded immediate succor and appeasement, but coffee would've been laughably inadequate. You can't toss a cocktail weenie at a ravening grizzly and expect him to go away satisfied and grateful, and you can't apply coffee to a situation that clearly requires organ replacement or blood-cleansing. It isn't up to the task. It hasn't the wherewithal to correct a system knocked askew by potentially fatal amounts of ethanol and other, more corrosive and deadly, chemicals. Nevertheless, it was a work day and I had to somehow cobble together a simulacrum of homeostasis in order to render myself able to sally forth into the working world.

An aside: Regular visitors to this column may, through perusing my exploits, have formed opinions of me as a felonious, drug-crazed layabout without much in the way of redeeming qualities. You wouldn't be far wrong, but the truth is that mostly I'm a taxpaying working stiff. During my last period of parole, from March '10 to August '11, I worked from March right up until June. Granted, those last two months I was actively felonious and cut a swath both deep and wide through the county, but I do try to do my part.

At the time I was employed as a sous chef out at Stevenswood, whose main drawback is being located in Little River. I was kipping at my friend Mikey's pad on Oak Street in Fort Bragg, eleven miles from work and shy both car and driver's license. I managed in various ways to get there every day, but this particular morning I'd made no arrangements, had about three hours in which to do so and was pretty much incapable of anything beyond certain autonomic functions like breathing and moaning pitifully. Well, I thought, when in doubt look to cliches for guidance. In this case, I felt that “fight fire with fire" was just the ticket. I managed to get myself around the outside of a beer and immediately felt a few stray neurons click into place. Clearly I was on the right track and followed the scout with another and another and another soldier, until the entire platoon was in there bravely doing battle with the previous day's invading forces. I was feeling downright chipper and wondering what all the fuss was about. I stood up to go conquer the world and realized: hello: I am drunk. Like, shitfaced. I still felt super-awesome, but definitely not suited to handling sharp knives or open flames or fussy gay innkeepers. This fire would need to be fought with gasoline.

I got on the phone and called Naomi. "Naoms? Babe! Listen, I need a favor like right now, some zip and a ride to work, can you help?"

"Turn around, dumbass." she said. I forgot she was dating Mikey and right there in the room with me. Still talking on the phone, I said, "Oh, hey. Please go and get me a fifty."

She left on that crucial mish and I went into the kitchen to seek out some more alcohol. I found a finger of tequila in a pint bottle, downed that, and sat down to wait, buzzing pleasantly. After a little while Mikey woke up and came into the living room. "Hey, where's Naomi?" he said.

"Gone to score me some shit so I can get to work. Can you give me a ride?"

"Sorry. I got expired plates, no insurance, not smogged, and a collapsed bushing in the front end." Damn.

Naomi arrived with the goods and after cutting her and Mikey a line I did the entire thing myself. Bang-o! I was back in business. Fit as a fiddle and right as rain, speaking of cliches. "Okay," I announced. "We've got to figure out a way to get me to work."

"Correction," Naomi said. "You've got to figure that out. We are going to walk to the Homestyle Cafe for breakfast. I suggest you get on that phone and find a ride. See ya." Double damn. Well, if all else failed I could run there.

One of the interesting effects of heavy drinking combined with large amounts of meth is that it completely eradicates my already diminished senses of caution and restraint. There is literally nothing I will not do while in that condition and whatever insane undertaking I do embark on, I have supreme confidence that it will all work out. Oddly enough it usually does. Later, of course, I shudder at my proximity to death or jail or paralysis or whatever, but under the electrifying influence of that mix, it's Katie bar the door.

I devised a plan and it went like this.

One: I knew where the car keys were (under the front seat).

Two: if I drove fast enough, no one would be able to tell that the tags were expired or that there was no smog sticker.

Three: my naturally superior driving ability coupled with the enhancing characteristics of the intoxicants would surely be enough to compensate for any operational hitches effected by the faulty bushing.

Four: insurance is for suckers.

Barn! Once again I have medicated myself out of a jam.

The car—an old Celica GT—started right up. When I pulled out onto the street, though it pulled quite forcefully to the left and required a degree of strength and focus beyond the ability of the average man, but luckily well within my own superhuman operational parameters, to keep it on the road.

I took it fairly easy on the way out of town but once I passed the Ark thrift store I opened 'er up wide. There I was, teeth clenched, eyes wide and wild, sweating profusely, both hands in a white-knuckled death grip on the wheel as I piloted the careering vehicle at speeds of 100+ down Highway 1. I never felt so alive! I believe I caught a little air coming off the top of the Mendocino Village crest, and I very nearly lost it on the Big River bridge, but other than that it was smooth sailing all the way. I pulled into the parking lot with 15 minutes to spare and raced inside; I kept work clothes and toiletries there for circumstances just like these. I freshened up, punched in, and mentally high-lived my amazing self.

An hour or so later I was trimming tenderloins for tournedos when the hostess poked her head into the kitchen. “Telephone call," she said. I picked up the phone. "Yo," I said. ‘

"Did you take my car, you sonofabitch?"

"Yeah, it's here. Sorry about that, I was desperate."

"I'll be there in an hour, meet me outside."
"How about I just leave the keys under the seat?"

"No, you need to come outside." Click.

Hmm. I couldn't blame him for being angry but I didn't think physical retribution was the appropriate response. I could probably talk him down once he got here, I thought. During my term of employment at the Inn, my bosses had come to expect a degree of unconvention from me, but they'd likely draw the line at fisticuffs in the lobby.

By and by the hostess stuck her head in again. "Flynn, you have a visitor." Here we go. "Takin' ten, boss," I said to the chef.

"Where the hell are you going? 'We've got work to do," he said.

"I'm just gonna go outside and bone your mom in the parking lot real quick." I said. "Can we use your car?"

"Yeah, just put some plastic down on the seat. And hurry your ass up."

Mikey was waiting in the lobby.

"Let's go out to the employee lot." I said. Employees parked in a dirt clearing off in the woods so as not to mix their plebeian Japanese runabouts with the Mercedes-es and Range Rovers favored by our clientele. I led the way and when I turned around, Mikey was charging at me with blood in his eye. Not overly robust, he is nonetheless a young and healthy specimen and I figured I'd take a few well-deserved lumps and have done with it. He threw a wildly undisciplined haymaker at me which I sidestepped easily. His momentum carried him several yards past me. "Fucker! Hold still!" he said as he advanced on me again.

"What, I'm supposed to just stand still while you pound on me?" I asked, reasonably.

"Yes! Exactly! Now, c'mere!"

"Sorry, bro. I don't deny that you've got a case, but you're gonna have to earn this one."

He threw a few more wild and ineffectual punches that came nowhere near me. I poked him lightly on the jaw. He then went down into a wrestler's crouch and attempted to tackle me, which ploy I again easily evaded. "Dude, I can't he rolling, around in the dirt. I'm working here." I said.

I had to end this. I squared off in front of him, looked him in the eye and waited for him to telegraph his next punch. When it came, I dropped my guard, closed my eyes, and threw my face directly at his fist. Thunk! Not a bad wallop, actually. I sat down convincingly in the dust and said. "Okay, enough! Uncle, you win." He stood over me for a few seconds, puffing hard. "Okay then. See you at home."

1 went back inside, washed up and returned to my post. "What the hell happened to you?" the Chef asked, referring to my swelling cheekbone.

"Your mom likes it rough. But I don't have to tell you.”

"Ha, ha. Shell the fava beans, you degenerate."

At the end of my shift I was out on the back deck with a joint and a glass of mead, reflecting on the day's events. I woke up, had ten beers. a half-gram of meth, stole a car, defied death and the law, worked ten hours, had a fistfight… And I am fifty years old.

Damn! I really am awesome!

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