The Unnecessary Sucker-Punch Catalyst

I’ve only blacked out with rage two times in my life. The first was when I was about nine years old. I was playing basketball with one of my neighborhood friends. He told me not to hit his dilapidated backboard because he didn’t think it could take anymore, a ridiculous request at best. We were playing “21.” And as anybody who has ever played “21” knows, there are a lot of free throws to be had. My second free throw is up in the air when, lo and behold, I hit his backboard. The ball bounces by me, I bend down, pick it up, and turn to shoot when I’m met with a fist to the face. I don’t remember what happened in the ensuing seconds, I just remember coming to in an all out fight in his front yard. We got pulled apart pretty quickly, but I’ll never forget how scared I was by being mentally absent and out of control of my body for those few seconds. That was the first time I got sucker punched, and the first rage induced blackout. My second rage-out wouldn’t happen until I was ten years into my culinary career, about 20 years after the first incident.

My night started out just like any other shift; I was in a good mood, full of energy, and ready to deal with whatever my piece of shit managers had to throw at me. That last part is key, the turnover rate at that restaurant was through the roof, while employee morale was through the floor. They couldn’t keep good cooks. Management really had a way with people. I dreamed up this “OUU” policy that I swear they really stuck by, and it stands for overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.

The kitchen manager loved to treat every employee in the kitchen as if we were his misbehaving step children. He would stand in the expo window just staring back at us, and as soon as anything went over twelve minutes he would ask us for it. We had four computer screens on the line, one for saute, fry, plate (salads), and grill. Once any entree went over twelve minutes it would turn red on our screens, and if he was in that window we knew it was only a matter of time before his face would turn the same color as those ticket times. By the time he had to ask you for anything again his demands were amplified and he’d have spit flying out of his mouth as he would incessantly pound his fists in the window. He is one of the worst human beings I have ever come in contact with.

It was a Friday night, this night of rages, and we were all expecting to be busy. We were down a fry guy because he was “stuck” in Jacksonville, and didn’t think to call to let us know until he was supposed to be clocking in for his shift (these are the kinds of people this restaurant could keep.) So, I knew what I was in for, and was prepared to work harder than normal. I had my “six P’s” taken care of (proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance,) and was bouncing around the line trying to bring struggling stations out of the weeds. Saute was having the most trouble on this particular night, so for the majority of the rush I was working pans (cooking with the saute pans.) There are only three usable burners on saute, and I can only cook two pastas per pan, making a total of six pastas that can be cooked at one time. Our stations screen can hold about fifteen tickets before we go “off screen” and a little number in the corner shows us how many tickets we have off screen. We were between plus fifteen and twenty off screen when my kitchen manager starts harassing me.

“Mike, you have two cajun pastas at fifteen minutes right now.”

I’ve already told him we would be putting out slow checks because of the lack of burners and the surplus of checks we were accruing. I tell him that they will be ready in two minutes. Fifteen seconds go by:

“Mike, I need those cajun pastas.”

I let out a sarcastic laugh and shake my head as I already know how this is going to be. I tell him two more minutes. Ten seconds expire this time:

“Do I need to come back there to get the food out?”

I’ve already told him twice that we need his help on fry, so I keep my mouth shut as my rage is steadily increasing. I’m sweating my ass off putting out the best looking food in good time for the rush. I’ve got at least ten cajun pastas, and half of them have special instructions, meaning I can only cook one per pan. This back and forth goes on for about another hour, me calmly giving him times, and him asking me for the same things mere seconds later. I get to the point where I can’t take it anymore. I walk around to the back line to take some deep breaths and escape his voice. No more than a second after I reached the back line, I see him come around the corner and start to yell at me. I lose my shit. I remember starting to walk towards him and beginning to scream, and the next thing I know, I was back on saute, and he was back in the window. The grill cook on the other side of the line was laughing, but everybody else was silent.

After the rush died down, I went down to talk to the grill cook to find out what happened. He said I was screaming at my manager all the way back to the line, calling him a piece of shit, saying he couldn’t do my job if he tried, and that when I give him times, they are real times, so don’t ask me for shit ten seconds after I give you a two minute ETA. I expected to get talked to after the shift, and possibly get written up, but none of it happened. He knew exactly what he was doing, and I think he expected something like that to happen.

After blacking out I was terrified something horrible had happened. But, I just I sat on saute still cooking but shaking mad. Furious because it happened again, and terrified that something like that was even possible without getting sucker punched.

I’ve since left that horrible, horrible place, and am much happier as a result. I’ll never get over how I felt when I worked there, and I actually worry about that. I’m still in a kitchen, but instead of being treated as someone’s misbehaving child, I’m treated as a near equal, which is all I can ask for in this industry.


How I Ended Up Here: A Kitchen Tragedy

They say the mind works in mysterious ways, and I’m certainly a believer. I started working in corporate kitchens almost twelve years ago. I was surrounded by older men and women who appeared to wake up consistently hating life. I told myself I would never settle. I would never be so content that I would allow myself to be subject to hours and hours of stress everyday, and be alright with it. But here I am, eleven-plus years later, doing the exact same thing, and only getting paid a few dollars more.

I was a good student, I just never learned to study because I never really had to. I stayed on the “honor roll” until my senior year in high school, when I got my first “C.” I graduated with a 75% Bright Futures scholarship, and had no hint of anything remotely near an idea as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I enrolled in Santa Fe Community College, which was basically an extension of high school, and found out that studying was something I would actually have to do to be successful.

This was the first time stress had introduced itself into my life as a permanent fixture. I was working at a deli thirty hours a week, and trying to be a full time student. I felt as if I was incapable of studying, in part because of two unruly roommates, who also happened to be two of my best friends, and the fact that I had just taken my first drink of any type of alcohol a few months earlier and was completely enthralled with the euphoric episodes I’d have while drunk. Needless to say, my mental focus shifted from studying to drinking, and from making it to class to sleeping enough before I had to work. My grades took a hit, and after my second semester I was on academic probation, which would be the first, and least serious, of any probations to come.

Two semesters in, and I was still without a cause. I took a semester off to gather my thoughts (drink), and find out if I could come up with anything that sounded interesting and slightly fulfilling to spend the next fifty years doing. I spent my entire time in high school writing in journals, and my thoughts would always run wild when I’d pick up a pen, but for some reason I never managed to put two and two together. I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t realize it until I had already lost my scholarship, dropped out of college, and began developing a serious alcohol problem.

I was already excelling in the cooking industry, being that I have half a brain, and am a hard worker, but I was still telling myself not to be content. Don’t settle, don’t settle, don’t settle. But with every year passed, and every drink downed, I was becoming more and more content, and like wet concrete in the sun, I was settling.

No matter how settled I get, concrete can still be broken apart, mixed together again, and laid down to set somewhere completely different. I intend to write my way out of the kitchen.

NOTE: This blog will take you through various experiences of my life, hard times, good times, horrible times, incarcerated times, near death experiences, and current rage if it just so types itself out.