Monthly Archives: July 2009

Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)

6 miles sweat

Sunday night I commemorated my marathon of restaurant work with a solo date, a night out on the town. First I went to Tupelo for dinner. Chef Rembs and the bartender were a little concerned when I ordered two entrees, but the obese man at the end of the bar was delighted. We talked about food until my entrees arrived. Then silence (from him) and the sound of gumbo, biscuits and sausage gravy tumbling down the well of my neck were the only noises at the bar.

The man sitting directly next to me was not obese, he happened to own the joint. The management did not take me up on my offer to wash dishes for free one night a week. They have a dishwasher named Elvis and they like that. I ate perfect chocolate cake and drank fine French press coffee (my first cup since February!) then bid my new obese friend adieu and headed to Kendall Square Cinema to see Soul Power, a documentary about James Brown. I had never seen James Brown perform live and it shocked me to tears.

Here he was in Zaire, 1974, with other black performers, representing American culture as the headliner for a fabulous three day festival planned to accompany the Ali – Foreman fight. Brown acted as cultural ambassador and took his journey to Africa personally as a spiritual quest to the home of his ancestors, bringing with him the evolved music of his forebears to those who never left the motherland. I thought I was alone in the theater, and when all the buildup and logistics and tension climaxed with James Brown exploding out onto the stage in front of tens of thousands of Africans, screaming and doing splits with an unrivaled energetically powered performance, I cried.

As the credits rolled I made my way to the exit and discovered I had not been alone after all. An older obese man sat in the last row. I paused by his theater seat because after the credits James Brown was shown in his dressing room, post performance. He addressed the camera, and said that he hoped this scene would be tacked onto the end of the eventual film they’d been making. James Brown talked directly at the camera, addressing me and the newly discovered obese man. He said, “When you’re walking out of the theater, or switching off your TV set, I want you take one thing away from this… that you ARE somebody.”

I weigh 210 pounds but I think its mostly new muscle.

Small dogs on their leashes

That same Sunday night I went for a midnight bike round around the Charles River, ten miles. A thunderstorm swirled overhead as I finished and I took shelter in my basement den.

Monday night at work I became very angry. The sweet taste of freedom from my solo date night was washed out by another mouthful of hellhole. My work is not really a hellhole, but I get weary.

This headband is pretty tight

The rest of the week I’ve spent down in CT with my family. My aunt and I drove to Colchester for hamburgers at Harry’s. She says that if you don’t get the grilled onions on your hamburger you might as well skip it. She’s right. My aunt was wrong once, however, but it was back in the seventies before I was born. I visited my grandmother Happy and we watched Judge Judy and at each commercial break I recounted to her what just happened in loud boisterous summaries.

Tonight my aunt and I stayed in and had pork chops. The neighbor Cookie’s dachshund has been in the picture a lot. Her name is Ruby and today she licked my face. Cookie says she’s mine now. I ran six miles in the ninety plus heat and then almost had a seizure in my aunt’s AC igloo of a house. Over the pork chops, Aunt Judy reminded me of when I was little, how I used to dress up in her skirts and evening wear. It infuriated my father. So she gave me a pair of her old madras shorts, so I could dress up in a more masculine fashion.

“No way,” my young fat self stated, “Those are GIRL shorts.”

Twenty One Tropical Shifts

“One solitary, overriding thought: get away from here. People frighten me… My steps are firm. And now the earth trembles. When I move, a buffalo moves. When I rest, a mountain reposes.” Werner Herzog, walking to Paris, November 1974

Twenty one shifts in a row

My work vacation is nearing its end. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the morning I will work my twenty first consecutive shift, brunch. It will be the first busy brunch of the string; we have approximately fifty on the books already. The shift will cap my record twenty one in a row, and then I will have my first afternoon off in three weeks. Only the third afternoon off I’ve had off in all of July. I will see my friends again, go out to eat, perhaps take in a movie. There may be tears.

Elvis and Nixon meet December 21 1970

Thousands of dollars the Elvis / Nixon / American way.

Pots & Pans

Sharon and I wore “Life Is Good” stickers on our shirts Friday night. She really sold that motto with her facial expression… me, not so much.

Sharon and I wearing Life Is Good stickers

Three more shifts, three more days… then a day off. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all that day off. I guess I’ll go hang out with my family. Its been nineteen shifts, making me the current record holder for consecutive front of the house ECG shifts. I told my coworkers last night, I’m gonna miss you Tuesday. For one day, I’m going to miss all the staff, and customers, and screaming babies. Especially going to miss the kitchen making us ridiculous staff meals like the one below because they had problems all night. And then… the next day, I’ll be back at work.

Ridiculous staff meal

There was a band called the Pots and Pans.
They made this noise that people couldn’t stand
and when they toured all across the land,
the people said, “No, no, no!”
But the drummer said, “Yes, yes, yes, this tour is a test.”

– Les Savy Fav


Handpainted fish on Ilam tea

This is the colorful fish that caught my eye, in the pond water of display case glass at the corner store… Sometimes I think my spirit animal is a wolverine. They are the largest member of the weasel family. Wolverines have two speeds, fast and stop, and roam for hundreds of miles marking their territory with scent glands. The etymology given by wikipedia seems to confirm that I am, in fact, a hairless wolverine…

“The wolverine’s questionable reputation as an insatiable glutton (reflected in the Latin genus name Gulo) may be in part due to a false etymology. The animal’s name in old Swedish, Fjellfräs, meaning “fjell (mountain) cat,” worked its way into German as Vielfraß, which means roughly “devours much.” Its name in other West Germanic languages is similar (e.g. Dutch Veelvraat).

The Finnish name is Ahma, derived from ahmatti, which is translated as “glutton.” The Russian росомаха (rosomakha) and the Polish and Czech name rosomak, seem to be borrowed from the Finnish rasva-maha (fat belly). Similarly, the Hungarian name is rozsomák or torkosborz which means gluttonous badger.

Purported gluttony is reflected neither in English nor in North Germanic languages. The English word wolverine (alteration of the earlier form wolvering of uncertain origin) probably implies ‘a little wolf’.”

Nepali Tea

Inman Square big sky

In the store formerly known as Sandy’s I purchased some Nepali tea and incidentally ingested caffeine for the first time since February. It was all pretty serendipitous; that’s how I roll. The tea came in a burlap purse, marked with a colorful, hand-painted fish. It was tucked away deep in the display case, but my lazy eye found it. I had to have that purse. And once I had purchased the hand-painted fish purse for seventy five cents, I discovered the black tea inside. Weary from twelve shifts in a row (so far) I took it as a sign, and happily steeped a steaming hot cup.

Perry Ellis brown on brown

Tonight I dressed in brown Perry Ellis walking shorts (with pocket for cellphone) and a linen brown Perry Ellis short sleeve button down shirt. The top couple buttons I left open, a-la Eric Gburski, and thus maintained a cooler core body temperature in the stifling July heat. Plus I sported black and purple shell-toe ADIDAS sneakers, and Gold Toe black ankle socks.

Magic Slim and the Teardrops

A few nights ago it rained and the streets were wet at midnight. I lit a couple sparklers and danced in Cambridge St. and then got on my bike and rode solemnly home.

Black Socks

Strictly black socks at work

I mowed my friend Tina’s lawn this afternoon. First I drove out to her house in Waltham and we went out for a late breakfast… I ate steak, eggs, hash browns, toast, and chocolate chip pancakes. Powered up, I mowed her whole lawn in about an hour. Later, I went to work at the restaurant. Brenda brought me salt water taffy and sparklers and gummy lobsters from Maine. Dave wanted to capture my look for the night on camera. Probably because he thought I looked so bad. I am really this bad in person.

Sombrero Ranchero

Ranchero sombrero

The other day I was running five miles at Fresh Pond. I was lost in thought about running form, disappearing into the motions, when a woman startled me. She said, “Good job.” I was jolted back into reality for a moment. It was the first time anyone had commented on my stance since way back when. The first summer I moved to Cambridge I was walking back from a newspaper meeting at B.U., on the footpath by the Charles River, and a strange man said that I had a determined gait. Now a woman was telling me, out of nowhere, that I was running well. Several miles later it occurred to me that she may merely have been talking to her little white schnauzer… “Good dog.”

Elephant watering can

NEWS IN BRIEF: Chris said I can’t wear grey socks at work anymore; this upsets me. Fitzcarraldo is a film I enjoyed very much. The Davis Square Hollywood Express (home of the Werner Herzog Director’s Section) is closing July 26th… they gave me a coupon today for ten free rentals at the Porter Square branch. The elephant watering can I purchased at the hardware store in Inman Square for three dollars. I have finished the first of three weeks at work, sans day off. Feeling good.

Baby Princesses

The baby princesses showed the way

After rapidly ingesting two blueberry pancakes this morning, I discovered the teeth on my jeans’ zipper were not interlocking. I ran to the bathroom and whipped off my pants and tried to get the zipper to work but it was no use. The fly was straight up busted. I jumped into my car and sped off to change, and on the way to my apartment I saw marching bands and policemen. Happily, another Portuguese parade was a-brewing.

Behold the red and gold kite

Today’s procession must have had some mythical back story, because it was quite somber and quasi-religious. Baby princesses bore sparkling crowns. A woman in an olive green dress carried a white dove on a pillow. I believe the pillow dove symbolized peace. Sharon said the bird was probably dead.

The white dove on the pillow

Not as good as the other Portuguese parade; that one had a rumbling volcano float and candy throwers. Definitely still good enough to brighten my Sunday, and break up my thirteen hour workday.

Drowsy / Non-Drowsy

“The laws of aerodynamics prove that the bumblebee should be incapable of flight, as it does not have the capacity (in terms of wing size or beats per second) to achieve flight with the degree of wing loading necessary. Not being aware of scientists ‘proving’ it cannot fly, the bumblebee succeeds under ‘the power of its own ignorance’…”

Bumblebee and flower

I’ve had a summer cold for the past week and a half. I’m tired of blowing my nose when its seventy, eighty degrees outside. I bought some Benadryl at the corner store before work last night. It was a mistake. Little did I know, regular Benadryl is not non-drowsy. After ingesting the pills, I became very drowsy. I think they should clearly mark this medicine as drowsy, as I expected it to be non-drowsy. It was in the middle of a Saturday night at the restaurant; I couldn’t go to bed. I had to fight through the drowsiness. I don’t drink caffeine, either. I fought with willpower alone. Under “the power of my own ignorance” I pushed through, but by eleven o’clock I was asleep on the banquette.

Low Country Captains Arthur gumbo

Work is going well. I am in the first half of two weeks straight. Sixteen shifts in a row. The food keeps me going. Today for our family meal we ate sausages and peppers on hot dog buns. Afterwords I went to Christina’s and got a cup of peanut butter chip frozen yogurt with crushed peanut butter cups and whipped cream. Thank goodness I shared. For my after-shift dinner, the Low Country Captain dished me up some gumbo over rice. In it was some andouille sausage, okra, and fried oysters. I sopped up the gumbo with grilled bread. Outside a thunderstorm erupted with a downpour. Rather than bike home in the heavy rain, I crawled into the Lava Lounge and stretched out to sleep on the banquette… Fat and drowsy; lights out.

Stranger In Paradise

Eddie Eva and Willie in Stranger Than Paradise

I felt lost in my own life. This past winter and spring I had been hoping for something to change in my life. It didn’t happen, and I lost direction. I can’t tell when it all went wrong, because it didn’t all go wrong. It just didn’t go where I planned, and my feet needed a minute to adjust to the new path. I have a lot of control freak genes in my system, and sometimes forced adjustments are what the doctor orders. I feel good about it now; feel relatively good about how I’m adjusting.

This summer feels weird. Chalk it up to total sobriety I guess. In the basement where I live is a sea of media that I explore after work. Music, film, literature, television, newspapers, magazines, video games, internet, radio. I go to the movies almost every Sunday. There is always something to check on my phone. When I run and ride my bike this matrix fades away and life is more basic. That is the balance I have struck in my life. My orchid died and I bought a new plant; a snake plant. I am moving forward.

Eddie: You know, it’s funny… you come to someplace new, an’… and everything looks just the same.
Willie: No kiddin’, Eddie.