It’s been a month or more since I’ve posted here, so I apologize for the radio silence (hopefully no one was deeply concerned). Good news, I haven’t just been sitting on my ass. I’ve got a number of short stories coming out – one, in print, from the UK, and two online (check out the Short Work page for details and links) – and my band is in the process of recording our first EP (stay tuned for release information and clips).
But today, more than shamelessly plugging my authorial or musical endeavors, I want to tell you a short story – nonfiction, for a change – about the last month. One day, no doubt, the events on the last five weeks will show up in my fiction, a minor character, perhaps, but probably something more. There’s an epic poem to be written, the Aeneid of the kitchen world, heroes and heroines struggling against gods and nature and – most of all – the petty, slovenly evil of mortal men. Great works need great villains, and for the last month I have seen the great villainy, the very incarnation of sloth, indifference, gluttony, and deception.
Okay, a bit much, but just a bit.
In early October, the restaurant where I work hired a drug-addled scam-artist who boasted that he – amongst other things – spoke four languages, was close personal friends with several NFL coaches, bested the US Pastry Team by himself, held the position of chef de cuisine for the Hilton in NYC’s financial district in 2002 (when the restaurant was closed after 9/11), could break down a beef tenderloin in three minutes with 0% percent waste, and could get everyone in the restaurant – including the dish-washers – hefty raises during a recession, even though he was there to cut labor costs. These were all gross misrepresentations, which is to say, these were bald-faced lies. He could not cook (he set fire to every sauté pan I ever saw him touch), he had no original culinary ideas (and plenty of bad ones he borrowed, mostly from the 80s), his budgetary math was the product of coke-fueled hallucinations. He could not even run the salad station – he went down in flames and nearly took the rest of the line with him. He may have once been a passable cook – maybe even a human being – which is a sad thought, because by the time he came to us he was the apotheosis of every joke about kitchen nightmares, a myth made flesh, the worst boss I’ve ever had, a fucking clown. His name was Tobin McAfee, and if he comes to your restaurant in his shiny red VW Beetle, waste no time: kick him in the gut and throw him out.
The good news is that Tobin was brilliant material, a horrowshow of a human being, but further proof that real life can and will exceed satire, that those spectacular failures of reality TV fame are not always the products of scripts and clever editing. I’ll be dining out on stories of just how unbelievably awful this guy was, for months, if not years. He was a walking, talking, shit-packed novel of terribleness, and for that, I thank him. And, it’s worth pointing out, that Tobin brought some light with his darkness. The staff of the restaurant bonded together in ways I hadn’t expected, in the presence of Tobin’s inhuman and inhumane shittiness, we saw and treated each other as human being. We aspired to be better, in every way, in our every thought and deed; we found ourselves turning to Tobin as our negative Savior: what would Tobin not do? Tobin wouldn’t recook that burnt pizza, so we would. Tobin wouldn’t stay late to help the dishwasher close, so we would. Tobin wouldn’t work hard, tell the truth, or treat people decently. So we did. And, as our real chef struggled – to keep from murdering Tobin, to keep the food from suffering, to keep us all from quitting or drinking ourselves to death – we rallied around him. Outside of a platoon of soldiers or a brigade of firefighters, I’m not sure there is anything quite like a kitchen, like our kitchen, a family at war with a world of stupidity, laziness, and crass, generic, mediocrity.
It was enough – for a moment or two – to make me believe in mankind again, and it was worth suffering a month of Tobin for that.
*Yeah, that’s the motherfucker’s real name.