BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Rush Hour

Rhythmically, persistently, a small child is kicking me in the shins. Propelling his legs with blissful abandon beyond the constraints of his stroller, the rubber-soled shoes strike with a dull thud as regularly as a metronome. This is the least of my concerns though, as I struggle to find an open pocket of air in the overcrowded BART car. A nauseating bouquet of sweat, cologne, and Chinese takeout infiltrates my lungs, mingling together in one pungent, irrepressible plume. Each inhalation skews slightly to one or the other, though none holds particular appeal. Breathing becomes a careful, measured effort, akin to meditation.

Hurtling through tunnels, cutting across highways and open fields, chasing after the fading sun, the train starts and stops, yet not a single person moves an inch. Wedged firmly in place, it would be impossible to fall, even if one gave up standing on their own volition. Familiar vistas flash by through smudged windows, but from my vantage point staring directly into some tall man’s armpit, the scenery looks all the same to me. Somewhere between Embarcadero and West Oakland, I find myself wearing someone else’s headphone wires. Perhaps the whole mob, myself included, is beginning to merge into a single person.

Compared to many, my trip across the bay is mercifully short. Swimming upstream against the current of writhing arms and legs, it takes many gentle shoves, a few accidentally trampled feet, and many profuse apologies to disentangle myself from the mass when the doors finally open at my home station. The stagnant but open air has never felt so good. To all the faithful, tireless workers who continue forward on their journeys, to repeat the trip once again the next day, again and again with no end in sight: I salute you. That onerous commute is a full time job, in and of itself.

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Summer Rains

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the summer rains.

The cool relief of a cloud burst washing away the built up pressure of the day. The rumble and crack of rolling thunder in the darkness, a lumbering giant invisible in the night sky. The damp long grasses, freckled with pinpricks of dew in the morning. Each component, tactile and visceral, makes up its own flashbulb memory; distinctive, yet distinctly separate. There’s no timestamp, no geolocation, no metadata to click through and extract more information. Surely there were many rainstorms that visited through my childhood, appearing and fading away much like the last, blending into one amalgamated vision, softened by time and distance.

I don’t know how I grew so attached to the comfortable rhythm of weather patterns, so predictable that they were more reliable than the calendar as an indication of the passing days. Back then, summer was endless, stretching on through countless unscheduled weeks, lazy afternoons one after the other, not a hint of stress or guilt associated with inactivity. Punctuating the sweltering evenings with a quiet, soothing staccato on the window panes, their whispered song serving as a lullaby. Filling my mind and washing away the harsh edges, the summer rains were my meditation.

There are no more summer rains these days, far removed from the climate of my childhood. I miss them deeply because their music sang of comfort, an audible reminder of my shelter from the storm. It was my song, set on repeat for days on end; after so many years, it became my anthem.


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A Working Holiday

It’s been quite a few years now since my last Thanksgiving on the line, but I can still feel it in my bones; a physical memory that persists like a scar, emblazoned deep within. The crushing heat of the oven, pumping out roasted vegetables and tofu steaks; the furiously boiling pots of thickening roux, destined to become bases for a dozen different gratins; the reverberations of the knife on the cutting board, mowing down everything from beets to scallions seemingly of its own free will. These sensations return in flashbulb moments, random and unexpected glimpses into the past. Every Thanksgiving wasn’t just Doomsday, but Doomsweek. Manageable lists of orders quickly swelled into a wild mass of demands, nimble hands always turned out in short supply, and yet the shoebox kitchen still couldn’t accommodate the number of bodies toiling away, jockeying for a place at the tiny four-top burner. It was a violent dance, or perhaps a dark comedy, but it was certainly a show for all to see. The utilitarian rubber mats became our stage- No, red carpet- As we all starred in our insular performance. Though anyone outside of the industry could only consider this affair a pre-show for the great event, this was our time to shine.

Time continues to put more distance between this memory and the present, as the cafe has been closed and darkened since the ravages of Hurricane Sandy took their toll. For as long, painful, and exhausting as those long days leading up to Thanksgiving were, I wouldn’t have dreamed of being anywhere else. Fierce loyalty to the business and the team behind it drove me forward; that sense of comradery kept us afloat. No matter how much I dreaded those days, I secretly adored them and looked forward to them just as much, if not more. While it’s a luxury to finally enjoy Thanksgiving like most other people do- with their families, partaking in the festive meal, and cooking only enough for a dozen rather than half the town- I miss the maddening Thanksgiving catering rush dearly. Nothing made me more grateful than completing a successful day-long shift, bidding farewell to my cooking compatriots with hugs and long goodbyes, and quietly departing into the dark, cold autumn night once more.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate, whether you’re working, cooking, or just lucky enough to be amongst family and friends.