I don’t watch a huge amount of TV. I do often fall asleep to something soothing and murdery, but because I fall asleep to it I never know who did it, so I’ll watch the same episode for sometimes weeks, advancing just a few more minutes each night til I get to the end while awake.
Lately I’ve been watching some movies and series to try to be like the other kids, though it takes a lot of time. I wish you could increase the speed of stuff on TV, like with audio books. I don’t finish all of them, but at least I can fake a passing conversation about more of them now.
Do script writers read books? The answer must be no, because the scripts are often so predictable that I can literally say dialogue as it happens on many movies and TV shows I’ve never seen before as it’s happening, and it’s not so much a “Hey, look at me, I guessed the ending!” as an, “Oh hell, we’re seventeen minutes in and I know pretty much everything that’s going to be said and how it’s going to end - Oh look! A snack!”
Or, as my son once said to me in a crushing blow, “Mom, you ruin TV.” But my son won’t read books, and if you read books you’ve seen all these plots and dialogues before. If you don’t read, everything’s a fucking surprise.
Years ago, before e-readers allowed us to stock up on books for long trips, movies were on the backs of airplane seats, and credit card points allowed me to vie for upgrades, I was planning a trip to Spain to visit family. I bought a Robert B. Parker mystery for the flight. It had just come out, and my friend Mike asked to borrow it so he could read it before I left, promising he’d return it in time for the trip. He did, but just barely - he handed it to me as he gave us a lift to the airport.
Wedged in a middle seat between my future-ex-husband on my right and a stranger on my left, I settled in with great anticipation for the read. I opened the book after take-off and there on the first page was a character’s name, circled in pen, with a line leading out to the margin. In the margin Mike had written, “He dies.”
On the next page was a woman’s name circled, with a line leading from it. In the margin Mike had written, “She did it.”
397 pages later it was all true. All this to say I’ve had spoilers from masters with far more devastating effect than simply saying, “Why don’t you come with me to the cabana?” or whatever at the same time the murderer does in a crappy thriller. I don’t know what these damned kids are complaining about.
I was in the food business for nearly twenty years, as a caterer, working in restaurants and bars, and graduating from the New York Restaurant School. I recently watched two restaurant-based things, the movie The Menu, and the series The Bear. The Menu was a very dark comedy, a bizarre send-up of the hyper-pretentious foodie scene where cooks spend more time fondling your micro-greens than you’ll ever be able to spend eating them. It was shocking. It was savage. It made me need a cheeseburger. I prefer not to think about what it means to be a person who watches that and leaves only wanting some ground-up meat in a roll.
The Bear was different in that it was very realistic, at least until the deus ex machina that some accountant must have insisted upon for budgetary reasons or something. Good, and very, very realistic. Every kitchen scene made the vein in my neck throb. Unless you’ve worked in professional kitchens it’s hard to convey the pressure and tension that come with the job, but at various times I’ve seen line chefs next to air traffic controllers on the stress scale of careers. The hours are brutal. The work is physically grueling. The people you work with can be difficult, often, and that can be a problem when they’re also your only allies in the war against patrons bitterly complaining that the lasagna has cheese in it, or the sorbet is too cold.
“Excuse me, this water is wet. I’d like you to comp my check, and I want to speak to the manager.”
So you go into the back and tell the chef that the customer complained that the water was wet, and he throws a hot sautee pan at you, and then your manager comes in and yells at you for not paying enough attention to table 27 instead of ducking the hot oil that was in the sautee pan, and the bus guy’s pissed that the sautee pan went into the bus tub and broke plates and now he has a cut hand and that’s your fault, and the other server in your station just pocketed your tip from table 27.
The cooking end of things isn’t better. I worked at a gay cabaret and restaurant in Boston for a while in the 80s, where I was the only person without a penis. If you’ve spent any time with the penis-encumbered, you know that, for the most part, the more of them there are in any location, the less likely the rest of us are to have a good time. Also, the more of them you know, the less interesting they are, honestly. I, being a boringly straight woman who’s met my fair share of them, can’t get all that worked up about them. I mean, they’re fine, but they’re no cheeseburger.
Everyone else there was super enthusiastic about them, however, because if you have one they’re the most interesting thing in the world. I was vastly outnumbered. I asked the owner, Frank, if he’d please hire someone who’d leave the seat down. I showed up for work one day and he said, “Alonso, I got you some friends.”
I looked, and there were two new waitresses standing at the prep station. I went bounding up to them and said, “Hi!” and they looked at me like a couple of standard French poodles looking at an ill-bred Puggle with a protruding eye, gasping for air and offering a pre-licked chunk of Beggin’ Strips.
They peed standing up.
So this did not result in me making new friends, and it was about this time that I started sitting up while asleep shouting “PICK UP!” as I slammed an invisible bell at the invisible pass. My future ex learned to say, “Got it!” so I’d lie back down.
I was engaged at the time, and I had my wedding dress delivered to the restaurant because my shifts never worked with the hours of the dress shop to pick it up. It was a cream-colored, poofy-sleeved number with pearly beading, a deep V neckline and a low-cut back. A famous author/economist/ambassador’s namesake grandson who was a server got mad at me because I wouldn’t let him borrow the dress before my wedding to wear to a party, even though he was ten inches taller than I was and built like a hot, muscular stud and not an overweight, breeder line-chef. “It would be tea-length, and it would be adorable!” he shouted at me as he stormed out and slammed the door.
And Román, the very straight, middle-aged Colombian pot washer, looked up from the sink at my devastated face and said, “It’s OK, chica. He’d never find shoes that would work.”
It’s my friend Sue’s birthday today. I always think of her when I drink boba tea because she was one of the first people I knew to publicly declare her love of it. I’d harbored a secret obsession with it for a long time, but few people knew of it back then, and Americans can be very weird about texture. She made it OK to like it. I appreciated that.
Taiwanese Boba are large tapioca pearls, or balls, and they’re chewy and life-threatening if you get impatient trying to suck them up through the big straw when they’re jammed - or worse, when you’re trying to smack the last few that are stuck to the bottom of the cup, your mouth wide open, gullet pelicanned, waiting for the gummy projectiles to do you in. 100% worth the risk.
You can put boba in hot or cold drinks, but you can not drink hot drinks through a straw and live to tell the tale, so then boba becomes a dumpling, kind of. I also make it and add it to fruit salad that either has a lot of juice in it, or to which I’ve added cold, herbal fruit teas. It is a fun, different, and interesting summer food.
Popping boba (an excellent band name) aren’t made from tapioca. They’re a seaweed-based balloony thing filled with fruit juice or flavoring that explode in your mouth. Absolutely terrible, and hard to stop eating.
Making boba from scratch is worth doing once because they’re really good - I like anything with brown sugar - and it’s very easy to make provided you don’t let the dough cool down all the way. But really, it's so easy to buy now that it’s hardly worth the bother unless you’re a purist.
There are even delivery options of pre-mixed boba teas, milks, and juices, some of which I purchased so I could take a picture for this Substack. It’s kind of noble how I sacrifice for my art. The sesame matcha milk tea was good but very sweet. I usually make green tea with boba, no milk, and just a little sugar.
Cheers to all of you, especially those celebrating boba birthdays!
After reading Anthony Bourdain's famous book, watching a few documentaries, and now reading your story, I can't but wonder why some people are so crazy to work in a kitchen.
Then again, being a line chef is not the only dream-job-turned-into-nightmare. In Japan, for instance, many people dream of becoming manga artists. Then if you are good enough you get the job and spend the rest of your life slaving at the desk, trying to beat the weekly deadlines, never able to take a break or going on vacation.