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Great Weather for the Medicis of Michigan

It's been unseasonably warm this month so far. For February that is.  Usually this blustery, clammy cloudy weather saves itself for late March around here. This is the second year in a row that February has been a bit of a respite from the usual arctic tundra conditions. I don't miss the constant Lake Effect snow that is normally part of the February/March axis here in West Michigan. Spring is almost here and I always appreciate taking my daily stroll without the 30 pounds of extra clothing.

               The recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos  to Trump's cabinet has focused national attention upon the DeVos family that we've lived with here in West Michigan for decades. If you want an idea about their influence and status here in the Grand Rapids/Holland Corridor think about the Medicis and Florence during the 1500s in Italy. The DeVos family very much thinks of this part of Michigan as their fiefdom and we are but the serfs who live here at their pleasure.  I myself have had many, many close associations with them in a service capacity.  I was personal chef to the president of Hope College in Holland for 16 years and as the DeVos family was one of the major contributors to the college; I had a lot of opportunities to cook for them.  The usual "rich people behaving badly" thing doesn't apply to them - they are well mannered, polite and pretty buttoned down. What I took away from my interactions with them was a sort of benign dismisiveness.  You never forgot that you were a servant when you were around them, but they never overtly treated you as such.  It was all in the look in their eyes and body language and tone when they said "Thank You." or "Could you get me..."  The children were about the same way only with another layer of  loftiness - to the kids you were truly invisible.  One time we were catering a barbeque at Betsy's brother's compound in the wilds of West Michigan - Eric Prince, founder of the infamous private army company, Blackwater .  We were schleping boxes of food prep through the main house to the back deck because for some reason we weren't allowed to wander around too much outside.  I remember a gaggle of the teenaged kids hanging out in the sunroom off the deck and having to open the door outside every single time while they all sat there studiously ignoring "the caterers" and not even getting up once or even offering to open the door.  Now this could be attributed to typical teenaged sloth and lack of awareness but I had cooked for nearly all of these kid's various birthdays, graduations and such throughout their lives and this behavior had been ever thus.  We were servants and therefore invisible.

               And all of us had to be vetted via security check each time we did an event at Eric's compound or at any of the DeVos' homes or event venues - I have been sniffed and snorted on by their security German Shepards many many times.  The worst time was when Eric gave a speech at the opening Tulip Time luncheon hosted by the governor.  All of us were forced to stand in a line against a wall and have the dogs walk up and down sniffing everyone for bombs and weapons that might be used to kill or maim Eric.  A lot of the younger college student help and young workers we had subcontracted from a local vocational high school were shook up about this - especially the younger girls who had to endure a dog snorting around up their skirts in front of everyone. This is the brother that Betsy grew up with. So I'm not surprised at anything she or anyone in her family comes up with. Particularly when it comes to how they view the Rest of Us and how they see themselves in the grand scheme of things.  Again, I refer you to the Medicis.

Here is a great overview of the DeVos clan and their legacy here in my neck of the woods:


Mind you I really love where I live and I think Grand Rapids is one of the better, more beautiful cities I've visited and I would love to live their someday.  I might just get used to seeing the DeVos name everywhere - hell, I already am.

Bro TV and Free Floating Anxiety

I'm currently fascinated with the Vice channel which my cable company deigned to place on my service last month.  It's a channel aimed directly at 20-somethings in general and specifically 20 somethings who like hip hop culture, marijuana, partying, food, and street wise fat guys with unkempt beards and multiple irons in the hustle fire. Oh, and people sitting on couches  getting toasted while they make each other crack up over inside jokes and snappy, hip observations on life.  It's the perfect alternative channel to have going at a bar when there isn't any sports on.  I know this because  my preferred watering hole started broadcasting Vice alongside its usual  sports ball fare and re-runs of "How Its' Made" and  "Mythbusters".

               It's a channel that is decidedly masculine in a Millenial Bro-ish way meaning that there are a lot of women on the channel both as hosts and guests, but the sensibility is somewhat platonic. Even the girls are bros in Viceland.  The first show I saw was hosted by a very attractive young lady hosted a two hour travel show touring the hidden cultural gems of Scotland with a focus on the food, drink and party culture.  There were several segments where she is taken under the wing of one local or another (almost all guys - good middle class Scottish party lads) and treated very much as one of the lads who just happens to be gorgeous, female and public school English.  It was all very funny, informative and entertaining.  I learned what the official alcoholic beverage of Scotland was (it's not Scotch) and what pop is the most popular, something called "Irn Bru" which is like Mountain Dew with twice the caffeine and sugar. She watches a famous underground chef make barbeque sauce out of it while he's stumbling drunk on the nation's favorite fortified wine, Buckfast.  She drives a boat 90 minutes to a distillery on an island for a tour then drunk drives the boat back to the mainland after she's had a few too many samples in the tasting room.  This is a typical show on Vice where whatever the subject matter or focus of a program is, the first thing is to make sure there's lots of pot, booze and breezy chatter. And if it's a cooking show then the typical host should be a fat guy with a penchant for hip-hop, tattoos, snapbacks and facial hair. Lots of facial hair.  And lots of handling food with bare unwashed hands. Utensils are in short supply on Vice cooking shows.  The whole effect of the channel is that there's controlled anarchy going on here and we're all in on the plot. Or joke. Or clique.  I like it but I can see it wearing thin after a while - especially the cooking shows which tend to be too hip and too smug for my taste. Not to mention that most of the ones I've watched focus upon street food or foods you make when you come home drunk from the bar.  They have cute names like "Fuck, That's Delicious" and "Bong Appetite" which are almost the best part of the quickly tiresome shows.  These shows are good to have running in the background at a bar, though. Which just might be the point.  I like "Huang's World" though which I think is one of the channel's hits for me along with Gloria Steinam's travel show, "Woman".

I've been having long bouts of free floating anxiety that I know is being caused by work stress, family stress and now the outside stressor of the future of health care for Z-girl who is diabetic and soon to be kicked off my insurance because of the ACA dismantling going on.  I'm about to go into the poor house even though I have a decent paying job.  Z-girl is currently job hunting after moving back home from Chicago and leaving her sales job that she adored but couldn't make work financially. I'm working on buying out her lease and fretting over where she's going to get coverage if she doesn't find employment with bennies. I'm becoming exhausted with coaching her and being her cheer leader. I do the same with my cooks at work. It's mentally exhausting in the extreme.  I feel exactly the same way I did while caring for my dying wife back in '09. Only I'm older and less sturdy now.

                I'm not surprised that I have panic attacks out of the blue and a general over- all feeling of dread and tension.  Doesn't happen at work much because my mind is distracted, but once my brain is allowed to wander, the anxiety rises up and paralyzes me to the point where I can spend hours watching TV and not getting anything else done.  And I can't write - the creativity is being strangled by anxiety and my mind is not free to wander and spin tales like it used to..  I'm trying to work on strategies to help myself, but I'm no expert in that respect so for the first time in my life I'm thinking of seeking some mental health counseling and will even consider medication if it comes to that. Something which I really, really don't want to do. Even watching Eileen wither and die in front of me didn't cause me to consider counseling, but its different now. My support system is smaller and I 'm getting it from all sides with no bright spots.  At least, that's how I see things. Perhaps I should look harder. I don't know.  It makes me sad that I've come to this point in life and I have to do this. I'm sad that here I am at the ending few years of my cooking career and I won't be able to retire with any sort of financial security. I've been doing this work since I was 15 and even though I knew I wouldn't get rich doing it, I expected more than this.  And yes, a lot of it was my own fault - but life handed out a few yellow cards of its own my way too.  I joke and say that I'll retire about 30 minutes before my funeral, but like all jokes, there is a sad kernel of truth deep inside.

I got a brake job for Christmas, which isn't what I asked Santa for at all, but experiencing near brake failure while hurtling into a parking lot tends to make the gift of being able to stop a good deal more attractive than most anything else really.  The point being made especially crystal clear as I shot towards the end of the lot, foot pumping pedal and yanking on the emergency, with a 50 foot cliff looming beyond the curb and a short launch to a frozen beach on Lake Michigan. Gratefully the brakes grabbed and I stopped abruptly with plenty of room to spare. Later on I  learned that I'd had something called "caliper failure" combined with a broken brake line that slowly leaked hydraulic fluid as I made my way out to the Big Lake  for an all day work retreat.  Of course, I chalked it up to the universe doing its usual occasional job of trying to maim, kill or just generally make my life miserable but my work mates insisted upon praying over me and giving thanks that my life was spared. Which was a very sweet gesture, even if the attention made me uncomfortable in light of my lackadaisical attitude towards most kinds of spirituality.
After spending  the better part of my bank account to make sure my car doesn't kill me, there wasn't much left for Christmas joy, but we managed anyway. I gave myself a Spotify premium account having recently re-discovered the service after abandoning my account a few years ago. I enjoy stringing together playlists for myself and being able to access the music anywhere without having to be online.  Also, except for records, I don't buy physical music any more. I like the old tunes from my youth but I like new stuff too and using Spotify lets me explore new music without the commitment. Cuts down on the buyer's remorse.

               I recently cooked a Chef's Table  dinner for 15 students who had signed up for the dinner ahead of time on a first come, first served basis.  I served a French continental menu composed of dishes from Escoffier, Joel Robuchon,  and other legendary French chefs. It was a meal I had done 30 years before for a different set of students and I reprised the menu as a sort of celebration of the anniversary of that long ago meal.

 Another culinary project that I've had on my list for a while is to do a Japanese style Kaiseki meal.   Kaiseki is a large multi course meal featuring local goods served with meticulous presentation and focusing upon a harmonious progression of traditional and modern dishes. The meal can be  up to 14 courses and is typically a parade of small plates executed to perfection.  It's like a culinary version of running a marathon. That is, if you ran the race perfectly, in a perfect setting, looking absolutely perfect while doing it.  In West Michigan we are blessed with one of the most diverse and bountiful agricultural regions in the country and despite the winter  shortened growing season, the main farming area stretching across six counties along the shores of Lake Michigan  produces close to 3 billion dollars in agricultural output every year.  With that in mind, I would plan out a Kaiseki dinner that would celebrate that agricultural bounty through a story arc of American home style dishes both modern and traditional, native and immigrant, I would plan a baker's dozen courses just because and pair them up with West Michigan wines, beers and ciders. I'd likely charge upwards of 200 a head in order to pay for the food and drink. Anything left over would go to charity.  I'm in it just to do it.  It's a lot to plan; it'll take months and I'm just now at the kicking around stages, but I'd really like to take a good crack at doing it this year.


Last week, on a rare day off, I went to the bar in the afternoon with my laptop to work on my blog post for the art house movie theater here in town. I was settled in with a beer and deep into my commentary and promotion of the upcoming series on the Westerns of the 50's/60's when I got interrupted TimR, who had just walked in with his wife for a quick mug.  TimR is the facilitator for a writer's group I've belonged to for about ten years now, but truth be told, I haven't been to the group for over two years because of my work schedule.  I miss the group for so many reasons, but most of all because they are such a supportive and creative group of folks. Tim asked if I was working on anything and I said, in fact, that I was just now toiling away at a project right here and now.  I secretly patted myself on the back for being caught in the act of actually writing something.  Tim updated me on the doings in the group and told me to come if ever I get the time because people miss me. He actually said they/he missed my snarkiness and constructive criticism. This surprised me as I think a few of the folks there considered me to be somewhat of an asshole for being blunt and not sparing any feelings. Just on occasion - I'm not that way too often, but when I am people tend to remember and hold on.  This is not to say I don't respect the members - I just don't think it does anyone any good to blow smoke when you're there to help people get better.

               The group is made up of mostly memoir writers and two other fiction writers besides myself. Tim owns a small press publishing company with his brother, specializing in Fantasy/SF with a big emphasis on Fantasy. Not really my cup of tea and I've suffered through many readings of epic dragon and damsel tales from Tim and his brother.  But then again, he's been a sport about hearing my own clumsy efforts. So it evens out. I wasn't a fan of memoir going into this group but I've since come around. I was worried mostly that it was going to be a group of people trying to write their life stories without the tools to do so.  I've been in groups like that before and it is tedious.

                I have since been converted though and it's because of the memoirists in the group who've stuck with it and worked to get better. Some have even been published or took the leap and self published. I have my favorites from my time with the group...
There was  a memoir of a teen aged girl growing up in the Dearborn side of Detroit in the 60's. The memoir is a reporting of her years long obsession with a boy she nicknamed "Pink Cheeks" - a true coming of age story loaded with charm and adventure written in a straight forward, no nonsense manner. Instead of  a dry recounting of events, the straightforward writing actually somehow serves to heighten the sense of place and emotions of the time.  It's a delight to hear the woman reading these accounts while realizing that the dynamic, mischievous wide eyed girl she talks about is herself in another time and place. The fact that this woman still has her heavy Michigan/Detroit accent makes the story even more compelling when she reads.

Another memoir is from a retired Army officer who worked in Intelligence during the Vietnam era. It's the story of his rising through the ranks from callow lieutenant fresh out of Officer's Candidate School to seasoned, cynical, world weary Colonel working the grey edge between active duty and civilian contractor. The memoir is a combination of Catch-22 real life fantasy and LeCarre cat and mouse adventure with a little Hunter Thompson gonzo thrown in.  I know this memoir to be accurate and true because my father and my brother both had careers in the Intelligence end of the service and a lot of what the memoirists says rings true, even though it can sometimes be hard to believe.  Indeed, my brother is still in service, but not on active duty for the government.  He's currently in England where he's doing surveillance analysis of North Korean activities via a private Pentagon contractor... Last year he was in Afghanistan for 4 months doing god-knows-what, but still able to FB message me about how filthy everything was over there and how he was having fits trying to keep his side arm and rifle clean.
The strange doings that are chronicled in the Vietnam memoir are convoluted and chaotic, but the writer does a good job of keeping things organized and moving along.  There are dozens of characters which is problematic and the last time I was at the group he was wrestling with jettisoning some of that weight to streamline the tale.

The last memoir I like from the group is the story of a woman giving up her child for adoption after having the baby at an unwed mother's home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the late  60's.  The memoir, entitled "Baby Mine" after the Disney song featured in Dumbo, is harrowing, heartbreaking and ultimately lacking in a lot of redeeming feel good moments. It is real life, not a Lifetime movie script.  The story starts with the young woman's months in the home where she spends her last couple trimesters in a dorm situation with other women in her predicament, all of them overseen by a group of nuns and one social worker. From the birth of her child and subsequent loss we skip ahead a few decades to the time in the woman's life where she attempts to re-connect with her child and does but the outcome is bittersweet. With the emphasis on the bitter.  This memoir was riveting to hear being read and the author was very brave and open about it. Many nights there were tears shed after she would read a new installment or passage.  We all eagerly helped her polish and tighten up her prose and after she was done with it she shopped it around to various agents to no avail - after all, it wasn't exactly an uplifting tale. But it was real.  Last I heard, the author had self published the book and had sold quite a few - I haven't bought it. I don't need to - I heard it straight from the horse's mouth.

The other fiction writer in the group besides Tim and myself is an older woman who writes what I call Ranch Romances.  She grew up on a ranch in Montana and has been a horse woman all of her life. She writes about one book every 18 months or so and self publishes them for her group of fans, friends and family.  Her stories are delightful tales of love and life in the insular, upright world of ranchers and ranching in the modern West.  These are not gritty true life depictions of the modern ranching life, but rather gauzy morality tales of ranch boy meets usually plucky, cute but old fashioned ranch girl.  Think updated version of the "Bonanza" TV show with a hefty dose of romance and life lessons for the modern world from the front porch of the bunkhouse. It all sounds very cheesy and unrealistic like Harlequin romances, but just like those novels, this woman sells them by the hundreds if not thousands.  She's a lot of fun in the group and very good with editing.  And I have to admit, her stories are addictive candy.
I'm going to resolve to attend more group meetings in the coming year just to re-connect and keep myself motivated.  My schedule is a bit more flexible now so I won't have that excuse. Hopefully this resolution will stick - it's not that drastic, like quitting smoking or losing weight, which I have a record of 1 for 1 on.  Quit smoking decades ago (minus the occasional cigar, mind) but I have not shed any pounds.  But then again - I haven't really gained any either which is a major accomplishment given what I do.

From the Trumpland News Desk:

The new regime has already affected me directly in a way that the Obama administration never did even with the advent and implementation of the ACA.  I have about 70 employees under my supervision in the kitchen area which is my ballywick.  30 of those are Latino who work in a variety of departments from prep cooks to maintenance to dishwashers. Since Trump's election, particularly now while we are on college holiday, I have had a significant amount of them take time off to deal with immigration issues within their families. All of our employees are document citizens but it's fairly common that they have one or two immediate or extended family members who are undocumented.  Right now, I have a dish room supervisor who is in Mexico  trying to take care of Green card issues with his wife. It's up in the air whether he'll return or not. He's worked for us for 13 years.  All of his three children were born in the US but the family will probably wind up living in Mexico.  I have a prep cook who's in Nogales right now with his father awaiting an appointment at the US embassy in Mexico City for Green card application review. If that doesn't work, his family will stay in Mexico.  My cook who runs our allergy-free service line is in Mexico now with both of his undocumented grandparents - his father is one of our pot washers.   And on and on to the tune of 8 employees who will likely not return to work in time for coming back from Christmas break. Our policy on leaves and absences is being tested to the limits - this sort of thing was unforeseen.  The Trump administration hasn't been sworn in yet and it is already creating havoc in my personal life and the lives of others.  Those people who say that government at the federal level really doesn't affect our day to day lives are wrong.  I will likely have to spend time hiring at least 6 new people to replace the ones who won't or can't come back to work. Not because of their own immigration status, but that of their family members - usually elderly.  Multiply this situation across the country and you're going to have an unprecedented talent drain from the food service industry. Not to mention a sudden influx of out of work individuals into Mexico.
               The immigration issue is presently ruled by fear and uncertainty. It will only get worse as Trump implements his scorched earth policy on families and workers who are truly the backbone of the service economy here in the states. We'll all be left holding that bag while Trump goes on his merry way and his supporters continue to cheer him on regardless of the chaos he creates in his wake - at least until it adversely affects their own personal lives - then we'll see what the limits of Trump loyalty truly are.

               As if the post election shit tsunami wasn't enough to piss in my life's Cheerios, the floodgates of crazy opened at work and  life has presented yet another speed bump to navigate around or over.

               My boss has been circling the drain ever since his second in command got himself fired for sexually harassing an employee. This happened almost a year ago, but like Justice itself,  the wheels of HR turn fast then slow then fast again. It all occurred right under boss' nose and although everything was kept very hushhush, theories abound as to  whether he either knew about and ignored the situation or was completely unaware and clueless. Pick one. Either way it didn't look good for Big Boss Man at the time. Especially since we work at a Faith based University with a strict moral conduct code.  Still - he managed to wriggle off the hook and retain his position much to the puzzlement of most of the staff including me.

               I am ostensibly fourth from the top in the hierarchy and at the time I did indeed bring up the situation both to my boss and the perpetrator who was my immediate supervisor.  Once my supervisor/perpetrator found out that I wasn't happy about his having a couple of  "work wives" among the staff and that I had informed our boss AND the home office of the situation; his not-so-subtle but very emphatic retaliation began. I received two of the worst performance reviews I've ever had in my 30+ year career as exec chef at the university. My supervisor set me to task on a list of "expectations" that ran two pages single spaced.

             Mind you, at this time I was performing double duty covering my job and another job for which there was an ongoing employee search.  This hunt was dragging on and on mostly because the salary offer was so low that most candidates who applied begged off when they found out the pay rate was lower than what most McDonald's unit managers make. There was also a benefits package that was equally laughable.  My supervisor came up with a great plan to make the financial pot sweeter though.  HIs brilliant plan was to shift me to an hourly position and cut my annual salary by 10K thereby freeing up more budget money to throw at a job candidate.  At this point I made an immediate appointment for an early morning meeting in a covert location with the VP of the company and told him that if this was the real plan they had all agreed upon then I just might have a problem with it. The VP was, of course, unaware that this was the plan for me going forward and told me to sit tight while he investigated. Months then went by without my knowing whether I was going to remain financially and professionally whole or whether I was going to spend the foreseeable future suing everyone within shouting distance of this ridiculous situation.
            Next thing I know - a friend of mine gets hired in at a decent wage, and even better, we were going to be partners sharing an office and duties. No mention of the aforementioned plan and I remained financially whole. The next few months were bliss. We cleaned up some HR messes in our kitchen that had long been festering. We put new systems in place for inventory control, ordering, etc.  We created committees. We purchased new equipment. We had things under control despite the best efforts of our supervisor, who was busily focusing on nurturing a new Work Wife.

               Then one day, the new Work Wife's husband shows up at work to confront our supervisor. An epic HR conflagration the likes of which I've never seen began.  Did I mention that my supervisor, the guy with the Work Wives, also had his Actual Wife working with us?  Yes - it was like some sort of sick twisted version of a Preston Sturges screwball comedy.  The supervisor literally gets kicked to the curb and corporate HR operatives swoop down on our location the next day like Nazgul from Mordor to pluck the guy out of his office and take him on a one way flight to Mount Doom.  But somehow, inexplicably, our Big Boss keeps his job. In fact, shortly after this whole drama ensued, the Big Boss hired a new assistant (and supervisor for us) who was decades my junior and with less managerial experience than the kid handing out clubs and balls at a Putt Putt park. Obviously this was someone the Big Boss could sit on his knee and feed lines to while he made the kid's mouth move in a life like fashion.
              This situation spelled the beginning of the end for my partner who bashed his head against that wall of stupidity for nearly 18 months until finally giving up and heading out for greener pastures completely away from the food business. He gave his notice last week. Which was bad, in and of itself.

           Two days before this, Big Boss fired a shift leader in our kitchen whom we had been vigorously trying to get rid of for over a year but couldn't because The Boss thought we were "picking on him". Boss told us we had to lay off the guy even though he was rough around the edges, didn't listen to us at all and was terrible to the people he supervised. He was a long time, entrenched and entitled employee who continually blew smoke up the Boss' skirt. Boss was forced to fire the guy because he was witnessed by the entire kitchen staff berating another shift leader to "Sober up and get it together." Trouble was - the guy he picked on is in alcohol recovery and has been sober for 10 years. Everyone knows this - he has been pretty up front about it.  For someone to mock him about it was not only bad form but against corporate policy to the tune of being a Level 1 infraction subject to immediate termination. According to corporate HR - people who are in recovery, who make it known in the work place, are a "protected class" and yelling at them to sober up is creating an instant hostile work environment bordering on hate speech. Big Boss was told to fire the guy immediately before he got us all sued.  And he did - reluctantly.
           And so - that is where it stands now.  The Big Boss is hanging by a thread. My managerial team partner is leaving for a plum job in the office furniture industry and I am, once again, doing double duty - triple duty if I include my own duties in this matrix of excrement - my own duties, the fired shift leader's duties and my now absent partner's duties. Happy Holidays.

The timeline for this debacle looks like this:
               3 1/2 years ago my supervisor starts diddling around with the staff and I call him out. I start receiving a rain of shit.

               2 years ago a person is finally hired for a position I covered for 18 months. Things get relatively better. The fight to rid ourselves of a toxic kitchen supervisor ensues. But both our bosses refuse to back us up in the effort. Kitchen morale suffers.

                1 year ago our immediate supervisor meets his career end at the hands of a Work Wife's husband and HR Nazgul from Mordor.

               1 year to present my managerial partner fights the good fight for control of his management destiny but is thwarted by our Big Boss' willful incompetence, ego and micro managing. He leaves for better money, better job, better life.  I am left holding the bag, pushing 60 and wishing like hell I had somewhere else I could go. Right now, I would work at a zoo hand clearing bowel obstructed elephants if they paid me enough to make my monthly household nut.

               The good news is - I got my kid through college and a 145K education with no student loans and free of debt. So there's that. but it's cold comfort and I'm questioning now whether it was worth it.

              In election news - I saw on a local news broadcast this story about a guy in Grand Rapids who wrote a blog about how he thought the election of Donald Trump was like that time when his now grown son beat cancer when he was a toddler. The kid went through a vicious chemo regimen. This and " lots of prayer" helped him survive.
Trump as chemo treatment for America's cancer.
 As good a theory as any, I guess. Not really though. People are idiots. The guy had over 5000 hits on his blog. That was the segment's hook.
I just can't stand it. 

Face Down in the Kool Aid

Face down in the Kool Aid....

I heard or read this phrase recently. It was used to describe the voters supporting Donald Trump. I think it succinctly sums up his voting block at this point in the election glide path;  a glide path that's likely going to result in a fiery crash at the end of the runway. Make no mistake - once Hillary wins, the shit storm will begin in earnest. A storm that no Aircraft of State will be able to navigate without fatal malfunction. Republican's will continue their blockade against the Non White Guy in the West Wing. Scandals will swirl like the water in a toilet with excellent plumbing - the suction down will be incredible. It will probably take a good many of us with it. And the blockading and the scandals will be the good news.  The land will be littered with roaming bands of disgruntled, angry, well armed Trump supporters who will no doubt be flogged into a raging froth of violence by their Dear Leader.  His campaign won't stop with the ugly beat down he's going to receive on November 8 - he will keep going.  His ego demands it. His rampant narcissism will lead him by the nose through biker club houses, rodeos, swap meets, stock car races, big buck nights, turkey shoots and cross burnings in a feverish effort to fan those hater flames and feed the seeds of sedition with his poisonous patriotism moonshine.

This election cycle revealed flaws in long time friends that I had no desire to see and chose to ignore for the sake of all those years we have been together. This election has tested those friendships and stretched my patience, tolerance and credulity to the breaking point. I have resisted asking my very best friend of over 40 years which way he's leaning and why. He has always been a conservative Republican and I think he's probably siding with the party's nominee. I don't ask, because I don't want to hear this sharp, quick witted and highly intelligent lifelong friend of mine rationalize why he is obligated to vote for Trump.  I would be afraid of hearing him say that it's not a vote for Trump but a vote against Hillary.  I would be disappointed. And getting disappointed by friends in such a way is always just sad.  But we take these flaws and disappointments in stride and keep ahold of those ties that bind despite all that.  I know that my friend T has a misogynistic streak that is buried so deep that it is always surprising to me when it appears.  I know he will hate having Hillary as president.  He says he loves women and he has a good deal of female friends who adore him. That said, his relationships have never panned out because even though he loves women, he does not respect them as equals.  Sadly, I don't think he views Trump's behavior with women as much more than his due as a celebrity and Man of Wealth and Power. And I don't pry. I'm keeping the peace because of all the good qualities about him that I like. They far outweigh the bad. But the safe things we can talk about seem to be getting less and less as the years go by.

 As for my other friends - its a mixed bag. I spent five days with a lot of them at a reunion get together this summer and I was able to take stock. Some I might as well write off because we simply have nothing in common anymore.  Others have not changed all that much over the years and continue on being who they've always been.  It's how it is with everyone and old friends.  Notably, my friend J, a retired Air Force colonel, got into a respectful intense argument with me about HIllary's e-mails and handling of Top Secret material. He complained of the double standard that allowed her to break the rules and stay out of jail while he would have been summarily sent to Levenworth Prison if he had done the same thing while on active duty. My contention was that I thought he was being naive if he didn't think there were different rules between the likes of us and the rich and powerful. It is the way America has grown to be and to cry about it while offering no other alternative than a pathological narcissist con man to lead us to a Great America is not only weak sauce but irresponsible and dangerous.  We called each other names. Perhaps we shouted. But in the end we agreed to disagree and smoked a joint to seal the deal.  Other friends were not so willing to bury the political hatchets for the sake of friendship and that made for an awkward few days of avoiding the elephant in the room. Small talk, talking about our kids, telling jokes and re-hashing old adventures became the rule. Which is probably how it should have been anyway.

 And now, here we are.

I've blocked no one from my social media and my feeds are filled with Trump's face. It is a testament to his mastery of self promotion that his visage is everywhere and even though Hillary's is  probably there just as much - it doesn't seem like it. I say I haven't blocked anyone - that's not necessarily true if you are counting hiding posts as blocking. I've done a LOT of hiding. I totally blocked a few long time internet friends long ago when Obama took office and their rampant racism spilled all over their pages.  I have a lot of chef/cook friends and it is appalling to me that they could be so outright racist when the backbone of many of the restaurants and food establishments they work for, or own rely heavily upon Latino, Asian, African American and yes, undocumented workers. Their blind hatred was intolerable and there was no good reason to remain in contact with them. They are lost and good riddance.  Although I do regret dumping them a little - I feel like I should keep an eye on those sort of people that I know. Like  Donald in the last debate when he asked that Muslims watch other Muslims and "report stuff", I feel like I should be on the lookout in my own back yard.  For those Trump fans that I know. Especially now, when it looks like all hell's about to unleash upon the land and getting a good heads up could make a difference.

My kid's boyfriend thinks its a great idea to open a Tiki Lounge here. He knows the owner of one of the nation's highest rated micro breweries who told him it was a great idea. I told the boyfriend to ask the guy for 100K in seed money in order to find out what his level of "great" really is.

I don't get into politics much on FB but I did dive into the pool a little today. A college friend of mine expressed his Fear of Trump in a very eloquent manner on his page and before I could reply with my own 4 sentence comment that took barely 30 seconds to finish, there were a dozen replies back from Trump supporter friends of his going on about how the media is misrepresenting the man and how if you just listen to him he makes a lot of sense. I wonder how many of my own FB friends on my feed would rise to comment about why they support Trump and how fast I would kick them off my page.

I'm probably going to post pictures of the food I cook here on Written Down Life, but I'm ambivalent about including recipes. I don't want things to get all Food Network/Pinterest around here.

My new boss is kicking ass and taking names. I'm trying to keep my ass intact but he already knows my name. So far so good, though. He's pretty much given me everything I've asked for, which I look at as either a good thing or the big coil of rope with which I'll hang myself.

Currently reading the Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh and enjoying it very much. An historical fiction with more history than fiction. A study of the Opium Wars, the limits of empire and the birth of the modern world from the depths of the mid 19th century. Great detail without hindering the flow of the narrative. I particularly like how Ghosh uses the vernacular of the times and locations. He sprinkles his writing with Hindi, Mandarin, English, and Pidgin without bothering to translate. One learns the meanings of the words from the context or plot point. I like that. I'm almost finished with the trilogy and I'll be sad to finish.

Also reading one of the latest novels from Michigan author and legendary gourmand, Jim Harrison. I have loved this man's writing since the first book I read way back in high school. He's been at it for 40 years or more. His writing is masterful and other than that other giant of Michigan letters, Elmore Leonard, Harrison is peerless. The book I'm reading now is "The Great Leader" - a tale of a nearly retired police detective in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who is on the trail of a cult leader whom he suspects is deeply involved in kidnapping and murder. The writing is crisp, funny, and enveloping. I read Harrison and realize I don't know how to write at all. But that doesn't stop me. One day I will get better.

This weekend I will do my taxes via computer and I will be writing a big fat check for the last semester of my daughter's college undergrad education. A red letter financial weekend for sure. Afterwards I will have to decompress with some sort of trivial movie (Deadpool, most likely) and a trip to one of my favorite bars, The Pyramid Scheme, where I will have a few beers and play pinball on one of twenty some pinball machines they have scattered about the place. All this will serve to distract me from the flood of memories and feelings that come every few minutes now that the reality of my kid getting her degree in May is starting to loom on the near horizon. I cry every time I think about it. It's been a long trip to get here from where we were.


Epic Office Politics

Holidays focuses the crazy in my family, but I'm used to crazed holidays. I work in the food service industry after all. These last few years at work have seemed abnormal. The insanity has been spinning round faster and faster and I don't know if it's because of the Internet or because of Obama or its El Nino or possibly even the presence of the Great Satan - Gluten. I have a pet theory that it's mostly due to overpopulation. Too many rats in the cage; that sort of thing. Or it could be a top down, management leadership sort of thing. That old chestnut.

The big off kilter thing that's happened this past holiday season was that my immediate supervisor, T, the Assistant Director, got himself fired under mysterious circumstances that I'll likely never have all the details about, but can pretty much guess. He was a great manager and a fun guy; we shared musical/film/TV tastes. We even hung out sometimes. He did a lot for my work place and for me. But his Achilles heel was avoiding confrontation, playing favorites, and being one of the biggest flirting horn dogs I've ever seen. He was also a big proponent of nepotism - he hired his wife and two sons within 6 months of being hired himself. How did all of this unprofessional behavior go on unchecked? Well, his boss, The Director, (and ostensibly mine also) chose to look the other way because T made himself nearly indispensible. At least to his/my boss. T did all the niggling things his boss didn't want to do, thus freeing him up to move onward and upward in the executive chain of command. Moving up that ladder and becoming the big boss involves, near as I can tell, delegating all tedious work to your underlings and spending your days shuttling between committee meetings. Small colleges seem to be big on committees. At least the one I work at is. The committees don't actually have to accomplish much or anything at all; they're just an integral part of the small, liberal arts college infrastructure and social lifeblood.

But I digress.

T. was also great at picking the low hanging fruit of operational problems, but he pretty much hit a wall once all of the easy stuff was done and things got....hard. His HR skills were mediocre at best. This combined with the nepotism, favoritism, horn doggishness, and avoidance eventually combined into an HR train wreck of epic proportions. In the end, T's sexy texts to a young married mother of two under his supervision were discovered by her husband who promptly took the texts straight to the home office where our brand new corporate HR director had a small stroke before summoning T and his boss to a termination meeting overseen by the CEO and one of the VPs of the company. I got caught up in the malestrom when T was called out of a meeting with students we were both facilitating. I finished the meeting without him and went looking for him only to find him in our office trying to explain to his irate wife that the texts the angry husband had just shown to her before he jetted out to the home office were, in fact, no big deal. Uncomfortable doesn't even begin to cover that situation.

This whole debacle didn't come to a head quickly or in plain view. It developed over the course of about three years during which T became bolder and more confident in his behavior once he realized his boss, The Director, was totally in his pocket. The Director is a "no news is good news" sort of guy which is perfect for a guy like T who had near total control of the narrative. Many, many people came to the Director with concerns. There was even a time when T. was forced to explain himself to all of the supervisors in turn that, in fact, there wasn't anything going on between him and another married employee under his supervision. Once the official explanations were handed out along with T's wife's stamp of approval "I know my husband and he would never...." that whole incident was forgotten and we moved on and things got quiet. No news is good news. But only for about 18 months when it all happened again.
              And the two women involved/vicitmized? Divorced with custody agreements. T is working for one of our suppliers now. His wife and kids are still working for us. The Director is still here (much to my confused speculation). T's replacement starts on Monday and it's been disseminated to the whole staff that there's a new sheriff in town. And we all know what that means. Meanwhile, The Director's calendar is booked up with meetings, conference calls and webinars. No news is good news.

A personal epilogue to the whole T debacle:

Towards the end of T's tenure, when things were getting pretty weird, I let it be known to T that I wasn't happy with his favoritism, etc. and that he should be very careful or he could lose his job. I did this after he traded a weekend with me so he could take his wife to a U of M football game. Turns out he didn't take her. He took the employee he was focused upon instead. Her husband had people out looking for her because she had "disappeared" and he had had to leave the kids with relatives while he made his shift at work. I knew this, but didn't discuss it with him. I merely told him he was treading on thin ice. Not a threat - just a heads up. This was a tactical mistake. My yearly review was a few weeks later and it turned out to be one of the worst ones I've ever had. I know it was because I called T on his bullshit. I'm in the process of getting that report expunged from my file, along with anything else T put in there - nothing he did HR wise should have any credibility whatsoever.


This picture is making the rounds because NPR did a follow up on the girl seen here smoking and staring at the camera with a mature swagger that far belies her nine years of age. My first thought about this picture was that I'd grown up with a lot of kids like this. I was an army brat who bounced around the globe living in base housing along with other army brats doing the same thing. Usually a mixed bag of races and social classes crammed together in tenement-like conditions on military installations who's main focus was military defense, not civilian housing. Our family like most everyone else's was essentially a one parent operation with the military parent coming and going in chunks of weeks, months or years. It was tough in a lot of ways, but my family did alright. My dad was an intelligence non commissioned officer which got us a housing preference. Once he was even assigned as Base Housing Officer which got us a three bedroom apartment the same as the upper echelon received. Better housing didn't extend to the playground or school though. Everyone got thrown together - segregation wasn't really a thing even in the southern bases in the US. The Army had one color - O.G. - Olive Drab. Most of the people that chose a career in the Army were not your one percenter types. They were from the lower rungs. People who chose the Service because they had no other options in their lives, economic or otherwise. Mostly economic. The Army was a steady, if meager, income, a roof over your family's head and stability of sorts. My dad, somewhat at loose ends in his life had chosen the Army and in choosing, he found a home.

              I had any number of friends who routinely stole, played hooky, fought, cursed and even drank. All before they were ten. Smoking kids wasn't that common, but it wasn't rare either. It just depended upon how good they were at stealing and how attentive their primary parent was. Drinking was easier. Every household had a liquor cabinet that usually wasn't locked. Despite all this petty criminality, I have generally good memories of the near endless series of friends I made as we went from base to base every year or so, criss-crossing the country and the world.

              I was a timid kid with a mom addicted to pain killers because of her slow burning cancer and three older sisters who did most of the cooking, cleaning and taking care of me. When dad was home, it was like vacation for them - their duties decreased and they could spend some time being kids themselves. Dad was good about picking up household duties and making sure we got what we needed. For where and what we were, it was pretty typical. I didn't have trouble making friends, but I did have trouble following along with some of the bullshit they could get up to. I was too afraid of getting caught and ultimately having to face my dad once he found out. I inherited his temper but he had levels of anger I've rarely achieved myself.

               The base housing neighborhoods tended to be awash with groups of little kids ramming around like some twisted Little Rascals scenario where Darla's a smoking barfly in training and Spanky and his gang are petty thieves making their bones doing shoplifting jobs at the base gas station. Not all of the kids were like this, but a lot of the ones I remember were. I had my share of rotten incidents at the hands of bullies and witnessed some heinous crap of the sort that only felony-bound little boys can manage. I particularly remember a bunch of my partners in crime throwing dirt clods at a group of Down Syndrome siblings along with their older sister and chasing them home threatening to kill them if they ever showed up at the playground again. Their mother came out of her apartment with a broom and swatted one kid right off her stoop with a baseball swing that had major league potential. Despite this, we never saw them at the swing sets again.

                 As I got older, it got harder to brush off these incidents and I understood that I had to be more selective about the friends I chose to make at the next base we were sent to. This became solidified on Christmas of '67 at Fort Bragg when my new (they were always new) best friend took off with the brand new Schwinn bike I'd gotten. I spent most of the day running around the vast base housing area there searching for the little bastard, knowing I couldn't go home without that bike and tell my parents some "friend" had stolen it. It was dark and streetlights were coming on when he finally showed up telling me he'd rode into Fayetteville to go to the A&P for candy and thanks for letting me borrow the bike. I acted like nothing had happened. A few months later I stole one of the walkie talkies he'd gotten for his birthday and threw it into the woods.

So, when I saw that picture of the smoking little girl and her cousin, I didn't think of how exploited she was by the photog. How she could have used some of the money that got made from her picture being sold in galleries. I didn't think of the shit life she's had and the injustice of it all. I didn't think about her admirable resilience and positivity despite the poverty, drug addiction and general sadness in her life. Selfishly, I thought of my own friendships with kids like her growing up and the crazy stuff we used to do both good and bad. Mostly, I thought of what they must doing now and how their lives had wound out. I could guess, but I hope I would be wrong.

Trans I Have Known

I'm still processing the racist slaughter in Charleston and I'll address that when I can get my head together on that awful shit. Until then I'm gonna pick something from the current events file that I've wanted to talk to myself about.

Transgender Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and everyone loses their minds about how wonderfully positive for the transgender community this is and how its yet another milestone in the LGBT saga in this country. Thing is - I remember Renee Richards and her whacking tennis balls back and forth with Billy Jean King on TV. I remember staring at the picture of Walter Carlos on the cover of my copy of "Switched on Bach" and trying to figure what he looked like now as Wendy Carlos and how did that all work anyway? Famous transgenders have been around for a while sure, but this time it was different, this time people not only took notice, most didn't knee-jerk recoil in the sort of mild disgust and morbid curiosity reserved for circus freaks and mutant animals. A lot of people reacted with "Meh". There were no pitchforks and torches. And that's progress. Now the pendulum's swung the other way and people are taking things further than they should. Some are now saying that "Transracial" is a legitimate thing now that that deluded white girl Rachel Dolezal got called out for passing black all the way to the executive level of a local NAACP chapter. Jesus. Stop yourselves. No way is Transracial in the same realm as transgender. Transgender is a label dealing with reality. Transracial is a word fit to excuse somebody's pathology. The only white person that gets a pass for insisting he was born a poor black child is Steve Martin in "The Jerk" and that's only because that is some straight up funny movie shit right there.

My own personal transgender experience involves an author who wrote what I think is the best food fiction ever set to paper. Food fiction is kind of a small niche but my favorites include Jim Harrison's "The Raw and the Cooked" - essays he wrote for Esquire which were mostly him weaving pure bullshit with fact into a tapestry of culinary themed wit, whimsy and bombast. "The Banquet Bug" by Geling Yan, a novel that winds food, politics and social justice together in a story that skewers modern communist Chinese society, and "The Last Chinese Chef" a culinary love story by Nicole Mones that is equal parts filled with culinary love, romantic love and love of life.  All of these don't nearly seem to compare to the food fiction from writer, Poppy Z Brite (now Billy Martin) who wrote with no bullshit. He knew his stuff. He lived in New Orleans, one of America's iconic food cities, where he was born and raised. His husband (pre Katrina) was a chef at a restaurant there. The books are referred to as "The Liquor Series" and include the novels Liquor, Prime and Soul Kitchen. They chronicle the lives of a pair of gay chefs named Gary "G-man" Stubbs and John "Rickey" Rickey as they try to conquer the cut throat restaurant world of New Orleans. I was hooked immediately on these books not only because they were eminently relatable to me, but that they were so well written with humor, detail and great plotting. I came to these books in 2006 - the year the last one was published, Martin lost his publisher shortly after the last novel, Soul Kitchen. Coincidently, this coincided with the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It seemed as though Katrina had basically destroyed Martin's will to write and continue the wonderful saga of G-man and Rickey. The New Orleans that those characters lived in no longer exists and Billy Martin can't bring himself to visit them again. This is evident in this sad last paragraph of his Wikipedia page:

"On June 9, 2010, Martin officially stated that he was retired, in a post entitled "I'm Basically Retired (For Now)" on his Livejournal.[10] He stated that he had 'completely lost the ability to interact with my body of work,' then went on to state that business issues were in part a cause of this issue. Along with this, he specifically mentioned being unable to disconnect from aspects of his life relating to Hurricane Katrina. He ended his statement by saying that he missed having relationships with his characters and that he did not feel the need to write for publication."

I can't figure how, as an author, you could miss your characters yet not want to write about them any more. Or maybe Martin has written about them, but only for his own amusement. I can only speculate what happened to Martin but I can guess that he had a Katrina like event in his personal life that directly reflected the devastation he saw all around him. The success of his books probably allowed him the financial ability to finally address his gender dysphoria and he became the man he was meant to be. I'm guessing the chef husband left the picture shortly after and then Katrina blew in obliterating not only Martin's personal world but his physical one as well. God knows what happened to him and his family during that terrible time. All fan speculation. It's all just guessing and gossiping. But it's just sad any way you see it - the reality or the speculation. None of it seems good for Billy Martin.

Selfishly, I'd like to stalk him on Livejournal and somehow help him get his mojo back. If he even wants it back, that is. These books really are extraordinary (at least to me) and it would be amazing to see Katrina through those character's lives. The film possibilities are terrific, IMO. That said, I realize this is the real world and not some Blind Side/Sandra Bullock Disney story where the guy comes back from a deep hole with the help of some stranger out of nowhere who has super human powers of persuasion and positivity. I must go on and be happy that I can re-read those wonderfully fun books and thank Billy's muse for sticking around long enough to let him give us those three novels at the very least. Oh, also - in 2007 I found out that there was a novella about G-man and Rickey called "D*U*C*K" that I promptly stole from the library once I found out it was no longer in print and unavailable anywhere. So that's my author creeper, super fan story.

Little bit of an Update from 2011ish:

Billy immersed himself in his love of visual arts and shares gallery space with his life partner in New Orleans. The art is available through Etsy and is heavily influenced by Voodoo hoodoo, Santaria and the many other Catholic-centric spiritual iterations you find in New Orleans. You can even purchase potions and such for whatever ails you or whatever ails someone else. He seems happy, so that's good. Here's a link to the gallery/Etsy....