Friday, August 31, 2007

Good News, Bad News....

What a week.....
For all those who wrote, called, prayed, etc. for Brendan: thank you. He is reasonably fine. Let us just say that he worked four hours on Monday, eight on Tuesday and Wednesday, fourteen on Thursday and fifteen today (Friday). Since this is only at one job instead of his normal three, that is still at a recovery pace. His skin mostly grew back. We Irish are not good with ultra-violet....but are great with cuts, burns and whiplash. Please Sir, can I have another?
In the middle of this joy, we had a facilities inspection by the local health department. The timing was suspicious to me since I was on the radio talking about my health inspector, Roger B.....and about official corruption. Then: Presto!! We get inspected....
Wait, wait! That came out wrong.
Scott Dick and I were talking on 540 KRXA....the Tasty Planet Show....about the whole Chinese crappy shite situation.
I mentioned that some level of corruption in public service is not so bad....just so it is ethical corruption.
Example: I worked in New York City at the old Colony Restaurant. We had Jacque Kennedy, Truman Capote, Cordelia Biddle Duke Robertson, etc.....and we had rats. The building (667 Madison at 61st Street also housed John Springer....Elizabeth Taylor's agent. It also housed the apartment of my friend Eve Tartar Brown, who I did not meet until I moved to Carmel Valley twenty years later.
Anyway, the place had been built in 1900. It had three basements. And rats. The rats would invade the dry storage in basement 2, grab giant cereal boxes (Cordelia came in for Corn Flakes) and carried them up three storeys.....we found them underneath the banquets in the formal dining room. Our bartender used to go down to basement 3 and shoot them on his brake with his pistol (.38 short) that he always carried.
Marcel the Insane Waiter from Marseille....also always armed (.22 automatic) would sometimes join him. Marcel wore a tuxedo from the 20's that he found in the employee locker room in Basement 3. It had a human tooth in the watch pocket. This amused Marcel, and he kept it as a talisman.
I was the wine steward, at least at first. The wine cellar was in Basement 2. Being 22 and broke and overworked, I would sleep in the wine cellar. We had an exterminator that would come in every night at midnight and lay out crazy poison in the basements.
The poison was so crazy that legally he had to come back in the morning and take it out.
This was cool, because I had an alarm clock.
Still, we had rats. We would find the tunnels in the main kitchen. We would pack the tunnels with poison and steel wool, spackle over the gap, and put sheet steel over the whole.
The fucking rats would chew through it all. In a week.
So....the health inspector.
This guy could shut us down in a minute for the rodent thing. Meanwhile the kitchen was Swiss-run and spotless. We had Jacque Fucking Kennedy eating lunch every day with Truman Fucking Capote.
I refer you to "Invasion of The Body Snatchers" version two with Donald Sutherland.
Health Inspector: "It is a rat turd"
Chef: "It is a caper!"
"Rat turd!"
"OK, then eat it!"
The way it worked was the health inspector would come by. The entire restaurant would scramble. Delaying tactics ensued. Someone covered all the uncovered things in the walkin. Rat turds were hunted and swept. The prettiest cocktail waitress was sent in to Mimi for primping. The bookkeeper found $400 and a clean envelope.
We always left one egregious violation in plain view: the can opener was never cleaned.
The inspector would triumphantly write us up for a dirty blade on the industrial can opener.
We would offer lunch; he would reluctantly accept, given his busy schedule. The pretty cocktail waitress would sit with him to explain the menu (in French).
The inspector would mention: his Little League team; his involvement with the Alliance Francaise, or the Sons of Italy, or Irish Northern Aid. The envelope would be produced. The cocktail waitress would explain The Colony Restaurant's long term committment to Little League, Irish Northern Aid or whatever.
Café filtre would be served. Game over.
Meanwhile, it was not a bribe. It was the recognition of one set of professionals for the goals and dreams of another set of professionals in difficult circumstances.
If we had had actual dangerous health violations, the inspector never would have passed us.....or the donation would have been huge, and at a level much higher.
If we had not made a donation to whatever cause......the existence of a single rat turd would have shut down our entire operation....
A well oiled machine.
The problem with the Chinese is that the American inspectors work for a government that thinks that government oversight is bad. The fiction with our imports is that foreign governments will inspect any food sent our way to US standards.........standards of a government that thinks standards are bad. Wink. Wink.
In China, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Canada.....and everywhere else on the planet...the inspectors have gotten the wink. They are taking the evelope, groping the pretty cocktail waitress, ignoring the rat turds.....and the leaking cess pool in the back yard, the janitor spraying DDT on the meat, the rotting meat in the 50 degree walkin and the whole bit.
Bad corruption.
Our first health inspection in California was 30 years ago. We were fresh from New York.
We had just slaughtered two wild boar sows we were raising illegally and had the carcasses; tick, flea and shit lathered carcasses in garbage bags in our walkin at the place where Heller Estate has their tasting room.
The health guy stuck his head in the door at 10am and said: "Hey...I have to hit a couple of restaurants before lunch......I will be back about 2pm. OK?"
Shit. Valentine and I borrowed a truck, and loaded the wild boar into more bags and shovelled them into the back of the trucks and drove them away. We went to the bank, cashed in every nickel we had, and got $400 and put it in a clean envelope. We had no lunch or pretty cocktail waitress.
Al the Inspector came back at 2pm. Went through the place....and wrote us up for the dirty industrial can opener. We followed him around, giving him significant looks and asking about Little League, Irish Northern Aid and the Sons of Italy....all the while flapping the clean envelope.
We liked Al. We didn't want to insult him with mere dollars. He didn't seem to know anything about Irish Northern Aid.
California....who knows?
Anyway, we got inspected on Wednesday. Roger B was interested to meet us. He ingnored the lack of quarry tiled, coved floors with floor drains. He ignored the raw pine ceilings over the stove. He ignored the patently inoperable Ansul fire suppression system.
I told Roger my New York story.
He laughed: "We don't need an envelope here. We work in the context of a given place, and try to make each place better and make sure everyone is safe."
Roger knew what had been here before.....and how far we have come.
We got an "A". I just need to find my Serve-Safe certificate.....and the fucking flies.
Well, during get flies.
That was the second part of the good news.
The Bad News: The Carmel Pine Cone found us.
Now, my friend Mary does all the actual work at the Pine Cone, and comes does her Dad.
The food people had never been here, though.
We revel in having much better food than everyone, with more attention to sources, ethics and attention in detail.....and selling it for cheap, with a rude waitress on a cheap table with a plastic folding chair.
Anyway, the Pine Cone food lady loved her meal....and got it. The weird Cachagua Store mix of good food, camaraderie, almost bad music, rude but loving service......
She mentioned that we are the "best kept dining secret on the Monterey Peninsula". Where we are sold out two weeks in advance with just 659 phone numbers. Some secret.
Then she gave the URL of The Blog.
Awwww, shit.
So much for word of mouth.
The straightest guy we had reading the blog before was Mr. Reese.....who outed us to Mr. Hatfield.....
For all you new people.....I apologize in advance for the language.
Pretend you have been invited into the kitchen of a nice restaurant after hours. This is the straight poop, with real names, and the actual language of the working class. We work hard enough that we don't have time or energy to filter our language or politics.....We don't hold anyone's politics against them....we just want the discussion.
Or not. Some of our favorite people we NEVER talk politics with. We love them too much.
If you think that our attitudes are important or have something to do with our skills or ability to take care of you as caterers or in our little restaurant......don't hire us and don't come out here.....please.
Honesty and Irony are in shorter supply than spotted owls....
"Live is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Brendan's Wreck.......

As Brendan slid to a stop in the oak duff at the corner of Nason Road and Cachagua Road:

His Dickie's were torn off as he bounced down the road with the brand new Aprilia on his back. He screamed and thrashed about. The first thing his hands found in the oak duff was a crack pipe.

Brendan's screams woke up Mother Hubbard. Mother is the much hated recluse who lives on the corner and saves any living creature. County Health shut her down for having too many lamas, rescued from some awful yuppie. She has dogs, cats, name it. Mother is used to screams in Cachagua....people fight and take drugs on that corner.

"Do you need help?"


Aw shit. Dial 911. Tell them to send the Cachagua Volunteers.

Mother dressed quickly and ran over. She saw Brendan thrashing around naked from the waist down with no skin left on his legs. She ran back to her house and grabbed a beautiful quilt, raced back and covered the kid and stayed with him until the Volunteers arrived.

Mother meanwhile did 18 months for GTA when she swiped a Camaro she saw in James' (our bartender's) yard that she thought no one would notice. Her son is a hot-rodder, you see. Do I need to spell out: Grand Theft: Auto?

The next guy to arrive was Mike Iverson: local, tree guy, groom of the wedding that is cancelled because I think Lazer Pahlnick is an asshole and Hillary Clinton is a whore. Mike is a sweet guy, and stayed until the Volunteers arrived. He called me nine times to make sure that everything is OK, and can he do anything at all for Brendan?

The Volunteers arrive: Jaime Del Valle, the retired gunsmith runs the scene. My heart is in my throat. I have had to save people, but I don't want to have to save my son. Jaime is the full package: wise, kind, fast, efficient, thorough. Funny, even. Jaime reassured Brendan that everything was cool.......settled his team, gave them directions, and continued to run through the scary stuff: "Can you move your toes? Can you feel this? What day is it? Who is President?"

"Some cock...."

The young people in our world work so hard, are so skilled, and so self-deprecating that they actually joke about serious injury. Just part of the game. These kids work with heavy machinery, pipes and wires and steel....tons of dirt and don't even mention the chemicals involved in the roadwork, the winemaking, the construction.....

Brendan is in so much pain that he can't straighten his legs. The Volunteers start to pile wrapped packages of emergency blankets under his legs to give him support. The fire chief goes: "Guys, those are really expensive......" Fuck you. I promise to return the blankets.

The EMT's arrive. The two crews waltz through the turnover of responsibility from the local guys to the EMT's. Brendan has lost 80% of the skin below his navel, including his dick, and is in serious pain. Mike full on righteous brother Cachagua style worker solidarity mode gave Bren a Vicodin one minute after the crash. Jaime can't do this, but tells him to ask the medics in the ambulance.

They continue the evaluation as they load him into the Carmel Valley ambulance. Meanwhile, the dumbass CHP's (California Highway Patrol for my New Zealand friends) sent the ambulance the long way extra fifteen minutes

. Someone asks Brendan a question. No answer.

"Can you hear me?"


"What did you say? Can you hear me?"


Matt, the EMT from Cadiz, and Jaime realize that Brendan, despite his pain, is pulling their chain. He is letting them know that he is OK....kind of. It is communicated in a language of work, solidarity, support, fitness, capability that none of the rest of us mere mortals understand. It is a response and a thank you rolled in one.


There are people that are bitter about the whole 911 firefighter hero deal. Hey, they have a job, they get paid, they do it. So what? Anne Coulter said something truly awful about the firefighters and EMT's that I forget.

Ignoring the fact that "911 Rudy Giuliani" knew about the inability of the fireguy's Motorola radios to communicate inside high-rises eight years before 911 and did nothing about it because of budget constraints......He still is running in the glow of the heroism of the real guys....

This kind of work by its very nature is heroic. These young people, and I include Jaime in this even though he is my in a dimension that is beyond the rest of us.

I pride myself in being able to work long hours, day after day, and still be able to solve complicated problems physically and mentally and still be unafraid to accept responsibility and get the job done. I work a hundred hours a week under huge stress, and I feel proud.

No. I am a pussy.

If I fuck up, the salmon is overcooked. And, despite my long hours, I am in control of my environment for the most part.

If these guys fuck up....someone dies. And they have no control whatsoever of their environment.

I watched Jaime take control of a chaotic accident scene....aided by his fellow volunteers who I am ashamed to not know the names.....fend off the douche bag bean counters.....and with supreme skill and even humor take care of his patient. And....hand him off to the EMT's who with equal skill, finesse, and the same humor.....finish the job and save the patient.

To be able to work calmly, efficiently and intelligently under that kind of question, these guys are heroes.

Jaime. Matt from Cadiz. The DuckBrew guys....all the rest of you. My story worked out fine, thanks to you.

My hat is off to you for the job that you do every day. My heart goes out to you for the stories that don't work out so fine.

Thank you is not strong enough.

Proof of Life....

Apologies to all and sundry for the long absence.

I was scalded into silence by the reaction to my Hillary post. My good friend of 30 years cut all ties with us and cancelled his daughter's wedding based on the post. I remain stunned and mystified....and a little gun-shy. It was his buddy Lazer that I thought was a danger to humanity.

I suppose I have a different view of friendship. I don't ask that my friends agree with everything I think or believe.....actually with anything at all beyond the basics: honesty, loyalty, solidarity. One of my best friends is a crazy Republican who loves George Bush. We just don't talk politics, but if I or any of my people have any medical problems whatsoever at any time of the day or night, she will post a nurse in their room at the questions asked.

Another friend of mine is a recovering car-thief, recovered meth addict and all around ne'er-do-well. I first met him when I gave him a ride hitchhiking outside the Village. He had five pizzas with him, and offered me one for a ride to Lambert Flats....miles out of my way. It turns out he and his friends in PG would call up the pizza place and order a bunch of pizzas. They would wait an hour, then go in and buy some sodas. They would notice the stack of pizzas and ask about them. "Somebody ordered them and didn't pick them up, dude." My friend would then offer them five bucks for the pile and start hitching home. Hey, cold pizza is a bachelor's anthem.

A couple of months later I picked him up again. He was going home from Valley High, the continuation high school. He said they were doing a fund-raising hike up Sniveley's Ridge for the sports equipment at the school. My friend wondered if I would sponsor him on the hike. Sniveley's Ridge is a gnarly hike, and a vicious bike ride that has cost me lots of sprains and lost skin. I told my friend: "Hey, I am a soccer coach....why don't I give you guys a bunch of soccer balls?"

My friend: "Thanks.....but we already swiped a bunch from you. We have that covered.....What we REALLY need is footballs and basketballs....."

Later, after high school, I hired my friend as a dishwasher, feeling like I was doing something profound for the community. I was showing him the ropes: the machine, the layout, the laundry room. My friend: "No, dude. I know all about the laundry room. Whenever I couldn't get a ride home from school in the winter I would just hide out in the laundry room. I would turn on the dryer for heat and snuggle in to the linens and wait for morning."

My friend was an awesome worker. He still had periodic bouts with the drug, but he was always there for us. We trained him as a bartender and he worked with Slab, Steve Thomas, and a torch was passed. The entire accumulated wisdom....if that is what you can call it....of the Eighties and Nineties Bar World descended through Slab to my friend. Slab lit up the creative, social, technical animal that lurked inside my friend and what emerged was a Neal Cassady re-incarnation....running my bars, running his mouth....delighting half the people and offending...well, who cares?

My friend enrolled at MPC and played football for them. He worked two jobs to afford the apartment near the college, and went to all his classes. He was good, and fulfilled a life dream playing as a linebacker. One of his jobs was working lunch shift at the Blue Lagoon on Cannery Row. He could not get free until 3:45 pm and would run back to MPC for practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The coach would belittle him in front of the team if he was five minutes late, and demoted him to special teams. Then he took a major hit tackling a guy on a punt return, broke a vertebra, and lay in his apartment in pain until he was evicted and kicked out of school.

We put him up in our guest house, and covered him while he recovered physically. Eventually he got a low level job in construction, got a girlfriend, got an apartment, and moved away, back to PG.

I must say that my friend channels Neal Cassady not just in the natural brilliance of his language and the agility of his mind. He is also really bad with cars. I have never met anyone who can drive so improbably, frighteningly fast in bad cars on awful roads and emerge unscathed.

Well, most of the time. My friend has wrecked three of my cars: a VW Jetta, an Alfa Spyder and a Triumph Spitfire. By some unfathomable connection to the Void though he has turned a profit for me on each wreck. The Jetta we loved was unsaleable at $9k. Insurance paid $14k. The Alfa cost $2500. Insurance paid $4500. It is really a lesson in attachment trying to be mad or not be mad at my friend for wrecking cars that wind up financing better and safer cars for me.

My favorite moment with my friend and automobiles took place after he got a good enough promotion on the jobsite to buy his first brand new truck, a 4wd Toyota. He celebrated by driving to Moron Bay with my son and racing around the dunes. Inevitably he got in a race with some dune buggies and rolled the brand new truck.

The boys arrived back in one piece, but the truck was all rumpled and driving slightly crab-like from the bent frame.

I took it as another defeat for my friend and despaired: "Adrian, your brand-new truck is wrecked! I feel so bad!"

"Nawww, Mike. It's not wrecked, it's just stone-washed!"

The car karma was not all one-way. One night after working at Jean Hurd's faux Chateau Latour in Pebble Beach for some creepy dinner party I backed my Jaguar into the hidden ditch opposite the Chateau. Stuck like a dick. Fuck. Carmel Chevron was booked out two hours, and Jean has her own private security. I didn't want to get caught in the ditch because I thought she might hire us again some day. I called friend. No problem.

I was with Tall Paul (who incidentally was passed the torch from Slab by Adrian and now holds the Bartender Flame....he was sixteen and still in high school at Palma). There was nothing for us to do but lay in the road and watch the Perseid meteor shower and wait for either Jean's security guys, the Pebble Beach security guys, or my friend.

Suddenly we heard the screaming of an over-revved motor, then squealing tires, then brakes. Silence. Then more squealing, more screaming and something was moving towards us through Pebble Beach. It sounded like the soundtrack from "Bullitt". Screech, screech. Waaaahhh! Shift. Waaaaahhh! Shift. Screech. Screech.

Paul and I turned to each other.


Sure enough, my friend arrived in the stone-washed Toyota and laughed at us, stuck in the ditch in the Jag.

He produced a really expensive, hand-woven hackamore...well, two really expensive, hand-woven hackamores. He had stopped at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center on his way over and robbed two hackamores from prize jumping horses with a vague promise of return or a date, or another wild story for the groomettes responsible. My friend slashed the hackamores, tied them to his stone-washed truck and the frame of the Jag and Tall Paul and I were out in a jiffy.

"I gotta get back to The Rio. Alana and I are having dinner......"

My friend pursued his girl-friend Alana to San Diego. One night I got a call: "How do I make veal piccatta? It is her favorite dish!" It was 11pm, and he was in Safeway. In San Diego. Things were not going great.

We worked out that he had not much money on top of all the other problems, so I walked him through the tried and true Etienne Merle "turkey piccatta as veal piccatta" recipe. He pulled it off, sank the deal, and she moved in with him in PG. Now there is a baby....for good or ill, the spitting image of his dad. Neal Cassady III in all likelihood. My friend now runs a crew building super high end houses in Big Sur. His voicemail now says "Carmel Building and Design, please leave a message...." instead of "Rick Flair!!! Whoooooooh!"

My friend and his girl friend are getting married this October, and we are doing the wedding. Brendan is the best man. We are taking no other business that day.

Tuesday morning this week, after a brutal Monday Night at The Store, the phone rings at 7:55. Fuck.

Screams down the phone: "Dad, I wrecked my bike!" More screams. The phone call no parent wants.

I race over Cachagua Grade, redlining the Jaguar......while I hear the Village fire siren going off, for my boy. I still know the Mass in Latin, and I ran through it at least twice on the way over.

Brendan was relatively fine......he only lost 80% of the skin below his waist and spent the day in the ER at the hospital, sucking morphine and oxycodone like they were PixieStix.

I called my friend right away, because of the automotive nature of the accident, and because he and Brendan are best buddies. We did not get Brendan back home until that night because of all the medical procedures, and just the logistics of taping up that much missing skin.

I fell asleep eventually, still muttering the Latin Mass. When I woke up to check on Brendan at midnight, I found....... my friend, asleep at the foot of his bed. I should not say this in public, but I could still see the damp places on his cheek where the tears had cut through the dust and sawdust.

Now.....A question.......

Which guy do you want covering your back? Who is your real friend?

The lawyer?

Or the car thief?