Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hello Goodbye

So….I got invited to the Change of Command ceremony at DLI yesterday. My friend Col Dave was relinquishing command of a Military Intelligence battalion. Amanda was invited as well, but she passed due to potential tears….Due to guaranteed tears. We went to the Army Birthday Ball…and Amanda not only cried during the various ceremonies….she cried describing the various ceremonies.

Amanda and I are among the last folks one would think of when someone says: “US Army!”…..but there you have it.

We are fans…..and a lot of it is because of Col. Dave. And Col. Pick. We won’t talk about DJ and Mattie.

Dave is a soccer guy….coach and referee out of Florida. Went to school in the Carolinas, which is to soccer like Saudi Arabia is to Muslims….the heartland. Mia Hamm, etc.

Dave and his crew were also the ones who supplied the manpower for our Carmel Arlington Beach Memorial for our military dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. 5,000 crosses on Carmel Beach. Try to not cry……

We met Dave through DJ…at The Store. The first time Col Dave and Col Deano came out to The Store they were a little late, and came in all grubby. A client of ours…Carey…had a flat in his brand-new SUV, and Carey had no idea what to do or how to deal with it. No cell phone coverage, so he couldn’t call his lawyer or accountant. As the Cachagua citizens streamed by uncaring, the two colonels stopped, figured shit out, changed the tire, and got Carey on his way. They all arrived late for their rezzies…..who cares?

Carey later wrote a fat check for Paradox….the 501c3 that builds sports equipment for disabled vets that the two colonels support.

Through Col Dave we not only met the leadership at DLI, but the sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines that are there learning languages. And not just Americans…..we met Frogs, Danes, Germans, Indians… name it. Col Dave encouraged his troops to engage us and trek out to Cachagua, so many Monday Nights and Sunday Brunches would feature humble tables of closely barbered, extremely fit and smart young folks….partying down with the locals.

This is not really a normal thing for Monterey and Carmel. We have a khaki ghetto….despite the extreme importance of the DLI and the NPS to our national security and our military in general… civilians rarely have any contact with our soldiers. Lord knows parents don’t let RLS, York and Carmel kids join the Army. (Oh, hello Andrew Armanasco……)

Dave went a long way to make that change. Not only did we in Cachagua wind up knowing the kids…..but we met their parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, grandparents…and we got insights into a level of routine commitment and dedication to supposedly worn out old-school ideals that most locals never see. And saying goodbye to these kids as they ship out….full of hope and confidence… Kunar Province and other horrible, deadly places. Amanda and I cry…..and we are just the caterers…..not the family. Well, maybe the extended family.

Speaking of family…..earlier this year I was trying to scramble and save the life of one of my knuckleheads….in jail for drugs, and facing a possible three year stretch for being a complete fucking knucklehead, even among knuckleheads. Still, the kid was smart, hardworking….there was hope. Dave wrote a letter for him….got him out of the slammer and got him another chance at life. Got him an Army award that he sent to the judge….just on my say-so.

Colonel Dave has been in the Army for 20 years. He was in Iraq the first time, Germany, Korea….where he was a head spook. Then back to Iraq for a couple of tours. He has been in command of the 229th Military Intelligence outfit here for two years at DLI.

Dave has a Bronze Star. They don’t just hand these things out. You get a Bronze Star for surviving things and making decisions that haunt you for the rest of your life….decisions of courage that 99% of your fellow soldiers would not have made….and your fellow soldiers do not suck……

Dave’s family lives in the East. I have known him for two years…..I have not met them. His duties here keep him apart from his own wife and son.

Before the ceremony I talked for a minute with Dave. “Jeez, I hope I can get through this OK. This is very emotional.”

In his short talk, Dave talked about his soldiers and all the normal valedictorian-type stuff…..thanking everyone. Blah, blah, blah.

Then he went off message….Uh oh.

“At risk of embarrassing myself, I am going off message here. I was in Whole Foods the other week, buying some lunch. A girl in a peace t-shirt came up to me and started yelling: “Get out of Iraq! Get out of Afghanistan!”

(Side note: independent of Col. Dave….who is a silent MI type guy when it comes to his job…..we have other contacts at high levels of our military in Afghanistan and Iraq. They all know and have known for a long time that it is an impossible job they have been given, and that it will never work. They are working to bring that information to our elected officials and the public….without being in any way disloyal to their jobs and their oaths as soldiers. General McChrystal is a first casualty….but down to the grunt level there is an awareness that they are very possibly going in to die in a losing cause….just to earn the time it takes the rest of our country to use the democratic process they are dying for to figure it out. And get them out of there. Is there a better definition of heroism? Forget Thermopylae…..)

The irony of some coddled hippy chick yelling at a military intelligence guy….a fucking colonel… about the futility of our various wars abroad….like it was his fault or choice….is mind-blowing.

The saying in the military is: “The Army went to war; the country went to the mall…..”

And to a Bronze Star holder….who has experienced the death of his friends and co-workers first-hand….at lunch? At Whole Foods? Fuck.

Dave turned away to the check out counter, dazed. The woman behind the counter asked him: “Have you been to Iraq?” “Yeah….twice.”

She came out from behind her register and gave him a hug: “Thank you for your service.”

Telling this story in front of his battalion….Dave’s voice cracked and he lost it for a second or two.

There it is…..

Bronze Star winner. Guy who thinks two years in Monterey without his family is the highlight of his career…..almost breaks down relating the one time somebody local actually showed some love and said “Thanks.”

Minutes later, with all the soldiers assembled out front doing nutty soldier shit…..”Attention, Parade Rest, Order Arms” forever…..they played the retreat…bringing down the flag at 5pm. They had a brass band that Dave had somehow browbeaten into getting together…beats hell out of the recording we all know so well.

The Retreat is from the French, by way of the Romans….and they play it when the flag comes down every night.

I was there as a guest…..and outside the military, almost all the other guests were people who looked at me like a bug….WTF is this guy doing here? May I just point out that Sheriff Kanalakis was invited, mentioned in all the speeches….and did not show. Fucking pussy piece of shit.

When they played the retreat, and all the soldiers did the Atttention thing, and the flag started down…..I actually gasped and sobbed out loud. (This is why Amanda did not go). I caught it pretty quick, and coughed. Damn allergies!

Col Dave sent me an email later saying that he hoped I didn’t think the less of him because of his brief breakdown in his speech.

No, Dave…..this is the whole point. You showed us your world, and showed your folks our world…so that we all know what we both are getting into. Has not happened much in the past.

And the best part? Dave is going on to Fort Meade….where he can no longer tell us what his job is. Basically, listening to our phone calls and reading our emails. Bring it. And munch a ton of blue crab and killer oysters from the Chesepeake, Dave.

And thanks.

And, if you see a man or woman in uniform…..just go up and say: “Thanks for your service…..” You don’t have to believe in the war, just the people….

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Purification....Cachagua Style.

I had a meeting with an awesome client today who we love and loves everything we do. They just came out to talk, and when that went on too long I whipped up a panzanella and some leftover pistachio fed tritip and some Jew cous with some of our arugula. That is what we eat for lunch, and we love it....and they got it. Thank you, Jesus.

Then on to another meeting with a woman who wants us to do a pre-rehearsal dinner in October. No worries. Except she insisted on crashing Monday night to see if we are worthy, or maybe coming to some party we are catering to check out our food. Do people actually let random clients crash parties of other clients? Seriously?

Oh, and she thinks we are stupid because we can't guarantee wild salmon in October like the other Village caterer can, and like the big Carmel restaurant can. I explained that it is not a crime to misrepresent unpackaged food as something else: wild vs. farm salmon; organic vs commercial produce; real meat vs is just commercial fraud, which can only be redressed with a lawsuit, and only for the price difference. So, go ahead and sue Whole Foods for the four bucks for your hunk of salmon....after paying a hundred or two for the DNA test in Santa Cruz to prove that it is actually farmed.

Then, she proudly told me that her caterer for the wedding at Holman grows their own produce. It says so on their voice mail, see. They live on a quarter acre on the cold side of the valley. Right.

We actually do grow SOME of our stuff....chard, herbs, padrone peppers, some weird Peruvian tubers, rhubarb, etc. We have thousands of dollars of raised beds, and spend hours and hours a week composting, fucking with the drip system, trapping gophers....and have barely enough to take care of the few folks at Monday Night who order our weird shit.

We do have people up the street who grow stuff just for us.....and their other friends...and themselves....and a farm that just grows for us and Tassajara. And a kid who grows fingerling potatoes for us across the creek. And the Rana Creekies, who we supply with seeds to grow purple mustard and bronze fennel and arugula and tomatillos. And un-named wine buddies who grow watermelons and heirlooms for us....and another kid who also grows heirlooms. Just for us.

But we don't claim to grow what we don't grow, and we don't claim to serve what cannot be served. I guess we are stupid.

Most of our stuff costs us about a dollar a pound more than everyone else pays (our locals take their stuff out in trade on will see them at the VIP tables). My buddy who owns Corralitos just sent along a defensive, groveling letter apologizing for having to raise his prices for the first time in five years. He got massive amounts of shit for doing this in the middle of a recession. I broke his price rise cents per sausage increase.

Our other commercial produce supplier.... who we love beyond words.... made a business out of driving around to all the small, cool suppliers...even as far away as a small, fully organic valley up by Sacrament. We had the best, coolest stuff ever...completely unavailable at any price anywhere. Their real clients were Bernardus and some other hotels and restaurants, and they counted on those folks buying the big stuff: lettuce, carrots, beets, spuds, onions. Those guys dropped them because the prices were a few cents a pound more than the normal commercial crap everybody else buys. This puts my guy out of business....and I am stuck. No fun toys to play with. And I miss doing business with my friend. And that valley up by Sac needs to find a whole new world of clients.

Fuck this.

Back in the day, the sweet ladies in Bemidji who supply our wild rice tried to talk me down...for my own economic commercial grade wild rice. Our stuff is the extra premium, and it is picked by Indians in canoes. Fucking WILD rice.

Cue Fargo accent: "Well, ya's a dollar a pound more for the fancy. That's almost a third, ya know......"

The same story could be told all across the board.....real pineapples are a buck more a pound than the inedible ones. Ditto tomatoes....even Romas.

Here is my response.....


Rice? Flour? Water?

And how much are you eating? Can you really tell me that you don't have an extra dollar for a pound of food to have something fabulous, that may change your opposed to something that just fills the pie hole?


"There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man's lawful prey."
John Ruskin, English critic, essayist, & reformer (1819 - 1900) with the awful lady....I turned into the arrogant prick that lies just below the surface.

I raced back to The Store to email her...after having multiplied our prices by 50%.

I also called ahead for Liz to pick some white sage and put it in the dehydrator. My plan was to lock myself in the homeless bathroom and burn it all up to rid myself of the demons I collected with this lady. (I had only CALLED Amanda about this lady, and she was defensively burning sage....and some other herb).

When I arrived at The Store....Joanie and Lyle were there. They grow tons of the coolest stuff we serve in their little garden: Casper eggplants, manzano chiles, padrones...mulberries.. They raise beef....super sexy odd-looking Scottish cows. Joanie and Lyle had brought me the first mulberries of the season from their awesome tree.

Hah...inspiration! I took a bunch of mulberries and smashed them all over my body.....

Exocising demons....Cachagua Style!

So much better than burning sage!