Fifteen : Thanks

Another busy week soars past me as the holiday rounds the corner, working shifts all over the board, working ten hour shifts, walking back and forth, just to sleep a few hours and do it all over again. I keep forgetting to eat again, a bad habit I need to shake. And then Thanksgiving hit.

I worked from 11.30am to 7.30pm, so there goes the holiday. I managed to sneak out of the bakery at 7 shark and hike my way down 42nd to Killingsworth and meander the 4.4 miles to Lombard where I stopped to get beer.

The Seven – Eleven was bright and I squinted as I took my first step inside the doors and quickly moved to the back corner. Eighteen pack of Pabst, twelve pack of Rainier. I purchase the booze and hurry out the door.

The old woman stops me, her words a slur, pushy. “Can I have one of those beers.” She persists and walks close enough to me I can smell her. I pop open the box of Pabst and hand her a cold one. It is Thanksgiving after all.

She thanks me and tells me I’m a gentleman, and that she is going to walk with me. I agree, seeing her as a harmless old woman. As soon as we got around the corner of the building she cracked the beer open, took a sip, and grabbed a fist full of my jacket with what can only be described as a death grip in order to keep herself upright. I immediately regret the majority of my decisions, as far as being polite is concerned.

I walked on, the old woman pulling me back and forth, left and right, trying to keep herself upright, her eyes tiny pin pricks in a sea of red and white. How had I missed how intoxicated this woman was as we were standing outside of the store?

Finally to my turn, I tell her, and we stand for what seems like eternity, her staring just past me, or at my double, I don’t know, her hand still clutched onto the elbow of my jacket. She insists that she is coming with me. No I tell her. She insists.

I insist she lets go of my jacket.

She insists I give her another beer, and oh yeah, shes coming to hang out with me and my friends. I tell her no. She grabs my arm again. Without thinking my hand shoots into my pocket to produce a small red piece of plastic. Fwip. The blade slides out with the effortless push of my thumb and I stick it up to her face. You’re going to let go of my jacket, and you’re going to go home and sleep this off. Her eyes get as wide as golf balls and her hand slowly drops as she turns away. I cross the street and have to pass the house I’m intending to stop at because, to no surprise, she has been following me, screaming at the top of her lungs about how much of an asshole I am.

I’m the asshole here.

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Fourteen : The Shaolin Art of Oven Management (Part 1)

Socks and I stand outside the bakery, both of us with our pant legs rolled up to our mid shins, our knee high socks covering our legs from the cold. I stand with a gray shirt on, brown bandanna hanging loosely from my neck, he with a home made white shirt that reads:

I
Hate
Larry

Printed over the right of the chest. We stand in the twenty six degree cold, outwardly seeming unaffected by the temperate, cigarettes clutched tight between our fingers, raising them quickly to our lips. Heave, hold, and ho as the smoke pours from our mouths and nostrils. We have yet to begin our day.

For moments we stand in silence. Socks tapping gently on the screen of his phone with a free, barely operable popsicle finger. I stare straight up into the night sky and wonder what planet or star that is, over there, just past the moon. The brightest one to my eye. I wonder how many other people are looking at it in that exact moment. The thought evaporates as I’m thinking it. Raise, heave, hold, ho. Smoke from the chimney in my lungs fills the air.

“Oh, God damn it, Mom.” Socks blurts out suddenly.

I look over at him and cock my head to the side. “What?”

Socks’ mom is kicking his ass at scrabble, apparently. While he’s explaining the intensely dramatic power plays and strategies used by both sides of this ongoing war, I dab my cancer out in a half frozen pool of what I hope to be water and it dies with a sudden “hsstt”. Somehow I manage to make my fingers work and I punch in the door code as quickly as I can. It beep beep beeps at me, and the door gives way. I pull it open and slip inside as quickly as possible.

Thirteen : Catch Up

Somewhere in the three years that passed between my last post of 2011, and my first revisit to the idea of Burn The Brioche, things have changed dramatically: the people in my life, my outlook on everything, and my career. As of now I’ve been baking professionally for two and a half years, with my culinary education looming over me like a sore thumb. I say that because lets face it, as nice as a culinary education looks on a resume, people who work in kitchens aren’t idiots, they know better, they’re wise beyond the comprehension of anyone who hasn’t worked in kitchens, or production food work. They know how to spot idiots, hell, I’ve had to learn pretty quick. They have things called “stages”, where you work anywhere from thirty minutes to a full six or eight hour shift. Usually for free.

Whisky makes my stomach warm.

Where was I? Ranting no doubt. Oh yes…. Culinary students are generally idiots and not to be trusted. Sometimes one stumbles in, ready to work – blood, sweat and baguettes – for next to nothing, and you hire them. But generally you have to look for any spark of life, and hope to god that when you hand them a paycheck, they come back the next day ready to work just a little harder, try just a little more honestly to remember, to learn.

I quickly learned I fell in to the category of “fluke”.

A fluke, to me at least, is someone who defies the ordinary expectation. If you’d normally expect the worst, given the situation, and it turns out to be a complete positive? That is a fluke.

I went to culinary school, but yet I’m very, very good at what I do.

I was one of the few that actually knew what they were getting in to. Low pay, crazy hours, high stress. I thrive in fire and dough.

I met Grace shortly before graduating from school. She was in the baking and pastry certificate program, just starting her second term. I had already completed all of the class work she would be doing and had moved on to management. The big kid stuff. It was, at least I thought so, a good three years.

In that three years I fell deeply in love, and stumbled from a small bakery in McMinnville, and after only six months there, to a high end, overpriced hipster grocery store that has exploded with growth in the Portland area. There I learned how a production schedule should be kept, how a bakery should not be handled, how employees should and should not be treated or talked to or talked about. After a year and a half, I found myself out of work, without a car, and my pockets empty. I was burned out. I worked so hard, built my confidence so high, and then it all came crashing down, slowly, like the first spring rain in Oregon, a low drizzle at first that slowly, but surely, turns into an even down pour. After a few months of being unemployed, the fights started, and I found a gig at a bagel shop in West Portland. It was disgusting. Mold, mice, contaminated ingredients, managerial negligence, not to mention the shit pay and high expectations. I bailed after 3 weeks. Only about a week later I found myself slinging dough and pastries at a bakery off of NE 42nd, the computer science education I had thought my way out of all of my troubles slowly fading in my mind as just another way to escape, life had leveled out again. At least I had hoped. Six months later and Grace is gone, not my fault but hers, not her fault but mine. Now things have leveled out, my feet are placed firmly on the ground. I have plans, I have ideas, I have momentum. I am still young.

Winter is rolling in here in Portland, Thanksgiving just around the corner, the busy season for bakers.

From now till the end of the year.

Thumbs up.

Twelve : Kitchen Nymph

When I first met Grace three years ago, I wrote an assignment titled “Kitchen Nymph”. I’m going to just leave this here, because, although she’s gone, I still love this piece.

Kitchen Nymph – Andrew Rolleston, March 17, 2011

Long golden hair twists and ties into itself as it falls heavily on her shoulders and down, down, down to her chest. Her smile half fixed into some wicked permanent grin, her eyes narrow, then widen slightly, showing the horse head nebulae hidden beneath her lids; first spring sky blue, a thin yellow fringe, then a sudden outward burst of dark green and blue dancing together to the tips of her eyes. She stands upright, her wide hips making her red floral summer dress drape wonderfully down her slender body. She stands five foot something, confidently, as if to challenge the world around her, “come on, try it” her stance shouts triumphantly. The worn brown cowboy boots heel step, click, heel step click as she strides around the kitchen, covering the pale skin of her thin legs, which carry her from cupboard to cabinet. She collects her supplies zealously; green cutting board, stainless steel bench scraper, four quart mixing bowl, bright yellow and green rubber whisk, flour, sugar, eggs, cream, butter. She has all this wrapped in one fragile arm, treacherously stacked and balanced as she bends low, or stretches high, standing on the tips of her tiny toes to reach something new, baking powder, baking soda, dried cranberries, chocolate chips. She sets the items down with a heavy sounding thud onto the cold tile counter top and slowly turns on the sink, all hot, then adjusts it, fidgeting with the cold water dial; Rinse, soap, lather, rinse, dry. She turns, the dress fanning around, hugging her form, then springing back again, hugging her, back again, and grabs the yellow kettle, swings back around, hug, swish, fills it with water, kills the sink, hug, swish, the burner turns to high heat with a satisfying click.

Eleven : Move

I spent the day moving, loading, unloading and unpacking mine and my room mates lives today. I found a lot of her, Graces, things scattered about in the untidy piles of clothes and tangled wires scattering our old room.

I cried over every object. I hadn’t cried in more than a week.

But, I digress, the new place, the duplex, is nice and will work well for the room mates and myself. Hopefully we will have the internet set up tonight or tomorrow so I can write posts on something better than an iPhone.

For now, I’m turning things around, one minute at a time.

Ten : Reasons

I was sitting on the porch, reading Wild, when my room mate returned home. She walks up the steps, stops, and says hello. I reply, asking how her day has been. Good, she says, and that she needs to take a shower and go to class soon. She remarks on how nice it is outside, and I agree, it has been a particularly wonderful November day.

We get to talking more. I mentioned I was training my new assistant today, the assistants first day in fact, and that while outside smoking a cigarette, the fact that I had gone to culinary school came up – mainly considering the fact that most culinary school students are pompous or completely unprepared, or God forbid, both. I’m one of the exceptions to this rule. My boss, lets call him Socks, is standing there smoking one of his three minute puff hand rolls when he chimes in, letting everyone in the immediate area know that they’re going to “have to put that degree to good use one of these days”.

My room mate lit up with the idea of good things starting in motion for me.

I on the other hand, was not excited. What would that mean for the PCT hike I’ve been so dedicated about doing? I can’t keep spending my life telling people I’m going to do amazing things and then just bail on them. I can’t keep doing things for other people. I can’t keep changing my life to better fit the needs of others. I can’t keep tumbling down this spiral, God damn it. I need to do this for me, on my own terms, on my own time. I need to live my own fucking life and do something crazy. I need to do this to feel whole again, like I can do anything. Survive anything. I need to do this to be me again.

But what about your job? Your career? So much could happen in the year and a half before you plan to do this.

Its only a job.

I won’t let anything stop me.

Feels good to have finally figured it out.

Nine : A Long Walk

Yesterday I walked roughly twenty four miles. From Harold st. to 52nd, down to Foster, connecting at Powell, on to 50th, over Mt. Scott, past Hawthorne, over Mt. Tabor, and on and through a tangled web of side streets residential neighborhoods until I reached 42nd and Going, Delphinas Bakery, work, 7.2 miles from home. But I didn’t stop there, feeling the bruises and blisters finally forming on the bottoms of my feet and toes, I pressed on, down 42nd to Killingsworth which deposited me onto Interstate. From Interstate to Lombard, west west west to the mouse trap and down to Terry st, where a friend was having guests for dinner. It was fantastic. Perfect chicken, a potato dish that reminded me of au gratin, and green beans sauteed with bacon. We drank, ate, and talked about work, and life, and the love of my life, speculating why she left so suddenly.

Secretly, I feel as if they all know… Like I’m the odd man out.

I left my house at 11.45am and arrived at just after 3.30pm. I stayed until about 8.30pm, the sun already sleeping behind the cascade mountains in the distance, when I decided to change out my hoodie for my fairly water proof jacket, throw on my pack, and hike back home the same route I had taken.

It wasn’t until I reached Killingsworth that the evening got truly interesting. I had been walking again for almost an hour when I heard foot steps running up behind me. I stopped, turned, and saw a girl running toward me. She wore leggings, a black skirt, a longsleeve black shirt with a red and black plaid shirt over the top, and her hair fell naturally around her head. She was pretty. As she neared me, her pace slowed and I could see her heavy breathing. She told me to walk slower next time. I laughed, nervously.

She stood upright and looped her arm through the space between my arm, my hands stuffed into my sweatshirt pockets, and my side and pulled me along with her.

Before she had caught up to me, I was having a panic attack, stopping every three blocks to try to cough up, puke out, or drown out the lump in my throat.

She told me to slow down as my normal pace began again and it became my turn to do the pulling. She asked about my life, what a cute boy was doing walking all alone. She insisted I must have a girlfriend, and when I denied it, she asked what had happened. I explained it slowly (a story for later), and then heard about her life, though by this point I was certain that she was strung out. She was an on again, off again heroin “user” who was homeless as of a week now. She had left her boyfriend and children for fear of her life, she told me, as he was becoming more and more physically abusive to her. She told me my life story, I told her hers. We were right on the money. It was a surreal experience. I could imagine this girl, clean. I could see me actually liking her, if life had handed us completely different paths. I had clarity.

She offered me the best sex of my life for a place to rest her head for the night.

I apologized, though she had been walking with me for almost six miles, I still had eight more miles to go – otherwise there would be a soft bed, alone, a hot shower, and a meal. I knew she wouldn’t walk that far, she said she would go to the mall and try to meet up with a friend after they got off work.

She stopped me at a street corner, where we smoked a cigarette and talked gently about nothing. When the cancerous fires we inhaled died, she turned to me, pulled me in close and hugged me, thanking me for the walk, and she wished it could have been different that we met. She turned at the corner and walked away, waving goodbye.

I realized that my panic attack had stopped the moment she ran up to me.

And also…

I could have loved her.