Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Egos is something the Wu-Tang crush

A bunch of the joys of watching food television are the similarities that it shares with professional wrestling.  The charismatic anti-hero that nobody likes but gets things done.  The grimacing chef that knows their shit but has a temper like lava.  Many professional cooks have worked for a bomb-dropping, short-fused, inconsiderate motherfucker with a golden touch for food.  After watching Chef Ramsay decimate some stupid shit I suspect many cooks go into the bathroom and practice their own boss-roll in the mirror, like practicing your Clint Squint after marathoning Sergio Leone films.

In real life, however, nobody likes a tyrant.  Nobody likes a baby either.  I worked for a big guy with a temper once.  What he lacked in technical proficiency he made up for in verbal abuse.  When he got stressed he'd push you off your station, call you a retard, and act big while he frantically stirred a reheated soup.  I had some authority in that kitchen, and when cooks would come so close to walking out of the back door in the middle of service, they would come to me for some piece of mind.  What I would tell them was to picture him naked in the early light of morning, his fat rolls jigging every which way while he frantically masturbated his tiny penis. After they stopped laughing they would come back to work, suddenly feeling sorry for the dinosaur that wrote their paycheque.

Its considered common-sense in a customer service job that no matter how stupid the customer is it is still your job to smile until your smoke break.  Somehow it is considered acceptable to exhibit every kind of immature, anti-social behavior in a kitchen. I'm not sure if its in emulation of what the "big chefs" do, but you see a surprising number of temper tantrums in the industry, especially by people that should know better. When a cook tosses a pan against the wall in a fit of rage because of some fuck up, it doesn't make them look cool. Nobody feels sympathizes with them, and nobody respects them more because of their static-release of testosterone.

Many of the best cooks I've ever seen, the most proficient chefs, the people I respect the most, can take way more shit than anyone else.  While they're still sailor-mouthed, white-linen samurais, the amount of patience they display is incredible.  Imagine, one of your lines is shitting the bed, your sautee guy is having a nervous breakdown, he's missing your calls, and you're being asked to sort out a three-chit server error, all the while chits still flood in like a broken levee. Do you break down? Do you start throwing shit?  No, you tell your sautee guy to get on what needs to go on; you figure out the server error and act accordingly, and you figure out what's going on with the back-line that's making them suck.  The only way out is through.  At the end of service you drink a couple of beers.

So when I see or hear about some idiot with a big ego throwing a pan and walking off line because they had "had enough"  that night, I just feel sorry for their disgraceful ass.  Its a hard world and unless you proceed with grace and precision, it will chew you up without thinking twice.    

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Thus spake Preparathustra

Large white flakes descend upon the sumacs, the apples, across the cobalt sky, blanketing fields and houses. From North a wind-whipped mendicant breaks the horizon. The squirrels are fat.  Old country emigres finish the last round of preserves.  The insipid city-folk wander the market, shivering in mini-skirts, with three-inches of snow on the tables.  "Do you have any cucumbers?" they ask.

do you

have any


The mendicant lifted his arms, hands wielding his mortar and his pestle, flanked by his serpent and his eagle, his voice rang out from the cusp of a storm cloud:

Behold, partakers of Campbells' horrible soup!  The frost has taken every last fruit.  Kale and brussel sprouts stand alone in the empty fields.  Yes, they are frozen.  Yes, they are fine with that.  You, who have wasted your spring, summer, and fall eating California microgreens, rotting California strawberries, Vidalia onions from the State of Georgia, corn the product of Ohio, potatoes from Iowa, melons and scallions from Mexico: yes, you, oblivious fool to the seasons, consuming death while your wealth spoiled in the fields!  How did you become this way?  

Idiots, content with the sub-par job others will do for you.  Afraid of work.  Worst of all creatures: when the sun idles about the sky in the peak of summer, and your neighbor picks plump, ripe tomatoes from the vine you say: "Someone in Italy will dry my tomatoes." Cucumbers writhing about, growing greater in size everyday, and you rush not to make your pickles.  What is left for you?  You, who with your own hands could simply craft what is good when it is good into a delicious preserve, will spend enormous amounts on a soft, factory dill pickle.

Can a judge condemn a person ignorant of their own crime?  Does the blood not speak from the knife?  What skills may have been mastered by your great grandparents, what may have been responsible for carrying forward your own pitiful line, appear to you like an ancient language, incomprehensible to the eye, unspeakable to the tongue.  You are spoiled by the supermarket, by the high-ceilings, the long aisles peopled by products from a colourful oligopoly.  You buy a stalk of brussel sprouts, now, in the dawn of December, for $6.99 imported from Salinas, California, and bat not an eye.  You are warped from your climate of falsehoods.    

Morons! Horribly lost, you panic that Sriracha may be in short supply, not knowing how simple it is to make a better sauce.You see nothing clearly. Can you identify a single tree?  Have you ever foraged in a spring-time bog? Eaten the mustard that lines the ditches?  

I caution, for the time is changing, and the ways of old will return on the heels of great catastrophe, not to treat the seasons as a vessel for your leisure.  They have existed before you, and by their hands, you could be smitten like a road-side possum.  Turn your back to the false gods of Kellogs, Post, Campbells, Nestle; turn your back to the importers of the fruits of your backyard, grow weary of fog of your consumerism.  Bait the yeast!  Befriend helpful bacteria of beneficent fermentation!  Read the seasons, wisely choose local fruits and vegetables, and most of all, be ready! The longest winter stretches forth from this moment.  Will it breed a Mensch stronger and wiser than the incumbent sleepwalkers? A Mensch unable to pass a field of thyme and mint in ignorance? A Mensch closer to nature and her dithyrambic chorus? Or will they answer only to Catastrophe and her redolent phalanx?

Thus spake Preparathustra.  

Tuesday, 12 November 2013



My life is a black book. But don't rebuke a drinker
Like me too much. No human being can ever read
The words written on his own forehead. 
When Hafez's coffin comes by, it'll be all right
To follow behind.  Although he is
A captive of sin, he is on his way to the Garden.

- From Hafez (1315 or 1317 to 1389) ghazal 77, translated by Robert Bly
and Leonard Lewinsohn


Reclined, with a glass of beer in hand.  I am astonished by the very degree of delight I feel.  My head is light, just like a suspended consciousness without body, the way a spirit would feel.  This is the most recent of many rounds of cheer: a glass of beer, a glass of brandy, a glass of wine, a glass of beer, a smoke on the balcony, a glass of beer. Rogues laying on the floor.  Rogues loafing on the futon.  We have jettison our reason here - we are floating aimless now for whatever whim takes us.

I've admired the physical beauty of churches, exploring many in different cities. I've spent hours with the old and modern cathedrals of Montreal, was stunned in St. Patrick's cathedral in New York, wandered for an afternoon through Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The stained glass portraits are a door into another sphere. Once I wanted to be a Buddha, but never have I had the discipline to live a life following holy precepts. I don't even think I ever really wanted to: I just wanted to see the self made holy, or maybe to see the self dissolve into white light; a nothingness.

While I would describe my drive toward religion as having deeply affected my consciousness, it is only ever deeply personal.  The drive is subsumed in creativity, by long flights of imagination.  Any wish I've had for religious community has been pushed into secular community.  If I've ever longed for purity and asceticism I've crushed it with vulgarity and indulgence.  Even at my very worst behaved I somehow allow it to make sense in my own mytho-poetic psycho-narrative of spiritual ascendancy.  This, I conclude, is because I am truly, deeply stupid.

Drifting on my la-z-boy I remark out loud about how good I feel.  None of these thoughts have crossed my mind.  Only that I am drunk, at ease.  A contentedness, and a sincere happiness for having had the chance to enjoy the good food and good company that have come my way.


On Sundays I've been known to get a little sloppy. While Rig chopped onions, I butchered a five pound duck.  In the way I was trained to break down a chicken I break down each side, removing the legs and wings, and then I cut off the breasts.   I'm working with two bowls: one for meat and guts, and another for bones and fat.  As I finish removing the collar bone and separating the rib cage from the breast plate, revealing the gizzard and other interior goodies, 2Krucial showed up with a friend she's wanted to introduce to us.  We've promised her a meal and a half and, wrist deep in duck, I am certain we can deliver.

Working from the canard sauvage recipe in the Les Halles cookbook, we started browning the broken down duck bones in butter, and then we added chopped leek and shallots.  After the veg caramelized we added half a cup of brandy to deglaze, reduced, added some chicken stock and a bouquet garni.  With company the action in the kitchen doesn't seem to low.  It's much harder to wait an hour for a stock to reduce without some talking and booze.  We idly season the legs and prepare the rest of the meeze and chat about whatever is felt to be pressing.  Glasses are refilled.  The whole apartment begins to smell like the beginnings of a rich sauce.

After an hour the stock is strained, and the duck legs and wings are browned in more butter and then removed and put aside.  Next comes the gizzard and various duck trimmings, more shallots, caramelized in butter - some flour gets added to form a roux, then some cider vinegar, and once reduced the duck stock. Another hour to pass while the legs and wings are tender.

Meanwhile, fat was rendering in the oven for use in roasting some potatoes.  Parsnips got boiled and mashed with loads of butter and cream.  Glasses are refilled.  For a cook few things are as gratifying as the anticipation of his guests for the meal.  The conversation now comes back to the sights and smells of the kitchen.  Everyone takes there rounds to stick their head over the pot and take a deep inhale, as if from a baggy.  The sauce keeps reducing to critical levels and needs to be topped up with more stock and eventually just straight booze from the bottle.  As the time nears, a sear is put on the two enormous duck breasts.

The breasts are sliced, revealing a beautiful combination of pink and red.  The time has come to plate the long preparation.  The finishing touches are put on the sauce, whisking a liquefied duck liver into it, and tossing a cube of cold butter in.

Glasses are refilled.  "Call in your plenary indulgences, have you any."


Way's been ruins a thousand years.
People all hoard their hearts away:

so busy scrambling after esteemed
position, they'd never touch wine.

But whatever makes living precious
occurs in this one life, and this life

never lasts.  Its startling, sudden as
lightning, a hundred years offering

all abundance. Take it! What more
could you hope to make of yourself?

From T'ao Ch'ien (365 - 427) Drinking Wine, translated by
David Hinton

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

simoom freestyle

Impatient poetry
wandering for a home
thoughts precipitate
gentle patter upon dome
in the violet dusk
sifting memories with a comb
imagined messages merging 
and blending just like chrome

where I've really flown
riding a camel across deserts
words like glass is blown
crystallize so everything said hurts
were my eyes better I'd never 
let her blow from my sight 
side of the road a kite
shadows shed from a little light
a little bite can shred an existence 
a cold night can make bed out of distance
I see a theatre where two memories kissed in
a trashy book where lovers lives were wished in

burnt leaf smoke
the simoom of a kif toke
it returns like relief jokes
time runs like a beat yolk
here we are
stretch out of darkness covered in tar
lives like licks from flames covering char
matter preserved our minds stuck in a jar
exhaust from a car hangs for a moment
there we are
there we are

forgive my impatience
the matter rarely lingers like a fragrance
if not grasped it won't stay
I'll say what I say
then go my way
I came
two eyes
never the same
I hear voices in the rain
in the distance there's a train
here we are

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Salty oil-cured chilies

Most days I wake up between 4:45 and 5:30am for work, depending on whether I am going to the market or the kitchen.  Other days my partner gets up at one of those hours to go to the kitchen and I am left home to contemplate myself all morning until she comes home.  I do menial tasks, drink coffee, and ponder the grandeur of a man against the backdrop of infinity.

The early hours are mystical.  The light cuts through the clouds and the trees and garbage bins are illuminated with an eerie glow.  The autumn leaves shine golden, and its as if nature is aware of itself being contemplated so it puts on a show.

Enough bullshit.  8am rolls around and my apartment becomes lit with rock.

I feel a burning.  My knife hand begins to tingle, and the 4-quart basket of Portugal Fire peppers (50000 - 75000 scovilles) in my fridge call to me.  I don't know what it is, but whenever the morning is nice and I am comfortable in body and soul, I need to cover my kitchen in capsicum.
 I'd read a recipe in Zakary Pelaccio's fantastic goodtimes cook book Eat With Your Hands for salty oil-cured chilies.  I'd bought the book on a weird grocery store clearance rack.  It was beside some lame NYT bestseller bullshit, and some other books Oprah talked about.  The cover caught my attention and I opened it up to a whole smoked pig recipe with a mise en place that included: "2 cases of beer on ice - cans, not bottles; a couple joints; 2 bottles Pappy Van Winkle bourbon; plastic cups; an 8-ball; 1 carton smokes..." and I thought fuck yeah, I can spend 10 bucks for this.

Basically you thinly slice about a pound of chilies, just fucking pack them with an excessive amount of salt, let them degorge for about an hour, and then cover them with hot olive oil.

I think it was my Vietnamese friend, Dinh, that got me into hot foods.  When I came from Owen Sound I was a real wuss for heat.  Tobasco was a thrill I'd limit to one or two drops in a bowl of soup.  When I think about it, Dinh was probably also a sissy when it came to handling heat, but he was an instigator and would torment himself to torment you.  He might play it a little differently: he was willing to risk great physical discomfort in order to broaden my horizons.  Great wise sage. 

It started with urging me to attempt the sriracha in my pho.  Then add a little more.  Then eat this whole chili seeds and all, you fucking pansy.  And at the time, I didn't enjoy the experience.  I enjoyed the attention.  I got to experience the pleasure of doing what the guy next to me wouldn't do.  Perhaps an urge that's got me into trouble more often than not, but has consistently driven me forward.  Like all things, irony eventually turns to post-irony.  When you first played that Weezy record it was a joke, but now you kind of like it - next week you'll fight a dude at the bar about not including Lil' Wayne in his list of greatest rappers of all time.  And now, in my quiet moments, with nobody watching, I preserve hot peppers because I am afraid of the winter without thrills.

When I was a teenager, I went to bed at 6am almost every day.  I woke up between 3 and 5 pm.  Breakfast was dinner and then I finished my night with breakfast.  When I entered the work force I started by working night shifts, because they most naturally fit my schedule.  Realizing night work sucked ass, I switched to day work, and eventually morning work.  Part of me still doesn't think of the morning as a time.  Yet, this morning I woke up at 5:30 when I didn't have to, didn't go back to bed, and have had a very productive 5 and a half hours of doing.  

Name dropping for my nerd homies: Ilya Prigogine.
It seems the only foods I can eat these days that aren't spicy are sweet fruits like apples or grapes.  Everything, every thing, has to have some small amount of kick.  It doesn't sit well in my mouth otherwise.  I can enjoy some aspects of a dish, or even compliment a technical achievement in the meal, but without a spicy component I find myself not satisfied.  Well, perhaps an exaggeration, but the great majority of my meals are hot.  Very hot.  Sometimes millions of scoville units hot.

All of this sunrise preparation is with my face to the sunset.  Mark has ordered in extracted capsicum because he wants to destroy me.  I don't know what this means yet, but I feel that it may be the end.  The rock and roll draws to a close, and a calm descends upon me.  I return to contemplating how everything the morning sun touches is made golden.


Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Thoughts of you unending here in Waterloo


My friend, I draw my strength from my most alone moments.  In the evenings at work people come close, and I embrace them to the most of my abilities.  At night, in stillness, another group comes toward me.  I think of the great figures in their solitude, the poets - my heroes of earthly loneliness: Jesus in the Judean desert, Mohammed alone in his cave, Nietzsche writing the few hours of each day that he could bare the pain of seeing and the nausea of his illness, Cold Mountain on Cold Mountain, Li Po in love with the moon in his cup... In the middle of a blank page, a little pencil sketch of the archetype of a wanderer, flask in hand, rucksack on his back, walking with his back to me into the depth of nothing.

On days of struggle, I recite to myself this little bit of the Hagakure I picked out of a movie about samurai:
The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the way of the samurai.
Standing open in the wind and the sleet at last Saturday's market, soaked to the bone and freezing, I pushed myself into worse areas.  One woman commented to me that I "must keep going with thoughts of a nice warm place."  I told her it was the opposite, that I always think of something far worse.  In matters of small importance, like selling black radish to Eastern Europeans or cooking line on a Wednesday night, I orient myself in the Iliad, in a plain thick with the fog of men's last breaths, dancing always with death.  There is always the frontier of the void.  Bagging kale, unable to feel my fingers, my bones biting with dull cold, I still tell people that I am doing well or even that I am great.  How are you?


Reclined, writing, the kitchen in shambles from last nights company.  Four bottles of whiskey filled with dregs.  A few thoughts after making myself a humble breakfast: a caramelized onion, mustard and hot sauce, wrapped in a steamed tortilla with a piece of salami.  

One must cook true.  I can cook a lot of things, school being the least of my qualifications: the practically-wife and I experiment endlessly in our spare time.  We both work in the restaurant cook our nights, and our days.  Friends come over and we entertain them with a little dinner.  The fare is simple, but we never cook the same things twice.  

I am in love with earthly cuisine. I mean I want to cook for your grandmother, wherever she is from.  My own repertoire has drawn from many sources.  I make ghormeh sabzi, daal chawal, red beans and rice, Irish stew, mole negro, I can cook a steak, many kinds of guts, and I have a bucket of sauerkraut on the go.  Many young cooks I have met dream of innovation.  It would be the highest ideal for them to recast the mold, to re-imagine the whole enterprise of cooking, delighting the wealthy dining class with little flutes of space textures that taste like the moon or whatever.  I tend to like them fine, and I wish them well with their pursuits.  

I cook with memories and I travel the world through cuisine.  Being poor and in debt to a number of institutions from my own negligence coupled with institutional-oppression, I hardly am allowed to travel far or wide.  For someone so broke I think its amazing I have seen as much of the world as I have, across Canada and the United States, into Central America.  Still, those opportunities are hardly regular.  I am forced to bring far away places to me, which is cheaper for sure.  

Its been my fortune to have spent so much time with the ESL crowd.  My closest friends have close ties to another country, or have left a homeland far behind to be here.  Even if people come to Canada escaping war, political crisis, or just seeking better opportunity the homeland weighs heavily on them.  The way things were back home, the way a kitchen smells, the way people greet each other or prepare things, are the palpable expressions of a place, and are tied to the memories that fundamentally comprise their being.  Asking someone from somewhere else to make you a meal, to give you a recipe for something they cook at home, often provokes a kind of spontaneous excitement in them.  It is also my hope that it gives them a real bridge between where they come from and where they are now.  


I can't find the quote, or remember the specific work I read it in, but I often think of my literary hero, Nikos Kazantzakis, responding to criticisms of the sorts of language he used in his writing.  He used the demotic Greek when it was still popular to use Hellenic Greek in all forms of writing.  The academy responded harshly to his language, and his novels were not accepted by the Greek establishment.  Describing his love for the people and the way they speak, the expressions, and the strange words they use he said something to the effect of: "I feel like Noah trying to fill his ark with animals.  I don't want the memories of the people I have met and the things I have seen to die with me."

    Tuesday, 15 October 2013

    fat water or fat thing - and not your mom this time (tomatillo salsa)

    Market is a funny thing.  One year dozens of people can ask for one item.  The farmers at market will believe that it could be a profitable idea, or in the very least not a loss, to grow the damn thing.  One year after being asked a hundred times for fennel, my friend grew a bunch of it the next year, only to compost all of it.  I'm not even sure he sold one.

    A similar fiasco happened this year with another friend and a crop of tomatilloes.  I called up my friend, the sous-chef at a Mexican inspired restaurant and tried to relieve him of them, but the restaurant didn't have a use for them at the moment.  After dropping the price to dirt cheap and still struggling to sell them, I picked up his last half bushel from him for almost free, just to spare him the frustration of looking at them anymore.


    The tomatillo is a funny fruit of Central American origin. It's a member of the delicious and poisonous nightshade family, same genus as the potato, eggplant, and pepper plants. The original name in Nahuatl was tomātl, or tomate in the Spanish.  The word means "fat water" or "fat thing" and the fruit itself the immediate precursor to the more internationally known Aztec cultivation jitomate (fat thing with navel): the tomato.  The Spanish internationally confused the two, as was the style at the time, and the tradition continues to this day. 

    Tomatillos look like a green tomato with a husk around the outside.  The husk needs to be removed to work with the fruit itself, which is a dirty and sticky process. A sticky residue coats your hands, which then collects all the dirt on the husks.  Its moderately unpleasant.  Myself, being the chef, didn't do any of that shit and instead my girlfriend spent a good 20 minutes getting her hands dirty.  I will, however, take 100% of the credit for the whole affair.

    I've only ever had tomatillo in the form of a salsa.  I'm not quite sure what else there is to do with them.  They have an acidic, not quite sweet but tangy taste.  After consulting a fistful of recipes I threw together one of my own for a salsa.  This is with a half bushel of tomatillos, and will generate about 2 gallons or 8 litres of salsa.  It'll take a bunch of hours in the afternoon to get all of it done.  We split the work into two days, one just making the salsa, refrigerating it over night and then canning it the next afternoon.

     Royal-Joe's rockin' tomatillo salsa, with extra rock n' roll

    half a bushel of tomatillo, peeled and sliced in half.
    3 medium Superstar Spanish onions (or other Spanish onions), small dice
    3 medium bulbs of garlic, peeled
    30 or so mild green Thai chilies or Jalapeno peppers*
    1 large bunch of cilantro, washed
    the juice of 2 limes
    3 tbsp Kosher salt
    2 tsp ground pepper
    2 tsp nutmeg
    1 tbsp all-spice
    canola oil

    *Jalapeno or Serrano peppers are probably more legit.  This whole thing wasn't terribly planned and the only chilies I could get on Thanksgiving Sunday were from the Indian grocery store, lest I used my own dried chilies and absolutely ruined everyone's mouth with heat. 

    5 baking sheets
    food processor or blender
    couple of wooden spoons
    cast iron pan or heavy bottom pan 
    3 large stainless steel bowls
    Large stock pot or 4 gallon bucket
    sharp knives
    canning pot
    enough jars to jar 8 litres of shit, preferably in 250ml or 500ml sizes

    I assume you're already with me and have the tomatillos peeled, washed, and sliced in half right down the axis mundi. Crank your oven to broil.  Lay out the tomatillos on your baking sheets, flat side down and drizzle with some oil.  Throw them into the oven for 3 to 5 minutes, or until liquid starts to accumulate in the bottom and the skins are beginning to char.  Remove from the oven and put on a cooling rack or oven top or somewhere that won't burn.

    Once they started to cool enough to handle I moved them from the baking sheets into the stainless steel bowls.  Then I rinsed the baking sheets and used them again.

    This'll take about 25 minutes to a half hour to do all of them, depending on how many girlfriends you have, how good they are at co-operating with each other, and how good your broiler is.  After that's done you're going to want to start charring your chilies in the cast-iron skillet on medium-high with a bit of oil.  We threw whole cloves of peeled garlic in with them.

    Remove your chilies once they're getting some pleasing char spots.  Remove the stems.  Add in your small dice Superstars for only a minute.  Stir frequently, remove from heat with the garlic. 

    Next or meanwhile is the food processor part.  What we did was while my girlfriend manned the skillet, I used the liquefy setting on our food processor and processed all of the tomatillos in batches.  Empty them into the large stock pot.  You'll be done around the same time as all of the skillet jazz, so take the chilies, the onions, and garlic, and the cilantro and pulse it a couple of times with a bit of the goopy liquid from the tomatillos.  Then stir all of the other stuff into the tomatillo mixture, and add the salt and pepper, nutmeg and allspice and stir until everything is thoroughly combined.  

    Throw it into the refrigerator, drink beer, and then can it all the next day.

    Do you even know how long it takes for that to come to a boil on an electric stove?

    Sell your friends 250mL jars of salsa for $3, plus a 50 cent deposit on the jar.  Place a big bowl of tortilla chips on the table with a bowl of the tomatillo salsa.  After the first night of moderate drinking, you will have made more on your investment then the farmer that grew them probably did in total.

    Friday, 11 October 2013

    That boy has a drinking probnlem

    Cultural sponge:

    anomie, go homie,
    a to z
    raised wild in my own count-ree

                still diasporic
    still euphoric
    with a jazz groove
    my niche is folkloric

    raised by a poor brooke
    by a single mother
    I talk Rumi with Moslems
    and walk the path of the lover

    the clatter of kitchenware,
    the swears of the linecooks
    the core of an apple
    and stories about crooks
    old album covers, sax blown in Spring
    and these are some of my favourite things

    I smell like hickory
    my friend an Iraqi
    calls me habibi
    when he tokes from the weedi
    he talks like graffiti

    I didn't have a culture
    I had a Star Wars collection
    distant planet mastermind
    adventure projection
    when I got older I dropped the specifics
    now I beatbox with Chinamen
    because we all gotta kick it

    hailed from the East
    comes my girl named Na
    when its time to party we all gotta ga
    she once asked if I was tired
    I was like "Bssh, na"
    now we travelin' the road down to Arkansas

    sometimes on the streets
    I meet poets from a past life
    I try to switch direction
    keep my head down like an ex-wife
    sometimes I'm successful
    others cut my path like a dull knife

    they're all positive, fantastic
    try to stay contemporary
    annoying, Boombastic
    try to stay literary
    wanna talk the classics
    try to change the world
    but only looking past it

    they all look disappointed
    when I tell them that I rub meat
    they're sure its a phase
    and I should try to stay upbeat
    or they act smug and say they're elite
    the reviews are in and they've got gold feet

    well, fuck 'em all
    The E nd

    Wednesday, 9 October 2013

    Royal-Joe's Ghost Pepper Revenge Sauce

    Que music.

    I harassed the public with it; held entire city's ransom with its wrath.  Children cried, parents helpless beside them, stupefied by the tremendous girth of their own suffering.  Colossal traffic upheavals caused by the blindness instilled by the simple rubbing of an eye.  For my hand in bringing fire to the humans I was punished by the gods, chained under a giant mountain of woe whilst a Wild Turkey pecked at my liver.  It was there my torment germinated into a new sauce.  A richer sauce.  One with bolder flavors and silky edges that caress idly while the horrified mind watches as the tongue burns down to embers.

    When I emerged from that hell, the first thing I did was this:

    - scorch three red bell peppers on open flame or under a broiler until skin is completely black, remove the seeds
    - scorch half a quart of ghost peppers, stemmed, until skin is completely black, reserving the other half of the quart for later
    - slice one large whole Spanish onion and mince 10 cloves of garlic
    - combine blackened ghost peppers, onion and garlic in a sauce pot with two and 1/2 cups of apple cider vinegar, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes
    - add the blackened red peppers to the pot and the remaining half quart of ghost peppers, stemmed but not seeded
    - puree with an immersion blender or food processor
    - salt and pepper to taste

    Nay! Not in the Classical age, nor in the books of Nietzsche, nor even on the date of my birth: this, this is the birth of tragedy!  The true magma that flows through my loins!  Revenge! Revenge!

    Tuesday, 8 October 2013

    Baked Beans: A Longing For Vengeance

    I've a reputation among cooks and friends for the excitement I show toward strange foods and folk staples.  I don't typically have a problem with soft of jelly textures, obvious animal parts, offal, or things off the Scoville scale.  Fish eyes, chicken feet, livers, flans, ghost peppers, strong greens lionize me.
    I am about to enjoy a sampling of chicken feet, fermented tofu, and pigs ear.

    Yes, there are some items that I am not enthusiastic about.  I eat them, politely, or with moderate distaste.  I still eat them with one exception: baked beans.

    There is some irony.  I work in authentic Southern barbecue. I prepare and serve baked beans for a living.  People frequently compliment the restaurant's baked beans.  Some go so far as to say they are the best.  I wouldn't know.  I taste them, when I make a batch, in order to be sure they taste correct - which is to say, to see if I still don't like them.  If for some reason I find myself somehow liking them then I know I have fucked the dog.

    I have tried many times to enjoy them.  My partner, she loves them.  Considers them a breakfast item, the whole bag.  To my British friends they constitute a proper meal.  I have fought with myself, insisting its a childhood bias to get over.  I have tried to acquire their taste through repeated tastings to no avail.

    When my mother talks about the poverty she endured in her upbringing she always mentions all of the hard times when the only thing that sustained her modest existence was a can of baked beans.  And this is what rings me out: baked beans are the quintessential poor food!  The food I have closest aligned myself with, the food that inspires my creativity, the food that flips the bird to the bougie shit coming out of fine dining kitchens - goddamnit, poor foods is my eats!

    This isn't merely a story of a basic and uninteresting dislike of baked beans though.  It's a story of a deep, dark longing for vengeance, and a caveat for those who would tread the same path as the one who made me this way...

    This tale begins long ago, at the end of the 1980's, with its waves nipping at the shores of the 1990's.  Radio played Michael Jackson and Michael Bolton, cars were still long and rectangular, and I had just begun day care at a loathsome facility in Owen Sound.  Back then I was the lord and defacto king of the picky eaters.  I would hardly eat anything.  Foreign dignitaries would line up bringing exotic items from far away lands to lay them at my feet and see if I would try it.  I never did.  There was a list of things I would not eat, and I can remember it vividly, but for the life of me I cannot remember anything that I would eat.  Apples, probably.

    I am certain my fussy behavior concerned my childcare professionals.  One snack time we were given baked beans.  I closed my mouth tight and shook my head.  No.  Fuck you.  I am not eating that brown mushy shit, is probably what I thought.  I didn't want anything else but world peace.  I just didn't want to eat the baked beans.  I was getting good at this: the sealed lips, the slanted brows, the general look of defiance.  Nobody could feed me.

    That's when it happened.  Some young 20-something blonde sadistic bitch, likely sent to my daycare straight from guarding maximum security correctional facilities, grabbed a spoon, scooped out a pile of the goopy mush, and forced it past my lips, smearing my face with brown, and all the way back into my throat.

    It only took a second before I threw up all over myself.  Once I started, I couldn't stop: I threw up on her, on the floor, on my clothes, on the walls, on the other kids, on the ceiling, a torrent of sticky brown pebbles spewed out of me, the bean levels continued to rise, filling my pockets and the whole lunch room, spilling out of the windows into the playground.

    As if my shame were not enough, once my reaction had been contained, the corporals stripped me completely naked.  I remember standing in the front of the daycare waiting for my mom to come pick me up, cold, sticky, without a covering.  I remember it like the photo of the detainee in Abu Ghraib, standing naked on a chair with a bag on his head, soldiers posing around him.  Except I could see the dull eyes of the children around me, inspecting me, judging, repulsed and already filled with the fickle Proddy wrath they would adopt later in life.

    These years later, sitting at my window staring out in melancholy, I know these were the moments that made me the person I am.  A lifetime of truancy, casual misanthropy, and anti-authority explained in these brief childhood moments. If fate were kind, I would discover the identity of the childhood tormentor, and this time it would be me force feeding her.

    Yes, I would spoon a babyfood of pureed Trinidad Scorpions right into her eyes.

    Wednesday, 2 October 2013

    Milk crate preacher don't bother me


    A man stands in Waterloo Town Square on a small milk crate, elevating himself above the crowd.  From across the road you cannot make out exactly what he is yelling, just occasionally the hoarse chorus of "Jesus saved me! He saved me!"  A meek looking street evangelist with a slim frame and grey beard stands beside him, quietly handing out pamphlets of his own faith inspired poetry.  It's October 2nd and the weather is warm and agreeable.  Buses pass, the sound of the man's testimonials is drowned into a distant incoherent bark.  All I can hear is the rawness of his throat.  After today's performance he will be saying Jesus in the same dry, hushed tones I say it after a night at the bar.

    I ask S. if she thinks he believes it.

    "Believes what?"

    "What he's saying. The Jesus business."

    "Obviously he believes it.  I don't think you would do that unless you believed it."  

    "I'm not so certain.  I think that its doubt, not belief, that drives him to act in such an extreme way.  It's that he believes he knows what the truth should be, yet he is still distant from it as a manifest reality, which is what pushes him onto the pulpit."

    "I think unconsciously you are right.  But I think consciously he believes in what he is preaching."

    "You might be right."

    "Now you're being a fucking hypocrite.  Why are you contradicting yourself?"

    "Well, I'm not sure that I believe that he does.  Dude's a born again.  He's probably made a radical life change and thinks he knows the way things are, but part of him - the conscious part - doubts.  He doesn't think that if he's a real Christian he should possess doubt, so he drives himself to extreme acts to prove - not to God, and not to others - to himself that he believes."

    "I still think you are attributing too much to his conscious processing.  Right now he looks like he believes his own shit."

    "Maybe its somewhere in between our arguments.  In the act of daily life, and the bullshit that entails, he doubts.  In the act of being an obnoxious shitbag, he believes."

    S.'s bus came and she got on.  I crossed the road and took a long route along Waterloo Town Square so I could avoid coming into close proximity with the preacher.


    I remember watching a discussion with Slavoj Zizek on YouTube.  He was discussing his recent work "God In Pain: Inversions of the Apocalypse" with Jack Miles, author of "God: A Biography."

    At about 1:10:32 a woman in the audience asks an excellent question concerning faith.  She asks: "Is it that we never actually really arrive at a belief? Is it that we are always in the process of naming what we believe but that is inauthentic?"  Zizek responds with a quote from Kierkegaard: "We never really believe.  We just believe to believe."  He spins off an anecdote about IDF psychologists trying to understand the psychology of a so-called terrorist before blowing himself up.  What they have come to understand is not that he believes in the rewards of his sacrifice, but that he is trying to "crush his doubt."  In the extreme act the fundamentalist tries to believe what he cannot fully bring himself to believe.


    In the study of religion it is helpful to understand different religions by the terms "orthodoxic" and "orthopraxic."  These terms mean, literally "correct belief" and "correct practice."  In North America and Europe given the prevalence of Christianity religion is almost wholly thought of as an orthodoxic affair.  For hundreds of boring reasons - Descarte, blah blah blah mind/body split blah blah blah - what one believes typically takes precedent over what one does.  There is a notion that beneath the temporal world of forms and actions the inner world presided over by the innermost soul is more important.  In the Christian worldview the belief in question is typically what role Jesus has in the grand scheme of divinity, and is basically a question associated with the Nicene Creed.  Even removed from the Christian historical context defining people by what they believe is still a major European and American past-time.  

    Other ways of defining one's religious identity are interesting to me.  Other groups, such as many Jews, define themselves in terms of practice, other than belief.  That is to say, to be a Jew is to live like a Jew, to participate in the Jewish community, to do the rituals when you are to do the rituals, regardless of having a coherence of belief.  Within Judaism is a pluralism of voices concerning meaning and beliefs.  As one saying puts it something like: "Two Jews: five Torahs." 

    And another way of understanding the question of cosmos and history/belief and reality comes of founder of the Soto Zen school of thought Eihei Dogen.  In his beautiful and succinct little treatise on Dharma, the Genjokoan, Dogen asserts: "When buddhas are truly buddhas they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized buddhas, who go on actualizing buddhas."

    Dogen was a dude that sat down a lot.  He believed that the practice of being a buddha produced buddhas.  In the conscious pursuit of believing in buddhas, a great deal of delusion is encountered.  In sitting and practicing the way of an enlightened being, you are an enlightened being, even if you aren't aware of it.  In fact, according to Dogen's way of thought, being aware of being a buddha was just delusion and was proof that you weren't a buddha.

    The way here is practice.  Of course, practice refers to the practice of certain rituals.  Ritual is what basically allows for the divine to enter where it is otherwise not permitted.  The ritual performance of salat in Islam lets Allah enter the same mind that even moments before might have been contemplating the hypnotic undulations of fat booties.  The thing is here is that the practice of ritual changes the person practicing ritual, and for those moments, however long or short, brings about a reality where the divine is alive and meaningful.

    Here I see the conflict of religious life.  Whatever portion of divinity one has access to is so easy to grasp, but so hard to hold.  The paradox of faith makes discussing it in terms of belief or disbelief almost totally pointless.  This, I think, is what really tortures our buddy on the milk crate.

    Tuesday, 24 September 2013

    "I'd call it Nectar of Judea and copyright the name."

    I am thinking about the deli's I've been in over the years.


    Once, in New York, I got elbowed in the ribs by another customer because I took too long to place my order in a busy deli during rush our. I was young, from a small rural Ontario town and didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know the rude, fast-paced aggression of restaurants that survived on the strength of one or two products. I was surprised that the guy behind the counter didn't even flinch and just took the other guy's order before mine.  I think I got pastrami.  I had been awake for 24 hours, wandering aimlessly through an infinitely large city, knowing nothing about my destination.


    She's made a home in Ontario, but all of my life my mom told me longing stories of Montreal, the home of her youth. Whenever I needed to justify feeling different growing up in a rural farming community, I would chalk it up to being raised by a Montrealer. Montreal became a calling to me. When I was 19 I moved there, having only visited once the year before.

    Most of my time in Montreal was spent drunk, hungover, strung out on drugs, wandering aimlessly through the city at night, writing about isolation, reading William S. Burroughs novels, and going insane.  I was a boy and I got manhandled by a real city.  Still, I did what anyone must do when in Montreal: ate smoked meat.

    My boy F. brought me to Schwartz's my first weekend in town.  This one I'd heard of before.  It'd come up in my Mom's stories, in conversation with my lifelong Mtler aunt, in Mordecai Richler's work, and it was on everyone's list of what to do when I was in Montreal.   Neither of us had been.  F. had been in Montreal for a year, but had been restricted to the cloistered area surrounding McGill, McGilligans Island.  Again, my rural propensity for politeness tossed me around.  We ate our giant plate of pink, moist, savory meat on some loose pieces of rye and yellow mustard.  Then, oblivious to the world around us, we sat at our table catching up on old times, talking like we'd paid for a room.  After a few minutes one of the aggressive, burly dudes that worked there came over, and in an irritated voice said: "Look, either you guys buy something else or get out.  I have people waiting for tables here."


    I didn't last a year in Montreal.  The language barrier was too much, and honestly I just wasn't hard enough to carve my own niche into a place with such a demand.  I wasn't a motivated worker, I was a dreamer, narcissistic, and dealing with all the moodiness and anxiety of being in my late teens.  I got fired, was broke, and if my mom hadn't sent me the money to come home I would have ended up homeless.

    When I'd returned to Ontario I floated around shitty fast-food jobs and convinced myself I was a Buddha.  I worked in a grocery store for a bit until a friend got me a job in a small restaurant on the main stretch of the Kitchener downtown.  I'd moved out by this point, and money was the only motivating factor in directing my employment.  That is, I didn't have enough of it and I needed it to pay rent.

    What I'd been told about this restaurant was that it had insane night shift line ups.  It was run by a militant Turkish guy who had high standards of his employees, and he was neurotic and difficult to work with.

    I did a couple of day shifts.  The lunch was busy.  I mostly worked till and topped sandwiches, and then cleaned up afterwards. I felt good about it.  I only got freaked out on a couple of times by the boss, but otherwise the job wasn't too hard.  My friend Sam showed me the ropes and really made sure that I would make it there.  The pay was good and there were lots of hours.  

    This place didn't have too difficult of a set-up.  There was very little prep involved, besides dicing vegetables.  Our meats were all sourced elsewhere, and everything was cooked in basically the same way on a big double flat-top griddle.  After initially sourcing the right ingredients for the right prices, it seemed like managing the restaurant was simple and involved just making sure there was enough inventory to sell.

    I'd been warned about Friday and Saturday nights.  Sam told me they'd kick my ass.  "From about midnight on the place is just swarmed by barbarians, the Mongolians get loosed from all the clubs around and sack our walls for the next three hours.  Focus on taking money in batches and then topping sandwiches as fast as you can.  Don't get caught up on customer service.  From midnight on, the customer is no longer right.  You put shit on the bun, give them a chipotle sauce, and firmly put the bun into those drunk fuckers' hands and tell them to get lost."

    He wasn't wrong.  Night shifts there made me develop tough skin.  It was a small, open kitchen and we were short staffed, since the boss liked to save most on labor.  Sam and I took on what seemed like endless line-ups of drunk, high, angry, rude, and tired customers in a two-man kitchen.  We didn't have chits, so we memorized calls.  I wrote down a tally of sandwich types and shouted them at Sam who flung mountains of meat and vegetables onto the flat-top.

    What I learned is that drunks like to talk, they don't like to wait, and they will give you a hard time.  In my first night shift I wasn't prepared for the last one.  Two guys started harassing me about the length of the wait, and then said that we'd fucked something up - then seeing I was getting flustered two more customers chimed in, and before I knew it I had a chorus of discontent on my hands.  Sam turned away from the flat top for a second: "What's the problem?  Its taking too long?  How about you fuck right off.  Wait a fucking minute and your sandwich will be done.  I'm cooking for hundreds here."

    The two us mowed down weekends together for almost a year, and over time I learned that Sam's way was the way it had to be done.  It wasn't just Sam's way, it was the cook's way, and especially the deli way.  The way of the open kitchen, the way of cooking and dealing with long line ups, the way of crowded, over-full tiny rooms of hungry people waiting for your product because its the best.

    I worked there for three years, and I learned to be an asshole when it was needed.  Eventually I learned to turn it into spectacle, to sell my asshole to customers dressed up as a prince.  One Bluesfest I worked almost a full 24 hours, closing for one hour to clean and re-up from our suppliers.  In the middle of a long line-up a middle-aged drunk guy started loudly bitching about how long things were taking.  "Sir," I always called them sir, "you're gonna have to wait.  We're cooking as fast as we can and there are people in front of you."

    "Well that's just fucking bullshit.  What is this? I've been waiting for a fucking hour!"

    "Listen, sir, you're not the only one waiting."

    "Such fucking service.  Do you guys know who I am?!  Do you know what I could do to this place?!"

    I turned to the rest of the crowed like a character addresses an audience in a Shakespearean play: "Does anybody know who this guy is?"  People started laughing.


    "Seriously, does anybody know who this guy is?  I think he's lost.  Can somebody take him home?"

    I walked over the till, opened it, and threw enough money to refund his sandwich at him.  "Listen, sir, as much as I am curious about your wrath, I'm gonna have to get you to leave." 

    He just stared at me blankly.  Shocked that he had no pull, no effect.  I think the most devastating realization was that he wouldn't even get his sandwich after the wait.

    "Sir, that means leave.  Get lost.  Go."  Then I shoo'd him away with my hands like one shoo's a cat.

    Instead of a riot, I got applause. People love that shit.   


    I worked at the sandwich shop for 3 years.  There was only so far it could take me and make me feel satisfied though.  The fact that we didn't make our own meat really bothered me, and I couldn't help but feel ashamed when somebody asked me about it and I didn't know the answer.

    We had Montreal Smoked Meat on the menu.  We got it in, the briskets vacuum packed from a Montreal seller. We didn't do traditional sandwiches with it, and I would constantly tell customers that were expecting a real Montreal styled sandwich against getting it.  "There are vegetables and cheese and things in it.  You don't want it."

    I've worked at a couple of places that's done the whole Montreal smoked meat thing, and its been the same story.  Nobody makes it themselves in Ontario, it seems, except Caplansky's.  

    Despite that, everyone loves the stuff.  Craves it on and off like a pregnant woman.  You know, there's nothing else in the world like it.  My friend and kitchen manager, Tim, and I were talking about it.  He's tried doing some Montreal smoked meat in the past, and he's been toying around with a recipe.  We fantasized about serving sandwiches with homemade Kosher pickles, fresh house baked rye bread, hand-mixed mustard, and of course our own smoked meat.  These are the sorts of conversations cooks tend to have, but we decided to make it a reality. Over the last couple of weeks we've put the gears into motion.

    We ran it as a special last week, and are going to again tonight.  Customer response last week was incredible.  Customers bought multiples of them, one of the servers got a phone number of a customer who wanted us to call him next time we did it. Another said he was a raised Montrealer and that ours was the best he'd had in his life.

    The morning Tim put the finishing touches on it he sent me this picture.  I was aroused in ways I couldn't express without describing my erection.

    My partner baked the rye bread and I made the mustard and pickles.

    None of this rotary slicer bullshit.  I cut that shit by hand.


    I see, maybe in the future, a deli run by me and my friends.  Maybe we'll get Sam back on the horse, and I'll get back into the groove, strong-arming customers, and selling the best meat on the block.

    Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Tuesday Tao

    Kitchen lunatic,
    born poor and giving the rest as alms
    amongst white clouds.

    Known to clerks
    by my synecdoche
    Ham Sandwich.

    I mumble, to and fro.
    Ride the bus to and from work
    like white rapids.

    No good apartment view
    but its a cave, no less.

    I have knives and memories.
    Gory lines and Gorrie Line.

    Sawing bread, Mark cut
    clean through his nail, into his flesh.
    Awesome, I said.  He smiled
    knowing I approved his wound:

    Its wide, red crescent
    a moon in August
    on cool, cloud-less night.

    I give little on a Tuesday morning
    but I pretend to be a poet from the T'ang.
    In this way I order the dirt on the floor,

    the leaves on the ground,
    the Tao in my heart.

    Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Save point


    We inherit our notions of purpose, meaning, and transcendence from our time and place.  Small and big histories twined together by the overlapping threads of love, death, work, solitude and togetherness make up who we are.  There is no way of making a clean equation for it.  Its debatable whether or not the self exists, and if it does what, at its nakedness, its comprised of.  I've found it useful to examine tiny intersections of life, the clasps - to fumble around, run my fingers over them, and try to see what lies underneath them, like a bra strap.


    The old journal or diary is an object of literary fascination that I'd like to focus on.  The discovery of an old diary or travel journal is the trigger for many adventures.  The offer us rumor of a treasure, or some question unanswered, or evidence of a life grander or different then one the reader imagined. 

    A blank book is useful for clandestine deposits because it does not interact with the world in the same way that a human confidant does.  You can relay a journey to it, devising artifice however you would like without it telling you its own story and how its similar but better than your own.  A book seldom gets drunk and spills its words out to a group of talkative imbeciles.  Until found, a book will not give up the location of all the money you stole from the Federal Reserve because it sees it to be in its own benefit.


    A diary entry is always in medias res.  They can be difficult to decipher because they rely on you having some knowledge about the author, their circumstances, and their world.  Until the act of criticism and interpretation, the entry itself is static.  A static glimpse of a world and soul in motion.  In fact, a journal can be seen as a mollusk shell or a snake skin left behind.  The thoughts or stories deposited belong to a creature that moved on from it: authors grow, change, renounce themselves, are born again, die.  Often, without some record, someone's whole life is eviscerated the moment they move on from it.  It might live on in the form of stories someone has told about it - but more often just stories about the person telling the story that the other person was somehow involved in.  Rarely are we allowed a glimpse at the beginning.  The story is seldom communicated to us from the beginning with any truth.  There are those that set out with the intention of telling the story from the beginning, but that is interpreted through the present of the story-teller.

    In a collection of works about a person the beginning is often the most ridiculous, and the hardest to take literally.  Take the Gospels of the New Testament for example.  I have the easiest time accepting the adult life of Jesus as plausible, give or take some miracles. Some dude said some things might garner some attention, but not before long raising the questions of "where did he come from? what was the meaning of his insights? why him and not Jim at the bar?"  In delving deep, past the scars, past the iterations, to the beginning - that's where story tellers make their money.  Observation requires a sort of integrity, a talent of reading the present - an accidental collision of ideas and things - but Virgin births require a different sort of talent.


    I learned to read from playing adventure focused video games.  Final Fantasy molded my Weltanschauung in the way that the Bible, Shakespeare, adventure novels, and Leave It To Beaver influenced generations past.  I could, and certainly will give some more time to this over my life.  What I wish to say here is that I've gleaned a little thought from those Super Nintendo-era RPGs.  In these old games there are a few ways that you could save your progress, so that in the event of untimely death, or needing to turn the game off to sleep for 14 hours after a 28 hour marathon, you could return to that spot in your journey. 

    In the Final Fantasy series save points are portrayed as glimmering vaguely-metaphysical symbols of emanations of light that when the heroes come into contact with they are offered the option to record their existential finger prints.  Inherent in their world there is a force that allows them to undo the present and return to a recorded state of the past.  There is no reason for it beside it is a useful game mechanic.  No lore associated with these mystical save points.  Its just the way the universe operates, because the universe is a game and doesn't pretend to be anything else.

    Other game series added a religious dimension to saving, implying some kind of salvation play on saving your progress.  The way you threaded your memory into the universe was pray to some statue of a god, or even talk with the god itself, and have them make a record of your progress. An eternal soul, registered with an eternal deity, and no need of external validation.

    One of my favourite save devices is the type-writer from the Resident Evil games.  Resident Evil even challenges you to find type-writer ribbon making it so your memory and future progress can only be procured through a limited single-use object.  This mimics the game-mechanics of reality most closely.  Your memory exists in hard-copy, only with the time and available resources.

    Finally, you can always save your progress by telling a friend.  More transient, difficult to draw meaning out of, but fulfilling by far than any of the alternatives.


    The similarities between the American road narrative and the Japanese adventure game will almost certainly come up again in my thoughts.  But I want to put this down, and I would like to stop writing, so I will be brief.  Through literature, video games, music, and of course, blogs, I am meditating on transmitting memory of self beyond self with objects.  A classic country music motif: remember me.

    Monday, 2 September 2013

    St. Jacob's Market Fire


    My Ukrainian cab driver and I chatted about business impacts after the so-called "storm of the century" the other month.  He had heavy cheeks and smelled like ten thousand cigarettes, and his chin's tendency toward the floor imparted a particularly somber appearance to his face.  "We have saying," on the subject of the natural world, "three things cannot be of our control: work, weather and women."  I chuckled for show, politeness, to say no, I've definitely never heard that before.

    He continued: "All my life, these things I have heard.  I was married for 15 years, and whole time everyone around me collapse into divorce.  They tell me your time it is on its way.  I say: no, not me.  Then, one day, it happens.  My wife, she leaves me and I am here alone in this miserable world."

    We pulled into the parking lot of my restaurant.

    "Sorry to hear that," I said, pushing open the passenger door.

    "My friend, what I am saying to you is this: I said to the world 'no, not me.'  I had need of humility.  If you say 'no, not me' then you will be humbled too."

    "Thanks for the ride."  I tipped him a dollar fifty on a $13.50 fare.


    This morning, sometime after breakfast but before cleaning up, I received a text message from my General Manager. "I'm so sorry to hear about the market... How is (farmer friend)?  Do you know if he is going to lose any selling days?  Let me know if there is anything we can do to help."

    The message seemed cryptic to me, nonsensical but it augured poorly.  I told my partner about it, and she did a quick Google search.  News headlines read "Huge fire guts St. Jacobs Farmers' Market in Waterloo, Ont."

    Frankly, I am in shock.  There are more uncertainties than certainties right now.  I'm unsure about future employment, although less concerned about that than I am about all of the people that this will undoubtedly affect.  Short term practical questions emerge, like "am I going to market on Thursday?" but the larger, more frightening questions loom.  Assuming we don't lose any market days, will the destruction of the main building damage business enough as to really fuck up sales between now and Christmas?  We are fortunate to have the support of many great regular customers, and I bet they will continue coming, but is that enough? 

    I get cross with customers that try to nickle and dime us at our stand. The ones that ask "Can I take 3 for $2?" on items where that pricing doesn't make any sense.  Or the classic: "Knock $5 off of the price."  No sir, and go fuck yourself.  It isn't just random vitriol.  Questions like that just emphasize how little people know about the production of food. 

    Consider your shitty home garden.  You've planted your seeds, put a bit of work into it, and had no results.  Your broccoli is bug food, you got 6 green beans all year, and your peppers are the size of peanuts.  One of the biggest problems with your garden is that you don't know what you are doing.  You don't have the time or labor to keep your fields cleared, keep the plants properly tended to.  If you have a green thumb you are more inclined to be sympathetic to the amount of work goes into growing vegetables.  You may have produced enough produce to be feed your family from your garden while the season lasts.

    Scale the whole thing up.  Farmers grow quality food in quantity.  The farmer themselves work a minimum of 70 hours a week between April and December.  Between tending to their crops, communicating with other growers, going to auction, organizing their truck for market, going to market, organizing back at home, fixing what needs to be fixed and dealing with their own labour concerns, there is almost always a surplus of difficult work that needs to be done.  The more crops you add to the equation the greater the complexity of the operation.  Now you need auxiliary growers, you need skilled pickers, you need people to help with your market stall.

    We are past the age of serfdom, so assume that all of the people in the above paragraph are making a reasonable wage.  The overhead of land, seed, equipment, labour, and market need to be covered before the farmer can even consider paying themselves.  Bad year?  Crop failure?  That doesn't mean all of that stuff wasn't paid for already.  Some dumbass gets California grown grocery store rejects from the Toronto Food Terminal and sells them for less than half your price down the aisle from you, lying and saying that its local and whatever else people want to hear, completely disturbing sales from some key item?  Maybe its just a bad day and you don't sell all of the fresh but perishable food you brought to market?

    So now you want to "get deals."  Great.  Go bother a stall that doesn't have to survive winter on the strength of half a year's sales. 

    What I'm trying to say, and maybe strayed from the point, is that I'm upset about the loss of the market building.  Whether you see it or not, there is a lot of hard work that goes into the food and artistry that you see sold there.  There are a lot of people that rely on that place for their livelihood, and a lot of people that rely on those people.   This happened at a terrible and critical time in the season and I just hope everyone can make ends meet.