He let the blade glide across the honing wand without looking. It was mostly for ceremony any way, so everyone in the room would know he was about to get to work, it was a way to put off the task. He knew that the knife would already either be sharp enough or it wouldn’t. It was a large knife, compared to his other tools. He hadn’t done this often but, enough to know that size would matter here.

He pressed the metal in on the bottom of the neck and slid it back slowly. The flesh split open easily as the blade sank in and came to rest on the bone. He always felt it would be faster to push on here, but it wasn’t the way. He withdrew his knife and set it on the steel table. Using both hands he rolled it over and ran his hand down the side of the glistening skin. Picking his knife back up he lined it up so the two cuts would me and began again. This time when he reached that same bone he put his other hand on the back of the blade for leverage and pushed hard once. There was a brief grinding noise as the knife wedged between the vertebrae, separating them. There was a crunch as it drove home severing the spine and passing through the other side.

He had once seen someone else, more skilled than he perform the rest without removing the head first. That wasn’t the way for him. The rest would be easier with it gone. Easier for him anyway. He moved his free hand along the inside of the body cavity. The viscera and organs had been removed by someone else, someone far removed from him. He had done the task handful of times as a child, under his father’s instructions. He supposed he could still manage it if he had too, but was grateful that the distasteful task didn’t fall on his shoulders these days. He pulled open the flap of skin and placed the point of his blade inside. He still remembered the wisdom imparted to him when he was first learning the task, “Find the backbone and stay there.”

He found the backbone.

As his knife slid along the top of the spine, farther into the flesh, he grabbed the lower half of the body in readiness. The tip of the knife began to protrude from the other side and he shifted his grip on the implement so that he could put his weight behind the next action. He inhaled and pushed forward, sawing the blade back and forth. Crick, tack, clack, click, the lesser bones were sheared off as the blade traveled along the spine. He lurched forward, and wrenched his wrist. as the knife came free at the top where the head should have been. He changed positions and cut down the lower half of the backbone. The side was off and he slid it down and out of the way, and rolled what was left of the carcass over.

Crick, tack, clack, click, the process repeated itself. Soon he held the gore covered spine in his hand, a momentary trophy for his efforts. He lay the knife down and shook the cramp out of his wrist, as he absentmindedly dropped the prize into the waiting bin. He wriggled his fingers unconsciously and then reached for the needle nose pliers. They were new, only having been used for about a week, and were still stiff and awkward to use. He rub his hand lightly along the newly exposed interior flesh, searching for tiny, sharp little bumps, as he found them he dug in with the pliers to grasp the remnants of bone, and extract them, one by one. It was tedious and he had to do this for each of the two halves of what now remained of the subject. He always meant to count them as he pulled each bone free, but somehow it never seemed to matter enough while he was at his duty.

He ran his blade along the sides of each of halves, trimming off  undesirable product. Then, starting at the base, angling the knife down slightly, he cut the thick outer skin away from the softer pink flesh of interior. The skin came free easily in one piece, with barely any meat left dangling from it. He held it up and admired it’s scaled surface for a moment before dropping it into the waste to join the head and spine.

Laying the side flat he straightened the now cleaned flesh and began to carefully slice it into fillets, taking time to weigh each to check his precision. Once done he wrapped the portions in plastic for the service tonight. Twelve in all, not bad, and four still from the night before. He cleared the steel table off and washed it down. As he was drying it off he wondered how many that came tonight would acknowledge or, even know that their meal was once part of a whole thing.

He doubted most of them would care.

Professional Discourse

This week I am once again participating in Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge. This time he has asked for us to write as profanely as possible. Well that’s not exactly what he asked for but that’s what he’s getting from me. Sufficed to say some people may wish to read something else.

Continue reading

A Cynical Cook’s View of Valentine’s Day

Ah, valentines day. A truly special and unique event for many. A day for the celebration of the affections we feel that special someone. No one knows what a bunch of hooey that is like the men and women of the service industry. I have, in some way or other, been a member of this select group for close to half of my life, and let me tell you nothing says cynicism like a forty-year old line cook.

Just like Christmas, Valentines Day is a big deal because it is a day of consumer spending. The retail industry has a pretty good strangle hold on your wallet for both events but, about thirty-five percent of you suckers are going to try to buy your way into someone else’s pants with nice dinner on February 14th.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you’re in this for that whole romantic love thing, that’d sure go a long way explaining the Trojan you got tucked away in your wallet there Sonny Jim. You shouldn’t feel bad about it, just be honest with yourself, after all most people, about 85% of men and women, are expecting to get some on the big day; I mean you might want wait til dinner’s over to approach the subject, but chances are if she’s agreed to go out with you half the work is done for you already.

All in all I guess my Valentines Day isn’t going to be much different then yours.

I got this really hot date.

With twenty burners at probably close to 28,000 BTU’s each, this little hottie will be ready to put out put out. I swear that’ll be the second to the last time I make a sexual reference towards a stove, or any other kitchen implement.

She may not look like much to you but put her in something pink and we're good to go.

She may not look like much to you but, put her in something pink and we’re good to go.

The advantage of my companion for the evening is that she’s easy to turn on and won’t break up with me if I don’t get her a gift. A fun fact is, 53% of women say that they’ll end a relationship if they don’t get anything for Valentines day. Something tells me that they don’t mean one of those boxes of the little hearts made of some chalk like substance, so you did the right thing by taking her out.

It might as well say "Poor Planning" or "Lonely Night"

It might as well say “Poor Planning” or “Lonely Night”

I’m looking forward to a fantastic dinner for two…

And then two more, and then two more, and then… I can keep this up all night. Come Valentine’s Day I’m going to have to because we’re hoping to turn a table in about forty-five minutes or so, and we have a lot of tables to get to. So it’d be nice if y’all could make a decision, limit the special, orders and not run your wait staff around all night.

Alright people lets move it out of the damned window, I got a couple dozen of these romantic dinners backed up and waiting to be plated.

Alright people lets move it out of the damned window, I got a couple dozen of these romantic dinners backed up and waiting to be plated.

As a word of advice, let her order first and pay attention. If she asks for light garlic for her Caesar salad you best not ask for extra onions with your meal if you want the night to end on a high note. Also if she orders the filet mignon or the sea bass, don’t go ordering a margarita pizza or the crab cakes appetizer for yourself to bring the amount check down. The damage has already been done and it only makes you look cheap.

I’ll be spending time with my significant other(s)


These guys are special. They’re so special I want to buy them helmets.

I’ve been spending this holiday the same way, and largely with the same people for a good number of years now. Seriously, that level of commitment is a hard thing to find in a relationship. Maybe you’re looking at this day as the beginning of a great and lasting relationship. Facts are facts however, and a lifetime of personal observations, taught me that chances are the person you’re stepping out on the town this year, you will not be speaking with next year. In fact , there is evidence that relationships may be over twice as likely to end in the weeks surrounding Valentine’s Day, so you’re lucky you made it this far.

The sad part is I spend more time with the other cooks than I do with my actual family, you know the woman with whom I fell in love with and am raising a child with. I am fortunate that my wife is also a veteran of the restaurant industry. This means that by and large she has been so jaded by all these hallmark holidays that she really doesn’t expect too much in the way of romance just because the calendar has ticked over again. In fact I once arranged, with great difficulty, to have an actual Valentine’s Day off early in our relationship. Well to be honest I still had to work the lunch shift and then stay and prep the dessert special for the dinner shift, but that’s not the point.

The point is, her reaction was to simply ask me why I bothered, and we then proceed to spend the day doing absolutely nothing important.

That’s when I knew it was love.

Image Credit: Candy Hearts: Let's Kiss by Brent Moore CC BY-NC 2.0
              All other images taken by the author

I made reference of some statistics so here are the sources for what insignificant, lazy, half-assed, amount, of what might pass for factual research I did for this article:
          Valentine's Day, by the numbers, by Belle Reynoso,, 2013
          Valentines Day Statistics, Statistics, 2013
          Stats Show Valentine's Day is Bad for Your Relationship, by Amelia                                     Wasserman,, 2011
This article was written in response to a Weekly Challenge.

Slight Return

This is a continuation of Fall, which is a memoir.

The manager of the restaurant I worked at before my accident is sitting across from me in an old church pew, cut down and re-purposed as a dining booth; I want to smack the smug look off this entitled prick’s face. I can’t because I am basically interviewing to get my old job back.  He studies the scrawled note clearing me for work; it’s four lines long but he acts like he’s reading a freaking novel. He casually tosses the note off to his right, right and explains how he is concerned about my knee “blowing out” while I’m working and that the other guys have “stepped up their game” since I’ve been gone. I know this is bullshit, ,if these guys were capable of stepping up enough to replace me even after four months of practice we would not be having this conversation.

“I got you, and don’t worry the bone’s knitted back together already, I’m pretty sure that can’t happen.” I unthinkingly run my hand along my right thigh, that leg is still half the size of the left. I know it’s not going to re-break, but I don’t tell him about my uncertainty about how long I can stand on it before the muscles and tendons give out, and my knee buckles from fatigue. “I just don’t have full flexibility back yet, so I shouldn’t work the line right away. I’ll need to start back on pizzas or the salad station.”I’m not trying to knock anyone out of position; besides it’ll be a while before I am able to work enough for that to even be issue.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking man.” he says, all I can think about is how likely it would be that he’d be my boss if he wasn’t the son of one of the owners. “Cool bro, tell you what, check back next Wednesday. I’ll see where I can fit you on the schedule.”

I’m pretty sure there is a special fate in store for people who use the word Bro, if there isn’t we should make one up.

I leave through the empty kitchen, the cooks won’t be in for another hour. They’ve got the busiest weekend of the year coming up and he’s trying to play it cool like he can do it without me. It’s possible, but I know that my career longevity to date has been based on ensuring that the job sucks just sightly more without me there than it does with me.

Later, that night I track down Danny, the sous-chef, at the bar down the street after his shift. Through a haze of smoke, cheap beer and shitty bands I manage to confirm that my replacements haven’t quite matured the way needed to me and adding to the staff a quite likeable, but functionally illiterate hill billy has not improved things in my absence. I leave the bar dunk and self-satisfied.

The week crawls by and I show up for my first shift back, an insulting short waste of one, but I’ll take what I can get. Chef is sitting out back playing some idiotic game when I roll up.

“Welcome back, you drinking again?” Since most people haven’t bothered to visit me they’ve had to rely on social media to keep track of my life. I haven’t made a public matter of my slip back into the world of my vices yet.

“Yep, cigarettes too.”

“Thank God.” He breathes, clicking off his iPhone. He’d make hell of a support group sponsor; good thing I’m not looking to join one.

“Hey Doug!” Luke yells as I walk in the back door. They promoted him out of the pit and onto the oven in my absence, not sure on what merit; kids basically a snot nosed turd with delusions of wit. “How was your vacation?” I’m fairly certain he thinks that shit eating grin on his face make him look clever.

“Tell you what, I’ll go ahead and break your knee. Then, I’ll drop a three-year old off at your house and you can tell me how much of a vacation it is, asshole.” So this is how we’re gonna start it off. Fine we’ll play it hard.

I spend the two and a half hours allotted to my schedule doing menial prep work, verbally sparring with my coworkers who missed how good I am at it, and telling these guys, who’ve obviously stepped it up oh so much, what they were forgetting to do; what with us planning on doing tens of thousands of dollars in business this weekend and all. As I’m wrapping everything up we’re looking good going into tomorrow.

The manager comes up and asks, “So you think you got your bearings back?”

What an ass bag. “I broke my knee, not my skull. I could do this type of work with on arm.” It’s true, I once worked the grill with my arm in a sling for more than a week. “I could have done it from home, except it’s not legal.”

He laughs nervously and I clock out. I return to the comfort of my front stoop where I ice both my knee and several glasses of scotch and water. Tomorrow starts the main event and I need to make sure I’m properly hung over for it.

In a sick, sad way, it feels good to be back.

Sometimes Things Go Well

About a week ago I wrote a post, about how I managed to lose one of the bags off the back of my bicycle while on my commute into town. There wasn’t anything of much importance in it; my bike tools and work shoes were in the pack that was on the other side of the rack. It did mean that I had to purchase a new lock and cable and reconfigure my gear a bit; nothing heart wrenching but, it was a bit annoying and it has made running errands slightly harder on the bike as my carrying capacity has been reduced. To be honest I hadn’t given it much thought since I wrote about it.

Until today.

I was going through the motions of opening the kitchen where I work, getting my ducks in a row. It was going to be another one of those rare nights that they decided to trust me enough to run the line. Everything was going semi-normal, I have yet another wicked head cold which is my lot in life since I am the father of child attending public elementary school and work in a restaurant full-time. Fortunately there weren’t any really large parties, but the book had a few reservations to deal with. Shortly after the rest of the kitchen staff had shown up and got settled into their daily paces. The owner came bursting in through the saloon style doors calling out, “Doug someone dropped this off for you.” He was holding up…


My lost pannier returned by an anonymous stranger, who had located me by an errant pay stub crammed into its recesses giving the address of the restaurant where I worked. Everything was intact; the lock and cable, my brown long-sleeved shirt, ibuprofen, even the granola bar I had intended for a post ride snack the day I had lost it. The one of clips where it attaches to the cargo rack is still obviously in need of another adjustment to keep it from falling off again, but it’ll do.

Every once in a while something happens to let you know that not everyone in the world sucks. It is especially nice to be reminded of the kindness of strangers about an hour before you have to run a busy dinner shift with a rather debilitating head cold.

How Did This Become My Problem?

The prep crew at the restaurant, who happen to be twin brothers, have to go out-of-town for a family emergency. This leaves it up to me, the reliable one, to get up at dawn and cover their shifts for the next several days. I have no problems doing this because, despite the numerous remarks I have made speculating about their intelligence, their abilities, their parentage, and even their species,  they are decent guys who have always been there when needed and have little complaints about performing their menial, yet very necessary tasks.

It occurred to me a little over a week ago that I agreed to do this after only briefly speaking to one of the owners about it and that it might be a good idea to speak with the GM about scheduling for while they were going to be gone, just to be sure I knew what I was looking at having to do. It was apparently the first that he had heard of this and was pretty pissed. I told him that maybe he should speak with his father, the owner, and he blew it off giving the excuse that they never saw one another.

So I take it upon myself to spend the next several days running around and getting the proper information from the owner and the prep guys, so that, on the day that the GM writes the schedule for the week, I manage to get him written details about what days I need to be there during the morning and offer to work a few doubles and short shifts for dinner service if that would help out. He just scowls and ignores me, and I just go and start setting up for the night’s service.

A few moments later his assistant comes marching back to the kitchen with the schedule in hand and demands to know what the guys are doing that they need all this time off. He seems suddenly embarrassed when I deflate his righteous anger and tell him quite calmly, “They are going out-of-state for their dad’s memorial service.”

Quite frankly who gives a shit why they want the time off, these guys spend most of their time at the beck and call of the restaurant and haven’t asked for any significant time off in eight freaking years! I know how long it’s been because the last time they went out-of-town it was for their brother’s wedding and I covered their shifts then as well. That doesn’t matter because why the hell can’t they take off for a few days without it being some major life event for their family.

And how did it become my problem that you not only keep your schedule so tight that you have come to rely on these guys so much that it becomes a hassle when you can’t work it out for them to take care of their personal business, or that the various levels of management opt not to communicate enough that they can’t figure this crap out on their own?