Monday, May 26, 2014

Silence on the Couch

This happened a few years ago.

We're sitting on the couch watching Grey's Anatomy. There is me and then there is a girl who has come to visit for a bit. We are friends.

I haven't learned how to talk to people in normal conversation. I am awkward and in high school. I have one friend. She is sitting on the couch with me.

The episode of the show ends. It is a sad ending. I sit there for a moment and let the commercials roll and then turn off the TV. I look over at her and then toss the remote on the floor and stare at it. I have no idea what to say. There's nothing to talk about from the episode. We had a pretty full day together but there isn't anything I can think that'd be relevant to say. And I definitely don't want to say the wrong thing because that would make her think I was dumb and she is pretty much my only friend right now. I can't take the pressure.

The minutes tick by and I slink into the couch to get more comfortable. It feels nice to sit here and enjoy the emotions filling my head with my friend sitting next to me. It's good.

Then it goes on for a while. Twenty minutes pass. Neither one of us has spoken since the show ended. Should I say something? I remember something from an earlier conversation.


"I don't understand" she says.

"Remember that word association game we were playing a couple of weeks ago?" I explain.

"Oh" she answers

Back to silence.

I sit there feeling silly. The only thing I could think to say was a random word in twenty minutes. The problem is that with each passing minute, it ratchets up the expectations for what is said next. I'm totally out of ideas now though. I sit back and enjoy the silence.

Fifty minutes pass.

She gets up and goes to bed.

I also get up and go to bed. I'm left wondering if the silence was a special thing. Is the ability to sit quietly with someone for a long time good? Is it awkward? Does it reflect maturity? Does it mean that we are growing apart? I like the silence so much but it leaves me with too many questions. I go to bed.

This week I head down to the kitchen before bed. Amanda still needs to be tucked in before bed. I am checking on the exhaust fan. The fridge is open. One of my staff is inside. I ask her a question. We talk for a little bit. Then the talk ends. We share a moment of silence. Suddenly I feel an urge to fill it.

"Well I'm off to bed!" I blurt out.

I walk away and say good night. As I am walking my head is filled with questions. Should I have let it be silent and just waited longer. Did I need to make empty space? Was there something that could have gone on after? Should I have sat back and enjoyed the silence? The lack of silence leaves me with too many questions. I go to my room, tuck in Amanda and then head for bed.

Whether it's silence or a lack of silence, I'm filled with doubt. How do I do the right thing? What do my friends or my staff need from me when it comes to communication? How do I love my neighbour?

I am filled with questions.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Moment from This Week

"We should do something tonight" Amanda says.

I dread the exchange that will follow. Not every night. Some nights I have something in mind. I am too tired from work to do anything so TV is the best option. Some nights I want to empty my brain and she does too so we talk for a long time. Tonight things are different.

We are at camp and there are people around so if we turn on the TV, I feel like I am missing out on the social events happening all around me. I turn off an episode of West Wing in the middle of it because I feel anti-social. We let the cat outside and go to the porch to see who is outside. No one is. They're all inside either reading or watching TV. I am discouraged and so we just go back inside.

We sit around and Amanda runs me through the list of things.

"We could watch something" but we might miss out on some super great social event and then I'll be left with no friends.

"We could play a game" that sounds like so much work.

"We could snuggle" physical intimacy also sounds like so much work. I just want to sit here on the couch and browse the internet aimlessly so I don't have to think about anything. Bring the illusion of social behaviour directly to my lap which has no energy for anything.

I eventually work up the energy to suggest we head down to the dining hall and play games. Someone might be there and then we could maybe be social with them. We arrive and find that there are two people there but they're engaged in a serious conversation. We start playing Bananagrams on the other side. Amanda is cute when we play and so I am comforted and entertained as we play the simplest word game ever. I forget about all of the lack of energy while we are playing.

Then I remember that the people we were looking for down here when the game ends and so we leave and head back up to our apartment. On the way up I remember that I was going to lead evening prayer tonight. We started in last week but I haven't done it in a few days. It has been really good each time we've done it but I can't imagine trying to round up people and sheets and leading the service. I'll do it tomorrow maybe. Why can't I follow through on things like this? Why am I such a quitter? We arrive back at the apartment. I tell Amanda that snuggling is probably the best thing right now. At least I won't have to hold my head up.

I'm not really sure how I get out of weeks like this. I think evening prayer would help, but the catch 22 of "no energy to run it, no energy because we don't do it" is a problem. I'll let you know how I did it once I get out. For now I'm going to use some of my crutches.

Wedding Planning

"Aw I love that, it's so cute! What do you think Ben?"

Uh oh, someone is asking me for my opinion again. I try to remember what it was we were talking about. I had started thinking back to a conversation I was having with someone at camp. I haven't decided what I'm going to do about it yet so I was using some of this time to think about it but now we're here talking about bridal flowers for the wedding celebration and I'm being asked for my opinion. I focus on what they are looking at. We are talking about different types of blue flowers for Amanda's wedding bouquet. The variety of colours appeal to me. I don't have any reason to protest. I compose myself.

"Yes that looks really nice!" I say with a smile on my face. It's true, the flowers look nice. I'm being genuine, but I am conflicted about the wedding planning process as a whole and Amanda can see it on my face as we go through the day making decisions about wedding plans.

Yesterday we spent the day meeting with the Florist and the venue and the photographer. Our venue is also handling our decorations, food, and some logistics and so that was a lot of decisions to make in one day.

We were well prepared for all of these meetings. After a two hour grilling by Amanda's parents, we became fully aware of all of the details we needed to cover the next day. I made a chart the way Amanda's dad showed me including events and needs and outcomes. It looked quite elegant. On the back I made action items and questions to ask our venue. Considering how scattered I am normally, I am pretty well organized for our day of questions.

After all the decisions we head to the store to finish filling our registry, another thing I am conflicted about. I am stubborn and argue with Amanda about each item she wants to add to the list. I am stingy. She is excited. Buzzkill is an appropriate title for me in this context.

On the way home, I stop to have a drink with a friend in Westport. I ask him about his life and then he turns around and asks me about wedding planning. He asks me what I think.

"The truth is I don't really want to do it. I'm not excited about it. But I know how much it means to some people in the family and I know how excited Amanda is about it and so I go along like I should. I'm putting aside my feelings about the whole exercise for now because of how others feel."

Planning a wedding is a complicated business but I know one thing is simple. At the end of it all, Amanda will be happy. That gives me the energy and excitement to care about flower arrangements when I normally don't.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Bathroom

Ok so I promised an explanation of the bathroom thing. Even though there isn't one specific story, I can explain how it started.

When I moved into a large apartment in my last year of university, I noted that it had one and two half bathrooms (one was a full bathroom, one had a sink and toilet, one had a shower and sink). At first I made use of the main bathroom but about halfway through the year I started to clog up the bathroom with the excessive amount of time I would spend in there. I think I made Cait late for work one or two times. Wanting to fix the problem, I began using the bathroom which had only a shower. In the entire time we had lived there, no one had used it except for once when we had moved in.

As soon as I started using it, I stuffed a blanket and a pillow in the corner and began to take naps before I took showers.

This wasn't the first time I had done this though. This is something that had started much earlier. When I was in high school, I used to have to get up at 6:30 every morning. This was torture for teenage me. I would drag myself out of bed and head downstairs to the bathroom where I would turn the lights and the exhaust fan on and sit there until I could move enough to shower. One morning I was sitting and I decided to lay down. The roar of the fan was oddly soothing and I ended up falling asleep. My mom came down and banged on the door to get me to get ready for school on time. I had to get up then but the experience stayed with me.

A few months later my parents were away for the night. I had the house all to myself. I decided that I would try sleeping overnight in the bathroom. I jammed the exhaust fan on and brought in an air mattress. I had the best sleep ever.

After that, I started setting my alarm half an hour early (6!) and taking a nap before I got up to get in the shower. Nothing felt better than being curled up in a ball under the covers with the rushing of the fan sounding overhead. That moment of coziness before I fell asleep felt good enough that it was worth getting up early and getting strange looks from my family members.

And it has stuck with me. I haven't always had the appropriate bathroom in the places I've lived. One year the bathroom was too small. One didn't have a proper fan. I thought our apartment in Toronto would have both problems. Luckily it turned out to be just long enough and I have discovered that a humidifier fan makes the proper wooshing sound.

It's probably one of the weirder things about me, but that's ok. I still haven't found any other experience that matches the feeling of being in a blob under the covers in the bathroom.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Quality Control

I'm driving into work. It's my victory lap of high school. At the end of my first month of school, and amid some lazy job searches my mom got upset at me for not having a job. I can't remember if there was yelling or not. I opened up the paper after that conversation and found the first dish washing job I could. "Megalos" After dropping off my resume and sitting through an extremely informal interview, I was hired to work weekends.

I thought dish-washing would be like working at camp. At camp we worked in teams of six on piles and piles of dishes until they were done and then we would take a break. I was so unbelievably wrong. After my first shift, my legs ached for hours. It was two guys (if we were lucky) trying to keep up with the pace of pots and pans being dropped in the kitchen. You had to walk through the dish hallway into the main part of the kitchen. There was room for maybe two people to pass each other in the hallway. One side was the fridges, the other side was the sinks we used for scrubbing.
Then you got into the kitchen which wasn't much bigger. It took four steps to run its length and there was room for the overweight head chef on one side, a line cook on the other, and me in the middle screaming "hot, behind". Run over to the pile of pans, grab whatever was there and bring it back to the dish pit. Throw the pans in the sink and let them soak. Run over and start loading up a tray. Unload the dry dishes and put them away (sometimes in between a line cooks legs). Occasionally get yelled at to complete a random prep task if the cooks were behind. Get through the rush and things would slow down a bit. Once they did you got to eat (if anyone would cook for you) and then you had to clean up. When you cleaned up, the line cook who had to close was breathing down your neck the entire time trying to get you to finish so you could leave. If you were lucky you finished everything on time. If you were unlucky, they would jump in with a frown and help you plow through.

We always finished by sweeping and mopping. In the kitchen, the floor became a garbage can. Vegetables, grease, bags, food, whatever wasn't needed in cooking got tossed to the floor. Sweeping took some time to make sure you had gotten everything. Then you filled up the mop bucket and started the futile work of trying to clean off what was an eternally greasy tile floor. I covered everything, but with a line cook breathing down my neck I never felt like I spent a lot of time at it.

So like I said, I'm driving into work with a knot in my stomach. All 6 of the hours I am going to work are going to suck. I'm pretty good at my job but the stress cloud that hangs over the kitchen always makes me anxious. After I quit, I will continue to have recurring nightmares about working there for another three years. I am afraid of the head chef. He yells a lot and he is not a nice man. A few years later I will find out that he no longer works there (probably fired). I am happy for whoever else works there. The line cook who usually stands over my shoulder works much harder and is much more friendly. He's also a better cook.

When I get there, the head cook looks at me as I grab the washroom keys to complete the first part of my closing tasks. "Come with me" he says. Is this about the floor? I wonder. He said something about it the other night so I tried to do a better job. I ignored the anxious line cook trying to get me to finish quicker.

"The floor last night was unacceptable. After what I said to you yesterday, that felt like a slap in the face".

I am normally afraid of him but right now I want to reach across the table we are sitting at and punch him. What the fuck do you want me to do differently? You throw everything on the floor and then make me mop with hot water and not much else. How am I supposed to fix that? I compose the flash of rage that just went through my face and look at him with confidence for the first time in my time there.

"Look, I don't know what you want me to do. The floor is just too greasy to come clean without chemicals" I tell him.

"You must not be mopping it enough times then." he answers. He wants me to mop more than once? This is the first he's said.

"How many times do you mop it?" I ask. Maybe he'll say twice.

"Three times" he replies. What an overachiever. He's probably lying to me but I don't want to argue with him.

"Ok, I'll do that tonight" I reply.

I go back and complete my shift. I tell the line cook that I'm supposed to mop three times. He laughs and then goes to change so he can wait for me to finish. I mop three times.

The floor looks exactly the same.

The next day I ask the head chef how things were.

"Great!" he says with a smile on his face.

And that was the last time I ever spoke to him. The day he gave me the floor lecture was my second last day at work.

To this day I still wonder what his deal was.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Suprise Banana!

It's 5:10 AM. After a few fitful hours of sleep, I am awake and ready to head back to work in just under an hour. The last day has been crazy. Let me tell you a little bit about why.

I am back at camp, starting the Spring season off. It's lovely being up here. It's quieter, things are closer together, and there's more room to do things outside. I like Toronto, but it's nice to get out once in a while. We're in the middle of staff training right now and so I'm spending some time getting to know others, and running sessions to train the staff for what looks like a busy spring.

Right in the middle of all of this, we are having a retreat on camp. This works out rather well because we are training on the job with a very big and somewhat demanding group. There are 120 men here on a retreat. They spend some time in sessions together learning about stuff and then they come and eat and they spend the afternoon doing activities. I've heard that their sessions are kind of emotional.

So part of all of this is that we're feeding them really well. Dinner was hamburgers the first night and turkey the second. They seem happy about the food. We're getting lots of complements so I guess that's a good sign.

I had been off for a day. I had to make a run up to Toronto, and so yesterday was my first day of working (as opposed to training). I was scheduled to be in the kitchen.

When I arrived, I was greeted with the sight of prime rib roasts everywhere. Amanda (who is not a fan of raw meat) was overwhelmed. I was gleeful. I have developed a disturbing passion for meat. Now when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. Every single counter was filled with roasts in pans ready to go in the oven. You could not find a space to work. It made things a little challenging. I stacked some of them up and put some on a cart just so we could have a bit more space. We counted and there were 21 Prime Rib roasts in all. Each roast is 11-17 pounds each so that's something like 300 pounds of prime rib. A hilarious amount of meat.

In the course of our shift we were also making banana bread. With all of the meat floating around, it took some time to get it made and then we were having trouble finding an oven to put it in. Eventually we got it in, but we were cutting it close and it had to go in a conventional oven (as opposed to one of our fancy ovens).

Now the banana bread was supposed to go out as a snack. It was going to be delicious. But as the meal time got closer, it still hadn't been cut and served. The priority seemed to be the meat above all other things. It made me more and more nervous as we got closer and closer to the meal time. Were we going to have anything to serve but meat? Would the snack be ready?

We finally had a moment and so we started to work on the snack. We cut around the edges of the banana bread pans, turned them over, and then the bread promptly crumbled to bits. It was not going to slice nicely. What was I going to do?

My mind raced for a moment but I stood there in silence. I needed a moment to think. Then I realized that I wasn't communicating with anyone. I stopped thinking in my head and then started thinking out loud.

"we can't use this for snack, but maybe we could use it for a dessert"

Someone latched on to this idea and so we made a place. We would crumble the banana bread and then put some whipped cream on top and then a slice of banana followed by some chocolate sauce. I don't know what you would call it, but it sounded decent.

 Amanda started to work on that while I ran around in circles trying to get dinner started so we could get everything else done. I was a little worried the men wouldn't like it because it was an accidental dessert with little thought put into it but I didn't want to throw out all the banana bread. It would have to do for now.

Then we put dessert out and the men ate it all.

I guess our  quick substitute for dessert actually tasted pretty good because we had guys coming up for seconds and thirds of dessert. They ate almost all of the banana concoction that we had created. I was afraid there would be none left. When I sat down to eat for the first time at 8 PM, I noticed that there were still a few pieces left. After I ate my piece of cold prime rib and roasted potatoes, I indulged. It was delicious.

I should mess up snack more often if it's going to taste like that.