[Above artwork by Tsuruko Yamakazi]
toward the beginning of my employment i observed a slew of abuses dealt from the head chef to front and back-of-the-house workers. a particularly violent episode of masculine display when he stormed past the grill and plowed into a kid he was mentoring—“tough love” people’d praise it. you know, when you see guys just frontally smashed into each other talking shit and spitting into each others faces. but he was a terrifying figure, and imposing in physicality - sort of an alive hermes statue - making it all the more pressing. a strong presence that dictated, overpowered, and brought fear to everybody in the room. i can’t count the times i stood at the counter while he was howling at the cooks 5 feet behind me - raging, reverberating - and the people ordering food stared at me stupefied and pitying; or the time a woman approached me asking what was gluten free and pepper free (you see, she has this allergy), and he unapologetically said “Nothing” but of course not to her face, and refused to accommodate. she heard none of this, this delicate, kind, older woman, who told me, the mediator between the two, that she had just gone to the doctor and she had ________ condition, and all the specific details. i concocted some menu alteration for her and brought it to her, and when i returned, he and the other male chefs were laughing saying,”None of these people have allergies. But even if she does, it’s survival of the fittest in my opinion. If you can’t handle certain shit then oops, you should die off.” they had consensus but then looked to me after a few laughs, vying for my thoughts. did that make them assholes? they wanted to know. i told them. and they said, “well that’s what makes us good at our jobs.” the image of the woman was in my mind. when, unbeknownst to any of them, she had pulled up her red shirt to show me what she had to find a doctor for—rashes from her digestive tract breaking through to the surface of her skin. seeing this, hearing them.
one day, in the craze of a sunday brunch, the chef demanded from a significant distance that i do something, reprimanding me. i walked over to his table in the kitchen with a straight face and a fucking righteous indignation and simply retorted that if he wanted it done perhaps he should do it himself. he lashed back with all the rage he ever had but with the only thing he could think to say: don’t you dare talk to me like that. it was a standoff in front of everyone in the kitchen, it was the climax of something intolerable. and wielding his power, he requested: “See me in the office.”
i sat down across from him in this tiny room, which was like a time vacuum and filled with our charged, reciprocal electricity, and as the minutes unfolded it wasn’t even necessary for me to recite the list of things i’d observed. i was composed and beaming confidence, laying out the matter-of-fact that i simply won’t be spoken to like that, and that any time i am in the future i will respond just so; stating that we are equals, and a heap of other remarkably radical political shit [“talking back” (b hooks) to your “boss” with charm and fierceness, like there was never anything else, is remarkably radical political shit.] he made a grand display of his power by publicly demanding i go to the office, but once the doors were closed he was stammering and nodding, less able to form sentences that’d justify his entitled-ing all over the restaurant. the stoic man turned vulnerable and in agreement. and we walked out of that room with something stronger, something serious, and something more like love than we had walked into it with.
nothing close ever happened again.
tonight, during an incredible/ridiculous gathering marking the end of a chapter, i sat at a table full of coworkers who were bursting with affection for me, begging me (in their own ways) to unravel, lavishing me and each other with adoration. and by the end of the night, the stoic, tattooed chef was standing in a circle with a few of his mentees, crying. for all the generosity and gratitude they were piling on him. and during those moments, in our eye contact and in the particular instances he’d look to nonverbally connect on something just said, the gravity of his respect for me could not have been more palpable. the whole night was infused with our understanding and seriousness for one another. and one of the last things i said to him was: “Do you remember when we fought at brunch?” (sly smile) and as if we had been telepathically discussing this, or as if we talked about it every day, he said “I do” without skipping a beat. i walked away tonight glowing and thinking about what i had done that day; how, through doing, i had become known. and for how much i am torn about being a difficult person, how fucking brave i was to talk to someone in a way that not a single other person in the place would. how it changed the course of a relationship, of an atmosphere, and of his demeanor from that day forward.
and i’m so