I could’ve remained in my home town working retail or attempting to sell life insurance to the cynical middle class. On the other hand, I could’ve returned to Costa Rica with the intent of teaching English to young Ticos. Yet, neither of those options seemed to satisfy both mydriving ambition and the need for new experiences. Thus, instead, I decided to move to Auburn, Alabama, finding a part-time job as a cook in a large, sports-themed restaurant; that is, while studying the LSAT to gain acceptance into law school for the followingautumn.
Needless to say, the kitchen was, in fact, an entirely new experience. The previous three years of my life had been spent crunching out19 hour semesters of undergraduate coursework while working weekends cashiering at a reputable, local grocery (when I wasn’t tutoring students in Spanish).
The text-laden arena of theoretical workings and rhetorical argumentation quickly shifted into purely kinesthetic labor. No longer was I worried about looming deadlines of research papers and projects; now, the flaming roar of the grill and steaming hiss of the fryers seized my attention.For six hours a day (from 4 p.m until closing), I surrendered my body, words, and intentions to the demands of the restaurant and, more specifically, my overseer Shae.
Since high school, I’d dealt with a hodgepodge of bosses/superiors. Some were entirely detached, while others treated their careers as the be-all-end-all’s of their respective existences. Shae, however, was the model balance between the two, possessing both a stern externality with a compassionately definedinner-character.
Throughout the initial few days of my training, Shae was accommodating and understanding, but once this grace period had passed, he held me accountable to the extent of all other veteran cooks.Roughly a month into my new employment, he cursed me into submission then reported me to the head manager after I’d inadvertentlyallowed a party-size order of buffalo wings to stick together and burn over. However, while my car was being repaired in the shop the following week, he graciously drove out of his way to ensure that I wouldreturn to my apartment once we had closed “the back of the house” (i.e. the kitchen).
Besides Shae, I was the only white employee working in the back. Corey, Emmerit, Brayton, and Bo comprised the “boys club” of veteran cooks. I, at the age of 22, was the youngest by an averagemargin of 14 years.
Accordingly, I was exposed to an environment of which I had little-to-no previous experience. Anger-fueled sarcasm intertwined with vulgarities of the most potent tier quickly subsumed the conscientious verbal interplay I’d found within academia. Before entering college, I had to learn to both speak and present myself eloquently. Now, doing so was perceived as weakness and could result in becoming the “baby bitch” of the kitchen.
Thus, I did what any sensible novice would do in such a situation: I assimilated…rather successfully. With time, I sang along to the lyrics of various N.W.A. songs while approaching my tasks with a grizzled, manly countenance.
Eventually, I felt so at home that I disregarded studying for the LSAT and felt content enough remaining in Auburn. However, my quick adaption to cook functions coupled with anattitude of brazen confidence and security ultimately led to susceptibility. I had caught the attention of Bo, or as he would say, I had “hit a nerve.”
Two months into my newfound career as a cook, the two of us finally “broke loose.” While I was prepping the Panini station, Bo took it upon himself to grab both the breading and pallet of sauces to prepare himself a Cuban/Philly hybrid. Not only was Bo eating on the job, he was inhibiting me from closing my area and returning home to see my girlfriend who was in town only for the weekend.
Ruffled virility and impatience led to verbal confrontation which, in turn, degenerated into an 11:20 fist-fight with cameras surrounding us from all angles. Bo struck first, connecting a solid jab on my temple before rendering a mouse below my left eye. All I could do was cover my face until Charlie the bar manager raced over and separated us. We were both terminated the following morning.
“Baby, maybe you should’ve just headed straight to law school and not wasted your time out here,” Karla whispered as she hugged me goodbye. Within half a minute, she was back on the road heading to Gainesville.
She was right. I should’ve headed to law school while I still had the academic drive to do so. Ultimately, I took my LSAT a year later but performed very poorly. Despite my chiseled undergraduate resume, no reputable institute would admit me. Now, I bartend in downtown Auburn, regretting my decision to do something “different.” Doing so was my life’s turning point.