Sunday, December 31, 2006

Here's To It!

New Year’s Eve. Tradition has one posting either a thoughtful retrospective on the past year or a hopeful prophecy for the next twelve months. Am I too tired, too strung out, to bow to tradition?

First of all, like almost all of us who have attained the half-century mark or more, I am once again flabbergasted at how quickly the year has whizzed by. Especially the second half—since we signed the papers to become genuine, bona-fide members of the ranks of small business owners. Silly me! I thought that coming out of "retirement" and becoming an entrepreneur would somehow impede the march of time. As if filling the days with the myriad responsibilities of the corporate executive would weigh them down sufficiently to slow them, at least a little.

In fact, the opposite has happened. July First was…yesterday. Or at best, last week. Even though I’ve spent more than the recommended percentage of the last 4416 hours awake, frazzled, running my butt off, stuffing my brain with facts and figures, pulling old, moldy management techniques out of my ass, polishing them off and trying to see if they still work (the jury is still out on that…) You would think all that…all that insanity would have put some drag on the rush of time. But no. If anything, all those things have slammed their considerable bulk against the back bumper of the year and sent it bolting past more quickly than ever.

There have been years—1995…1999… and maybe all the years between and a couple beyond—when the best I could say for a year was that I had survived. I survived. December 31 came along and I was still breathing; sometimes, it seemed, unmercifully. But this year…this year has been hard. A real test. A bona fide, in your face, do or die challenge.


Not merely survived, but learned. And grown. And I’m not done yet.

This fifty-something matron, who as lately as twelve months ago, motivated by a sudden unnerving perception of her proximity to the great beyond, had embarked upon a search for spiritual reality… A superficial search that ended in frustration… This fifty-something matron can sit in her recliner, with circles under her eyes, feeling a bit like a helium balloon on the fourth or fifth day post-fill; defiantly typing in her New Years Eve 2006 blog entry:  I’m not done yet.

Isn’t that a gift?

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

...So Far This Week Part 2

And here is the rest of the story…

In an anti-climactic sort of way, 5:00 girl showed up (five minutes late) on Tuesday night. I’m not sure whether I dodged a bullet or just delayed the inevitable. It was kind of awkward, actually. I was fully prepared for the husband and me to close the restaurant alone. And, truth be told, we could have done so with no problems. It was actually an inconvenience and a waste of labor dollars for Ms. "I’m-Going-To-Quit-Any-Time-Now" to show up. Sigh!

We got out of there about ten seconds after pulling the chain on the "OPEN" sign. I went home and felt…nothing. Shell-shocked, maybe. Or perhaps I’m just getting used to having the crap beat out of me. I really wanted to be pissed…to be worried…to be something. But I was just too tired.

I went to bed and slept remarkably well. Which is an accomplishment in itself. Time was, employee debacles of this magnitude would have me up ‘til all hours fretting, rehashing and second-guessing myself. But somehow the sheer ridiculousness of this situation has led me to conclude that the problem can’t possibly be with me or anything I have done (except, perhaps, that my "panic hiring," of my first few months at the café was coming back to bite me in the ass…) So, knowing that I had two reliable employees opening in the morning, I slumbered like a baby. An exhausted, menopausal, hot-flashing baby… 

All I knew was that I didn’t have to open on Wednesday. That I didn’t have to work a fourteen-hour day. I felt like a sailor on liberty. I didn’t set the alarm. Woke up at my leisure. Had a couple cups of coffee and interacted with my poor neglected animals for a few hours before hauling myself to work (notice that I didn’t say I cleaned house…) I arrived at the café shortly before noon. Everything was ship-shape, prep had been finished, breaks had been taken, the place looked great. Wouldn’t have looked better if I had been there myself.

To condense a long-winded yarn, Wednesday was as good as Tuesday was bad. Business picked up to an almost-acceptable level. I set up interviews with three girls who had applied, returned, and dutifully checked up on their aps in the past week. And, unbelievably, a former employee—one who had quit in pique not too long into my tenure as owner (but had at least given notice…!)—came in and asked for her job back. A funny conversation, that. She: "This is humbling…but, I need a job." Me: "Are you kidding? Can you start, like, tomorrow?" And so she did.

A good friend of mine wrote in her blog the other day that her life was a game of "Chutes and Ladders." And I felt like I was right there with her.

At the moment, I’m at the top of one of those ladders…

My Week So Far

Monday—the best that can be said for it was that it was a day I didn’t have to work, and didn’t have to worry about what was going on at the café without me there. We shuttered the place and hied us hither to Eugene to spend the holiday with my family. Without nagging café issues to keep my mind spinning and my stomach churning, I was mostly comatose. The life of the party, I was not.

What I remember about the day is that I ate way too much, generally had some kind of alcoholic libation at my elbow, and didn’t engage in a whole lot of physical activity. Basically, I just sat and let the party(s) go on around me. But I didn’t fight with sister C, and I didn’t spend most of the day in tears…which puts Christmas 2006 head and shoulders above 2005’s version.

Tuesday—Back to the grind. And the grind mangled me pretty good. The day started crappy and just kept getting crappier. Cook no-showed, I had to drag myself out of bed two hours earlier than scheduled to subject myself to one of those infamous fourteen-hour days. Which turned out to be like watching paint dry, because business was terrible. If I have to be there from open to close, I at least need it to be busy enough to keep me awake. It wasn’t.

What did keep me awake was the drama surrounding the second employee no-show of the day. I manage to get a fourth person to come in to cover lunch (to make up for missing cook)—the good and faithful "D." Lunch sucks…it becomes obvious that I didn’t really need to pull "D" in on her day off. But my one other decent employee—"T"-- is feeling under the weather, so I send her home and "D" stays to finish out the lunch shift. To be relieved at 2:00 by "T2," who we know is going to be there because she just called a little bit ago to check on when she was supposed to work.

Two o’clock comes and goes…no "T2." "D" calls her house…no answer. Leaves a message on the machine. We wait, and twiddle our thumbs, and business is still abominable, so all there is for us to do is make up theories as to what has happened to "T2."Maybe she had to walk to work. Maybe she’s having a fight with her boyfriend. Maybe she got hit by a truck and is lying dead by the side of the road somewhere… At 2:45, I decide to call "T2" again.

This time, someone picks up the phone…and hangs up. I call back, and the line is busy. I assume the phone has now been taken off the hook to prevent further attempts to call or leave messages. I further assume that this indicates that "T2" has given her notice. Or not.

Business is so terrible that I send "D" home at 3:00, even though I will be alone until somebody else shows up. I know the husband will arrive some time before 5:00, and judging by the rest of the day, I don’t seem to be in danger of being swamped. And I will be spending the time on pins and needles anyway, because my 5:00 girl (who, by the way, called earlier to find out what time she worked) is also hanging by a thread. She has another job, I know she has another job, but she doesn’t know I know. Rumor has it that she is trying to decide whether to "just quit" or wait until the new job actually starts. So it would not be out of the realm of possibility for her to become the third no-show of the day. In fact, I am fully expecting it.

I spend the next two hours trying to figure out how I am going to fill a 180-hour-per week schedule with just myself and my two decent employees.

And I have run out of time for writing this morning, so I’ll have to finish this later...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Was It Merry?

Unbelievably, Christmas 2006 has passed into the annals. It came and went so fast that I didn’t even have a chance to eat its dust.

Things are going abominably at the café again. Last week was almost passable. 

We had a great little Christmas party (which I planned and provisioned in the space of about six hours…) and the week’s business was much better than I expected. Things seemed to be looking downright satisfactory as I locked the doors Sunday afternoon and prepared to take off for Eugene.

I should have known it couldn’t last. Not only was business in the crapper today, but I had two, count them—two employees no show/no call on me today. One of these I was fully expecting…and I was feeling pretty smug about calling it right. But the other one completely blindsided me.

I feel like a flat tire.

I’m going to sit down now and try to make up a new schedule that primarily consists of me.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Another Long Week

Yet another week has gone steadily downhill since the early hours of Monday last. 

Remembering those "Ten Good Things" lists I used to post, I feel so far from those lists… Even though I sometimes had a hard time coming up with those ten things every week, I don’t think I could come up with one for this week. Well, maybe one. I’m still alive. And my husband is still safely ensconced in his comfy chair to my left…that’s two. And there’s still a roof over my head, heat coming out of the vents, lights that spring to life when I turn a switch, food…well, certainly not here in the fridge. But I do have access to plenty of food, approximately 1.1 miles from my recliner.

Look at that…I’ve come up with six good things without even trying. But that wasn’t the point of this post. I wanted to whine J .

So, am I after coming up with a "Ten Bad Things" list? No, I guess not. But it does still seem, at times, as if life is out to get me.

Yesterday was the capper. I mashed my finger between a 75-pound meat slicer and the wall. Third finger, left hand. What saved my finger from being busted was my ring. My ring. Which is now hopelessly mangled.

I had to cut it off my swollen digit with a wire cutters. I worked the cutters between the back of my throbbing finger and the band of my ruined ring, squeezed and twisted until the chink of the blades meeting signaled the deed was done… And then I sobbed like a five-year-old.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Have Yourself A...

Okay…roller coaster is on the uphill track now.

I’m sorry. There are times when my naturally pessimistic nature and a lull in the action combine to drag me to the depths…

I’m coming up for air now. And not in a frantic, desperate, gasping rush to the surface, either. I’ve just filled my lungs, held my breath, and am waiting for the laws of nature to send me bobbing up into the realm of life and air and restoration. Those good ole laws of nature. Those unbreakable ordinances that keep us in our places.

I realized I wasn’t a salmon, and I had to quit trying to make like one. Quit struggling upstream…just stretch out and ride the current. Maybe even float backwards a little, because sometimes there’s no other way to go if you want to stay alive. You slow down, plan your next move and carry it out deliberately, instead of throwing everything but the kitchen sink out there in a frantic search for something that will work.

Yesterday I took a minute to think. And the thought that came to me was this: It’s Christmas, Mr. Scrooge. My favorite time of the year…which, with only the slightest of wounded sniffs, I was prepared to sacrifice to the Entrepreneurial gods. Well, the gods rejected my sacrifice. Blew the smoke right back in my face. So I guess I’m free to take my Christmas back. What kind of a stupid, ungrateful idiot would I be not to do exactly that?

So I ordered tickets to a performance of Handel’s Messiah (highlights, anyway…through which I will presumably be able to stay awake.) I printed up a "Secret Santa" sign-up sheet for my crew at the café. Between bizarre rushes at work, I’ve been stringing beads and snowflakes on fishing line to hang in the windows. And I cut my own hours (why was I trying to put in seventy hours a week during the holidays…?) so that I might actually be in possession of one or two of my wits by the time That Day arrives.

A Merry Christmas… Let’s have one, shall we?

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Holiday Story--Conclusion

I got a temporary reprieve from the bullshit onslaught on Saturday. Oh, wait…maybe not. When I arrived at work Saturday morning, I noted the absence of new cook, late of Monday morning hospital visit, but returned to work Friday, "good as new." "Where’s P?" I asked. "She had an issue…" I am told. About an hour into her shift Saturday morning, she clutched her side, turned white, and said she had to leave. Why was I not surprised? In fact, I was downright blasé about the whole thing. Business was slow, and I would have had to send someone home anyway. I figured her illness had done me a favor, in a backhanded sort of way…

Saturday was, fortunately enough, the day my family headed home…fortified by yet another meal at the café. (Hey…I own a restaurant. Why not take advantage of it?) The weather was clear, if a tad cold. With a gleam in my eye, I talked one of my crew into finishing my shift (I was supposed to close the kitchen) and dragged the husband home to help me hang our outside Christmas lights. Considering the way the weekend had been going, the thought crossed my mind that this was probably a risky move. Yet, unbelievably, we got those lights hung without either of us falling off a ladder or electrocuting ourselves. We suffered nothing worse than a few half-frozen fingers and toes. And the lights, though not as elaborate as in years past, are at least up. Honestly, I wasn’t sure we would get even that much of our personal holiday stuff done this year.

Sunday…was the icing on the cake. I was scheduled to work open to close. Minus new cook, whose ongoing medical issues have taken her out of the picture for at least the next week, I was now the only cook. Not a good situation on a Sunday morning if it should get busy. On top of this, my eight o’clock counter person arrived complaining that she was so sick that she didn’t know if she would make it through her shift. Sigh! I sent her home. Down two people now. So I prevailed upon the husband to come in and lend a hand. He can’t cook, but he can help out front, freeing my counter person to help out in the kitchen. Counter person who was begging me to let her leave early so that she could attend her family’s Thanksgiving celebration. Same counter person who had dropped the ball on Friday morning. And yet, I stand on my head to allow her to get out of there early. I am such a sweet, thoughtful boss. Or a horrible sap.

Exhausted, disheartened and a little shell-shocked, I struggle through the day on Sunday. And if something could go wrong, it did. The grill mysteriously extinguished itself…twice. My biscuits inexplicably cooked up raw in the middle. And husband and I have a major falling out over, of all things, banana bread. I get home Sunday night, husband and I are not speaking to each other, I am tripping over the fallout left behind by the invasion of my kin. Husband retreats to the family room to watch his "previously recorded" football game and I literally throw myself on my bedroom floor and sob. Actually, not so much sobs as wordless cries of frustration and fatigue. And then I scrape myself up, regroup, and apply myself to making some sense out of the mess. Nothing like an endless "to do" list to cut short even the most self-indulgent pity party.

And what about today? Are things better? Do I have an adequate number of employees left to allow me to open the doors? Do I have enough business to keep my employees from leaning against the counters with their thumbs up their…you-know-whats?

Well, all I can say is--it’s snowing…

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Holiday Story--Part 2

The day itself—Thanksgiving Day—was the one thing about the week that wasn’t a disaster. Assorted family arrived in good order, though they had to drive through some pretty soupy weather. Husband took over the cooking tasks; I gladly relinquished that responsibility. It was the most I could do to set up a wine bar and munchies in strategic places around the dining room. We had a tv to keep the men happy, a video game to keep the kids happy, and plenty of wine to keep us sisters happy.

Dinner was a delight. And holding that private family celebration at the restaurant seemed to seal the deal. A new, strong sense of ownership washed over me. At last it has become real: For better or for worse, this is MY restaurant. It felt amazing. For about twenty-four hours.

Determined to catch a breather from my 24/7 focus on the café, I scheduled myself to have Friday off. Judging from last year’s numbers, it was NOT going to be a busy day, so I figured I could trust my crew to hold the place together for a day while I indulged in our annual Day-After-Thanksgiving trip to what is billed as "The World’s Largest Christmas Bazaar" in North Portland. Every year, we spend five or six hours trundling Mom around in her wheelchair, oohing and aahing over the various sparklies and doo-dads, and spending more money than we should on things we don’t really need. A good time is had by all.

So, Friday morning, I get up at about 8:30 (unforgivably letting my houseful of guests fend for themselves until I am damned good and ready to roll out of bed.) I pour myself some coffee, watch a few minutes of tv… By 9:30, everyone is awake and hungry, and of course I have no food in the house, being as how I had not had time to actually shop for this event. I decide I will call in an order to the café and go pick it up…voila—a good free breakfast that I do not have to cook. Kind of a no-brainer, no?

I whip out the phone and call the restaurant. After two and a half rings, I get sent to voice mail. Ah, someone must be taking a phone order. I’ll call back.

Ten minutes elapse, I dial again…same result. Wait another five minutes. No change. I’m a little irritated now. I am still in my pajamas, so I ask the husband if he will please drive over to the café and see if someone has left the phone off the hook (or is having a long personal conversation on the business line…)

Five minutes later, the phone rings. It is the husband. "I just let myself into the restaurant. The place is dark and there’s no one here." It is 10:00 am. We are supposed to open at 8:00. "You have got to be kidding me!!!!!"

Seems my best, most trustworthy employee didn’t actually read the schedule…she simply assumed she was supposed to work at 2:00 pm, which is when she usually (but by no means always) is scheduled to work on Fridays. And she is the one with the key.

A heart attack, an ulcer, and a nervous breakdown later, the restaurant is open, customers are being served, and my family and I are sitting down to the meal that we had planned to bring home and enjoy in a leisurely manner seated around the fire in my family room. Except we are all at the restaurant…and I am exhausted. I am, however, now able to leave the place in the hastily reassembled hands of my not-so-capable crew and resume my previously planned holiday activities with my family. We will go to that Christmas Bazaar. And we will have fun, goddammit...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Holiday Story

This past seven days have been the very definition of the week from hell. Sales are plummeting, and I am clueless (apparently) how to stop the skid. We tried a holiday open house last Saturday, which we advertised lightly with signs and posters at the café, and an ad in the local paper. NOBODY came. In fact, even our few remaining regulars stayed aggressively away from our doomed little effort. Not only did we not experience even the slightest spike in sales for the day…sales actually dipped. I had wines that nobody tasted, hot cider that nobody quaffed, and Cookie Lee jewelry that nobody looked at. The poor Cookie Lee rep came all the way from Beaverton for the event. And, of course, I was so sorry for her that I dropped nearly two hundred bucks on jewelry…

I was mortified. All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and pull the top in after me.

Then came Monday. A beautiful day. I had scheduled my new cook to open the kitchen, freeing my morning for, oh…let’s see…a walk on the dike with the dog. Luckily, I decided to jump into the shower before the walk. I’m getting dressed, the phone rings. It’s my opening counter girl. New cook has called in with some story about being in the hospital (does this sound at all familiar???) and can I come in to work now? Poor neglected dog gets rammed again and Mom rushes into work. New cook’s condition degenerates from burst ovarian cyst to bloody urine to passed kidney stone in the space of 36 hours.

My entire family is due up from Eugene for Thanksgiving. I have already decided to have the meal at the restaurant, thereby saving me the trouble of cleaning and destroying my kitchen several times over before the end of the holiday. However, since I am now pulling double shifts on Monday and Tuesday, and working open ‘til almost close on Wednesday, I’m trying to figure out exactly when I’m supposed to prepare sleeping accommodations for imminent family invasion. I talk husband into closing the restaurant for me, rush home after only twelve hours of work and attempt to speed-clean the guest bedrooms.

I am lucky…I managed a fairly thorough cleaning about a week and a half ago, and since we don’t actually live in the house anymore, it is a relatively simple matter to kick it back into shape. But I’m so tired that it takes me three times as long as it should; and I decide to have a couple of glasses of wine on an empty stomach and end up getting waaaay loopy. When I finally give up and try to go to bed, I am so tipsy I cannot lie down without setting off major room spins. So, though I have to be at work at 7:30 the next day, I am up until after 2 am, waiting for the effects of the alcohol to dissipate to the point where I can lay my head on my pillow.

Thanksgiving dawns blustery, cold and rainy…but I manage to get my vacuuming done, and set things to rights in the house before going out to the restaurant to begin preparations for the meal…

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Comings and Goings

I lost TWO cooks in less than a week. One disappeared mid-shift last Wednesday night, and another just stopped showing up, as of last Sunday. I still haven’t heard from kid #2. I have to assume he decided he couldn’t handle two jobs… I should have known better than to hire him, but he seemed SO eager during the interview. I had a feeling right away that he wasn’t going to work out. Still…I didn’t expect things to transpire in exactly this way.

I don’t know why, but I’m not panicked about the whole thing. The lousy weather has severely curtailed our business, and I know in my heart that I am fully capable of being the only cook, should it come to that. And it has been a good thing for me to finally take control of my kitchen; if only to give over that control when I finally hire someone capable and trustworthy. Maybe the one I hired today will turn out to be that. Or maybe not. In the end, all I can do is keep trying to move forward and trust that in due time the Universe will provide what I need.

At least this person I hired today is only thirteen years my junior. Presently, my oldest employees are in their early twenties. And I have to admit, working with all these young people makes me feel older than dirt. Being childless, Husband and I do not have that connection to the younger generation that other folks our age have. I remember my own mom and dad going through a sort of "second youth" in the seventies, when we kids were all crazy teenagers. We were their link to the pop culture of the time, and they chose the bits and pieces of it that they were able to embrace (For dad, it was long sideburns, "flared" pants, and leisure suits… My mother, on the other hand, discovered pantsuits, and, well…wine.)

Fifteen years ago, when I was managing my little bakery, I had a crew full of college students (and JackieJ .) I felt pretty hip...I felt like I could hold my own in a conversation with them. Then again, I was only in my mid-thirties myself. I wasn’t quite old enough to be their mother. It had been less than a decade since I had fallen off the edge of the earth, pop-culture wise. The music of the eighties seemed new to me; the girls could at least remember the songs, though they were in middle school when those tunes hit the charts.

So, today, I’m in the kitchen with my last remaining cook. We have settled on a radio station called "Charlie FM," whose motto is "We Play Everything." And so they do. Today we heard everything from Dean Martin’s "That’s Amore" to…well, whatever it is they listen to these days. Damned if I can name one current band.

Anyhow, they come up with stuff that you haven’t heard in a million years. This morning, "Our Lips Are Sealed" came on, and I said, "Wow, now here’s one you haven’t heard in forever." For some reason, I assumed my twenty-year-old cook would be familiar with this song… This song that I think of as not that old. This song that came out roughly five years before he was born. Augh! Yep. I am indeed older than dirt.

I recently got the first haircut NOT from hell that I have had in, like, the last three years. And I had a weave done, so I have this nice blonde highlight thing going on. By all rights, I should be able to take stock of my reflection and be pleased that I don’t look half bad for a broad of fifty-one. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m forced to consort with a gaggle of cute, firm, nubile, WAY young girls every day. For the first time in my life, I kid you not, I look in the mirror and see a middle-aged woman staring back at me. And I think, "Who the hell is that?"

So, will this new enterprise prove a vehicle by which I prove that I am as capable as any sprout less than half my age? Or will it show me once and for all that I am, indeed, well and finally over that fabled Hill? Time—that commodity of which I feel myself increasingly losing control—will tell.

Friday, November 3, 2006

I AM Happy... Really!

A few months ago, I was drowning. I began to seriously question my abilities as a cook, a manager…a human being. Today, four months into the challenge, I have regrouped somewhat. I realize now what I hadn’t the patience to figure out back then: that I had to learn the routine first, before I could fix it. I had to put in several hundred hours of "just doing it" before I could make it mine and take it to the next level. These days, I find myself alternately awash in the old doubts, and recognizing that these tiny baby steps I take each day really are moving me forward.

This morning, I sat in an inconspicuous place in the restaurant, watching it fill up with breakfasters and lingering morning coffee drinkers. The noise level rose, a cheerful sound to me, regardless of what any of the myriad conversations might actually have been about. I couldn’t stifle my smile…couldn’t help thinking, "What a nice, comfy, welcoming place to be, here on this nasty November Oregon morning. And it’s mine." It hardly bears believing.

So, lest you all think me ungrateful for this marvelous opportunity I have been given, lest you think I am such a hopelessly negative person that not even the fulfillment of this lifelong dream could make me happy… Just know that I am grateful. And happy. And desperately tired, and a trifle overmatched. Maybe not completely loving it yet…but definitely getting there.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Late this afternoon, I took Ms. Dog over to the park and threw the frisbee for her. She has been so absolutely forlorn since I started working seventy hours a week. It’s funny…all those first five years of her life when I was home almost all the time, she didn’t seem overly interested in me. Most days, she’d spend the hours dozing in her bed at the top of the stairs, and I wouldn’t see hide nor hair of her unless she had to go out. I had no reason to believe she made any particular note of my presence or absence. Now, when I do make my rare conscious appearances about the household, she sticks to me like glue. Ball or other toy in her mouth, big sad eyes beseeching.

Truth be told, her issue probably isn’t me; I imagine it has more to do with the fact that the normal fabric of her existence has been…wrinkled. Animals are creatures of habit. They have a hard time dealing with change. I can relate…

Change. In the space of four months—less than one percent of my life (and this late in my life)—everything has changed. The way I live…the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the people I know, the motivations behind my every move. Standing in the park this evening, with the light of the sinking autumn sun painting the orange and red leaves oranger and redder… it seemed like only a short time since I took my camera out about the neighborhood to celebrate the bonfire of fall, 2005. Yesterday. But an entirely different reality.

A cognitive dissonance bordering on vertigo buzzed in my head. This person who throws the frisbee for the dog in the late evening sun, smiles and sighs at the woodsmoke and the colors and the mist and the crisp air, this is me. No…this was me. Now I’m…someone else. Something else. I don’t know who I am anymore. I feel like my poor dog…like I want to glue myself to some piece of my past, with my ball in my mouth and my big sad eyes beseeching.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Anybody Got Some Bread And Cheese...?

The bed is calling. A siren song increasing in pitch…until I am hardly aware of anything else. But the keyboard calls, too. A lower, softer, but more insistent call. It’s calling me to…whine.

What a day. What a week…what a last several months, in fact.

Days like today make me despair of ever finding my stride as an entrepreneur. There is a list as long as my driveway of things that need to be addressed. That have needed to be addressed ever since I walked through the doors of that café as the prospective owner four months ago. Some things that seemed ever-so-important three months ago—things like trying to keep my house in order, or making sure the dog gets exercised every day, or keeping up with the Weight Watchers program—have become such unimaginable fantasies that they have fallen right off the forty-foot list. Only to be replaced by ten or twenty items needing more urgent attention. My world is completely out of control. And for someone like me, to whom some might refer as a control freak, this is anything but okay.

When I walked through the door of the restaurant this morning, I was immediately sprayed in the face with shit that was already hitting the fan; and for the next seven hours, without so much as a potty break, I soldiered on, head bent, into the teeth of that excrement-laden gale. All my plans for a productive day, for a day where I would have the chance to address at least one of the items on the forty-foot "to-do" list, bit the big one once again. Even the healthy food I had packed into my satchel before I left the house this morning never made it to its intended target. Breakfast was a piece of cheese bread made by mistake, thrown down my gullet instead of into the trash can. Lunch was half an apple—the half that was approximately a cup more than I needed for my curry salad.

Every night, I swear that I cannot continue to run this business by the seat of my pants. So I plan a productive, serene, in-control day for the morrow. Then reality hits me square in the face when I roll out of bed the next day. And there I am, swinging around by my back-pocket seams once again.

One step forward, two steps back would feel like amazing progress. I can’t buy a step forward; every time I lift my foot, I get blown back a half a mile.

Done griping now. Time for sleep.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


This morning, my front counter girl poked her head into the kitchen to relay a question put to her by a customer:

"How do you spell ‘dirt?’"

Which is more pathetic? The fact that this guy--on his cel phone--had to consult my counter person for this, or that she had to then ask me?

A little scary, this proof positive that there are at least three adults loose in the world who are slightly fuzzy about a first-grade vocabulary word.

…and so, the first thing that popped into my mind was, "You mean, as in ‘dumber than…?’"

Monday, September 25, 2006


I really wanted to take my own advice to heart. I wanted to start out the week in control, on top of things, slightly more rested than I have been (we got the hell out of Dodge yesterday…packed some bags and went down to Eugene for the day…) I was ready…really ready…for today to be something like the first day of the rest of my life.

So, I wake up at 5:45 to the beginnings of a beautiful day. I roll up to the side door of the café at 6:58. I decided last week when I made the schedule that I could save a half-hour of employee labor by opening both the kitchen and the front counter. So I make the coffee, start the bacon and sausage, set up the kitchen for breakfast, take down all the chairs from on top of the tables, and cheerfully wait for my first customers—and my 8:00 counter person—to arrive.

8:00 comes and goes…I have customers, but no counter person. 8:05….8:10…counter person is still a no-show. I am trying to wait on customers, make espressos, and cook breakfasts, and I need to dodge into my "office" to grab the phone number of this missing employee. Round about 8:15, I manage to make the phone call.

"Hello, is Counter Girl there?"

"Counter Girl is unavailable."

"Ummm….this is her work calling. She’s supposed to be here…"

"Counter Girl is in the hospital."

"Oh. And someone was going to let me know this…when?"

"I was unaware that she had to work today…"

"Okay…well, could someone please call me and let me know what’s going to be happening in the next few days….?"

Jesus H. Christ. What the fuck else could happen? This girl is one of my first batch of new hires, which as of this writing appears to be going down in spectacular flames. Here are the stunning results of my first hiring wave: one promises to call me back and I never hear from her again. One accepts the job (and a uniform shirt) but calls me before her first day of work to say she’s accepted another position. I never see her, or my shirt, again. Of the two that actually did show up to work, one is now out for God knows how long, and the other has been hijacked by one of her other part-time jobs so that she’s only available to me five hours a week. Net gain: less than zero. Time and energy invested in training completely wasted.

I know I must look like a total bitch, looking at another person’s misfortune only from the aspect of how it is about me. I mean, I like this girl, and I feel bad that she has run into this complicated web of health crises in the last two weeks. But she’s in the hospital getting the treatment she needs. On the other hand, the immediate fallout from her health crisis for me is that all that wonderful "administrative time" I lavished upon myself on this week’s schedule has gone utterly up in smoke. Today was another grueling fourteen-hour-day, which found me running the store with one other person—a girl who is now in her third week of employment with me. And then I also had the pesky former owner hanging around wanting attention. And flames shooting out of the back of the deep fryer. Thank god it wasn’t busy, or we would have been SO completely screwed. As it is, I’m just sitting here physically and emotionally strung out once again. You would think I would be getting used to it.

I don’t know. It just seems like things are determined not to come together for me here. I can NOT catch any kind of a break. Tonight as I was driving home, almost in tears from the frustration of busting my ass for yet another day and getting absolutely nowhere, for the first time, the words, "I want out…" tried to form themselves into a real seed of capitulation. I won’t let myself go there… I know things will eventually get better. But right now, it seems like I’m destined to spin my wheels for an unspecified length of time. And what I really need is to get some traction under me and make some forward progress before I get totally mired in the muck.

It’s gotten so that I can hardly look forward to going to work every day, because I don’t know what new crisis is going to hit me right between the eyes this time. Speaking of which, I had better climb in bed and try to prepare myself for the next wave…

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pausing to Refresh

I decided to compose another whiney entry about the hardships of a fledgling entrepreneur. Sat down at the computer and found that my hands hurt so much, I can barely type. The arthritis is bad enough…but since I’ve tried TWICE in the past week to sever various pieces of my poor, swollen arthritic digits, they are really giving me a raft of shit. Is there such a thing as a "Hand Fixer?" I could also use some Playtex Chain-mail Gloves ("so flexible you can pick up a dime...")

What a week at the little café! Business was SOOO terrible early on, I wondered exactly why it was we were bothering to open the doors. By Friday, I had just about written off the week. Then my cook called in sick, and I ended up being THE cook for the entire day. Chained to the kitchen for fourteen hours. And of course, it was the busiest day we had all week. Honestly, I was so exhausted by the time I left there last night, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Exhaustion. It is my constant state of existence these days. And it is NOT a good thing. I know better than to let myself get into this condition. I know that I am no good to anybody or anything when I’m so tired that just remaining vertical feels like a feat worthy of a standing ovation. How can I achieve anything, make plans, take the restaurant forward, when it’s all I can do to drag myself through t a fourteen-hour day of the sweat-hog labor it takes to run the place?

I’m all for rolling up my sleeves and getting in there, shoulder to shoulder with the employees. If that were what I was doing—demonstrating my personal philosophy of not asking anyone to do something I’m not willing or able to do myself—it would be fine. But in reality, what I’m doing is trying to wear every hat in the place at once. And that is not getting me anywhere. Lesson number one is just about in the can: A successful entrepreneur must get an adequate staff, train them properly, and then turn them loose to do what they were hired to do. Okay…my first move has to be "get an adequate staff." And believe it or not, I’m actually working on that. I wrote next week’s schedule with an eye to giving me enough administrative time to accomplish that feat—interview and hire more staff.

That’s the first thing on the list…that "to do" list I have yet to actually write. I’m afraid to write it, really…afraid it will be so hugethat I will be overwhelmed. On the other hand, without a physical list, in my current state of exhaustion, I’m having all kinds of difficulty organizing my time and getting focused on what really needs to be done. I barely eek out the time to write payroll checks and pay the bills. (And, by the way, I realized I need to fire my accountant. That’s a story for a different day…)

I know, now, exactly what it means to be "too tired to sleep." Funny how I’ve always scoffed at that cliché… For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing the combination of mental, physical, and emotional overload that creates exactly that state. And it is SOOO strange. I tried to describe it in an earlier post…that feeling of running on depleted batteries. It’s as if my connection to reality is dimmed. Stuff comes at me, but it takes a tick and a half longer than normal to penetrate the fog. I’m used to thinking and reacting quickly in any given situation. I’m used to prioritizing on the fly and organizing my day in such a way as to maximize my progress toward a goal. Always on the right path, always making progress up the mountain. These days, I feel like I’m trying to scrabble up the hill on talus. One step forward, slide back two. I’m using twice as much energy as I should be just staying in the same place. What’s wrong with this picture?

What I have to figure out now is how to refresh myself without taking a month’s vacation. Or even a day off. There must be a way…

Sunday, September 10, 2006

How NOT to Land A Job With An Utterly Desperate Employer

I’ve owned a restaurant for 71 days. An indescribable roller-coaster ride. If you had a couple of spare hours, and I could reconstitute the trillion brain cells I’ve shorted out in the process, I’d endeavor to tell you about it. But as things begin to settle into a routine, and I regain some of my equilibrium, stories do float to the surface. Stories that my writer’s heart can’t not share, when conscious time permits…

As I knew would happen, the crew I inherited from the previous regime has begun to exit, one by one. Since returning triumphant from our record performance at the Scandinavian Festival, I have lost three employees. One of them actually gave notice. The other two…not so much. Let’s see…one left a message on the café’s voicemail at midnight, saying he wouldn’t be coming in the next day because he quit. And the most recent—a "woman" of thirty-four whom one would assume should know better—told me on Thursday that Friday would be her last day. Annoying, frustrating, and inconvenient…but not unanticipated. What can I do but roll with the punches?

What has been unanticipated, however, are the dynamics of running a small business in a small town. And the incredibly tiny labor pool available into which to tap to supplement my dwindling crew. Three weeks ago, I interviewed and "hired" four…two of whom actually reported for their first day of work. And one of those has, in the interim, acquired two more part-time jobs, making her availability to me limited and unreliable.

Which is how it came to pass that on Thursday, in the aftermath of Ms. X apprising me of her one-day notice, I sat down with the telephone and the pathetic pile of applications I had stockpiled through the auspices of two newspaper ads and a sign in the window. From a field of six acceptable applications, I managed to wangle three interviews. Since losing one of my three remaining cooks (Mr. Midnight Voicemail), I have been working seventy hours a week. (The café is only open 74 hours a week, or I’m sure that total would be higher…) On Saturdays, we close at 3; it is one of the few times I can conduct job interviews while I’m still at least partially cognizant. So, today was designated "Half-conscious Interview Day."

Interview Number One: Applicant arrives fifteen minutes early. Applicant speaks English. Applicant is dressed (relatively) conservatively. Has thought to insert an almost invisible "plug" in her pierced lip. Applicant is hired on the spot. Shake hands. See ya on Wednesday.

I report back to my two counter girls that I have hired this applicant. Joke with them that my interview questions are, "Are you breathing? Do you have a pulse?" They laugh. Not all that amusing, really. Too true to be funny…

Interview Number Two. Applicant is breathing. Has a pulse. She, too, is hired on the spot.

In the back of my mind, I am wondering if I have become an "employee whore." If I am so desperate for help that I will hire anyone. To be fair, I did draw the line at the homeless man who submitted a barely legible application. Although I’m not entirely convinced that I wouldn’t have set up an interview with him had he supplied an address or a phone number…

And then along comes Interview Number Three.

She is dressed…not all that objectionably. A strange coral—colored matching top and capris. With a rather deep décolletage, about which she is obviously not the least self-conscious. I’m willing to ignore the tendency for my focus to shift from her cleavage to the huge dark circles under her eyes to her unkempt, peroxided hair. When she opens her mouth to speak, I cringe inwardly…her voice has that sort of ignorant, quasi-southern, not quite cowboy cadence cultivated to sound optimally redneck. Acknowledging that I have a tendency to be somewhat of a dialect snob, and prompted by the urgency of my present need, I club my aging hippie soul to insensibility, and wade into the interview with what I hope is an open mind.

Unfortunately, having dealt with the sound of her voice, I now have to digest what she is actually saying. And I can’t really believe she is regaling me with stories about the messy divorce she is currently in the middle of. And that her soon-to-be-ex is sleeping with her ex-roommate. And that the reason she needs the job is that she needs to move out of "his" house and get her own apartment. She and her two kids, of whom she is about to become a single mom. Out of the corner of her mouth she wisecracks, "wouldn’t it be funny if you were also interviewing my husband’s new girlfriend for this job?"

The flags appearing before my eyes are getting redder and redder, but I am so desperate, I decide to ask her about her customer service experience. The first story that pops into her mind, to demonstrate her ability "to handle all types of customers" is about the time at the Winn Dixie when she chased a "colored man" out the front door of the store, steaks flying out of his baggy shirt and pants…but by golly, she stopped ‘im, and got that meat back. And got her tires slashed by his girlfriend for her trouble.

I look at my watch. Surely this interrogation has gone on for hours. It’s 4:10. We have been "interviewing" for an interminable ten minutes. (And I have already learned so very much about her…!) My depleted brain is chugging on its last fumes, but I am desperately looking for a way out of this conversation. She has been filling out applications for months, she tells me. She is mystified as to why she can’t find a job. I am not. Mystified.

Eventually, it occurs to me that I can tell her I’m going to be interviewing a few more people, and then making calls for second interviews in a week or so. This will keep me from having to tell her to her face that I can’t possibly hire her (which I’m convinced I could not do without somehow telegraphing what a horrifying prospect she is…) In the blurry recesses of my exhausted mind, I’m already planning how I can "lose" her application and just never bother to call her back. Not a week from now, or any other time. I’m sorry I can’t be more mature, more professional, more considerate of the applicant’s feelings. But I have only just enough presence of mind to look out for my own survival. And this girl might as well have come into the interview with "Do not hire me under any circumstances" tattooed on her forehead.

So, on the one hand, I am bummed. I really, really, really need the help. But, on the other hand, I’m gratified to learn that desperation has not blown my standards completely out of the water.

Just another day on the roller coaster…

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Taking Time

The alarm went off at 6. A creaky arthritic arm snaked out from under the blankets to pound the snooze bar. Twice. These days, I go to bed exhausted, and wake up in the same state. Somewhere around noon, with the help of my two-ounce daily allowance of caffeinated beverage, my eyes will open all the way—for about two hours. Then I float back down into that semi-fogged world of bleary-eyed sleep deprivation I’ve inhabited since July 1.

This morning, I dragged my butt down the stairs after my shower…about fifteen minutes later than I had planned. I wanted to get to the café at 7…a half-hour earlier than I really needed to be there. So I was fifteen minutes late for being a half-hour early. And now I needed to hurry out the door if I wanted to get there in time to let the key-less cook in for the start of his shift.

The sprinklers had been turned on, and mewling livestock had been rewarded with bowls of kibbles slid under their noses. Dog had been sent out the back door to take care of business. Chores accomplished, I collected keys, purse, satchel and prepared to fly out to the car. But the kitchen window was open, just a crack…and the soft calls of the goldfinches hovering around the seed sock derailed my businesslike exit.

My birds! The drip irrigation was still dripping, and I have set up one nozzle to drip into the bird bath, refreshing the water and (hopefully) keeping it from turning too green and scummy in the summer heat. One little yellow bird was merrily bathing under that tiny drip. Fluffing wings, wagging tail feathers, scattering tiny droplets in a joyful shower on the other birds waiting their turn. I was lost in the moment. For several seconds, I couldn’t have moved, couldn’t have dragged myself away from that vignette if the house was on fire. I consciously ignored the little voice that droned that I didn’t have time for this…that I was going to be late. And the thought crossed my mind, about taking time. Taking time to smell the roses.

For several years, I have not had to take time. The roses were there. I had the time. I smelled them.

Now, I have no time. It’s all used up. There is not a moment to spare. If I’m not rushing around putting out fires, walking tightropes, planning changes, poring over invoices and schedules, I’m cramming in a couple hours of sleep in between. And those "boring" days when I had oodles and oodles of time float just outside my grasp. As unattainable as the Grail.

And now I get it. The part about taking the time. So I took it.

I watched, enchanted, while that little bird enjoyed his ablutions. In less than a minute, he finished and flitted away. But those few stolen seconds sent me off with a smile and a calm that changed the entire fabric of my day.

Time. Take some. For the important things.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Taking It

The alarm went off at 6. A creaky arthritic arm snaked out from under the blankets to pound the snooze bar. Twice. These days, I go to bed exhausted, and wake up in the same state. Somewhere around noon, with the help of my two-ounce daily allowance of caffeinated beverage, my eyes will open all the way—for about two hours. Then I float back down into that semi-fogged world of bleary-eyed sleep deprivation I’ve inhabited since July 1.

This morning, I dragged my butt down the stairs after my shower…about fifteen minutes later than I had planned. I wanted to get to the café at 7…a half-hour earlier than I really needed to be there. So I was fifteen minutes late for being a half-hour early. And now I needed to hurry out the door if I wanted to get there in time to let the key-less cook in for the start of his shift.

The sprinklers had been turned on, and mewling livestock had been rewarded with bowls of kibbles slid under their noses. Dog had been sent out the back door to take care of business. Chores accomplished, I collected keys, purse, satchel and prepared to fly out to the car. But the kitchen window was open, just a crack…and the soft calls of the goldfinches hovering around the seed sock derailed my businesslike exit.

My birds! The drip irrigation was still dripping, and I have set up one nozzle to dribble into the bird bath, refreshing the water and (hopefully) keeping it from turning too green and scummy in the summer heat. One little yellow bird was merrily bathing under that tiny drip. Fluffing wings, wagging tail feathers, scattering tiny droplets in a joyful shower on the other birds waiting their turn. I was lost in the moment. For several seconds, I couldn’t have moved, couldn’t have dragged myself away from that vignette if the house was on fire. I consciously ignored the little voice that droned that I didn’t have time for this…that I was going to be late. And the thought crossed my mind, about taking time. Taking time to smell the roses.

For several years, I have not had to take time. The roses were there. I had the time. I smelled them.

Now, I have no time. It’s all used up. There is not a moment to spare. If I’m not rushing around putting out fires,walking tightropes, planning changes, poring over invoices and schedules, I’m cramming in a couple hours of sleep in between. And those "boring" days when I had oodles and oodles of time float just outside my grasp. As unattainable as the Grail.

And now I get it. The part about taking the time. So I took it.

I watched, enchanted, while that little bird enjoyed his ablutions. In less than a minute, he finished and flitted away. But those few stolen seconds sent me off with a smile and a calm that changed the entire fabric of my day.

Time. Take some. For the important things.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Five Minute Sound Bites

August 3--I’ve discovered that under normal circumstances, caffeine (which I had all but quit five years ago) gives me a pleasant buzz, makes me chatty and friendly, and generally improves my mood and sociability. However, when I am stressed, rushed, and dangerously sleep deprived, caffeine turns me into the bitchiest harpy that ever walked. I have no patience, I throw things, I drop things, I say stupid things, and I just about burst into tears at the slightest provocation. Note to self: Quit caffeine. As soon as I can stop long enough to figure out how to do that…

After ten years away from the customer service game, I have come to realized that customers have not changed. They will come to the restaurant in large, noisy groups when we are under-staffed. They will want whatever we just ran out of, even if we haven’t sold one of (whatever) in the last five months. They will beat on the doors when they are locked, but will not venture to show their faces during normal business hours. These are parts of the Credo of the Customer that I have long been aware of. The trick is to make them think you are understaffed, unprepared, or closed…just to get them to come in.


August 4--So, in the last two days, we have burnt, spoiled, dropped, or otherwise ruined about a hundred dollars (raw cost) worth of food. That would translate into about $400 worth of sales. I have a crew of cooks who wouldn’t use a timer to save their lives. Black bacon, quiches left in the oven overnight, turkey that comes out of the oven after ten hours looking like mop strings. I’ve already decided I have to fire the whole kitchen crew. Trouble is, this is a small town, and I don’t exactly have them lining up at the door to come work for me. Apparently, the previous ownership shot through the available labor pool rather quickly. That’s another story…

I bought some flowers to put out on the sidewalk, around the doors and under the windows, to make it look as if there actually WAS an inviting eating establishment open in this place. Despite the previous owners warnings that I not change anything lest I lose the loyalty of our regular customers, I’ve found that our ranks of "regular customers" are so small that I need to do anything I can possibly do to recruit MORE regular customers. Including changing the menu, changing the staff, changing the hours—all those things that Mr. Previous Owner was certain ought to be written in stone. Stone crumbles, my friend… And "regular" customers tend to ask, "What have you done for me lately???"

Friday, July 7, 2006


Has the past week been jam-packed full of things pulling me in a million different directions?

Saturday was my first full day as proprietor of the Hot Flash Café. It was also my husband’s 50th birthday. And so, after putting in a full day at my new (to me) café, I had to rush home and speed-clean the house for guests. Which meant running around the house and vacuuming up enough animal hair to knit a ninth pet; dealing with other more unmentionable "consequences" of shedding animals; making two extra bedrooms habitable by humans (one set of which neglected to apprise me of their intention to visit until approximately one day before said visit was to commence…aarrgh!) And then I had to shower, shave, and pick out an outfit appropriate for a fine dining establishment. All in the space of about an hour and a half. The guest of honor, meanwhile, spent the morning and half the afternoon selling food at the Farmers’ Market in Tillamook. He rumbled back into town about the same time I got home from work; for his exciting half-century milestone birthday present, he got an hour-long nap, while I ran around and did the white tornado thing.

Sunday morning, I went to work, and all my houseguests (my two sisters and their husbands) assembled at the café for a celebratory breakfast…a sort of "congratulations on the new venture" affair. I was able to join the festivities intermittently, between customers…

Monday was my oldest sister’s 25th wedding anniversary. And so this over-extended, hyped-out, sleep-deprived fledgling entrepreneur found herself shutting the doors at the café and loading herself into her car for an hour drive to a restaurant up the road on the way to Seaside, where sister and husband were celebrating said anniversary. And husband was setting up to sell food at the Fourth of July celebration in Seaside.

Between trying to apply myself to the new business venture, and pay adequate homage to Great Moments in Family History, I am just about toast.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Queen of the World

For the last four days, I’ve worked harder than I have in a very long time. And yet, it hasn’t seemed like hard work at all. What a trip, what a high (for all I know about getting high…)! I can’t remember, in my whole life, being this unreservedly thrilled about anything.

Nothing I’ve known or done compares to this. To having my own place. To being "the Proprietor." The owner. El hefe. The buck-stopper.

For years now, long and painful years, I’ve felt as if the best part of my life was behind me. Like I’d had my decade of prosperity, but that was then, and this is now. That it was all going to be downhill...from that place about a dozen years ago, when the slide began. When so many of the things I knew and loved started to be stripped from me, one after another after another.

I feel like Job. Like the guy who had everything, and then lost it. Suffered the tortures of the damned, was millimeters from cursing God and dying, but held on. Held on, because maybe he didn’t know what else to do.

Because once you’ve had goodness, once you’ve had fulfillment, once you’ve had "success," there’s a kind of accidental faith that keeps you going through the dark spots. You can’t stop nursing that tiny spark of hope in the deepest reaches of your mind. You had "it" once; so you know it exists. And if you had it once, you can have it again. That’s what has kept you putting one foot in front of the other, through the dry and the dull and the desperate; even when it seemed like there was nowhere to go.

It’s frightening, to love an experience this much. But I am nothing if not an inveterate cynic; I have no illusions that this could not all evaporate in an instant. I’ve lived through the rise and the fall. There’s no reason to believe I cannot fall again.

But feeling like this for even these few days will have made it worth the risk.

I’m Queen of the World!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

So, this is it. The Big Day.

I have purposely not been focusing on what this day means, in terms of my life. In terms of my future. In terms of the awesome responsibility I will be taking on my shoulders. (Not to mention the awesome amounts of money changing hands.) The big picture is just too much for me to assimilate, and too overwhelming for me to contemplate. So mostly, I’ve been looking at this as a pile of random jigsaw puzzle pieces, each one representing one of the million responsibilities, plans, forecasts, talents, challenges, crap-shoots and sure things that, when properly assembled—over a ridiculously long period of time that is sure to try my very limited patience—will become a picture of a successful entrepreneurial venture.

Success. It’s hard to even define the word, as it applies to this situation. I’m pretty sure my hopes are not too high. At this point, I’m thinking if we don’t go broke in eighteen months we can claim success. Actually making money hasn’t even entered the picture yet.

And I’m pretty sure it’s the process that I enjoy the most, not the expected result, whatever that may be. Wednesday night, I stayed up until 2 am designing new table tents advertising our (pitiful) beer and wine list and our tiny array of dinner specials. I proudly put them out on the tables yesterday afternoon, modestly accepting the oohs and ahs of the staff. (Unfortunately, my little project seemed to act like customer repellent. Not one customer darkened the doors of the café for two hours yesterday evening. I sincerely hope that all the other little "subtle" changes I’m planning to make as soon as the ink dries on the contracts don’t have similarly negative effects. I don’t want to go in the crapper within the first three months…)

This afternoon at 4:30 pm we will sit down and do the deed…the deed which the ever-cautious bean-counter genes I inherited from my father have been agitating against since the idea of buying a business first entered my head. Luckily for me, I have been able to blow off those genes at times when I knew that listening to them would keep me from having any kind of a real go at life. So, Dad…put in a good word for us with the Universe and just…hang on. The ride’s about to begin.

He'll Be There

That old talisman mindset dogged my steps this morning, as I wandered, mostly ineffectively, around the house, half-mindedly applying myself to the little chores that need tending before I go to the café. The Café. That place to which I will be committing the lion’s share of my time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears as of about 4:30 this afternoon—June 30, 2006.

Talismans. Good luck charms. The rituals to which I turn when my control-freak self realizes I have no control. The last-ditch effort to court the favor of Things I Don’t Understand. And to which I have traditionally had only the weakest of connections.

I look upon today as if it were a day as momentous, if a tad tardy, as a college graduation. Of all the people past or present who were ever part of my life, the one person I ache to share this day with is my dad. He would be outwardly cautious and stoic but, just under the surface, bursting with pride and anticipation for our new venture. Which would be betrayed by a twinkle in his eye and a slight softening of the poker face he always wore when Important Things took place.

So, I was carefully planning what I would wear to this event. This signing away of my life. This sealing the deal on a dream. This meeting at which I will undoubtedly be the only one present who truly grasps the cosmic significance of the occasion. Conflicting thoughts of “dress for success” and “dress as if it were no big deal” butted heads in my mind. I finally settled on a simple version of what I probably will be wearing to work for the next umpteen months: a pristine white long-sleeved knit shirt and a pair of black pants. The trousers were chosen specifically for their capacity to make me look slimmer and taller.

And then it hit me. The Dad thing. I knew that I had to take something of dad with me today. If it was January, I might have chosen the scarf I knitted for him back when I was in high school. Or even the ridiculous “Elmer Fudd” hat that hangs by my back door, with the scarf…that pair of things that represents the presence of my dad’s gentle spirit wherever I hang my hat. But those things would be a tad conspicuous, here in the middle of summer. And Dad was anything but conspicuous. They wouldn’t do at all.

There was no help for it. I chucked the stylish, slimming pants back in the closet and dragged out a pair of black jeans. Black jeans with belt loops to accommodate Dad’s black leather belt. It’s wide, it’s worn, and it’s extremely seventies, but who cares? My Dad will be there with his arm around my waist as I step forth into this great adventure. Right now that’s the most important thing in the world.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Still Alive...Barely

A week ago, I wondered if I would be reduced to posting snippets of whatever creative flashbulbs went off in my head in the midst of all the hubbub. At this point, I’m wondering whether my brain has enough spark left to generate even a firefly-esque flash. I passed fried a long time ago. I’m very nearly comatose.

The sheer amount of stuff we are trying to pack into every twenty-four hours has produced one interesting side effect. For the past many months, I have felt like time has been slipping through my hands like oiled rope. Lately, there is so much going on, so many things to keep track of, that time seems to be expanding–like one of those new hefty garbage bags—to hold it all in. Yesterday, I went to the hardware store on my break in order to get a key made. When I thought about that little errand today, it seemed like it happened at least a week ago.

Five more days to go until we sign the papers. I’m being stretched in a hundred directions, some of which I haven’t even had time to think about, yet. Today, I told Mr. Current Owner that I thought my head was going to explode, and he said, "Well, don’t do it in here. We don’t want to clean up the mess." Ha ha. No sympathy from that quarter.

Maybe tomorrow morning I will have enough time, and have my batteries half-charged enough, to go into some detail about what’s been going on. But now….now I just have to go to bed. A task much easier said than done, since, on top of everything else, the mercury has soared over 100° here in the Columbia Valley for the second day in a row, and sleeping is something not best accomplished in an upstairs bedroom that a bank of west-facing windows has lately transformed into a sauna. It always cools down at night around here, and we’re counting on two fans blowing full blast right on the bed to make the accommodations somewhat livable within the next couple of hours. Meanwhile I’m…typing. And falling asleep with my fingers on the keypad. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Monday, June 19, 2006

So Close...

How, exactly, is one supposed to act when one gets within inches of attaining a dream? A dream cherished and nourished and treasured for so many years? Like a baby nurtured too long in an ancient womb…can something dreamed for decades survive the monumental strain of birth into the realm of reality?

The questions lurk in the shadowed pockets of my mind. I can’t address them…cannot even acknowledge them, for fear that the possibilities raised by the contemplation will be so huge that they will put an abrupt end to my forward progress.

It’s the commitment. The commitment overwhelms me now. Thirty years ago, I was on the threshold of the greatest commitment I had ever, would ever, make. And, same as now, I could not think in terms of forever. “If it doesn’t work out,” I reasoned, “we can always get a divorce. Walk away and start over. No hard feelings, just a clean slate.”

Not so simple, of course. Had I allowed myself to think about it, I would have conceded that. But I had to have the fallback. Needed the escape route. Because there was, is, always will be, that contrary little voice in the back of my mind that cracks the whip, hardly allowing me to dream. It scolds that nothing is forever. And nothing ever turns out as you hoped. Dreams are dreams. Reality is…. something else.

Edging away from the larger, more ethereal issues, I stumble over the more immediate sacrifice: I realize that I will be committing to a place that I call my home, that has been my home for the past five years. But to this chronologically-challenged aging child, it doesn’t feel like home. Home is the place to which I have been chained, and from which I have been running, for the past decade. Despite the words piled upon words, proclaiming the need to detach from that place, to break chains and cut ropes and burn bridges--whatever it takes to be free—I freeze. The torch is in my hand, I reach out to touch it to the closest creosote-soaked piling. And I shake uncontrollably.

I will stretch out my other hand, steady that trembling brand. I will set fire to that bridge. And to that part of my heart that has had so much trouble letting go.

Friday, June 16, 2006

My Two Worlds Colliding

For the past week, I’ve existed with one foot in each of my two worlds. Trying to put time in at the café, so that I can be up to speed by the time we take over, and at the same time, preparing for one of our larger, and one of my favorite, events with the concession trailer. It’s been hectic, and busy, and up until yesterday, I thought, "I haven’t felt this alive in a very, very long time."

Today, though, I think I hit the wall. Things are not going well for me at the café. It’s no surprise that the crew is not welcoming me with open arms; I’m bombarded by negative vibes emanating from all concerned. And while I completely understand why they feel as they do, it is extremely hard for me to function with that dark cloud hanging over me. It was busy during lunch today (unfortunately, the first time it has been busy all week…which doesn’t bode well, does it?) And I didn’t know whether to jump in and help or stay out of the way. I felt like it didn’t matter which I did, it was going to be resented. I spent six hours there this morning, and by the time I left, I felt like I had a thousand-pound weight strapped to my back.

In contrast, yesterday I drove the trailer out to Astoria to set up the booth for the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival. It was so very nice to fall into my old routine. Café de la Rue fits me like a well-worn shoe. Whereas The Hot Flash Café feels like someone else’s custom-fitted boot. It isn’t comfortable at all. Yet.

I feel very much like Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, flashing back and forth between the Emerald City and the farm. When I’m behind the counter of Café de la Rue, I feel like "We’re home, Toto!" Struggling around in the negatively charged atmosphere of the café, I know I’m not in Kansas anymore. And I do hope that I won’t come to realize I should never have left my own back yard to go looking for my heart’s desire…

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Where Things Stand Now

Today, I delivered the non-refundable deposit the seller of the business we’re buying insisted he needed, in order to quit holding "other offers" over my head. So now, more than at any time up until now, this looks like a done deal. How I would love to be breathing a sigh of relief. How I would love to be looking forward, unconditionally thrilled, to assuming the captaincy of my own ship. But this whole exercise is turning out to be like a game of "Whack-a-mole." Have you ever played "Whack-a-mole?" It’s the arcade game where you get a big padded mallet, and you use it to pound these little mole-heads back into the holes they pop out of. As soon as you whack one mole, another pops out of another hole. Sometimes two or three at the same time.

So, I whacked the "financing" mole. And I mashed the "mollify the seller" mole. And I’m working on wrestling the "OLCC" (liquor license) mole back down into his little hole. But, what’s this? A monstrous head just popped out of a crater the size of a manhole.’s the "present owner’s overly-emotional manager" mole! Mr. Present Owner has gone out of his way to warn me that this girl’s family has lived in the county for a hundred years, and that even the appearance that she has been ill-treated in the transition could cost me big in terms of community relations for the next...century. Oh. Thank you so much, Mr. Present Owner!

I have met this girl. She is very nice. She is sweet. She is eminently likeable. In fact, everybody likes her—customers, staff and (obviously) Mr. Present Owner himself.

She is the absolute antithesis of me.

Nothing can strike more abject fear into my heart than the prospect of dealing with a sweet, likeable, fragile psyche. I am the personification of the bull in the china shop, when it comes to personal relationships. I have no guile, no political savvy, no off button. As a general rule, whatever is in my mind just falls out my mouth. I know enough not to be outright rude or abusive, but somehow that makes the situation even worse. It really hurts my feelings when people don’t get me. If I had a rhinoceros-tough hide to go along with my social ineptitude, it wouldn’t matter to me that I make such a god-awful impression on most people the first (second, third, gotta-know-me-for-a-year-before-you-can-tolerate-me) time I meet them.

Mind you, I only have to work with this girl for two weeks. And Mr. Present Owner has already promised her a generous severance package. All she has to do is work with me long enough to allow me to get my feet under me concerning the day to day operation of the place. But when you combine what he has been so "kind" as to tell me about her, and what I know from having interacted with her for a couple weeks a year ago, I know that she and I will get along like gasoline and a match.

I am scared shitless. My friends…. Any suggestions?

Monday, June 5, 2006

Overthinking It

For a moment, I consider that I am simply too old to be standing with a foot suspended over the abyss of the unknown. On the verge of leaning forward, about to shift the weight to that outstretched foot, confident that the resultant free-fall will be an escapade of the highest order. I have been there, and I have done that. Thirty years ago, that expectation of adventure was richly rewarded. There may have been accompanying bumps, bruises, a compound fracture or two….but they always healed quickly, and always the golden nugget of knowledge, of experience, was squirreled away into memory.

Perhaps there are, at last, too many of those little nuggets stored in the cupboards and closets of my mind. They are stacked to the rafters and oozing out under the doors and around the hinges; no longer golden, but turned to dross. Unrewarded risks, confident forays into mud or mire, heedless wagers placed on losing horses… They mock me; they haunt me. They drag me down. To safety. To uncertainty. To paralysis.

All I can do is strap on the blinders…allow no look back, nor to the side, nor too far ahead. Certainly no further ahead than the next footfall. Just make myself keep moving, and I will get There. And once I am There, the fear, the restraint, the immobility will be pushed aside by the process of contriving to make it from day to day…the simple groundwork of success.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Next Step in the Process

Last night’s meeting at the bank took an hour and a half. After ninety minutes of stupid bullshit questions that mostly re-hashed things I had put in my presentation (I don’t think she read it…What a colossal waste of time!) we left without signing on any dotted line for any specific amount of money. Now, she says, she’ll have to "crunch the numbers" and will get back to us on Wednesday. Dammit! We got enough of a commitment out of her to at least believe this was going to happen eventually ("You guys looked real good for the last deal we tried to put together, and that was for more money…") But it certainly wasn’t the definite yes or no, here’s-how-much answer I was expecting to have by the end of the day.

We decided to proceed with the seller as if we had the money in hand. Called the seller’s agent to tell him we were ready to present an offer, we just wanted to know what the firm "cash price" was… And he basically blew us off. "Oh, we don’t write anything up right away. Just float us a number, I’ll present it to the seller, and he’ll either accept, reject, or counter." What? For god’s sake…I just want to buy this business. Can I please just buy this business????? Can you please just tell me how the hell much f’ing money he wants for it? We’re ready. We don’t have the time (or the patience) to play "Let’s Make a Deal."

So, last night I was up until midnight crafting a carefully worded email to the seller about how we think his asking price was fair, we just want to know what his "discount for cash is," and we thought everyone wanted to get this deal done as quickly as possible. Copied Mr. Seller’s Agent, and my husband’s work email (he was long asleep by the time I had finished the thing.)

Hop out of bed this morning hoping to see a reply. From somebody. Nothing. Damn. My guts are twisting into tighter and tighter knots about this. So I shoot off an email to the hubs asking if he read it and what did he think?

Three minutes later, the phone rings. It’s the hubs. "So?" I ask. "What did you think?" "I just got off the phone with (Mr. Seller.) He called me on my cel. I did the deal. Everything is agreed to."

"Wha-wha-WHAT? Hold the phone…WHAT?"

So there it is. Just like…getting hit in the face with a pie.

A very expensive, gourmet to the hilt, rich and yummy French Silk Cream Pie. Which, when the shock wears off, I intend to spend delicious hours licking up every single bit. In a year or two. When I might again have the time to attend to such things.


Friday, May 19, 2006

And Now, We Wait

I feel like I have just run a marathon. Today was THE day. The day to quit the hedging and second-guessing and put my money where my mouth is. Or, try to get someone to put money into my mouth. Or something.

This morning at 3 AM, I was stacking and patting down the last of the documents I had collected, copied, polished and printed for my presentation to the bank. To get the money. To buy the business. I had assembled, as best I could, snapshots of my life—old and new—that I hoped would tell the story of a competent, experienced restaurant manager on the threshold of realizing her lifelong dream of buying a place of her very own. It felt like walking down the runway in the bathing suit competition at a beauty pageant. Half-naked, exposed, wishing real life could be air-brushed…

I dragged myself out of bed at 8:30, attended to my chores, and rushed upstairs to get ready. It was so bizarre…superstition ruled my toilette. I hunted down my "lucky" shirt and built my dress-for-success outfit around it. I thought about lucky earrings, and realized I had one small pair left from the days of my late lamented dream job. They’re tarnished, bent and sticky with old hair-spray residue. But they had to be part of the ensemble. I even found, under my vanity, an old bottle of the cologne I used to wear back in those days. After a cursory test-sniff to determine whether it had gone off from age, I splashed that on as well. Liberally. Like holy water.

In the end, after all that trouble, I never even got to see the Loan Officer. She was busy with another client, so I just dropped off that folder full of my life’s blood at the front counter. She never saw my casual-yet-conservative power outfit, never glimpsed the sticky little onyx hearts that dangled from my ears, never got a whiff of Victoria’s Secret’s "Her Majesty’s Rose." It didn’t matter. All that mumbo jumbo had comforted me. It made me feel as if I had wrapped myself in a robe of positive ions. Old positive ions, but positive ions, nonetheless.

Arriving back home, I had a moment of panic that the ineffective-looking receptionist might not realize how hugely momentous was the information that I had entrusted into his hands. How direly it needed to be relayed to the all-powerful Loan Officer. I walked around the house,making coffee, scrounging up breakfast; but it was no good. I couldn’t get shed of that electric knife in my gut until I made the phone call. Called the Loan Officer, made sure she knew the packet—my life—was in her hands now. Casually, she laughed. "Oh, I haven’t seen it yet. They must have put it in my box." In your box? I wanted to scream. Go get it, woman! Have you no ken of how vital this is to the continued existence of the universe? But, no, that wouldn’t do. So I merely stuttered, "Well, I just wanted to make sure you knew I had dropped it off…"

I hung up the phone, and felt like all the air had just gone out of me. Like someone pulling the plug out of one of those big multi-colored punch balls we used to play with as kids. You’d pull out the cork, it would make that loud, flabby flatulence noise and go limp. And everybody would giggle.

Yep, all the spunk has just farted right out of me. Right now, I’m going to sit with my feet up and stare at…well, maybe nothing. Even television doesn’t sound appealing right now. I don’t want to think or worry or even move. For about an hour or so. And then I’ll blow some life back into myself, get up and go on to the next thing. Carrying around that little knot of apprehension in my stomach. Which is not likely to become untied until about 4:30 Monday afternoon. When I get to hear what fate the mighty Loan Officer has assigned my dream.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Looking Forward Through the Past

Eleven years ago, the world I knew came to an end. In 1995, I might have been gearing up for my fortieth birthday, and all the changes, real or imaginary, that would take place in my life when I exited my thirties—the last decade during which I could be credibly called a "young" anything. Looking back, I sincerely wish that were all I had to worry about. Because my fortieth birthday in July of that year faded into the background of upheaval and grief that was the final desperate illness and death of my big sister. And my misguided notion that I needed to sink every ounce of strength I possessed into comforting and binding the wounds of her bereft family.

Another thing that got buried under that load of sorrow was the demise of my "dream job." After spending fifteen years bouncing around like a pinball on the game board of my chosen profession, in 1986 I fell, quite by accident, into the best job situation I had ever encountered. Possibly the best anyone could hope for. In the next eight years, I accomplished more than I ever thought I could, grew more and in more directions than I had ever thought possible, mentored and guided and taught, spoke my mind and worked my butt off. But I was good at what I did, I was successful at what I did, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was fulfilling some kind of real purpose. I never realized how much employment success affected every aspect of life. I was happy at work, happy at home, outgoing and magnanimous and on top of the world.

Then the roof caved in. As it often does in the restaurant industry. Times change, fads fade, concepts come and go. When the corporation I worked for started to fall apart, the first guys to take the hit were we managers who had carried it to the top by the sweat of our brows and had been able, for a couple of years, to enjoy the fruits of our labors. All at once, we became an overpaid liability and were targeted for "redundancy," as the Brits so aptly put it. But it was not a quick and merciful severance. It was a traumatic, year-long pummeling process that felt like being beaten to death with a tack hammer. By the end of 1994, I was unemployed, exhausted, and emotionally trashed. And for a little extra added excitement, I was scheduled for major surgery.

I was still recovering from my own health disaster when my sister began her abrupt slide toward death in the early days of 1995. It could be argued that my sister’s illness "saved" me from going down into the pit of depression my own pack of troubles had been pushing me toward. I needed to rouse myself, stiffen my spine and "be there" for her and her family. That mission, that determination to be strong for someone else, actually kept me going for several years. I put my own trauma on the back burner, stepped up for the people who "needed me," and never looked back.

But my relationship to the working world never recovered. Still wounded and shell-shocked from the demise of my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I could never quite muster the confidence or the courage to get back on the horse and just…ride. I’d scramble up, but I’d jump off at the first sign of a rocky road. I changed horses so many times over the next several years that it got to the point where they would lock up the stables when they saw me coming. Eventually, the other half of my life began to fall apart, the part where I was supposed to be this rock of support for my sister’s husband and kids. Then, in 1999, my dad passed away, and my remaining sisters and I went through the tortures of the damned trying to deal with that loss.

As my relationship to my family took a nosedive, I realized that in the course of less than five years, I had lost virtually everything I believed I’d gained during that halcyon time when I felt like Queen of the World. I thought I had "arrived," but the place I’d arrived to had crumbled and faded before my very eyes. I was living the darker reality of the old cliché, "Life is a journey, not a destination." I tried to run away from my troubles with my family by running full-tilt back into the world of work. It was then that I found that I had no "world of work" to return to. I was pushing fifty, my resume was crap, and the doors of opportunity in the restaurant world, that I had always slipped through in the past, were only open to younger, happier people who weren’t afraid of their own shadows. Restaurant work is not for the faint of heart.

I tried office work for awhile, attracted by the nine-to-fiveness of it all, but found I absolutely hated it—from the enforced physical stagnation, to the back-stabbing, credit-grabbing, passive aggressive nature of office politics. The more I tried to put my restaurant past behind me, the more it rose up before me as the luminous icon of the only thing I had ever put my hand to that made me happy.

So in 2002 I started my own business. Something I probably should have done a decade or two earlier. But the time was never right, the money was never available. Once again, death changed my life. This time, it was the deaths of my husband’s parents…which provided us with the few extra dollars that made it possible to scrape together my concession business. Scared to death, but with no other real options open, I sallied forth into the world of the small business owner. It’s been a frustrating, enlightening, back-breaking four years. I’ve been able to pick up and dust off some of the scraps of myself that I had thought were irretrievably lost. It’s been a proving ground for me…showing me that I still can do this and I’m still damned good at it.

But the seasonal nature of the business has been at once a godsend and a handicap. Where it’s allowed me to creep forward at the snail’s pace that seems to be all that I can handle, it has also allowed me to be picky and half-assed about the challenges I want to take on. I can back away when I become intimidated by what the next move forward might mean, hit the brakes when I get frightened of putting my heart into yet another doomed effort. I love my little business, but I’ve come to realize that my complete healing lies in the direction of something much larger, much more engaging, and much more challenging.

And there it is, creeping up over the horizon like a late-autumn sunrise. A real restaurant. A roof over my head, a floor under my feet, a full-sized three-compartment sink in the kitchen. A place to go every day, to scheme, to strive, to formulate and refine. Every day. It’s been years since I’ve allowed myself to want anything this much. I want it so bad it hurts. But it’s a good pain…a pain of promise. Not unlike labor pains, I would imagine. This may be the closest I’ll ever come to the privilege of that pain. The pain of wrestling something new and vital into the world.

A snarky whisper in the back of my head mocks me about this. It taunts that what I am actually doing is preparing to lay out what amounts to three years of my dream job’s wages to…buy myself a job. That over the years, I have so trashed myself that I am not fit to be employed by anyone else. That little voice had me going there, for a minute. But I managed to put a sack over its head and conk it with a sledge hammer. Now I’m on my way to drown it in the creek. Because no stinking negative little demon is going to rob me of this opportunity, or tarnish the promise and anticipation. And I refuse to entertain fears that I’m too old, or too rusty, or too timid, or too anything to make this happen. This is my time, for the first time in a long time. And I am going to rise.