Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Wrap-Up (One of Many?)

The past week has, so far, been filled with (poisoned by?) café issues. With all of our production for the concession business completed (we had our first event two weeks ago, and sales were encouraging), and the end of our lease bearing down upon us, this has been the week to concentrate on disassembling and cleaning. And, just like every single task ever associated with the place, it has not been easy, quick, or even remotely fun.

Despite my crawling around on my hands and knees, wielding scrub brushes, steel wool and metal scrapers, the kitchen floor stubbornly remains spotted, stained and, in places, encased in a thin layer of grease which seems to have chemically bonded with the cement. Every sink and floor drain is permanently discolored by mineral residue from years of assault by Scappoose water (and we drink that stuff?) The dining room floor looks like the building might have been used as a garage for the past sixty months. In short, the clean-up job has been a microcosm of the way things have gone for me with that damned place from Day 1.

Perhaps my problem is—has always been—that my standards are just too high. At any rate, they consistently surpass my abilities. The end result of that equation has been that I have spent the past five years never having true victory over any challenge. "It's good enough" or "It will have to do" became my mantras. Truly, things probably were good enough; perfectly wonderful, in fact, for everyone else—the customers, the employees, the vendors, the landlord—but they were never where I wanted them to be. My tenure at the café became an exercise in finding out exactly how frustrated and unfulfilled I could get before I simply…imploded.

So, once again, "good enough" is going to have to do. I have to remind myself that the place had been operating as a restaurant for over a year by the time I got it. So any notion I might have had of whipping it back into pristine, looks-like-new shape was probably a pipe dream anyway. It's not trashed by any means, and it certainly looks acceptable enough to anyone who wants to put another eatery in the space. If Mr. Landlord wants to delve into the scary chemicals and pure intense elbow grease it's going to take to make the space sparkle and shine like new, he's welcome to have at it. He's ten years younger than I; presumably he can get it done without crippling himself. I personally am practically in need of traction at this point.

This evening, we will take Mr. Landlord on a tour, hand him his keys, dust off our hands and drive away. 

This will be the end, for good and all, of the "Old Town Café" chapter of my life. I will not have to absorb one more kick from that place that has been abusing my posterior with steel-toed boots for waaaay too long.

There WILL be a ceremony. I got into a conversation on Facebook last night with a couple of former employees, and ended up planning a spur of the moment Old Town Café "funeral." Several of us are going to meet up in the parking lot outside the building tonight. We'll set off some fireworks and say a few words. I should have saved a box of wine glasses or coffee cups…we could have smashed them on the sidewalk!

Then, maybe we'll go down the street for pizza. Or go sit at one of the other restaurants in town for two hours, have a meeting and drink water (inside joke…) It should be fun. If anyone shows up. Which, knowing my employees as I do, is pretty much a crap shoot.

Goodbye, café! You won't have ME to kick around anymore. A Nixon-ism. Appropriate to the termination of a futile venture, n'est ce pas?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Goodbye Stuff

As I sit here and watch the past five years of my life being hauled out the side door and loaded into big trucks, I don’t feel…anything. Well, that’s not precisely true. I feel embarrassment. The place is filthy. Not remotely in a condition that I would have liked anyone to think I tolerated in my establishment. But five years of trying to run the place perpetually understaffed and overworked, with no time or energy to do the “extra cleaning” myself, and employees that we were lucky to have deign to show up for their shifts, much less put out any extra effort in the direction of more than the minimum required, have left the place looking pretty sad. Once all the equipment is out of here, I’ll be left staring at spotted walls and scummy floors. My final obligation will be to try to restore them to some semblance of acceptable before turning over my keys on the last day of June.

But melancholy, or regret about the way things turned out? Not really. It was such an endless slog, and I worked so hard and got so nowhere in 59 months that I feel absolutely no sadness as the equipment goes rolling out the door. It’s like each piece gone is one less link in the chain that kept me bound in slavery. I can only think of it in terms of the dollars that will be going back into my bank account in exchange. And then I will be able to pay off the rest of my obligations and have done with the experience for good.

Only one debt—the small second mortgage we took out on our house—will follow us beyond the doors of the cafe. We’ll have to cough up $400 a month, for roughly -ever, in exchange for the opportunity to “live the dream.” I don’t know. Many people pay a lot more than $45,000 for higher education. In fact, I would have been out more than that if I had chosen to go to culinary school. And with my chef school diploma in my hand, I would not have possessed one hundredth of the valuable (though hard-earned) experience I have under my belt as I walk away from five years of running my own business.

I did have one moment, as I pulled my artwork off the walls in the “back corner,” when a mist of tears threatened to undo me. I put myself in “don’t-think-about-it” mode, and the tears dried up almost immediately. Honestly, I don’t know why that one action bothered me. Maybe because I wish the whole experience had been more about playing with pretty things than busting my butt, working like a sweat-hog, and waiting for the next round of manure to contact the oscillator.

Eight days from today—after the last of the grease has been scraped off the kitchen floor, and the last spot of marinara has been scrubbed off the wall behind where the food warmer used to sit—will be the first day of the rest of my life.

Bring it on!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marriage as Shoes

Twenty-four days since the end of my career as a restaurateur. I've spent the time resting, sleeping (I took a two-hour nap this afternoon….aaahhhh!), nesting, fussing a bit with the ending-of-the-business details, and putting distance between myself and the husband at any possible opportunity.

My feelings surrounding the un-success of our venture, as they relate to my business-/life-partner, are complex and not altogether sanguine. I haven't really wanted to confront them (and him), so I've made it a priority to make myself scarce. I feel like I need to clear the fog of exhaustion from my brain, and the pool of unshed tears from behind my eyes, before I can take on these issues with any hope of improving—rather than destroying—what's left of our relationship.

Unfortunately, he's not making much of an effort in that direction. While I feel that I have lightened up remarkably in the past three weeks, he doesn't seem to have released one bit of five years of pent up tension. He's still wound as tight as a python around a rat, and he's about as willing to ease up as that python would be to let loose of his dinner. And I have no idea why.

Which has led me to contemplate, lately, who we are, individually; and what there is left of shared interests, goals, desires, habits, needs—to keep us bound together. What drew us together in the first place? Was it a common love of…anything? If it was, what happened to it? Is there anything that we both enjoy and value anymore?

I know our relationship was never based on how alike we are. We found in each other things that we were lacking. We each have strengths that negate the other's weaknesses. Under ordinary circumstances, we complement each other; under stress, apparently, not so much. We handle stress in completely different ways. I'm not sure I could even describe the specifics; but I do know that the whole experience has served to drive a wedge between us that is, evidently, going to be very difficult to extract.

Do we still love each other? How do you define "love" in the context of a relationship that has spanned three and a half decades? Certainly, our love is vastly different now than it was in the beginning. The fire and spark have been replaced by security and habit. Which is not necessarily bad. It's entirely appropriate, at a certain age, to prefer the comfort of an old pair of Easy Spirits to the flash and glitter of a brand new pair of Gucci stilettos. After the debilitating drain of the past five years, I'm absolutely ready to sink back into the well worn, familiar shoes of our marriage. The problem is, I'm not sure we haven't kicked, scuffed and abused the poor things so much that they won't keep out the rain.