It's Monday night and I am beat-up. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth taking a weekend when you feel this way on Monday night. Seriously, though, my legs are pounding their own heartbeats, begging me to just. sit. down. Mondays are 13 hour days for us (15 if you include the commute...) and tonight I am feeling each of those hours in my neck and shoulders. I know that I'm complaining, and I know it's not attractive or interesting so I'll try to move past the dramatics. Maybe someone could just rub my feet while I blog tonight? No, no takers? Ok, then. We started a challenge with everyone at work. Anyone who wanted to could put a $5 gift card into the pot, then whoever lost the most weight at the end of the month would get them all. It was great in theory, but I am most miserable when I'm dieting. Especially when I manage to self-destruct by being so healthy all weekend, and then ruining it within fifteen minutes before bed with a quart of ice cream ( it said low-fat frozen yogurt...) Rich and I have been snapping at each other all day. At one point, as I was micro-managing his sandwich-making he turned to me and said, "Maybe you could just keep your mouth shut." I know this because I wrote it down and twenty minutes later told him so. "I'm writing down every mean thing that you say and at the end of the day I'm going to read them back to you." And I did. Well, that was the only one I had, but it felt good to make him feel bad and then it just felt terrible. And petty. So yeah, the dieting, it's not going well. Dawn (who is already quite thin) has been eating sweet potato fries for lunch. I'm not saying I sabotaged her, but I might have King-sized her portion. I can't help it. Fries make people happy, and I need the edge. Rich was caught doping on weight-loss supplements, so even though he lost 5 pounds in the first week, he's disqualified. That leave me, and despite jogging (ok, sometimes walking) 2 miles for the past three days, I've managed to gain weight. Maybe I should take up smoking. Maybe not. But, hey, Monday is over, it's closing in on my bedtime and if there's one beautiful thing about being beat-up on a Monday night, it's that I'm guaranteed to sleep. And sleep well. As soon
Rich says we have to pretend like we don't own the place. At least I do. He says that when I'm annoyed and ready to argue with a customer, I need to think that I'll get written up. Or get a talking-to. Lately it's been tough for me. Like last week, a woman came into the shop and she wanted to create her own wrap, which is annoying (our menu is a direct reflection of ourselves...) but not a big deal. She wanted a vegetable wrap, which would have been fine but she wanted things that we don't usually carry- black olives and green peppers, banana peppers and slices of sour pickles. I told her we didn't have them. That she could have a dill pickle on the side. She insisted that we did, that she had them before, and that if it was going to be a problem she could just leave. I don't respond well to ultimatums, and even now I wish I could have just rewound myself- just shut my mouth and walked away. But I didn't. I waited a heartbeat, maybe two, and then I told her that it was probably a good idea- her leaving, that is. And she did, angry and shouting. Even as my own body was shaking, I knew I had played it wrong. Rich said that she was difficult before, but he just made her sandwich, and the things that we didn't have, he (obviously) didn't put in. She never knew different, and everyone was fine. But there is this pride that rises up in me and I sometimes cannot seem to mute the sarcasm. Be kind to me and I will love you, but be rude to me and I will bite back. I wish it wasn't so. I'm working on it. And for us, it's not about gaining or losing buisiness (our needs have always been provided for, and we trust they always will be). For us, it's about treating all people with love and respect. So, to the woman who stormed out last week, and to the others who I've been rough with; I'm sorry. Rest assured, I'm working on kindness... starting with myself.
We’re driving home and I know I’m a little crazy because sometimes, like now, when Rich istalking to me and the radio is playing and I’m trying to piece together a bakery line-up for the next day, I feel myself starting to freak out. I want to snap the music off and cover my ears. I started rubbing my earlobes before I realized that this might not be healthy. Maybe it’s because we’re on display all day, at least a hundred faces, dozens of check-ins and stories. And I want to hear the stories. I want to know about the sons who are in London and the mothers in hospice. I want to know about the make-up soccer games and the night classes in South Portland that just feel endless. These are the pieces that make me feel like I’m more than just the one who makes the cookies that are gone by 2PM.
But tonight, tonight I just want to turn down the volume on my husband who is going on about which type of SUV we should think about buying. At least that’s what he was saying when I started the internal humming- my own kind of silencer. I want to organize (in my head) my bakery schedule for tomorrow, so that I can put away the anxiety of feeling unprepared. Then I want to pump up Regina Specktor. Today we’re younger, then we’re ever gonna be! Yesterday I had the afternoon free. Rich ran the shop and I went shopping. I wanted to bring him a surprise, and I remembered that he wanted a pair of slippers that we looked at together, just a few days ago. Standing in the middle of Cabelas, with only about a dozen different options, I had no idea which slippers he had pointed out. Not even a close to a clue. And the truth is that even though we’re together 23 hours a day, everyday, I pay so little attention to my partner, that I forget his words instantly. How is it that I can remember many of our customers’ names, and what they ordered a month ago, but I can’t remember even a bit of our last non-work related conversation (even though it’s been happening even as I type this…) I wonder if
it’s possible to live separate lives that are as closely entwined as ours. I don’t know. I don’t want to know. So
(reluctantly)Regina Specktor can wait while I practice paying attention to something more than the internal list in my head… Just as soon as I figure out what I’m baking in the morning.
"I'm not going in. Seriously, Naph. Let's just go. Turn around. I'm not-nope. We're not doing it."
We're standing outside the Black Point Inn in Scarborough, looking through the bay windows at a roomful of nicely dressed business people from Scarborough. Shirts and ties with the jackets still on. Dresses in colors like black and navy blue. And we're standing here, me in a wrinkled dress with a cardigan that has seen better days, worn mostly to cover the bleach splots from too much careless cleaning. Rich is wearing a plaid button down shirt, the collar wrinkled. It's not tucked in. He tried, but that was worse. You see, we won an award for the Best New Business from SEDCO, a local organization that supports economic development. Even now, I'm humbled at the thought that our business was noticed, and recommended, considering the caliber of businesses in town. I mean, we're not even a member of the chamber of commerce... at least not yet. But public speaking has never been my thing. I know, I used to be a teacher and it's true that I talk with dozens of people a day, but not like this. We thought of every reason not to go. We're too busy. We have dogs waiting at home. We probably have catering the next day. But in the end, when two of our regular customers told us that they bought tickets because they wanted to support us. Because they knew that our families lived in New York. Well, we really had no choice. With the faint smell of Mainely Wraps preceding us, we pushed back our pride and went inside. We smiled. We sat in the back. I drank a glass of white wine like it was water, and then when it was our turn to receive an award, we walked forward. With a voice that shook, I told our story. And they laughed and clapped in a way that made us feel loved. When I spoke about a town that was so supportive, returning even after they waited 25 or 30 minutes just for a sandwich, I was suprised to realize that the shaking in my voice was more from emotion than nerves. And on the long, late ride home, as we wove through the darkness of backroads, I was filled with a sense of contentment, the way a sojourner must feel, when he is finally home. Here we are, aw
It's quarter to three and I'm sitting with a strong cup of coffee. If you've ever been in the shop later in the day you'll know that 2:45 usually find me slumped over in post-rush posture- swallowing lunch or, if it's been a particularly crazy lunch, something from the pastry case- one of whatever is left, if any are. My dangerous form of self-medication and an effort to move through the rest of the day on a sugar high. But we're closed today. Columbus Day Monday, and I'm sure that tomorrow morning there will be fifty missed calls, and a dozen voicemails to delete, I mean, listen to. But that's tomorrow. Today there is the passing of peak colors on the trees that cover more than half of our seven acres. Rich is in the yard building a fire. He's using the empty boxes from our 4th of July fireworks and I'm nervous, as I always am around fire and dynamite remains, that there are still bits of gunpowder waiting to explode, so I keep the dogs on the porch and watch from the kitchen window as he builds his blaze. The smell of snickerdoodles and pumpkin whoopie pies fill the house in a way no candle can. We're closed, but I'm still baking. Out loud I say I'm getting a headstart on the week, but the truth is that I find a strange sense of meaning in the process of baking. Eggs and milk and butter, flour and sugar and vanilla. A giant mess of liquids and powders. And then from this mess comes the sweetest cookie. Maybe it's my own inflated sense of self, but I get great satisfaction from making ordinary ingredients taste like something more. Something worth bending your diet for.
It's our one-year business anniversary- or rather it was, two weeks ago. But like everything else, I'm running behind. I know it's been six months since I've written, and the regret is tangible- like when I just realize I put tomatos on a "no-tomatoes, please" sandwich, just as the customer walks about the door and I don't have even half the energy to call them back. Regret because so much has happened. A thousand stories, and even now I can't articulate a single one. So we celebrated our first year of business last Sunday afternoon, with a bottle of Champagne (read: sparkling wine, the $7/bottle kind) and a nap. The wine was awful, the nap was better. I remember when I was in college, I almost failed my 8AM classes. I thought it was unethical to expect people to be up in the sevens, and paying attention at eight. And I was so sure that once I was an adult, I would sleep so much later. Til 9 or 10, at leaset I don't know why I thought this, probably wishful thinking that I manufactured into what I assumed would be reality. Needless to say, we're up by 4:30AM everyday. I sit on the edge of our bed, in that space between asleep and awake and continue to manufacture false realities. "Tomorrow you can sleep in," I say. Or, "tonight you'll just come home and go straight to bed." They're pep talks to get me off the bench and into the day, and even as I'm believing them, I know that there's no sleeping in, and for two people who are never home, there's a ton of housework to be done at night. One year of business and the only thing I know for sure is that at the end of the day I'll be exhausted. Happy, most days, but exhausted.
One month in and we’re ok.
We didn’t know what to expect from Scarborough, so when the lines began to form and stretch toward our front door we were more than surprised. We were in the weeds. No time for advertising. I had this whole plan that we were go from business to business with samples. That I would blog every day and people would read it and love us and feel like they know us and want to meet us. But at the end of a three hour rush, while I’m scarfing down lunch- a “mess-up” wrap and half a broken cookie, I can only think about the next twenty minutes.
About dishes that need washed and tables that are crumby. About cookies that need baking and tomatoes to be sliced. Everything is so fast, and I love it because we need the business and I hate it because I spend more time bent over a cutting board than interacting with people.
Today I saw a review online- one of those sites where people can go in and report on their eating experience. He said that our food was bad and we weren’t friendly. And my heart just dropped out of my chest onto floors that need sweeping.
"Don’t cry," Rich says, and I wasn’t going to, but my feelings are hurt. Like when you tell a boy that you have a crush on him and he laughs about it with his friends. The rejection of some person I don’t even know and will (obviously) never see again stings. Because I wonder if it’s true. Maybe our food really is terrible. Maybe we’re not nice people. I’m embarrassed for us, and I’m worried that everyone will see this
I’m scooping giant chocolate chip cookies as my mind gets crazy. They’ll stop coming to our shop, I think to myself, and within a month we’ll end up broke and alone, watching cable TV until they finally disconnect it.
I don’t know what to do with negative feedback. It stresses me out. And, amidst my thoughts of panic and disappointment I hear this quiet voice, one I barely recognize, and I am reminded that each day is new. Each Day. That all I’m asked to do is the very best that I can. That we can. So tonight I’m still a little bit sad. But I’m not defensive and I’m not defeated.
It’s raining, and it’s a Saturday. And other than a small group of friends, most people don’t even know
we’re open. So it shouldn’t be busy, we remind each other. It’ll take time for people to realize that we’re here.
We say this so that we’re not surprised when it’s slow. So that we don’t get depressed or nervous or start to second guess every decision we made leading to today. It’s definitely going to be slow, I say. So when a line builds at 11:30AM and doesn’t let up for three hours, we know another kind of nervousness. Here’s the thing, and I’m not making excuses for us, but it was our first day here, so… I guess I am making excuses. We offered fries with each sandwich, because now we have a frialator. It’s self-enclosed so there’s no need for a hood, a pretty nifty piece, actually. Except for the fact that it takes 4 minutes to cook fries, and it’s only big enough to cook 2 orders at a time. So when we’re backed up ten orders, that’s a minimum 20 minute wait… just for French fries. Our TV isn’t hooked up yet, and the music that is pumping from our laptop to the strategically placed speakers, dies out every time the computer starts to hibernate. Which is every 5 minutes. And the worst part of it
all is that I’m somehow clueless today. I stand in the middle of the kitchen looking from side to side, unsure of
what to do. I open paper bags and label wraps, I check the fryer-timer again and again, willing it to go
faster. But mostly I just avoid eye contact with people who have waited 20 minutes for food. I wonder where they came from, and how they knew about us. I wonder if they’ll be back or if they’ll tell their friends to stay away.
So we go back to the drawing board. We kill the fry idea, and discover a local kettle-cooked chip company. We decide to hire someone and within (literal) moments, we are referred to a girl who might just be perfect for the job. And finally, it’s the end of day one, still raining harder than ever and we sit on bar stools with two cups of soup, our backs to the piles of dishes and disarray behind us. Rich laughs out loud, and I know why.
It's Barely 9AM and temperature outside is reading 90 degrees. From my battery-operated radio every station is tuned into the weather. Where it will be hottest. Where it will be coolest. What to do. What not to do. It's all the same information we hear in January. Expect then they're talking about ice storms and blizzards. Snow, just the thought of it makes me feel like I've lived another life. It's hot, there's no doubt about it, and I slurp down bottles of diet Gatorade. The sweat runs down my eyes, but it doesn't sting. I lick it off my lip, but it tastes like water. This must mean something, but I have no idea what. The day is busy, in a slow kind of way. Customers take their time ordering and I don't rush to whip out egg sandwiches.
It must have been quarter to noon when the lights went out. Nothing dramatic- a deep sigh as the fans slow to a stop and the rattle of refridgeration cuts to silence. I've just finished making a wrap and he glances at my overhead lights (or lack therof) but says nothing as he waves and leaves. I move quickly to the power box, convinced that I've blown a fuse. Or rather, blown all of the fuses. I know that the refridgerators are working overtime in this heat, and I appreciate their hard work. And the freezer and the electric grill and the small portable frialator. Just please, don't quit on me now! I mutter out loud. Not when it's a hundred degrees out. Not when I'm counting on you most! But the switches aren't blown, or maybe they're so blown that it's not even registering on my power box. Cindy, my sweet landlord stops by and says that she's lost power and have we? Oh no! Could it be that I've singlehandedly powered off our take out stand and three entire rental properties? I'm in the midst of apologizing and planning an emergency rescue for the 12 pounds of (used to be) frozen lobster meat when we notice people spilling out of the surrounding buildings. The power is out all down the strip. It wasn't me. It turns out that I am, in fact, not the source of all energy, (despite my recent elation at several really nice reviews by people who are kinders than we deserve).
And so, for two hours we operate without electricity. The line is out to the road (which, for us, means about 5 people) as I make cold wraps and lobster rolls to order. Working with cash and rounding down prices so that everyone can pay and no one goes hungry. And people are incredible. There's no complaining (except for one annoyed man who thought it was "a little strange" that we had no power and I still had on the radio. I guess his doesn't have batteries). My customers are worried that I'm going to overheat. They wait 20 minutes in temperatures that are reading 104 in the shade for wraps that aren't even grilled off. They're cold, like the deli wraps you'd get at a supermarket. I'm embarrassed and grateful and we continue this way for a solid two hours until someone mentions to me that there's power again. There's been power for the last 30 minutes, he says. Didn'tcha know? I didn't. Because in my worry, I had turned the main power switch to off. We have a laugh as I switch it all back on while Rich pulls up with 160 pounds of ice. Ice that we no longer need for lobster. And the final customers pull away as we grab another gatorade and sit on top of the ice, trying to chill out.
There are so many Canadians in Old Orchard this week. It's a holiday up north and Canadian currency is strong against the dollar, which explains why the streets are packed with tiny Toyota hatchbacks. All of them speak French, some of them English. And it's hard for me because communication and the swapping of stories is key to our business. It's how we connect with our customers. It's my favorite part. So this week was difficult. There was more sign language than normal. Pointing and acting. Trying to explain the nature of english muffins and aioli.
Just yesterday a man pulled up in a cross-over minivan. He pointed to our special sign and said. "5." Our special happens to be a honey mustard chicken wrap, and I had just run out of chicken. And honey mustard. I shook my head, "it's going to be 30 minutes, I called out," as I searched the space for the plug to our portable fryer and pulled the frozen chicken tenders from the (bottom) of our chest freezer. "I'm out of chicken." He stared at me. Then pointed to the sign again. "Sorry," I shook my head, "it will take almost a half hour. I have to cook more and make more dressing..." I found the plug and started the fryer, pulling together the ingredients for honey mustard. Meanwhile the man who wanted the wraps gave me a long hard glare before getting in his minivan and slamming the door. He pulled away from the curb with the touch of a squeal, but I barely noticed. I was too hot and stressed about chicken and still flying off the adrenaline of a two hour rush. It wasn't until later that I realized that this customer probably only understand the shook of my head. He probably didn't understand the whole bit about running out. He might have just thought that I was refusing him service. Because he wanted five. Or because he didn't speak English. For the first time, I watched a customer leave angry and I didn't do a thing about it.
It's easy to care about most of our customers. I ask questions and we trade bits and pieces of ourselves, looking for connections and things that we recognize. We exclaim with delight when we discover the other person lived in a town next to the one we once visited during a junior high school field trip. Anything to affirm each other. To say that we are more than just a face. But without the language I am at a loss.
The annoyed would-be customer came back for breakfast today. He ordered two sandwiches, not quite looking at me. Turning his back once he'd paid, while I made them. He didn't drop his change in my tip jar. Who could blame him? I wanted to apologize but I'm not sure what for. For not understanding or not being understood? How do you apologize for being raised in a different culture? For speaking a different language? So I didn't say a thing. Instead, I made those two breakfast sandwiches to be the best he'd ever have. I apologized through eggs and garlic butter. Because food cross all lingual boundaries. It might be the only thing that does.