car·riage re·turn

n. the lever or mechanism on a typewriter that would cause the cylinder on which the paper was held (the carriage) to return to the left margin of the page

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Pirates of the Kitchen,Comrades in Arms

I first read one of my favorite books,Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential,when I was working pastry at a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. In the book,Chef Tony used the term “pirates”to describe a particular band of cooks he once worked with in Providence,Rhode Island,and that particular comparison sat well with me when I looked at the crew I was a part of.

We came from all different walks of life. Pete,the sauté guy,was the most pirate-like of us. He lived the hardest,cursed the loudest,cooked with the greatest frenzy,drank the most,and had a glorious strawberry-gold beard and curly hair which was always disheveled. Pete was completely self-taught,having worked his way up (as so many do in the industry) from washing dishes to premium-level line talent.

LeeAnn was,like Pete,self-taught,but she was newer to the game and compensated for a lack of experience with a financier’s attention to detail. She was the tallest cook in the restaurant,with gorgeous curly black hair that the chef required her to wear up under a hat,though her hair was actually shorter than mine at the time. On her days off she would help her boyfriend restore his Austin-Healy Sprite. She also could make a wickedly good cup of espresso.

Don was the super star. He’d graduated from a very prestigious culinary school in London,done a dream internship,and had come back to Minnesota. He worked the fish station,right next to Pete in the trenches. Don could drink nearly as well as Pete,but he didn’t give into his emotions quite as much,managing to remain somewhat more aloof. He was also a pretty cool cucumber under fire,and for this he was the unofficial leader of our band.

Anthony was the hotshot kid of the group. Fifteen times more confidant and boisterous than I was,he was also the better cook,owing mostly to an earlier start and more self confidence. Anthony would mess up from time to time because he was still learning,but everyone knew that one day he’d be just as good,if not better,than Don and Pete. Anthony was also the most caustic with the waitstaff,openly mocking them and needling them to the point of near exasperation.

There were a few others who worked with us on a consisent basis,but as a general rule you could find any one of the above individuals in the restaurant on any night the place was open. We’d go drinking at the downtown bars after the shift,occasionally we’d have parties at one apartment or another,and generally things were always smooth between us.

The thing is,we weren’t really that close as individuals.

The complete opposite has been true with my colleagues in the Marine Corps. To be honest,I don’t hang out with them perhaps quite as much as I did with the chefs I worked with four and a half years ago,but despite that,we’re a much tighter group.

Each one of us has individual strengths and weaknesses,but we’ve managed to tailor those into a cohesive fabric that serves our unit well. We don’t always agree,and occasionally we get quite hot under the collar with one another,but in the end we pull together in ways the pirates I used to work with couldn’t.

We look out for one another and for one another’s families,drive each other to the airport,treat one another to lunch,and address the concerns of each guy as best we can.

Lately it’s been a time for celebration.

Marty,our focal point and the longest-tenured guy in the office,departed in the early spring for civilian life after four years of service. We keep in occasional touch with him,and there are many days around the shop where his presence is missed. Sure,we’re glad he’s off pursuing his life free of hindrance –we just wish he could have done that here with us.

Sean,as I’ve mentioned before,has a brand new little boy at home. He was the first of three guys in the shop to announce his wife was pregnant,and as the second youngest,he tends to get the most ribbing. I like to joke with him that he’s “everyone’s kid brother,”but he’s shown me a lot of guts and taught me a few lessons over the past few months.

Chris,who hosts this site,is going to be joining Sean with a promotion to “Daddy”very shortly,a position he’s well suited for,and one he’s going to love. Chris is my resident source for any technical information regarding computers,a sort of one-stop shopping center of knowledge. He’s a former roommate of mine,too,and we joke about nerdily holing up in our room on Friday night with all the necessary foodstuffs and not emerging until late Sunday afternoon to get a haircut before returning to work on Monday. My thoughts have been with him,his wife,and the new life they’re about to bring into the world since early yesterday afternoon,and as such,I didn’t really have much in mind for an update today.

When I visit the hospital and have a picture to put up,I’ll post it. Until then,please keep a good thought out for Chris and his family.

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