Troubles in Paradises

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Saturday, March 28, 2020. I cancelled the second interview at P. Market. The first one was a clumsy mess, maintaining our six feet distance in a loud café area that was under reconstruction on account of the virus (ridiculous!) and all the weirdness of me with a zillion years of irrelevant experience. This young gal, sorta cranky of course, having worked her way up into such a hallowed position or what have you and looking at me like some old fuck – why does he want to work here at his age, what’s wrong with him? – I’m never going to lower myself like that… “So what makes you want to work at Plum…? Who fucking cares? “Spending money,” I said. “Your asking price is high but this is somewhat of a skilled position….” Asking price? They fucking set the wage range and I just picked the highest number, what am I, stupid? And so on. How in hell to communicate with such vast, inexpressible gulfs between this person and me? We stumble forth, painfully. She grimaces when she can’t hear me talk over the racket. Thanks, sweety, you’re so fucking professional in this typical work-your-way-up-from-the-bottom food business nightmare. Bad vibe, she wanted to screen me out, but like all hiring managers she went through the motions, taking notes – why? – finally faking an effort at tracking down the meat dept. manager, knowing he wasn’t in, coming back, “He’s not in…” so she sets me up with him the next day, today at noon, I act like I’m pleased, contrive a smile, walk home, sweaty from nerves (why in hell would I be nervous?), enduring an hour long medium level anxiety attack for whatever stupid reason, outside of myself, profoundly miserable, wallowing in schism, a fucked up mess. All because of a worthless pain in the as job working in refrigeration hacking big cuts of meat into smaller cuts of meat, cleaning grinder parts, cleaning floors, walls, counter tops, display cases, god, fuck it. Kev tried to convince me I was doomed, “You and a job, a train wreck…,” but I kidded myself most of the rest of the day yesterday, trying to justify the hell of it all on behalf of the money. “Doomed? I’ll just make my money and quit.” Uh huh. If I have superpower that isn’t it is this: I project a persona not only outwards, as if donning a mask, a pernicious, self-sabotaging action in its own right but, furthermore, bafflingly, inwards; as if some devilish internal aspect of myself, some alternative me is capable of at least temporarily wresting control of the machine, of the ship and running it aground. Within Shalya there lived a demon who fed on bitterness, animosity, hate, and violence. Is this me? I am possessed by a demon, clearly. That it feeds, from what I can tell, more upon desire, ambition and the want of things probably does nothing to lesson its toxic influence. Negative energy is negative energy any way you slice it.

The dear reader scratches his or her head. What’s with this guy? Why does he make such a big deal out of it? Weird. Yep. It’s always been this way with me and jobs. There is something about it that I just don’t get. The getting of them and obviously the keeping of them. I’ve never once been at home in the situation of an interview or employment. I’ve had my share of better interviews, an equal quantity of terrible ones and all the rest doomed in the middle. This one a middle one. Had I gone in today, well, it just seemed like bad energy all around. My body telling me not to do it despite my heart and mind longing to make the audiobook happen. The audiobook that makes no sense, of course. Why would it sell? Because folks have nothing else to buy at this point in the format’s economic history? Perhaps. But I don’t have the money to pay for  it. Pouring money down the drain has to stop unless it’s my money to waste. I get it. “S., I won’t need the interview with A., thanks anyway, nice to meet you!” Me trying to be… who cares?

Now what? There’s always another job, I suppose. Except in this destroyed economy. I won’t rant about the insanity of the entire globe, it seems, having bamboozled themselves, by way of what I interpret as profound lack of intelligence, group think and maddeningly irrational, ignorance-based fear, into a modern economic Depression. It’s just the fucking flu. I’ve absolutely no patience for such idiocy. Stopping. Moving on.

Moving on to what? I got another automated response from the home improvement store HR person, clearly an idiot, “I apologize if I’ve already replied….” This the third time. What in fuck? Let me guess, you’re so fucking swamped, or unorganized or in some moronic panic or fog of indifference or you go through so many employees, your springtime temporary hire churn and burn bullshit, paying the minimum, filling spaces with warm bodies, expecting the buying rush that isn’t and…  WHO FUCKNG CARES? It’s my fault, one-hundred percent my responsibility that I’m in this position, yet again, for the umpteenth fucking time in my life looking for crappy, low-level shit job work to pay bills or pay for my dumb audiobook or whatever. The energy all bad, my psychology a mess, my attitude shitting the bed, my body and the world-of-action responding accordingly. Fifty-five years old and categorically unable to find my way. Even when I convince myself that I’ve found it.

Isn’t this a pleasant read? Welcome to the DOP. Ten years of this shit. Me building myself up, alternately fantasizing and strategizing, determined not to be denied my dreams, my individuation, the expression of my VAPM, working myself to the bone, giving it all I’ve got, spending all my money doing all that it takes to prepare myself for greatness or just mediocrity and I manage to accomplish is yet another pile of debt, emotional (psychological), physical (the advancing decrepitude) and of course financial. And now the ranting and raving and whining and crying about it all, so fucking compelling and appealing to a potential reader, huh?

I’ll keep looking for a job, a source of income to pay for the audiobook and I’ll keep editing TC2 until it’s time to pay to publish that and somehow, someway, I’ll keep contriving some manner of forward progress until the lights go out and my time here is done and the travelling circus that is my life finally packs up its tent. Me and my desires. Under the hollow, self-deluding guise of aspiration. When will I come clean with myself and how things are? I don’t know.

I watched a documentary about Kate Bush, The Whole Story I think it’s entitled. Kev found it on youtube, how this resides for free in its entirely on the web is beyond me, Bob Fripp, if it were related to him, would have rightly initiated a take down. Anyway, being a fan of her middle to late periods only (I would not have been a so-called early adopter of what I interpret as K.B.’s teenage excesses, precociously intriguing as they are), I was aware of the thing and found it fascinating, this prodigy who was never told, No. I begrudge K.B. not a thing – what a talent she is; what a myth-advancing gem of an artist-craftsman; what fantastic gifts she has bestowed upon  the world. That there was no overcoming required, no pedagogy of any significant required, no patience for that matter, just happens to add to the grandness of the mythology. For some, the very, very few that are especially gifted, the constraints of time, talent and drive simply do not apply, the world-of-action rightly relieves such burdens straight away and the boon arrives whole, untarnished and untattered; free to develop, expand, mature and establish its inarguably royal place in the pantheon.

Meanwhile, I’m not such a fool that I’m blind to my humble place in things, barely qualified to reside within the outlying pastures of mediocrity and semi-worthy participation. I entirely get it. I’m not only marginally talented as a writer but I’m late to the game, late to my own damn game, my own VAPM, hence, not having spent my formative years being properly formative, I suffer the residuals, feeding on scraps. Life as a scrapyard of sorts, with all manner of previously vital parts and pieces scattered about, wholly unintegrated except in my own imagination. I retain my artist-craftsman card but at the mere associate level. K.B.? There was some discussion in the rockumentary, a comparison made between Keats who was described as writing out of his imagination and some other famous writer who wrote from their life, as it were, inspired by the events of it and how K.B. more resembled the former. I agree except to add that what she’s writing out of is better described as mythology – her cultural and personal mythology. Moreover, that she advances mythology. So even when one is referencing one’s one life in their work, as K.B. does, writing about such pedestrian things as washing machines and her son’s life, real happenings, she imaginatizes them, reinvents them, mythologizes them. Some of us do this instinctively, intuitively and others not so much. I’m convinced that everyone manages a certain mythological perspective but when it’s not a vocation to acknowledge, name and claim it, let alone attempt to communicate it, its powers and images remain hidden, occult, and that’s okay, mythology does its work regardless. Akin to Jung, I believe we have access to our best life only when we at least acknowledge our mythology but there are many ways to do so, some almost entirely unconscious. Intellectualizing or being self-aware of one’s experience of being properly alive isn’t a requirement. And in fact I would suggest that my own over-self-analyzed existence suffers from just that. I think about it too much; I strangle the cat; by observing it almost continually I prevent its full expression. Physics teaches us, after all, that observation and measurement affect the outcome of an experiment, of an event. It’s ironic but life, in a way, seems to be often defined by irony. (I discuss the mythology of irony elsewhere).

DOP1 (2010-11) VINTAGE POST:

No Pain, No Gain

June 5, 2011. Sunday. The end of our fourth week in biz. We’re taking two days off after working seven days straight for the cart. I’ve had some hard fucking jobs in my day, but I never thought this one would be anything like this brutality. Mark H. said, before we all started, that the food service business was “bone-crushing” work, and I guess he was right. He used to own the diner across the street from the Home & Garden he owns now, so he should know. Angie and I have had some blow-out fights, stress related, fatigue related, just crazy shit that comes out when you’re maxed out.

I miss my dog. I miss time to write and think. This has been the best of times and the worst of times but mostly the best; I told Angie that as hard as HH is, I’m glad we’re doing it because I’m getting back at least some of what I’m putting in. The balance isn’t there yet, but I’m doing what I ought to be doing, at least for now. There’s none of the burden that my previous careers have placed on me; HH is hard work – hard as hell – and I’ve never been as tired and worn out, but I’m not dying inside. I don’t remember feeling so alive and that’s what I want: to live versus just exist. That’s what we’re doing. Too bad it’s at such a considerable price – if we stay married and in biz for the whole cart season, it’ll be an accomplishment of some magnitude. This is testing every square inch of our bodies and minds to the absolute maximum. Our phycomythologies are being hammered like Damascus steel – over and over and over, folded and smashed again. We’ll never be the same and it’s probably a good thing. I know now what a good life, in line with your biophycomythology, is. Unfortunately, it’s not anywhere close to easy.

I don’t recall travelling so far, biophycomythologically, so fast. My early college days at MSU and OU are about the only times in my life that resemble this one in terms of energy and new information. Mark’s Carts, as fucked up as it is, has been an amazingly effective crash course in the food service biz. I think we’ve seen just about everything in four weeks and lived to tell about it. Barely. These two days off are like a cold drink and hopefully restorative enough to keep us going as we try to generate some equilibrium. Equilibrium is something that Ari says takes about two years to achieve when undertaking any new venture. I believe it. We’re just trying to get to Thanksgiving, the end of the first cart season, so we can try to evaluate if a second year is even feasible. Angie said we’ve already done $7K, which is 70% of the way towards our worst-case first cart-season sales and we’re only through our first month. So I think we’re doing far better than we could have dreamed, though it might kill us yet.

“I’m bone weary, I’m bone tired…” Graham Parker, Thanksgiving Day. An appropriate song for this story. Here’s hoping we get to Thanksgiving Day.

The folks in the kitchen, besides the public, seem to like the mac & cheese when I pull it out of the oven. A volunteer for Lunch Room said it’s her favorite part of the morning, when the trays come out. I can see why – I love the stuff and it restores my faith in the world each time I cook it:

The best mac & cheese on the planet

The mac has been a huge hit. Also the headcheese hoagie, which really surprised me – we’re going through about ten pig’s heads per week. The braises are popular too, and I did a “Late Spring Special” of brisket with rhubarb, honey and currants – a riff on Molly Steven’s recipe.

Here’s a shot of Kev in action – he’s been a critical part of our success – without his help taking cash and getting the cart set up each day, and the kitchen dirty work like cleaning and dishwashing, HH would be fucked:

Kev lending support

I look at this photo and think wow, what the fuck are we doing? We’re business people in Ann Arbor – what a cool fucking thing and what a better life than I’ve had before. Finding one’s vocation is the best thing.

However, at the same time, even having our vogs and our guides, there is a mystery to all of this – I don’t exactly know what will happen to hh and our lives. The visions of greatness may indeed come to be, yet I find myself wondering now if that is really what I want. This “not knowing” is something I’ve struggled with all my life and maybe I’ll never completely leave it behind. Maybe a person can be immersed in their vocations, doing the things they ought to be doing, and still feel like it’s a high-wire act. Maybe it’s just that everything is so new and those doubts will fade as the days and weeks and months go by. There is always uncertainty I would think, no matter how biophycomythologically “dialed in” you are. Life adds its own component to the vision. The forest adventurous may be a guided tour, but it’s not an amusement park ride – the adventure isn’t engineered to play out a certain way in a certain amount of time. There are other lives, other events, other people’s visions and vocations, the “soul of the world” and time itself that affect our destinies. Within the lack of control lies the risk. I need to remember to surrender to the master passions and not waste time and energy pondering the “what ifs” and worrying about risks. I’m better when I just doing it, just staying engaged, doing the work mindfully, trying to remember to enjoy it, and trying to improve the balancing of my vocations so as to not let one of the six crush the other five.

At this point the cooking vocation is of course overwhelming everything else, but just getting out yesterday and taking two walks around town, listening to tunes, writing this book and pondering biophycomythology takes care of five out of six. The gastrofarming component is the one vocation that is the least established – I haven’t done it, so it may not actually be a vocation. I may never do it. It may be that gastrofarming gets tossed or modified or delayed, like Alex Young’s vog. His idea is very similar and he’s farther along with the farming thing, but says the finances just aren’t there yet.

The plastic brain. I think that’s what I’m experiencing. My brain is changing as a result of expressing and engaging my biophycomythology. So as I move through life, gaining experience, my perspective and thoughts are changing. However, just because my brain is changing, doesn’t mean my heart is changing. The heartmind is not the mind and my mind has been what has gotten me into biophycomythological “trouble” all my life. I need to remember that. Just writing this shows that I need to be vigilant; I need to listen to my heart, because my overdriven rational mind still tries to “take over” and make sense of all this before I really need to or ought to. My mind wants to figure it all out, establish the outcomes, predict the future, develop the game plan, get everything straightened out, get everything “right” and “succeed” or at least get some equilibrium. But Ari has pointed out, and I believe him, that equilibrium, when starting anything of substance, takes time – two or three years. Why should hh and my life be an exception to that? It won’t be. My heart says we go on, we continue with hh until the end of cart season, so that’s what we’ll do.

June 6, 2011. Massive fatigue still plaguing me. When you take some time off to rest mid-game, it seems like it can just make you more tired. Or more aware of how tired you are. Or more aware of the things in life you’re missing out on, or have given up in order to follow your myth, to live your personal legend. I’m forgetting about the bliss sometimes, and getting caught up in my old habits of being disappointed in people’s lack of leadership, namely that of Mark H. who just doesn’t have a leadership style that I like. Again with the problem of working under incompatable leadership – what a fucking curse this condition has been in my life. I never seem to run into a “boss” (in this case a landlord) that captains the ship; all they ever do is look out for themselves. And boy, does this ship need a captain. I’ve always hated how lack of strong leadership allows for the crew to start doing their own thing and allowing the talk-alots and blow-hards to attempt to force their will on everyone else. Sometimes I get fired up and pissed off but mostly I just try to please, then hate myself for doing that. Why don’t I grab and take and push and shove? God, I hate competing with anyone but myself.

I’m “attributing intention” which I shouldn’t. I’m getting caught up in slamming Mark H. when I don’t really know the guy and probably never will. I don’t really want to, honestly. I just want to do my own fucking thing. That’s an unrealistic dream, to be able to do your own fucking thing completely, I know – we’re always towing some line to somebody in some way or we’re completely checked out, like Campbell says. I read some Pathways to Bliss tonight. I still need to read my guides especially when I’m stressed out or wandering or stumbling or whatever I’m doing lately. It’s been a hell of an interesting two years or so. So many changes. So many new things. So many struggles. So many adventures. REAL adventures. Travel. Biophycomythology. Reading. Writing. Walking. Talking. A new biz. New people. New ideas and new physical and mental health.

I get afraid that the grind of hh will snuff everything out, that it’ll consume our lives so much that we don’t get ahead and in fact lose some of the best things we’ve acquired from everything else we’ve done, even including moving to Texas. Like maintaingin mindful healthfulness for example. I’m getting killed by this job. Every job I have, I seem to let it kill me – that’s a fault of mine I know. “So when the bliss cuts off… try to find it again.”[1] Campbell. Like my analogy of getting lost in the woods, when you start to panic and run off like a crazy person, without direction. Stop, drop and listen to your heart, and your heart will reveal your guides, who are there for you. So I’m doing that, and looking for my guides. Fuck being disappointed in myself, yes I’m disappointed in myself because I keep slipping back into being a fuck-head. Fuck being disappointed in myself and suck it up, admit I’m still a fuck up but fucking trying like hell to fix it, to get back on track, get back on my route. I’m following zcobbers and they’re all around me. I’ve chosen my own path, my own entry point into the forest adventurous – I’m not on someone else’s path. But it sure can seem a “like a failure in the middle.”

I’m going to raise the price of my mac & cheese tomorrow to $4.00 for a half, $8.00 for a whole tray. Holy thor, the $8 just seems astronomical. I’ll be getting the zcob-esque sticker-shock and bitching from the customers I know. But what the fuck? A four dollar half-mac still has me at 50% food cost or more. Maybe none of this hh food biz thing can work. Which is why nobody does anything good for a reasonable price. But ZCoB is a guide. Follow them. See what happens. Listen to Ari. Listen to my heart too. I’m zonked. Must reenergize hh power. I wish this writing had some sort of compelling voice. But I think it sucks. Just blah, blah, blah. A quote out of Campbell, who was quoting Ortega Y Gasset, who wrote an essay on Don Quixote: “A bore is one who deprives us of our solitude without providing companionship.”[2] I worry that that is what my writing is like. Maybe I’m becoming a bore. But Campbell also says the job of the poet and artist is to activate the world in which we live.[3] Though I’m neither, I still identify with the sentiment.

I’m at least relieved of the burden of wondering what the fuck I’m supposed to be doing. Even though I’m not sure this won’t all be yet another fiasco, I’m convinced I have to ride it out until season one is over. It could all end up a fucked-up mess. What will I do at Thanksgiving? Get some job somewhere is what I’m thinking. Not sit on my ass. I’ll get hooked up at ZCoB even though they won’t pay much. Because my heart seems to be pointing me that way. If they’ll hire me. The other carters have stories too, some very similar to mine, like stepping away from corporate bullshit and into the food world. But I’m such a fucked-up pile of baggage sometimes. I need a good food day tomorrow, a good hh experience and it’s up to me to make one. It could be a hot mother fucker and kill our biz, but goddam that shit with the weather – it’s always gonna be ‘outta my control. Let’s tough it out. Like the candy seller in The Alchemist, let’s just take pleasure in being who we are, setting up my candy stand and living my myth. I’ll keep doing these silly things that are connected to my zeal, it only because I can’t think straight enough to know what else to do. Guides….

June 12, 2011. Scaling back. Getting perspective. Sales are declining considerably compared to the first two weeks and it’s partly the weather, which has been rainy, super hot, or windy or whatever the fuck. People need a temperature no higher than upper eighties and some sunshine helps a lot. It makes sense to me. I wouldn’t want to eat at a food cart to begin with, let alone in questionable or uncomfortable weather. Add to that the reality of what I think is the true market – notably the biz lunch crowd – and you’ve got sales that peak at three-hundred per day and sometimes dip below one-hundred if you nclude less-than-perfect weather. I think the four-hundred-dollar-plus days, and certainly five-hundred, are history and unrealistic now that the “new-ness” has worn off Mark’s Carts. That’s o.k. with me. The brutal “university of mark’s carts,” where me and angie essentially learned the crushing strain of the food service biz in a fire-storm of super-busy, not-enough-food, can’t-cook-fast-enough craziness is over. Now we can just try to get some routine and try to enjoy what we’re doing again, to keep the vibe and keep learning, but also have some sort of life too. It’s not that I don’t expect to the cart to essentially be my entire life, at least for this season, but a complete depletion of energy and money is neither the goal nor the vog. So we’ll open today, Sunday, with less food. One tray of mac. One tray of belly. One-quarter loaf of headcheese, one bell pepper, one onion. That’s it. But we’ll hope to sell out, clean up and get the fuck out of the kitchen.

June 13, 2011. This is the second day of the leaner, meaner hh. One tray mac, one quarter terrine headcheese, about two pounds belly. Also still experimenting with toast & preserves, of which we sold only one, but got some interest with our new sample tray. I opened, sold most of the shit, and got the fuck out. (Not including the cart-folk meeting we had). So, not as busy as I’d like, but good response from customers who get it and some shitty response from ones who don’t. Good. I’m not in this to please everybody. But everybody will be able to recognize a quality operation even when they’re not particularly into the food. The criticism will come for all of us. One old lady who seemed nice at first asked me how much headcheese I was selling. Because she didn’t like mine. Thanks. I’ll just keep plugging. I get way more compliments than I ever thought I’d get, so it’s been good. This other lady is keeping me humble, right? Anyway, one of the toughest things about this is taking criticism about the food and hell, I’m good at it, but I’m not saying I’m a fucking genius or some shit. It’s just old-school shit cooked low and slow.

We were invited to bring the cart to the Camp Bacon Street Fair by Gauri, who’s the camp Director this year. I noticed she had copied Ari on the email:

“I’m writing to invite you to be a part of Bacon Street Fair on July 1st. You’ve already registered for the event on Saturday and I’m excited to have you both there, especially with the success of Humble Hogs under your belts! Will you join us to be a part of Bacon Street Fair as well? It’s on Sunday, July 3rd at the Kerrytown market – the actual fair runs from 11 am to 2 pm so I imagine that we’ll run from 9 or so until a little past 3 with set up and breakdown. We’re expecting about 200-250 people to pass through so it should generate a a good bit of sales and exposure for you! We’re running it as a fundraiser for the Washtenaw 4-H, they’ll be there with hogs in tow (we hope) and we’ll have donation jars at every booth. I’m happy to send more details your way if you’re interested. I hope you are. Fingers crossed. Couldn’t imagine a street fair featuring all things pig without Humble Hogs there. Do say you’ll join us!”

I’m very proud of this request. ZCoB wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t doing quality shit – they’ve got more than enough folks banging down their door to sell shit through, in and around ZCoB. I like to believe that I’m not a charity case either, even though it is a fundraiser for 4-H. I think it is a good fit now that Gauri mentions it – hh is all about pork and certainly bacon can make an appearance in our menu quite easily. Faggots on toast could return and might be a good choice. Along with the red-cooked belly. So anyway, of course we said “yes” and I can’t wait to do our very, very best for ZCoB. Maybe Molly Stevens, as busy as she is, would be around for another day and be able to try some hh food, which is of course so inspired by her.

Sunday, June 19, 2011. Food costs. Ji Hye from Sans Street is coaching us on food costs and we’re lucky to have her, along with Ari, giving us advice on this stuff. We’re not charging enough – our food costs are no lower than 35% and mostly above 45% closing in on 50%. Cold headcheese for example, should be at least $5 instead of the $4 we’re charging. Probably $6 to get the <35% food cost. It’s difficult to charge high prices because I know I’d flinch at the price if it was me as the customer, so when I get that twinge in the gut, then I back it down to what seems reasonable. But Ari has told me that you might as well get it over with regarding what you need to charge. He’s right regarding sustainability long-term, but short-term, I still think you need to come at it from a lower intro price to get a hook in people. If it’s perceived as a rip-off from the beginning then nobody will even try it and you’ll never sell it. Gradually raising prices to a still reasonable level over time seems intuitively right to me. Maybe I’m wrong. We’ll keep plugging, chugging, tweeking and keeping an “eye” on the costs.

We’re getting our niche established I think. Folks are starting to know us for what we do and the headcheese, especially the cold version, seems to be getting us the “cred” that we thought it would. It tastes good, it looks pretty and, while it’s heritage food, it seems new in a way I think and it’s doing what I think Zingerman’s stuff does – it’s connecting people to something good from the past and bringing it forward into a unique food experience; something they can’t get everywhere, even anywhere else. The terrine I make can’t be reproduced by anyone, and shouldn’t be – stuff like this is a naturally unique expression of food-love, of adding unique, individual value to something because no two people will make a headcheese in the same manner.



[1] Joseph Campbell, Pathways… ?

[2] Ibid., 89.

[3] Ibid., 99.