Category: books

General Notes

Since we were just discussing “Getting to Know the General,”  I would like to elaborate on the historical setting of this book, the political and militant tension between the United States and Panama in reaching a new treaty regarding the ownership and operation of the Panama Canal.

This was a highly controversial topic for both countries.  America was stoic in wanting to keep control of the canal- they built it, paid for it, engineered it, and reaped the monetary benefits from it.  Surrounding the Canal, an American colony was established.  It was affluent and run basically separate from the rest of Panama, with its own schools, government, culture, and economy.

America had all the benefits from the current deal they had with Panama- one, of course, built on exploitation.  The original document regarding the conception and construction of the canal was signed in 1903 by the United States Secretary of State and a French diplomat who had been in power for 2 weeks as the Panamanian representative.  In addition to later selling his shares to the US, this leader never returned to the country after signing the treaty.  So yeah, basically Panama got played.

The Panamanians would welcome a surgical scar running down the country that benefited the global market if, of course, they could profit from it. Americans living in the canal zone were affluent and cut off from the rest of Panama.  Everyone outside of the canal zone was very poor.  The Panamanians peeking into this life saw the injustice, they saw how unfair and cruel the situation was.  Panamanians would rather sabotage the canal (which was relatively easy to do since once drained, the canal would take 3 years to fill back up again) than to concede ownership of this new found industry.

So 74 years since the original treaty, plus 23 more years until the new treaty was finalized, neither side was happy.   Each side felt like they gave up too much.  There was a backlash on both sides.  Americans thought Carter had given away a US asset, plus the US citizens living in Panama had to disrupt their lives by moving out and back to the mainland.  Everyone is Panama was upset, both the rich and the poor. The Panamanian’s continued to be a puppet for the US since they had to reorganize their government to appease the US.

Greene’s story begins in winter 1976, the year before the notorious treaty was signed, when he meets General Torrijos for the first time.  Over the span of 4 years, Greene unravels the story of the General, the Panamanian leader with the most at stake.  He uncovers Torrijos’ philosophy and political tactics leading up to the treaty, in his relationship with the citizens of Panama, and the implications of the deal until his mysterious death in 1981 in a plane crash.  There is direct evidence that the US had previous assassination attempts against him.  That information is from Wikipedia, but according to Torrijos and his trusted friend, many people wanted him dead.

This book is a fascinating insight into a side of the story that is often not told.  Greene opens the reader’s eyes to the struggle of the poor country and the man who was the representative of the small, impoverished country with a lot to lose.

PS- Let’s all take a moment and appreciate the courage of Jimmy Carter to help reach an agreement with Panama.  Nobody in the US wanted to give the rights to this small, poor, powerless country.  He did it because “it was the right thing to do.”  He was very unpopular for this and was not reelected probably because of this. Not all presidents have such a moral compass.  Reagan, his predecessor, tried to undo the treaty by preaching we built it, we paid for it, it’s ours.

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Times, They Change

I am reading an old copy of Graham Greene’s “Getting to Know the General.”  Unlike most of Greene’s work as a storyteller, this is a biography about a certain Osmar Torrijos, a Panamanian leader during the time of negotiating the ownership of the Panama Canal with the United States.

This copy of “Getting to Know the General” is raggedy, it feels as if is going to fall apart in my hands.  I am afraid to open it too wide for fear that the pages are going to fall from the binding like oak leaves in autumn.  The front cover looks like it had a fierce battle with a pair of scissors, gingerly hanging onto the book’s spine.  The once white pages have been replaced with the familiar yellow-brown fade along the outside edges. It smells properly just how an old book should smell.

Thumbing through the book, I find some additions from the publisher that make the copy seem ancient.  In the first pages of the book, there is a line stating that the publisher offers bulk discounts for “sales promotions, premiums, or fundraising.”  For details, you write a letter to the Vice President of Special Markets in New York, New York. No telephone number is given, just an address.

The last 4 pages of this book are mail order forms to buy new books.  There is a page for Graham Greene, 2 other related authors, and page of books appealing to the subject matter of “Getting to Know the General” labeled “Presidents, Primates & Pundits.”  You check the boxes next to the books you want, and along with the price listed next to each book, you add 75 cents per order for postage.  Write your check for the calculated amount, and mail the order to New York.  If the order is over 10 dollars, you can fill in your credit card information.  Expect delivery in 6 weeks.

I thought that I had stumbled on a time portal.  I thought that with this book I was glancing far back in time, a time before I was even conceptualized, a time when maybe my mother was a small child.  As it turns out, this copy was just as young as me.

The year this book was printed was 1984 and I was 1 year old.  “Computer” was a word that did not exist yet.

What is available to me right now is an onslaught of information: Wikipedia summary of the book and life details of the author, detailed information about every book he had ever written and recommended books.  I can readily find email addresses, telephone number, and directions (which also could include flight information and hotel rates), hours of operation, and current staff members of the publisher.

Now I can download books by this author (not Getting to Know General, yet) directly to my kindle (it’s on my nightstand next to my bed) in under 6 seconds.

#cheflife

It was a holiday weekend for those nine to fivers.  The fortunate get a three day weekend, with Friday being the coveted day of freedom.  It was a nice sunny day, a great day to seize the opportunity to meet up with friends and enjoy a nice lunch.  On this cursed day for your food service worker friends, we were ill prepared.  That is an understatement, ill prepared.  There was no preparing for the pandemonium that happened behind the line, in the bowels of the 100 degree kitchen.  Lunch is normally slow, with maybe a small rush but nothing too crazy.  This Friday, though, the people came in floods.  They came in droves.  They came in herds.  They came in murders.  They came in bunches, in parties, in clusters, in groups, in parades.  They were jovial and they were hungry.  Everyone wanted a bite of the proverbial apple pie.

In one hour we served over 100 people.  That is more people than lunch does the whole week combined.  They all came in at the same time, and they were merciless in their hunger.  They were there to eat and drink and celebrate the freedom.  I cannot really delve into the complete incompetence of the one and only line cook that runs the show during lunch.  Why the hell the chef thought he could work it, I have no fucking clue.  I have roughly zero training on the lunch menu, as my job is pastry prep.

After honestly the second ticket I had to start helping out, cooking and plating dishes I have never seen, cooking meat to the right temperature on a grill I have never used, getting trained by the worst employee we got.  It was pandemonium.  Sheer, complete, insanity.  The ticket machine was throwing up tickets like the day after new years eve.  Its pattering printing sounds were the music we were dancing to.  It was nuts.  We were going down in fiery flames like Dante’s nightmare.  We were getting burned up like a Detroit house fire.  We were so in the weeds that it felt like a jungle.

How can I describe how ill prepared we were for the rush?  The line cook wasn’t even prepared for the 15 covers he was expecting.  Chorizo for 3 orders.  Potatoes for 7.  Not burger miser in place.  No tomatoes cut, no onions rounds, no cheese sliced, no lettuce picked.  The soup is not heated up.  Do you think we are going to sell burgers on the 4th of July?? No, its not a big grilling holiday.  I think people are going to go for Christmas ham instead.  At another point, he was plating something that also gets breakfast potatoes, it was at that moment he realized there weren’t anymore cooked.  Is zero enough to get through?  I am going to go with a solid no.

It was a grade A disaster.  It is shocking that I did not physically harm my poor co-worker.  I did tell him that I wanted to chop him up into pieces and put him through the meat grinder. I told the food runner that I hated him because he ran the special food ticket to the wrong table.

I lost a hamburger due to sticking to the grill because I was trying to cook it faster.  I was so mad that I had to restart the patty when the rest of the ticket was ready to go.  This unfortunate burger was finishing cooking in the oven when I had to go in the back to prep the hundred of things that we did not have set up.  I said to him “that burger needs to be sent out as quickly as possible.  It will be done in 3 minutes, put it on the fucking plate and sell it.” I come back 5 minutes later, ask if the burger flew, and the lunch guys says (honest to god) “what burger?”  I plated it, wondering how the hell he could have possibly forgotten after how many times I talked about it.  Seriously, I said something to him about getting that damn burger no less then 10 times.  Pandemonium.  Sheer madness.

At one point I was looking at all the tickets, my head spinning with the details, and I have a vague feeling that no, it was not possible to get this done.  I wanted to panic, I wanted to walk away, I wanted to shout, I wanted to throw my tongs and say I am not a damn lunch cook, I do not make my living cooking fucking eggs!  I screamed PANDEMONIUM and went about cooking as fast as possible.

It was awful.  That is also an understatement, but I will leave it at that.  Awful.  At the end of the rush, the waitress is crying because she was working alone.  Served everyone by herself, and she was upset that she could not give people the nice service they deserved.  She was rushed and rude, and that does not make you feel like you did a good job.  You work very hard and at the end you feel like shit.  You feel that your best is not good enough.  No matter how hard you tried, you failed.  There is no winning in this game.

Afterwards, when the day settled down and the Chef decides to show up, he informs you that it was all your fault that there were 45 minute ticket times.  How could this have happened he wanted to know?  Why did I not call him with my third arm when I was cooking for the entire city?  He could have called back-up, which wouldn’t have arrived until the rush was over anyway.  It was in no way his fault for not thinking that maybe, just maybe, we would be slammed the Friday before the fourth of July.  Not his fault for making the schedule, for not informing me that the lunch line guy was going to change to this guy who is still in culinary school and has absolutely no experience.  Why is he not working the salad station?  I have no idea.

I cannot describe the anger, dissatisfaction, contempt, and spite I felt at the end of the day.  I saved the fucking day, and my reward was disappointment and an empty stomach.  Rumble, rumble cooking is not so easy all the time.

just another day

I am blessed with very sensitive skin.  Combined with the attribute of wearing my emotions on my sleeve, I battle with acne.  Its the worst.  Its on your face, and its so noticeable.  Thank the good goddess for make-up.  Its so good.  But my problem is that I cannot kept up with the upkeep.  I work in a 100 degree kitchen.  That is not an overstatement.  Its hotter then balls hot.  My makeup runs, I look like joker town fool by the end of my shift.

So I have this zombie dead zit that is the worst.  Its been holding steady on my fore head for honestly months.  It won’t budge, just chillen, making a home.  But now its full blow sickness, it a colony plotting to take over my whole face.  Really, my face it going to turn into a big zit.  Its happened before, and its. Terrifying.  Downright awful.  Its going to chew my pretty face, consume my self, and I will be left right where I am now.  I have had three people comment on my face.  The first asked if I got cut, the second if I had a bruise, and the third if I got into bike accident what’s wrong with your face?  Honest to goddess, this happened.  A bike accident?? A bike accident.  No. Nope.  Just a zit.  I mean this happens to me.  I get a fuck face zit for like half a year.  The worst? Terrifying??

No.

Not even close.

Honestly I don’t give a fuck about my face town fiasco.  What I walked into today at work was terrifying.  It was beyond a blemish turned bruised.  I walked into a pure hell of a greasy mess.  How and what have I done to deserve this level of grossness.  I almost had a heart attack.  No warning, just a ball of hot greasy splattered evenly across every surface.  Dust settling again on top.  New oil waits new grease.  I couldn’t even walk from my cup of coffee to my station.  I had to walk around the entire restaurant just to get from the front line to the back.  Within being there for no less then 5 minutes, I had inexplicable oil on my hand.  One hand sink was being repaired and out of commission.  Since it was being worked on, there were tools everywhere, around the sink and the hallway leading to the office.  Everywhere I looked and walked was not okay.  Not a single sight being up kept or cared for.  Everywhere is neglected.  Fuck, I haven’t been there for one day.  One.  The other hand sink was so dirty it looked like a bus boy had puked it in.  There was no soap at that sink.  Mind you, I had to walk a solid 2 minutes to get to 2/2 no functioning sinks.  No big deal.  NBG. Its only me.

What have I done to deserve this?  If I was in prison, it would be cleaner.  And it might most likely be a more pleasant environment.

Good goddess I wish this was the end.  Only the beginning really of my day.  Remember, this is first 5 minute of the day.  The kitchen was a greasy snot ball of hell for the first hour.  After a fury of soap and anger, I checked the schedule.  Oh, I am working the hot line by myself, after no real training.  Also, was I warned?  Nope.  Last conversation with chef was that I should start learning the station.  So now I am on my own, with no warning, a station I hardly know, apparently in charge what comes out of the kitchen, a fucking messy ass kitchen, plus I have my pastry prep to do, put the order away, oh yeah there is a 100 person party tomorrow at noon.  Did I mention no warning of an extra aside from the party?  That at least I was informed about.  Carrot cake is good and fast, but goodness.  At the end of the shift, the chef was courteous enough to remind me that if I had cut the cake, I wouldn’t have to come in so early in the morning.  God damn, if only I had thought of that.

Its Tuesday.  Tuesdays are slow.  Its a chill day.  We started with a nice embarrassing 14 on the books.  But of course, since I was so ill prepared for the day we got shook.  Mini earth quake.  It was a smooth earthquake, but it could have been less exciting.

Oh, I think I am going to work 12 hours tomorrow.  NBD.