164. Macnas - 4/18/2005 10:42:02 AM
On the Bus.
A bus, in particular a double decker bus, gives you a different perspective on suburban life. I know, you’re higher up, hence “different perspective”, but it is, I think, more than that.
I only spent a relatively short time in college, but it was the first time that I had spent in a suburban area. Barracks and countryside were all I had known ‘till then. I took an immediate dislike to it, it was neither this nor that, here nor there. You had no privacy, much traffic and noise, and not one house showed any stamp of originality that might define it as being the home of anyone in particular.
My transportation issues, in those days, were generally sorted out with a mixture of Shanks mare and the generosity of my auto-mobile friends. This meant I wore out boots at an alarming rate, and the patience of my friends at an even faster rate. I don’t know why I never took a bus, maybe it seemed to be a luxury I could ill afford, and believe me, at the time the money I had in my pockets was all the money I had.
And I had shallow pockets.
After some time, I was able to finagle a small grant, which entitled me to a small amount of cash at the end of each month (rather like my current arrangement!), this opened up a few doors to me, such as some semblance of a social life.
The ability to buy college consumables without going into hock to my siblings was, given my up-to-then experiences, downright transcendental.
Moreover, the bus now looked like a very likely prospect, one which was vigorously encouraged by my jug-jug owning friends. So, with my correct change in hand, I boarded the number 8 to town, it being my nearest “stop”, and indeed one much used by students.
It was a double decker, and while the upstairs held no particular attraction to me at first, it was upstairs I went as all other seats were taken.
Strange though it may seem, I can still recall quite vividly the journey I took that early summer evening. For as the bus took me slowly along the busy road to the town centre, I found I could see down into the properties that up to now I had only ever seen from a very much 2 dimensional frontal aspect.
I could see gardens, front and back, vegetable patches which were astonishing in both size and variety.
Tiny orchards, of apple and pear. Ornamental ponds, with tiny hump-backed bridges, no doubt with miniature trolls beneath them.
People resting and sunning themselves, children playing hide and seek, dogs pottering, cats stretched insensible on warm timber benches. Garages, mechanics, amateur and otherwise, up to the waist in engines of one sort or another. Bicycles, thrown in heaps. Washing lines and volley ball nets, bird houses and kennels, men leaning on shovels as they tended to some patch of overturned sod. Old women in housecoats hanging out and taking in washing, lawn chairs occupied by a newspaper and pipe tobacco smoke.
Everywhere, people playing, working, relaxing, living.
Each place an oasis next to another oasis, the thin division of green hedge or shrubbery more effective through the power of suggestion than any real barrier qualities.
My stop came, and I de-bused onto a busy street. I made my way back to Wellington road, and looking out the tiny skylight at the opposite house, crammed, like this house, from basement to rafters with students and low rent payers, with only a sterile 4 meters of concrete dividing the two, found myself wondering if I shouldn’t look for alternative accommodation, in the suburbs.
165. judithathome - 4/18/2005 8:33:16 PM
Absolutely charming, Mac. I was there on the bus with you. Very nice job.
166. NuPlanetOne - 4/26/2005 8:11:30 PM
O.K. Deep down I know I’m a poet by nature. I think mostly because I’m not one to elaborate once I think I’ve gotten the essence of an idea out of my system. But since I have often contemplated writing fiction, and because I think there just might be an appreciable audience in those who love food and are fascinated by cooking and all that goes with it, and being a non celebrated Executive Chef, I will try my hand writing about that which I actually might know something about. In any case, this thread is fun to read. I hope I can add to the amusement.
167. NuPlanetOne - 4/26/2005 8:12:05 PM
The Chicken Piccata Test
The problem with the Piccata is you must understand a butter sauce. The single most important thing to remember is that once you have reduced your puddle of wine and lemon, salt, capers and demi-glace to the proper intensity, you must immediately begin the swirl of fresh butter if you hope to have any chance of winding up with a smooth, glistening and emulsified sauce that will slide, rather than wash, off your perfectly pan seared, trimmed, golden filet of boneless breast of chicken. It is hard to teach this particular skill, because the cooks all understand the part where they sear the chicken in an aluminum sauté pan in smoking clarified butter and they all appear professional and Emeril-like when they bend to their left and tip the pan over the grease bucket holding the filet with their shiny tongs. They know what is coming next and they hope a few waitresses are nearby when they return the pan to the fire and splash it hard with the wine as cook and flame are silhouetted against the stainless steel of the polished wall.
Because first a wonderful white and sweet putrid steam sucks up and envelops the atmosphere surrounding the pan and like an exhaled silent thunderclap, all in a poof, and followed, as if like lightning itself, the pan shoots out a bolt. A bowl of flame. A blue and hollow and surreal flashing that the cooks learn to live in, and although when it is busy they must turn their backs on it, because it is essential to spin and grab the next ingredient, they feel it on their shoulders and hope to get back and see it die. Because it does not die up top in the powerful updraft of the hood fans, no, it dies downward as if returning back to the soul of the pan. For if they have created it just right they will learn to see that it collapses totally in reverse as if time were rewound and the whole process was just a visitation. I definitely can’t explain it, what with the Heisenberg uncertainty and all, but a cook should at least understand it, or at least understand that the gravity of the liquid and the universe within the pan has the final say in the jump-out lifespan of the flame. Rather than thinking that like an ordinary fire it just goes up in a puff of gas and smoke. In any case, the show is over and the hard part begins. That first part, which I just explained to my auditioning sauté cook, was put more simply.
“O.K. Jose. Yesterday you watched me. Today, I watch you,” I said.
“Heat the butter till it starts to smoke, dredge the chicken, sear it golden and deglaze.”
168. NuPlanetOne - 4/26/2005 8:12:46 PM
I didn’t like the way Jose floured the chicken and he dropped it into the hot butter before it was fully smoking. This told me two things. He lied about his English and he could not copy what he had just been shown. He has been training with the Sous Chef for two full shifts, pretty much running through all the sauté procedures that popped out of the machine. My Sous Chef is Brazilian, as is Jose, so that part of the equation worked. Two nights on the Line, which is more than enough time to evaluate at least his basic sauté skills and give the Sous Chef enough confidence to prescribe the Piccata Test, is usually enough time and terror to decide if it will be worth the effort to continue.
Now I say terror because that is the first thing you notice about a line cook once the shit starts flying. If he or she, and that is the last time I will infuse pronouns with gender, (because as Executive Chef, to me they are all just robots), if they have been in the pit, behind the plates, behind the hole, behind the window where we toss out the food to the hands that grab and garnish; and, if they were accustomed to it, had survived it, you could easily tell by the look on their faces. If they are watching the chaos, reacting to pans being crashed into the pans tossed into the pick-up boxes, standing still, turning side to side, starting to reach, stopping, attempting to ask something, then from that point on they are frozen out of the process. At least for a series of orders that are in the process of being expedited. Panic on-line is untreatable. You might as well not exist because the other cooks are doing calculus in their heads or wondering where to go after work, or worse, showing you how simple it all is by talking about sports or music or sex while they turn twelve waiting plates into culinary masterpieces, push them out the window and the expediter pulls down ten more.
“O.K., let’s do table 125, 117, 101 and the deuce on 119.”
This, the expediter threatens as he rearranges the tickets hanging in his face, pulls out the five just finished, pins them and aligns the newly called four in the up position. Up line left the grill cook does the same arrangement with his tickets and tells his oven guy what to go on. Down line left the sauté guys turn toward the tickets to check for surprises then just keep working 3 tickets ahead. Further down right the salad and desert people never even flinch as they work off their own copies of juxtaposed tickets. Everybody waits with a picture of that food in their mind’s eye until the expediter says, “Let’s do it.” There’s no talking for these 2 minutes. Only the expediter may speak, and you can only answer his questions. He’s telling the servers what to expect and pushing out the order at them and when he says, ‘That’s a go.” They are gone. They are responsible for completing the order with items from the salad window down line right. And once the ticket is pinned, they are locked out. Period. To get back in they need to send the floor manager to stand left of the main window to wait until the expediter acknowledges her existence.
169. NuPlanetOne - 4/26/2005 8:13:30 PM
From both sides of the line the cooks converge on the middle, mingling and dangling in a space that gets divided into well traveled express lanes that each one of them uses in the same order and same way and using the same warning as they step in and deliver their portion of a particular part of a plate. They then retreat and reclaim their spot until the dance is done and the plates are full. This is no man’s land. One false step in here, you lose one item to the floor, cause one accident, you are in serious trouble. If you can’t move in a sweltering 8 x 4 foot rectangle with flame on all sides and with 8-10 bodies moving as fast as they can you will soon learn that cooking is the easy part. Even if you are the owner, no one will go in there with you. Because for all the skills necessary for high flame, fast paced precision line cooking, getting the food on the plate on time, well, let’s just say, moving through the maze and onto the plate is a most necessary and expected skill. Accidents at such a point in the process are unforgivable. They can’t happen. So they don’t. And if the unthinkable, unspeakable, unimaginable happens a ripple surges outward and washes over everyone in the rectangle and the mood changes. Anything casual or humorous is now swallowed up by the intensity to steer around the horror that has brought a self-consciousness to the routine. A waitperson must be told, even apologized to. The floor manager will find the maitre d’ who will scout the table and assess the situation out there. Out there. Out there in the dining room, by comparison, is the tinkle and chatter and murmur of serenity. It is like falling out of Dorothy’s cyclone and landing in Oz. Some people are bored. Some are exuberantly talking and eating and smiling. Time is moving on schedule. Earth time. Fifteen minutes can be a long time out there, unless someone bothers to measure it, so it is absolutely crucial that the party in question be negotiated as quickly as possible. A deal must be struck to buy back some time, kitchen time, so that the problem can be fixed.
The maitre d’ kicks through the door carrying a littered tray and yells, “We got about twelve minutes before we cop it.” The expediter burns a hole in him as he wooshes away toward the dish station then tosses a deadly but familiar glance at the Second Cook that dropped the tuna. The cook just lets his right eye scan the Expediter then vanishes behind a fog of steam.
“Whata we got?” He half asks mostly demanding.
“Five minutes,” says the Grill cook as he prods a 12oz filet mignon.
“O.K. Give me 113. Quick. Then the fuck-up. Let’s do it.”
Six minutes had been lost since the food fell until the order got recalled. That is an awful long second splitting time to juggle thoughts and entrée’s and would put a crunch in at least the next half hour. If anything else had dove to the ground in that party of nine, it would have only taken perhaps 2 minutes to juggle. But the tuna was ordered medium rare and since it was pan seared and encrusted with shaved potato, Japanese crumbs and horseradish, and, because the two behind it were both mediums, they could not steal one of those. The medium rare had to be timed to land on the plate near rare and cook to medium rare on its ride to the table. Everyone knew it at the instant the Second Cook blurted, “Shit, fuck,” and stood looking down as if he had lost his child in a dark hole in the ground. They all knew the unthinkable had occurred. But enemy guns fired from across the line and everyone took cover and continued the battle. Dwelling on anything real, anything that made the clock tick, anything that might divert your focus from your space in the rectangle, even the unimaginable, especially that, had to be ignored. You got back to your spot on the order slip, tried to calculate the adjustment, then pretended with a bloating oven scorched face that nothing had happened.
170. NuPlanetOne - 4/26/2005 8:14:04 PM
“Are you ready?” I asked Jose the day before he got his test.
“O.K. I want you to watch me and remember everything you see. I will go slow, and explain as I go. Fabiano will add shit in Portuguese when you look constipated…O.K.?”
“Yes, si. Go.Yes.” Said Jose.
The clarified butter had just let go of its first few wisps of smoke. If it was a contest I would wait until the smoke seemed to be emanating rather than escaping from the liquid in that suspended, I believe it is called transition phase, before I laid in the floured chicken breast. The secret to flouring the chicken is to press and message it in the flour so that it gets into the folds and crevices and to make sure you shake off all excess flour before it goes into the pan. Jose watched that and nodded by shrugging his chin up toward his nose and shaking the top of his head up and down. That told me he didn’t think this part was especially important or noteworthy, almost as if he expected this whole thing to be a trick question or something, because after all, in fine-dining-upscale-cooking the Chicken Piccata is pretty much frowned upon. But as a test, creating a butter and wine sauce without using a stabilizer, over an intense flame, is foolproof. At least in terms of evaluating previous sauté experience. So I took hold of the sauté pan with my side towel, tilted it toward me a bit so that the smoking butter would pool away from the splash, then laid the chicken, thick part first, into the pool and let the tail splash down toward the low end. Two reasons for this: First, you don’t want that shit splashing anywhere near your skin. The burn is second degree and instantaneous. Secondly, the splash brings up any excess flour and forces it to stick to the top wall of the pan and it burns and contaminates the butter and taste of the eventual sauce. So I made sure mine landed clean and stressed the point by exclaiming, “Muito Bom! Or as they say in France, Vwaalla.” Or whatever they say in France.
In any case my chicken filet was consumed now in a sputtering, crackling, smoking world of caramelization. Jose was right up next to me almost in my face so I backed him off a bit by faking a move his way. He just kept the same intense posture but cleared out of my line to the ingredients. His eagerness was at least an interesting sign. Though it could mean nothing.
I could see the white starting to grow up the sides of the filet and Jose’s brow furrowed toward it assuming it was time to turn the chicken. You could turn it now, and in the battle and nighttime weeds the cooks usually do, even sooner, depending upon where they are in the fight to be several tickets ahead. But I would wait. I would turn it when the white was past the edge at the thickest part and I could see some brown just starting to show at the thin end. Because after the flip I would have a marvelously golden top with speckles of dark brown across an even gold of waving grain. Later, the sauce would be like shellac on aged pine. So the advantage of the wait and not fast flipping was in getting the sear and color correct while holding the caramelization centered in the pan and away from the scorching walls of the sloped sides. That way during de-glaze you had nothing to burn at the edges.
I flipped it. Jose made an affected startled look and dropped his shoulders and stood at ease thinking that now there was time to wait. Ah! But here is where most cooks get it wrong. First he figured I had waited too long to turn it and once I had, that now, the real wait would begin. The cooks always tend to rush the first flip and let the second side become the long burn, and hopefully, the eventual face up surface. What they fail to notice is that the caramelized debris they half created on that quick first flip are lost and either burn or dissolve. Now, letting the second side become the long burn creates gaps and hollows in the gold where the pan couldn’t adhere to the meat with blacks at the high points. It is still a nice looking surface, but only half as perfect as it could have been. Aside from that, this is a typical mistake born out of organizing speed for comfort. And cooks will go half perfect in a heartbeat to buy time. And in most instances the Chef will yield some time to near perfection but never without a fight and exasperation. And yield only if it was a procedural question. Good line cooks do not bother themselves with what they are cooking, just the how. But first the deglaze.
171. NuPlanetOne - 4/26/2005 8:14:29 PM
Is there anything more fascinating than fire, more mesmerizing or feared. It is why one burns in hell, I suppose, rather than slow braising, steaming or boiling for eternity. And I suppose it is why the devil, the de-sanctified demon, the beast, the penultimate entity was the easy pick to have won the place as the archrival to God and is assigned fire as his modus operandi. Staring at bonfires, candles, homes ablaze, funeral pyres, where else but in the conflagration would the demon materialize and reside. But that is evil fire. My fire is the fire of life. No Boogie Men. No demons. Just the stuff of the universe. The engine of the stars. The opposite of the inanimate. And all this in an aluminum sauté pan.
172. NuPlanetOne - 4/26/2005 8:15:11 PM
I grabbed the chicken filet with my tongs and pressed it into the center of the pan and brought them both down to the grease bucket to my left. I did it instinctively and quick and let all the butter drain out and put the pan right back on the fire. In a zip turn I reached up for the wine, a Napa Chardonnay, and with the grip feeling just right I splashed in a good dose and stopped like a bartender shorting a drink precisely at the instant when I knew the flame was ready to jump. The sizzling steam and smoking was perfect, the quick plume of the gas just right and I let it fill my nose, sweet and strong and acrid all at once. Splash, steam, gas, essence, as if combining to flee a catastrophe. Then poof! All in an instant and in the perfect shape and wonderful strange blue, yellow, white, opaque and eerie translucence the flame enveloped the pan.
“Do you see that?” I exhaled as if Jose and I were gazing like frozen deer and getting ready to run from a volcano. And he was staring at it. That meant something. At least he knew it was important.
“Si, muito bonita,” he inhaled.
And as the flame collapsed, which to the uninitiated would seem like a mere disappearance, I immediately snapped to reality and began swirling the pan so that the chicken would move through the wine and grate against any caramelized pieces and keep them from sticking and burning. I doubted that he could actually understand or see exactly how the fire had died into the pan in retreat, but since I couldn’t explain it anyway, it didn’t matter.
Fabiano began to chatter in Portuguese but I shut him up with a shake of my head and told him to go check the veal stock out back. Jose showed a mild grin and stiffened his shoulders by tightening his arms behind his back. The base was solid. The wine was almost reduced to within a safe limit. I got Jose to follow my face toward the pan and by pointing at the liquid with my chin I got him to answer yes by looking at it and nodding slightly.
“Lemon,” I said, holding a quartered piece and squeezing the juice into the pan.
“Pocco, not grande. You see?” Then I spun and scooped out a good tablespoon of capers.
“Capers, pocco juice. Pocco juice, muito importante. Too much, very bad. Just a little. O.K.?”
The slight nod.
“Good,” I said.
I set the flame slightly lower so that it wasn’t above the rim of the pan and added an ounce of the demi-glace, a meticulously reduced veal stock concoction, a whole other story, and watched it wash through the wine and lemon reduction and set the color to a marvelous light bronze. Oh, with just a speck of salt it would taste wonderful at this point, but the beauty and decadence and creamy texture could only come by adding some fresh butter. And it was time.
“Never just toss the butter in all at once, put two pieces on either side of the filet and swirl it so that it floats through and slides under the chicken.” I said it all fast while I was doing it and relied on my face motions for him to follow the instructions.
“There,” my forehead tilting down pointed to the pan. “You must be there just as the last little bit of butter almost disappears.” I used my finger to point to it.
“As that happens, get the pan off the fire and finish the swirl on your way to the plate.”
“Produce is on the phone,” the office manager echoed loudly from somewhere.
“I’ll call’em back,” I yelled.
I pulled a shining white plate down from the stack above the out window and with my tongs placed the chicken on the plate. I tilted the pan and poured just enough sauce so that it would spread like a glacier in all directions and stop as if it suddenly slowly halted at an exact distance before it demolished the village. I fished out a pile of capers from the remaining pool in the tilted pan with the tong tips and released them along the length of the chicken. Most of them took hold on board the filet while others floated down into the surrounding moat of golden lacquer. Jose and I looked down at it as did the face of Fabiano that suddenly appeared below at plate level through the service window.
173. NuPlanetOne - 4/26/2005 8:15:58 PM
“Go ahead Senhor Vulture,” I told Fabiano.
“And give half to Jose.”
“Ah, sim. Obrigado my best friend. I talk to produce, no figs today.”
“Son of a witch!” I flung the sauté pan into the pick-up box under the stove and marched off to deal with that. Jose winced but also reached and shut off the flaming burner. Another good sign. From what I saw of Jose’s reactions he would pass his Piccata Test. Not that cooking is any proof he could make it in the rectangle.
Some people are just clumsy. But only clumsy once they have shut off their focus. Some people are clumsy because they can’t focus. Still others are clumsy because they pretend to know things. Some because they have forgotten things. Some are pre-occupied. Some have dying adrenalin glands. But the main thing is, the degree of clumsiness a person is endowed with pretty much enables or excludes them from certain vocations in life. For those who have the ability to just command their focus and co-ordination at will and then just relax back into bumping through things the rest of their time, these are people that can do very specialized and time sensitive work. Surgeons, bomb squad defusers or mothers, for example. The clumsy that can’t focus make wonderful abstract watercolors. The clumsy that pretend to know shit get tripped up by the people who really know shit, which makes politics a sensible profession. The clumsy that forget stuff are useful because you can remind them of things and they can quickly remember how to finish a task and are useful in jobs where you sit on your ass a whole lot of the time. They make wonderful government clerks. The pre-occupied clumsy can belong to all the different groups and are fine with proper counseling or medication. But the ones who are suffering from dying adrenalin glands, unfortunately, really need to consider something marginally predictable such as lighthouse keeper or Poet Laureate. The Second Cook, in my opinion, would excel at postmodern watercolor frescoes.
As I said, I didn’t like the way Jose floured the chicken. But he did shake it as if trying to remember each detail I had shown him the day before. And although the butter wasn’t at that magical point I dream of, a wisp of smoke had been emitted so it was plenty hot. Fabiano stood up line left with his arms folded and with his serious Sous Chef face. Aside from being a total clown and Latin charmer he was talented enough to be a Chef on his own and he quite simply could cook his way out of the weeds two times as fast as anyone I had ever seen. I wouldn’t even attempt to challenge him down there in the rectangle. He chewed up and spit out intensity and panic like a wood chipper. But he was a loose cannon and without constraints was a one-man show, so he understood his limitations and accepted his role and was well paid for it. And now he was watching Jose and by the expression of his forehead I could tell he wanted me to just observe. So I did. I took myself out of New York Times Food Critic mode and pretended I was watching the show instead of directing a Food Channel segment. Jose must have sensed from Fabiano’s posture that he was safe or had just been set free, and at that instant I too could sense some sort of pre-arranged connection between them.
Ah, so that was it! Fabiano already knew the kid was a natural. And as if to prove it, Jose cleared me out of the lane as he tilted the pan to the grease bucket. The rest was precise and flowing. The wine splashed, steamed, created the fleeing cloud then poofed into a perfect bowl of flame. He never blinked as he leaned into it and caught his whiff and bravely stared into the secret world of the flame. Quickly and in the correct order he did his dance of ingredients and at just the right moment, just as the butter threatened to dissolve prematurely, he was swirling on his way to the plate.
“Vwooola Boss?” Fabiano asked teasingly in a bad mimic.
“Ya, whatever,” I returned as I headed out of the rectangle.
“Make up his schedule, and tell Rosealie I am running the Regianno Soufle off the Salad end tonight and I don’t want to hear any bullshit.”
“O.K. boss. 300 hungry souls tonight,” Fabiano said with his left arm across Jose’s shoulder and looking left at me.
“Ya, so let’s make’em smile,” I said as I turned the corner.
I had my new Second Cook and the old one had dropped his last tuna. The produce guy almost ran me over as he pushed by with his two-wheeler when I got out back.
“You finally got my freakin figs today farmer man,’ I alliterated quite nicely.
“Fuck do I know. I gotta check the slip.” He jeered as he bumped both sides of the doorway.
“Clumsy fucker,” I thought.
I grabbed the slip, saw my figs, checked my watch and the surging bite of adrenalin tickled my testicles. 2 hours to showtime. No lighthouse for me.
174. judithathome - 4/26/2005 9:15:43 PM
God, Nu Planet....that was truly amazing. I am salivating for Chicken Piccata right this very minute!
I could literally see every single thing you described. I was right there...very, very good descriptive talent.
175. Magoseph - 4/26/2005 9:24:13 PM
Yes, excellent, I was much taken by the action. What a good story!
176. alistairConnor - 4/26/2005 10:19:48 PM
It's always a privilege to glimpse into someone else's world, and that was a very intense experience, vividly rendered, and as Judith said, mouth-watering.
I sense adultery and murder in the next chapter. (well, I can always hope.)
177. Macnas - 4/27/2005 8:20:27 AM
Nuplanet, fucking hell, good tale.
Alistair, just what is it with you, sex and violence?? You know, for a hippie, you've got some issues.
178. alistairconnor - 4/27/2005 9:24:51 AM
Hippie, schmippie. I am neo-post-everything. I want blood and guts and veins in my teeth.
But seriously. I love atmospheric short stories, but I'm yearning for some plot and action too.
179. Macnas - 4/27/2005 1:58:45 PM
Guns for McBride.
There’s cattle in the next field, lowing as they become aware of the 3 men standing against the nearby hedge. They’ve moved a concrete water trough to one side and are looking into a plastic lined pit that it had been siting on top of.
McBride squats to pull out an assault rifle, covered in yet more plastic. When he strips this away, it is sticky with the manufacturers cosmoline grease, cold to the touch. There is some words spoken but before anything more can be said, a van appears at the end of the long lane that leads to the field, and McBride has thrown the rifle back into the pit. He looks up to see the two men he was talking with have started running. He turns and scrambles over the hedge, tearing himself on wire and briars. He sprints past the cows that stop calling and look at him in mute curiosity.
He hurdles a low gate and is running, running. He finally enters a forestry block, and emerges on a main road. He made his way home, and quickly packed a bag.
The phone rang, and he let it ring. After two more calls he finally answers. The voice on the line tells him what he already knows, and confirms that he has to do what he is already doing.
The first I hear of it is when I get a call from him, asking me to meet him in an obscure “old mans” pub on the outskirts of town. I get there early, and find myself waiting for him. It was always the way, McBride would be late for his own funeral, and had been that way for as long as I’d known him.
I met him at school, both of us taking the same woodwork class. We had a bit in common, his older brother was a carpenter, mine a cabinet maker. Both of us country boys too.
He was a fantastic carpenter, able to make any joint as neat and tight as any professional could. Some people have it, that talent to create and coordinate with their hands. It was of course, wasted on McBride, as while he would be interested in something at the start, his passion for it would soon fade and he had more unfinished work than anyone else in his wood locker.
This lack of focus was a trademark. We fooled around with the idea of forming a band, but it died off when he never turned up for a bit of practise. We were going to fix up an old car, just to have something to go about in. Kyboshed due to lack of interest. Still, throughout these and many other small things we remained firm friends.
180. Macnas - 4/27/2005 1:59:32 PM
We left school early, both of us at 16. I got some mad fit and signed up as an army apprentice. He hung around, doing some work with his brothers firm and dabbling in the music scene. I finally lost track of him 4 years later, when my apprenticeship was up and I volunteered for Lebanon. When I got back home just over a year later, He had disappeared to London., and I was not to hear from him for another 5 years.
I was in town with some friends who were back home for christmas. We were drinking in the Round House bar, when one of them got up, and said he was going to score some cannabis. About 15 minutes later he walked through the door, with none other than McBride following 30 seconds behind him. After the deal was concluded, I said goodnight to my friends and took up with him. We spent a few hours going over the past, both of us with that warm feeling you get, when you start a conversation with a friend you haven’t seen in years, picking things up as if it had only been yesterday.
He had worked the building sites for a few years, going between the Isle of Dogs to the massive dockland projects. He took up a band while he was there, and managed them for a while. They had some moderate success on the live circuit, and it gave him a taste for the business. He admitted he didn’t have the talent for management that he first thought he had, and ended up doing some DJ work and some studio engineering.
When we got to the more recent past, he became very vague about things, but however vague he was being, it still couldn’t hide the fact that he was here, back in town, and in the drug trade.
McBride finally said he had to go, and after we swapped numbers he left the bar. I stayed on for one more before closing time. The barman, who I knew quite well, gave me my pint, took my money and as he was giving me my change, said “you know yer man so yeah?” I nodded as I drank from the glass. “you know what he does so?” I nodded again. “Well boy, you better pick a better class of friend, he’s making a name for himself this past few months”.
I finished my pint, and told the barman to keep his opinions to himself. He just shrugged and said “I know that, I’m just telling you what I know, for your sake, seeing as I know you and all, otherwise I wouldn’t open my mouth”. I said fair enough, left the pub and made my way home.
A week went by, when out of the blue McBride calls, and we arrange to meet later that night. We go to a very busy pub, and from then onto a club. The entire night long, he’s dealing. Not just cannabis, but any hard drug as well. I feel very much out of my depth and hugely uncomfortable, looking around me for the law to swoop at any moment. I’m not enjoying myself and near the end of the night I tell him that I’ve had enough of this and that I didn’t come out to watch him deal the whole night long. I leave him in the club and get out as fast as I can.
181. Macnas - 4/27/2005 2:00:25 PM
Three days later I’m back in the Round House, doing the crossword and keeping myself to myself. The barman wandered down to my table and sat across from me. I was about to ask him what he wanted when he leaned close to me and said in a low quiet voice “I don’t want any more dealing in here, so once you’re done, you’d better leave, and don’t be back, alright?”
I looked at him with my mouth open, to say I was shocked would have been the understatement of the year.
I asked him what the hell he was talking about. “You were working with McBride the other night, doing protection for him, you were seen, so don’t deny it”. I put down my paper and told him that yes, I was out with McBride, but I wasn’t working with him or for him, and that he should know better than to suspect me of it. He sat back and looked at me for a bit, then said “alright, I’ll take your word. But don’t bring him in here, I don’t want anything to do with him or the like of him, ok?”
Nodding, I went back to my crossword, or at least pretending to. I was fast coming to the realisation that McBride had been using me, and I had been too stupid to realise it. When I thought of it, it made some sense. I pictured it, the two of us in the club, McBride doing his work, and a big guy next to him, scanning the room continuously. I called him later that night, and asked him straight out had he been using me as dumb muscle that night. He pissed around for a while before he admitted it. It then dawned on me that he must have told someone that I was working with him, and of course he had.
I tore strips off him over the ’phone. I threatened him within an inch of his life, and told him if he ever came near me again I would tear his fucking head off. He apologised over and over, and said that he had been getting some pressure from someone, and was nervous of being out on his own. He sounded so genuinely scared that I was torn between wanting to help him and wanting to beat him. I finally told him that we should keep our distance, and that while I felt for him, I would not be used like that ever again.
I kept as best tabs on him as I could over the next year, while not actually seeing him in person. From what I could glean he was now a major dealer, and was attracting a lot of heat from all quarters.
I sat mulling on all of this while I waited on him, late as usual. Finally, 20 minutes later, he arrived.
He sat down and started to talk, but couldn’t. His face scrunched up and he hung his head as he sat, with a beer mat soaking up his tears as they dripped onto the table.
182. Macnas - 4/27/2005 2:02:05 PM
He had taken up with some rough characters, and got further and further into the drug trade. He went from dealing smoke to speed, then to cocaine and heroin. Guns became a matter of course and after a bad deal had left him short, he had taken a lead from an ex-IRA man who knew where some arms were dumped. If he could sort it out, he could make some big money selling them on to another gang of drug dealers who were also in the INLA. McBride arranged the deal and set it up. It all went wrong and he was lucky to get away with his life.
The ex-IRA man was actually far from ex. He had used McBride to draw out the INLA men and catch them in the act. Now McBride had to leave, and quickly. He begged me to help him, this one last time. What could I say?
I went out into the carpark and waited for 15 minutes. He came out and got into the car. I drove out onto the road and got onto the main road to Waterford. I drove through the night and waited with him in the car for the ferry port to open. I didn’t say a word to him as he got out of the car and went to the ticket office. I watched him board, waited for the ferry to pull away, then went for some breakfast.
After I got home, I saw a news item where two suspected INLA men had been found shot to death and dumped at the side of the road just out of town. I made some calls myself, trying to find out from my own contacts (republican family history and all that) if I myself was in any danger. But I was clear, and breathed easier for knowing it. I never heard from McBride again.
183. PelleNilsson - 4/27/2005 2:29:12 PM
A fine effort, Macnas, with a very genuine sound to it.
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