I turned 20 in Boston. I dropped out of Hampshire College because I thought I was going crazy and I didn’t want to feel that anymore. I figured if I went to a city and got a job, things might get better. Pretty quickly, they did.
I got a job cooking at the Border Café, a Tex Mex place opening up in Cambridge. I wish I still had the employee manual, 30 pages of guidelines on how to work with others. The booklet urged us to do unto others as you’d have done unto you.
The managers preached this idea in training, but once we got working, the curtains of this pretense fell away. We had our tasks – I had the fry station by the bar – and we worked. Some of us worked slowly, some quickly. There was a lot of cilantro to be chopped.
I loved the routine and expectations. The prep and the cooking. Breaking down my area at the end of the night. I knew what to do. All of this was so much simpler than life at Hampshire, where classes and everything else were optional.
I thought its experimental nature would suit me. I didn’t realize that I needed structure, something to rebel against. If I didn’t have anything I had to do, I didn’t have to do anything. All that free time made me a devil.
Working helped wash the devil right out of me, just as my born again Christian employers intended. I got really happy really fast. I was so relieved to not be miserable, and to quit making other people around me miserable.
One thing that delighted me was pancakes.
As I wandered around Boston looking for a job, someone gave me a flyer for a 99-cent breakfast: pancakes, eggs, and some kind of meat. A bar/restaurant in Harvard Square was trying to build up its breakfast business. I was glad to help.
I skipped the eggs and the meat. The price made me happy, but so did the food. I ate alone, reading the newspaper, drifting away from my college-addled angst. All around me, people went to school and worked. Everything seemed less iffy and irritating. I relaxed.
The promo kept happening and I kept taking advantage of it. One day, a stranger stopped me en route.
“You look like a woman who knows where to find good pancakes,” she said.
Even though I had the answer, the question seemed kind of crazy. I wouldn’t be surprised now if someone asked me where to find good pancakes. My life revolves around the griddle. But did I have pancakes written all over my face back then?
Those pancakes were probably from a mix, and definitely from white flour. They helped get me back on track.
Pancakes still keep me on track, but I’m ultra fussy about ingredients. If I don’t have the right flour in the house I pout. When I run out of malt, everything in me stops, like a story I’ve been watching is stalled because of a broken television.
I know I’m a little ridiculous about my taste for pancakes, but awareness doesn’t shift my inclinations. However, a new job is helping me see the luxury of my obsession.
I started to cook lunch for a meal program at Unity House. Using a scramble of ingredients, I make food for up to 150 people. The people who come get one serving. If I burn the soup, they eat the soup.
I have the means to eat exactly what I want. If I wake up at 3 a.m., I make pancakes. I feel lucky.
I feel luckier still when I see people line up for lunch.