Nine Months at Sea: Life Aboard the Good Ship Burnout

Where in the world have I been these past nine months? I wish I could give you a good answer. Obviously I haven’t been following through on my stated mission of documenting all the elements of building a restaurant business. The best I can tell you is this: I’ve been cycling through various states of rage, horror, resignation, depression, and sometimes optimism, all overlaid with a thick veneer of burnout. This is modern life, people, the purgatory of adulthood in Trump’s America. This is putting food on the table. You know what I mean?

December 2017 - January 2018: Mordor, Middle Earth

You know what feels good, though? Killing orcs. Violently, and with a sense of purpose. I killed a lot of orcs over Christmas last year. A broadsword through the forehead of this one, an elven incantation explodes the head of another. Flaming arrows, exploding orc booze. Feeling irritable? Shadows of Mordor might help you get back on track. But what to do when all the orcs are dead, as eventually they must be, and you’re still feeling out of sorts? I’ve got no good answer to that one. I played through a series of video games after my trip to Mordor, and dozens of Sunday crosswords after that, and but I confess they’re no cure. Just a distraction for the wandering, agitated mind. It’s what one does when one’s mind is too roiled to even read books anymore. Peace of mind remains as elusive as ever.

  Shadows of Mordor.  Outstanding game, ridiculously violent.

Shadows of Mordor. Outstanding game, ridiculously violent.

March to May 2017: Oakland, California

I’ve spent some time working on my house. At the end of every rainy season, our yard is way overgrown, every square inch of open ground covered in oxalis and weed grasses. Pulling weeds is remarkably therapeutic, even more than killing orcs, if you can believe it. And when the weeds are gone, you can plant new plants, all the exotic succulents and flowering plants that grow in California. You get to take trips to the garden center and feel awed by nature’s diversity. I’m looking forward to picking out some new trees this fall to plant along our street. I was feeling particularly aggressive over Memorial Day weekend and took the Sawzall to an ugly evergreen tree and a strip of juniper bushes that have been on my botanical hit list since we bought the house seven years ago. You want therapy? Buy a Sawzall and cut down an ugly (small to medium sized) tree. Both the means and the ends are tremendously satisfying. Figure out what to do with the mountain of branches and the ragged stump when you're done. 

I also went through a toilet repair phase a while ago. Not that I wanted it to be a phase, mind you. I just wanted to fix the broken fucking toilet. But it’s the original from 1925 and, as you might imagine, century-old toilets are not repaired without considerable angst. Suffice it to say, considerable angst was experienced, only to have the repair fail. It seemed so close! At one point, we appeared headed for a nineteenth century life here at our house, so we gave in and bought a new toilet. Believe it or not, it’s really easy to install a new toilet. Unless, of course, you’re attaching it to an aged plumbing infrastructure, in which case you should (1) budget at least three trips to the hardware store and (2) embrace your improvisational skills. When all is said and done, about two months after the initial foray into repair, the 1925 model was replaced with a new Toto with #tornadoflush, and we were instantly whisked back to the 21st century.

June 2018: Akron, Ohio

Right now, I’m on my way back from a long weekend in Akron, Ohio, the Home of LeBron James (as the signs at the city border remind us). This was my big getaway for the year, three solid days of drinking with old friends. Not an exotic destination, but I haven’t been back in a few years, so it was about time for a visit. I had a great time. Friday night we went to see the Cleveland Indians play the Minnesota Twins. Great seats behind home plate, with a panoramic view of 40,000 white people, a shockingly high percentage of the men wearing goatees. The uniform whiteness (and the goatees) must have been familiar to me at some point—I lived in Ohio for twenty-two years—but it seems to surprise me more every time I visit. This was the longest time I’d ever gone without visiting, so the diversity gap was especially jarring this time. There were a handful of black, Asian, and Indian people in the crowd. All the Latinos seemed to be on the field. I’m not being facetious. I looked! Baseball is boring, people, so I had plenty of time to work through my disbelief at the state of whiteness in Ohio.

  Chief Wahoo.  This is what happens when too many white people get together in the same place. Credit:  Jason Miller /Getty Images

Chief Wahoo. This is what happens when too many white people get together in the same place. Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

On a related note, I was also surprised that the Indians are still playing games wearing the Chief Wahoo logo. I heard they were phasing it out, but it sounds like it’s going to take a couple years to get it off the field. I remarked to my friend, “so I see they’re still wearing the racist hats this year.” The guys in front of and behind us were both wearing Chief Wahoo hats, let’s call them Front Wahoo and Back Wahoo. The Wahoos’ take on the issue can be summarized in the immortal words of Front Wahoo: “at least we don’t call ‘em Injuns.” At least there's that, I guess.  

A little bit later, in some unrelated context, I hear my friend drop the term “mongoloid.” I wasn’t paying attention, so I don’t know how it came up. “I think you’re not supposed to use that word,” I advised. He was surprised to learn this; he seemed to think it was just a technical term of art, not realizing it has become dated and derogatory. My friend went online, confirmed what I’d told him, and learned something. So did Back Wahoo, who was eavesdropping. Close quarters. Overflowing with thoughtful opinions, Back Wahoo announces, “if you can’t say ‘mongoloid,’ this whole stadium’s in trouble!” Now, I’ve never had any reason to think the use of “mongoloid” was so widely prevalent in Northeast Ohio. But on the other hand, how unlikely was it that we ended up sitting next to both Front Wahoo and Back Wahoo out of tens of thousands of people in that stadium. Would our experience have been the same no matter who sat next to us? Later on, Back Wahoo changes the subject, tells us we need to go to the “longest bar in the world” somewhere along Lake Erie, going on at some length about its . . . length. “It’s fucking awesome,” he adds. “Sounds fucking awesome,” I respond.

July-August 2018: Oakland, California

Let’s pause here for a second. I wrote those first paragraphs sitting on a plane from Cleveland to SFO. That was a month and a half ago, and I’m just looking at this again now. I’ve been thinking about it, but that’s as far as I could get. Being strapped into a seat at 35,000 feet is enabling in some way that being here in my house isn’t at this point. I didn't buy the Wi-Fi. My kid just walked into the office for the fourth time since I started writing. I’ve been here long enough to review what I wrote before and write about five new sentences, if that gives you a sense of the frequency. He’s demanding. A delightful little fellow, to be sure, but he expends tremendous effort getting up in my shit. I just bought myself a few minutes by approving Captain Underpants on Netflix. No, wait. I speak too soon. A voice. Footsteps. He’s back. He’s wanting things. He’s gone again. A different show is on. Maybe I have five minutes.

Let’s pause again. It’s now six days later, and I’m just picking this up again. There are cinnamon rolls in the oven, what with the 5-year-old wanting machine having revved up early this Saturday morning. I have ten minutes until they’re done, so maybe I can write two sentences.  I hope I have the wherewithal to pick this up again later today, but I’m not terribly optimistic. So where were we again? I think I was talking about barriers to writing anything other than a lawyer letter or a legal brief. And that’s a segue into perhaps the main contributor to my ongoing inability to write: computer fatigue. I’m already sitting here 40 hours a week staring at these godforsaken screens doing my day job, and that doesn’t count the not insignificant amount of time I spend scrolling through news sites watching our contemporary American Trainwreck unfold in slow motion. Cutting out the news sounds like a great idea, but I’m not sure I have the willpower to pull it off; the next indictment or secret Omarosa tape, and I’m sucked back in. Just like that. Cinnamon rolls are ready. BRB, maybe today, maybe next month. 

  This.  I think I'll stick with the news for the time being. I was pretty into Season 1 of the Apprentice, but I'm way more into the spin-off. 

This. I think I'll stick with the news for the time being. I was pretty into Season 1 of the Apprentice, but I'm way more into the spin-off. 

I’m back. It’s Monday night. Only two days this time, and I have good things to report. Yesterday my son rode a bike by himself for the first time. We tried a few times over the summer, but the first outings were lackluster. When we were out there, he had a blasé attitude about the whole thing, which drove me nuts. I was keeping him propped up, bent over, running up and down the street, but I had to remind him to push the pedals again and again and again. I yelled at him. It was counterproductive, obviously, but it goes to show I just can’t take it when someone is half-assing it and then gets bent out of shape because they aren’t succeeding. Small children require patience, though, I get it. I changed my tactic. We took him to a park with long paved trails and ran with him on both sides for a long distance, then dropped to one side for a bit, and finally let him go. Positive reinforcement. Success! He was proud of himself, which made me happy. I was hoping he’d learn before he started kindergarten, and he made it with one day to spare. 

Today we took him to kindergarten. First day. We herded into the school’s rec room with 75 sets of kindergarteners and their parents. Amid the din, the children were gathered into groups of 25 and abruptly marched off to a classroom, parents flanking both sides of the kinder-column, waving their goodbyes. You could think of it like one of those scenes of soldiers going off to war, boarding a ship or marching through the town square, attended by an adoring throng of flag-waving loved ones, friends, and citizen patriots. The Oakland parent crowd gives off a decorous white collar vibe, so definitely no rending of garments. I didn’t even see any tears, which I must say is a happy surprise. Let’s not lose our composure or do anything gauche, right?

When the kids were gone, and no teacher or school administrator had made any kind of announcement about anything whatsoever, we found ourselves left alone for what seemed to be some sort of Monday morning parental mixer and networking session. But I had to get to work - those hours aren't going to bill themselves, are they? - and Monday morning at 8:45 is way too early for that sort of thing anyway. We held out for as long as we could under the circumstances, which is to say we grabbed a complimentary coffee, slipped out the nearest exit, and got in the car.  

We went back to the rec room this afternoon to pick him up from the afterschool program. All the kids were peacefully sitting at tables hanging out, doing activities, playing games, looking reasonably focused, seemingly being enriched. My son, alone among the group, was walking around by himself, going nowhere in particular, and repeatedly gesturing his index finger toward his open mouth. What in the world are you doing? I’m hungry, he said. Apparently we didn’t pack enough food, and he’d lost his damn mind out there. Or maybe he’d just had it with how-do-you-dos of the first day of school. Probably both. 

  Microcosm of My Life.  "Daddy, my pants are on the Sun."  

Microcosm of My Life. "Daddy, my pants are on the Sun."  

I offered him pizza and sugary drinks in honor of his successful first day. He told me he wanted mu shu pork and tea from a Chinese restaurant. A surprising response, and somewhat disappointing for me because I’d wanted a good drink, and you can’t even get a mediocre draft beer at most Chinese restaurants. The mu shu was quite good, though, along with the Mongolian beef and garlic bok choy. I’m having a highball right now, so you could say all’s well that ends well. Look how productive I’ve been this evening. 500 words and counting. 

Actually, not counting. I stopped writing after I typed "counting." It’s now Tuesday. But I’m back, which is not bad all things considered. I’m going to wrap this up today, because I want to move on to a series of posts about the restaurant business. Get back into it a bit.

So let's get back into it. I'll be back soon.