Monday, September 28, 2009

Practical, Pt. II

I plated the stew, one small serving on each of our plates. I cranked the heat under the root vegetables and then under the green beans. When I saw there was some activity, I plated those, too. I carried to cups of soup to a surface near the evaluation table. I had put the plates into the oven to heat up, and I took a side towel, grabbed the side of it, and carried the food over to the instructor’s area. I was 30 seconds early and I took slow, shuffling steps. When I reached the instructor, he was still evaluating the young woman who’d cooked right before me. The 30 seconds passed. Then 30 more passed. Then a minute, and then another.

I was getting a little peckish, verging on annoyed and soon to be irritated. I wasn’t quite close enough to hear what was being said, but the woman was doing most of the talking. As she spoke, she gestured a lot with her hands, and kept worrying her fingers.

I had been waiting for 4 minutes at this point, and she showed no signs of stopping. I could tell my food was cooling. Now I was pissed.

And she kept going. It became obvious she was arguing with the instructor. He bore an expression of solid patience, an almost kind look, and made no effort to cut her off.

I started tapping my foot. Then I shifted my weight from one foot to another. I kept putting my plate down and picking it back up. I slapped a stuttering rhythm against my leg. I cracked my knuckles. I had a sudden vision of upturning my food over her head. Six minutes late now.

The instructor turned and looked at me. We made eye contact and he held it. The woman turned to follow his line of sight and I saw that her eyes were red and watery.

She’d failed. This was her third time.

Everyone else who had finished was at work cleaning the kitchen.

Abruptly, the young woman stood, turned and walked with quick steps over to the kitchen door. She gathered her stuff and walked out.

The instructor watched her leave then motioned me over. I sat and slid his plate towards him.

“My food’s cold,” I said.

“Yes, I’ve kept you waiting. My apologies. It couldn’t be helped. I know you were ready, so no penalty. Now,” he said, reaching for clean utensils, “Let’s see what we have here.”

He took a bit of the stew. He chewed for a moment and looked up at me. He smiled, but it seemed rueful. He took a bite of the potatoes, then another. He nodded to himself. He took one forkful each of the root vegetables and the green beans. He tasted the soup. Then he pushed his plate away.

“So, Jonathan.” He leaned back and crossed his arms behind his head. He still seemed kind, almost friendly, but I was beginning to detect a slight hue of pity to his bearing. “Jonathan, what happened here tonight? I watched you at the beginning of the test and you were so efficient. I thought for sure you would ace this. But something...something went bad, no?”

“Yes.” He waited for more, but I couldn’t think of any way to elaborate.

“Well,” he said, finally. “What went bad?”

“I...I...I burned something. I had to start it over and I never got the time back.”

“Yes, you burned your roux.” Shit. He had seen that. “Also, your station looks like a pig sty, yes? Why didn’t you bring your dishes to the sink instead of just leaving them?”

“There was no room.”

“Then why didn’t you put them on someone else’s station? Someone who was done? No room? What kind of answer is that? That’s just silly. Come on.”

He stared at me. I figured this was, in essence, a rhetorical question. I shrugged. He held the stare.

“Alright then. Your stew is terrible. This’s...edible. That’s about the best I can say and that’s not saying very much. The meat isn’t quite tender enough. Your braising liquid is thin, sour. This is not what I want to eat for dinner. Not at all. But I very much like your potatoes. Your vegetables are cooked perfectly. Really perfectly. But I cannot get past this stew. Edible. Edible. Passable. That’s it.”

He tallied up my score and wrote it down on a piece of paper that he slid across the table to me. I looked. I had passed. Not by much of a margin, but I passed. Obviously, I felt no sense of triumph, no sense of accomplishment. Every piece of me, every cell, felt flushed with mediocrity.

“Thanks,” I said, and stood up. He shook his head.

“You have talent,” he said. “This was disappointing.” He pushed his plate to me. “You have quite a mess to clean up. Get started.”

I walked back to my station. One of the others came up to me. “How’d you do, Jonathan?” he asked.

“I passed.”

“What did you get?”
“I’d rather not say. I passed, though.”

“You pissed?”

I thought for a second. “Yeah, I’m pissed.” I grabbed some dishes and started carrying them to the sink. “Not at him, though.”

Sunday, August 16, 2009


At the end of everyone’s second semester at the CIA—right before you go out on your externship—you are required to take a cooking practical. You walk into a special kitchen constructed for just this purpose and draw one of six menus out of a metaphorical hat. You know exactly what dishes make up each menu, but you don’t know anything else. You’ll need to make a soup, a protein, two vegetables, and a starch. You’ve got 2.5 hours to make it happen. You’re watched and graded at every step of the way. The food is tasted, evaluated, and given a mark. You need to score above a 65. Obviously, you can’t fail. It happens, though, even to perfectly good cooks. If you blow it once, you pay $50 and take it again. If you blow it a second time, you pony up $50 more and take it again. If you fail it three times, you’re screwed. A third failure means an automatic 15 week suspension. But if you fail the test three times, that’s probably the least of your problems. This is basic stuff. Can you roast a chicken? Can you deep poach a piece of salmon? Can you make a good beef stew? Each menu component is something you’ve done a few times before in the Skills II and III classes, and you’ve presumably had some success with them. This is why I’ve never thought ill of people who fail it the first time around, or who scrape by with an insanely low score. Sometimes you simply have a bad day, and sometimes that bad day is when you’re taking your practical.

So let me tell you about my bad day.

My test was to be taken during the second week of my garde manger class—the class wherein one learned to make sausages, cure salmon, play around with fois gras, get a basic rundown on how foods get hot- and cold-smoked, and make a lot of appetizer-type items. In order to stay on schedule in class, I was getting there a little after 6:30 each morning, which meant leaving my house at 5:30, which, in turn, meant getting up at 4 so I could amp myself through the clouds on caffeine, then shower, shave, and eat something. Because I typically go to bed around 1:00 AM, my schedule was upended; I was trying to get to sleep by 8, and I felt like I had a perpetual case of jet lag. I was delirious all the time. To add to the fun, I had to work with sharp knives.

And on the appointed day, in addition to an altered consciousness, I also had to take my practical, starting at two in the afternoon.

At 2:00, I arrived at the Practical Kitchen, along with the five others who’d be taking the test that day. I knew three of them from class. The kitchen was pretty small: a few equipment racks, a pair of refrigerators, shelves of ingredients and sanitation supplies, and six workspaces with six burners each and a small, reach-in fridge (aka, a low-boy) below them. There were no sinks at any of the stations. Each work area was segmented from the others with a blue-tiled barricade.

I was prepared for every and all contingencies: I had all the possible recipes written out, a timeline for each of the possible menus, “shopping lists” with all the possible ingredients. My stack of index cards was about two inches thick.

I was very much hoping I would not have to make hollandaise, one of my least favorite things to do.

And if I could avoid making salmon—one of my most hated foods—I’d feel okay about it.

The start times were staggered by 15, 20 minutes or so. If you’re the last to go, you would have been waiting for nearly two hours before being allowed to start cooking.

We were given a tour for 30 minutes, and then loosed to go exploring, just to see where everything was. The instructor, a gentle-seeming Spanish man with soft-voice and an occasionally impenetrable accent, called the first student over. It wasn’t me. But as I walked by I caught a glimpse of his clipboard and noticed my name was last. I felt unsteady on my feet and suspected this would be a long, long afternoon. I wasn’t able to tell what the menu would be, but as the time passed and the others began cooking—one person got the roast chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy, and consommé, another (mercifully) got the salmon and hollandaise, also with a consommé—the possibilities got narrower.

An hour passed. I spent that time walking through and observing at a distance, from time to time bumping into the instructor, who was doing the same thing. He’d stop, watch from over someone’s shoulder, staring at a pile of scraps or dirty utensils or pans. He’d watch how they stirred, how well they seared a piece of meat, and then make a mark on a paper on that clipboard.

The next-to-last person was called, a young woman I’d never seen before but whom others seemed to know. She did not appear to be a favorite of any of them. They muttered about her being incompetent and unpleasant. Apparently, this was her second time taking the test. She was assigned a shallow-poached filet of fish. This meant that I knew exactly what my menu would be: beef stew, mashed potatoes, sautéed green beans, blanched root vegetables, and a beef consommé. I had never had much trouble with consommé—it always just seemed to work for me. But I’d witnessed others make a mess with it. You mixed egg whites, ground meat, onions, tomatoes, etc. into a slush, drop it into a pot of stock, bring it to a simmer and let it go. As the stock bubbled, the raft—as the now-solidified slush was called—pulled all the flotsam, particles, and detritus from the liquid, bobbed and jumped greyly on top, leaving you with a perfectly clear soup.

“Hey, Jonathan,” I heard. “Come here a minute, please.” The instructor told me he was making a switch. “Forget the consommé,” he said. “Do a cream of cauliflower soup instead.”

Then he started asking me questions, each one worth a few points: “What are the five mother sauces?”

“Veloute, béchamel, tomato, Espagnol, and hollandaise,” I said.

“Good. And can you tell me what an emulsion is?”

I was anxious to get cooking, and found my mind suddenly slippery. “Uhhh...when oil and a liquid are forced to co-exist.”

“What does that mean, ‘co-exist?’”

Words failed me. “When the oil molecules are forced to bond with the other molecules...” I was interlocking my fingers to illustrate this.

“But what holds them together?”

God? Destiny? “Uhhhh...another medium? Something in which the two incompatible molecules are suspended?”

“Maybe you mean a ‘stabilizer’?”

“No maybe about it,” I said with confidence. “That’s exactly what I mean.”

“And how is an emulsion formed?”

“” I put my hands to work for demonstration purposes. “You beat the hell out of it.” I whipped my hands around. I was seriously tired.

He looked like he was pondering the nuances of the word “hell.” “Okay,” he said after a moment.

Thus it went for a while. He gave me a 100 on this part of the test. And I was given the go-ahead to start cooking.

I immediately preheated the oven to 375.

There were a few ingredients stowed in the low-boy: some cubed beef, green beans, a turnip. That was about it. I looked at my menu cards—stew, vegetables, potatoes, comsomme— and then rocketed over to the storage fridge and commenced scavenging: small carrots for the root vegetables, a rutabaga, a whole lot of butter, red wine, and ingredients for the consommé: ground chicken (there was no ground beef), eggs, a few plum tomatoes, etc. I grabbed potatoes to mash. There would be other things I’d need, but I could get them later on.

About ten minutes had passed.

Beef stew and soup both take a while. The soup could just sit on a back burner, so I figured I’d start it first. I started making the raft for the consommé: a rough chop of the onions, cutting up the tomatoes, separating the eggs. I beat the eggs, and folded the other ingredients in. I went back to the fridge to get some stock. And it occurred to me that I had just made my first error.

“Forget the consommé,” the instructor had said. “Do a cream of cauliflower soup instead.”

Fifteen minutes had passed. Fifteen minutes had just been squandered. Nothing I’d prepped for the consommé could be salvaged for anything else. I toyed with the idea of just going ahead and making a consommé, but decided this could backfire. It hurt, but I tossed the ingredients. This was, I’d realize later, the first of two big mistakes I’d make that day. The lost 15—now 17—minutes would really cost me.

Five students had gone before me. The pots and pans at the dish sink had piled into a small Everest. I would need a few of them, because there weren’t that many left on the shelf. One of the first people to go had finished and was beginning work on the pile. I told him which ones I needed and he said he’d take care of me.

I then made my second big mistake, the one that would truly come back to bite me on the ass. I didn’t get that at the time, though.

The base of a cream soup—broccoli, cauliflower, mushroom, whatever—is veloute, a sauce made of a roux and a stock. I had noticed that there was no Espagnol sauce in the storage fridge. Espagnol sauce is a crucial component of the CIA’s beef stew recipe. It is something of a pain in the ass to make if you’re in a hurry. I was starting to be in a hurry. You need mirepoix, tomato paste, a brown roux, and stock. I’d deal with it in a minute, after I got the veloute going.

I looked at the clock and, man, a lot of time had passed. I started making a roux, enough for the veloute, working on a higher heat than I really should have. But I got it done, and added the stock bit by bit. I felt I was regaining that time. I let it simmer.

I cranked the heat under a large sauteuse, poured in the oil, and started browning the beef. As it browned, I worked on mirepoix for the Espagnol, and skimmed the veloute. Once the meat was done, I deglazed with the red wine, poured in the stock, added a bay leaf, brought it to a boil, and put it in the oven.. I’d gotten the time back. One hour, 40 minutes to go—more than enough—way more—to finish everything else.

I cooked the mirepoix until it caramelized. I spooned in the tomato paste and let it turn a nice, rusty red. When that was done, I added the stock, pushed it to the back burner, and let it simmer. I started boiling water for the cauliflower, cut it up, blanched it, shocked it, and set it aside. I did the same with the green beans in another pot. I fabricated the vegetables. I was in great shape again. For a few minutes I just stood and watched things steam and bubble, entranced by all the alchemy I’d just worked. I went to skim the Espagnol and noticed there wasn’t much flour rising to the top. I skimmed the veloute. I got the blender and made the cream soup. It was really good. One hour and ten minutes to go. I thought it was strange that there was still nothing to skim on the Espagnol, but not strange enough to keep me from pouring it in with the already-simmering stew. I’d skim it later. An hour to go. I’d mash the potatoes last minute. I had the beans and the root vegetables set for a quick stay over the heat with some butter, salt, and pepper.

The dish sink was still mounded, and there was no place to take my dirty dishes. I tried to neaten the dirty pans at my own station as best I could. I wiped down what I could around the stove. Leaving the mess was mistake number three.

With 40 minutes to go, I checked on my stew. I pulled it out and pulled the top from the pot. It looked watery. I tasted it. It tasted thin and almost acidic. Something had gone amiss.

It hit me just then: had never gotten around to making the roux for the Espagnol. I’d just forgotten. This was the root—the bedrock—of the problem. There was a significant paucity of flavor and texture to the stew. The 40 minutes suddenly seemed very short.

I could make a roux, I thought, and get at least a 20 minute simmer, maybe a few minutes more. I turned the heat to high under a pan, added some oil, and went off to get more flour. The flour went into the pan, and I whisked it into the oil. I should have done it in increments. I also should have paid more attention and not turned my back to deal with the potatoes because it took just a few moments for the roux to burn beyond salvaging. As I tossed it out, I realized, too, that the instructor had been watching me for the past 90 minutes. I had no idea what he’d seen.

I looked over at him and he was looking back at me. I might have just imagined it, but I think I saw him—very slightly—shake his head in a sort of rebuke. Something unpleasant bloomed in my stomach.

I needed the quickest possible fix here. When the instructor was busy evaluating one of the students who’d just finished, I dashed to the fridge and the dry storage. I took a bottle of balsamic vinegar, a bottle of soy sauce, a rind of parmesan, and some corn starch. I put a good shot of balsamic into the stew, followed by a few dashes of soy sauce, and then the rind. Soy and parmesan add depth of flavor—what the Japanese have dubbed umami—and I thought I’d get some sweetness from the balsamic. I left it on the stove top and brought it to almost a boil. The meat was not going to be that tender, but...

I got the potatoes in the boiling water. I was really pushing it, time-wise.

I made a slurry of corn starch and water, and, with fifteen minutes to go, added it to the stew. It thickened immediately. It still tasted off. I dumped in an immense spoonful of butter. It tasted passable.

Ten minutes to go. I speared a fork into one of the potato quarters and it felt done. I dumped them into a colander, put them into a food mill and started turning. That solitary potato was the only one of its brethren that had fully cooked. I scraped off the useable, parts of the other potatoes and found I had about a serving’s worth. I turned the mill again, with great vigor, and squeezed another quarter-portion out.

I mixed in the hot cream and the softened butter. I seasoned the potatoes and realized I simply did not have enough for the two servings I was supposed to present for evaluation. I eyed the cream of cauliflower soup, pondered my situation, and dumped a large ladleful of the soup into my potatoes. I mixed quickly, tasted—actually, they were fairly tasty—and put them into a pastry bag. I piped them onto the plate in one of the silly curlicue designs the CIA seems to like.

It was just about time to be evaluated...

Monday, June 29, 2009


Well, hello there. It's been a little while since I've posted anything. After a few months of strange weather, things have normalized somewhat. I am also in the thick of my externship at school, working at Tabla in NYC. I'm not certain writing about Tabla while I'm there is such a hot idea; not that I have anything bad to say, but I don't like the notion of my employers potentially--if improbably--reading the blog. But I am preparing a new set of entries. See you soon.

Monday, March 2, 2009


19 Months is on a very short hiatus. I've had a ton of stuff going on, am preparing for my big, do-or-die cooking practical in a few days, and need to focus my attention for a brief period. I'm hoping to be back up and running in about 10 days. Bear with me and check in again.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Why I'm Here, PT.1

My girlfriend and I became a couple because I told a lie, and the lie involved cooking.

At the time we conjoined, I had a freelance job rating restaurants for New York Magazine’s website. I was given a budget of $75, enough to take one other person with me for two, maybe three, entrees and a couple of desserts. There was not usually enough left over for wine.

I had invited Nelly once before to join me on a review; it was a really mediocre restaurant still inexplicably thriving in the Bedford-Stuyvesent neighborhood of Brooklyn. I had some designs; she didn’t. The meal was terrible, but we had a nice time.

Two weeks later, I had another assignment already past deadline. I invited Nelly and she agreed to go. The day before, I decided to lie. I thought my own cooking, instead of someone else’s, might impress her. I emailed and fibbed, saying that the gig had been cancelled. But, would she like to come to my place for homemade ravioli? She said she would and that she’d gladly take the role of “obsequious sous chef.” I never got around to shouting orders, or picking up her handiwork, declaring it de la merde, dashing it onto the floor, and making her scrub pans. Actually, I did most of the work and just plied her with wine. Whether it was the vintage, the pasta, the very rich, pork-laden sauce—I don’t know. But we were a couple from then on.

Most of my life’s notable events, most of the best memories I have, are all enmeshed with food. Many of my memories, period, to tell the truth.

When I was 11, almost 12, my mother interrupted my reading of The Dead Zone and told me it was time I learned to cook. I told her I disagreed. She responded that women loved men who could cook. I had an apron around me and a wooden spoon in my hand before she could finish the sentence. She and my dad bought me a toque which I proudly wore whenever I was at the family stove. I must have looked hilarious. On one New Year’s Eve, way before my voice changed, I roasted a goose. I made half the family meals every week.

At 16, my parents called me to the living room and asked me what I wanted to do for a living. They wanted to know so we could start looking at colleges. “I want to go to cooking school,” I said.

“Try again,” my mother answered. “You don’t want that life.”

In college during my sophomore year, as I was studying journalism, my roommate Ben Smith and I had a kitchenette in our dorm room. We both went off the meal plan and I went into action. I stayed mostly within a limited repetoire of traditional Protestant Sunday dinners; we were, I am dead certain, the only students anywhere on campus routinely roasting lamb, potatoes, and making rich gravies. During a regrettable flirtation with vegetarianism, I had a specialty dish I made over and over of béchamel sauce, mace, curry powder, and broccoli glopped onto boiled white rice. The recipe is available on request.
At the Culinary Institute, you hear the term “career changer” a lot. Career changers are, naturally, a little older. Stereotypically, they’re one of those people who, every day, used to be strangled by a tie, whose heads were swimming with money or who quibbled the law. Who made a serious hobby of food, who read Bill Buford’s Heat, and decided to parley that hobby into a life. Who get mesmerized by the rush and howl of activity on Iron Chef America. Who will maybe get a job on the line and will probably hate it. Who’ll quit and go back from whence they came. Who won’t ever cook in public, but will make great meals at home.

During a lecture or when I’ve had my food evaluated, a couple of the chefs have looked at me with obvious curiosity, tinged, I think, with a very slight condescension. You, that look seems to say, are one of those people.

At least that’s how I interpret that look. Sometimes I get it from other students, too. I think. I might just be paranoid.

Because I don’t know: am I one of those people?

I don’t really feel like a career changer.

I’ve had a lot of careers.

I was a janitor in a coffin factory. I spent my days moving from dumpster to dumpster, emptying them of wooden casket pieces or the scraps of fabric used to line the coffin interiors. I collected empty cans of wood stain. I got free coffee at break time.

Later, I inspected nurse’s shoes. It was my responsibility to go through boxes of several dozen nurse’s shoes looking for defects in stitching, problems with the insoles, or any other aberrations. It was impossible to keep up with the number of boxes coming in. Sometimes I’d just have to stamp the boxes as “inspected” and send them along. I still worry that my shoddy inspecting might have contributed to the crippling of a nurse or to wicked, disfiguring bunions.

I was a foot messenger in Manhattan. It might have been one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I kept it for a while, anyway. I had just moved to New York, I was outside all day during the spring, summer, and fall (and pretty mild winter), and I got to know almost every block of the city.

I did layout for magazines like Brides and Law Technology Product News. They were jobs of almost unbelievable tedium.

I was a nanny. I had a five-year-old kid in my charge. His mother was suffering from cancer. I picked him up from school, helped with homework, cooked him dinner, took him to movies. I talked to him when he was so terrified he didn’t know how to live. His mother got well, he got older, and I moved on.

I was a music and book critic for some pretty big papers. I saw hundreds of shows. I amassed thousands of records and books. I interviewed Pharaoh Sanders, Henry Rollins, Nick Cave, and dozens of others. Utterly exasperated, I walked out during an interview with Courtney Love.

I wrote for Martha Stewart Living. I wrote a lot about food. About caring for pets. About getting stains out of tablecloths. Out of necessity, I stayed for years, and prayed every night for the sweet and final deliverance of death. It never came, but the job did end.

I taught creative writing and lit at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I got to design my own courses; one was all about heroin, another involved movies and books about the end of the world. My last semester, I taught a course where everything had to do with murder.

I taught composition at the now-defunct Interboro Institute in Manhattan. My students came mainly from really tough backgrounds. One student, out on bail after getting busted for crack that he claimed was really his mother’s—and he was just taking the fall—asked if I could get his homework to him in Rikers.

And I’ve worked in restaurants.

And now I’m in cooking school. I feel like I’ve been headed in this direction for most of my life, but took some long, strange turns getting here.

A few years ago, during our early days together, I was at Nelly’s helping her prepare a Passover dinner. My father was quite ill and having a serious operation. I was freaking out. I felt sick to my stomach and out of my head. I kept coming to tears all during the day. I finally just addressed myself to the food. The two of us cooked for hours.

It was what I needed to do.

Why I'm Here, PT.2

But there’s another component to this, too. It’s a little more esoteric.

When I encounter the product of people’s skill and vision—real skill and genuine vision—I will often feel a sense of wonderment.

In 2002, I went to the Museum of Modern Art to see the Gerhard Richter retrospective. My mind was on fire in the midst of those paintings. I went back three times. One night two years ago, Nelly and I sat watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, clutching each other in awe at what we were seeing. When I read Denis Johnson’s Angels or Fiskadoro, or Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or hear Miles Davis’ trumpet on A Tribute to Jack Johnson, I feel the same thing.

Would it be too weird to say that something of all that comes through when I read The French Laundry Cookbook or Paul Bocuse’s French Cooking, or Le Guide Culinaire?

Whatever you do that’s an extension of yourself, whatever springs from your mind and hand, aspires—or should aspire—to that state. There’s not that much of a dichotomy in my head between writing and cooking. Or I should say, not much difference in the approach. You want a word to function perfectly, to unleash every connotation and nuance it has, and resonate alongside the words on either side. Is it that different from what you want an ingredient to do?

And in both cases, when you see someone with the skill to do it, to make a sentence unleash itself, or a dish unleash itself—it can bring that wonderment right out.

Skill is what I’m bent on.


When the weather turned last fall, my good friend from school came over and we were cooking. We’d gone to the Kingston Farmer’s Market and bought venison, butternut squash, pears, anything that looked good. We’d done our prep work and were outside on my porch, sipping scotch. We were talking about our externships, a long spell working for minimum wage in a restaurant, which every student has to do in the middle of the curriculum, and where we wanted to go.

“Why don’t you try for a magazine test kitchen or something,” he asked. “Wouldn’t that make the most sense?”

“What does that mean?” I said, sensing what might be coming and getting slightly riled.

“Well, you’re a writer, so aren’t you just going to write when you’re out of school? You don’t need the same chops that you would in a restaurant.”

“You’re really missing something here,” I said.

“What? I’m just saying that it’s less important.”

“No, it’s not.” I drank the rest of the scotch. I was kind of peeved. “I am a writer and I’ll always write, the same way I’ll always cook. Who knows—maybe I won’t own a restaurant. I might not end up being Ferran Adria. But that’s not the point. I am going to cook for people. I haven’t figured out the fine print, but that isn’t the point, either. If I never cook for another person in my life, I’m still completely fucking determined to be as good as anyone else—as good as you, as good as whoever. I refuse to fail. And this isn’t a goal-oriented thing. It has nothing to do with—“ I was waving my hands—“ ‘I need this and this to achieve this.’ It would be a pretty strange way to spend my time if that’s all it was. There are easier places to be.”


“I came because I couldn’t stand not knowing anymore. And I refuse to not know, and I refuse to not be good.”

“Okay. I figured. I was just checking.”