You land three new customers in one week, one of them an illustrious name in Bay Area catering, and you want to be happy except that all of your employees are on vacation, in the hospital, or on a plane, which means you have to do the prep, baking, packaging, delivering, and clean-up on your own, in between sales calls and accounting and pitching to investors and the occasional cat nap. You’re not one to complain but the fact that you’re only halfway to break even is like hearing “You’re more than halfway there!” at mile 13.2 while running a marathon with the first half downhill. You are not cheered by such realizations, but at least you no longer cry. Much.
You make your delivery and are cheered a bit when the executive chef hustles out to meet you, all smiles though he is typically kind of assholey. He opens the big white bakery box and beams, “Beautiful!” he says, and you feel bad for thinking the word assholey, when in reality he is probably just socially awkward in which case, you realize, you are the one that is kind of assholey. Two purchasing managers crowd around and tell you how they are just flying off the shelves, and you feel like a rock star and the feeling holds until you get back into your car and catch a glimpse of yourself in the rearview mirror: ponytail half undone, sleepless eyes red as a ferret, smudged mascara, a streak of flour on one cheek. You bare your teeth and at least there is no kale waving at you, so there’s that.
At the end of the day you circle the bakery with your checklist: refrigerators in the green zone, oven breakers flipped, dishwasher powered off, pest traps uninhabited, bathroom clean, trash receptacles empty, shades drawn, lights off, alarm on. Your phone is dead which makes the BART ride home about rest instead of email catchup and you’re not sure whether to curse the loss of efficiency or be grateful for the chance to lean your head against the cool plastic window and close your eyes.
You jolt awake sticky and disoriented when the recorded voice announces “Civic Center”. The escalator is broken so you haul your tired legs up the 73 steps. It is your favorite time of night, what the poets call the gloaming, a word that always makes you think of misty castles. The Civic Center is bustling with junkies, homeless, and the mentally ill; they huddle and mill about, hundreds of them, many of them talking to themselves in loud voices. You try to steer clear of the ones that look the most dangerous but this is an exercise in futility, so you just plow a straight line through the unkempt mob. There are a few remarks about your ass and a few requests for a dollar, and you are followed twice, both followers melting away at the appearance of a uniformed police man strolling the plaza.
You start walking while looking for a taxi and twenty minutes later you are still walking, sweating and swearing, wondering where all the taxis are, aren’t they supposed to be mad about Uber and Sidecar and Lyft taking away all their business? Finally you spy one at the light, headed the wrong way, and wave dispiritedly, and for a wonder the driver rolls down his window and yells “Hold on, I am coming! Wait for me, miss!” In the indigo twilight, his musical accent, the grand scale government buildings all around, his words sound like something out of a rom-com starring Kate Hudson (if Kate Hudson was a sweat-stained baker with purple streaked hair, tattoos, and flour on her face).
Home, you discover there are visitors that are waiting for you to join them for dinner. There is no time to change clothes so you wash your face and wish you didn’t look so tired or your hair so scraggly and then it’s a quick walk to the sushi restaurant that is only five blocks away but due to close in half an hour, so it is literally a race against time to eat. There is a small crowd at the door and you put our name in and head next door to the burger place for a beer where you figure the owner is happy to get your cash but probably also pissed that your party is using his place as a way station rather than a destination.
Your party is called and you happily sit at a table whose top is crowded with miso, wakame, garlic edamame. You order everything spicy that the menu has to offer; one dish actually arrives at the table on fire. It’s going on an eighteen hour day but you are mellow from beer and feeling pretty good, the sushi is spectacular as usual and you don’t pay any attention to the nudge on your foot; the tables here are tiny and crammed in, you figure it’s someone’s shoe and move your own. The nudge comes again and you shift again and forget about it until the nudge comes a whole lot higher up, not your shoe but your lap, and now you can feel distinct little claws even as you look down in time to see the rounded ears and long tail that belong to the rat that has just crawled up your leg and onto the white expanse of your napkin.
You feel the blood not so much drain as drop from your face as you shove the napkin blindly away and luckily (if that word can be used in this situation) the rat dives down to the floor and not up to your face or over to your daughter. What’s wrong, everyone at the table asks you at your sudden movement and pale face and you don’t have to answer because the people at the only other occupied table in the establishment all do it for you when they see the escape artist scampering past them and scream “RAT!!!!.”
The waiter gives your table lots of free beer and half off the not-inconsiderable bill which is good but on reflection maybe not enough to make up for a RAT IN YOUR LAP. You tell your friends because how can you not, the story is just too shuddery good, and everyone vows if they were you they’d take to social media at once and take the restaurant out, take it down. You are shocked at how quick the torches came out, how quickly these nice liberal progressives have become a social media mob.
You do not log onto Yelp, in fact you are inclined to be sympathetic to the restaurant because you know, like other non-food-business-operators apparently do not, that a rat doesn’t mean the place is dirty, a rat doesn’t mean the food is contaminated. There are three restaurants adjacent to the sushi place and if one of them gets a rat, they all get a rat, as a kitchen operator your place is only as rat-free as all of the places around your place.
Home again, you stand in the darkened kitchen looking at the bright sliver of moon framed in the window over the sink while drinking a glass of water. The dog is at your feet hoping even at this late hour for a rawhide chew when a mouse strolls out from under the stove, glances at the dog, and continues on its way to the laundry room. You (and the dog) watch this little tableau with no reaction whatsoever. You finish your water, put the glass in the dishwasher, and head to bed and you do not dream of Ratatouille which is as good of an end to the day as you could expect.