More stories from the club’s logbook; “The mothers of boys club

Kitchen fire

It’s May when the long-awaited tennis season begins. I stop at the courts on my way home from work to play for an hour. I arrive home around 7:00 greeted by all my chatty neighbours gathered around my front step. There’s a hush from the crowd. There’s a couple of fans blowing outside… huh?

My co-op buddy Barb comes running down the steps, “Hey, there’s been a fire in your kitchen!”

“Oh no…! Are my boys ok?”

Everyone’s ok.” The story unfolds. A scary story. It was actually a grease fire and luckily no one got burnt. My son Troll was heating up oil to make tempura. He didn’t have any batter mix for coating so he decided to substitute batter with sweet ‘n sour sauce.

When his first prawn was dropped into the hot oil, whoosh, the sugary sauce ignited. Flames were leaping straight up out from the vat, searing hot oil was shooting up with the flames. Troll fell backwards, he bonks his head on the corner of the wall, screaming “Fire, fire…”

My younger son Moss, who was playing PS2 games, quietly gets up, squeezes past the flaming oil, steps around his brother, reaches into the pantry for the fire extinguisher and calmly douses the fire.

By the time the firefighters arrived everything was under control. By the time I arrived we were the talk of the neighbourhood. Inside, Moss is back playing on the PS2. The black smoke has dissipated. I find Troll hiding under the cover of his quilt in his bed.

“Hey? You ok?”

“No, I really messed up.”

“Mess is no big deal, I’m much more worried about you. You could’ve gotten a really bad burn. Are you ok? no splash of hot oil? no frizzed eyebrows?”

“It scared me but I’m ok”

The kitchen, dining, hallway walls and ceiling now have a melty grey colour, the wood trim of the cabinets are blackened and bubbly. There’s a fine powdery fire retardant mixed with oil coating every imaginable nook and crannie. It’s a clean-up nightmare.

Wannabe firefighter when I grow up

And it’s a miracle Troll didn’t get any kind of burn. But the trauma will stay with him for quite some time. Up next blog, another scary episode for my Troll.


Ali’s Autobahn

Troll’s first job is at an automotive garage. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall down on east Hastings in an old dilapidated wooden barn that’s been given a reprieve from the wrecking ball. Peeling yellow luminescent paint barely clings to the sagging walls and the equally bright red trim adds a certain festiveness, giving it the look of a Yellow Page ad.

But the clientele doesn’t mind. They think they have found a real gem of a deal when they drive into Ali’s in their Audis and Beemers and Hummers. They pull up, switch off the surround-sound, slide out from the heated leather seats and toss the keys to the nearest flunky with a hello wave and a shout, “Give ‘er the usual.”

Of course, clients never step inside the shop. If they did they’d discover the lack of sophistication isn’t only expressed in the gaudy exterior.

There’s only one mechanic that’s in today, and everyday. He has a strong Aussie accent and is dressed adequately for his role: he’s in regular coveralls with every inch covered in grease smears obscuring any sign of the original white fabric.

But what’s really scary is the cigar hanging from his mouth. The ashes are creeping dangerously close to his lips while he’s leaning over an oil drum cleaning some tools. The drooping cigar is looking like a spent you-know-what and its ashes are about to drop. Just then, he flicks the cigar and the ashes fall to the floor. The slick oily black floor isn’t much safer than the oil drum, but then with a quick one-two-three action he gives it a good stomp to douse it. He’s averted another flaming disaster. One small spark could easily catch the whole floor on fire.

Troll has a lingering fear of fire from his recent kitchen fire episode. He’s convinced that Ali’s Garage will someday blaze up with one huge whoosh of toxic leaping flames like an August wildfire in Merritt. He goes about his work with one eye on the exit.

Ali is in the cashier’s office with his back to the goings-on in the shop. He’s been shouting on the phone all morning in a heated argument. Desperate to get his point across the only method he knows of being heard is through his loud voice.

Clearly the party on the other end is shouting as well because you can hear the cracking and popping sounds coming through the old speaker-phone. You’d hear the conversation word for word through the open pass-through payment window if Ali wasn’t conversing in turkish.

Meanwhile Troll, the latest heir to the job from among a long line of other young beheaded enthusiasts, takes his orders from the mechanic. He’s told to jockey the customers’ cars as per the mechanic’s instructions, “Line ’em up in order”.

“What sort of order?”

By who got here first, of course. Are ya a dingo?”

So he hops in, starts up the engine and slides the Audi into the first bay. The BMW goes into bay 2. Then the rest are backed up onto the side street in a nice queue. He’s doing well considering he doesn’t have a drivers license and zero experience other than driving my puny Echo around and around a few parking lots.

The last car to move is the Hummer. You can’t really call it a car, it’s more like a tank on shiny wheels. My son’s admiration isn’t as strong as when he had an obsession for Hummers at age 10 but he couldn’t believe his luck that day. He climbs in, the music is still on and the seat is heated. He elegantly wheels the beast to the end of the line-up, cranks up the music and enjoys the luxury of a 5 minute break.

Suddenly he wakes to the mechanic banging on the window and shouting, “Get outta there you lazy-ass, it’s lunch! you been hiding in there all this time? I thought you ran off and quit. There’s bloody work ya know! What gutter did Ali scrape you up outta? I’m gonna get you fired for this!”

“S-s-s-s sorry. It won’t happen again. I was so worried about my first day that I didn’t sleep last night. I really like this job. Can I get a second chance?”

“Wake up lazy-ass. And get outta the Hummer, now

Heading to the lunchroom together they see Ali still raging on the phone. The mechanic shrugs, “Why not? We’re all a bunch of slack-offs here. You’ll fit right in.”


Day two at Ali’s

With a passing grade from yesterday, my son Troll arrives bright and early the next day. His sleep cycle is in a topsy-turvy stage where he paces all night and sleeps all day but he’s determined to keep his new job. He’s mentally prepared for another long day like yesterday – 7am to 6pm with a half hour break for lunch (plus his clandestine two hour nap the day before).

At age 17 Troll presents himself well enough. He shows up with his bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eagerness, although a more apt description is of a walking zombie from lack of sleep. But he’s already learned how to hoist a car, change a tire, and use gas as a solvent to clean up the grease and oil drops on the floor at the end of the day.

Right away he hears Ali’s booming voice. He’s yelling at the mechanic. In response the mechanic yanks out his burning cigar, throws it on the floor and storms out, “I quit!”

Ali instantly stomps down on the cigar but a spark flits off and lands in the rag-bin. Poof, a rush of air feeds into the bin and up shoot the flames to 3-feet high. Ali whips off his ball cap in a lame attempt to douse the fire but the fire curbs itself from lack of fuel when all the oil rags are burnt up, along with his hat. Meanwhile my son’s anxiety levels are ramping up.

The phone rings and Ali runs to the office again yelling over his shoulder to my son, “Get the customers’ cars in order.”

With three already in the lot and 5 more rolling in he’s catching customers’ keys for Audis, Hummers and Mercedes. Just then a dilapidated white van pulls in. Out jumps an older guy with a long white beard and red pants. No, it isn’t santa, it’s a guy that made an appointment for 9am and needs to pick it up by 10 – latest. “I’ve a big contract today, must have the van ready by 10, my radiator’s still steamin’ like a bejeezus, you guys didn’t fix it up, get it right this time…”

My son runs to Ali to give him an update on the white van guy knowing full well there’s no mechanic today. Ali waves at him to shut up pointing at the phone, “My wife again!”

The white van guy is barging in on Ali who just flags him off. Meanwhile another customer pulls up honking his horn relentlessly. The place is in a frenzy of anxiety and unhappiness: Ali dodging customers, the mechanic long gone, and my son slipping out the back door, running to catch the next bus home.

Fire in the galley

Troll lands a dishwashing position at the ‘more refined’ restaurant in our neighbourhood. Because he often has sleep cycle challenges he’s hoping restaurant work is more suitable with a later start time at 11am. But it’s still a long workday when closing time can be as late at 1:00 am then add on one or two hours for clean-up and lock-up. Good thing he lives close enough to walk home.

It’s not flaming flan, but flames there are

He’s well into the first week of learning the new job. Troll has anxiety disorder so he can be easily triggered especially in the pressure-cooker environment of a kitchen. His job is to load and empty the dishwasher, clean pots & pans, and plate desserts.

It’s New Years Eve but there are so few reservations that the head chef gears things down and lets half the staff off early. Troll stays behind to do final clean-up. He’s hoping to be home by 1am.

A half hour later a rush of revellers arrive. Suddenly the restaurant is full and all their orders are full-on meals. The servers are scrambling about getting menus and drinks then dashing back to the kitchen to give the chef a heads-up.

First order to Troll is from the chef, “get the pots and pans clean!” Then the servers are shouting at him for glassware. From the earlier shifts that week, Troll’s hands are cracked and raw from super-hot dishwasher steam but he hasn’t told his supervisor for fear of losing his job.

The kitchen is in full tilt. Appetizers are served. Entrees are on their way. One server is shouting for cutlery. Another server is asking for cheesecake to be plated. A third needs creme caramel. And the sous-chef is critiquing the lousy pot-cleaning.

Troll is getting orders from everyone at once. Not knowing who to please first, he cow-tows to the pretty server, the one he likes the most. She’s asking for the melted glaze on the creme caramels. “Um, haven’t learned that yet! Can you show me?”

Damn, I don’t have time, but here, look. It’s so easy… just turn on the buntzen, like this, then hold the pudding at this angle and breeze over it with the flame at this exact distance… voila! Now get 4 done right away!”

Alone in the cooler room, he holds a pudding up high, lights the buntzen burner (of which he’s never seen one before now), and immediately tenses up from his fear of fire. He points the flame toward the pudding and immediately burns his already sore hand. He drops everything, the pudding splats everywhere, and the burner’s nozzle pops off. It’s spinning and skidding about the floor with the flame shooting out in all directions.

His anxiety is through the roof. He bolts out the door, zigzags through the diners and runs out the main door like a streaker. He rips off his apron, stumbles on the ties, trips and lands on the other side of the laurel hedge. Hidden by the hedge, he dares a peak toward what he imagined would be a three-alarm fire at the restaurant.

But nothing’s amiss. It looks like business as usual. Then he hears a siren. His heart’s pounding hard. He’s up and away. He bee-lines it home thinking it’s either a firetruck or they’ve called the cops on him.