I was already living on my own when I started college, living with siblings, but working, going to school, and supporting myself. I went to the University of Kansas after graduating from high school, even though I really wanted to go out of state to a small liberal arts college. There was no money for that kind of education, and while I was a great student, I didn't receive the kind of scholarships that would have made it possible. I moved into the dorms freshman year, and ate at the cafeteria. This was my first bout with industrial food production, and the food while plentiful, was just kind of dead food. I got a stomach ache everyday eating there. After one semester, I moved out and in with my mom and her boyfriend, and finished the year with them. Sophomore year I moved into my first apartment with two roommates, one who was awesome and one who was flat out loca!
We had the same arguments most young housemates have; who will wash the dishes, take out the trash, who ate my food, drank my beer etc. My crazy roommate never went to class, didn't have a job and spent her days drinking beer and talking to herself-sliding deeper and deeper into depression. One night while hanging in my room with a couple of friends laughing and joking, I heard from downstairs my roommate yelling, “Bitch, I know you are talking about me you, bitch.” Things culminated on the night when my good roommate and I were awoken by the phone ringing. Our friend was calling to wake us up, because loca roomie was coming to burn our house down while we slept.
Thankfully her parents came to take her away “ha ha ho ho he he” and I got to finish out the year without a chair wedged under my door.
Here began my real experimentation with food. I loved to feed my friends and roommate and I started a mature dialog with myself at the store, “One pound of gouda cheese equals one double Kettle One and tonic at the bar.” I wanted the good cheese. Slowly my love for good ingredients took over my love of partying and I cooked more -diverting my drinking money to grocery money. Keep in mind that I was making $5.75/hour (above minimum wage) at the Financial Aid Office at KU. It took over an hour of work to buy one drink, or one pound of Gouda cheese.
My boyfriend and I would have cooking dates as going out to eat started to be disappointing. I could cook better than most of the restaurants that I could afford to go to, opting to buy good ingredients and cook at home became a fun experiment in recipes.
During one of the summer breaks, I took a job in La Pointe, WI located on Madeline Island in Lake Superior where I had some family living. I was bar tending at one of the coolest bars I have ever been too, Tom's Burned Down Cafe. The bar used to be high on stilts with 360 views of the Lake, until one night, a disgruntled patron lit fires under the stilts, and it tumbled to the ground. Tom Nelson, the notorious owner, lived out of the stilt-less house adjacent to the bar. Tommy's was a rambling sprawl of edifices covered by a giant circus tent. The cash register, smokes and what not were all in the back of a semi trailer and all the beer coolers located out on the deck could be locked. The bar is filled with signs with sayings like, “Stop the Slaughter, Boycott Baby Oil” and “If you are going to rob Peter to pay Paul, you can usually count on Paul's support.” My favorite sign is the one over the cigarettes for sale which reads “Volunteer Slavery, $10.”
While the tips were good at Tom's, I also took a job as a short order cook at the Thirsty Sturgeon-a small restaurant that catered mainly to locals. The Sturgeon's owner trained me on the job for about 2 hours, and then he left the state. Breakfast went alright, but at lunch I was feeling very nervous about cooking meat. I still had never really cooked it, and I was so afraid of food borne illnesses, certain that I was going to under cook something and make someone sick. My pseudo brother (my half sister's half brother) came in for lunch and ordered a burger. Luckily, things on the Island are pretty laid back, so I just asked him to come back into the kitchen and let me know how cooked he wanted his burger. I repeated this process with everyone who ordered meat. This pleased both the patron and me, who could not tell the difference between rare or well done.
Life on the Island, or “The Rock,” as it is un-affectionately referred to as by people who know it's darker side, was like a Twilight Zone. It is an open container city, which acts to condone drinking at all hours of the day and night. Beer was often served with breakfast, and jokes about alcoholism all held a bit of truth to them. There was also this kind of unspoken rule that when people were low on funds, those with funds, or those slinging drinks would enable your buzz. As a bartender, I bought drinks for broke friends out of my tip jar. This behavior supported a daily alcohol consumption that leads to one place, alcoholism! The night before I left the Island, I was dropping off a friend at the bar around 5pm. I didn't have any money on me, it was my day off and I wanted to hang low. I was encouraged by my friend to come in and have one drink, which turned into so many drinks and shots, the next thing I know I am waking up in my car in the parking lot of the bar and it is only nine at night.
I knew that I had to get off the Rock, or join the hordes of alcoholics who still live on the Island. I boarded the ferry the next day with my last 7&7 in my hand, content to return to the financial aid office, my boyfriend, and family.