Champagne was my drink in the spring



My mother came to visit at the beginning of May, and I took her to the place I used to work at. The fine-dining place. I’d made the booking back in March, back when I still worked there. I knew that I was leaving and I was looking forward to leaving but it was still my home then, or a home at least, and I wasn’t scared of leaving, but I wanted to know that I’d come back. And then time passed, and I moved forward very quickly. I didn’t care if I ever went back or didn’t go back. I wanted to cancel my booking- I didn’t want to force my mother to spend that money on something I cared so little about. And things with my sommelier, my enemy, had ended on an even sourer note than I’d expected. He yelled at me at three in the morning, it was a really dark emotional thing for him, just the two of us alone in the restaurant. He asked me a weird, negative question, I forget exactly what it was but I think it was either “Do I look like a fool?” or “Do I deserve to be treated like a fool?"
        I can’t remember what I said exactly. I think I just said, “No?”
        I haven’t spent a single moment of my life mulling over what might have been a cooler, sassier answer to his question. No point in forcing myself to remember it, remember myself wriggling out from the confines of his perfunctory goodbye hug. The point is that I wriggled out. The next morning I wrote him a text about hating him and then never sent it. And then I pretty much forgot.
        He made me feel small, he was very rude to me, the kind of sexist you can’t quite put your finger on; I think they engineer it that way, so you can never call them on it. He lived to question my palate; he never thought any wine I thought was off was off, even when it was off. Sometimes it was so obviously off. But what can I really do about it? Any of it? The older I get, the more I’m beginning to understand that no one’s really evil. Some people just hate themselves, and it’s too sad to think too hard about. Imagining how horrible it must be, scurrying about like a little rat in a cage, scratching things and eating wood chips and spitting out a wood chip. Squeaking and/or ralphing out or up any imbecilic bundle of rude words that happens to enter your mind, just to take the pressure off yourself. I’ve been on the receiving end of so many of those bundles, those furballs, more times than I could count. I hate a lot of things but none of them are me. And they can smell it on me.
        We went anyway. I was too lazy to cancel my booking, and there was nothing really else to do. Having people come visit tends to clarify how boring and pointless cities actually are. The only London-specific thing I’m really passionate about doing is wandering around and looking at houses but it doesn’t really translate. It’s an obvious one-person activity. When people come visit, all you can really do is shop and eat and drink and go on the London Eye. We went on the London Eye, which is sponsored by Coca-Cola. It’s formally known as the “Coca-Cola London Eye.” My mom was scared to go on the London Eye and I said “Come on, come on, please, it’ll be fine,” and then I turned out to be the one who got scared on the London Eye. I knew we weren’t going to die but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of just hanging there, and I felt stuck there, suspended in this cold little pod with nowhere to move or pee or buy a drink. I sat on the bench in the middle of the pod and listened to The Beatles sing Words of Love on my headphones and it calmed me down the way aromatherapy or clutching a crystal’s supposed to and the wheel hit its highest point and and I got over my fear; for whatever reason, going down went down way easier than coming up.

        We arrived at the restaurant and it was weird to see the place after not seeing the place for so long. When you work at a restaurant for longer than a week it stops looking like a restaurant, and you can’t believe that when people come and eat there they buy it as being a normal restaurant. You’re constantly seeing it naked and flawed at the end of the night, wine-stained white tablecloths collapsed in a heap on the floor like delicate ladies who fainted, blotchy tabletops greasy and crumby, the charming vintage light fixtures cranked up to aggressive blue-cool, you own mottled skin in that light. Your dried-up purple knuckles in the light.
        In real life it looked like the plush peach corner of a Victorian lady’s living quarters, a room you could call a parlour, the place where she’d go to faint. The sommelier sat us at Table 2, which he believed to be the best table in the restaurant. We’d fought about this many times: “I’d prefer Table 3,” I always maintained, as it is further from the wine station and therefore offers more privacy. The fact that he’d forgotten that about me was indicative of his fundamental inability to hear me, my fundamental inability to communicate myself to him. At Table 2 I felt very low to the ground, like I was looking up at the world from inside a very opulent burrow or bomb shelter. I took the corner chair, which backs into the spot where the north and eastern walls converge, and he picked up the table and pushed it in so I was trapped, tucked into a bed. Once, in the middle of performing that very task, I knocked the little vase over. His face went red and he yelled at me. I could tell he wanted to hit me. 
        We drank champagne. It was bready, could have been breadier. All I want— all I want— is champagne that tastes predominantly of toasted brioche. I don’t want flowers, I don’t want apples. I want burnt nuts and burnt bread, dipped in double cream. Custard, ideally.
        They brought us out our canapés. Fussy little gemstones made of liver and flour. Truffled popcorn in a tiny dish. I used to tell people, “It will ruin you for movie theater popcorn forever!” which is sort of sad and sweet because I don’t think anybody says movie theater in this country, I think they only say cinema, but people aren’t idiots; they got what I was getting at. They’ve watched an American TV show before. This restaurant is tasting menu only. You pick from two tasting menus, one meat and one veg, and almost everyone gets the meat one. Then you choose whether you want the veal or the seabass as what we call the meat course. I had the seabass, and my mom picked the veal. And we shared a wine pairing, though I can’t remember a single one of the wines we tasted, which is either my brain doing its best to undermine the ultimate representation of a person it knows it hates, or definitive proof that he’s merely eh at his job. One aspect of his job, I should say— “He’s amazing,” swooned my mother, as he set down her plate with an old-school theatrical whoosh, “What’s his name?”
         I told her the name of the person I’d spent six months crying to her about.
        “That’s him?” she asked, loud enough so he could hear her, which was satisfying.
        “He’s good at his job,” I shrugged, which was the problem all along. He was good at putting down plates of asparagus salad with old-school theatrical whooshes and tucking ladies into tables without knocking over vases, and I was miserable at both, and I didn’t mind it about myself, so I was unmotivated to try harder. I am okay with being a person who has no intrinsic ability to clear an espresso cup that consommé was just sipped out of in the appropriately whooshy style. The performance aspect of fine-dining is a kind of cool novelty when you’re on the receiving end of it, but I am just not the sort of person who can be bothered to perform in any context. Even if you’re paying me.
        And.. I don’t know, I don’t know what’s the real appeal of being coddled like that. I feel like it must be something fucked up psychologically. Does anyone derive real satisfaction from participating in the fleeting illusion that they’re too special or important to even pour their own water?— NO! Oh God, the horrified look on the sommelier’s face I’d spot whenever a guest moved to lift the bottle on their own: it was a failure to him. And, since it was usually my job to pour the water, it was supposed to be my failure.
        But I just didn’t know how to feel sad about it. It didn’t affect the way I saw myself.

The food, of course, was exquisite. Little gifts, little trinkets, quiet and pretty as the clink of a teaspoon against a china teacup. A bouquet of dried bluebonnets. Doll food. Girl food. The course I think of most is the langoustines: these two little darlings, blushing twins. What’s a langoustine? Who cares what a langoustine is. Some lobster-y, shrimp-y thing. It has a shell and it lives in the ocean. We humans, we’re savages. We rip the shell off its body and boil it and now I perceive it as being, like, a “bashful baby gal.” Two gals, chillin’ on a puree of sand carrot— wait, what’s a sand carrot? I just realized, I’d never considered it, but this whole time I’ve been picturing them as being flat and round, like a donut peach. That’s cool. That’s a cool shape for a carrot. Good one, imagination.
        A sheet of lardo is draped across the langoustines’ backs and blowtorched. It melts and merges with their meat. The lardo is texturally gummy, though with a bit of a snap to it, like a sausage casing. The dish is finished with a drizzle of what we mysteriously referred to as “truffle dressing”— once you start eating this type of food on a semi-regular basis, you learn that about 30% of a given chef’s alleged genius can be attributed to his or her access to truffle oil. A lot of chefs coast on it. Shave some black truffle over a hunk of foie gras and call it a goddamned Michelin star. But this was the opposite of truffle for truffle’s sake; it was classy, understated truffle. (The gaudy, overbearing truffle showed up three courses later: a fatass wedge of truffle-infused brie garnished with shaved truffle and truffle oil. Shit, son. It’s the kind of food you want to slather all over a piece of bread and then hate yourself for eating. Is it excellent? Yes. Is it ham-fisted? Yes. Is the experience of eating it any more enriching or sophisticated than gorging yourself on a Big Mac and fries?
        I can’t in good faith say yes. It’s binge food for rich people.)

The real miracle of this meal wasn’t the meal. I can’t remember the wine; the food was good but not as good as I wanted it to be (is it ever???) I had a deeply troubled relationship with my waiter; I am (I guess) ethically opposed to the concept of fine-dining. What made this meal an official Eating Highlight Of My Spring was a tie between the presence of my mother and its pacing: the portions, the spacing of the courses. The progression, rhythm, and cadence of the thing.
        When I remember that meal, I remember the langoustines a little bit, but mostly I remember being with my mom. I remember the cool pink air. I lied about not remembering the wines; I know we had a dry amontillado sherry with our cheese. I didn’t like it; dry sherries make me think of walking into a cupboard stuffed full of mushrooms, which I’ve never done. But my mother responded to it viscerally: it took her back to somewhere she couldn’t remember, a place that either existed a long time ago or maybe never existed but felt like it did, which is the whole point of drinking wine, in my opinion. You suffer through mediocre bottle after mediocre bottle in the hopes that one of them might trigger it, and then it finally happens, and it’s like some part of you that you never knew about now exists in liquid form, and it’s yours: to interact with, to learn from, to swim through.
        Wine is another place like writing. They both don’t exist. Sometimes they’re perfect for being realer than real life and sometimes they’re perfect for getting you further away from it than any plane or place.


This is what I ate for lunch on the day I watched the last episode of Mad Men. Five days before I quit my job.
        I didn’t know I was going to quit my job in five days, but I knew I was going to quit my job in five days. It was the worst job I ever had, but it paid quite good money. I guess I was just testing myself to see how long I could go.
        Or I was trying to be optimistic. I only stayed there a couple of months: one week of training in Belgravia, two weeks of training before the restaurant opened, and then the restaurant opened. They weren’t forthright when they decided they didn’t think I was management material, and I don’t think I was being unreasonable in believing that things might change, or maybe I could. Probably what it was is that I just couldn’t stand to believe that something I thought was going to be so good could have gone so bad. I’d hoped so earnestly, with whatever part is left of me that is sweet, that this thing was going to be Good. It is bone-chilling, even now, to accept that my instincts could have been so way off. Trust your instincts, trust your instincts. That’s what everybody tells you. But my instincts sucked, it appeared. So what am I supposed to trust then?

I went to Canteen, because I was too lazy to think of anyplace more exciting. I’m prone to driving myself crazy over trying to figure out what’s the perfect thing to eat so sometimes I’ll just be very firm about laying down the law with myself: “You are eating at Canteen today! No more ruminating!” And the Old Spitalfields Market Canteen, it’s a place of mine. It’s a Laura place. I go there. They have these little booths for one person where you sit facing straight forward and it feels like sitting at a desk, back at school, and the staff wear plaid shirts and kind of know me. When I was working doubles at that job, I liked to go there on my break: to eat eggs, drink champagne, and talk myself down off a ledge. I wanted to never go back. I wanted to run away. In the mornings I would get to King’s Cross and look at all the light-up boards telling you which trains were going to which little towns in England and what time they were leaving at. The only thing that stopped me from getting on one of them was how shitty my outfit was. My work clothes.
        I didn’t drink champagne on Mad Men finale day; I ordered eggs Benedict and a Diet Coke. As I ate I kept remembering scenes from the Mad Men finale with the same rush of excitement you feel waking up the morning after the guy you have a crush on first kissed you. This awareness would come over me: Something excellent has happened to you, and I (your brain) am giving you permission to check out of your real life and devote yourself primarily to thinking about it and then my brain would play me a little movie of Retreat Don or Stan & Peggy or LearJet Pete being lovable and fascinating and fly. And I’d watch it.
        I wrote text messages about Mad Men and read articles about Mad Men. One of the waiters came up to me and told me they were out of “muffins” for the Benedict and I wondered if maybe English muffins aren’t called English muffins in England, just “muffins” because the English is implicit. Now I think they might call them “muffins” and “English muffins” interchangeably.
        He asked me if I wanted to have my Benedict with toast instead and I said that I did. He asked white or brown and I said brown.
        I’ve been thinking about toast a lot these days. There’s a scene in Mad Men where Don Draper eats toast. He arrives late to Ted, Peggy and the rest of the creative gang’s “rap session about margarine,” snatches a slice of toast off a platter in the center of the table, takes a cool bite, and walks away. I feel like you can hear it crackling between his teeth but I might be making that up. I want to eat more toast in my life. I want to eat a slice of toast per day. I don’t have a toaster. I keep procrastinating buying one.
        When I was a teenager I read a zine by a woman named Ally, which contained a line about the feeling of burnt toast soothing a sore throat. That sentence changed me. I’d never thought of it before, but it revealed a truth that I knew as deeply as what all the colours look like, or which of the planets have rings. It pushed me to write my own version of that sentence, and to continue doing so. It made me see that the point of me was to catch and name more of those blah, deep truths that nobody ever bothers thinking about, that all I wanted was to do was use writing to tell people about something that had already happened to them. I wanted to make them see that it had happened.

Because a slice of bread is larger than an English muffin, than a “muffin,” the chef had to put more Hollandaise sauce than I’ve ever seen in my life on the Benedict, which was the heavenly fucking treat to end all heavenly fucking treats. If she’d put a muffin-amount of sauce on it, half the plate would’ve been dry toast. Instead, it was awash in an impressively well-seasoned lake of goo and cream. I loved the goo and cream. I don’t really love ham, but I’ve learned to embrace it in the context of a Benedict. I hate when they put smoked salmon on eggs Benedict, eggs “Royale” or whatever they call it. It just turns into The Smoked Salmon Show. And sautéed spinach fucks with the textural balance.
        I’ve spent the past couple days meditating on the sensation of cutting into a poached egg with a table knife. I am more interested in the creamy, fluid slice of the knife through the white than I am in the yolk spillage. We all know about how sexy the yolk is; it’s standard “food porn,” I’m over it. I have nothing new to bring to the writing about egg yolks table. Nobody does.

I ate my eggs with “great ceremony”— remember when Don Draper said that about the way he used to eat a Hershey bar? When he lived in a whorehouse and was a child named Dick Whitman. That poetry is a heavenly fucking treat if I ever heard one said out loud.
        I eat everything I eat with either great ceremony or no ceremony at all. There’s really no middle ground that I’m comfortable with. When I eat like that, with just a moderate amount of ceremony, I feel like I want to wring something out of myself, like water from a cloth. I don’t really know what I feel like wringing out. Some dull, secret pain I guess, which is too boring to even count as pain. I don’t even know what makes me sad anymore, or what I’m even sad about. I think I’m sad about nothing.
        I’m writing about this day like it was years ago and it may as well have been. That job was one of those horrible things that happens to you and you don’t even grow as a person from having lived through it. I am still suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome from that era. But now, it’s June! It’s the summer, though it doesn’t feel like summer here in London. I’ve worn a trenchcoat often, this June.
        I’m writing this at St. John Bread & Wine, on another little date with myself, and I’m about to order a glass of Blanc de Blancs. I’m wearing this really ugly dress I bought on Brick Lane; it reminds me of Peggy Olson. It’s drab. My bag is a British Library tote bag and it’s grey out. Everything in the world is perfect. I feel sad about nothing except for the general sadness I always feel about life not being perfect. But I think, in this moment, life is as close to perfect as it’s ever been.
        On that Monday I wasn’t even a shell of myself, I was just a shell. I was a shard of dead bug’s exoskeleton jammed inside a crevice of the gummy sole of some idiot’s ugly Croc or whatever. Shiny at least. Here is what I had to wear to that job every day: a pair of three pound black lace ups I bought from Primark, and Boots insoles, which would always scrunch up and bug me. With a pair of black Gap skinny jeans, black socks that I was once sent home for not wearing, and a black short-sleeved button-up that always had white flour all over it, from cutting up a loaf of bread we called “Italian white.” It was one month ago. The difference between my life then and my life now is the difference between drinking nothing and drinking a glass of champagne.


  1. Perfect and lovely. You always make me want to better chronicle my life.

  2. What Chuck said. Also, I feel like I always fixate on the wrong things in these great, full entries, but I LOVE wandering around and looking at houses!