Back in the days when my Spanish was barely Spanglish, and the only Spanish I did know was from picking up random drunken words stumbling down Revolución in T.J., I had what you would call a “pocha moment.” I’d just moved to the city and was making $35 a shift on busy nights as a food runner with $750 rent (which by city standards is actually cheap). As broke and hungry as I was, I pimped myself out to the alpha chef behind the line, Julian, a handsome, arrogant Michuacano. Flirting mercilessly with him, I batted my lashes, giggled like a school girl and ate up my rewards later: tender roasted rack of lamb, shrimp pasta pomodoro, chicken marsala with garlic mash and creamed spinach. Hey, don’t judge. You would’ve busted the femme fatale role too if your broke-ass was at home eating corn tortillas with peanut-butter for the fourth day in a row. Once Julian left, the umbrella of protection I was shielded with ended, and Lucho, his quiet scornful nemesis took over.
Lucho made it clear that he wasn’t smitten by my charm. I’d been polite enough to him all those months, but hadn’t showered him with the same doting I had for Julian, a devoid that would not lift his resentment over me. One day, when I passed him the tenajas for the fries, he said “Thank you, bizcocho.”
Bizcocho…I’d heard that word before. It was a sweet bread you dipped in your coffee—like a biscotti. But why were the other cooks suddenly snickering?
“What does that mean?” I demanded. “Es un sweet bread,” he shrugged innocently. “Because you sweet.”
Since I didn’t know any better, I took it for what it was.
One day, one of the new Latino room-service guys overheard Lucho calling me bizcocho across the line. Appalled, he pulled me aside. “Do you know what they’re calling you?”
“Sweet bread,” I answered matter-of-factly. “It’s cuz I’m sweet.”
He himself snickered, then whispered the meaning in my ear.
Well, there’s no direct translation, really. But slang-wise, the closest you can come up with is that the sweet bread symbolically means a woman’s…
“Mother FUCKER!” I roared, blasting into the kitchen and hurling a bowl of fries onto the floor. (I can be quite hot-headed at times, a trait that either works for me or against me.) “I know what that means now!”
Lucho just laughed. “It’s sweet bread,” he shrugged coolly. “Because you sweet, bizcocho.” The cooks were all on the floor, rolling. This is the entertainment people get when they live at work.
“Stop calling me that right now!”
“No,” he said plainly. “It’s your nick name.” He handed me a fresh bowl of fries to continue my work.
For weeks after, the name bizcocho trailed behind me everywhere. I didn’t want to squeal to my gabacho managers because they were hesitant to put a woman behind the line to begin with—expos are mostly a male dominated position. I wanted to prove them wrong and hold off long enough until I got the “experience” they wanted from me to be promoted to the floor serving. With servers whining over making a hundred bucks on slow nights, that was where the money was at. And no one—not even a punk cook—was going to stand in the way of my money flow.
My respect in the kitchen was at an all-time low. Every time I forced myself to go to work, I felt like Carrie at prom being incessantly ridiculed: “They’re all gonna laugh at you, they’re all gonna laugh at you.” And being that I was too proud to ask for food, I was also hungrier than half the city’s squandering pigeons.
Something had to give and finally the answer came, but timing was everything. I waited an entire six days for the opportune moment, then pounced like a patient bullfrog snapping at a fly when it approached. It was a Saturday night, the kitchen was packed, and all the cooks were standing around admiring Lucho’s new phone that had a camera. Big technology in those days.
“Let me take a picture of you, bizcocho,” he said.
I grinned to myself, setting out ramekins to dry. “Let’s do it…Anchovy.”
He stopped, looked up at me. A pause fell across the kitchen: no servers asking for re-fires, no food that had to be plated. Not one expo ticket printed on the sauté or pantry line, and not a single soup ladle stirred. The thousand actions that give life to a kitchen halted in those very exact seconds that Lucho and I sneered silently at each other: him full of pride and need for respect, me full of my own.
“What you call me?” he seethed.
“Oh, it’s your new nickname. Anchovy,” I repeated simply. “You know, like that disgusting salted dead fish they put on top of pizza. Cute, huh?”
Lucho’s face twisted and creased, spit flying from his mouth like he’d just warped into a rabid wolf. He had deep wide set Mayan eyes, indigeno looking, and a long ponytail that hung down his back. He was handsome, no doubt. But the defeated look that scorned his eyes now was anything but charming.
“Don’t call me that!”
“No,” I decided, enjoying the two minutes of torture that was almost equivalent to my entire month. “It’s your new nick name, Anchovy.”
The cooks were nudging each other hysterically now, “coño’s” flying left and right. “Anchovy!” they busted.
“Basta!” Lucho fired, bellowing.
I glared back. I could be quite threatening at times, call it the wrath of a woman. “Fine, I’ll stop. But quit calling me bizcocho!”
He nodded. The cooks were still rolling at his feet. “Algo más?”
“Yes,” I declared. “I’m starving.”
He took a big gulp, probably of his pride. “Pollo o pescado?”
I got promoted to the floor eventually and Lucho moved on as well; the restaurant business is transient like that. The other day out of the blue, I happened to think of him and wondered if he ever thought of me too. I wondered if he ever silently scowled when his friends joke about ordering anchovies on their pizza—or better: If he ever sulks when he does eat a bizcocho, wondering why its sweetness is gone as he dunks it into his coffee.
© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved