I fantasized about sharing my epic pulled pork with the handsome man as I finished ringing him up. “Your total is $129.85,” I said.
He handed me his card to swipe. Desperate to invite him to try my pork, but lacking the courage, I handed him a pen and his receipt to sign. For a moment I was attracted to someone who likes to roast pork. My hope rested inside a plaid flannel shirt.
“Enjoy your roast,” I smiled.
“Thank you,” he said. “Have a good one.” And just like that, he was gone. But the feeling he gave me remained. It was a good feeling, but that may have also been because I only had a half-hour left at Pots et des Casseroles and I had an engagement party to go to after work.
My employee purchase of the day was for the couple whose party I was going to. As this would be the second marriage for both of them, they already owned everything, so I got them a fun gift: ice sphere molds. They’re both cocktail drinkers and with this they would be able to have giant balls of ice for their drinks. I desperately wanted this for myself.
I packed up the sphere molds, threw on my jacket and scarf and had the manager check my bag as I hurried out into the night. I felt lucky and was excited to go to the party.
As I got on my bike and pedaled south, I contemplated drinking that evening. I was still re-evaluating my relationship with booze — I wasn’t eager to repeat the disastrous CD release party the weekend before, but a fun night was vibrating through me before it even started. , . I was terrible about controlling my drinking. This would be the night I could do it, I thought. No whiskey and no cider. Maybe vodka? Beer? How about wine?
I pulled up to Werner’s apartment and locked my bike to the rack just outside his building. Smokers were milling about around the door, one being Werner. “Is that Brookey?” he asked in his lilting British accent.
“Yes,” I grinned.
He greeted me with a giant hug. It was nice for someone to be so happy to see me.
“It’s good see you!” he declared.
As we chatted, two more people arrived for the party.
“I’m going to go upstairs. Werner, how do I get to your apartment?” I asked, eager to socialize.
“Ah.. to get in the building, the code is the last four digits of my phone number. The apartment is on the second floor, number 205.”
“OK. See you up there,” I said as I made my way into the building.
This was the first time I’d been to their new apartment. They were forced to leave their former fancy loft on Fulton Market because Grant Achatz’s new restaurant — The Aviary — had moved in downstairs and building management wanted to use the space above it as an office.
I expected no less than spectacular at this apartment. Werner as a designer and Maude with impeccable taste, their space was enviably cool. It was cavernous and sparsely furnished. Everything was white and sleek with no indication that two dogs and a cat also occupied the abode.
When I walked in, I didn’t recognize anyone. Most of the people there were people Werner and Maude worked with. When love is at work and at home, there’s not much reason to venture outside the bubble. However, over in the corner, I spotted Adam and his girlfriend du jour. I uncomfortably squeezed my way through the crowd to talk to Adam.
“Well, hello there,” Adam smiled.
I went in for a hug, “Hello, old friend. How are you?”
“I’m doing well. Have you met my friend Caroline?”
She was a cute girl. Tall, with chestnut locks and a disarming smile.
“Would you like something to drink?” offered Adam.
“I would, thank you. A vodka soda,” I said, resisting the urge to request whiskey.
He left me alone to talk with Caroline. With some small talk, I surmised that she was 22 or 23; at least 12 years Adam’s junior. Adam was smart, so she was probably smart and definitely sweet.
Adam returned with drinks. I took mine, giving in to the idea of having a fun evening. We moved closer to the table with food. I had forgotten that I hadn’t eaten in six hours and realized that I was ready to eat something.I zeroed in on the hummus. Nutty, creamy hummus with the right balance of lemon and garlic. Hummus was my weakness. This hummus was definitely in danger of being consumed solely by me. Though it was terribly rude, it was far better that I overindulge in mashed chickpeas than the free-flowing vodka sodas. It was definitely an acceptable way to kill my buzz. Adam and Caroline were hovering over the cheese, chuckling.
“We’re playing Sesame Street cheese puns. This is Camembert and Ernie.”
“Ooooh, Adam. Ever the wordsmith,” I said.
“Now it’s your turn,” he teased.
“Mmmmmm. Cookie Muenster? But I think that’s as good as I get,” I surrendered as the ice in my drink disappeared. “Have you seen Lena around? She said she’d get here early.”
“I saw her over on the couch a bit ago,” said Adam.
“OK. I’ll be right back. I need a little more ice.”
“Did I not put enough ice in it?” asked Adam, sounding defeated.
“No! It just melted really fast.”
I walked toward the bar. I broke off a small piece of ice in the near-empty ice bucket. On my way back to Adam’s corner, I saw lena on the couch.
“You made it!” said Lena as she and Jenny got up to hug me. “How was work?”
“It was fine. Boring. Easy. Painful.”
“Where are you working?” asked Jenny.
“Pots et des Casseroles. It’s just weekends until the holidays,” I said, guarded. I always felt self-conscious around these people. Most of them were successful in their careers with beautiful homes and children to match. “Which reminds me, I need to give them my present.”
It wasn’t actually a gift-giving kind of party, but I needed to unload this thing. I dug through my purse to find the ice sphere molds and peeled off the price tag. “I’ll be right back,” I said and took the molds over to Maude.
“Ohhh that’s awesome!! I wish we could use them tonight!” she was very excited. “Thank you so much!!”
I left her to entertain and went back to talking to people. I was feeling restless — I was not comfortable in any of the micro-social situations I was getting involved in. I found Werner and asked him for a cigarette. I knew that as soon as I had a drink in my hand, I would want a cigarette. It was a vice I thought I’d overcome in the last year and occasionally revisited.
Quickly feeling the effects of the cocktail, I got all the way to the front of the building before realizing I didn’t have my phone and didn’t have the last four digits of Werner’s phone number committed to memory. Fuck it, I thought. Someone else was bound to escape the party for a cigarette and could let me in. If no one else, Werner would.
I stepped out and lit my cigarette. I wasn’t feeling as lucky as I was before I got to the party. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but I think I was hoping for things to be a little more exciting.
About half-way through my cigarette, a cab pulled up to the building. It was a few yards away, but I knew it was probably dropping off someone headed to the party. I stared at the man who stepped out of the cab. He stared back as he shut the door. He seemed a bit douchier than I would expect Werner to invite, but it was a fair assumption. As he walked toward the door and away from me he asked, “You going to Werner’s party?”
“Yeah,” I said without emotion. “You work at Hatch?”
“Yeah,” he said, equally bored.
“Then you’ll fit right in,” I responded, mildly disappointed that he wasn’t going to stop to talk to me.
“Is it all Hatch people?” he laughed.
“Almost exclusively,” I responded.
He stopped and walked toward me.
“I’ll have a cigarette before I go in,” he offered. “I’m Burton.”
“I’m Brooke,” I said, satisfied that he didn’t immediately go up to the party.
Burton was tall and scruffy. He had a ginger beard and freckles. He was wearing a gray hoodie and a stocking cap loosely topped his head. Judging from his clothes, I estimated his age to be 28. I knew his type. He carried himself with all the confidence of a typical bro which made up for his physical appearance. He was the kind of guy who picked on smaller kids in high school, but probably couldn’t back up the tough talk with a tough fight. He was the kind of guy that wasn’t immediately attractive, but he thought he was.
We talked for a while before going back into the party. I learned that he was from Evanston but took two buses every day to Wilmette to go to New Trier for high school. I learned that he was some sort of designer. He’d been at Hatch for two years but did several contract jobs for them before he signed on permanently.
Eventually, someone came down to leave, letting the door open for us to enter.
It was a long walk through the building allowing for more time to continue the conversation.
“So how do you know Maude and Werner?” he asked.
“I was friends with his ex-girlfriend. They have a big group of friends and I befriended most of them,” I answered. “He’s still friends with his ex-girlfriend but I’m not.”
“What?” he asked incredulously.
“It’s a long story,” I said, avoiding telling the story about my falling out with Lucy.
By that time we had arrived at the party. I showed him to the bar where he requested whiskey. Whiskey.
We parted, but didn’t say goodbye. I returned to my spot by the hummus with a new cocktail. Adam was still there and had been joined by old friends and new conversation partners. I made a half-assed effort to join the conversation, but it wasn’t long before Burton snuck up behind me.
“Do you want to go have a cigarette?” he asked.
“Hmm.. do you have one that I can have?”
“Yep. Let’s go,” he commanded.
We went outside and I continued to learn a little bit more about him. He was actually 36 and had an identical twin brother. It was a fun conversation and in the middle of it, without warning he said, “Do you want to get a bloody mary with me tomorrow?”
Without hesitation I said, “Yes.”
“Cool,” he said.
As we walked back into the building, he extended one more invitation, “Wanna make out in the elevator?”
We got in the elevator and stood across from each other. When the doors closed, he stepped toward me, grabbed me around the waist and kissed me. Am I ready for this? I thought. Am I enjoying this? Another thought. I couldn’t answer either question, but they were on a loop in my head when we stole away around the corner, on the roof and in the vestibule. I wasn’t sure if I was having fun, but I was trying.
As the party started winding down and everyone was properly saturated, Burton asked me to go to the bar up the street. I said I would, but I was teetering between being comfortably buzzed and drunk. I knew that going to the bar would be disastrous.
Lena decided to leave at the same time. Burton ordered a cab but stepped away for a second while we put on our coats and said goodnight to the hosts.
Almost ready and with Burton out of earshot, I asked Maude what she thought of him.
“Hmm, well, I think he has a girlfriend. I don’t know much about the relationship, but I’m pretty sure he has a girlfriend.”
And there it was: douchey bro I expected when he rolled up in that cab. “OK, let’s go,” I said to Lena, and I left the party without a word to Burton.
I was relieved. If I had had just one more cocktail and a little less hummus, I would have made some very poor decisions that night.
I don’t want to give a chickpea too much credit, but the hummus may have saved me from Burton.
When I got home after the party, I found Burton on facebook. I sent him a message and told him that I left the party because Maude told me he had a girlfriend.
He responded immediately and said that they had broken up that day. He followed that up by saying he had gone to the Twisted Spoke with two friends from the party but they left.
“I’m just sitting here by myself. Don’t make me drink alone.”
“I’m going to bed.”
“Will you still meet me for a bloody mary tomorrow? Please?”
“I don’t think so,” I wrote. “I have no interest in being a rebound.”
“It’s not like that. Please?”
“Why don’t you call me in a week when things aren’t so…. fresh?”
With that, I shut down my computer and went to bed.
- 8oz dry chickpeas (half of a one-pound bag)
- 2 cups water
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 TB tahini (sesame paste)
- Olive oil
- Cayenne pepper
- 1 TB fresh lemon juice
Place chickpeas in small saucepan with water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to low and let cook for about an hour or until chickpeas are cooked all the way through. Toward the end of cooking, add garlic cloves.
Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature (if you puree the peas and water while it’s hot, the blender top will violently pop off and, perhaps, some very hot hummus).
Drain the peas and garlic and place in blender or food processor, but reserve the water. Blend on high, occasionally turning off the blender to stir. Add tahini and lemon juice. Keep blending. Add the reserved water and olive oil as the mixture dries. When the peas are thoroughly blended, add salt to taste, a dash or two of cayenne pepper. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika.
Notes on hummus:
It’s a simple fare with a complicated history. It’s rooted in the Mediterranean and both Israel and Lebanon claim its origin. I won’t go into the details, but back around 2010, there was a war over the title of who could claim the title of Home of Hummus. What we get in the grocery store is most like Lebanese lemony hummus with the different flavors — toasted cumin gives it a smoky flavor, jalapeno gives it a kick, roasted red peppers adds a touch of sweetness to it and garnish of paprika or sesame seeds gives it a little extra texture. An Israeli hummus recipe results in an extra creamy bowl of mashed chickpeas served warm, often with meat like grilled lamb. While traditional hummus from a tub at the store is great and convenient, homemade hummus is fairly easy to make with few ingredients. Using dried chickpeas adds a bit more effort and there’s no shame in using canned garbanzo beans — canned chickpeas actually results in a creamier product, I’ve found. And, as much as I love cooking and making absolutely everything from scratch, I still think classic hummus from Sabra or Cedars rock. Yes, I said it: Hummus ROCKS.