22. Crestfallen Queso

Chili-con-quesoI was whisking a roux for my Wednesday Alfredo sauce when I received an distressingly long text from Burton.

“I went to the dermatologist today because I had a rash on my back and thighs that I was concerned about. I have insurance, so I don’t take any chances. Anyway, the doctor doesn’t know what it is or if it’s contagious but because we get naked quite a lot, I thought I should tell you.”

Chili-con-queso“Are you worried?” I asked.

“No, but it alarmed me enough that I thought I should get it checked out.”

“Are you a hypochondriac?”

“Not at all. But she gave me some antibiotics and took a culture. Until the results come back we should probably not see each other.”

“OK. When will the results come back?”

Chili-con-queso“48 hours. And if you find anything weird or not normal, you should go to the doctor immediately.”


“Are you worried?”

“No. But that you’re worried worries me.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll just wait for the results.”

I wasn’t terribly concerned. I continued making my sauce to go with pasta and broccoli for the kids –which would be good for me, too; this was my favorite diet food.


Chili-con-quesoFriday night arrived without fanfare. I wasn’t expecting to hear from Burton, but I wanted to. Andy and Matt invited me to a party. I agreed to go thinking maybe being social would be a good distraction.

Then Matt did the big reveal: it was in River North. I hated River North. I hated the bars and restaurants in River North. I hated people who went out in River North. I hated people who lived in River North. I knew I wouldn’t have fun at this party but I went anyway.

We stopped at tiny, airless liquor store on Milwaukee Avenue for copious amounts of booze. The store was cramped and most items that weren’t of the alcoholic variety were shrouded in a thin layer of dust. Andy picked out his Tito’s handmade vodka, Matt got a six pack of Lagunitas IPA and I went with bubbly, effervescent, packs-a-punch cider.  We delayed the descent into douche baggery with a stop at Jewel for Velveeta. Matt’s girlfriend wanted to make chili con queso and enlisted Matt to pick up the provisions. Andy and I hailed a cab to drive us to the party as Matt trailed behind us with his gelatinous brick of orange, spreadable… something?  We headed south toward the party. It was in a weird, far off lot that wasn’t accessible to cars. That meant that I was there for the long haul and I couldn’t take off on a whim; I had to plan it.Chili-con-queso

We walked a half-block in the cold December wind and found the right door. It led to a ground floor vestibule with the main floor at the top of a flight of stairs. It was a nice home, despite the fact it was new construction. In Chicago, there were two types of people: those who would only live in newly constructed buildings and those who would only embrace the old, beautiful architecture that Chicago was known for. I judged those who liked new construction.

The people were nice even though they weren’t people I would hang out with regularly. They dressed based on labels. They drank only top shelf liquor. They only ate at restaurants where there was a waiting list. We would never be real friends.Chili-con-queso

Though the crowd was nice, I was uneasy. To make myself feel less awkward, I turned to the booze with a side of food. The food was fine. I was never a fan of mixing sweet and savory, but all of the food was just that: sugar and salt. There was certainly a lot of sugar going on for not having a single dessert on the table — prosciutto-wrapped figs, goat cheese drizzled with honey, strawberry bruschetta. The only truly savory hors d’oeuvre was the chili con queso — and I indulged in it despite my opposition to processed food.  Turning away from the food, I drank. I went through the cider I brought faster than it took for me to pick it out. When that ran out, I dove into the vodka. And this was all before I got the text bomb that Burton dropped on me: “I’m sorry. I have this terrible rash eating away at my flesh and someone else is eating away at my heart.”Chili-con-queso

My heart sank. It was corny and lame and it was over for good. I responded immediately with all I could think of to write: “I can’t believe you just did that. Call me when you’ve worked through your shit.”

“Thank you for being simultaneously understanding and not understanding,” he wrote.

Not only was I uncomfortable with my location and my company, but I also got dumped. Over text. I couldn’t have felt any lower, but I managed to force it. To fill the new void, I smoked a joint and did an O Bomb. If that’s a foreign phrase, I will explain: an O Bomb is 1.5 ounces of Bacardi O mixed with a splash of Red Bull, consumed as a shot. It tasted like garbage mixed with feces. At least that’s how I imagined garbage mixed with feces would taste. Being social was exponentially more difficult. I alternated between taking long pulls of vodka mixed with cranberry juice and shoving chips soaked in processed cheese dip in my mouth. As long as I didn’t have to talk, I could make it through what turned into a disastrous evening.Chili-con-queso

I left Matt and Andy at the party. I walked what felt like a mile to get out of the complex to catch a cab to go home. When I arrived at my building, I stumbled out of the taxi and crawled up the stairs to my apartment.

I collapsed on my living room rug, buried my face in my couch and sobbed. There was no easy way to dig myself out of this black hole of heartbreak.


Chili-con-quesoI managed to get up the next day to work at Pots et des Casseroles. Every day it was getting more difficult to return P&C with or without a hangover. I was giving up. Working two jobs to pay a mortgage on a home I had no reasonable way of managing was… insurmountable. I had to stop paying my mortgage and this gave me the option of quitting  Pots et des Casseroles. Quitting would be hard, but I couldn’t make it to Christmas working there.

I made my last list of things to buy and the Bouchon cookbook was at the top of it. I couldn’t find it during my shift. According to the database, there were three copies in the store, but none of them were in any of the spots that they were supposed to be. Second on my list was the cast iron dutch oven and a bamboo salad bowl.Chili-con-queso

That was my final shift. The next morning I sent the manager a text.

“Jonathon — it’s Brooks R. From P&C. I feel bad asking this, but could you schedule me minimally? I know I committed to working the holidays and I don’t want to leave you high and dry, but I am not cut out for retail.”

He never responded, but I got a big corporate email thanking me for my interest in P&C. I didn’t open it, but I knew what it said and I knew I wasn’t going back there.

That left me with two weeks off work and nothing to do and nothing to distract me from thinking about Burton except drink. Heavily.



Chili con Queso without Velveeta

  • 2 TB butter
  • 3 TB flour
  • 3/4 cup Milk
  • 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1-14 oz can diced tomatoes and green chilis (alternatively, you can use 2 cups pico de gallo)

Over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour. Whisk in the milk. Lower the heat to a simmer. Stir until it’s thick. Stir in the cheese. Stir in the tomatoes and chilis. Serve with tortilla chips and a lot of cider.



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