One Year

Dear Jason,

Today you turn one year old. You don't know what birthdays mean yet, but your mother and I are both amazed that it's already been a whole year since we met you. In some ways it feels like you've been here our whole lives, in others it still feels like you're brand new. Except, you're already so different from that first day. I remember how calm you were at first, just looking around, taking it all in. You squeezed back when I held your hand the first time. I held you a lot--you fit in one hand pretty easily on that first day.

Your hands are a lot bigger now. You're a lot bigger. And you smile and laugh and shake your head "no" and wave "hi" and run around and make me and your mom chase you all over the house. You're quite a charmer. You love people. You had your first birthday party a couple of days ago and you had a great time. And everybody else had a great time, too, watching you run and play and yell. I made everybody record a little birthday greeting for you--one of these days you'll watch it and think "Man, he really didn't mind making people embarrass themselves, did he?" (I didn't. I'd do it again for you, buddy.)

Everybody kept telling me how beautiful you are. I obviously think you're the most beautiful baby I've ever seen, but I used to wonder whether it was just parental bias, and maybe everybody was just saying it because that's what you say to new parents. But people keep saying things like "I know everybody always says 'Your baby is so cute' but, seriously, your baby is just gorgeous, I mean that." And total strangers will stop us in airports and malls to tell us. In fact, that happened just the day before yesterday when we were at the Obon Festival in Salinas--some lady I'd never seen before came over to tell us that you were just so beautiful that it gave her chills. Which, actually, I thought was kind of a weird thing to say, but it does go to show what effect you have on people. And you were looking extra cute, wearing the jinbei that your Uncle Ben brought back from Japan last summer.

I still can't believe how much you're learning and growing. Like when your Auntie gave you the toy phone for your birthday, you put it to your ear and said "Hi." You were holding it upside down and backwards, but still, how'd you learn that? It doesn't even look like my or your mom's phone. It seems like all of a sudden you're doing all kinds of things like that.

What do I want to say to you on your birthday? It's so hard to sum up what I'm feeling in just a few words. Mainly, just that I'm so happy to know you. You've been such a joy, and knowing you and watching you grow has taught me so much. I hope that being near you will help me be more like you, because you're charming and social and active and absolutely fearless. And so inquisitive--you want to see everything and touch everything. And put everything in your mouth. (I could probably skip that last part.) And watching you have that curiosity reminds me of that same feeling in myself, that I used to have when I was a child. Everybody talks about "the wonder of a child" and how being a parent brings it back to you. It's true in ways I didn't realize just hearing it. These are the things you do for me.

Today you're going to go swimming with some of your friends, and on Saturday you're going to have a second party with all of your San Diego friends. I hope that your first birthday is lots of fun for you, and that the next year and all your life bring you health, wisdom, and happiness. I love you, buddy.


Kitchen Confidential

By Anthony Bourdain

My introduction to Anthony Bourdain came on a trip to visit my mom and stepdad, who are fans of his show, No Reservations. We watched several episodes on that trip, and something about the combination of exotic locales, sardonic humor, and a deep love of food caught me, and Juliette and I were hooked for several months afterward. It was just a matter of time before I picked up the book that first brought him to fame: his memoir, Kitchen Confidential.

Like a lot of people, I spent a part of my youth working in restaurants, first as a busboy, then a waiter, then a bartender. The experience left me with the solid understanding that I'm not cut out for that sort of work. Still, despite the fact that it was a difficult and mostly thankless (from the customers, at least) job, and despite the fact that I hope never to have to do it again, there's something alluring, almost romantic about that time in my memory. And talking to other ex-waiters, it seems this is a pretty common thing.

What I loved most about Kitchen Confidential was the authenticity. Granted, I've never worked in a restaurant kitchen--indeed, in most restaurants, the floor staff and kitchen staff are not only separate, they're at least a little antagonistic toward each other--and the two kitchens I came to know were nowhere near as profane as what Bourdain describes. Nonetheless, there was so much in the book that I recognized. It really took me back.

Everything I love about the show, too, is present in the book. Bourdain has a really distinctive voice, and by that I don't just mean his writing style, but also his actual speaking voice. And more than any other book I can think of, I found it really easy to imagine it being spoken by the author. I can't think of anybody else who manages to come off as both sarcastically arrogant and genuinely self-effacing, not the way he does.

Anyway, if you've ever worked in a restaurant--or are thinking about working in one--I highly recommend this book.

Started: 6/1/2009 | Finished: 6/19/2009

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