Service. I was maitre d' in a traditional Moroccan restaurant in Boulder for ten years. Working there I discovered a gift for service I never knew I had. Serving made me come alive in a way I'd never been before. Religious notions about service to god seemed ridiculous to me. If there is a god it can serve itself. God don't need service, people do. I didn't know it at the time but Leela had put me in Mataam Fez so I could develop a neglected side of me. Service is an act of surrender. My love life was dreadful. I'd had lots of lovers and done very little loving. I'd been an asshole to my girlfriends. I just missed becoming an asshole for life in Tallahassee. Moving to Boulder saved my ass for better uses. My job at The Fez had another sweet gift for me. It gave me an ironclad excuse to miss toasting circles.
I should back up here. I moved to Boulder from Tallahassee in 1979 to study holistic healing. That was going to be my new career, a holistic healer, and I was psyched. I came to study with TH, who taught Harmonizing, an integrated, customizable healing system. He had promoed it at our healing arts fair in Tallahassee. I was enthusiastic about becoming a practitioner. That was the story and that's how it went at first. I joined the practitioner group and set to work, studying hard to catch up. I was most behind on muscle testing so I got private lessons from Doña, a practitioner. I promptly fell in love with her, which was a no-no. That one of the key ways I never fit in with life in Boulder.
Cult. Meanwhile, several Self-Harmonizing groups got started. These were people getting Harmonized by TH or one of his inner circle. During my time in Boulder these groups became a community which became a cult of running. Running was one of TH's key interests I mean addictions, along with booze. I was a frog in the gradually warming water surrounding a charismatic leader. I didn't have any real potential as a runner, but TH wanted me for other uses.
Toasting circles. Besides running, the key element in TH's cult was toasting circles. Sounds so innocuous. Toasting circles were brutal, designed to crush resistance. One person sat in the hot seat and toasted with bourbon; the rest of us toasted back with beer. God how I dreaded the hot seat. Maybe it worked for other people. All I ever got was discomfort, anxiety, brutality and booze. I liked the booze part. Could have used more. I abhorred the toasting circles and was keen to avoid them. Besides severe illness, having to work was your only get-out-of-jail-free card.
Mataam Fez. It was one of those right place at the right time moments. I knew the current maitre d'. He hired me on sight. He graduated from CU a a couple of months later. When he took off, I took his place for want of any other likely candidates. The owner like me. The Fez was founded in Denver. Boulder was one of three outposts. All locations are now closed, but the Denver website survives, with the menu. Those are all the same dishes I served, night after night. It was a special occasion restaurant. There was no a la carte, just a five-course Moroccan feast: lamb-lentil soup, salads, b'stella, entrees, tea and dessert. There were vegetarian options, but it was a lot more fun to be a carnivore. Isn't it always? To me it all seemed astronomically expensive. I had a lot to learn about money.
I adored serving. Diners sat or lounged on cushions on the floor, at low tables. You ate with your fingers, no utensils. I knelt at each table once folks settled in. I wore a real djellaba instead of the brocaded polyester outfits servers wore. Traditional djellabas are light colored to reflect heat, making them challenging for a klutz like me working delivering food with richly spiced and colored sauces. My girlfriend Doña made me a spectacular black one, rayon for drape and pinstriped in metallic gold thread. I told them how their feast would unfold, answered their questions and encouraged them to order a variety of entrees and share. I loved the intimate feeling of kneeling at each table to connect with the guests. I got to be playful and generous, the magic genie who made everything work just right. I did everything I could to make them feel welcome. That was my role all through the feast. I came back to join them on my knees many times during their stay with us. I loved every minute of it.
First we brought out towels and a tass, a silver basin and pitcher, and poured warm water scented with sliced lemon for guests to wash their hands. People loved that, and always needed to be cautioned to point their hands down into the basin as I poured, so as not to create a waterway headed straight for their lap. You got to keep your towel as a giant napkin. Right before tea there was another round of handwashing. Then we served tea and dessert, pouring the tea from on high.
Poly challenged. On weekends there was often a belly dance show. It would be a fun plot development to have me fall in love with a belly dancer there, but I had already done that a year or two before I came to work at The Fez. One of the belly dancers was Doña, the woman who taught me Touch for Health. She was my girlfriend. Monogamous relationships weren't allowed in The Community, but sexuality was encouraged; I didn't fit in with that, vanilla guy that I was. Well, it wasn't that simple. In the decades since I discovered I can be poly, sort of. It has to be my choice. In Boulder TH dictated who slept with whom and when. Sexuality is an expression of love. I can't love on command. That's not how love works for me. Years later I was in a poly relationship for ten years. I was a poly widow: only one part time partner. That was OK while I was drinking but when I stopped drinking the poly stopped working for me. Too lonely. Happily ever after happens in fairy tales. Given that eventuality, polyamory is spectacularly superior to cheating. Doña and I lived in a little house a few blocks from The Fez. She had already left The Community, and I was half-in half-out. Our house was on Walnut Street, and a walnut tree bloomed right outside our bedroom window. The scent was overwhelming. The blossoms smelled exactly like semen, only way stronger. Who knew? I sure didn't.
Olympics. One day I barely got out of traffic in time. What I called my heart palpitation came over me unexpectedly. One time it was so bad I blacked out. I was on my way from Celestial Seasonings to The Fez. I'd gone there to check with Chris about some detail and/or another regarding the upcoming Chili Olympics. Chris was an interesting guy. The evangelist of homebrewing. I loved beer well enough, but Chris seemed over the top with it. Little did I know I'd one day have my own beer cellar. My palpitation was undiagnosed atrial flutter. Most of the time I was OK, but I would have these episodes. I never managed to record one of them, though I wore a holter monitor several times. The best cardiology could come up with was I had an extra beat. Extra beat my ass. My atria were doing 400, maybe more that day. Had to rename the Chili Olympics after the first year. We got a letter from the IOC warning us that word was their property and a dire fate would come to us if we persisted in our foolishness. The new name was lame. I can't even remember it. That first year I cooked Roadkill. Not literally. That was the macho name for my chili, which had nothing to do with venison. I chose it because I can't draw worth shit. You got to put up a poster in front of your chili booth advertising your product, and I could just barely draw well enough to approximate skid marks. My chili was dynamite even though I didn't win. I made Moroccan lamb chili using a leg of lamb and all the other ingredients donated by Mataam Fez. Kay, who owned the Boulder franchise and Rafih, the chef and founder got into the spirit. I met Kay at the kitchen early that day. She scrambled me eggs with preserved lemons. Unbelievable. Rafih supervised my prep and did the actual seasoning, gently nudging me aside so I wouldn't ruin his chili. He was alarmed at how small I was chopping the onions. He said onions cut that small were like dumping sugar in the dish. It would be too sweet. I bluffed that I wanted it sweet. He was dubious but let it pass. He graciously approved my bluff at the final tasting. Good chili often is kind of sweet.
Godsend. It was a godsend, that job. One of my maitre d' duties was to make the wait staff schedule. I always worked the busiest shifts, Friday and Saturday nights, when most of the community meetings happened. I scheduled myself as I liked, and kept an ear out for upcoming community meetings and toasting circles. Blessed psychological relief, blessed protection from brutality.
Mataam Fez played a particular role in my life with alcohol. The maitre d' was also in charge of all things alcohol. The emphasis was on wine. Kay encouraged me to explore that role and gave me free rein. I threw myself into wine buying, attending industry-only tastings regularly to find new wines. Guests often asked about Moroccan wines. They used to be featured at The Fez but the source had dried up. I poked around until I found someone in Denver who could get them for me, but only in larger lots like forty cases. We got a few sample bottles and had a staff tasting. It was an inexpensive table wine of no particular merit but also no big flaws. Easy drinking. Mainly it was Moroccan. We ordered a lot and it was a hit. I became adept at tableside wine sales. But availability was spotty and I wanted something I could rely on. My time in Kenya came to my rescue: sangria. I talked it over with Kay and she was open to it. I could talk up the cultural exchange between Spain and Morocco. No Beaune, however. The idea was to use inexpensive ingredients and a dynamite recipe to create sangria as easy to sell as to quaff. I used jug wine, frozen concentrated OJ and cheap brandy, decorating it with slices of fresh orange and lemon. People loved it. Making up a batch became a regular part of my job. I also got into learning about and selling the midrange and finer wines that were on the list when I arrived, and expanding the after dinner drink options: armagnac, grappa and liqueurs alongside the brandies Kay already had. I had a blast. I loved being the booze guy. Now I can see all this was a way Leela pushed me deeper into booze, accelerating my drinking in preparation for the big push in the mid-2010s that culminated in my quitting. Having it be part of my profession was brilliant. The more deeply I look back at my past, the more awed I am by my love Leela. I have been blessed. Blessings come to those who work like hell.
Salida. Doña and I broke up and I moved to Salida, Colorado with four other writers. Our mission there was to transcribe TH teachings and prepare them for publication. I loved my eight months in Salida. I was able to connect more deeply than ever before with the magic in the world, the genius of my particular spot. This was a blossoming of the times in my youth I'd sneak away to be by myself in nature, talking to the fairies like I did at Philmont. In Salida I'd sneak away to the hayloft, a spot that wasn't used for anything but storing junk. Everything was encrusted with pigeon shit. I wrestled something made out of plywood out of the junkpile to sit on. It had carpet on one side, and as I sat there I realized it was TH's former throne, an elevated platform he sat on when delivering raps to the faithful. I would turn it back over when I left to keep it shit free. I sat there on my throne and looked out the hay window south down the valley. I had looked at that clump of cottonwoods in the river from dozens of spots in the land and it'd never looked like this. From the hay window that view was a master's class in composition. A work of art. A landscape perfectly composed by time and place. I felt like I could look at it forever. I missed it while I was away. I was only really alive when I could look out the hay window.
Badlands. The elevation in Salida is a little over 7,000 ft, which feels strikingly different than Boulder's little over a mile. The majestic fourteener peaks felt like they were in my back yard, particularly Mt. Antero and Mt. Shavano with its angel of snow. I regularly went running on Mt. Antero up into a patch of badlands. The trail up and through the badlands felt the same way as my view out the hay window, only up close. I was running through a wonderland, miles of it. I fell deeply in love with that little area in the Arkansas River valley. I mourned it for years after I was forced to leave.
Stihl. As part of my get manly program, I bought a 16-inch Stihl chainsaw and fell in love with it. Chainsaws, firearms and motorcycles simply reek of danger. I wielded my Stihl among the slash. Slash is what loggers leave behind: the branches cut off some forest titan so its naked trunk will fit on a timber hauler. Chainsawing firewood out of slash piles is dangerous. You stand on the stuff you're cutting and there are obstacles everywhere just waiting to catch the tip of your saw. I relished all that, and came away injury free. I sure did better work with the chainsaw than I did with my dad's .30-06.
The Vic. I missed out on most of the weekend stuff in Salida because I was commuting to Boulder, but I did get in on a few weekend outings. The most memorable was going into Salida's downtown on a Saturday night to raise hell down at The Vic: The Victoria Saloon. We all had shots and beers before heading out, and I was raring to go before everyone else, so I left a little early with I forget who and the other three to follow soon. The Vic had a country blues band just kicking it up, so we got out on the floor to shake our booties individually. This was long before my partner dancing days.
Bueny. I was eying a couple of cute girls there. One of them started eying me back. We started dancing together that way you do, dancing with someone without touching. When the band took a break I worked up my nerve and went and chatted with them. They were from Bueny. Buena Vista, the next town up valley. The band came back on. Now I was dancing with that one girl for real. It was the last set, so the band earned its keep by settling into a series of buckle polishers: bluesy country songs for slow dancing.
She and I were suddenly partner dancers.
Rain. A vertical expression of a horizontal urge. That's what Oscar Wilde called dance, and so it was between the two of us. We started making out on the dance floor. The band was done but we weren't, so we both let our parties know they better find their own rides home. We wandered out into the city park. It was the middle of summer and quite breezy; some kinda weather was kicking up. We didn't care. There was a big old tree with a wooden bench kind of built onto it, right up next to the trunk, and we sat there making out. It started to rain, and then the magic happened. The rain got heavy, but not a drop on us. We were in a tiny dry zone at the base of the tree. Then the heavens opened up. We got the kind of rain you only get mid-continent: so heavy we couldn't see anything but a dense gray wall of rain.
Wise. Nature had provided us with a private room and we did not disappoint her. We made love right there under that tree. It was fabulous: tender, sweet and unbelievably hot. By the time the rain let up we were both clothed and still kissing. There was a moment of awkwardness when we said good night, but we were both wise enough to let this perfect moment be; we didn't exchange phone numbers, just wished each other well. The sweetness of that hot encounter lingered long. I can still taste a whiff of it as I write this.
The Bridge. We did word processing in an upstairs room with a window facing north over an abandoned apple orchard. The combination of a second story picture window and computer screens brought to mind the Starship Enterprise, so that room was The Bridge. I loved working up there. Our job was to transcribe TH's raps from cassette tapes or typewritten hard copies into a word processing environment so they could eventually be prepared for publication. The work we did in Salida was my introduction to computers. We used MS Word 4, which was outrageously expensive. My first computer was a DOS machine, even though Windows 2 was around by then. Our resident expert considered Windows a waste of disc space. It had a 4MB hard drive. It only took a few minutes to boot up, though it did require regular hard restarts when it froze up.
Ice. I still had my job at the Fez, my foot on the ground outside the cult. I drove into Boulder to work weekends, several hours of white-knuckle driving on icy roads, especially across South Park, a severely beautiful grassland that winter winds whipped across in a fury, pushing me and my little Civic all over the place. On ice.
BLM. Those white-knuckle drives weren't my first adventures in South Park; I'd been drawn to the area for years. There was an area on the south side of US 285 that called to me; I don't know why. I decided to go exploring. It wasn't in the National Forest; I think it was BLM land. That's for Bureau of Land Management. Regulations are looser on BLM land versus National Forests and Parks. You're generally free to camp, hunt, fish, off-road, etc. I often sought out BLM land when I was planning my outdoor adventures.
Squirrels. I went to South Park to pursue manly pursuits. I took a hand line and some flies for fishing, and one time I packed in a .410 my dad had shipped to me. He used it for hunting doves and squirrels when I was a boy. We ate those in my family. Not a lot of meat there in either case, but the doves were tasty. I took my baby shotgun out into the woods and managed to bag two squirrels. I looked at them and flashed back to my last date with Diane, before we parted ways forever. One last go at the crush that would not end. I took her to Rollande et Pierre, St Petersburg's fancy French restaurant. She ordered the steak au poivre like any sensible person would. I lamely ordered the rabbit, lapin marchand du vin or some such. When the oh so suave waiter brought our entrees, he uncovered mine with a flourish and leaned in ever so slightly with a benediction: Poor little bunny. Eh, I wasn't gonna get anywhere with that date anyway. So yeah, squirrels aren't worth the effort; I decided to stick with trout. When you're out camping, nothing in the world tastes better than a fresh trout. Squirrels be damned. Or rather not: you go squirrel, play and be cute. Ima eat this trout.
RIP Tim. I held a spontaneous memorial service for my brother in South Park. I'd been scrambling on rocks above my camp, another way to test my manly mettle; this was before my idiotic march and big fall. As I was resting I saw a quartz crystal on the ground. In a few minutes I had a double handful. Tim was the consummate collector. He died of a bad southern lifestyle, done in by alcohol and fat. I heard tales of how his incredible collection, with many museum-quality pieces, all got sold on the cheap for cases of beer by his alcoholic son-in-law. I decided I wasn't gonna be a collector; I didn't see any good in it. I admired my double handful of shiny quartz a moment more, then flung it out across the hillside and walked away.
I'm forever grateful. Working at Mataam Fez affected me deeply. It was an extraordinary gift in so many ways. People came there to celebrate, not just eat, and we were brujos and brujas invoking ancient Moroccan arts of celebration. I arrived there without a clue how to love, how to be good to my lover. I started learning how from the first night I worked there. That job required kindness, generosity, affability, good humor. It drew those qualities out in me and I became a better lover for it. I learned how to treat my sweetheart right by learning how to treat my guests right.