Thursday, May 3, 2012

Living The Big Sky Life: The Door

While I have every intention of serving up a smorgasbord of “day job” anecdotes from my big sky dealings in a downtown Whitefish title office, I’m going to continue with the home on the range theme a little longer as I expand on what it took for us to start up a home-based catering business and “The Door” that spoiled everything. 

The overall business set up took about six months and most of that time was spent constructing and outfitting the licensed restaurant kitchen around which the entire operation revolved. There seemed to be a beautiful logic to our catering business plan, and the partnership made sense at the time because Chef and I brought different skills yet mutual goals to the buffet table. We both knew from experience what it took to run a restaurant and that was definitely not a direction we wanted take. But with a catering business, we could beneficially combine Chef’s professional training and local food industry knowledge with my years of business management and customer service experience. And the fact that we had more than enough space to keep the business literally in-house was clearly the icing on the cake. Some might’ve called it kismet.

With a 1,600 square foot walk-out basement that was only half-occupied by the blue and green guest rooms, we were left with about 800 square feet of open space to build our catering kitchen in. That was more square footage than the entire Unabomber bungalow. The previous owner had originally finished the space off as an open rumpus room replete with wood stove, recycled barn wood wainscoting, and wall-to-wall shag carpeting in some Irish Setter shade of rust. This room also had four windows installed throughout right above the paneling close to ground level, and there was a standard size sliding glass door that opened out to the yard on the east side of the house right in front of the hot tub sun room. This east door was very important and although it was eventually replaced with a commercial fire door, it wasn’t “The Door” that ultimately divided our household.     

For the first time in his life, Chef was faced with the exhilarating task of designing what was nothing less than his dream kitchen, and he did a fabulous job with the layout and procuring the equipment necessary to fill it. The entire kitchen was designed around his favorite piece of equipment: a ruby red walk-in cooler he’d acquired from some restaurant going out of business.

Walk-In cooler
As is customary just about everywhere, in order to obtain the licensing necessary to own and operate a commercial kitchen, we had to meet local health department specs and standards. This meant plan approvals, a checklist of requirements, inspections throughout construction, and regular unannounced inspections during operation.

The Flathead County health department “case worker” assigned to our project was a woman named Charlene. Because I worked in the title office all day, I never had the opportunity to meet Charlene, let alone have a conversation with her. All of her business was conducted during the day with Chef since he typically didn’t leave to work the dinner hour as head chef at Jack’s Diamondback until early afternoon.

We were required to make several alterations to the kitchen design in order to meet code and while this came as no surprise, some of the requirements seemed a little over the top. Take the handicap parking/access and handicap bathroom for instance. Our kitchen was not open to the public so the requirement seemed a little excessive, but it was the law and not worth arguing about. We simply complied.

In all of this, my biggest and perhaps only concern was that I be able to gain access to the kitchen from my office upstairs without having to go outside and around the house, especially in the winter. Charlene from the health department approved the plans provided with only one entry door which happened to be the outside door on the east side of the house next to the hot tub sun room. This meant that I’d be forced to go outside and walk all the way around the house, often in inclement weather, every time I needed to get into the kitchen, when I really should’ve been able to walk down a few stairs and easily enter through what later came to be known as “The Door.”

The moveable freezer, handicap bathroom on left
Including “The Door” in the kitchen’s design was my only request and it was extremely important to me. And I had the perfect spot for it right behind a freezer in the back corner next to the handicap bathroom. This point of entry would inconvenience no one, and would be hidden behind the moveable freezer on wheels.

Apparently Charlene told Chef that the “The Door” I wanted wasn’t possible because of fire barrier issues. The wall that separated the kitchen from the west half of the basement was heavily insulated under the drywall to create a firewall because of those fire barrier requirements, but I told Chef that’s what commercially insulated fire doors are for. Clearly the denial wasn’t acceptable. I’d offered him a viable solution, yet had to repeatedly ask him to negotiate a compromise.

Chef would hear none of it and refused to pursue my request because he didn’t want to rock the boat with Charlene (whatever that meant). Every time I brought up “The Door” issue, he’d blow up like volcano. All the while I suffered through months of listening to him and his “Charlene said this” and “Charlene said that.” Yea, well, Darlene said everything except the magic words I needed to hear about “The Door” that meant everything to me. It got so bad I thought if I heard Darlene’s name one more time, I was going to have to a put a hit out on her.

Kitchen work area
While I deeply resented having my request relegated because it was apparently not worth the bother, it wasn’t in my nature to stand idly by and let the kitchen be built without creating options for myself down the road when Charlene was out of my life.

This is where Scope came in.    

We hired Scope to build out the kitchen and one day when he showed up to chalk out the room, I had a little private chat with him about creating my option. I asked Scope to frame in “The Door” without telling anyone, which he gladly did. He then casually sheet-rocked right over the door frame where it laid hidden, waiting for the moment when I could cut out the drywall and seamlessly install my door.

Kitchen work area and sinks
Once I felt safe in the knowledge that my one and only concern had been adequately addressed, and regrettably not through any effort made by my husband and partner, I relaxed my daily petitions to him for “The Door.”

The turning point in our relationship occurred one night after Chef got home from work around 11pm. I was in bed reading a book when he walked around to my side of the bed to talk to me about the kitchen’s progress. It was about half completed with my door frame secretly in place. He’d already showered and was dressed only in a T-shirt sans underwear.

I had to look up at him standing over me because at eye level all I could see was his free swinging scrotum. He excitedly went on about this and that, and somewhere in the mix I had to ask, “What about ‘The Door’?”

He went berserk, and turned to the wall next to my side of the bed and put his fist through it leaving behind a huge hole. I barely noticed any of it because the only thing I could see during the eruption was his nutsack flailing near my face in sync with the erratic rhythms of his rage. It was one of those visuals that’ll never go away … kind of like Sutton in the hot tub.    

The next day saw Chef shamefully contrite. And determined to repair the large 4” hole he’d left behind in his fit of uncontrollable rage, out came his faithful home repair companion, “Home Improvements for Dummies.” He worked on the patch for weeks, but couldn’t seem to ever get it handled. It didn’t matter really because a month later he made the mistake of picking a mean fight with me over something that was relatively minor and hardly worth remembering. After the fact, and after having released some of his pent up frustrations on me, he smugly went outside to take a ride on the lawnmower, and I was left seething in the middle of our bedroom with tears rolling down my cheeks.

I stood there motionless as I struggled to contain the volatile pressure building inside of me. Like some cheap plastic toy airplane with its spinning propeller powered by a tightly twisted rubber band, I felt as if I had one of those rubber bands twisting within me so tightly that it was either going to snap and break or release in a fury. 

Well, it all released in a fury the minute I noticed that half-repaired hole in the wall. I picked up a large rattan vase filled with heavy rocks and began swinging at the hole like the vase was a baseball bat. By the time I was finished, the hole was 8” in diameter. After I hid all evidence of the weapon by throwing the tattered vase in the trash, I went about the rest of my day as if nothing had happened.

Two weeks later, long after things had blown over, Chef was in bed next to me talking while we were both browsing through magazines. When he turned his head to look at me at some point, I watched his eyes double in size as he finally noticed what I’d done to his hole. “What happened to the hole?” he gasped. All I said was, “that’s what you get when you act like an ass.”

That hole was never fixed before I moved away. It remained as a reminder of all that got broken because of “The Door” that never got built.   

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King