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Posted on 2003-04-03 12:04:48 by Denver

Finished The Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo Jose Cela. Written in the 30's/40's and published first in 42 it reflects a dark harrowing vision of the individual conscience in barbaric conditions; it comes from the same vein as The Stranger and novels by Celine. The novel is about one man being true to himself, letting his rage take him to the extreme acts of murder and such, his character has a streak of nihilism - at least he sees no sense in the existing 'order' of his immediate surroundings.

He is a perfect example of a character with unpremeditated action and thought. Sort of like my friend Kush. Except Kush doesn't kill and slash people when he's drunk. Perhaps if he lived under the sordid circumstances of Pascual Duarte, he would.

His real name is Jonathan Kushman.

He moved out here to New York City about three months ago from Eugene Oregon.

He had been threatening to do it for years. We grew up in Chico together although I didn't know him as a kid as we were always at different public schools. I first became aware of him because he was a great high school athlete and always starred when his school - Pee Vee (Pleasant Valley High School) defeated Chico High (my school) in soccer, baseball, and football.

He was also kind of a budding gigolo and started dating Emily Potter, one of the prettiest girls at our school, much to the chagrin of some of my friends. Anyway, at that time I just considered him an athletic spoiled ass pretty boy who would steal my girlfriend, if I had one.

He stuck around in Chico after high school and started hanging out with some of the Chico high guys, my buddies. I guess that's how I got to know him. But he had a natural aptitude for acting and that was what really brought us together. I cast him in some plays at the Butcher Shop Theater in my parents' backyard.

He was a biology major at Chico State at the time. I remember one time he went on a trip with his class up to a nature camp and they collected bugs all weekend. Kush came back and gave us an interesting discourse on the nature of insect life in the Sacramento Valley. Around this time, the early 90's, we started the Blue Room Theater and we began holding a lot of fundraisers featuring homemade spaghetti and soup.

How many ways can you cook soup and spaghetti and make it interesting to your die hard supporters? Well Kush and Dan Kowta and a few others did their best and you could tell Kush really liked cooking for people. Also, he had sensitive olfactory buds. And he got a job working at The Sicilian Café where a lot of my high school buddies worked as dishwashers and cooks. The owner, James Taylor, that's his real god given name, was a supporter of the theater and so Kush became a bridge between the two businesses. James would donate bread or chairs or whatever we needed for the Fall Ball or the spring barbecue. It worked real well except one time Kush told my Dad, who is always the head chef of the Blue Room's annual Fall Ball and dictator of the menu, that he could get him ten pounds of chantrelle mushrooms through the restaurant, at the wholesale price, and my Dad was counting on it and Kush never delivered the goods. Ever since then Dad has always kind of had his doubts about Kush. I remember one day back in the early days of the Blue Room I came back from vacation somewhere and as usual we were flat broke, but even broker than usual this time. The theater was never going to make the rent for the month and there was no one around and we had slow boat to China onstage and it was looking pretty hopeless. We had never had much luck selling program ads but I had Kush go out and do it anyway. I gave him a little pep talk and told him he could keep a small percentage, and he sold some.

He was good at it.

He had the fearlessness and quick tongue of a salesman. Eventually he dropped out of Chico State and cooked full time at the Sicilian Café and acted at the Blue Room and dated the most beautiful woman in town, Lisa Morton. Before I tell you about that I have to tell you about the time he was cast in a one act Ghelderhode play called Pantaglieze at the Blue Room. The play is about a man who has been stripped of all his civilized attributes.

He comes out onstage in a loincloth and delivers a monologue about the evil nature of humanity and his horrible need for acknowledgement from the audience. It was written in the thirties or forties by a Belgian absurdist playwright whose language is very far from the contemporary American vernacular. The language is difficult, it's kind of like grandiose, absurdist poetry. Anyway, Kush was cast and directed by a friend of mine, Mickey Thompson, who was a huge Ghelderhode fanatic (watch out for these people!) and could talk a mile a minute about the guy but he wasn't very thorough as far as the rehearsal process goes.

He basically put Kush out onstage opening night with no preparation other than having his lines memorized. Kush went onstage in the loincloth and stood there, teeth chattering, and just froze. Eventually he stuttered his way through an abbreviated version of the text- it was a twenty five minute production that was excruciatingly painful for everyone in the theater. I felt ashamed for him and for the theater. I was the producer and I had to take him and rehearse all the next day so he understood what he was saying and where he was going onstage.

He's really a gigolo when it comes to women. His father is a cold, hard republican in the mold of a Walking Tall frontiersman. Kush's mother treated him like a baby. That's the role he adopts in his relationships. After Lisa Morton was through with him he dated a very close friend of hers, Sheila McBride- nother one of the great beauties in Chico. It was the last year I was living in town. I ought to mention that I had been infatuated with both Lisa and Sheila since high school. He just swooped in and started living with both of them within weeks of their first date. And I don't think he paid much of the rent.

He was more like a concubine who made sweet drunken love to you, played cards with you in the bar and made you gourmet meals in bed on lazy weekend mornings. I left Chico in 97. The following year Sheila urged Kush to apply to the California Culinary Academy; she helped him fill out the application, loaned him some money and sent him off to San Francisco. While he was in San Francisco Sheila began sleeping with Kush's best friend, Dirk Plohound. Dirk got Sheila pregnant and started living with her. Sheila dumped Kush. After graduating from cooking school Kush came back to Chico.

He and Dirk had some drinks at the Town Lounge. They made peace and resolved to continue their friendship. Kush told me he was satisfied with Dirk's explanation of the circumstances in which he had impregnanted Kush's girlfriend and he insisted he had never been in love with Sheila anyway. But he made a drunk nuisance of himself at Duffy's for a few months afterwards.

He didn't have any money and I don't think his parents were too fond of him staying at home and so he asked one of our friends, David "Mosh" Mosier, who was living in a small one bedroom house with his son, if he could stay with him. Mosh and his son slept in the bedroom and so Mosh told Kush he could sleep on the couch in the living room as long as he didn't bring home any stray women from the bars. Well, that's exactly what Kush did so Mosh had to kick him out. I don't think he ever gave him any rent money either. So Kush wasn't exactly run out of town but he escaped one day and ended up in Eugene Oregon where he got a job cooking and took up with Lisa, a woman about eight years older than him, the mother of a small child. She was the hostess/manager at a fancy restaurant and she got Kush a job as a sous chef. They made puppets together and put on a finger puppet MacBeth in their backyard.

He got along well with her kid too; they watched Saturday morning cartoons together and Kush read to him from Dr. Seuss books. Their favorite was the one about the oompa loompas. This domestic tranquility lasted for over a year until Kush's wandering eye and compulsive drug habits began to take hold.

He began fooling around with other women. One day he came in the kitchen and was surrounded by the executive chef and a couple of other employees. They discussed his philandering lifestyle and how much respect they had for Lisa. They had knives in their hands. After that, Kush moved out of her house and stayed faithful to her for the next year. But he would call me and talk excitedly about moving to New York City. And I told him to move but to make sure he was securing a job first and foremost before he got here.

He wanted to live with me. I told him he couldn't. He wanted to borrow money. I told him he couldn't. Every couple of weeks he would call me on the phone from Oregon and tell me about the French appetizers he was going to make with Jean Claude or the new horizons of French haute cuisine which were going to open up to him in such a cosmopolitan setting.

He read the book Kitchen Confidential and felt he had a pretty good idea of the underworld kitchen conditions he was going to face. It took him a year and a half to execute his plan but finally, with the financial aid of his girlfriend, he was able to get a Amtrak ticket out here.

He arrived in New York City in late September. Yana, Ed, and I met him at Penn Station. He was very excited to see us and told us how he had been reading about the great chefs of Manhattan. Within his first week he was hired on the grill at one of the premiere Italian restaurants in the city- Babbo.

One night he was having a drink with Mario Battali, the celebrity owner/chef- who had just hired him, and Lisa Levine- the daughter of the owner of Studio 54, who was beautiful, rich, and glamorous. After several drinks and conversation she whispered in his ear that she'd like to take him home. But first she, Mario, and a few others were going to take him out dancing and drugging. Here was the young buck from Chico getting the offer you only read about in novels. But he told her no, he couldn't.

He told me he didn't want to start his career in New York City by indulging in that kind of behavior. The day after he turned down the evening plans he walked into Babbo and quit the job he had just accepted over cigars and cognac the night before.

"What was Mario like?" I asked. I'd read a long profile of him in the New Yorker.

"He was..(Kush paused, and said, with a tone of disapproval, and also with a flair for the dramatic presentation) Innn-dulgent. There's only one word for that man.Innn-dulgent. He innn-dulges the senses, gastronomically and otherwise. He knows what he likes, and he likes a lot. (quickly he spun around and made the distinction between glutton and savorer, by adding) He'd get along with your father actually."

Last week I took him to a party in Brooklyn hosted by my friends Alice and Christina. It was a small dinner party with a dozen or so people. After dinner we turned the lights down and everyone had a couple more glasses of wine and some people smoked pot. Kush took a young woman named Sara out onto the dance floor and whirled her around. They went to smoke a cigarette on the roof and he kissed her. Then he asked her to have sex with him on the stairwell outside. She declined. They were walking back into the party when he informed Sara that he really had a deep attraction to Alice, the host, and he was going to have to act on it.
When they returned to the party he danced with Alice and eventually, got her out on the roof. They kissed and he asked her to have sex with him on the stairwell. She also declined. They came back into the party and I was alone in the living room sitting on the couch. Alice seemed to be over him, disinterested. Kush made a gesture that he was going to leave. He was drunk, a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth. He tried to light it for the third time and Alice snatched it away. As he stood at the door putting on his coat and glancing at me and then Alice, he raised his hands as if supporting a great weight and said to Alice -

"Listen, I want you to know, the world is a confusing place, it's got a lot of problems right now, it's not a happy place. And me, you're looking at a confused man. This is an insecure man. A man who has self esteem issues, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Sometimes I have very little self esteem. (He made a gesture to indicate the exact amount) But I want you to know something (gesturing toward her) I really do sincerely like you."
He looked at me for assurance. I pretended to be asleep on the couch. Then he and Alice went outside in the hallway to kiss.
A few days afterwards I called him on his birthday and left him a message asking if he wanted to get a drink.
The next day I received a message from a mutual friend informing me that he'd moved back to Oregon. He didn't call anybody to say goodbye.
Why did he leave?

These were the possible reasons theorized by those of us in New York City who knew him from the old days;
1. he got a woman in New York City pregnant
2. his ex-girlfriend back in Oregon was pregnant
3. he had spoiled his living arrangement at home or at work
4. he owed someone in Brooklyn a lot of money.

I received a voice message from him. I've kept in my voice mail box for about six months now. That way I get to listen to it whenever I want to.

"Hey Denver this is Kush. Sorry its taken me a couple days to get back to you. I tried to call you the other day because I had some pretty important news to tell ya and its kinda revolving around coming back to Oregon and unfortunately I was unable to get ahold of you before I left. But I just wanted you to know I had a birthday yesterday-I turned thirty three, and I arrived in Oregon today. And I know this will be kind of shocking to you. But I want you to just know something my man, that you are a friend of mine and I really apologize for not seeing you, being able to see you before I left. But it was kind of one of those things where I went in to the restaurant and told peter and talked to him for a little bit, made sure I didn't burn any bridges and then just left. Um, a couple days later. So I had to get back to the woman I love. And I'm a happy man. I got off the train yesterday and she picked me up and I got to be honest with you, it's been kind of eating me up for a long time now. I was just kind of going around doing things and not quite sure why I was doing em kind of half hearted. So to get on that train and come back and see her was kind of the best thing I've ever done, the best decision I've made, to be with her. And I like that, rather than waffling around and getting together with chicks, and partying and working full time and not quite understanding why you're there. I just decided to do it . And I wasn't running from anything, I wanted to come to something. So with all that in mind I'm sure that will kind of come as a shock to ya, but just let it be known, if it creates any anger inside of you, let it go, because I'm happy. And as your friend you should want me to be happy and I wasn't trying to avoid you or anything before I left. I didn't try to call you on saturday. I just , um, made a decision, and I'm happy with it now. And I want you to be happy for me, so, um with all that said and done, maybe you're laughing at me too, I don't know, how I can never tell how I sound. I hope all is well, it's Friday morning and you know, it's all good. We'll see each other again soon. Let everybody know I said hi and if you talk to yana and ed just let em know it's my life and I gotta make decisions. Okay. Ciao."
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