Picking the perfect pepper a salsa has become like an art to me. So many focus on just the heat, but there is so much more that goes into making it work harmonioiusly with the other parts of the salsa. Sweetness, acidity, even the texture of the oils can change the experience. When I first opened my business, I was out to make a splash, creating the craziest combinations with the highest heat I could manage without endangering the lives of my guests. But as 'Micah' grew, so did I. Designing every dish became like a metaphor for my life; an eagerness to find balance between all the fire inside of me, and the little touches of sweetness that keep the fire from overpowering everything else.
I was smelling a new batch of Guajillo chili from my vendor when my bartender, Alejandro, came back and interupted me.
"Boss, there's a big white guy at the bar asking for someone who speaks English."
I looked at him and slanted my eyebrows, "You speak English. You're speaking it right now."
He smiled his signature Harrison Ford crooked smile and said, "Yeah, but he looks kinda crazy and I was having fun messing with him. He asked me for a beer and I gave him a water. I thought he was going to throw it at me."
I sighed, "Alejandro, a little bit of business advice," I put my arm around him as I began to walk towards the front house, "don't ever walk up to your boss and joke about something that you did that may make your boss fire you."
He laughed, "Ah, you'd never fire me. Me amas!!"
I rolled my eyes, "Go chop some habanero for Juan, it's your punishment for making me deal with this asshole."
His face fell, "Oh man, Jay, I was just kidding, I can handle him..."
"GO." I pushed him towards the kitchen.
"Aww man, come ON they are so hot, I look like a weeping baby even with the mask!"
He kept complaining, fading in the distance as I headed up the hall and into the spacious dining room. A couple of regulars waved from one of our red leather booths as I headed towards the bar, and I smiled and waved back. Servers were beginning to show up for the second half of the day, two of the girls already going around a lighting the little laterns on top of every table. Soon we would dim the lights and the fun,colorful high-energy room would become more intimate and laid back. I love the mood change. Lunch is always somewhat rushed, with more things still going on that day. Dinner is meant to be the reward for all your work, that time with family to relax an take your time. We only serve our best plates at night, with a completely different lunch menu that is meant for speed and energy. The award winning plates were for dinner.
I turned the corner and mentally prepared myself for the racist tourist I was about to probably throw out of my bar. When I saw who it was, I stood, shocked, before a smile crept to my face.
Brock turned as I cursed, his big cocky grin flashing across his face. He stood, reaching out for my hand and laughing.
I was still a bit in shock, "What the hell are you doing here?"
"What are you talking about, I come here all the time!" He joked, as we grabbed hands and slapped each other's backs in the signature 'bro' hug.
"Liar," I laughed, steppng back to look at him, "Jesus, how many years has it been?"
"Let's not even talk about that, it will just make us feel old."
"True story, brother. So I hear you're giving my bartender a rough time. I thought I was coming out here to bounce your ass." I walked around the bar to the serving side as Brock climbed back into his seat.
His eyes narrowed, "I asked for a beer and he gave me a water."
I laughed, hard, and he rolled his eyes at me, "I seriously thought he was joking when he said he did that. I'll talk to him, but in his defense, who comes to Mexico without learning any Spanish first?"
"Well, I kinda figured everyone would know 'beer', so I thought I would be ok," he shrugged.
I grabbed two cold glasses from the cooler and began filling them with a tropical IPA, "Let me give you a quick lesson. Most important thing to know," I turned to him, holding the beers," 'Quiero un taco y una cerveza' ", I slid his beer over to him, "learn at least that and you'll stay a happy man."
He smiled and took a big sip of his beer, "What does it mean?"
"I want a taco and a beer."
He laughed, "Do I look like the kinda guy that only wants ONE taco?"
I smiled, "No, you look like the kinda guy that would be really happy if everytime he had a beer he also got a taco."
We laughed, and his mood instantly turned a little more serious. He looked me right in the eyes, his voice lowering, "You look good, Jay."
"You hitting on me?" I smiled.
"Shut up, I mean, you've stayed in good shape. I was afraid when I got to your taco stand you were going to weigh 300lbs and smell like grease."
I laughed, "Well, chopping onions is good for the arms, what can I say." I paused, taking in more of the moment now that the excietment of seeing my old friend was wearing off. Brock isn't a social guy. All these years, no letters, no calls, yet here he sits at my bar drinking my beer.
"So Brock...dude, why are you here?"
He paused, then took a moment to down his beer. I watched him as he gulped it down, and then refilled it after he slammed it down on the table. I handed it back to him as he began.
"I know wrestling hasn't been on your mind for years, and you're going to give me a thousand realistic excuses about how you run a restaurant now and can't really get away, but there is this huge, and I mean huge, show next week. I was talking with the producers of it, and your name was brought up. Nobody knew how to get ahold of you, so here I am." He paused, waiting for my reaction, and when I gave him none, he continued, "Look, call me old and nostaligic, but I miss it. I don't have time to go back full time either, but this is the perfect way to relive some of the old times without having to sign any contracts. And Jay...EVERYONE is doing this show. EVERYONE."
My interest began to show, "Hooligan?"
Brock nodded, "He's in."
I leaned against the bar, taking a big sip of my beer. Heroes of Violence...well, we had been like a little family. It ended badly, and that has always been a bit of sore spot for me.
Brock leaned in towards me, "Jay, I know you. Well, I knew you. Ending your career because of injury can't be the way you wanted to go out," he paused as my face fell, "What would your doctors say about you doing it?"
"I've been cleared for two years, I'm fine," I sighed, "and you're right. During my recovery I found a new passion, but I never stopped loving my first one. I do feel like I have some...unfinished business."
Brock smiled, "So?"
I laughed, "You won't get me quite that easily. Two conditions. One, I need two REALLY good tickets, right in the action."
"Two, we walk in as HoV, and walk out in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. I want us as the last three in that ring. No cheap shots, no turning. I want to end our career as the HoV with respect for all we stood for, and with respect to each other," I leaned in, my face as close to his as the marble bar would allow, "then all bets are off, because if I'm going out, it's going to be on top."
Brock's grin shifted, and the familiar competative face that I had known and respected, the face of my partner, gleamed back at me.
"Come get it, 'Sombra Oscura'. "
We clinked our beers together and finished them.
"Another?" I asked, grabbing his glass.
"Actually, I have to get going. Gotta get back to the states and into the ring," he stood, sliding his stool in and looking me up and down, "You gonna be ready for this so soon? When was the last time you even set foot in a ring?"
I shrugged, "I'll be alright."
His eyebrows met on his forehead, looking concerned.
I laughed, "No, really. I've stayed in good shape. Little bit of an exercise junky these days."
"Lifting weights isn't the same thing as jumping from the high rope..." he said, as if I didn't know.
"Well, I gues you'll find out soon," I walked around the bar, grabbing his hand and shaking it.
He squeezed it hard back, and everything in that shake told me what I needed to know. Brock is a competitor, always has been and always will be. He wants the win, and he isn't going to back down from it. However, there is something about him that is matured. He didn't come here just to start a feud he knows neither of us have the energy to put into. Heroes of Violence will win the match. That's how we both want it.
With one last nod, he was gone, and I didn't hesitate in heading to the back of the house, where I belong. I walked past the service station where our servers were gossiping, awaiting the dinner rush flood that was on it's away. I walked past the kitchen, where my sous chef was in a huddle with our team, going over the proper temperature for one of my churizo dishes. I walked past the prep stations, where Dayana was busy prepping her picture-perfect tortillas. Past the freezers, past the storage rooms, past our small break room and I was at an unassuming door hidden in the back hall of our large buildling. I opened it and walked down the staircase into the basement.
"Don't be stupid, Alejandro! He's going to submit you. Stop! Break it up!" a strong woman's voice broke through the sound of male grunting on the far end of the room. I approached the ring just as my beautiful wife, Amara Onyx, slid under the bottom rope and pulled the two men apart.
"Alejandro, do you ever listen to me? Have you been working on ANYTHING I told you to? Because Jose here is going to put you in the SAME armbar he has for the last THREE sessions, and you are STILL not doing anything to stop him!" I smiled as she got in the face of our bartender, obviously feeling he deserved a break from his duties to do some training.
"I'm sorry Onyx, I just got really busy..."
I laughed, and they turned, noticing me for the first time, "Busy doing what? Starting the onlne for Red Dead Redemption?"
Alejandro turned red, Jose poining and laughing at him. I slid under the rope and into the ring.
"Alejandro, we have talked about this. This isn't the kind of sport where you can just 'train when you want' and 'do for fun'. You have to be serious. You need to listen to your coach. You need to train like she tells you. If you don't, you lose. If you lose, nobody wants you," I grinned, grabbing his shoulder, "AND I get to punish you."
I turned away from him and to my wife, kissing her cheek. She stepped back to a corner, and I followed, hopping up on the top rope.
"Go ahead, gentlemen," I gestured, and they began.
Alejandro turned quickly on Jose, running at him for a clothesline. Jose ducked just in time, running and bouncing off the ropes, turning back on Alejandro and delivering the clothesline that was intended for him. I shook my head as Jose climbed on the stunned bartender, wrapping him easily into his favorite submission, a triangle choke. Alejandro began struggling, but was second from a tap.
"You know what Jose, just hold him there. Don't break his arm, but keep him there."
The muffled voice of Alejandro came out from under the pile of arms and legs, "Wait, boss, what are you doing? COME ON!!"
Standing on top rope in the corner of the ring, I jumped, flipping and twisting my body in mid-air before landing directly on the mid-section of the incapcacitated Alejandro. Jose let him go just in time to get out of the way, and sat on the mat laughing as Alejandro writhed in pain. I stood over him, shaking my head.
"You've got five minutes, and then you need to be upstairs. Dinner rush is about to start," I walked away from him as he managed a a thumbs up to show he had heard me. As I turned to tell my beautiful wife about my surprise guests upstairs, I was distracted by a little voice that rang out.
"DADDY! THAT WAS SO COOL!!" Dark black curls began running at me from the stairs, with little brown eyes lit up in delight.
"Micah, you're home!" I slid out of the ring and scooped up my perfect 7 year old from the ground, "How was school? What did you learn?"
But Micah was too distracted, "Daddy, what was that move you did? Can you show me it? Can I try?"
I laughed, "Maybe when you're older," I turned to Onyx, who had just reached us and was grabbing Micah to kiss his cheeks,"but how do you feel about going on a little trip next week see Daddy wrestle in a REAL match?"
Amara looked at me, her face covered in surprise, "What?!?"
Micah couldn't hold in his excitement, "ARE YOU SERIOUS DAD? For real????"
"For real, you and mom are going to have the best seats in the house," I said, tickling his sides. As he giggled I locked eyes with my coach, my business partner, my mate, my wife. Her intense gaze matched mine, and I felt a fire burn in my chest that I haven't felt in nearly a decade.
"And I'm going to win."