Battle Scars

Chefs are inordinately proud of their scars. We all are, in a way, I suppose, but when I say "chefs are proud of their scars" I mean physical ones, not metaphorical. We're the new rock stars, you know - we work hard, we party hard and we burn the fuck out of ourselves with sheet pans hard. Don't act like you're not jealous of our badassery. Chefs without scars are scoffed at, regarded as glorified home cooks. At times my lower arms have been covered with rows of sheet pan burns so numerous and neat they look more like scarring from self harm than occupational hazard. Ice cream making is not a particularly scarring endeavor, so I'm down to three scars right now - an oval where my left shoulder hit a 450˚ sheetpan fresh out of the oven and received a nasty second degree burn, a heart-shaped scar on my right forearm (because of course I would have a literal heart on my sleeve) and my worst, and longest lasting scar, a thin line that travels diagonally from the base of my right pinky and up the inside of my right ring finger, ending just above my second knuckle. A scar that to this day, has made it so I only have partial feeling in said ring finger, either making the fact that that's my finger my carpal tunnel most affects, better (because I'm used to it) or worse (because maybe it wouldn't go totally numb if it weren't already partially?).

I gave myself the injury that would cause that scar six years ago, right before my 21st birthday and about 5 weeks before I was to graduate culinary school. It didn't happen because I was doing some sort of crazy impressive quick knife work or got jostled by somebody else moving too quickly through the school kitchen. It happened at Baskin Robbins. Where I worked as a cake decorator.

Yes, my most badass scar comes from cake decorating. Even for a baker, it's more than a little humiliating.

You see, Baskin Robbins doesn't have premade cakes for every custom flavor you can order, because that would be insane and impossible for stores to stock. They basically make premade cakes in variations of vanilla, chocolate, chocolate chip, mint chip or strawberry ice cream with either vanilla or chocolate bases. For every other flavor, the cake decorators have to assemble the cakes themselves. This is done using a tub cutter. The tub cutter has a metal pole with holes and a metal pin to adjust the height of a curved arm that holds the tub in place and the naked box cutter blade that cuts through the cardboard of the ice cream tub. You spin the tub against the box cutter blade, cutting a neat circle around the tub and then pull a thick wire through the ice cream, slicing off a neat layer with which to assemble the custom cake. Pretty genius, right?

Five days a week, I left my house at 10am to go to work for three hours and got home at 11pm after 7 hours of schooling that was essentially working, it was really only a matter of time before my exhaustion caught up to me. For my first hour of the day, I worked by myself because not enough people bought ice cream at 11am to interrupt my cake decorating. That day I cut off a layer of ice cream from the tub, started assembling a cake and then got distracted by a customer. By the time I got back to the tub to put it away it had started to defrost. The icy fuzz that had formed on the outside had even started to turn to slippery rivulets of water and as I pulled the tub away, my hand lost its grip. Tired, I instinctively pulled my hand away, right along the exposed box cutter blade.

If you have never cut your finger, let me just tell you that even the smallest cut bleeds like a mofo. Two deep, inch long cuts? Yeah. I immediately wrapped my fingers in paper towels and applied pressure, afraid to look but knowing it was bad. When I started to feel faint, I raised my arm above my head in a continued effort to stop the bleeding. Finally, pressing my right hand against my chest to not relent on the pressure, I used my left hand to shakily dial my boss (the owner).

"I cut myself on the tub cutter, I think I need to go to the emergency room"

"How bad is it? Did you drive today? Can you drive yourself?"

"I did, but I cut across two fingers on my right hand, I don't think it would be safe"

He picked me up and drove me to the Kaiser ER.

"I'm sure it won't be too bad when you unwrap it"

I looked at him doubtfully, I was raised by a nurse, I had taken my basic first aid classes, I was shaking and the bleeding still hadn't stopped, I knew it was going to be bad.

I bled through an entire roll of gauze before getting stitched up. Seven stitches across two fingers. Seven large stitches my grandmother shook her head at.

"If you were a hand model, they would've given you at least twice as many stitches"

But I wasn't a hand model, I was about to start my career as a classically trained pastry chef and I had just gotten my first battle scar.

At fucking Baskin Robbins.

I'm participating in The Scintilla Project, a fortnight of storytelling. Today's prompt was to tell a story about your first job.