I saw Rick Bayless live today as he stepped out of a cab next to Xoco bearing a couple of plastic bags filled with who knows what. It was right before the lunch hour, so maybe some goodies from that home garden or new greenhouse of his? In any event, neither bag was from the Apple store, and the look on Rick's face said he had no time for idle chit-chat in the 95-degree heat, so I resisted the urge to ask what he was up to.
Just as he reached the corner of Clark Street, Chef Bayless abruptly pivoted back toward me and briskly beckoned. No time for a "who, me?" ... I quickly but smoothly reversed my own course and approached the increasingly agitated maestro. "Jim," he said, "I need you to take these bags." And here, he gestured with a cock of the head and a grin, punctuating the last word with a rush of breath across his alban canines. "Take them and keep them in a cool, dry place ... Or at home, a refrigerator will also do ... until I call you with further direction. You must not open the bags!". This admonition was made with such a tone that I felt I had no choice but to acquiesce to his strange demand. Inside me, despite the oppressive heat and humidity, a chill arose, and nervous butterflies that made me know for certain what it must feel like to be Lanie Bayless in the family kitchen, an authentic stone molcajete and a pile of unground Mexican herbs before me and the cameras rolling. I knew Chef Bayless had my cell number since the torta ahogada incident two years ago - no time to explain it here, but suffice it to say I owed him something big - so we were cool.
I took the plastic bags, one blue and one white, from the chef. The heft was surprising, and one was dripping sweaty moisture from its chilly contents. With parting nods,we separated, but only after I received an intense glare from R.B. that in another context would be accompanied by a hackneyed gangster finger drawn across his throat and a grotesque hacking noise. I was scared, but at the same time honored ... In all, it felt a lot like my last visit to Frontera, actually, and so I relaxed a little as I accepted the packages and strolled, whistling, to the side door of my office building.
Naturally, I tried to comply with Chef B's commands, and as I had a lot of serious work to do, I felt I could keep cool. I was able to stow the bags in the office refrigerator with nobody noticing. I put my name and today's date on the bags with a Sharpie, just to be certain. Then I went back to my desk and put myself - mostly - back into my work. But then the opportunity arose to head home early, and given the heat and the pressure I was under meeting Chef's demands, I took it and made my way home by Red Line and Blue Line. Hefting the dripping cold weight of my sinister burdens as I passed through the Block 37 Pedway extension connecting the two L lines ... It doubled the usual creep-out factor of the insanely gleeful Beard Papa ... I hurried on.
And so now I sit at home in Logan Square. The bags were in the fridge, I tried to watch the BBC America news, I tried to make small talk with my neighbor. But it was, of course, pointless. I ran to the refrigerator, sneaked the door open a crack at a time, as if that would mean it was not really my doing. The smoldering glare of Rick Bayless invaded my consciousness like Jean-Paul Sartre watching me order from Jimmy John's while an uncut copy of Being and Nothingness sits on the floor next to the cable controller. It felt bad, but I did it. "Take off, Bayless!" I shouted to myself.
I sit now in my favorite chair. The bags sit before me. I must know, I cannot wait! I tear both bags open at the same time! I shove my sinning eyes down into each! Chinga! The horror. The horror!
And my cell phone is ringing ...