Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Dishwasher, 3 (Jobs v. Life)

Jobs v Life is essays about all the jobs I've had, in chronological order.  So far there's been paperboy,  and McDonald's... click here for an explanation and table of contents.

So I've finished up all that stuff about cruising and getting chased down by maniacs, and it's time to talk about the nature of the job of a dishwasher.

Basically, you wash dishes.

Okaysee you next time!

My job at Chenequa Country Club was an uncomplicated one, really: go into the kitchen, wash the dishes, and put them away.  It was made more complicated than it needed to be, really, by the existence of my brother, Matt, who also worked there and had helped me get the job, and by the fact that on my first day on the job, I also donated blood at the school blood drive and was not feeling that well.

I began working as a dishwasher, the third job I'd ever held in my life, on a Friday night, because when you work in the entertainment industry,  you work on the nights that other people have off, and restaurants are part of that industry; you have to be at work when other people are having fun, which means you work on Friday nights.  That might have been a problem for me except that I wasn't all that booked up on Friday nights in high school, anyway -- most Fridays, I'd just be heading home to spend the weekend reading comic books and sci-fi novels anyway, drifting through 72 hours of time away from school before going back to drift through 40 hours of time in school.

Also, working Fridays wasn't such a problem because two of my four friends worked at the Country Club, anyway, and so I wouldn't have been doing anything without them and would have had to wait until they got done with work to go out if we were going to go out.

I reported for that first Friday work probably around 3 or 4 in the afternoon; the Country Club restaurant wasn't a regular restaurant but was instead only open certain hours, if I remember correctly, and it really doesn't matter if I don't, because I never worked anything but Fridays or Saturday nights there and I didn't work there more than a few weeks in any event because working there was more or less intolerable, mostly because of Matt but also because of the shrimp, which eventually I'll get to.

Oh, heck: I'll get to it now.  It's more interesting anyway than anything else that happened there.

The shrimp didn't happen on the first night I worked there, but instead happened on the worst New Year's Eve of my life, and that's saying something, because doesn't New Year's Eve always suck?  Don't lie: it does.  New Year's Eve is the worst holiday ever invented because it's arbitrary anyway, and doesn't really mean anything, plus it comes in the middle of winter for those of us who are unlucky enough to have had parents or grandparents who, with the entire continent to choose from opted to locate in the Upper Midwest a/k/a Permafrost and winters so cold that in the middle of an August heat wave your body still doesn't forget the feeling of MINUS EIGHTY DEGREES NOT EVEN COUNTING THE WIND CHILL, which is an actual temperature I actually had to be outside in once and so I say screw you, Grandpa you could have opted to live in Southern California, see if I come visit your grave.

New Year's Eve comes right after Christmas, which if you are anything but a really devout Muslim or Jewish person -- really devout, because I know some Jewish people who still put up a tree -- is a holiday that's 20 times bigger than every other event on the calendar rolled together, and whatever you put after Christmas is going to suck as a holiday, so maybe that's the thinking behind New Year's Eve,  a holiday devoted to drinking and imagining the night will be fun when we know it won't? Maybe it was meant to be an awful, boring, overhyped holiday as a palate-cleanser, getting us to forget all the good stuff that just happened and get it out of our system?  In that respect, New Year's Eve is Rattle & Hum to Christmas' Joshua Tree, except that I always liked Rattle & Hum and I've never liked New Year's Eve.

When we were kids, New Year's Eve was kind of fun in a weird sort of way.  We didn't have many parties as pre-teens; that was the era in between when my parents had friends and a social life and when they began falling apart, a process that included them dropping most if not all of their social contacts (or, as I think about it now, possibly being dropped by them? Hmmm.)

When we were very young -- 5ish or so, I'd say, except that I'm pretty sure I don't remember a single thing that happened to me before I was 10 beyond the time I got to go to the Drew's store and buy a toy World War II bomber with my allowance, a scene I remember so clearly it gives me a lump in my throat, a lump made of pure nostalgia:

I am standing on a chair in our kitchen, and my dad has just come home from work.  He's wearing the uniform he wore as a route driver for Coca-Cola back then, a striped shirt and grayish pants with the little red-patch logo over the pocket on the front. He's got his moustache,  the one that when we see it in slides now, looks so funny and makes him look ethnic, Italian or Mexican, even though he's about 90% German/Polish-y. He's pulling money out of his wallet.  My brothers and Mom are there and we get our allowance, a dollar or two,  probably -- a whopping sum of money for a kid in around 1974 or 1975.  

We get to go to Drew's, the 'general store' that's like a low-grade Woolworth's.  It's up at the strip mall by the Red Owl and Philip's Drug Store.  There's a florist there, too, and the A&W Drive In with an actual llama in a pen behind it.  The Skateworld and the bowling alley haven't been invented yet.  

I pick out, to spend my allowance on, a little die-cast airplane that is a replica of one of the World War II bombers.  It is lime-green with little flags on it and an actual cockpit that you can see into, although all you can see are seats; there's no pilots or people.  

Later on, the see-through cockpit would fall off, but that wouldn't matter.  I'd just fly the bomber around and pretend it had a cockpit.

That is my earliest memory.

New Year's when we were that little had us stay home with sitters while my parents went to the Herros, or the Muellers, or the Barquists.  From then, and later, the tradition in our house was that on New Year's Eve you got to eat whatever it was you wanted for dinner -- instead of the usual "You'll eat what I cook" philosophy our parents adhered to, you could pick your own dinner, all courses, and Mom would make it.

That made for a bit of a problem for me because I invariably picked steak even though steak was far from my favorite food; I've never been crazy about steak, probably because it still looks a little too identifiable.  It's too easy to tell where steak comes from (a cow, I'm pretty sure) and so I've got a bias against it.  If there were steak nuggests or popcorn steak I might like it better.  I like McDonald's steak and egg bagels, because not only are they delicious but also the steak isn't natural seeming.  It's pretty clearly been processed-as-all-get-out, which means that as much nature as possible has been steamed/diced/compressed/cooked/grated/bosoned out of it and I am at very little risk of encountering nature in my breakfast.

Steak was what we were expected to pick, I think. I always had the idea that we were supposed to pick steak as our New Year's meal, because we so rarely had steak the rest of the year, and steak was the high-point of meals back then. The only meal more expensive was lobster, to my young mind, and the only time we had lobster was when once in a blue moon Mom would be treated to a lobster; I don't recall anyone else in the house ever having a lobster dinner.  Maybe Dad didn't like it, or maybe we couldn't afford to get two of them.  I'm not sure.  Either way, lobster was a once-every-couple of years splurge, the way we once all got Mom a bottle of really expensive perfume for Christmas and it was pretty much her only Christmas present but she still cried she was so happy.

See? Talk about New Year's and inevitably it drifts to a better holiday.  Ever see anyone cry with happiness at New Year's Eve? No.  You haven't.

I probably would have preferred having a burger, or my mom's homemade pizza, as a kid on New Year's Eve.  My mom's homemade pizza, which we had quite a bit, was great: the crust was doughy and sweet, a bit, and drooped when you picked it up and she had just the right amount of sauce and we loved it more than anything else, or at least I did.  One of the minor sorrows of my mom being dead (there's lots of major sorrows but this is a minor one) is that she never told anyone the recipe for her pizza crust and it's lost now forever, but maybe that's not such a bad thing: if you can have something anytime you want it, it's not as special, and maybe that pizza was so wonderful because I can only remember it, so the memory of how it tasted and felt and smelt is all wrapped up in the memories of a superhappy childhood filled with World War II bombers and trips to Great America and backyard football games.  That pizza crust has never been tainted by memories of my working in a factory,  or my parents divorcing, or worrying about Mr F's head, and it never will be.

But I never got a burger, or pizza.  I could have, if I wanted, but we were supposed to be fancy and rich and special on New Year's Eve.  We had burgers and pizza and the rest year round: On New Year's, we had steak, and dressed up our meals the way teenage girls who get boys to fall in love with them by wearing jeans and sweatshirts and ponytails end up going to prom wearing a gown, corsage and fancy hairdo: they look great, really they do, but they looked real and great in the jeans and I always sort of wished that my dates wouldn't have gone to the trouble.

That's New Year's Eve, in a nutshell: getting all dressed up for nothing much, making a big deal out of nothing when you'd really rather be doing something quiet, and I think part of my dislike of New Year's Eve began that night with the shrimp.

This was about a week or two into my job as a dishwasher, and already I hated the job, especially the part where Matt bossed me around even though I'm pretty sure he did not have the right to do so.  There were only about 3 or 4 people working in the kitchen area:  Me, Matt, Chef -- who made us call him chef and so I never actually learned his name at all -- and maybe 1 other guy.  I can't remember another guy, but I feel like maybe there must have been one because that's a pretty small crew, isn't it?

Bob and Fred, my two friends, worked as waiters, along with some girls who worked as waitresses.  So that was the Chenequa Country Club crew, and Matt's role wasn't clear to me back then or now.  He was somewhere between a cook and a dishwasher, maybe? Like the head dishwasher or kitchen assistant or something.  Sometimes he helped cook but not much, and he never really washed dishes, either, but whatever his job was, it seemed to involve a lot of Matt, as my younger brother, trying to boss me around including on my first night when I was trying to wash dishes but didn't feel good because I'd donated blood that day, and Matt came over to me and said:

"You've got to get going faster.  You're not going to be able to work here if you work this slow," which:

A.  I was doing pretty good and it was my first night.
B.  It wasn't even busy, and
C.  I responded with:

"I just threw up" because I had: I'd gone into the bathroom and thrown up and came back out and continued washing dishes.

Matt finished with "just speed it up" and probably in that exchange were laid the seeds of our eventual falling apart to where we wouldn't speak anymore, the way the shrimp led to me hating New Year's, I bet.

As a dishwasher, I not only washed dishes (right?) but had to do whatever else Chef found for me to do.  Chef was a skinny little guy who in my memory kind of looks like John Waters would have looked if John Waters had worked as a chef at a third-rate golf course/ country club in Chenequa, Wisconsin, which back then was kind of the richest area of the "Lake Country," an area that included Chenequa, Pewaukee, Hartland, Delafield, and some other little towns that clustered around a few small lakes.  Chenequa was where you lived back then if you were rich, and the Country Club was where you golfed if you were rich.  If you were middle class, like us, you mostly golfed at "Lakeside," a 9-hole course without water traps, and sometimes you could afford to go to Nagawicka, a public, 18-hole golf course, and I suppose it says something about how rich or poor the whole area was that it was possible to rate how well you were doing by which golf course you golfed at.  It's hard to consider anyone down on their luck when they have the money and time to golf, golf being possibly the wastingest pastime you can have.

Chef had a moustache, I bet.  Let's just say he did because he is the kind of person who would have a small moustache, a moustache he grew when he was 17 and refused thereafter to give up on, ever; he probably grew it as an act of defiance and/or maturity, a way to show his parents he could do what he wanted while also trying to get the other kids to quit beating him up because he was so small, and the moustache that we're pretending we're sure he had was intended to make him look older and was kept, on his face, until he was 52 and shaved it off one day because he wanted to see how it looked, causing his significant other to tell him "It looks nice. Clean," without really looking up from his or her coffee that morning.

Chef gave us jobs to do -- me, mostly -- like "clean that closet" or "mop" or, on New Year's Eve, the shrimp.

"Come with me," he beckoned me away from the sink and into the back room of the kitchen, where there was an industrial sink and a giant bucket that was easily three feet tall.

"These are the shrimp for tonight," he said, and I looked into the bucket to see what looked like a giant mass of intestines chopped into tiny bits floating around.  I almost barfed.

I do not get why people eat shrimp.  You know they're related to spiders, right? It doesn't matter if that's true because it's true in my mind and so you're eating this little antenna-y, giant-legged, shell-having, multi-eyed crustacean or arachnid or something and honestly as I'm typing this I feel a little sick.

Plus, they leave the tail on and so you have to see the fin.

The.  fin.

If there's one thing worse than knowing where your food comes from, what it was before it was a sandwich,  it's knowing your food had a fin.

But shrimp are big deals for people, apparently because those people are unfamiliar with the fact that spiders and I'm of course including shrimp in that category are so abundant on Earth that you're never more than 3 feet from one, and probably part of that is that there's always someone near you eating a shrimp and thinking they're part of the uppercrust when really they are a step above the marine life that eat krill.

Think about this the next time you get all excited about a shrimp cocktail: you are eating the same thing, right then, as a squid.

Is that what you want out of life? To share traits with a squid?

"These are the shrimp for tonight," Chef said, and I said:

"Okay," because I was okay with that.

He looked at me and said:

"You need to de-vein them."

"I need to what, now?" I asked.

"De-vein them," he said again, and rather than deal with my kitchen dullardry any more, he picked one out of the gloop and dug his finger into its belly, pulling out as he went the long thick vein that ran along the bottom.  He peeled that vein right off the shrimp and threw it in the sink and then dropped the de-veined shrimp into a different bucket of water, where it drifted, lonely and veinlessly.

"De-vein them," he said again, and because I didn't want to start that I said:


and could not have imagined the horrifyingly gross answer I got, which was this:

"Because the vein has poop in it. Shrimp poop through their veins."

That is ACTUALLY WHAT HE TOLD ME and I have never forgotten it, the exact way he said it, and I have never bothered looking it up because honestly, if it was a lie, if he made it up or was wrong, I don't want to know.  I'm not interested at all in making shrimp more palatable and it's entirely believable to me that shrimp poop through their veins.  That's exactly the kind of thing shrimp would do.

That, then, is how I spent New Year's Eve the year I was 16 or 17:  standing alone in a chilly back room of a country club, listening to a tinny FM radio, while I dug poop out of wet dead sea spiders.

It's no wonder I didn't stay there long, but it didn't matter much because a week later the Country Club closed for the season and I was out of a job again.


PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

I love shrimp so much that even one almost killed me I still eat them! Though now I might have to look for that vein thing. Ick.

When I worked at Burger King dishwashing was the thing I hated the most. Since I worked the midday shift I'd have to clean up the breakfast stuff, which included the big egg pan that was always so nasty because there was still egg in it and it'd get into the water. And then some clown would leave the paper bottom on a plastic tray and you'd get that into the water so that by the time you got done it would be this disgusting horrible mess that made me want to puke. Can't these places just use an automatic dishwasher?

Andrew Leon said...

I don't like lobster. I tried to like lobster, tried several times because I figured I ought to like it, but, eventually, I decided, "no, I just don't like this."

You should have steak that I make. I think it would change your mind about steak.

My brother and I don't really talk anymore either, but that, I think, has more to do with the fact that I wrote a book than anything else. He seemed to think that I was acting all better than him because of it which I just don't understand.

Liz said...

I like New Year's Eve. Probably because I hate Christmas. (I worked in a toy store for several years, and "Season" was hell. Turned me off Christmas forever.)

Don't eat shrimp. Never developed a taste for them.