The Dishwasher

I used to wash dishes for a living. I was good at it, and to tell the truth, I liked it too. Why? Because there is a certain Zen to washing dishes. You set up your system, especially if you are doing it alone, and go with the flow. Once you are into it, it’s like doing a dance routine. It was, very relaxing, because I could concentrate on staying in the rhythm, let my mind go, and just be one with the dishes, the garbage can, and the machine. Freeing my mind, and supplying the line and wait staff with clean plates, glasses, silverware, and any other miscellaneous items.

It is the entry-level job in any kitchen, the worst job you can imagine, and no one wants to do it. If you can do it well, then you will get moved up to something higher and better paid. The only way to get one of the line cooks, back up prep people, or anyone else (Who in all likelihood probably started off washing dishes), to do it is either through extreme duress, or threats of gross bodily harm.

You spend eight hours plus scraping leftover food into fifty gallon trash cans, get soaking wet with steam, sweat, dirty water, food, and cleaning fluid. You have to watch out for broken glass, knives, and other sharp objects in bus tubs, (I still have the scars), and are constantly having dirty plates and silverware thrown at you by the busy or frustrated wait staff.

The worst part of the job is the garbage run, or g-run for short. This is where the manager unlocks the back door, and you take all the daily or nightly detritus out to the dumpster. There are cardboard boxes to break down, expired raw food from the walk in to get rid of, and of course, a whole convoy of fifty gallon trash cans filled to the top with wet garbage. If you had a helper during the busy days, then the two of you did the g-run. If not, then some poor soul from the kitchen, whoever was lowest in the pecking order or was found standing around,  was the chosen one. If things went totally apeshit during what was supposed to be a slow week night, then the lowest level management type might get to do the honors with you, but not before removing their jacket and tie, and sheathing themselves in plastic. Then, clad in their improvised Hazmat suit,

they usually only helped to heft only the heaviest of the cans, lest they get a spot of rotting coleslaw on their Hushpuppies, before running back inside to take care of more pertinent matters. Something like a cigarette break, or sitting at the bar chatting up a waitress. Sometimes no one could be found, and you had to go it alone. Then strength, use of leverage, and knowledge of angles, came into play.

After you finished the g-run, you had to rinse out the cans in the slop sink built into the floor by the backdoor. If a can had a particularly nasty smell, then you poured in some bleach or ammonia, and slopped it around before pouring it out. The slop sink, of course, was always getting stopped up with all sorts of unmentionable and unhealthy types of goo, ooze, and solids. Since you were the dirtiest and smelliest in the kitchen, you had to clean it out. Usually a good drain cleaning and vigorous plunging was enough to do the job. If not, you then shoved the hose as far down the drain as you could, turned it on full force, and saw what kind of toxic muck came geysering out, a veritable “Old Faithful” of all things rotten. If it was a particularly monstrous clog, that couldn’t be cleared by normal means, then more drastic measures were needed. The final solution for drain clogs was to pour a half-gallon of bleach or ammonia down the drain, and wait. You repeated the process until it melted away the clog, or you ran out of bleach or ammonia. Getting a plumber was never an option.

One time, there was one such type of humongous drain killer while I was doing one of my various other jobs in the kitchen. (See, I also moved up the line). The unwritten checklist was followed, to no great use. The grill guy came in, and saw the slop sink was still clogged, and poured a half-gallon of bleach down the drain. A few minutes later, the back up prep guy came in from helping with the g-run, saw it was still clogged, and poured a half-gallon of ammonia down the drain. Anyone who knows basic chemistry knows that this is definitely one of the things you don’t want to try at home. The result was a cloud of noxious (and highly toxic) gas and potentially explosive, bubbling liquid.  The back up prep guy, being closer to the scene of the disaster, wrapped a wet towel around his face and body slammed the back door open. He propped it open, and the grill guy set up a floor fan to blow the toxic smoke into the parking lot, the better to poison our customers, if the food hadn’t already done the job.

Even worse than the above mentioned incident, is the fact that you had to clean the bathrooms. Let’s just say there were times when I think I would have preferred breathing in nothing but the toxic smoke to what I had to clean, and leave it at that.

Still, because of the Zen of the job, the craziness, and the fact that no one rightfully wanted to get near you, I enjoyed washing dishes. Not as a long-term career move, mind you, but as one of a string of jobs leading to where I am now. Which isn’t a bad place at all.


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