Maybe that should be the title of my book.
I’ve spent the past couple of days writing about things I always wanted to write about. For a guy my age, I’ve had very few jobs. But the one job that I have always considered my fall-back position is to wash dishes at a busy restaurant. I’m serious.
I’m probably too old to do it now. But in my day, I was a proud pearl diver. (That’s slang for dish washer … I’ve also been known as a professional dish monkey, but that seems a bit derogatory.) At any rate, during my tenure behind the Hobart I’ve often heard the phrase, “I could write a book.” Which I completely believe to be true. I think, of course, Anthony Bourdain has already capped that market, but his book is mostly about cooking. Mine would be about washing. There’s really nothing quite like it. (I know what you’re thinking, and your completely wrong. It’s not gross. There are some disgusting things you have to do, but I happen to believe there’s at least one disgusting task in every job.) The restaurant world is filled with interesting characters who are willing to tell tons of stories. They all react differently (and mostly humorously) to stress. I remember one New Year’s Eve in the Depot kitchen, I was absolutely bombarded with overflowing bus tubs at the end of the night. Everyone was celebrating and popping champagne and I was working my ass off, trying to trim the time I would have to spend cleaning up. You develop an incredible amount of efficient, time-saving tricks when you are in that situation. You find a rhythm. There are periods of amazing, mindless zen-like flow. It’s actually relaxing work.
And when you’re done, you’re done. There’s no bringing dirty dishes home with you at the end of the night. You usually have to clean the kitchen, mop the floors, take out the garbage and lock the doors. Done. No unanswered phone messages or email box. Just you, the dishes and the machine.
In many ways, these past few weeks have been like that for me. Once I get in the zone, I could stay here for hours. I listen to these people from my past. They are talking to me. Some of them are saying things for the second or third time, some of it (I freely admit) I’m putting in their mouths. It’s probably things they should have said. Or I should have heard. I actually don’t think that much about it. (I’m very thankful for that.)
And when I’m done … when I’ve reached the end of the story, or I think people who might want to read should take a break … I’m done. It’s one of the most utterly satisfying feelings I’ve ever had.
Maybe that’s why my mind is drifting back to my first real boss—Ruth Perrini—who used to command the kitchen at the Hideaway with a sharp tongue, an iron fist and a huge heart. She used to say, “It takes all kinds, Grant. It takes all kinds.” I remember the line cooks at the Depot (they were both named Dan when I worked there) who would come into the back kitchen and sigh, “It’s so clean back here. And it’s so quiet.” Poor suckers. They had to cook in front of the diners. That’s not unlike being asked to perform a cold-reading at an audition. And yes, I remember the intoxicating, yeasty smell of the bottom of the dough bucket at Godfather’s Pizza. Spraying that down with a faucet hose was a lot like swilling a beer. But when you were finished, the whole kitchen sparkled.
I’m thankful for them all. All the dishes. All the jobs. All the characters.
And some day, if I ever fall on hard times job, I just might take it up again.