The best part of washing dishes in a damp red cracked-tile floor kitchen in Northeast Minneapolis was being gifted the most delicately cut, sumptuous, grease dripping, tender and juicy, salt and peppered, prime rib end scraps, sliced thick to perfection, only a few feet away from the saturated wash station.
Now, being paid $8 an hour (an American tragedy), and getting yelled at for menial shit, washing dirty white dishes piled up high to the falling-apart ceiling, getting soaked with corrosive chemicals, having raw, peeled-back flesh on ragged hands, being subjected to schedule changes, proprietor meltdowns, call-in-sick staff, show-up-late staff, give-no-fuck family staff, frequently late paychecks, again raw, ragged red hands cut by silverware, cut by knives, smashed by pots and pans, wet bruises, slippery floors, achy headache air, not wearing the right attire, no gloves to wear, face not clean shaven, constant worrying about being fired, and constant, constant disappointment—you are an adult working as a dishwasher, no one gives a fuck, can you stay late(?), “bad attitude”, all this, and that one end cut of meat on Fridays sort of made the whole position worthwhile.
These prime rib ends, they would be thrown away otherwise—scraps, deemed too fatty, useless for their appearance, even though they had a quality one could savor, discuss, perfect notes of flavor—perfect stock, and hope for, especially remember, and create the best makeshift sandwich out of. They were goddamn good, really.
On Friday mornings the meat would be put into ovens near stainless steel tables which shook with loud squeaks, foreign workers jabbered incomprehensible as they worked understandably fast, torn and tattered monthly schedules adorned the walls, plastic jars of spices on shelves, and uneasy metal racks which stood holding.
Around noon, in this feigned elegant setting (Oooowww, what land am I in?), the finished product would come out as a model on the runway; first came the smell, then came the smoke and heat, then came the cut itself, visibly—hot.
At this time of day I would be standing knee deep in shit-water, slaving, over painted dishes in a grease stained shirt that used to be crisp white, with creases—mute brown dots spread out, worn-out holey black shoes sopped up puddles, and wet pant fronts, the kind bought at the cheap defect store downtown, that hadn’t been washed in two or more weeks—or I forget, held to itchy sweating thighs.
At the end of the early lunch rush I stood scrubbing hard, with hands red the texture of old prunes, dead lobsters, except for they had feeling, wire-metal ball held tight, dripping, people bussed in tubs, “the head chef” Emilio would come sauntering up between the scurry with a big slab of hot grade whatever on a white cutting board, he would look at me and nod—we knew what was good for us, and then he would pass the serrated knife through, back and forth, a piece would fall, then more, and he would pass the butt off on a small salad plate bubbled with wetness. My eyes never left that hunk of steamy goodness. I would stick this little present up on some black grease covered dusty racks behind me, above the trash bin, and wait for it to cool, as to not burn my mouth, as to enjoy my meal.
Moments later my prize would be consumed, chewed up—a knife through butter, butter over bread—smooth, and then swallowed down, almost sticking in my throat, gulp. My mouth would be stuffed, hamster cheek special, and I wouldn’t be able to talk for a time. There was no eating allowed in the kitchen, this was “code”. To say I was satisfied at my feat of debauchery and consumption was an understatement.
The unfortunate thing about it was, this festive event usually signaled the calm before the storm. The inevitable let down always followed after the great peak. By Friday afternoon, depending on if it was payday or not, the place would emptying out patrons, and the family owners would come in, and shit would always hit the fan. Things would get solemn and quiet like at a wake, and then loud, and then real loud, surreal, and then it would become unbearable. By the time I got out at 5pm I felt as though I was being released from Hennepin County jail, I joked with myself about needing a therapist.
It went like that, in the same breath my precious was taken, my ears would be hit full on by a verbal assault from whomever walked it, whomever was pissed off at the moment—the old fuck who owned the place, the lady in charge, or any of their progeny unhappy to be there working, or with something in general. That part was hard to forget, that was part of the job. Everything there seemed personal, and bias toward those in charge.
There was always something to bitch and moan about, some complaint to get behind, but just before that issue there would be a brief moment of life, a brief this-is-why, a brief moment of satisfaction.
The trials and tribulations of a lowly servant reflected seem oddly humorous now, though torturous they were. I was a person just trying to make ends meet, make rent, and be an adult while not going under.
I learned that you can’t know what you don’t want to do without working a job like that, my stepfather always proved right in the end.