Life On Schedule
My headphones were in, it was hot, and steam was shooting out along with an occasional *BANG* that came from somewhere deep inside.
I was staring into a giant industrial dishwasher machine at my college job as a dish-washer for the university’s catering company. 100’s if not thousands of plates, cups, silver-ware and food hauled out of the dining room and rolled in on carts in bins.
My job was to throw them into the car-wash, dry, stack, pile and polish. Things came in waves, from mad rush to pick your nose boredom.
There were a few of us back there; a manager who looked like a former body builder, a quiet and skinny kid in a band, and the kid that only talked about what life was like on the West Coast. I wasn’t sure exactly which character I played. Mostly I just listened to music and tried to be passively productive.
We were layers away from the action. The lowest level in the hierarchy of the service. We were behind the door, that is behind the door, to where the people all eat. A couple ‘Rag Bandits. We’d take our towels and whip them at each-other, use them to cover our hands to handle the hot forks, and for wiping the sweat off. We’d have our fun in the background, and sometimes it felt more enjoyable being anonymous, silently getting things done or goofing around because we had more lee-way.
Dishes would come in but you’d get through the wave. Shifts would end and you’d go home. Days off would arrive. And eventually you’re schedule would busy more with class.
I believe we all had been thinking, “I will only do this until ___ and then I’ll quit.”
I don’t believe any of us thought this work was permanent.
This isn’t to say working in a kitchen or as a dishwasher isn’t a job we should devalue or look down upon (or keep).
But rather the mindset that let us persevere in a role that we didn’t particularly care about. The hours dragged by, and we were behind the door that was behind the door.
We didn’t just carry on, we imagined a future beyond. I never once thought that this was a hole that I jumped down and I’d never climb out of it.
While you were standing there and there’s steam shooting out in between racks of wine glasses, you’re thinking about where you might be next month, or next year, or in 5.
You would perform complex number crunching about pay-checks, math that looked favorable for how much time was left in your shift, or how much longer you’d be in school.
I can picture everyone in the back of the kitchen, white-head phones in, with little thought bubbles above their heads, all playing video reels of where they’d be in a year or two. Elsewhere. Beyond.
Into the next door and the next and eventually eating at the table our company served.
Isn’t this all of us? Not just us kids in the back. It’s this weird human nature. We see people around us and think they’re fixed. We measure, assign labels, and construct personas. Dishwasher, party attendee, server.
Impermanent roles, in flux until something better and back into flux.
I don’t really know where everyone else is at now from that group. But I doubt they’re still there. In fact I think the one guy made it back to living out West.
You see me for who I am now, not as who I imagine
But I was the kid doing your dishes.
And now I’m the one writing you emails.