Getting Into a Kitchen is Easy, It’s the Getting Out That’s Hard

It was 7:30 AM when I got the phone call.  I was barely conscious, having laid down a few scant minutes before.  I’d stayed up all night watching television with one of my roommates and then, long after the light seeped through the blinds, communing with Safran, who had first appeared to me a couple of weeks before.  I was completely obsessed with her already.

To be honest, I didn’t really want a job at all, but going jobless is a luxury only the rich can afford, or those with rich, helpful family members.  I am, and have, neither.  At that point I’d spent four years of my life cleaning hotel rooms, three months prepping and dishwashing at my university’s food service before I was forced to discard the job because there was no work in the summer and what work could be had was only part-time, two and a half years being a front desk clerk (“Guest Services” is a job-title that should be viewed with extreme suspicion), and an awkward five months at fast food when I couldn’t stand being a desk clerk anymore, and hey, they were paying $9/hr.  Of the jobs, I was too meticulous to be efficient enough to clean 20-45 rooms a day in eight hours, food service was the only one I remembered fondly, and fast food would have been acceptable despite some of it’s obvious and not so obvious drawbacks if the married owner hadn’t kept making passes at me.  The concept of further customer service filled me with dread, and I wanted only to hide in the back room of somewhere, anywhere that I didn’t have to cope with strangers who looked at me as if they’d just discovered a louse, or men who asked me if I’d tuck them in.  My last two jobs had given me daily panic attacks; the idea of finding a new daily nightmare was terrifying.  I’d begged a month of freedom “to work on my novel” from Mr. Wonderful after finishing my bachelor’s degree, but that was all I dared.

Dishwashing, Safran urged, you have to know something about kitchens and cooking.  At least you could observe the people, pick something up.  Why not?  So I filled out an application.  I could hide in the back of a restaurant and everything would be…

Sane.  Logical.  Safe.  Kitchens are none of those things, of course, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I picked up the phone, and listened foggily as the Chef explained that he’d like me to come in for an interview.  I wasn’t lucid; I could almost hear the doubt in the man’s voice as I stumbled in my effort to find coherent speech.

I had to scoop up some wrinkled, already worn clothes off the floor for my interview.  The slacks and blouse I’d bought for interviews would probably discount any idea that I was willing to do a dirty, wet job, but it hadn’t occurred to me to do laundry the night before; no where else I’d put in an application had called me back yet.  “I’m applying to be a dishwasher; I shouldn’t look too nice, right?” I asked Mr. Wonderful dubiously.  “Yeah, sure.”  He rolled over and went back to bed, not exactly the most reassuring response.

I sat in the kitchen’s office for a half hour, feeling apprehensive as I contemplated a post card pinned to the wall of a female model’s thong-clad derriere.  I think this is a bad idea, I told Safran, quite possibly the worst I’ve ever had.

She laughed.  You have to pay the bills, she reminded me, and I grit my teeth at her, give it a chance.

Maybe they won’t hire me.  I mean, I haven’t showered, slept, and I’m wearing clothes that are so crinkly they’ve obviously been laying on my floor for over a week.  I’m so tired I can’t string a sentence together.

Safran and I continued to argue.  She wanted this badly.  I wanted to run out the door, far away from the indication of potential sexual harassment that was taunting me.  I contemplated getting up and walking out the door, and then the Chef walked back in.  My escape plan was foiled, blast!

“Is this only a summer job for you?” he asked, and “Do you have any other jobs you’re considering?”  No, and well, okay Barne’s and Noble obviously wasn’t calling me back to sort books in a back room, and I wasn’t interested in driving to another city every day, especially in the eight months of the year when the weather would make this less than desirable, to dye t-shirts even if it would pay almost twice what this job was offering.  When I’d handed in my application at the t-shirt dyeing place, the atmosphere had been cold, concrete, and thankless.  I’d had to sign a statement saying that I understood that the job might cause permanent lung damage if I was even offered the job in the first place.  Yuck.

My answers to those two questions were apparently all that was required.  There was nothing rigorous about this interview.  I wondered why he’d even bothered to see me in person in the first place.

“Can you start today?”  I looked blearily at my application, handed in the day before.  It did say that I could start today; if I said otherwise now one answer would be in conflict with the other.

“Sure.”

Now I had less than a half hour to run back to my house, find my paperwork, and return with proof that I was a valid human being and tax paying citizen before breakfast went into full swing and the Chef had no time for me (kitchen hiring tip: never call on the Chef during busy hours; it’s a sure way to count yourself out of the hiring pool).  That was easier said than done, but at last, after reading all the manuals and signing all the forms, I stumbled home at noon and attempted to grab three hours of sleep.

On Thursday, June 14, 2007, I was blissfully unaware of what I’d just gotten myself into, but I was about to find out.

 

On a related reading note, both of these blog posts contain gems of truth about the restaurant industry, including some of the reasons why we may simultaneously hate and love our jobs:

10 Things You Learn at a Food Service Job

Hard Work Pays Off

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Just Swallow Already

I am sitting at my computer as I write this and sipping plum sake.  I should be eating something, and I know this, but the phrase I should be eating is something I’ve been saying a lot lately, and it is still surprising to me how difficult it is to get up and make myself food, or even to convince myself I want food, and furthermore, that chewing and swallowing isn’t some sort of exceptional burden.  The anticipation of making food and then having to eat it seems more akin these days to someone telling me I’m a traitor to my country and therefore tomorrow I’m going to be broken on the wheel, eventually to be dragged behind a horse until dead (I hope it’s an exceptionally fine horse, sleek coat, fine carriage, that sort of thing), than it can be equated to the expectation of pleasant taste bud tingles.  Food is a necessity, but a burden, and an unpleasant one at that.  Chewing and swallowing is surprisingly difficult.  In my job these days, I know that food is exceptional if I actually want to eat it, if I can force it down it is probably sellable, and if I can’t bring myself to do more than taste it out of a sense of duty, someone else might like it but it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

So I went, sighing, to my little bookshelf covered in stuff I can eat, and found that Mr. Wonderful had left a bottle of plum sake sitting there, and both because I have had the sort of week that left me questioning whether or not hell exists and if I was already there, and because I seem to be out of my standard supply of protein drinks and bars that I’m consuming in increasingly expensive quantities in an attempt to stabilize and regain my muscles and gain weight, I grabbed the sake instead.

This thread probably sounds a bit strange, because hey, most of you probably idolize food and wish you loved it a little less.  It’s probably unimaginable to most people that anyone could forget to eat, or have issues eating.  You may be thinking I wish I had that problem, but I’m here to tell you that really, you don’t.  You might wish that you exercised more or ate in moderation, or even that you could lose a little or lot of weight, but in this wish of yours you’re probably bouncy and full of energy, and you have all your hair, and you’re not sick much of the time.  Your mind has enough calories whirring through it to focus on writing a sentence, or a paragraph, or even a 3,000 words per day goal count on your latest novel, and your neurons are well myelinated, and that is a beautiful thing.  You might envy the skinny girl or guy walking down the street, but the fact is that this skinny girl envies you (and loves those blog posts all of you write about food, especially the ones with pictures and tantalizing descriptions—keep ‘em coming).  This skinny girl wishes she had enough padding left to keep from bruising her tailbone every time she sits down to write a chapter and the mental state to do so, and enough flesh to protect her other bones from poking through her skin and getting irritated when they come in contact with other things for more than a few minutes.

I shouldn’t have a book character that lives and breathes food, because I don’t even know what that means anymore.  I used to love food, and I’m not entirely sure how this happened.

There is a silver lining, though, in that I can finally button the pants I wore five years ago without them falling down around my ankles.  Thank you protein drinks and bars for making this moment possible, and thank you sake for not making this post about my week.  No one needs to hear that, again, most of all me.