My sleeves were rolled up but they were already wet.
Nobody tells you how to dress to be a dishwasher.
Nobody tells you anything with any detail the first time you do anything, unless you have a friend who cares.
The water was greasy. A thin film of fat lined the top of it like small oil spills floating in the Gulf of Mexico.
When I pulled the drain plug and emptied the sink I wondered where the water went and if it would join another million drops of oil being released from sinks around the L.A. area to form one giant oil slick somewhere in the Pacific ocean, washed up on some beach in between a kid’s toes, the kid screaming “Mommy, mommy it’s sticky” and her saying, “don’t worry son let’s go home and I’ll make you some fried eggs.”
I finished washing a full load of dishes and was relieved for five minutes by a short angry looking Mexican fellow named Rene. He was shaved bald, wore a beret and he had a French name but he was Mexican and he couldn’t hide that fact because he looked Mexican, had a thick Mexican accent and called everyone “hombre”.
I walked out of the squeaky back door of the bar into an alley. The alley was empty except for some dumpsters. My shoes felt slippery from the grease in the kitchen. This was not the kind of job that took lightly to suede loafers and I swore to resurrect my Doc Martens from the bottom of my duffel bag if I was given another night of work as a dishwasher.
I fished the pack of camels from my shirt pocket. I got one out and lit up. The air was cool outside and the smoke tasted good.
I tried to scrape the oil from the sole of one of my shoes on the sidewalk of the alley but it didn’t work.
I stood there smoking, looking at the sky and then at the floor and then at a couple of drunk girls who walked down the alley, realized they made a wrong turn and turned back.
This was the lonely dishwasher's smoking ritual. How many dishwashers in L.A. tonight were smoking their last cigarettes in an alley only to buy a fresh pack in the morning after getting paid their lonely dollars at the end of the evening. I was working from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eight hours at ten bucks an hour. I would make eighty bucks.
I wondered how much a new pair of Doc Martens cost and how many pairs of them were being worn by dishwashers around the world at that specific moment in time.
“Hey Hombre, time’s up!” Rene yelled from through the door.
I dropped the cigarette and stepped on it. I coughed twice in my hand to clear my lungs of the smoke so I wouldn’t smell like a chimney and headed back through the door.
The dishes had piled up again and I dived straight in, I didn’t ask questions.
I felt eyes on me so I glanced up at Rene and he gave me a nod of approval. His initial indifference was already changing into acceptance as he watched me work.
Anyone who’s ever worked in a kitchen will tell you that hard work earns respect and laziness is not tolerated. Long nights and lots of things to clean mean everyone is working to a tight agenda. No time to mess around. Clean, wash, pack, smoke! Start again. That’s it.
I took to it like water to cement and the night was moving along nicely.
Rene ended up standing next to me drying some pans. We weren’t on speaking terms yet but he did say one thing that first night that would make me remember him forever. “Don’t focus on how many there are to wash, just focus on the one you are washing in the moment and enjoy washing it”.
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