Monday, January 26, 2009

The Crappiest Job

I thought I would do a bit about all the awful jobs I've ever worked. I have at least one anecdote from each that illustrates how ridiculous, terrible, or ridiculously terrible each one was, and perhaps how it crafted me in some small way into the industrious young man I am today. Or maybe it will just be good for a laugh. At me, not with me.

Without further achoo, Part I:

The Line House.

I grew up in Southern Maine, where the youngest that one could legally work was 14. So, as soon as I was eligible, my friend Mike hooked me up with a job washing dishes with him.

A lot of young men in this country get their start in the working world this way. It doesn't take a whole lot of brain-power to do. It is, however, one of the crappiest jobs on the planet. The smell is the worst part. A pungent blend of bleach, industrial soap, grease, and old food, it really sticks with you. On rare occasions I will walk into a restaurant and catch a tiny whiff of that scent and be transported back to the late 1980's, scrubbing away in that tiny little back room.

The Line House was situated on the town line (get it?) between Kittery and York, Maine. It served your standard diner fare, blended with a few nods to the surrounding fishing industry. Think fish and chips and clam chowder, but nothing more elaborate than that. Burgers and fries, brunch on the weekends, that sort of thing. The burgers were pretty good, however, and it was here that I tasted Cape Cod potato Chips for the first time. One "perk" of the job was unlimited fountain sodas, which, as a teenager, is really all you need in life.

As I said, I worked in a small room with a low-ceiling in the back designated for dishwashing. It couldn't have been more than 12 x 12 feet, with most of the space taken up by a chest-type freezer, two industrial stainless steel sinks, a drying rack, and shelf space on either side: one side for clean dishes, the other side for dirty.

Dave was the line cook, a diminutive guy with tight, curly red hair, who thought nothing of tending the grill with a Marlboro hanging out of the corner of his mouth as he worked the spatula and barked at the waitresses as items were 86'd. He would torment the dishwashers in a good-natured way, and smoke a joint on the back steps with the waitresses after the place had closed for the night. He took to calling me Metal Head, as I had a habit of wearing Megadeth T-shirts and wearing my hair in the mullet style. I'd walk into my shift and be greeted with "METALHEAD!!!" Putting on a white apron, I'd smile, flash The Goat, and walk into the steam-filled abyss of the crappiest job ever.

Washing dishes sucks. It sucks. As a dishwasher, you are wet from your chest to your thighs all the time. Your hands will turn into pink prunes and smell of garlic and bleach for days. They will also blister, from the combination of the industrial chemicals and the searing heat of the washing process. That apron I mentioned does nothing to protect you, either from the water or the food and grease that ends up sticking to you like a ghost. But, as a fourteen year-old kid, I didn't have a lot of career options.

One Saturday in particular, the restaurant was slammed. Packed to the gills. Crammed into a small, greasy, hot and dangerous place, people tend to get a little cranky. Dave was screaming at the waitresses, and I was scrubbing like mad to keep up. Woe be unto the lowly dishwasher if the cook runs out of frying pans. Steve was the owner/boss, and he came into the back, needing more wine glasses. I looked around, and could only see three in the dish room. I washed those quickly and gave them to him. Shortly after, he came back again, and asked a little more pointedly, for more wine glasses. "I don't have any. Every glass in here is out front," I told him, getting a little testy as well.

A few minutes later, he came to me and said, "this is what I need you to do."

The Line House sat on a plot of land owned by Steve's sister, who had a house down a dirt road about 200 yards behind the restaurant. I was to jog down the road, open the garage door, go through the laundry room, and into the kitchen, where a case of new wine glasses was stowed in a cabinet next to the sink. Being the loyal foot soldier that I am, I clicked my heels, saluted, and jogged down that road.

As I opened the garage door, I could hear the telephone ringing. On the other end of that line was Steve, trying to call to warn me about the large German Shepherd that his sister owns.

I walked into the laundry room and opened the door to the kitchen, where I was greeted by the biggest fucking dog I had ever seen. His head was lowered, and as soon as he smelled the grease on me, assumed I was either an intruder or lunch. Or both. He lunged forward and bit me right in the middle of my chest. I'm sure I screamed like a girl, but I know I ran faster than I ever have out of there, the dog biting me twice on my ass as I fled. The t-shirt I was wearing, I later discovered, had a perfectly symmetrical bite mark taken out of the bottom of it.

Everyone from the back of the restaurant had come out onto the back steps to see what was going to happen. Dave later approached me, "Dude! Metalhead! That was fucking inTENse!" My hands couldn't stop shaking for hours after that. When I told my folks about it, my dad was pissed. But I defended the place, saying that Steve was a good guy, it was an accident, they were good enough to give me a job, etc. I know now that I should have sued the hell out of that guy. But sometimes I'm too nice for my own good.

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