Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blood In The Suds

So, there I was in a position with which I was quite familiar – between jobs. It was a Tuesday, somewhat late in the morning, and I was reading the paper. After going through the sports and the funny pages, I decided to look in the “help wanted” listings.

Looking in the “help wanted” was an easy chore for me. The only skills I had were dealing cards and playing the bass guitar. As you might imagine, there weren't too many employers looking for that combination. Therefore, I skipped everything except the “general” section.

I tried to imagine myself in each of the amazingly unskilled labor positions advertised. Cab driver? Deliveryman? Courier? No, I didn’t have a driver’s license. Security guard? Who the heck would hire a skinny 18-year-old with hair halfway down his back to guard anything? Porter? What the hell is that? Isn’t that someone who carries luggage? Medical study participant? Shoot. I put enough drugs into my body on my own, never mind having someone else fill me full of God only knows what. The combination of my drugs and their drugs might make me grow feathers on my dick.

(I would hold all of these jobs in the near future. No feathers, thank God.)

Then I saw one that seemed like something I could do and that might not be too hard - dishwasher. Well, hell, anybody can wash dishes, right? You muck some plates around in some water, rinse them off, then put them in a rack to dry. Then you have a smoke and a coke while you wait for the next bunch of dishes. Easy money!

It seemed to me that the hardest part of the job would be getting to the place for an interview. I lived in Dorchester, the restaurant that advertised the position was in Newton, and I had no car. I called the number listed in the ad and asked if there was a bus or trolley stop nearby. The person on the other end assured me that the Green Line of the T (Boston’s public transportation system) was within a ten-minute walk.

Swell! I set up an interview for 3pm that afternoon.

I took a shower, shaved, and dressed in nice clean clothes. I put on a gray suit, white shirt, regimental striped tie, and black shoes. I have never gone on an interview in anything other than a suit, and I think that’s why I’ve rarely been turned down for any position. As it turned out, it wasn't much of a help in this instance, but I'm getting ahead of myself. I left my house and started walking to the trolley stop. It was about 1 o’clock. I wanted to be sure I’d have plenty of time to make the interview. Then, on Sturbridge Street, I ran into Joey.

Joey was a friend, a fellow Boston Latin dropout.

(Boston Latin was one of two exam schools in Boston. It was the hardest school to get into in the city. However, in our neighborhood, four of us - out of a group of ten - had passed the exam. It was an amazingly high percentage. We were an unusually bright bunch. Not too much to crow about, though, as not a single one of us graduated from there. As a matter of fact, I was the only one of the four to graduate high school AT ALL. Another story, another time.)

Joey asked me where I was going in a suit and tie. I told him it was a job interview. He offered to drive me. He was also looking for someone to go in with him on a nickel bag.

(Damn. It occurs to me that some of you may have no idea what a nickel bag is. Or, was, really, since there's no such thing anymore, so far as I know. OK. A nickel bag was a five-dollar bag of marijuana.

These days, five bucks might buy you one joint – maybe not even that. I haven’t been in the market for a while, so I’m not sure of the price scales. What I do know is that you certainly can’t buy a nickel bag like those we used to get in my neighborhood back in the day.

Generally, a nickel might contain enough grass for four or five joints. Sometimes, you got much more. I recall once rolling thirteen decent-sized bones from one nickel, and that was a neighborhood record for some time.

Excuse me. I've digressed quite a bit. The explanation was needed, but not the wistfulness. Back to the story.)

Joey suggested that, since I was getting the ride and saving on carfare, I go in with him on the nickel. Well, what could I say? Since he was doing me the favor of driving me to the interview, it was just the gentlemanly thing to do. I agreed.

Since I was getting a ride, there was now plenty of time. We decided we’d pick up the nickel bag first. That way, when I got the job, we could celebrate immediately afterwards. Heck, if we got the munchies, maybe we’d just go into the place that hired me and grab a quick bite. We set out to score the weed.

We struck out at three or four different locales. No buzz for us that afternoon. The fact that I was wearing a suit and tie probably didn’t help. Even though I stayed in the car, anybody taking a peek out the window would have thought I was a narc.

(I mention all of this side action because this lack of ability in being able to secure some dope was the impetus behind Joey and me dealing the stuff [along with another friend] in the very near future. We were tired of depending upon the kindness of strangers. I'll tell you all about that soon enough; probably the next story in this series. However, I’ve digressed, again, and we’ll now get back on the road trip to the land of hot water and suds.)

After the fruitless search for weed, Joey drove me to the interview via Route 128, a road that basically circles the outskirts of Greater Boston. I’m much more familiar with that road now than I was then. At the time, it seemed like we’d never get there. Maybe Joey took the long way around on it. I don’t know. Anyway, we arrived at The Pillar House restaurant at about 5 minutes past my scheduled interview time of 3 o’clock. Joey parked and I hustled inside.

I told the first person I met - a waiter, I think - that I was there to apply for a dishwashing job. He looked at me as though I had three eyes and two noses. Then he brought me downstairs to an office located just outside of the kitchen. He told the person in that office that I was there to be a dishwasher. I was greeted by a similarly incredulous look from the kitchen manager, who was dressed in filthy industrial whites and who apparently hadn't shaved in at least two or three days.

(I didn't realize it at the time, but I've since become aware that I may have been the only person in the history of the world to apply for a position as dishwasher while wearing a full suit, tie, and wing tips.)

I was given an application to fill out, which I did. I handed it back to the unshaven manager. He barely looked at it. He said that he needed someone to start right away, but that I wasn't even remotely dressed for the job. He also said he wasn't sure if I was the right person. I asked him why.

He said, "It's hard work, you know. No offense, but you don't look like the type. You look like you might walk out after ten minutes. Do you always dress like that?"

I said, "I dress like this for interviews. Look, I'm not afraid to work hard. You need someone, right? Give me a shot at it. You don't have anyone else right now, right? If I don't work out, what have you lost?"

He thought about it for a few seconds, then told me to report at 10am the next morning. He told me to wear something besides a suit. He suggested jeans and a t-shirt. He reached out to shake my hand.

I had officially become a dishwasher.

I went outside and told Joey I had gotten the job. Since we hadn't been able to procure any smoke, we didn't have any munchies, and thus weren't even tempted to go inside the place and eat. That was just as well. It was an extremely high-end restaurant - white tablecloths, chandeliers, dark wood - so we couldn't have afforded it, anyway. Joey drove us back to Dorchester.

I went home and told my Dad that I was the new dishwasher at The Pillar House. While he congratulated me on getting a job, he, too, seemed a bit less than sure that I was the right man for the job.

What the hell? It was just dishwashing, right? What was so tough about that?

(NEXT - What Was So Tough About It.)


david mcmahon said...

Jim, mate, we're going to have to call you Sud-Dog!

Dave said...

As a fellow dishwasher from my high school days, I sympathize. And I have a feeling I know what's coming next.

All I'll say is that I still can't eat breakfast at a restaurant too near the kitchen. The smell of eggs and industrial soap makes me nauseous.

fuzzbert_1999@yahoo.com said...

Not that I know for sure or anything, but I'm quite certain "nickel bags" are considerably more these days!

I'm sure it would not help with the dish washing either. You have to be pretty fast to keep up with the demand in that job, and MJ might keep you sitting at a red light waiting for an entire CD to finish playing!

Unknown said...

What could have been so hard about dish washing? The wardrobe?

Brian in Oxford said...

We used to have a laundry room to wear special scrub-tops to try to save our personal clothes when we worked 'shroom....

Merisi said...

Did you feel too girly with the apron they made you wear? ;´-)
(Btw, not to brag or anything, but I never applied for a diswashing job and I got it anyway - my kids are truly generous spirits.)

Deborah Gamble said...

Dishwashing breaks your back and your feet. And I've never even done for a whole day.

Chuck said...

I did this job one summer myself, at about the same age. It is hot work, but they did give us a free beer at the end of the shift, always appreciated. (They kind of looked the other way on the age rule.) Cool bosses helped make it a not-so-bad place to spend the summer.

Unknown said...

Sidenote: The Yankees are in the playoffs!

Anonymous said...

You applied for a dishwasher job in a business suit, a tie and wingtip shoes! You're lucky those fancy shoes didn't end up in the dishwater!

Now I've heard it all.