Monday, October 01, 2007

Blood In The Suds - The Finale

Here's The Beginning.

Here's The Middle.

Here's The Other Middle.

So, there I was in the kitchen of The Pillar House restaurant in Newton, Massachusetts, trying to get directions to the train station from a fellow who spoke about as much English as I did Spanish, which is to say mas poco.

It needn’t have been that way. I had taken three years of high school Spanish, so I should have been able at least to ask him which way it was to el tren verde. However, I had taken three years of first year high school Spanish, and flunked three times, because I have no facility for languages other than English.

(I have also taken two years of [first year] Latin, and a half-year of French. The sum total of my knowledge, to this day, is as follows:

French – Je mal a la tete. This means, “I have a headache.” The reason I remember it is because the literal translation is, “I’m sick in the head.” I thought this was pretty funny stuff and that I’d get to use it someday in a joke. This is it, I guess.

I also learned “Voulez vouz couchez avec moi?” which means, roughly, “Will you go to bed with me?” My use of this phrase has pretty much been a joke, too, although it was never meant to be.

Latin – De gustibus non est disputadum. This means, “There’s no disputing taste,” which fairly much sums up why I’ve never been successful with that “Voulez vouz…” line.

Spanish – Uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez. I have since learned, in my capacity as a recording engineer [who often records Spanish voice talents for phone applications], “Lo siento, su tarjeta es invalido” and “Simplemente cuelge.” These two phrases mean, respectively, “I’m sorry, your credit card is no good” and “Simply hang up,” neither of which would have been helpful in the least, even if I DID know them 32 years ago in the restaurant kitchen, which is where we now return and please pardon the lengthy digression.)

The cleaner listened intently while I asked, as simplemente as possible, how to get to the train station. I tried to do the same while he answered me. After a few minutes of painfully inarticulate interaction, I thought I had some sense of which direction to head in. He seemed to have indicated that I should take a left and a right. I left the restaurant and took a left at the top of the driveway, followed by a right at the first intersection. I then continued forward, expecting the train station to come into view any moment.

(You KNOW I didn’t find the train station, right? Well, of course you do. Why else would I be writing this? There’s no humor in actually getting to your destination at 11:30pm following a thirteen-hour workday spent almost entirely on your feet. Having to continue walking, in a fruitless effort to come upon any one person, place, or thing that just might help you orient yourself to your current surroundings and get you pointed in the right direction, is much funnier, so let’s stay with that, shall we? Good.)

I found myself in increasingly less-well-lit neighborhoods. Presently, I spend about nine hours every day in Newton, and I can find my way to almost anywhere, but at that time I knew absolutely nothing about the place.

Well, OK, that’s a lie. I knew that a lot of very well-off people lived in Newton, and I do have to say that some of the houses I passed were spectacular – at least what I could see of the joints, many of them being far from the street – but there were none of these people out and about, and I mean not only foot traffic, but also automobiles. It was stunningly non-busy and eerily quiet.

Having come from Dorchester, I was used to a little bit of noise – the occasional street fight, domestic donnybrook, or armed hold-up, all of which added spice to life and provided me many enjoyable hours of imagining the participants dying hideously painful deaths so I could get some sleep – but Newton was just lifeless. The only sound was of a breeze through the leaves of the many splendid trees that lined the… tree-lined streets.

The lack of noise was important. I was desperately trying to catch the sound of a trolley coming down some tracks, or perhaps ringing its bell at a crossing, or SOMETHING. If I could hear one, I’d at least have known the general direction in which to walk. What I heard was - as so eloquently stated above, if I do say so myself - absolutely nothing.

Well, I could tell you about more of my walk to nowhere, but I’ve drained all of the life from it long ago now, haven’t I? Yes. So, I finally ended up at the intersection of Beacon and Walnut, where I spotted a clock in a storefront window. It said 12:45am. The trains in Boston stopped running at 12:40 then. Even if I now found the train station, it wouldn’t have done me any good.

I felt like crying, but I was just plain too tired. Instead, what I did was find a pay phone (lucky for me, with an intact Yellow Pages) and called a cab. I sat on the curb, in my greasy and smelly clothes, waiting for it to come. I knew that it would cost me close to whatever I had made in that miserable day just to get home now.

(By the way, as an interesting coda to this part of the tale, the cleaner wasn’t far off in his directions. If I had simplemente reversed them – taking a right, first, and then a left – I would have come to the Woodland station of the MBTA’s Riverside line in about ten minutes – and you would have been spared the last 9 paragraphs and 4 parenthetical interruptions. Instead, I made some Newton cabby’s night, and you've spent longer reading about the trip to the train station than it would have taken me to actually walk the damned thing. Ain’t life grand?)


I finally got home at about 1:30 in the morning. My Dad was still up, as he had been worrying about me for three or four hours, wondering where I could be. He was the type to start calling hospitals if someone was a half-hour later than expected.

I told him the story of my day, and he commiserated somewhat, but he was also mad that I hadn’t called him for a ride. God bless him, he would have happily given me one, but I was way too proud and self-reliant to have called someone I actually knew, at that ridiculous hour, and admitted my lack of sense.

While we talked, I made - and then quickly wolfed down - two cheese sandwiches. After that, I stripped off my nasty-smelling clothes and climbed into the shower. When I had finished, and was toweling off, it felt damned good to be clean again. However, no matter what I did – no matter how many times I blew my nose, or even with a healthy splash of after-shave – NOTHING could remove the stench of that damned kitchen from my nose. I went to sleep smelling the same hideous combination of grease, sweat, and half-chewed food that had made me feel like puking for much of the day.


I think just about any sort of sane man would have slept in the next morning, and then called the restaurant to say, “I quit!”

I awoke at 7am, having set my alarm to give myself plenty of time to dress, eat a BIG breakfast (big enough to last until whatever inadequate meal they might give me around 8 or 8:30pm) and then travel to the restaurant. The only thing setting my alarm for 7am didn't give me time for was a decent night of sleep, of course. Between my late arrival home and my early wake-up-call to myself, I had gotten about 4 hours. And I was facing another 12 or 13-hour day, not including travel.

When I awoke, I still smelled the kitchen. I took another shower, dressed in immaculately clean jeans and t-shirt, splashed on cologne, and still couldn’t rid myself of it completely.

I reported to the kitchen a few minutes before 10.

(I had taken the train – more correctly, a train and two trolleys – to get there, rather than accept another ride from my Dad. I had to find out where the damn station was, so that I could find it again that night after work.)

I entered via the kitchen door this time. Since I had been smelling the lovely fragrance of the place ever since I left it the night before, it didn’t hit me in the face like a sledgehammer when I walked in; more like a slight tap on the forehead by a ball peen.

The first thing I had to do was scrub out the pots and pans I had left soaking the night before. I did, using a steel bristle brush to get rid of the majority of the nastiness. I then placed the scrubbed vessels into the big dishwasher for a final ablution.

While they were being washed, I went back to the dish trough and resumed the position. Sweat poured, new bits of funk drifted into my nostrils, my hands quickly became red again, and the blisters I had acquired from my three or four mile midnight hike in work boots started to tell my brain what an idiot I was to be here again. I kept my mind occupied with self-pity while I washed the first bus tub full of dishes, then I started on a second bus tub.

I looked down at the plate I had been sponging. It was clean except for a bit of some sort of bright red sauce, maybe claret of some sort. I applied a bit of detergent, worked up some suds with the scrubber, and then dunked it into the grimy water. It came out clean, but when I had placed it on top of the stack of finished work, the red sauce was there again. What the hell...?

I looked down at my hand. It was bleeding. My index finger had a slice in it about a half-inch long. I had no idea when this might have happened. For all I knew, I might have been soaking my cut finger in this filthy slop for an hour or so.

That did it. I wanted to be a musician, but here I was doing a job where I could slice open a finger, then not even be aware that I had done so until I saw it bleeding after pulling it out of some putrid muck containing other people’s garbage and spit.

I walked to the kitchen manager’s office and told him he had been right; I wasn’t the man for the job. He looked at me, let out a long sigh, and shook his head; nothing more, no words. I told him he could mail my check. He just sort of grunted, softly. I took that as assent that he would.

I went to the men’s room, washed my hands, and wrapped my bleeding finger in a wad of paper towel. I then walked out the kitchen door, into the fresh air. I found the train station rather easily in the sunshine.

To this day, I sometimes empty out a dishwasher at home and get hit by a smell slightly reminiscent of that restaurant kitchen. When that happens, I vividly recall The Pillar House. Then I count my blessings, and thank God that He has blessed me enough to never have to work a job like that again in my life.

(By the way, in case you’re interested: I worked the dishwashing job for less than a day-and-a-half. It took me about four times as long to write about it. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it is.)

Soon, with more better stuff.


Chuck said...

I lasted three months at my dishwasher job, until I went back to school. Fortunately my gig was only 20 hours per week, not 12 hours a day. I think I would have quit after two days if it had been. Of course, there have been some jobs where I lasted LESS than one day...driving a shuttle bus for a rental car company comes to mind.

Stu said...

Total bummer, man, total bummer. But I admire you for having the courage and dignity to quit.

Also, Go Sox!

Brian in Oxford said...

And he probably never hired another dishwasher wearing a tie....

Suldog said...

Chuck - Yeah, if it had been less hours, I probably would have stuck it out for a longer time.

Stu - Yes, GO SOX!

Brian - Can't say that I blame him, if he didn't.

david mcmahon said...

Ah, but such a cultured dishwasher there never was! said...

Thalft walfs alf grelfat polfst, Sullfdog!

That's the only other tongue I can speak!

Unknown said...

That job sucked Suldog, well worth quitting.

I hear the Sox play their first play-off game Wednesday and the Yankees play Thursday.

Deborah Gamble said...

What? That's it? You walked out with a bleeding finger wrapped in a paper towel? No Worker's Comp claim? No Health Code Violations? No insurance forms? No paid time off work? No reimbursed medical bills?

kuanyin333 said...

You were blessed to get out of that crappy job as fast as you did! You were meant to be a fine blogger instead...who knew?

Suldog said...

David - Cultured? You mean like yogurt?

Mushy - MY WIFE and her sister have this code they talk in, wherein they insert the word "egg" into every syllable (or other syllable or at random places within words) and I've been listening to them talk that way for something like 17 years. I know what they're doing, but I can NEVER understand what they're saying. I am just strictly pitiful at deciphering anything other than straight-ahead English.

Barbara - Outside of Christmas and Thanksgiving, this is the best time of the year. Baseball playoffs! College football! Pro football! Basketball and hockey, even! I love it.

Deborah - If you had asked me at that time what worker's comp was, I would have had no idea. Health codes? Not a clue. I had no insurance, not any faint notion of what sort of time off I might have someday expected, nor any other imaginings that I had anything more than the right to quit. My finger healed nicely, so no complaints :-)

Kuanyin - Who knew? Certainly not me. It's still debatable.