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November 20, 2023

Greetings Laff Lovers,

After starting my first new job in at least 12 years I noticed that in addition to the many disadvantages of being older than almost everyone I worked with, there were a few small advantages too. One of them was that I felt absolutely no nervousness or embarrassment about having no idea what I was doing. I've spent decades having no idea what I was doing.

When I agreed to take this part time gig at one of my local brew pubs, management knew I had no experience in the bar, restaurant or hospitality industry, so they put me where I could do the least damage but hopefully learn the most; the kitchen.

On paper my job was 'food runner'. That is the person who takes the food from the kitchen and delivers it to the table. While this only requires a cursory knowledge of the menu, you do need an intimate familiarity with the layout of the dining room. But if you can memorize the order in which 30 tables are numbered it doesn't present too much of a challenge. Which is why the job is usually fulfilled by 16 and 17-year-olds.

But since this is not a normal restaurant, but rather a brewery with a dining room in it, there are no bus boys or dish washers. Those responsibilities fall to the food runners. So whenever I wasn't running food down to the dining room I was up to my elbows in hot, soapy water.

If you've never worked in a commercial kitchen, those places get messy. There is a rinsing station, where all the little bits of food and sauce get rinsed off of the plates, a soaking station, where all of the pots and pans from the kitchen get soaked and scrubbed with steel wool, a sanitizing station, and then the dish washing machine itself.

The machine is powerful, but it's designed to be fast. An entire cycle is only 90 seconds. So it won't 'soak off' little bits of stuck on food or the burnt bottom of a sauce pan. That's the dish washer's job. And it is impossible to stay dry while doing it.

At first I couldn't help but laugh at myself. Almost every night I was soaked from my nipples to my crotch with soapy, greasy water. And then every 5 minutes or so I would hear the chef yell from the other side of the kitchen, "Joe! Order!" Whereupon I would dry my hands, grab the plates from the service counter and hustle down the stairs to the dining room (the kitchen is on the second floor).

I can only imagine what the guests were thinking when a red-faced, sweaty guy in a soaking wet shirt, smelling generously of detergent and grease, waltzed up to their table with their meals! That is probably why the servers would try to intercept me before I got to the dining room so they could deliver the plates themselves whenever they could.

But there is a simplicity and an order to washing dishes. I don't mind saying I was good at it. After all, I did work in the cafeteria of my college dormitory, and the skill set hasn't changed much in the last 30 years.

I'll tell you one thing working in the kitchen did for me... it helped me lose weight. After spending 4, 5 or 6 hours steeped in that smell (not to mention the greasy water) the last thing I wanted to do was eat. In 3 weeks I had lost about 15 pounds. Lord knows how far I would have wasted away if it weren't for an unusual combination of circumstances which took me out of the kitchen one night.

I'll tell you about that next time.


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