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Real World: Dishwashing

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting to like it. No one expects to enjoy washing dishes for six dollars an hour. It was bound to suck; Miss Cleo could have told me that. But no one could have projected the extent to which I would absolutely abhor this job two short months later.

It started with the late callback. In the two weeks since I had turned in an application, I had begun a fledgling reporting career by covering two high school baseball games for the Winston-Salem Journal. At $75 a pop, I figured I would just cruise through summer writing sporadically and earning a manageable amount of spending money for the next year at school. But then about a week after covering my second game, I got a message from the restaurant saying they wanted me to come in and work at 5:00 that day. I should have realized at the time that I would only get such short notice for one of three reasons: a) someone quit that day because the job was intolerable; b) the manager was too lazy to call more than 90 minutes ahead; c) the job was intolerable and the manager was lazy. But still, the thought of earning a steady stream of money for the rest of the summer was too good to pass up at this point.

So that was it, I was a dishwasher. Over the next two months, I would get yelled at by a variety of cooks and waiters; I would try to follow instructions in broken English; I would come to respond to the name “Goomba,” a name formerly reserved for the small, brown characters in Mario 1; I would unclog drains filled with pasta, bread, and meat with my bare hands; I would, on many occasions, plan out a dramatic speech to use just before I stormed out to the applause of the customers; and unfortunately, I would continue to work anyway.

Which brings us to Friday, August 1, my final night washing dishes. This was a night so monumental that I had no choice but to look back on it two days later and write a running diary about it, as if I had actually brought a diary along with me to work. I had no choice. So now, here’s the real side of dishwashing, the side you don’t see in Us Magazine or the E! Channel:

4:45 – Time to leave already. You must be kidding.

5:00 – I arrive at work. The atmosphere seems surprisingly subdued considering the occasion. I sign in and let one of the cooks know that this is my last day, since I can assume he didn’t read the note that I left last week. He says “ok,” but as he turns around I can clearly see that bit of information scurrying out of his other ear.

5:05 – I’m all suited up and ready to start washing all the dishes they left for me from this afternoon. I do a few dishes and then talk to my fellow dishwasher; we decide that tonight I’ll scrub pots and he’ll wash the plates. The 17-year old Italian cook comes over to give us some coaching points; I make fun of him in my head while the other dishwasher makes fun of him out loud, spurring the first argument of the night.

5:20 – As the 17-year old walks back to the bathroom, the other dishwasher pulls the old “call him a fag when he’s not looking and then act like you didn’t say anything" trick. The young buck responds with a shocking “do you want to get the hell beat out of you?” I continue to scrub pots as if this wasn’t incredibly amusing.

5:50 – Things are kind of slow right now. I make a mental note that I have only 4 hours left in my dishwashing career. I quickly realize I have jinxed myself and I will undoubtedly be forced to work until 2:15 tonight.

6:45 – I steal my 3rd piece of bread and fill up my first refill on my drink. Things are getting crowded and the cooks are getting their game faces on. I take a bite and a big sip and put on my “this is why I hate this job so much” face.

7:15 – First angry request for a pot by a cook on the night. Oh, you want me to wash these? Thanks for letting me know there, buddy, I wasn’t quite sure about my role here.

7:20 – My hands are officially becoming cut up again from the steel wool scrubbers. Just thought you should know.

7:45 – We’ve run out of large spaghetti plates for the first time tonight. This happens every single night I work. The restaurant seats around 75 and yet we have about 9 big plates. Oh, hold up a second, the cook is telling me something. Yep, this is my fault again.

8:00 – Still packed and I’m now in frantic mode for the first time tonight. The floor is getting wet, people are sprinting back and forth, and the temperature is in the low 130’s… this is THE way to earn $6.00 an hour.

8:30 – We run out of big plates for the third time. As I consider ways to get people to leave the restaurant, I realize there’s no way I’m getting out by 10:00 tonight. At this point I almost want someone to yell at me just so I can have moral high ground to storm out forever.

9:15 – For the first time tonight I sense that the pace is slowing down and I can begin to catch up on the disgusting amount of pots I have. I might even get to change the water in the sink; for the last 90 minutes I only had time to load more and more soap into the fairly dirty water. (The pots WERE getting clean, though, believe me. I don’t want anyone reporting me for a freaking sanitation violation.) Since I have the late shift tonight, my co-dishwasher begins to go into “let me leave” mode, meaning I now have to take care of dishes AND pots. Score.

9:40 – The other dishwasher is gone now and the young cook comes up to me and gives me a pep talk about relaxing even though I have two sinks full of grimy pots to clean before I can leave. He says if he gets a chance he’ll help me out some.

9:55 – The young guy and all the other employees are all standing around smoking cigarettes. Maybe I can get some help when they’re not so busy.

10:15 – We’re now well past the 10:00 barrier and considering the amount of help I’m getting right now (that would be none), I have about 45 minutes of work left.

10:25 – For some reason, the guy who cooks the pizza has decided to let me go! Over the loudspeaker I hear Al Michaels: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!” After I get my timecard signed, I faintly hear fireworks go off. I am showered in confetti as I walk out the door to a roar of applause. Apparently the cooks and waiters have arranged a retirement parade in my honor! My boss hands me a $500 check and whispers in my ear, “The government doesn’t have to know about this. You earned it.” I am completely overcome by emotion and I fall to my knees. This can’t be happening!

Of course, it wasn’t happening. I just walked to my car and left. That’s all the celebration I needed.

Anders Larson Archive