My headphones were in, it was hot, and steam was shooting out along with an occasional *BANG* that came from somewhere deep inside the machine.
I was staring directly into a giant industrial dishwasher machine at my college job as dishwasher for the university’s catering company. Steam was all around me as 100’s if not thousands of plates, cups, silver-ware and food hauled out of the dining room and rolled in on carts in bins stacked 6-feet-high.
My job was to throw them into the "car-wash," then dry, stack, pile and polish. In the catering kitchen for Ohio State, things came in waves, from mad rush to pick your nose boredom. We had a radio, and I'd listen to albums on repeat.
There were a few of us back there; a manager who looked like a former bodybuilder, a quiet and skinny kid in a band, and the kid that only talked about what life was like on the West Coast where he used to go snowboarding every weekend. I wasn’t sure exactly which character I played.
Mostly I just listened to music and tried to be passively productive to make it through a shift.
We were layers away from the real action at the fancy balls and receptions. I was the lowest level in the hierarchy of the service. We were behind the door, that is behind the door, to where the people ate and socialized. We were the "Rag Bandits," a name I comically made up because of the rags tucked into our shorts. We’d take said towels and whip them at each-other, use them to cover our hands to handle the hot forks, and for wiping the sweat off. I know that visual doesn't help with your appetite. We’d have our fun in the background, and sometimes it felt more enjoyable being anonymous, silently getting things done or goofing around because we had more leeway.
Dishes would come, and you'd get through the wave. Shifts would start and end.Days off would arrive. And eventually you’re schedule would busywith class and my shifts would fade.
I believe everyone in the kitchen had all been thinking,“I will only do this until ___ and then I’ll quit.”
I don’t believe any of us thought this work was permanent. Which is the luxury of the student in higher education. This isn’t to say working in a kitchen or as a dishwasher isn’t a job we should devalue or look down upon (or keep). But rather the mindset that let us persevere in a role that we didn’t particularly care about. The hours dragged by, and we were behind the door that was behind the door. But we always believed we'd eventually end up on the other side.
We didn’t just carry on, we imagined a future beyond. I never once thought that this was a hole that I jumped down and I’d never climb out of it.
While you were standing there and there’s steam shooting out in between racks of wine glasses, you’re thinking about where you might be next month, or next year, or in 5.
You would perform complex number crunching about pay-checks, math that looked favorable for how much time was left in your shift, or how much longer you’d be in school.
I can picture everyone in the back of the kitchen, headphones in, with little thought bubbles above their heads, all playing video reels of where they’d be in a year or two. Elsewhere. Beyond. Hopefully not still there.
Eventually into the next door, and then the next, and eventually eating at the table our company served.
And isn’t this all of us? Not just us kids in the back. It’shuman nature. We see people around us and think they’re fixed. We measure, assign labels, and construct personas. Dishwasher, party attendee, server. Guest. President. Impermanent roles, in flux until something better and back into flux.
I don’t really know where everyone else is at now from that group. But I doubt they’re still there. In fact I think the one guy made it back to living out West.
You see me for who I am now, not as who I imagine I’ll be.
But at one point I was the kid doing your dishes.
And now I’m writing you emails.