Portland, Oregon
September 25, 2000

Dear Satch,

In your last letter, you questioned my use of the word "integrity" on my Dishwasher stationery, since my trademarks in the business include, among other things, hiding dirty dishes and quitting jobs without a minute's notice. If anyone else had asked that question, I would have laughed it off and let my lengthy record of dishwashing experience speak for itself. But since the question was posed by someone with such an impressive dishing resume as yours, someone who most definitely has "dishwasher integrity" (whatever that may be), then I had to wonder: Do I lack integrity? Have my actions in the past made work harder for other dishwashers? Am I an embarrassment to the profession? Am I a lousy dishwasher? For a few days I remained bothered since I didn't know how to answer your question.

Then, this past weekend, something unique happened. The three waitresses at my work who I respect the most each, independent of the others, told me that I was the best dishwasher they had ever worked with. No, I hadn't fished for compliments from them and, no, I'm sure they weren't trying to curry favor from me (since there are no favors to be curried from me). Though I don't seek to be "the best" and though it may not really be an answer to your question, I offer those three testimonials of "best dishwasher" to you, in defense of my integrity.

It's been nice to be back working with people that I've worked with before, as opposed to all the jobs I've had lately where I didn't know anyone when I started. But I'm also working with a couple of new-to-me employees, who weren't working here last year. One of the new-to-me waitresses is convinced that I'm a strict Mormon. It started when I declined her offers of coffee by saying that drinking coffee went against my Mormon beliefs. But now I've been using Mormonism as an excuse to explain anything to her. Yesterday, one of her CDs was giving me a headache so I stopped the CD and complained that, as a Mormon, the music offended me. It's a little troublesome that she so readily believes that I'm a hardcore Mormon.

A couple of days ago, I took my act over to my boss's new restaurant to work for a couple of nights. I was anxious to see if all the problems of the dishwashing set-up at "Restaurant A" that I mentioned in my last letter had been rectified at the new "Restaurant B." This was my boss's chance to redeem himself.

I showed up, threw on an apron, and sought out the dishroom. Last year, I saw the blueprints for this place while it was still under construction, so I knew exactly where the dishroom was supposed to be. But it wasn't there. In fact, it wasn't anywhere. When the cook pointed me to the three sinks in the rear of the kitchen, I sensed something was amiss. I smelled a last-minute, cost-cutting, makeshift dish area.

As I stared at the sinks and the under-the-counter dish machine and the complete lack of counter space, the prep cook walked up behind me and said, "We run out of hot water here pretty fast, so only use the hot water when you absolutely have to." In the span of one minute, all my enthusiasm was gone.

I tried to ignore the crummy set-up. This approach lasted for a couple of hours until a rat ran past my feet and scared the shit out of me. Working alongside mice and cockroaches never bothers me, since those creatures tend to keep to themselves. They can even make for nice distractions while working. But rats are an entirely different story. When I work around rats, I'm always paranoid that I'm going to step on a tail and, in a panic, the rat will gnaw at my ankle until it can escape. So after the rat first ambled by, I spent the next two days staring down at the floor, keeping an eye out for rats.

I informed a cook that I saw a rat, thinking he might show concern. Instead, he was only disappointed. "You saw him?" he asked. "God, everyone's seen him except me." I raised the rodent issue with other employees but they all shared a similarly cavalier attitude about "him." For some reason, they assumed there was but a lone bachelor rat existing in a vacuum, without any immediate or extended family or friends in the vicinity. Altogether, I had three rat sightings in two days. I don't profess to be able to distinguish one rat from the next, but I highly doubt I was seeing the same rat run back and forth.

I was a bit homesick for my friends at Restaurant A. I missed the well-worn routine and the humor and the fact that nobody ever minded when I would wander off in mid-shift and go down the block to the bar and have a beer. So while I was working at Restaurant B, I called over to Restaurant A just to tell them that I missed them. Then, the next day, they called me at Restaurant B to say they missed me as well. It was sweet.

Remember when I said that the opening of Restaurant B caused Restaurant A to be treated by the owner like a neglected stepchild? Well, one of the waitresses came up with a better analogy. She says that Restaurant A is like a former only child who is jealous of the attention that its new sibling, Restaurant B, is getting. When I returned to Restaurant A the next day, everyone wanted to hear about what it was like to work at the new place. I whined for most of the day about the sub-par dish facilities. Like good jealous siblings, they all relished the fact that I had nothing good to say.

The waiter who told you to turn down the stereo sounds like a real asshole. As great as your job sounds – minimal hours, great pay, autonomy in the dishroom, etc. – I'm sorry that you have to put up with him. I'm glad that I don't work with anyone who's on a power trip. In fact, not only is no one here bossy, but since the owner is always over at his new place, I don't even know who the boss is. Last Saturday, a salesman came in while I was out on the floor and asked, "Can I talk to whoever is in charge?" I looked around at the three waitresses and the two cooks and was dumbfounded. I had no idea who our leader was. "I'm not sure who's in charge," I told the guy. "All I know is it's not me."

So long,


© 2000 Open Letters | This Week | Archive | Subscribe | Search | Contact | Home |