weekends as a dishwasher at a
restaurant. I just helped the regular guy handle the extra
Friday and Saturday nights. I guess that made me the Assistant
The regular dishwasher, the Chief Dishwasher, was a leathery
old man. called "Doc." He looked about
70 years old, but he could have
been one hundred... or fifty. His nationality was impossible to
he spoke in that clipped, not quite perfect accent I
associate with American Indians.
Washing dishes is a shitty job. The work is
hot and wet and stinks. No
matter how fast you go, you
are always behind. Plates, pots, cups and
cutlery pile up at an impossible clip, and you can’t get it clean
enough to please anyone. Guaranteed, whatever you just washed isn’t
needed, and whatever you aren’t
washing yet is what the kitchen just
ran out of.
Doc never seemed phased. In fact, he loved the
job. We’d be way out in
the weeds, covered in grease
and gunk, and he’d look over at me and
smirk. “Best job I ever had,” he’d say, then lay into a soup pan
Best job he ever had.
“What did you do before this?” I asked, wiping
the marinara sauce off
“You’d never believe me if I told you.”
To tell you the truth, Doc irritated me.
Washing dishes and complaining
go hand in hand, and it was no
fun to complain with him around. When
one dishwasher says, “That fuckin sous chef yells at me one
more time for ramekins, and I’ll give him a stack of ramekins... right
up his ass,” the other dishwasher
is supposed to respond in kind. But
Doc was unflappable. He’d grin, reach into the frothy sink and start
I asked the kitchen staff about him. A couple
of the older guys, told
me that Doc was actually a doctor
in his previous life. A line cook
pulled his sleeve up and showed me his arm.
“What? Your tattoo?”
“No, asshole. You see how I have no hair
growing on my arm?”
“That’s because I burned it off. There was a
grease fire. All this
burning grease got spilled all over me.
My arm, my chest, down my legs.
I got burned bad. I should be coved in scars. Dead maybe. But I’m
Doc fixed me up.
"You got a problem with Doc? Cause if you do,
you got a problem with me.”
I told him I didn’t have a problem with
anybody. The line cook thrust a
scorched pan at me like a
challenge. I took the pan and walked back to
the dishwashing station without comment.
The next weekend I asked Doc about it. “I
heard you fixed up Julio when
he got burned.”
“Julio likes to exaggerate.”
“Is it true you were a doctor before you were
“You could say that.”
“How does a guy go from being a doctor to
being a dishwasher?”
“How does a guy go from being a dishwasher to
a pain in the ass?”
We washed in silence, whittling away at the
mountain of soiled dishware
The night wore on. The torrent of filthy
plates and spoons slowed as
the dining room emptied.
As the last of the diners were getting their
checks, the kitchen started its evening ritual of shutting
Instead of cups and bowls, we washed the chafing pans and racks. At , we
were done. We were
done, but the work was never done. Whatever was in our sink was left
the morning crew to deal with.
I stepped into the night air and breathed. I
could smell the detritus
of a hundred unfinished
entrees on myself. Doc hit the door a beat
“I wasn’t a regular doctor.”
“No?” I tried to sound casual as I turned to
face him, but it came out
“So what? You were a freelance gynecologist? A
proctologist looking for
an opening in
He straightened out of his slouch just a
little, and Doc smiled. Not
just with his mouth. It
was like his face unfolded and lit up. His
whole being lit up. And suddenly, I felt good The
fatigue in my
shoulders evaporated. My feet stopped hurting. I found myself smiling
“No, smartass, I was a medicine man.”
“You mean like a shaman?”
“Ya. Like a shaman. A witch doctor. Whatever
you want to call it.
That’s what I did.”
G J lives in Northern
California. Easily bored and utterly lacking in focus, he dabbles in
everything from pottery, to cartooning, to airbrushing T-Shirts. His
cartoons have been published in both hemispheres and were recently
discontinued in the largest newspaper in Yolo County. His work (if you
can call it that)
can be found at www.mightywombat.com.
Oh, and Gord can totally
kick Steve's ass at any video game you put in front of him... usually
while drawing a cartoon, drinking a beer and cleaning his airbrush.