work keeps me sane

iunie 13, 2010

…relatively. considering the degree of sanity you need in order to work there in the first place.


kitchen help, leaning on wall that separates kitchen and dishwashing area: „busy night, eh? i looove to see people hard at work!”

carmen, scrubbing pans: „i take it that you haven’t been hit with a pan by an eastern-european woman before?”


erik: „carmen, could you please pass me one of those containers?”

carmen: „sure” [hands him container]

erik: „thank you for your cooperation on this small but very important matter.”


carmen, at midnight/kitchen closing time, to a. [my personal favourite cook]: „you speak french just like me! your words just go into the air like they were suspended in a bubble…you know? like in cartoons?”(demonstrates with hands)

a. : „uh, so you did get that beer pitcher [the manager] sent to the back.”


carmen : „a., about your dirty shoes, just so you know: i’ve timed myself, and the nights when you’re not working it takes me 20 minutes less to sweep and mop the place.”

a., making sad face: „how can you say that to me, i thought you were my friend.”

carmen: „i am your friend, but definitely not a friend of your shoes.


carmen, to dishwasher/shiftmate: „so you want to take the trash up at the same time as the [used] oil? hmmm, and how exactly will you manage that in one go?”

d.: ” well, if we put the oil in a separate trolley and you come with me. come on, i’ll race you to the garbage bins!”


isaac: „so have you guys decided who’s doing the mopping tonight?”

d.: „i say let’s play rock- paper- scissors!”


our manager n. is greek ( „carmen! that faucet is dripping and in my country they don’t have enough water!”). so, he’s passing along the back of the kitchen, and someone drops/breaks a plate. noise, scramble to get the broom and dustpan etc.

n., completely deadpan: „this is an italian restaurant, not a greek restaurant!”


and n. is really awesome. he can do any kind of work in the restaurant better than the actual worker. talk about old school approach. he has the shiniest shoes ever – how do i know this? because he keeps climbing on stuff, i.e. broken dishwashing machine , to identify the leaking spot. also: he got up on the kitchen stove with me to demonstrate the cleaning of the stove with easy-off – he sat down on a milk crate, with an apron over his suit and a clean towel on his head, and got down to work. i am continually in awe of him.


erik and i sing all through the daytime shift. sometimes just humming, other times the situation requires for top-of-your voice bellowing. there’s the noise of the dishwashing machine, then the mixing of the various soups and sauces, blah. so we sing. we have diverging repertoires, but finally hit upon songs we both love ,and with lots of lyrics, so by now we can duet „ironic” and „torn” beginning to end. it’s a blast.

also erik has these quiz-type questions that he asks everybody who’s in sight at that moment – busspeople, hostesses, me. example of question: ” how do you accomplish greatness when nothing else will do?”

back of the kitchen

iunie 1, 2010

carmen, surveying kitchen disaster: „when you said i could take out the big tray, i thought that was the end of dirty dishes.”

cook : „my friend, there is no end to dirty dishes.”


girl cook, bringing out a bunch of pots and pans: „watch out, hot stuff here!”

carmen : ” oh, stop bragging!”


bussboy, filling up the tray with dirty glasses: „please, i need glasses!”

carmen: „i need world peace, and i need it right now!”


kitchen help, bringing out a sizzling pan: „watch out, this is very hot!”

carmen: „oh okay then, i’ll let isaac [my shift partner] pick it up”


carmen, after doing a slow, lousy job of cleaning kitchen walls: „i feel so bad, i kept you waiting and it looks like hell now.”

erik, one of the cooks: ” i don’t have the time to feel bad. feeling bad is luxury. have a nice day, merry christmas!”


isaac, about one of the other dishwashers, m., who left 2 weeks ago: „he saw hunger.” i keep remembering this when i think of m, and what he’s doing there where he moved. he worked like a demon but/and yes, he was famished all the time. chewing on bread, taking his lunch break before us. going back home at night to cook rice with his roommate. „he saw hunger”, i imagine it like he had seen a tiger laying in the grass one step away. like he can never unsee it now.

feminism 101: questions

mai 3, 2010

soooo i wash dishes in a restaurant, okay? lemme tell you about some things i’m thinking of on the job

so i went to apply, one month ago already. while waiting to be interviewed i talked to a girl who works there as a cook. she said, ‘honey, apply as a server, they don’t hire women as dishwashers here. and anyway you’re too beautiful’. (i mean yeah, if server was my dream job maybe i could see how washing dishes would be below me. i am choosing to solve this pride issue by going for the lowest possible position.)  [carmen’s commentary to her last sentence: „that’s what she said.”]

so i got hired.  yeah i’m the only girl dishwasher in the whole joint. i work with men at the dishwashing machine on the night shift and/or i work alone, but surrounded by bussboys and cooks on the day shift. the only other woman in there, sometimes, is the girl cook i mentioned above. yes there are a lot of hostesses etc, but they just pass by, ocassionally scrunching their noses.

now for my 2, related but distinct, problems: 1) as a woman, i am physically weaker than men; 2) as a woman, i am apparently someone who men will at some point try to approach (which i still don’t get, but alright). THERE IS NO EQUALITY. NO PRETENCE, NO SEMBLANCE, NOT ANYTHING OF EQUALITY. i don’t understand how the various undercurrents that function in these places balance eachother. i’m just trying to stay out of trouble (with moderate success so far) and do my job (ditto). except it’s not like any other job, forget that bullshit. i should know how it’s different from teaching, and i’ll expand that to office jobs – as for academia…shrug. it’s because it’s a physical job.

(why am i even talking about this?)

1) i get paid by the hour. everyone does. i do the same work my male co-workers have to do. except it soooo does not take a scientist to figure out that it’s unfair. because either i will take longer to complete my shift, or i will work less. i have been, am, doing my best, and am in good health and can lift and carry and push and maneouver things, yay me. and on a couple of days i solved the timing discrepancy by having lunch break ONLY AFTER i punched out, although i had the right to include my break in my working time. it just seemed the right thing to do. now how to stop that from bothering me, though?

2) i get helped. i mean, being helped is not new for me. an air of innocent cluelessness/ out-of-placeness will elicit help from people. help from men who ask for your phone number at the same time as they mop the floors for you…a little different, oops. and saying oh, that’s kind of you but no, nope, no way in this world you’re getting anything in return but god’s eternal grace…is not entirely satisfying, neither does it entirely solve the problem. no matter how upfront i am, i will still coast on my gender/(looks? oh god) as much as i’m coasting on the payment system.

so the feminist solution would be to find a job that can be done by a woman? i’m asking sincerely, not maliciously. because i think what actually attracted me to the idea of dishwashing is its purely physical component. (i told someone i didn’t want to be a waitress because i refuse to smile politely at people who haven’t earned it.)

but it’s also a bit like my stubborness re: living in north america. i want to do what i can’t do. i want it bluntly and obsessively. it’s not a matter of growth, personal development or becoming, or being yourself. i want things that i am stopped from having, by my gender, place of birth etc. like, BECAUSE  i am a peasant romanian i want to be a hipster. BECAUSE i am clumsy and have been declared lazy throughout my childhood etc i’m having a spike of craving strength and deftness.

and i’m going through the motions. i’ve been going through so many motions these days/months, remodelling my life to this incredible extent. i just keep in mind that some of my aims are of the kind that lead to shortcircuit.

but some days it’s fun, and some people read and label what’s on display – in the good way, i mean. one afternoon while i was yelling at the frying pans and singing leonard cohen out loud,  one of the cooks, erik, suddenly : „carmen!” -„what!” – „you’re still a girl.” – „well, yea…” – „don’t change!”

no worries there.

the state of cynthia’s kitchen

aprilie 25, 2010

uh-uh. carmen cooking. and cynthia cooking too, except the latter is normal.

we’ve designed saturday morning/afternoon (bf i leave for work) as cooking time – a theoretically pretty smart idea, which i would hate to jinx. each time we have to have a recipe for a ~fancy salad picked up (or a fancy one and a very simple one, i.e. lettuce+celery+…olives or whatever) plus one for a ‘serious’ meal.

so far this month i made: eggplant salad (i put green pepper in it so it came out extra green; and i did cut down on the salt and did the onion very very small, but i’m still not getting smth right taste-wise hmmm). mushroom stew with polenta (yay complete success this time). and a fancy salad, with broccoli, tofu and a peanut butter+ cream dressing. aand yesterday i made stuffed peppers with sweet tomato sauce, my grandma’s recipe combined with one i found online (for which stupidly i mixed too much meat and too little rice. i mean it’s good, but not what i’d envisioned. put it down to experience.)

also baking in the oven yay. we baked salmon in aluminium foil. then cyn got brave enough last week to attempt cooking a whole chicken. again, complete success. also : i was whining as per usual about how muffins are the devil – which bizzarely inspired cyn to actually buy a muffin tray!!! so this week we went through two batches of muffins, and ok they’re made with quinoa flakes and stuff but stilllll. i need to keep being able to fit into clothes for god’s sake.

not that we didn’t go on a straight-from-the-store sweet-tooth spree midweek (i think we were both a bit down) i.e. chocolate almonds and chocolate spread. but on friday night we celebrated non-watching the hockey game with salads! so yea, living with someone who cooks is a mixed bag. of goodies, though.

glossary of sorts

decembrie 13, 2008

i know i’ve hesitated so much to write about my workplace…i talk about it face-to-face easily and unprompted, but there’s a lot to be said about how i explain my job (or if i have to explain it even) to people who are not here with me, and who, because they’ve missed this development about me, i cannot possibly relate to as well as before. do i want them to ‘understand’, or do i want to maintain this rift because it’s easier to have a solid rift in place? it depends on the mood.

anyway, my sketch of a glossary has been in the works for at least two months, because what else is there to think about while washing dishes (except for yeah, the novel? political slash?)?? it’s actually more of a semiotics thing than an actual glossary, but whatever.

1. the awesomeness of the term „waiting”, in itself, and where an analysis of the 2 kinds of waiting i’m doing could go.

2. „sorry” (said the canadian way) is a word of aggression. not only for me, and not only in the context of threateningly flying around with an armful of dirty dishes, i’m sure. but i relish using it. i have this thing about politeness! big time!

3. „are you almost done with that?” (said by my humble self, in the same aggressive manner of course; intonation is key here. the intention is never very strong, as i recall, but again there’s the irony. i coined this sentence myself, by which i mean i can never be sure that i’ve LITERALLY heard it used by anyone else; it just sounded so in character for me, especially the use of ‘almost’) = (in case it’s needed) „i’m fucking busy/bored here, you nitwits, are you gonna go DO something with your lives and let me clear this table?”

4. the answer to „thank you”, in carmen’s waitressing book, is „thank YOU” or „thank you very much”. of course, because i never actually think about what i say while i handle plates, especially plates laden with food, the answer to ANYTHING, from „can i use the washroom please?” to „how about coming over to my place and serving me something?” would be the same.

5. and now for the lingo: „BEHIND!” is something you say when you pass behind a coworker’s back, either carrying smth, or while they’re doing smth that might result in accidents, or in a narrow space as a warning for them to move out of the way. it’s very logical, yet to me it NEVER fails to sound hilarious. i’d either say „behind” in a small ashamed voice, as if i was commenting on people’s bottoms, or giggle while i say it, or forget and say it afterwards. my boss keeps warning me that i’m not going to giggle when i break a trayful of glasses or i receive a hot omelette splat on my face.

6. „check the coffee!” = „act busy”. of course the coffee pots must be checked periodically and replaced when empty, but the idiotic idea of walking across the room twice in 4 minutes, lifting each container for show, when no one has poured coffee in the meantime, JUST BECAUSE you have to be seen doing smth, kills me. kills me. for the first couple of weeks i made a point of telling soma every time „i’ve just checked the coffee 1 MINUTE AGO, SOMA! IT’S FINE!”. i must be very charming otherwise, or i can’t explain why i didn’t get fired just on account of that.

7.”take a walk” – i know it sounds lovely, but what it means is going around and collecting stuff from the tables, when every table is taken and you need to keep in motion nevertheless. also known as „grab the plates”, or „do a round”. it’s kind of fun, except when my ass got too big for me to be able to squeeze btw. tables. that was not fun.

8. „kick them out” – hahaha = tell the customers in a respectful manner that the restaurant is too crowded and you have a full line going out the door, so since they’ve finished everything on their plates and have been staring at empty coffee mugs for about two hours, could they move their talking someplace else?? obviously i’m unable to perform this particular task (i’ve tried like twice) because i’m annoyed at either the customers (inconsiderate morons, able to carry on a conversation while the whole place is oxygenless and buzzing and i’m busting my ass running around) or the boss (profit-driven bastard). me and ivy usually ask chris to do it, because he really seems to enjoy it.

9. „you can do the dishes now” = (to me, specifically) „you are allowed to retire to the back space and waste some time there playing with water, as long as the plates are clean quickly enough”. the fact that ‘can’ of permission is used always cracks me up. but soma does crack me up on a regular basis, she’s a fine psychologist.

10.  from the soma series: „i know, i know” , soma to me every time i quabble with smth she’s told me to do, or when she scolds me and i open my mouth to try to explain/defend myself. pretty much = „i’ve been there before you, so shut up”.

11. „knife and fork” = cutlery, of course, but what i fail to understand is the use of the singular. and it’s not only soma or avane, i’ve heard jenna say „we’re out of knife and fork”. to me, „do the knife and fork” always sounds like „do the hokey-pokey”, but usually when it’s time to do it i do NOT feel like giggling.

12. „i [‘ll] do it!”, said by soma = „i’ve tried to give you a chance, but you’re STILL not good/fast enough at doing it”. most exasperating when she sends me off to wash dishes, and in about a minute she yells round the corner „carmen! back at the front! i do this!”

* funniest exchange: cecilia gives me my food after i’m off, on a platter, but without having asked me what i would like. she’s just: „this is for you”. i’m apronless and ready to go, so first thing i do assume it’s for me, take it and thank her, then the next second „excuse me cecilia, is this for ME or TABLE U?” lol

* also cecilia: „why did you show the customers the faulty pancake?”. this is a bit longer story, but i swear if i opened an eating place i’d like to call it „the faulty pancake”.