If You Can’t Stand A Dead Rat Get Out Of The Kitchen
My gastronomic voyage had officially begun. I dove in with a work ethic beyond reproach. I scrubbed and cleaned pots and pans until my fingers acquired the same status Mother Nature gives to prunes and raisins. I happily mopped the floors and cleaned ovens. I was willing to do any thankless job they sent my way. I then learned about one of the mysterious job tasks held by any great chef. A great Chef has the keen acumen into the driving desire of a young pot washer’s eagerness to please. Jimmy picked up on this rather quickly, and informed me of a special “time” in restaurants, when things were quiet. He called it “downtime”. Downtime sounded harmless when I first heard it escape from Jimmy’s lips, and I thought it might be cool. JT my boy” intoned my illustrious leader, “Ees a little slow tonight. Looksa like we have some downtime.”
Well I could barely contain myself. An opportunity has arisen for me to show everyone how gracefully I would be able to handle this newfound downtime. It never occurred to me that the word itself could enlighten me as to what may be in store. The Chef planned to put me “down” and keep me “down”, by assigning me an assortment of unmemorable chores that will get me “down” in the dumps. As for the “time” portion of my endeavor, it actually meant time consuming. Flagrantly left out of the phrase was tedious. It should be called tedious downtime. This inspirational portion of the evening I get to perform seemingly insignificant time consuming tasks. Did I mention tedious? There are various levels of joy associated with downtime tasks. It could range from the somewhat joyless job of peeling 50 – 100 pounds of potatoes, to the absolute joy depleting role of shrimp peeler. How many shrimp can people eat anyway. Don’t they know you are what you eat? Inclusive of all these food related tasks, are a mysterious set of thankless jobs given the official name of maintenance. I say mysterious, because I could never figure out how washing the Chef’s car in any way contributed to the dining experience. But wash it I did, along with every piece of kitchen equipment, and every floor within a 5 mile radius. On this particular evening, I was mopping the downstairs. A serene and peaceful place where all foods and food products meditate. They remain at the Storage Inn, a kind of bread and breakfast for the grocery set, until they are summoned upstairs to become part of something monumental. In a back room, seldom used, was where I was sent. Upon arrival, my keen observation noted two non-moving members of the family rodentia lying on the floor. Damn they looked gross. Summoning all my energy to keep my dinner where it belonged, I walked into the next room and informed Edwin, the Chefs nephew or “senior potwasher” whose true job and intellect were yet to be determined. He was however, assisting me, and his having been here so long gave him a queer aura of authority. “Hey Edwin man, there are two dead rats in the extra room.” Edwin’s English was worse even than Jimmies, and he just repeated what what what and stared at me puzzled. So of course I motioned with my hands as I said very slowly, for some reason believing that would help and I said. “Next room….dead rats…” This is too fucking tedious, and I needed a cigarette so I lit up and walked out of the room until I heard the blood curdling scream followed by a pounding of wood to wood. I ran to Edwin and there he was still screaming and beating those two already dead rats as if they were zombie rodents rising from the dead. Hard as I tried, the sight of Edwin clutching a broom and beating the shit out of two dead rats took over every rational bone in my body and I broke out in a laugh so fucking hard if Jimmy and Didier had seen me upstairs they would have felt like rank chuckle amateurs. Tears forced their way across my cheeks like rivulets of saline. I had to hold my stomach and fall to the floor in an epileptic fit of uncontrollable laughter. To date this may have been the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life. This is restaurant life. Now my mood was great. Hope it lasts.
Just when I thought Edwin couldn’t make me laugh any harder he moved into action. At first I was repulsed and grossed out to the max. With his bare fucking hands he grabbed one dead rat in each hand, looked at me with a dopey smile that had me wondering if he smoked my hash and said, “Come witta me JT. We godda bigga sue-prize forra da cheff.” With the rats dangling at his sides he climbed up the stairs like happy from the seven dwarfs. When he reached the top he made room for me to stand next to him and he held these dead god damn rodents as high as his arm would allow and yelled loud enough so the entire kitchen could hear. “Hey Cheff…..Lookit a what we gotta for you soup!” As the chef and company began laughing wildly I looked on in horror. “Jesu shit Ed, you can’t bring thee disease ridden mother fuckers in a kitchen!” Mortified I looked around and everyone was laughing except Laura. Oh Jesus I thought, she’s the only other one grossed out besides me. Jimmy yelled back, “getta Jense inna here, we gotta special entrée tonight.” The laughter continued and Edwin took the rats back downstairs’ and no sooner did he get to the bottom when he tripped and fell allowing the lifeless rats to go airborne.. I ran down to see if he was okay and he was frozen on the ground looking up in horror. Across the room was our illustrious asshole manager with a face so red I thought the beets would turn green with envy. Over one shoulder hung one of the dead rats, the other at his feet. His eyes were exploding volcanoes and if had found the capacity to speak it would have flowed a molten lava of pissed off. I had to leave because my head was about to pop from not laughing at the sight and air was forcing its way through my nostrils. I knew if I let my tears of joy flow I would have have lost my job, and I was thinking Edwin may have already lost his. I will never ever forget the look on Didier’s dead rat slapped face. This too shall pass.
Damn that was a rough night I thought as I stopped at the corner of my block that had once served as my bus top. I reached to the bottom of my front pocket and pulled out the tiny piece of aluminum foil Ken had left me, then pulled my trusty hash pipe from my other pocket and unraveled the leftover piece of black hash. “One or two more hits before heading home.” As I lit the hash I thought about how funny it was that I was talking to no one, yet it felt like it needed to be said. I held the smoke from this sweet relief in my lungs and smiled at my ritualistic behavior. As I exhaled I let out a chuckle, remembering Didier, the dead rats, and Ernie ineffectively beating the shit out of them with that broom. Can’t wait to tell Ken all about it tomorrow. “But for now, one last hit before going home.”
If You Can’t Stand A Dead Rat Get Out Of The Kitchen