Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nice Try, Kid.

I mentioned in a previous entry that I work with a new dishwasher that is young and energetic. He doesn't know this, but I call him Kid Dynamite when he is not around. He is a go-getter, that one.

On our first shift together last week, I think he was a little nervous, because he was super chatty, and some of what he said was obviously bullshit. Kid Dynamite and I had the following exchange:

Kid: "Sometimes when my buddy and I are at a party, we like to mess with people and make them really uncomfortable..."

Okay, right there I know whatever you are about to say is not true. Unless you are at a party full of real assholes do you immediately play the "make it awkward" card, especially when there is still available booze on hand. Maybe if you were about to bail and you were bored, I can see that. But hey, go ahead.

Kid: ", what we do is go up and ask people, 'hey, do you have any aluminum foil' or 'can you spare a needle' and start scoping the bathroom. It really freaks people out."

Me: "Yes, I imagine it would."

Kid: "It's really funny, man."

Me:  "Sure. Hey you know..." (pause)

Kid: "What's up?"

Me: "Well, here's the thing. I don't really know of many junkies that use foil. I mean, even if you're not carrying a spoon when you normally do you can find a bottle cap to use, especially in this town. Also, heroin people don't just use any random needle from a stranger, assuming they have them. We're pretty particular of our syringes in regards to gauge and whether they're short or long needles. So much, in fact, that we're willing to risk getting an infection due to not completely sterilizing our syringes. See?"

I showed him this.

Kid: "..."

Me: "Yeah, that was a close call for me. Spent two weeks in a hospital and almost lost my arm. Anyway, what you should do is ask people randomly in the middle of a conversation if they have any Q-tips."

Kid: "Q-tips?"

Me: "Sure. You pull off some of the Q-tip, ball it up and drop it in your spoon to act as a filter when you're cooking up. Of course, that's not common non-junkie knowledge, so they might not get it...but it would be more accurate."

Kid: "..."

We washed dishes in silence for about 15 minutes after that. I hope he was taking mental notes, because THAT is how you make somebody "really uncomfortable."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Cat

I had Lucy for 12 years. She was a little black Manx cat with plenty of attitude and tolerance of her boozy owner. She was an amazing little creature.

When she became sick, she hid under the futon and sat in her own urine and feces. And rather than take her to the vet, I debated what to do while I continued to use heroin and not deal with anything. It was a sad, disrespectful way to treat a beloved pet...doing nothing.

The guilt, shame and regret of this broadsided me while I was in rehab over a year later when I vocalized my feelings in my small group. It must have been an interesting sight to see me do so to a group of hardcore drug addicts, some of whom were federal criminals/dealers with the Mexican Mafia (two are still friends of mine). My counselor believed I was actually projecting guilt from hurting friends and family, but no, I'm pretty sure I felt worse for not helping Lucy than anything else I had done.

Time passed...I resolved my guilt, worked on myself, confronted fears and so on and so forth. After I was in a position to take care of myself, I began to have the urge to be a pet owner again. However, I wasn't living somewhere that I found it appropriate to be a cat owner. I was either in a sober house (no pets) or renting a room from someone.

I found myself able to adopt a cat this month after 4 years of not having one. I wanted to support Austin Pets Alive!, and I didn't want to go the kitten route. I stopped in at the Hancock Center Petco where APA had a little "cat booth." There were a couple of outgoing felines there, but the one that caught my eye was a Torbie hiding in a little cubby that wanted nothing to do with me as a stranger there. I'm not sure if I fell for her playing hard to get or if I just related to her general disinterest in people, but I knew that was the cat for me. Her description read: "I can be a bit shy at first, but once I get to know you, I really love to hang out and gossip!" She was also a long-stay resident, most likely because she wasn't one to do the song and dance in front of prospective owners. The Austin Pets Alive! staff member was excited that I wanted to adopt her, and she said that the cat in question was a sweetheart and to be patient with her.

I named the cat Marla. Surprise, surprise.

I was happy the trip from the Hancock Center to Sandstone Apartments was fast, because Marla sounded traumatized in the pet carrier. I let her out in my place and she immediately burrowed under the couch...where she didn't move all night. I called to her, and I talked her ear off most of the night. Having her there was beneficial because technically now I wasn't talking to myself anymore. Friends asked for a picture, so I sent them this:

"I think he just bought a cat box and food dish. There's no cat there."
I wanted to be patient, but I was concerned that she needed to eat, drink, pee and poop at some point. I tilted the couch on its back, and since there was no lining underneath it, Marla climbed inside the couch...but at least I could see her now. She let me pet her while she meowed in a very concerned tone.
I went back to Petco to get suggestions from the APA rep. She suggested moving her to the bathroom as it's a smaller space. It would be easier to adjust to as opposed to the big open area of the living room/kitchen/bedroom. She also mentioned that if she still wasn't eating, try giving her Fancy Feast as it's basically kitty crack. As I skated back home, I didn't like the idea of picking her up by her scruff and moving her to the bathroom. In my mind, she was still in shock from the move, and I figured grabbing her would just freak her out more.

I arrived home, and she was no longer in the couch. In fact, she had disappeared. She was not under my bed or the dresser. I don't have much stuff...there's no place really to hide. I finally found her. She was behind the toilet...she'd already found her way to the bathroom without encouragement. Weird. I moved her food and the cat box into the bathroom as well as the cubby I bought her that was identical to the one she slept in at Petco. It took only a couple of hours in there for her to eat some and use the cat box. By the second evening, she was letting me pet her as long as I was sitting down. If I stood up, I apparently turned into a big scary monster.

By day three, she was tired of the bathroom and was ready to brave the great big outdoors, aka the apartment. She spent the majority of the time in her cubby, but she still found her way under the couch once the sun came up. I fixed that by removing the pegs so that the couch sat flat on the floor. Marla switched to just hiding behind the curtains and looking out the window at night.

Marla has made progress every day. During the day she sleeps in the cubby, occasionally giving a look if you HAVE to walk by and wake her. She is very active at night, especially when I get home between midnight and 1 am. She requires me to pet her quite a bit, and then I watch her eat. She used to meow just when she was distressed, but now it is very conversational, and it's a hesitating shy meow, and it's the most adorable sound in the whole damn world.

I do have an issue with her not letting me take her picture. I can only get pictures of her facing the opposite direction or in motion, like these:



Blurry demon-possessed face

Not turning around.

Maybe she wants me to not turn into someone who Instagrams every single thing she does. Maybe she's a diva. Maybe I have a phone she disapproves of, and she's aware that I should switch from Cricket to a different provider. Whatever the reason, it's fine. I'm just happy she really likes me now after being here a week. I've missed this feeling. I've missed being a cat owner.

If you're looking to adopt a pet, I highly recommend Austin Pets Alive!. They really care about their animals, their staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and they have a whole range of cats and dogs that need good homes. If you can't adopt, feel free to donate.

Thanks, Austin Pets Alive!, and thanks, Marla (APA name "Beth").

UPDATE: She has discovered the furniture. She jumped up on my bed twice last night to lie beside me, but as soon as I woke up and saw her, she meowed a cat expletive and ran off.

Also, she has claimed the chair as her own. Because of this, I was able to get a picture. Look how happy she is being photographed:

Good kitty.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Zen and the Art of Dishwashing

After being short handed at work for a while, two new faces appeared in the dishpit tonight. Well, one new face and one old old coworker was back after a multiple month hiatus. He jumped right back into the swing of things like he never left. The new kid was a dishwasher and bar back, and it was obvious that he had worked in busy establishments before. We were a machine tonight with a consistent hum of productive teamwork. Beautiful.

The new kid was excited and motivated to an almost creepy level. Do you remember in "Field of Dreams" when Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones are driving back to the farm, and they pick up Archie Graham as a kid? And he was cheery and upbeat about playing ball? That was this kid, seriously. "I just read this book called Dishwasher," he started.
"By Pete Jordan, yeah," I said.
"You've read it? Cool! A fellow dish dog!"
"Sure, kid. Whatever."
While it was off-putting, I found it to be a refreshing change.

We haven't been down an employee at work because of a managerial decision or because there was no ad placed. We've been looking. Pretty much the only qualification you needed to get a tryout in the dishpit was that you had to be breathing. Unfortunately, the revolving door of individuals that showed either left after one or two shifts or they were just breathers, not workers. One guy had told the chef, "Oh, I've washed dishes before." After seeing him in action, I can only assume he meant at home. The job I have is not one where you spray water on some plates, give a light scrub and send them through a machine at your leisure. "I've washed dishes" is like applying for a line cook position in a busy kitchen and saying in the interview, "Oh, I've made mac'n'cheese. I can work a microwave."

It's a hell of a gig that involves food prep in addition to all the lifting and speedy scrubbing/washing. You're on your own attempting to finish all the tasks that need to be completed while keeping up with dirty plates, bowls and cutlery that streams in constantly from the front of the house. It's a combination of planning out what you need to do in advance like chess moves while participating in a workout program.

Crossfit? Weight room? Not me...I have Dishfit! How do you think I keep this physique? Oh sure, you might say it's high metabolism, hereditary, smoking or past heroin addiction. All might be (are) true. But here's a fact: before Dishfit, I was a pudgy 145 pounds. Now, I'm a lean, cut (some say emaciated) 139 pounds! (Wow. I feel woozy. I should eat some ice cream or something. Be right back.)

If you follow the Dishfit program for just 8 to 10 hours a day, this could be you:

"Dishfit worked for me. Yay." - skinny dude

Here is just a sample of the equipment you will work with:

The squats and dead lift pot! (Get a spotter)

Racks for curls and triceps extension!

Your delts or your somethings get worked by constantly closing and opening this. 400 reps a day, easy.

Strengthen your fingers and grip for no real reason!

Cause massive damage to potatoes and leave your arms and shoulders sore as fuck!

These fill up and give your legs a work out! Or your back if you lift them wrong!

Dishfit. It's not just a way of life. It's...manual labor!

But I digress.

What I say onstage is that I am a dishwasher because I refuse to be a corporate slave and have my soul die slowly in a cubicle every day. I also wash dishes because I am a convicted felon. But more because of that corporate slave thingy. The reality is that I couldn't find another job after rehab because of the felony, among other things. For some reason, the ending scene of "Office Space" stuck in my head, which was where Peter was happy doing manual labor as opposed to being in a cloth-covered box. That along with "Fight Club" (both book and movie) led me in the direction of working in a kitchen. I wasn't a cook, so that left dishwashing. It felt right.

In "Layer Cake", a gangster explains why he enjoys disassembling and reassembling his guns as meditation. He says, "Meditation is concentrating the front of the mind with a mundane task so the rest of the mind can find peace." That is what my profession does for me. I turn off my phone, cut "the world" off, and do my work. For 8 hours or so, I am alone with my thoughts, or I work and think of absolutely nothing. And at the end of it all, I walk out with the slate in my head wiped as clean as the dishpit, machine and kitchen. There is something to doing a job where you see the results of your labor immediately and you can leave, satisfied. Hell, I leave, and it all stays behind. I don't take work home with me. It falls off my shoulders in the ten minutes it takes for me to skateboard home.

I can't have a day job. I can't do some dumb bullshit for money that I hate anymore. Not now that I finally get it, being a "dish dog" as Pete Jordan calls it. This is my profession. I don't do it for the money anymore...but I do need to pay for things so I suppose I'll take payment.

That's why I go back every night and why some of those other guys disappeared after one or two shifts. They just needed a job, and after attempting mine they needed an easier job. It's not for everybody. I hope the new kid tonight keeps up the enthusiasm. I know he wants to eventually move to bar back, but he's thrilled to be doing dish, and I've missed seeing that in any fashion in a coworker or potential coworker.

I was tempted a couple of weeks ago to ask management to let me post the ad on Craigslist, listing the description and job qualifications as I saw them. While it probably would not have generated the buzz I would want, I would be curious to see the replies.

Here is a typical dishwashing ad that I pulled up (not my work's ad, btw):

Looking for a reliable, hardworking individual with full availability. Must be responsible for your own transportation and be able to lift at least 50 lbs.  Duties include dish and pot washing, regular upkeep and maintenance, and deep cleaning. Must have a current food handler certification.


I think I would take it in a different direction:

Looking for an individual who seeks to transcend this materialistic and impersonal society. Searching for a potential employee who would like to have conventions, assumptions and perceptions destroyed swiftly so that they can rebuild physically, mentally and emotionally. Through the trials and tribulations of this daily labor, the preferable candidate can elevate their consciousness until their true self is revealed. This ideal person should be prepared for a life-changing ordeal, and they should have an open mind...and also a current food handler certification.

Too much?