I’ve done a lot of jobs. I’ve worked in factories, job shops and kitchens. The factories were usually desperation moves to pay rent that ended up with me being fired. Job shops were smaller versions of factories but they paid less, were non-union and the owner was often hands-on. The work in both places was dirty, noisy and usually performed in a mist of cutting oil. People that work in factories are aware of the fact they have a union and potential for promotion. They also have a chance to get mired into management spats, petulant foremen who really believe they deserve promotion, after all their brother-in-law promised, and there’s the manager they’re supposed to replace. Either he’s happy where he is or has as Peter once stated “Reached the level of his incompetence.” In job shops the level of talent is usually higher and there are specialists who do jobs outsourced by larger companies. Most of the jobs aren’t real money makers and they’re passed off to the peons. The peons don’t get rich. The reason a lot of them are in job shops is that they’ve worn out their welcome at the big companies but still have marketable skills. I was one of the later. I went through every job shop in the immediate area. It was time for a change. The VA vocationally rehabilitated me.
I was sent to a community college to learn Food Service Management. Running a kitchen. I got hijacked out and into Culinary Arts with a semester to graduation. It seems my cooking skills were far better than my management skills. This was brought out when various scenarios were presented of employees violating the rule or the spirit of the rules. My standard response was “Fire the b***ards.” Cooking allowed me to be creative and hide in the kitchen. In FSM the class took a bow after every meal they prepared, I stayed in the kitchen cleaning and doing dishes. I wasn’t shy I wanted to get out as early as possible. They took my NY Giants cap out to applause and for the last class they came into the kitchen. Looking back it was a kind of perverted egoism. “Don’t look at me. Don’t applaud my work. But notice I’m not in the group.” For work study I was hired to run the kitchen in an Italian restaurant that was opening. There were two bona fide psychos involved with this: My instructor who recommended me and the owner. I learned on the job having BS’ed my way in. The money was good. I got paid by check, an important point cash payment is a sign the owners are evading unemployment taxes. The important part came after work, I found a bar, frequented by chefs and kitchen staff. There was gossip and information passed around. I learned how to disarm my boss. Make friends with his mother. He terrorized his employees but she put the fear of God into him. I did and my life improved. She even suggested that he give me a raise. When September came I had to make a decision, work and grow with the restaurant or go back to school. I hadn’t put the money work vs. education thing together yet. I still thought if you did a job you loved you never worked a day in your life.
After school I went to work for Artie the biker company chef for a local steakhouse chain. My first job was for Madeline. She was the companies’ hired gun. When a store was underperforming, she went in shook things up and set things right. I came in the middle of one of her purges. The chef was halfway out the door and didn’t know it and the wait staff was training their replacements. I hung in. I learned to broil steaks and prep food. I learned to use items that weren’t selling in new and different ways. I lasted about six months. Sex reared its not so ugly head. I’d been commuting between work and a semi-girlfriend, actually a pre-friend with benefits. She and a previous psycho learned of an opening in a rock club that served food. The money was descent and there was not a lot of work. I had to make runs to the local fishmonger because we never ordered enough to require a delivery. The F w/ B recommended I go back to school. It seemed like a good idea. There were the benefits and they were closer and I could stay over. I worked and partied. I collected benefits. One day at school she told me she was in love with me. I got serious. There were hassles. She worked for a caterer, one maybe two days a week. The people at work were getting strange. a bartender got religion and decided that the only way to salvation was to become a conduit to the boss. I got fired along with my waitresses.
Artie took me back. At the company’s main store. We did 150 dinners weeknights not counting sick freaks who went to a steakhouse and ate salad. Friday and Saturday were zoos. 500 to 600 covers a night. The girlfriend was happy or so I thought. Her mom planned a move to Florida. We moved into her house and I watched the relationship deteriorate. I moved out. I was in love and my heart, ego and manhood were trashed. The wait staff helped me along platonically. I found an apartment and after a while I told Artie I quit.
I got a job in a country club. If you’re a sane and adaptable cook, this is a good move. I was none of the above. First, I had to drive by the house my former girlfriend and I shared. Second, the customers were unbelievably picky. One woman had to have her chicken salad made to order because she didn’t like the “strings” in the celery. Third, I was a cook. I was washing dishes, mopping floors and what made me snap taking orders from two fifteen year-od bimbos who did light lifting in the kitchen. Their fathers decided they needed to “work” and a place where a complaint about the treatment of their daughters could get the chef fired. They knew it and so did everybody else. I left after shredding in the chef’s office. She was a good soul. She said she’d see if she could do something for me. I thought “Yeah right”. Two days later she called. There was a job at a café. It was light lifting and the money was good. All I had to do was convince the chef. I did. He heard everything. He’d been through it. I worked there a year. It was like a nest. My paycheck was an afterthought. I moved again. Back to my home town. Eventually I healed. The chef and I talked about frustration. He could see I was ambitious. There was no place for me to move.
I went back to work for Artie. He was spending a lot of time at the store I was at. The chef was as usual on his way out, big management had Artie on semi-thin ice, the store manager was having an affair with the district manager and not quite keeping it a secret. (I suspect Artie had pictures). I lasted six months. I got a lay off slip and collected. Somebody told me there was a new place opening downtown. By this time my car was null and void and I took the bus everywhere. I made a reasonable amount of money catering stag parties. The money was good and the people that threw it usually let you take home any food that hadn’t been cooked.
When I went for the interview after reading my application the owners seemed to know me. They looked familiar. I went to high school with them. (An aside: Never work for friends or relatives. They will think that you don’t put in enough hours for the money and you’ll begin to believe that they aren’t giving you enough money for the hours they expect.) I took the job. The location sucked, there had been at least three place there before and they all folded. During the first meeting the word “concept” was used. I hate that word. It means to me that they really don’t have a concrete vision. They’re hoping Mom’s. Gramma’s and Aunt Eleanor’s recipes are going to be big sellers because they like them. The chef got laid off first, I trained the dishwasher to cook sandwiches and collected my slip. The place shuttered five months later.
I didn’t hurt after my lay off I was notified that the government owed me money. When I totaled up the figures, I retired. The last restaurant might make it in as a story in this sequence.
See you tomorrow.