Okay, checklist: 1. Duffle bag – check. 2. Various seasonings and spices – check. 3. Towels, plastic-ware, small frying pan, crock pot – check. 4. Butcher knife – . . . . Nope. 5. Losing my shit – Already there.
I’m hot-footing it to the restaurant; I’m 20 minutes late. I approach the pale yellow building, upstairs are 3 more floors with numerous studio apartments filled with college kids; pissing away their daddy’s checks and getting a free education on top of it. Little shits. Behind the restaurant is a parking lot filled with potential DUIs. It’s Monday night and it’s packed. Attached to the back door of the is a 8×5 wooden enclosure infamously known as “The Honeycomb Hideout” where all the cooks prepare for a long night. I’m quaking right now and I have a 8 hour shift ahead of me. I open the door to the hideout and the usual suspects are there: Norm, D, Beezer, Damian and McIntyre. They’re passing around a fat one and the smoke hits me like a wall.
“What’s up, Flaco?” Norm greets me.
I don’t answer. A flurry of images comes to my head of blood, gun-smoke, Chinese food, bullet-riddled carcasses and a hulking man handing me a wad of cash. I want to explode like a rocket but I keep my mouth shut and try to keep my nerves in check. I don’t smoke pot, so naturally . . .
“Can I get a hit?” I ask Beezer as he takes his turn.
They all look at me strangely, then at each other. Beezer extends the joint to me and I take it with a trembling hand. The end of the joint is a rising, steady, graceful, beautiful stream of grey smoke and the semi-sour aroma fills me. I bring my hand up to take a hit and hold it in for almost 1.5 seconds and then immediately hack up both lungs. I coughed so fucking loud the guys started panicking.
“Hey! Shut the fuck up! Cops come around here all the time!” Norm hisses
“Dude, holy shit!” D says
Saliva dribbles from my mouth as I try to not have a heart-attack. Jillian, a waitress, sticks her head out of the back door a bit.
“What the hell are you guys doing out here? We can totally fucking hear you!” venom spitting from her
The guys are speechless and weakly point at me as I still stand doubled over hacking like there’s no tomorrow.
“Seriously guys. Every day?” she said rolling her eyes.
The group all regains their composure and fling at me a look of the utmost contempt. As I fight to clear the phlegm out of my chest, they re-enter the door into the kitchen. I stay to try and not feel the first effects of the dope. It doesn’t work.
In a kitchen, you work with all kinds of things that can maim you: Razor-sharp knives, boiling grease and water, meat grinders, red hot grills and surfaces. I’ve cut myself 3 times working in that place: twice on my left knuckle and the severing the right tip of my left index finger . . . when I was sober! Needless to say, smoking weed before going into a kitchen is a bad idea. My head swam as I slugged back to the changing room to put on my white uniform. Eight hours and the most inebriating buzz I’ve ever had lay before me. I jogged on.
A kitchen’s lights are always blinding, especially if your eyes are ¼ mast. The first hour wasn’t too bad. I guzzled water to keep my parched mouth damp as I rode the wave of reefer stupor. A few early diners came in for the ½ off rib-eyes. Pitchers were $1. Imported bottles $3. Mixed drinks $2. Wine $5. Cristal was $150. We rolled on at 56% effort.
9pm came like a tsunami. We buckled at its fury. Food orders and waiter trays littered our windows and stoned cooks bumped into each other at random. We clumsily tried to rush from station to station, grill to flat-top trying to get the orders out. Our manager eyed us suspiciously since the week before he told us he would write up anyone showing up to work drunk or high. The wait staff smirked at us all night. We put a wager that they wagered on which one of us would get written up first.
9:30 pm visited us and the wave of customers still poured in. By that time, I couldn’t see straight. My manager later told me I went into the walk-in fridge 6 times and each time I re-emerged with nothing but a blank look on my face.
I forgot how to make a grilled cheese. I consumed more fries and bacon than is humanly possible. My bottom lip felt like it weighed fifty pounds. And yet, people still expected us to cook for them.
10 pm came. Thankfully, more appetizers went out than actual entrees. Jillian, feeling sorry for my condition said, “Smoke more, weed, Flaco. Seriously.” She’s such a sweetheart.
I stared at her wishing I could just get the fuck out of there. McIntyre approached extending a beer to me.
“Hey, can you clean the deep-fryer tonight?”
Bribing me with hops and grain combined with carbonated water. Sure, why not?
“Yeah, I got it.” I said taking the beer.
“We’re going to smoke. You wanna burn one?”
As he said it, I saw my manager leave via the Honeycomb Hideout wearing a blue windbreaker and clutching a briefcase in his right hand. I could easily partake again, but I barely had a grasp on this dimension.
“No thanks, I’m good.”
McIntyre chuckled, “No shit, man. We thought you were gonna die out there.”
“Yeah, well.” and couldn’t think of a witty comeback to that.
He jokingly punched me in the right shoulder and went out with the others. I manned the kitchen . . . alone. I stood in the exact same spot for what felt like to me only a few seconds. Christine, another waitress, came up to me.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Huh?” I said snapping out of my funk
“You’ve been standing there for like, ten minutes. I put an order in your window.”
I looked and saw the little rectangular, white piece of paper laying there under the heat lamps.
“Your eyes are really blood shot” she said half-scolding
I ignored her and put the order of vegetarian manicotti in the oven. My face, my posture radiated embarrassment. I have never worked buzzed except the one time I did a shot of Wild Turkey during a particularly brutal shift the year before. I looked to the wait staff area and a few of the waitresses gathered to gauge my toxicity level. Jillian commented on something which made them all looked at me and giggle mockingly over their shoulders. Trying to look cool and pretending to be busy I turned to the walk-in fridge and tried to push the door open. After several failed attempts where I looked like a caveman trying to figure out what to do with a stick I realized I had to pull, not push. The girls laughed mercilessly at me as I hung my head in shame entering the cold confines of the fridge. I’d probably have to kill myself after tonight.
After tonight, oh god. The weed had done its job entirely too well because I forgot my appointment at the Mountain-man’s place. I pulled out the money he gave me. Scribbled on the C-note in black ink, it read:
823 Baker – 2 pm
Normally having that much money in my hand made me happy. But flecks of blood dotted the green paper, Mack’s blood.
“Hey!” Romulus, another waiter, said as he barged into the walk-in. “Something’s burning out here!”
I jumped out to see black smoke rising from the oven and D rushing towards it. He opened the oven door and a waft of the black stuff vomited from inside.
“Dude, what the hell?” he choked.
“I’m sorry, man” I said trying not to lose it
“You know it’s only supposed to be in the oven for ten minutes.”
Ten minutes? I wasn’t in the fridge more than a few seconds. I’m never doing this stuff again.
I reached inside the oven to pull out the small ceramic boat and instantly burned my hand forgetting the oven had been baking at 350 degrees. Yanking my hand from the oven I hit the roof of it and burnt the top, as well.
“Dude, what the fuck are you doing?” He exclaimed.
“Jesus, Flaco!” Romulus said.
I stood gripping my hand, my face burning with immense pain. D and Romulus stood motionless looking at me deeply disturbed at what they witnessed. I rushed over the dish station and turned on the cold water and thrust my hand under the sprayer. It helped at first, but the burning arose from deep inside the lower layers of skin. I couldn’t look at my hand; I was too busy trying not to weep. Ann-Marie, another waitress with a bob-cut, came up to me.
“Are you okay?” she said looking very worried.
I could only nod my head as tears trickled down my face. By that time, a few more of the wait staff along with D and Romulus gathered around me. Norm, Damian, Beezer and McIntyre emerged from the Honeycomb Hideout, weed smoke rising from them like a fog. They noticed the crowd around me and joined the melee.
“What’s going on?” Norm asked
“Dude, Flaco totally burned the fuck out of his hand!” D said almost hysterical
“What?” Damian said
“How did you do that?” Beezer asked
D and Romulus looked at each other at first concerned and then slightly amused.
“He reached in the oven to grab a boat” D said
“Yeah so?” Norm said
They looked at him puzzled.
“You mean with his hand?” said Norm
D nodded smirking slightly.
“Oh shit” Norm said hushed
Damian and Beezer looked at me in astonishment.
“Are you okay, Flaco?” Beezer asked
“Mm-hmm” I managed weakly.
“What’s your hand look like? Is it bad?” Ann-Marie asked
“I don’t know.” I said
Slowly I turned my hand over; the endless sound of high-pressured water hitting stainless steel in my ears. My hand was redder than my eyes. The tips of all five of my fingers were white, skin still intact but puffy along with a two inch portion of my upper palm closest to my index finger. A football-shaped burn lay horizontally across, just below the knuckles, where I hit it on the roof of the oven. Seeing the condition of my hand made the pain increase as I grunted suddenly and loudly. I felt dizzy and wanted to vomit; the second time that day.
“Shit, should he go to a hospital?” Ann-Marie asked the crowd
“Dude, it doesn’t look too bad” D said
“Are you fucking kidding? Look at it!” Norm said
“What about my order?” Christine asked
“Forget your fucking order! He just burned himself!” Romulus spat
“Where is the first aid kit?” Ann-Marie asked
“It’s in the back.” Norm said heading off to grab it.
“You need to sit down?” Beezer asked
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.” I said hoarsely
They took me in the back to the morning prep station; an area of 15×4 with a long stainless steel table against the wall and a chair next to it. I slumped in it as Norm re-emerged with the small white box with the red -cross emblazoned in the center. They took great care of me as the effects of the herb refused to go away; the sudden rush of blood to my head magnified the buzz tenfold. They wrapped about three rolls of gauze around my hand.
I sat there for another hour feeling relieved that the kitchen was closing and I could just go home and forget this day when the back door opened again. Our manager walked through it and stopped suddenly as he spotted me.
“What’s going on?” he said
I raised my right hand showing my partial-mummification.
“How’d ya do that?”
“Just an accident.” I said
“Are you alright?” he asked
“Yeah, I’m okay”
“Good, well get back on the line. We’re getting another rush.” He said walking past me.
Fucker. What the hell was he doing back anyway? Doesn’t he have a bevy of nuns to sell into slavery?
I drag myself from the chair and try to raise myself on my right hand forgetting it’s the injured one and stagger backwards against the wall. I slam against it and curse myself through my teeth. Son of a bitch is what I say in case you’re curious. I don’t need this shit right now because I’m stoned, my hand throbs, I want to grab the first person I see by the shoulders and spill my guts about what I witnessed earlier. And I’m slightly horny, too. Nothing can be done about that since my girlfriend is wrapped in bandages.
Sluggishly, I make my way behind the line again. My fellow cooks all give me worried looks on the way.
“Hey, you okay, man?” Norm asks
I nod sheepishly as I grab an order sitting in the window.
“Why don’t you just go home?” he says
“Because Bob just came back and told me to get behind the line again. I guess another rush is coming.”
“What?” he said surprised. “We’re closing now!”
The other cooks all dart their heads in our direction and gather around us and exchange infuriated glances with each other. The one thing any line cook or waiter/waitress loathes is a straggler: People who decide that they’re hungry two minutes before the doors lock and foolishly believe “The customer is always right”. Unbeknownst to many stragglers are the disgusting bodily fluids, grains of dirt and grime and copious amounts of pork grease that are slathered on outgoing dishes for their impertinence.
The most hated man in the kitchen as of two seconds ago, Bob, comes to us; stinking of pompousness
“Hey, some friends of mine are coming in to grab a bite. They’re just getting back from a Rocky Horror party so I’d appreciate it if you did this for me and stick around. Okay?”
And with that he turned on his heel and headed back out the door via the Honeycomb Hideout. If we weren’t already stoned, we look stoned as our mouths were agape and our features sagged.
“That fucking asshole” McIntyre hisses.
“He could have at least bought us some beers.” Beezer says.
We chuckle at the thought because he’s a cheap bastard. Norm goes to the wait staff station and talks to Jillian for a moment and comes back.
“Jillian says they’re still ordering drinks so it might be a while before the orders come in.”
“Should we smoke?” Damian asks
They all mutter in agreement but me. Smoking is the reason my hand is bandaged.
“I’m going to clean out the deep fryer now” I mumble
They all exit and within seconds marijuana smoke wafts from outside and various coughing is heard in different pitches.
Cleaning the deep fryer is the shittiest job in the kitchen. First, you grab a giant metal pot used to make soups. It weighs a ton and is awkward as hell to carry, especially filled with hot grease. Second, you drain all of the grease out of the fryer which takes forever and it never drains completely so you waste several minutes scraping the bottom with the only thing that will fit: a long, slender stainless steel rod that heats up almost quickly as the grease so you’re forced to take several breaks and wait for it to cool down. And third, dragging the pot outside, down the alley about 20 feet and around the corner another 30 feet to the grease trap at the end of another alley at which point you open the trap that emits an awful stench that peels paint. After that, you attempt to lift the pot over the chest because it’s raised almost 5 feet off of the ground. Then you try not to burn yourself pouring the grease into an 8 inch by 8 inch hole by lifting it and slowly pouring the contents all the while trying not to burn yourself.
“Order in” Jillian says as she places the white paper in my window
Sighing I take it because that means I can’t drain the deep fryer yet. So I look at the order: BURGER – CHEDDAR – BACON
I throw a burger patty on the grill and it doesn’t sizzle immediately as usual. Checking the gas burner I see one of them is out. I take out a match, strike it and lean in to light it.
“Hey Flaco, I forgot to put on there they want it medium-well”
I turn to acknowledge her and the match slips from my fingers and into the deep fryer.
It reacts angrily with a deafening “FOOM!!” and I scream like an eight-year old girl as I jump from the fryer; my face almost being burned off. Still dazed I hear the back door fly open and the guys run in. I’m leaning against the sandwich station, panting heavily with eyes as wide as saucers. Jillian stares at me for a moment but commences with laughing hysterically. Norm rushes for the fire extinguisher and puts out the potential inferno. They’re all looking at me with eyes as wide as mine. D says,
“Dude, you look like you just saw God.”
I decided to go home.