Tuesday, July 19, 2011

All My Relations – Christopher McIlroy




Back in one of my other lives, I worked in a restaurant.

Before I began my work at the restaurant, I worked in a liquor store. I restocked the shelves, hauled cases of beer to cars, and from time to time, towards the end of my shift, I’d pound a couple of beers and do a couple quick shots of vodka from the airplane bottles we sold.

I wasn’t worried about getting caught because everything smelled like booze, and the work was mindless…so if I was a little buzzed…no one could tell.

We’d close the store around 11 and I’d peddle my bike home.

So, the restaurant.

I saw the help wanted sign hanging in the window one day as I was once again doing something mindless for the liquor store.

I wandered over during a break and inquired about the position.

Dishwasher.

Cool – another mindless job that could net me some extra cash. I applied and was hired.

A bit over qualified…but…well…whatever.

I worked out a schedule with the liquor store and the restaurant so I could have hours at both places.

I was tired at the end of the day, but I was working off some demons.

The dishes came back in bus-boy bins stacked high with slop. I’d scrape off the remaining food…at least the big chunks, and give the dishes a quick shot with the shower hose before loading them into the automatic dishwasher. I’d fall into a trance and became very efficient.

The owner of the restaurant saw that I had the potential of handling something a bit more challenging than dishwashing so he allowed me to train as a waiter.

His vision was flawed because I sucked as a waiter and I hated it.

Back to the dishwashing. My comfort zone.

An added bonus to being a dishwasher is that there was plenty of half empty bottles of wine that made their way back to my station. There was no way I was going to let some fine wine be poured down the drain! I developed quite the palate for grapes.

After working for several months, the restaurant changed ownership and with the new owners came a new chef and new ideas. The staff was pretty fortunate and a good percentage of us were asked to stay on as help. Once again, the owner/chef saw that there may be some potential in me and he moved me out of the dishwashing station and into the kitchen proper.

In my new position as a pastry chef/baker/cold app. Prep cook, I finally found success.

There was a new interest in the culinary world, and the whole “fusion cuisine” movement was hot. I was making homemade Burnt Sugar ice cream, Jagermeister ice cream, Ginger Thyme Crème-Brule, chocolate mousses, sugar cages, savory breads…it was quite the experience and I was very successful…as was the restaurant.

Moving me away from the dishwashing station left a hole. The chef hired a guy to fill my space. His name was Mike and because we already had a Mike (line chef), this second Mike became known as “Black Mike”.

Anything goes in the kitchen.

Black Mike has the cloudy bloodshot eyes of a crack smoker and hard-core drinker. He was small of frame and his body lacked any sort of muscle definition. He had a soft voice and wore a constant smile. He held a pack of Newport’s firmly in his hand.

I watched Black Mike as he worked, and I saw him develop a taste for the grape as I once did.

I respected that. In a demented sort of way.

I liked Black Mike. He was…what you saw. All he wanted to do was wash dishes and get buzzed. Again, I respected that. The honesty.

Friday and Saturday nights were long shifts in the restaurant.

Around 1030 as the last tables were being seated, I’d give $4 to Black Mike and tell him to head over to my old liquor store to buy some “two-fors”. For one dollar you could buy two 16 oz. cans of Natural Light Ice. So for $4 you could get 8 – 16 oz cans.

I’d give Black Mike 4 of those cans for his shipping and handling charges and because…well…he was a nice guy and just wanted to get a buzz.

I really enjoyed working at the restaurant and I learned so much there. I learned about life, and the thought that many people have, where they believe that everyone should spend part of their life working in a restaurant, is true.

It’s hard-core and will transform your so many of your thoughts on so many of your dearly held opinions.

I left the restaurant one afternoon after I caught the chef shooting heroin in the kitchen.

That was a bit much for me.

I left my stack of CD’s and my recipe book (one of the worst mistakes I ever made…leaving the recipe book).

I don’t know what ever happened to Black Mike. I can’t image anything good. The booze or crack probably caught up with him. He was just another shadow passing through my life.

I remember the last night I worked with Black Mike and it’s a nice image that I’ll hold onto of him.

He had just returned from the beer run. He dropped four beers off at my station, he then scampered over to his station, and we both cracked our beers at the same time, lifting them towards each other and nodding our heads, saluting the buzz we were about to mutually slip into.

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