As much as I make it a hard and fast rule to never use “I” in anything I write, that’s going out the window here. Sometimes you have to use "I" in the interest of full disclosure.
Thanks to countless hours spent in the dish pit at both high-end restaurants and assembly-line eateries, NEEDS’ video “Eat the Rich... People’s Leftovers” plays out like a blast from the past. Or, more accurately, my past.
I’ve done dishes at high-end restaurants where the tips were good, even for those stuck doing the grunt work. And I’ve worked at assembly-line barns where the waves of dishes were so endless, attempting to keep on top of things was futile. If there’s a hell, it probably looks a lot like the pit at Burnaby’s now-defunct Owl and the Oarsman.
“Eat the Rich... People’s Leftovers” serves a reminder that washing dishes is all about the process. To not have a system is to end up standing in the middle of a mountain of dirty plates, cups, and silverware that looks like the kitchen of the garbage people in The Walking Dead.
The video is also a reminder that as good as I was at washing dishes—mostly because I had a process—I also did things that I’m not proud of. In fact, looking back, what the flying fuck I was thinking? I sometimes ate off plates that came back from tables unfinished.
You might watch “Eat the Rich... People’s Leftovers” and wonder what kind of person chows down on the food of someone they’ve never met.
Take it from me, when a Kobe steak you’d never be able to afford in real life is cleared from a table only half-touched, you grab your knife and fork and go to town. Same with that three-quarters of a lobster tail or half a rack of rosemary-and-garlic-marinated lamb.
Accolades, then, to NEEDS for not only conveying the fine art of dishwashing in a completely realistic and relatable way, but also for faithfully re-creating the blowtorch intensity of Reagan-era hardcore at a time when punk’s basically on life-support.
After you’ve watched “Eat the Rich... People’s Leftovers” scroll down for an extended essay on dishwashing, courtesy of the band's website. Having been in the pit, I have to say that it reads like the work of someone who understands the job. In other words, I can relate—to the point where I had to, against my own rules, use “I” here to get this across.
eat the rich...people's leftovers
I’m moving faster than I’ve ever moved before. I’m by myself, usually there is two of us. I’m basically dancing. It’s fucking ballet. I’m ten feet above looking at myself wondering, how the fuck am I doing this right now? In the big picture, it’s nothing. Probably saving the restaurant 30 bucks. But to me it’s everything. It’s my stupid Taurian loyalty, my so-called protestant work ethic. It’s not something I could ever tell my children about; ‘I was the best dishwasher in Gastown son”. But I don’t care. I’m moving. My mind is on one thing only. Go fast. Be better.
A waiter is standing near my tiny dish window drinking probably very expensive wine. I try not to think about the fact they are making 12 times what I’m making. I chose this job. I own it. I own this space, or at least I tell myself that. “Clear the food! Clear the cutlery!”- they look at me perplexed like I’m some monster who is asking them to kill their own firstborn children. “It’s not fucking hard”. Ok that was too far.
A cook puts a pan next to me. “In the fucking sink! Same thing every night”. Now I really feel bad. Because they are on salary their wage works out to like 7 bucks an hour. I know I make more than them but, ‘hey, that’s the industry’ I think to myself. You hypocrite. OK. Take a breath. “Hydrate!” Someone yells. Oh right, I haven’t had a drink of water in hours. I’m so hungry I grab a piece of bread from the compost.
Back to it. Cutlery! You have 90 seconds to get it all sorted into a rack after it comes out. I feel like I’m Data putting the isolinear control chips back after being removed by the infected assistant chief engineer. Or like this quote from Bringing Out the Dead: “Thursday started out with a bang: a gunshot to the chest on a drug deal gone bad. Heat, humidity, moonlight-- all the elements in place for a long weekend. I was good at my job: there were periods when my hands moved with a speed and skill beyond me and my mind worked with a cool authority I had never known.”
The “pass” is full and I half to walk with a tray of glasses past some bussers who are chatting about something inane. “Behind” I yell aggressively. Sometimes they move out of the way, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they try too hard and jump backwards into me. It’s probably not a big deal to them if some glasses break, they break them all the time. But to me, I don’t know. It feels like each shard of glass stabs into my ribs. Is it PTSD? It feels deeply personal. I think about how much each glass costs. Why? It’s not my fucking restaurant.
It’s hard to explain. When people ask me what I do. I’m a dishwasher. Usually, their response is, “well, you want to be a cook right”? Or, “that’s also an important job”. Or, “yeah, but you do other stuff too, right?” I wish it could say it’s just a means to some ill-defined and vague end, but it’s really not. It means everything to me. To be good. “To be of use. Like a horseshoe”. To be needed.
It’s why the cooks are working these ridiculous hours for almost nothing. It’s honour. It’s a classroom. It’s fun. Oh man, when it’s fun, it’s so fucking fun! I make a list of all the inside jokes and songs and weird sayings and memes and I read them out loud every year at the Christmas party. “4 more years!” “There's a war going on get your head out of your ass!” “ Remember that perfect pick up on May 13th at 7:43”. “Good at cooking, terrible at life”. “Remember when Ciaran left in an ambulance”.
Yeah, we laugh that one of our sous chefs was taken out in an ambulance. Now, ok, this isn’t meant to be kitchen confidential, but fuck. How can such a passionate and dedicated group of people be so completely exploited? Or is that just pure naivety? Of course, only those who are passionate at creating things get exploited. Is a CEO passionate about anything? Honest question.
I remember someone on twitter saying “Communism would be if like all the servers were forced to share their tips evenly. Like, ok that sounds like a great idea but also, wrong. Communism would be if everyone shared in the profits of the entire restaurant. But we can’t have that. We need division. We need resentment. If we’re all pointing fingers at each other we’re not pointing fingers at the system.
It’s that old anecdote about the cookie. A CEO, a reactionary conservative and public employee sit at a table, with 12 cookies on a plate. The CEO grabs 11 cookies and tells the conservative, “You better watch him. He wants your cookie.” Now expand that to gender. To race. To orientation. To ability. To religion. Meanwhile, the elites laugh all the way to their offshore tax haven.
Invade the Hamptons.