Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nurse the Hate: Hate Casa Lupita

I never had one of those rite of passage jobs at a fast food restaurant or car wash.  My first job was much worse.  I was 17 and needed to make money for my upcoming freshman year of college.  I had just moved to Columbus OH with my family, and I knew absolutely no one.  Most of my high school friends had scored jobs based on connections from their parents.  "Neighborhood pool lifeguard" is a job where the main requirements appeared to be yelling at pre-teen boys with threats like "Do you want to be out of the water for 30 minutes?" and discreetly ignoring the flirtations of 14 year old girls while twirling a whistle in the sun.  Start time 11am and done at 6p, it was the Holy Grail of summer jobs for a 17 year old with absolutely no experience or skills.  

My father was in sales and yet appeared to know absolutely no one.  It was perplexing really.  I don't know how he accomplished such a feat.  While all my other friends became sun drenched lifeguards thanks to back channel phone calls, I was advised to scour the want ads.  The want ads is no place to get a job.  In Columbus OH at this time the following jobs existed for someone with no skills:  Fast Food, Car Wash, Shifty Door-to-Door sales jobs, and restaurant work.  I had decided that fast food was well below my social standing.  I don't know who the fuck I thought I was that any job whatsoever was below me, but I remember my biggest aversion to the job was looking uncool in a polyester uniform.  In retrospect, I think I made the right call.   I'm glad a photo of me in a horrific mid-80s Burger King uniform isn't floating around out there. 

As the pressure mounted for me to find employment, I began to "expand my search" into areas that I would not have considered just days earlier.  I went to an interview to work at a traveling carnival where I was offered something "on the midway" and a summer of low rent adventure in America's heartland.  I was a complete Rube, yet even I knew that had I taken this job it would have been life changing.  I would now be serially unemployed with a painfully amateur prison style Iron Maiden tattoo on my shoulder, my rusty Chevy Nova as the unreliable transportation to pick up my various children I had fathered around the Midwest with bubblegum chewing girls that smelled like cheap perfume, menthol cigarettes, butter and vomit.  There aren't many success stories that begin with "In my twenties I finally said goodbye to my friends at the Rinky Dink Carnival Company, stopped smoking so much pot, got a haircut, and enrolled in community college."  No, the Carnival life was not the first step to a bright future...

I had a very confusing interview with a guy in an office building where he wanted me to sell knives door-to-door to my non-existent social circle with a combination of can sawing showmanship and implied expertise in the finer points of kitchen cutlery.  This seemed a stretch for a 17 year old punk.  The crippling initial outlay for my own demo knife set rang an alarm bell that this was some sort of suburban scam.  It appeared the only way anyone would buy one of these knife sets was to gain access to the exciting world of being a Knife Salesman.  I did not see a long profitable future for myself in the "Knife Game".  I politely passed on the very insistent man's high pressure close on me.

I finally pulled the trigger on what was to be the worst job I ever had, dishwasher at the Chi-Chi's knockoff chain "Casa Lupita".  Though I had taken two years of Spanish in high school, I was unable to recall in the high pressure interview process that "Casa Lupita" literally translated to "House of Plates With Burned Cheese".  Had I bothered to look that up, I probably would have continued my job quest elsewhere in Capital City.  I think I was so stunned that someone wanted to hire me that the actual job responsibilities were of no consequence.  On their end, they must have been equally surprised to find someone that wasn't a felon that was willing to work in what was openly considered the absolute worst job in the local food industry.  There is no worse job in the restaurant world than dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant.  At the time, there were no actual Mexicans in Columbus, so a steady stream of vagrants (and me) were needed to show up to scrub plates until they realized homelessness was better than Casa Lupita.  

Allow me to take you in the back of Casa Lupita.  A never ending cascade of plates came back to me, each one with cheese melted on to the point where a sandblaster was needed to scrub each one prior to placing it in the plastic industrial tray for the washer.  Every item on the Casa Lupita menu of delights was tossed into the broiler to allow a film of cheese to melt on and cling to everything.  This meant trouble for me.  As the nuclear washing machine exploded into action, I would vainly try to catch up on the ever mounting tower of dirty plates and pans.  It was an impossible situation made worse by the fact that I would burn my hands every single time I removed the heavy tray of plates from the machine, and then have to lift them over my head to a waiting rack.  On weekends I would have a helper, a mentally challenged young man with a wispy mustache named Dennis.  Dennis described himself as "a rocker" and appeared to exclusively listen to Quiet Riot's "Mental Health" cassette, which I heard over and over and over as we labored in the hellish conditions.  Even now if I hear "Slick Black Cadillac" I think of the grim prospect of cleaning an enormous pot of black refried beans with the bottom an unmoving layer of burnt sludge.  It was the worst job of all time.

I remembered the one Saturday night when I was scheduled alone, a suicide mission.  There was no way possible one person could turn the volume of dirty dishes that were dumped around me.  In the culture of the kitchen the dishwasher is on the absolute bottom of the totem pole.  The angry cooks on the line regard dishwashers as cannon fodder.  The servers, the mercurial upper class, would wisk in to complain about the busboys, who would then drop all the filth into the dishwasher's area as some sort of payback to the hated servers.  This meant everyone in that restaurant hated me on principal.  I don't recall anyone even being cordial.  That Saturday night I was there until 130am, my waterlogged bleeding hands criss crossed with open wounds.  My back ached from the constant bending and lifting.  I was making $3.65 an hour.  After taxes, I figured I cleared $20 to spend eight hours doing something I hated with people that were assholes to me.  It was not an ideal situation.

My career in the burgeoning dishwashing industry concluded the next day when I received a call from an earlier application for a cook's job at Schmidt's Sausage Haus.  They were obviously impressed by my 21-36 days of experience at Casa Lupita.  I was now a seasoned restaurant professional, one clearly ready to prepare delicious meals for diners at a German restaurant.  I was hired on the strength of a five minute phone interview.  I don't know what I told them.  "Yes, I am definitely qualified for your line cook position.  I have cooked grilled cheese sandwiches and cans of soup for many years."  It really tells you how thin the potential labor pool is out there.  I think I had to return my Casa Lupita visor and polo shirt as the only real ceremonial passing of the torch.  They sent me my little check in the mail.  I was going places now.  I didn't know it at the time, but I was about to go from "My Worst Job Ever" to "My Second Worst Job".    



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home