But as I mentioned last fall, the dirty dishes in my life became quite literal when I took a barback position at Darling Coffee in Inwood (NYC). I became the resident dishwasher, holding down the kitchen sink five days a week.
Every day that I'm on shift, I wash thousands of plates, mugs, glasses, eating and cooking utensils, mixing bowls, pots and pans, cutting boards, plastic storage containers, sheet pans and bus bins. I also run the clean dishes back out to the baristas and bakers; I check and refill the paper towels and hand soap in the kitchen and bathroom; I regularly check on the milk stations, wiping them down and refilling empty carafes of milk and sugar dispensers; I sign in milk deliveries and keep the low boy fridges stocked; I carry up 50 lb bags of flour and sugar from the basement dry-storage room for the bakers; and I busy myself with a great assortment of other tasks that nobody else has the time or will to do.
With all this running around, I sometimes get behind on the dishes. It sure isn't easy to keep on top of everything! And just when I think I've got the hang of it, another task is added to my laundry list (oh, did I mention that I drop off and pickup loads at the laundromat on Tuesdays?)
About a month ago, things got all the more overwhelming when the afternoon barback shift was cut. I had admittedly grown rather lax on the morning shift, knowing that another barback would be arriving to pick up my slack through the store's closing; but without this help, I would have to have everything done by my shift's end. What's more, I was charged with yet another task - to prep the scone and galette mixes several times a week. This is a task that takes an especially inordinate amount of time. For the first few weeks that I did it, I fell very far behind on the dishes. There was just no way to keep up. I've become much more efficient at prepping the mixes, but it still sets me back significantly.
When I'm standing at the sink, rushing through the most rote and repetitive task of my day, I spend much time thinking. Planning. Making to-do lists that I forget by the shift's end. And sometimes I just meditate on the parallels between dishwashing and my real work - art, love, revolution.
I've learned much from all my experience at the kitchen sink and I'm yet transferring the applications to the metaphorical dishes. Perhaps it would be too much for me to expound on each of these, so I'll just let you infer the applications for yourself and to consider how they might relate to the work that you do, wherever it is that you find your kitchen sink.
- There are far more people - both customers and co-workers - dirtying the dishes than cleaning them. The dirty dishes are coming in much faster than the clean ones are going out.
- The towering piles of dishes can be quite daunting. There are just too many dirty dishes! At least, there are too many for only one person to handle. I need help and support from my co-workers.
- The baristas and bakers can help to lighten the load in many small ways, any time that things are slow. They can reduce their own dirty dish production by simply rinsing and reusing their tools, bowls, pots and pans. They can check on the milk stations and bring back the bus bins of dirty plates and mugs. They can pick up clean dishes on the dry rack and bring them to the front. All these quick and easy tasks are an enormous help to me.
- I shouldn't assume that my comrades will remember to do the above. Any time I need help or find myself falling behind, I just have to ask, knowing that they've got my back :)
- Better organization is needed in the kitchen. We could use more shelving for clean, dirty, and drying dishes. Just saying.
- I have my own unique purpose to fill: the dishes are mine to wash. But I can only do my best work in the time allotted, with the help of my friends and co-workers, to leave the kitchen in the best shape possible when I finally leave for the day.
- It still may be the case that there are dirty dishes left at the end of my shift. This is ok. Even if it's not a bar back shift, someone will surely come after me, to pick up where I've left off, to wash what's left of the dirty dishes.