I’ve been working in a dormitory cafeteria since autumn, because I figured the job would be a useful source of free food and because I couldn’t really find any other job that was conveniently close to the house I live in. But I need to quit this dumb job.
I’ve done the math and determined that a hobo leisurely procuring tin cans from a trash bin at the rate of one per minute would make about as much as I do, with about two to three times the dignity. I’m normally working in the dish room, which is a terrible place to work. Before students are finished with their trays of food, they are usually inclined to drench their uneaten mashed potatoes with Poweraid, or fill their glasses with pudding. I expected this sort of vulgarity before getting the job, and I was prepared for it. The way I prepared for it was to vow to not take my job seriously, and to simply do the work required of me with little concern for maintaining the sort of enthusiasm that is required for actual jobs.
For example, recently when I was sorting some clean silverware, I decided to sit down on the table. I figured that this would alleviate the strain on my feet and provide me with a more positive atmosphere with which to sort the forks and spoons. But the student dish lead, who is a good year younger than I am, said to me, “Hey, don’t sit down. It’s not very professional.” Perhaps he doesn’t realize that I’m not a professional fucking dish washer. Not one to argue, I did as this guy said, and stood up. But I no longer sorted the silverware with my usual majestic flourishes.
The radio in the dish room is the source of great crisis. Normally it is tuned to a hip-hop and R&B station, which I object to for many reasons. For one, their play list is an extensive collection of thirty songs that are repeated over and over again. For another, over the muffling sounds of the dish machine and the garbage disposal, the music sounds like somebody is listening to a car stereo two blocks away, which in the case of hip-hop means that we are treated to a lame five-second loop of a distant-sounding drum beat. In the case of R&B it means we can enjoy hearing what sounds like female singers practicing their scales in an apartment next door while breaking up with their boyfriends. Another reason that I dislike this station is because there’s been terribly little innovation in mainstream hip-hop in about a decade. Listening to this music in the club or at a party is OK. I enjoy listening to the song “everybody in the club’s getting tipsy” when I’m, I don’t know, in a goddamned club getting tipsy. When I’m in a dish room getting dirty, however, it just makes me really depressed to hear these guys describing what a great time they’re having in the club. These sorts of songs also sometimes make me feel inadequate about the technique and general quality of my milkshake.
When I arrive at work everyday a calculated five minutes late, I always turn the radio to the Impact, a campus radio station which plays a wide variety of indie rock, alternative, and hip-hop, both old and new, with no commercial interruptions. I turn it to this station only after verifying with everybody else in the room whether or not they would mind if I switched to it. Nobody ever does, until somebody called Joe arrives an hour later. When he arrives, he always switches it back to the hip-hop station, relying solely on his psychic powers to ask for other people’s approval. What ensues between me and him is an extraordinary, unspoken radio-tuning war, in which we casually switch the radio back to our chosen station whenever the other person is out of earshot.
I don’t necessarily mind this battle, but the problem is that Monday’s dish lead, the magical student who leads all of us on a fantastic march to the land of clean dishes, also prefers the hip-hop station. So today after turning the radio to the Impact, I saw Joe walk over to the dish leader, his ally, and say something, which was clearly about turning the radio back to the hip-hop station.
After the dish lead turned the radio back to the hip-hop station, I approached the dish leader and asked, “Hey, did Joe object to you about me switching to the Impact?”
He tells me, “Hmm? No.”
I say, “Because when I originally turned to it, I’d asked everyone if they minded and they said no.”
He says, “Well three people have approached me to object.” Discounting the two people who apparently live inside this guy’s head, I think he meant that Joe had approached him, which I already knew had happened because I saw it happened, even though the dish leader denied it. Maybe the dish leader was protecting Joe’s confidentiality by splitting him into three imaginary people, but the clever rouse didn’t work because nobody else had approached him all day about anything. Then he’s all, “The radio station is sort of normally up to the dish lead so, uh, yeah. Can’t help you.” Awesome way to lead those dishes, man.
Another thing this dish leader likes to do is to instigate playful water-soaking wars with some of the other workers. They’ll throw around gloves filled with water, or spray one another with hoses, like a bunch of hyperactive eight year olds with Super-soakers. This is all a fine and dandy stress reliever for most of these guys, because they live in the dorm and can simply walk to their room, change into clean clothes, and listen to their thirty-song Winamp play-lists over and over again. However, because I live off campus, I must walk home at night in the cold with soaked clothing, and it makes me feel sort of like, I don’t know, not washing anymore stupid goddamned dishes.