I wish I could remember the exact dates that I worked at the Chinese restaurant, Tai Song. I think I was 15 years old when I started, so that would be 1955. As I wrote earlier, my friend Dan had graduated to the position of Busboy, leaving the dishwasher job in my hands. The dishwasher (me) and the dishwasher (the machine) occupied a large corner of the kitchen. From my domain, I could see the entire kitchen; a long line of woks along the southern wall with 3 or 4 Chinese chefs manning that production area. Of course everything was stainless steel. Acres of it. And it all had to be kept clean. My job. When I would first arrive for work in the afternoon, around 3 or 4, my job was to prepare things like peas or beans for the cooks to use that night. Around 5:30, the first of the dirty dishes would arrive at my work station and I would quickly dispose of them, rinsing and placing them on the racks that would go into the washer itself. There usually wasn’t much to do for the first hour that the restaurant was open, but then, around 6:30 there would come a flood of dirty dishes. Dan would bring tray after tray and heave them up onto a growing pile of dishes and cutlery. At the same time, the cooks were demanding that their pots and pans be cleaned. That was a priority so the dishes would have to wait until the cooks were satisfied. The kitchen quickly became a battleground, with all sorts of people, waiters, cooks and even the owners shouting orders. Controlled chaos would be a good description.
And I should also mention that the cooks, all ethnic Chinese, took special delight in tormenting the dishwasher, barking commands at me in Cantonese and then laughing like crazy when it was obvious that I didn’t understand them. My bewilderment was their delight. And I remember that I had to supply them with coffee at all times. This led to one of their favorite tricks. They would yell at me to get my attention and then toss the empty cup to me. Of course they would throw it so that no matter how far over the counter I leaned, I would miss the toss by just an inch or so. The cup would shatter and I would be told to go and clean it up…all my fault of course. This trick would keep the cooks laughing for hours! And every once in awhile, through supreme effort, I would catch a cup. Their disappointment was quite evident.
Around 10:30 or 11, the level of dirty dishes would slowly sink until there were finally none left and I could see the countertop once more. Then it was time to clean the kitchen. When all was done, Dan and I would retire to one of the private dining rooms and enjoy a huge meal of shrimp, lobster and whatever else was still in the woks at closing time. With large glasses of soft drinks from the bar, we were in heaven! We were teenaged boys so there was no amount of food that we couldn’t eat.
Odd, it’s been 50 years, but I can still remember the smell of that place; the steam and the noise.