A Glimmer from the Drain

In the long shifts at the restaurant washing dishes, my thoughts like to travel and meander. When you look into the sink, the water, the food remains, the grease and oil, the spices, the dirt, the movement of all creates sometimes astonishing flow patterns. Due to the remains, many colours swirl into one another, sometimes, through the monotony of the work, reaching a nearly hallucinogenic quality.

When you look at all the food prepared in the kitchen, and coming back as remains from the tables, eager to be cleaned, it’s remarkable that the colour spectrum is rather restricted. There are yellow tones that go over to green and brown, but far more are those nuacnces that go from yellow to red to brown. It is astonishing how often red, in itself a signal colour, appears in prepared food. And you never find blue. Of course, people say, there is blue: in berries, in some sorts of cabbage. But in fact, that’s purple, not blue. I’ve never seen some naturally blue food prepared in the kitchen. Or some food remains in my sink in stark blue. On the contrary, with regard to nourishment it seems that blue is the signal colour, not red.

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There is the constant moving of water with your sponge, sponge cloth, or steel-sponge. I’m a right-hander, so I grap the sponge with my right hand and move it anti-clockwise in circles, rarely back and forth. I never move it clockwise. So I move the water on the plate the way it leaves the drain of the sink, (usually) withershins.

Today I changed that procedure. Instead of grabbing one plate from the pile of some under water with my left hand and moving the sponge counter-clockwise onto it, I used the sponge to move only the sink’s water on top of the plate anti-clockwise. Then I grabbed another plate from the pile under the constantly circling water surface and put it out to the left, then another. I used the sponge not to press water onto the plate’s surface (by making a circling movement), but I moved the water in circles and pulled the plates through the circling water above.

The effect was that I got nearly the same cleanness with the same amount of circle-movements which I conducted with far less force than usual. Of course, this only worked for piles of 10 plates or so, because after that the distance between plate and moving water surface became too big and turbulences occurred throughout the distance from surface to the sink’s ground.

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That reminded me of an incident two years back. In one of my shifts then, I accidentally saw our Italian cook kissing a piece of bred before he put it in the bin.

That didn’t surprise me. I remembered a story the author Michael Ventura once wrote about his grandfather, Antonio Scandurra, who had come from Sicily to the U.S. in the early 20th century. In this story, “Hommage to Hugo and Antonio”, his uncle Hugo told him that whenever his grandfather passed by a piece of bread on the sidewalk, he would pick it up and kiss it before he put it in the bin. [1]  So I wasn’t surprised to see our cook kiss the bread as well.

But I wondered whether it was a specific Italian thing, and whether it was confined only to bred. (Of course, in a sense it wasn’t specific Italian, and it was, indeed, rather confined to bred.) Then I wondered : How do you kiss water? I mean, not in the way we at times do — when we kiss off the tears from somebody’s face. Do you hold it in your cupped hand and place a kiss onto its fleeting surface?

I am not sure, but I feel I should know. I am a dishwasher.

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[1] Michael Ventura, “Hommage to Hugo and Antonio”, in: Letters at 3 AM : Reports on Endarkenment (Dallas: Spring Publications, 1993), 43-47.

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