Once You’re in Hell

He ran the sink until it was a near scalding temperature and braced as he bent down and tried to position himself so the water would find its way into his eyes. Burn it all, burn all the little motherfuckers. It might be pink eye and he had to enact a scorched earth policy because there was still five hours left in his shift.

There was the problem of Ezra and Doug. Two big-league fuckups who had no business in any workplace let alone a kitchen. So why hire them to cook? It was a question he asked himself daily, as he stood hunched over, too afraid to have the water run directly into his eyes, so he just splashed it in his face. It felt good. Not shower-good, but good. The layer of stink and sweat from the previous night’s shift was caked on him, underneath his loose white tee and he couldn’t do anything about it. He’d be home at some point to take a shower, but what satisfaction would that bring? You rinse off and pass out for a couple of hours and then ride your bike right back to work. It’ll come right back.

Back to the issue at hand. How do you fire two people who work the only shifts no one else would subject themselves to? An overnight midnight to 7 a.m., and their buddy, the 8 p.m. to 3 a.m.? And yet it was the perfect place to put anyone who probably had a drug problem that they could maintain while at work. Shoot up in the employee bathroom at 4:15 in the morning on a Tuesday because you’ve found the one place in the downtown area that’ll give you the privacy and safety to get yourself off. And in return all you have to do is work with twentysomething pisspants that only magnify your failures as a thirtysomething burnout.

Now if they’re fighting over something it probably has to do with drugs, right? What else do these two goons have going on in their lives? He walked from the kitchen to the prep room and over to the break area. I can tell myself that the only thing these two mean to me is that they can clean the place at 3 in the morning, they fill the necessary position that I certainly don’t want to do ever again. Talented cooks are hard to find in this city, he thought to himself as he lit a cigarette, and anyone with a modicum of talent isn’t going to want to cook for the bar crowd at 1:15 in the morning. They want to play around with the dinner crowd. He stubbed out the cigarette thinking some fresh air would do him good and headed toward the back alley. But I can’t compromise by keeping people like this around, the minute I do that I lose the respect of the entire staff. He paused at the back door and slipped his right foot out of its shoe, twisting it around a couple of times as the bones let out a few cracks and slipped it back in. Why the fuck does the staff care? And why the fuck do I care about their respect? Easy. The only person who gives a shit about the graveyard cook is the graveyard waiter and all they need them to do is be able to make an omelette for a truck driver at 4:30 in the morning. He opened the door to the back alley.

A couple years prior, Daniel, one of the cooks who was working as a dishwasher when he started in the dishpit too, was reaching the end of his rope and tried to break into the restaurant. Everyone who worked there eventually found out how easy it was to get on to the roof: just hop on the grease trap and from there you just monkeyed up from one pipe to the next, using an electrical box as a step until you were there, a small urban clearing of plaster to call your own until you got bored and went down. Daniel took it a step farther; while the rest of the staff would just go up there to smoke, maybe cap off a long night drinking a beer and looking out over the unimpressive skyline, Daniel decided to fuck it up for the rest of them by shimmying his way through the broken skylight, easing down and through the crisscrossing rafters and find his way into the upstairs office where he tried to fill a plastic grocery bag full of CDs, liquor bottles and a brand new teflon egg pan or two. All this was going to happen, he was going to get away with it except it was only one bag that carried all of these things, so when it burst open and everything fell on to the floor, everyone who was down below in the restaurant heard what was unmistakably not an cooler kicking on and rushed upstairs catching him in the act. It was still impressive that he didn’t lose his grip and fall through the roof on the only table that was in there at 6 in the morning. On the plus side that might be a hard thing to hold the restaurant accountable for when it came time for the lawsuit.

Each step in this place is a memory, he thought. Maybe one day I’m going to look back on it and think, the moment I walked through this door for the twelve-thousandth time, I thought of everything that had ever happened to me, or that I had ever though, while passing through this threshold to hell. I hope this isn’t pink eye, there’s no one else to work these last few hours.

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