Doing Dishes

Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how much free time I have in my summers.  For my wife, it’s the busiest time of the year, since she directs a summer learning program in a neighboring town.  My daughter has been living at home this year, and this summer, she took some “time off” from work to take two intensive classes, Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry.  So nobody at home wants to hear about my daily schedule that includes a bike ride along the coast, puttering in the yard, a little reading, some writing, and a walk with the dogs. I do work hard during the school year.  They’ll give me that. But they’re also thinking that my summer life is a bit too easy.

I try to counter the lazy image by getting up early to make the coffee and feed the dogs. I don’t think that counts for much, so when my wife came back from the first day of the summer session saying that their kitchen was really understaffed, I decided to volunteer.  I stroll in at noon to help with the serving and the dish washing. I think some of the people there think I’m a little odd. A few have asked when I’m going to start teaching at the program. The truth is, I’m finding the kitchen a satisfying work environment.  I enjoy being busy, but I’m an introvert and I’m a P in the Myers-Briggs continuum. The introvert part means that although I may like people, I also need time to be by myself.. The P means that while I CAN make decisions, it’s not achieved until I’ve sifted through LOTS of possibilities. Combine those two traits, and it means, I am not your prototypical teacher. I like the job, but it exhausts me.

Dish washing, on the other hand, is surprisingly energizing. 

First, there’s the equipment. How often in the outside world do you get to use one of those big springy hose attachments that pull down from a retractable roll on the wall.  Crazy fun. Then there’s the dishwasher itself, a big, rumbling, sudsy monster with a conveyor belt, blinking lights, and those floppy car wash curtains at the entrance and exit. Sure, it’s a temperamental beast, occasionally swallowing a bowl or cup, but that just makes for a little suspense.

Next, is the atmosphere in the dish room.  Clanging plates, rumbling washer, slippery floors, scurrying people. It’s really too noisy and busy for any socializing.  Introvert’s dream.  

Then there’s the routine, which with a team of workers becomes a cross between a dance and a relay race:  one person grabs the dirty dishes and loads them into the crates. The next person rinses them with that crazy-fun sink hose and feeds them to the beast.  The next person grabs the lava-hot plates as they exit the washer, stacks them on the cart, and hustles the now-empty crate back to the front window. Repeat. 

Sure,  there are decisions to make, but listen to how consequential they are. 

Q: When I’m in the dish room before the others, should I slide the crate into the dishwasher when it’s only three quarters full? 

A: Yeah, go for it.

Q: Is there time to stack the cups into piles of seven and place them in the big ice bucket, or should I just move the whole crate to the pile? 

A: It depends.

Q: When a kid forgets to dump his leftovers into the trash, should I spray him with the crazy-fun sink hose?

A: Probably not.

The beauty of these decisions is that there is really nothing riding on them.

Finally, there are the personal challenges.   Can I grab six plates in each hand, allowing me to achieve the ultimate goal of clearing an entire crate in one motion?  Personal best so far is a five-six last Tuesday. Can I sort a tray of mixed forks, spoons, and knives in under two minutes?  Not even close, but I am working on it. Can I rinse a crateful of dirty dishes with the crazy-fun sink hose without spraying myself?  Rarely.

I know there’s not much about this that sounds stimulating, important, or memorable, but for me, it’s mind-cleansing.

14 thoughts on “Doing Dishes

  1. You pulled me right into the dish room with you and helped me to understand its allure–which was a stretch at first! lol I imagine that the fun factor is greatly increased by the temporary nature of the job, but also by your choosing to see it through that lens. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we choose the way we view our world and this slice is a wonderful mentor. Thanks to you, I’m going to look for some more fun in my daily routines, and maybe inject some exciting challenges as well. You already have me considering how I might totally revolutionize my approach to mowing the lawn and now I can see myself wielding the weed whacker with great enthusiasm! Look out burdock, here I come!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny you should mention the lawn. That is actually another of the rote tasks that I really appreciate. I like the neat rows, and I like when the rows actually fit perfectly without needing an overlap. Plus, the weeds look better when they’re neatly trimmed.

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  2. Great ending! I feel a little guilty about the summer schedule sometimes, but I love it. Eternal school kids. I think it was very kind of you to volunteer and laughed at the joys and fascinations you found in dishwashing. I think it’s good to try new things and gain new perspectives. Thanks for sharing this new adventure.

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  3. Totally took me back to my days working in a restaurant. The gifts thT summer offers including time to volunteer should not be u set appreciated. Appreciate them as much as you appreciate the “big” decisions you make in that kitchen. Ps…love the Myers Briggs references…I wish we could do that again as a staff! ENFP here! But do wonder if time has altered the degree to which I “am” those letters! Hmmmm

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  4. I felt like I was 15 again working at a camp kitchen. I so much appreciated the challenges you presented to yourself, as I can remember making similar challenges. That hose was so much fun for water fights. Thanks for sharing,

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  5. I am an INFP and totally get the dilemmas you face! I love how the idyllic description of your day at the beginning contrasts with the noise and bustle of the kitchen – and yet you are happy in both places. a great slice.

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    1. I love the way you brought us all right into the kitchen with you. There is something alluring about super-sizing a task you are already accustomed to doing on a smaller scale. Through you I got to experience a bit of it – including the spray of the hose. Enjoy your summer time leisure, that’s where you refuel for the year ahead.

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  6. I can so relate to this piece being an introvert myself, and you captured it so well. I feel the same way about ironing clothes. It is the only household chore I can do that my family will back out of the room quietly and leave me to my work. Maybe they fear I’ll ask them to take over or it maybe the sound of the iron’s steam. Whatever it is, I enjoy the simplicity of it.

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  7. I love this! Teaching uses so much of our creative brains that it’s nice to do tasks that require a little less sometimes. It actually creates space for more of that creativity that teaching requires, I think.

    Love the springy hose thing! I can’t lie: I’d be excited about using that too. So fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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