Category: Uncategorized

Back in the Kitchen

Yesterday marked the first day of the summer session for the summer learning program my wife runs.  Rather than teaching in the program, I’ve opted for volunteering in the kitchen.  I’ve written about it before, so you wouldn’t think I ‘d have much new to say.  I don’t, but that won’t stop me from detailing the day.  

Yesterday was our first time back in full lunch mode since the summer of 2019.  The following summer, the program ran in a fully remote mode, and last summer, half of the kids ate in their classrooms with boxed lunches, so that they could maintain safe social distancs.  The kids who used the dining hall used paper plates and plastic utensils.  Nevermind the social, environmental or financial costs of this plan, this meant that I had to go another summer without the industrial dishwasher, the springy rinsing faucet, and the challenge of the ten-plate grab.  

Yesterday was opening day for 2022, and it lived up to my anticipation.  I bounded into the kitchen, fist-bumped with Carlos, the kitchen supervisor, William, the chef, and Terry, my lunch distributing partner from last summer.  I washed my hands according to regulations, dried them thoroughly so the latex gloves wouldn’t catch, and I was ready to go.  Carlos gave everyone the rundown on the day’s menu and presented the quick version of the hygiene talk, and pretty soon the kindergarten-to-fourth grade customers arrived.  I had two new volunteers on my side.   I was able to pass along the wisdom I’d gained from previous summers:  When using the toothed tongs for serving the plain pasta, it works best to invert the tongs so the toothed side is facing up.  That way the noodles don’t get caught in the teeth. Nothing worse than clogged tongs.  They were very grateful.  We estimated a 17 percent time save for our customers.

I was stuck serving the peas and the garlic bread.  Peas are problematic for several reasons.  For one, they are not popular with kids.  I had to offer each one, of course, only to be rejected by 85 percent of the customers.  Another unfortunate aspect of serving the peas is the articulation challenge.  Wearing a mask as I was, I found it challenging to make “peas” sound different from “please” or even “fleas.”   Several kids thought I was correcting their manners. “Oh, sorry, garlic bread PLEASE.”  Others said, “Please, what?”  They had no idea what I was requesting from them.  Correcting their misunderstandings may have negated the savings from the tong inversion.  Such are the challenges of the serving line.

Fortunately, serving merely serves as the prelude to dishwashing.  As the eating time wound down, my heart began to pound.  I bid farewell to my new serving partners and strode to the adjacent room.  It had been two years, but it felt like much longer.  I swapped my serving gloves for a new pair and slowly, reverently approached my old friend, the industrial dishwasher.  I patted its stainless steel face and gazed into its pale blue power light.  “Hello, old friend.  It’s been too long.”  Terry had already powered her up, so she hummed her response.  For such a sleek and impressive machine, the dishwasher remains humble and stoic., always accepting the dirty plates and utensils without complaint, blasting, sudsing, rinsing, and drying without complaint.  As the first crate of cleaned plates emerged, shining and scalding hot on the conveyor belt, I paused to admire her work, waiting the requisite 15 seconds for the plate temperature to drop from molten lava to merely hot.  Then it was finally time for the first attempt at the ten-plate grab.  Five fingers from each hand descended between the plates on the front and back row, then clamped together, grasped, and hoisted.  Unfortunately, I was clearly out of practice.  Fortunately, I had resisted the urge to announce my first attempt of the summer, so no one else witnessed my embarrassment  as two plates slipped from the grasp of my right hand.  The plates fell unharmed back into the conveyor crate.  Still, it took two trips to the counter, not one, to empty the crate.  I vowed to do better on my next attempt.  I never succeeded.   Another consequence of the pandemic. The layoff had clearly taken its toll.

Today, on day 2, I shall renew my quest.  I will also try to avoid pulling out the utensil soaking tray that I mistakenly thought had a water-tight floor.  It did not.  Terry was very understanding  about the tsunami that I created in his kitchen.  “It’s okay.  You’re just a little rusty,” he said, reassuring me.  It was good to be back in the kitchen, among friends.

Moments from the Tech Booth

In March and April, I worked on our school’s musical production, Shrek JuniorAs I mentioned in an earlier slice, I’m not technically a techie.  However, the techiest teacher in the school was unavailable since his wife was producing the show. Someone had to watch their kids.  So, the job of tech director fell (a long way) to me.  Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed myself, and we didn’t screw up, undoing all of the months of hard work that the actors, set constructors, costume creators, and directors had logged before we got involved.  That had been my major fear…that and embarrassment.

I worked in a tiny booth at the back of the auditorium.  Inside our little room, we had receivers, amplifiers, a sound board, a light board, a computer, two ipads, a sunset gadget, four different remote controls, the charging docks for ten walkie talkies, a cabinet with more batteries than a CVS, four stools, four mic stands, piles of papers, post-its as wallpaper, and five humans.  It was cozy. The five of us got to know each other fairly well.  One difference I noticed between me and kids is that the closer we got to the actual show, the more nervous I became, and the more confident my younger co-workers became.  I was tense.  They were loose…downright cocky.

Exhibit A:  Two days before the show, someone dropped off a little gadget that gives off the light of a sunset.  We had been rehearsing with spotlights, overhead stage lights, four-colored LEDs over the stage, and a starry-night gadget at the front of the auditorium that required operation by remote control from the booth.  It seemed like a lot for the two fifth graders to manage.  I thought the sunset light was cool (actually it was a warm orangey-yellow), but adding another item made me nervous.  I mentioned it somewhat tentatively to the two fifth graders.  “Okay.  We can do that,” they said in unison.

Exhibit B:  On the day before the show we got several new slides that we needed to project onto the back of the stage during several scenes.  This would be another thing for the two “lights guys,” the fifth graders with the “no problem” attitude.  Again, they took the new additions in stride.  “Oh, yeah, we’ll just add ‘em in.  We’re taking turns on the computer.”

Exhibit C:  Fifteen minutes before the Friday night show, I make a reference to a song that I used in a slide show at the end of last year.  Then I apologize because I realize that even though I consider One Direction to be “current” music, the song actually came out when these kids were 3.  

“Oh, no worries,” says the fourth grader who’s working the ipad with all the background music, “I like a lot of old music.”  I snort, imagining what he’s thinking when he  says  “old music.”  “I actually like a lot of 90s music,” he says.  Then he really shocks me.  “Have you ever heard of a band called The Band?”  

“What?!  That’s not 90’s music, that’s like from when I was a kid.”  

He pauses to consider how old this makes me.  Then he asks, “What’s your favorite song of theirs?”  

I tell him that I’ve always like “Ophelia” and “Cripple Creek.”  But then I remember another song I really liked.  “My other favorite is kind of appropriate for today.  Did you ever hear the song ‘Stagefright’?”  

“I love that song!” he shouts.  “We should totally play that right now!  We should be playing pump up music out of the big speakers!  Can I make a playlist right now?!”  I look at my watch.  It’s literally 5 minutes before the show.  

“Uhh, no.  I don’t think we can do that.  If anything, I need some ‘calm down’ music.”   He sighs.  Old people.

Exhibit D:  On the afternoon of the second show, about 30 minutes before the curtains would part, I let slip that it is my mom’s 92nd birthday.  Normally, that wouldn’t be something to keep as a secret, but in this case it might have been wise.  O. (lights boy 1) is a man of action.  His first suggestion is that we all call her and sing to her.  I mention that it’s 30 minutes before the show, and we have some things to get organized.  By this time, though, we’ve been through a dress rehearsal and two shows.  He assures me that we have this down.  “I know,” he says, I’ll make a birthday slide and we can put it on the big screen.”

“Uhh.  I’m not so sure we should be messing with the slides.”

“It’s no big deal.  I’ll make the slide.  Then you can take a picture of it and send it to her.”

“Of course.”

I send the picture to my mom, mentioning that we have two shows that day and that I’ll try to call her between them.

She calls four times during Act 2.