The Day I Learned to Hate Pâté

Warning: this story contains smoking, strong language and sophomoric potty humor.

I snuffed my half-smoked cigarette out in the ashtray and released my seatbelt. I was at work. It was a Saturday so that meant my weekend job. You see I was going to college and working full time, so it only made sense to add a second job on the weekends. I could sleep when I got older. Like my dad, I had ambitions.

I worked at a family-owned steakhouse dinner club on the state-line border of Illinois & Indiana. I always wondered if it had mob connections, so for the sake of my own well-being, let’s just call it “Anthony’s” The older couple that ran the joint were quite an interesting pair. The madam of the restaurant would (and I saw this firsthand) stand just inside the kitchen door and when busboys would bus the trays in, she would snag crackers, butter and bread off the trays for reuse. The husband was a bit more diabolical. In one example, he had held a private party for the most prominent local officials in town. The event had something to do with some out-of-town investors forking up the cash for a major movie project. I got to shake hands with television star, Tim Conway & Michelle Phillips from The Mamas & The Papas (now there’s a pair) who were lured into this venture. Money went south and nothing ever came of it. But this was the kind of thing I saw frequently, as a dishwasher it was.

Yea, I was the weekend dishwasher. I would arrive at 8 am to a mountain of pans & dishes every Saturday & Sunday morning. I would clean up my station while the kitchen prepared the day’s food and refilled the counters. Between the two dish loads, I would clean the dining area and the bar area, restrooms included. That was my Saturday & Sunday for about two years. I think I was making maybe $8/hour, maybe a little less. It’s been 40 years, so close enough.

On this morning, I stepped out of my old red Ford Pinto and walked across the parking lot to the back employee entrance. I punched in punctually and turned to see how bad the dishwasher’s station was. It was always bad. For some reason I found the art of washing dishes therapeutic (still do) and went straight to work with a cig jammed into the left side of my mouth. The dishwasher space was organized in the shape of a “U”. Dirty stuff on one side, the commercial dishwasher and scrubbing sink was centered on the back wall, and the final side of the “U” was for drying. It also held two large utility sinks. When the produce guy showed up he would bring boxes of produce and leave them by the sink. At some point I had to clean 500 baked potatoes for the day’s customers. I learned very quickly that the boxes went into the sink before opening. I had to hit it with a lot of water to keep the cockroaches from going anywhere but down the drain. I guess this is quite common in the restaurant biz.

I just finished cleaning up last night’s mess and was watching the morning share arrive when I decided to tackle the dining/bar areas. This was always a nice break for me because I could crank the sound system to any radio station (usually WXRT out of Chicago) I wanted to and I could play it loud. “Sorry, but it’s hard to hear the music with vacuum cleaner on” got me more distance than I expected. So before we go much further let me give you the layout of the space. It’s kind of important.

As you entered the restaurant from the main street, you had a choice of parking on either side of the restaurant. This was easy for most folks, because the bar was on the west side of building and the dining area was on the east. Either way, when you left your car and walked in you had to meet in the middle, pull one of the double-doors and enter the north center foyer that had entry ways to both destinations. The foyer was large with nothing but an old cigarette machine centered at the foot of the room and two somewhat-neglected house plants flanking both sides. When I ran out of smokes, this was handy. The bar area consisted of an amazing handsomely designed mahogany wood bar & chairs. There were dining booths lining the walls all the way around the room with four-seater tables in the open space. The women’s restroom was near the end of the bar next to the door to the kitchen. The eastside dining area consisted of a similar setting, booths along the walls, tables in the center, with a salad bar near a second door to the kitchen. Near the end of this room was the men’s restroom. The kitchen and my dishwasher station nestled in the center of the building.

I had a routine. I would start in the bar area with the vacuum in hand. It had a 100 foot long power cord that was so old that it had the memory-muscle to recoil itself with little effort. The bar area was dark, by design. I would find all kinds of things on the carpet, mostly under the tables. Money, keys, Id cards, toothpicks, even the occasional wedding ring were among the items that I had to spy-with-my-eye before the vacuum cleaner did. On more than one occasion I would have to pause the job to open the vacuum bag and dig out something sucked up. Off and rolling, I made my way through the bar knowing I would be back in twenty minutes to clean the ladies restroom and then the bar area was ready for 11 am customers, most of whom were looking for a Bloody Mary and some lunch.

I pulled the vacuum cord out of a bar wall outlet and carried the vacuum to the foyer. I plugged back into a foyer outlet and started the cleaner back up. I had nearly completed the foyer, making my way to the cigarette machine, when it happened.

“Son of a Motherless Goat! What in the hell am I looking at!?!”

There right before me and just seconds from the head of my vacuum cleaner, lay in all its glory before Heaven and Earth, an eight inch tubular-shaped sample of fecal matter. I scurried backwards dragging the live vacuum cleaner and hit the foyer wall, sliding down, the whole time conveying a face of horror. The vacuum fell to the ground sideways, still running. I darted to the kitchen.

Once inside I ran to the morning chef and tried to explain what I just witnessed, having quite a bit trouble choosing my words carefully but still panting hard from the episode. Moments later I returned to the foyer with three fellow employees. I leaned over and turned off the vacuum. “What in God’s name is that doing there?” one of the food preparer’s asked, eyes glued to the object on the floor. No one seemed to know. “Well, clean it up Mike. That’s YOUR job. There’s extra work rags under the sink in the ladies restroom.” the chef said with a half-smirk. I was left alone in the foyer with my next task laying before me (literally). I backed away slowly and wandered into the bar and over to the ladies room. When I opened the door I was knocked to my feet for a second time in the same morning.

It was a hideous scene from some horror film. The first thing that hit me was the stench. I spotted some abandoned rags and towels draped over the sink, but I could go no further in. I propped open the door, flipped on the ceiling fan and went back to my station and washed my hands in scalding water. I would return in a half hour when I could bear to breathe.

When I finally got the nerve to return, I led with my nose. As I approached the room wearing rubber gloves, I could see the warm incandescent light bathing over the crime scene. This gave the room an eerie feeling, painting all the colors in a thick tragic hue. I decided I could put it off no longer so I stepped in and surveyed the situation. The sink area was covered with brownish damp rags that appeared to be used in some wild cleanup attempt last night. There was bodily waste wiped along the edge of the sink. Apparently the owner of the dirty rags was not a thorough cleaner. As I approached the toilet stall I paused and swallowed hard, searching for courage. I slowly swung the door open. If the sink was bad, and I’ve seen my share of Jackson Pollock paintings, this area was worse. The porcelain throne had been dishonored beyond belief and the walls… I’m just going to stop right there. Enough, I think you get it.

I hurried back to my station again and started collecting towels, wash clothes, detergents, bleach, a large piece of cardboard, and a hot steamy bucket of water from the utility sink. Armed and ready for battle, I returned to the scene telling myself this is the last time I will ever do something like this again. First step was to tear the cardboard in half and deal with the mess in the front foyer. One flush later with a new washcloth and new water for the bucket, I went into the restroom and did my best.

A half hour later I was back behind my vacuum cleaner and finishing up in the east dining room. As I passed the salad bar, I noticed that it was half-filled with the day’s veggies and dressings. It was a good setup, extra large for some unusual items I had never tried before. There was a whole section for pâtés. I had never tasted it and shied away from it. I didn’t care for the smell. They had Pâté Chaud, Pâté de Campagne, & Pâté en Croûte. I did not know one from the other, but the labels were well marked, so I tried my best at trying to cite them in my awkward young French-accented voice.

With vacuuming done and the men’s room cleaned (thank goodness that was uneventful), I decided to return for the second round of dishes. An hour later I had my station in order, doors were unlocked and tables were filling on both sides of the restaurant. I had a smoke and waited for the dirty dishes to start arriving. The afternoon lingered on with ordinary predictability. Before I knew it the evening crew began to show. There were a lot of corner conversations between cooks and busboys. I wandered over to see what the buzz was about.

It was me. It was about me. It seems some of the guys had worked last night until closing and knew (left it for me) about the scene I was going to find in the morning. Thanks guys! The dining room side of the restaurant closes at 9 pm with the kitchen, leaving only the bar area, which stays open until 2 am on Friday and Saturday nights. Light fare was available from the kitchen but not much. Apparently just after final call, a 1969 long velvet-blue Cadillac convertible careened off the open road and into Anthony’s parking lot. An nondescript elderly woman with white hair wearing a fur coat slid out from behind the driver’s seat and meandered into the restaurant. “Hmmm” I muttered. We have the perpetrator. Fairly intoxicated and wobbling, she entered the bar and canceled all bar talk in mid-sentence. She inquired about a restroom, and was directed to it. Ten minutes later she was gone. One of the busboys heard the Cadillac squeal out of the parking lot. End of story.

Well not exactly. There was still the business of teasing the dishwasher, unfinished business for a group of eighteen year old busboys. While leaning into my work washing the last of the lunch crowd plates. Sweat was dripping off my forehead, from the work but also from the intense heat that the station generates from so much hot water. Three times in the last half hour while completely absorbed in my work, a busboy would sneak up from behind and wipe the side of my face with, you guessed it, Pâté.

So there you have it, Mary. You asked me why I didn’t want to taste your Pâté and now you know. I hate Pâté.

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One response to “The Day I Learned to Hate Pâté”

  1. mikehemphill Avatar

    Love your post! Keep them coming! Love, Carrie (signed in as you)

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