Sometimes, while checking in books and marveling at some of the crap that people actually read, I come across a book that is odd enough to spark my interest. So it was that yesterday I brought home a copy of Dishwasher, subtitled "One man’s quest to wash dishes in all fifty states."
I confess that while I would never, ever, ever want to work in a restaurant myself, I have at times quite enjoyed reading about the lives of people who do. A few years back I remember thoroughly enjoying Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, although as with another recent review I concluded in that instance that the author was an insufferable jerk even though I liked the book. (I see a theme developing here.)
Jordan says his first dish-washing job came about while working at a Jack In The Box to pay college expenses. He was surly with a difficult customer and as a punishment the manager sent him to the back to wash dishes, presumably until his attitude improved to a sufficiently customer servicey one. Far from feeling chastened, Jordan found that he liked being left alone in the back where he was free to goof off, read, cadge food and generally not do much of any work, which seems to have been his defining ambition.
Jordan felt that he had found his calling in a job that was most always easy go get, more or less impossible to get fired from and required no skill or commitment whatsoever. After a time he hit upon the ambition of working as a dishwasher in all fifty states and began publishing a zine, titled appropriately enough Dishwasher. The zine lead to correspondence with lots of other "pearl divers" (as dishwashers are wont to call themselves) as well as to contacts throughout the country (useful for lining up couches to sleep on and referrals to new gigs) and a bit of publicity which included an appearance on the Letterman show, where Jordan allowed a friend to go on in his place and stayed back in the green room snarfing up free food.
Jordan’s dish washing odyssey takes him to all sorts of unlikely places from an oil rig platform in the Gulf of Mexico to a commercial fishing camp in Alaska, a dinner train in Rhode Island, the Lawrence Welk resort in Brandon Missouri and a Chinese restaurant in Merridian Mississippi. Along the way he manages to throw in tid bits about famous people who busted suds at some point in their lives, including Gerald Ford and George Orwell.
The memoir is well written and entertaining, though I often found myself aghast at the young man’s attitude and world view. In the end Jordan abandons his quest in South Carolina, state #34, to get married and settle down. He and his new wife end up moving to Amsterdam where he is surprised to learn (when finances get tight) that he can’t even get hired as a dishwasher in his new home: minimum wages laws in Europe are tied to age and no one is willing to pay adult wages for a job that can be done adequately by less expensive teenagers. In the end it is unclear what kind of life and career await a man who spent his twenties and thirties drifting around in what is officially listed as the lowest paid occupation in the career statistics.
I can’t go so far as to recommend that anyone rush out and buy this book, but if a copy should come your way be assured it is good for a couple of hours of entertaining reading.