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I wrote a short story - Assistant Dishwasher

March 30, 2020

 

SISYPHUS SMILED

 

I smelled like your dinner for months. If you ate at Trago on the weekend, I probably washed your plate. I was the dishwasher. Well, I as A dishwasher.  Weekends generated more plates than the regular diswasher could handle. So the two of us took on the extra load together. I guess that made me the Assistant Dishwasher.


The regular dishwasher, the Chief Dishwasher, was a leathery old man called "Doc." He looked 70, but he could have been one hundred... or fifty. His nationality was impossible to discern, but he spoke in that clipped, not quite perfect English I associate with Native Americans. 


Washing dishes is a shitty job. The work is hot and wet and stinks. No matter how fast you go, you are always behind. Plates, pots, cups and cutlery pile up at an impossible clip, and you can’t get it clean fast enough to please anyone. Guaranteed, whatever you just washed isn’t needed, and the kitchen just ran out of whatever you aren’t washing yet.


Doc never seemed phased. In fact, he loved the job. We’d be way out in the weeds, covered in grease and gunk, and he’d look over at me and smirk. 


“Best job I ever had,” he’d say; then lay into a soup pan with steel wool.

 

Best job he ever had.

 

 “What did you do before this?” I asked, wiping the marinara sauce off my cheek.

“You’d never believe me if I told you.”

 

To tell you the truth, Doc irritated me. Washing dishes and complaining go hand in hand, and it was no fun to complain with him around. When one dishwasher says, “That fuckin sous chef yells at me one more time for ramekins, and I’ll give him a stack of ramekins... right up his ass,” the other dishwasher is supposed to respond in kind. But Doc was unflappable. He’d grin, reach into the froth, and start cleaning ramekins.

 

I asked the kitchen staff about him. The salad guy told me that Doc was actually a doctor in his previous life. A line cook pulled his sleeve up and showed me his arm.

 

 “See that?”

 

“What? Your tattoo?”

 

“No, asshole. You see how I have no hair growing on my arm?”
 
“Yah.”

 

“That’s because I burned it off. There was a grease fire. All this burning grease got spilled all over me. My arm, my chest, down my legs. I got burned bad. I should be covered in scars. Dead maybe. But I’m not. Doc fixed me up. You got a problem with Doc?"

 

He cocked his head and did his best crazy-guy stare. 

 

 I didn’t have a problem with anybody. I told him so. The line cook thrust a scorched pan at me like a challenge. It seemed like the wisest thing to do was to shut the fuck up and clean the pan. So I did.  

 

The next weekend I asked Doc about it. 

 

“I heard you fixed up Julio when he got burned.”

 

“Julio likes to exaggerate.”

 

“Is it true you were a doctor before you were a dishwasher?”

 

“You could say that.”

 

“How does a guy go from being a doctor to being a dishwasher?”

 

 “How does a guy go from being a dishwasher to a pain in the ass?”

 

Fine.

 

We washed in silence, whittling away at the mountain of soiled dishware before us.

The night wore on. The torrent of filthy plates and spoons slowed as the dining room emptied.
As the last of the diners were getting their checks, the kitchen started its evening ritual of shutting
down. Instead of cups and bowls, we washed the chafing pans and racks. At 1:OOAM , we
were done. We were done, but the work was never done. Whatever was in our sink was left for
the morning crew to deal with.

 

Sisyphus.

 

I stepped into the night air and breathed. I could smell the detritus of a hundred unfinished
entrees on myself. Doc hit the door a beat behind me.

 

“I wasn’t a regular doctor.”

 

“No?” I tried to sound casual, but it came out sounding snide. I suck at casual. I retreated to more comfortable ground: Lowbrow. 

 

“So what? You were a freelance gynecologist? A proctologist looking for an opening in
your field?”

 

He straightened out of his slouch just a little, and Doc smiled. Not just with his mouth. It
was like his face unfolded and lit up. His whole being lit up. And suddenly, I felt good. The
fatigue in my shoulders evaporated. My feet stopped hurting. I found myself smiling too.

 

“No, smartass, I was a medicine man.”

 

“You mean like a shaman?”

 

 “Yah. Like a shaman. A witch doctor. Whatever you want to call it. That’s what I did.”

 

“And that was worse that washing dishes?”

 

“Yah.”

 

“Where did you... practice?”

 

 “Someplace that doesn’t exist anymore.”

 

“And now you are a dishwasher.”

 

“Best job I ever had.”

 

 


FACTIONS
 

Our restaurant had two factions: the Kitchen and the Servers -  those who prepared the food and those who put it on the tables. There was constant friction between the two. On a busy night, one mistake by either side could escalate the tensions to the brink of violence. A steak too well done meant that the goddamn Kitchen was screwing a Server out of his tips. A changed order was clearly a goddamn Server who was fucking with the Kitchen. 


Both sides viewed the other as somewhat incompetent and vastly inferior, while secretly worrying that the other side might be right. The dish washing station was the DMZ between the two tribes. Servers and bussers dumped dishes in my sink, and the Kitchen took delivery of what I cleaned. Neither side claimed me as their own, but I considered myself part of the Kitchen: We smelled like grease and smoke. They smelled like body spray and breath mints. 


There were some who played both sides. They either caused friction or smoothed it over. A pretty server was married to a cook. She was skilled at smoothing ruffled feathers. Opposite her was A waiter called “Eddie.” He liked to hang out near the dish station instead of doing his side work. Chef fired him after about a week.  

 
While the Kitchen and Servers skirmished to see who should look down upon whom, neither was the lowest caste. A third group was forever at the bottom: Cleanup Crew.

 

The Cleanup Crew was just two guys: two sorry, anonymous bastards in slouched hoodies who showed up before sunrise and cleaned up the mess from the night before. They got whatever we left in the sink. 

 

The heavy rubber mats that grid the kitchen floor were heaved out in six-foot sections, hosed off with scalding water, then reinstalled. They degreased the ovens with a spray we called “Pink Death”  - a caustic liquid that scarred any skin it touched. Cleanup Crew vacuumed up the roaches under the dining room seat cushions, changed the rat traps, swept, mopped, dusted, buffed and scrubbed. 

 

No one talked to the Cleanup Crew. They were filthy, nameless wraiths, who punched out just as everybody else was punching in. So it wasn’t surprising that nobody knew what I did when I wasn’t the Assistant Dishwasher. Six mornings per week, I was one half of the Cleanup Crew.

The other half was Joel.
 

 


JOEL


Joel was everything Doc was not. He bitched constantly. To hear him tell it, his was a life of victimization; a string of wrongs stretching from his birth to his inevitable, sorrowful demise. He was overworked, underpaid, unappreciated and unloved. And THAT was the reason he was such a slacker.

 

I vacuumed the restaurant while Joel hunted down any booze the bartender forgot to put away. I wrestled the slimy floor mats out the door while Joel smoked cigarettes and told stories about the women who dumped him. Despite his aura of lazy doom, I liked Joel. And the day when he produced a fifth of Cuervo he had purloined from the bar, I liked him even more. 

 

After our shift, we went back to his place to drink it. We got sloppy drunk, and listened to Joel’s collection of old blues LP’s until I passed out on his floor.

 

As the Summer stretched out towards Fall, I found myself at Joel’s more often. Eventually it became routine. After cleaning up the restaurant, I’d go to Joel’s and get loaded. Fridays and Saturdays I’d go from the restaurant, to Joel’s, then right back again to wash dishes.

 

We rarely got falling down drunk like we did during my first visit, but we I smoked a tremendous amount of weed. And like a million stoners before us, we fell into a comfortable routine of familiar lethargy and called it friendship. And like a million other habitual friendships, it changed when the routine changed.

 

Joel made a new friend. He introduced us. And at first, I thought his new friend was pretty damn sweet. But there just wasn’t room for all three of us. His new friend was opium.

 

 

DISHWASHER


Dish washing is a team sport. One guy cleans the big, awkward things by hand, while the other guy loads the dishwasher with small stuff. Yes, the dishwashers (human) have a dishwasher (mechanical). It’s a stainless steel cabinet that squats awkwardly at one end of the station.  Plates, cups and silverware are sprayed off and loaded into a rack. The rack is slammed into the dishwasher. The door is shut and three minutes later, you have a rack of steaming, clean dishes… Unless you didn’t rinse them well before you loaded the rack. If you got lazy, and hoped the machine would do your job for you, you end up with food concrete on the dishes.  So it’s critical to rinse them very fucking well before you feed the dishwasher. 

 

And so I did. I hosed down the plates with the goofy spring-loaded nozzle that hangs over the sink, and slapped them into the rack as the dishwasher did its thing. I dug out any baked on cheese or hardened sauce. The idea is to have your dirty rack ready when the clean rack pops. Too slow and you jam up the system. Too fast, and you probably missed something. 

 

Meanwhile, Doc attacked the sauce pans.

 

 “Good to have you back,” Doc intoned. He stared intently at a stubborn orange lump adhered to his
pan. Scrubbing. Scrubbing.

 

“Me?”

 

 “No. This pan, dipshit.”

 

 “I’ve been here every night, Doc.”

 

 “Not all of you. Just most of you. But tonight you are here. 100% It’s good to have you back.”

I knew exactly what he meant. Even though washing dishes is a shitty job, it’s a job. And here I was in the moment, working the job, getting it done. God help me, but I was concentrating on hitting that perfect three-minute rhythm for the racks in the dishwasher. This sudden self-awareness, and the idea that Doc was aware of it before I was made me defensive.

 

  “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

 

taCHUNK! The dishwasher opened and steam poured out. I grabbed the clean rack and turned my back to Doc as I nestled it on a stack of clean racks. I slammed a new rack of cups into the waiting maw of the dishwasher and closed the door. The pile of filthy dishes in my sink grew while my back was turned. A busser hustled back out of our station.

 

Relentless. Like the tide.

 

Hunched over our sinks, we worked in the spray and clatter without speaking for a good two hours. Doc had the ghost of a grin on his face. And with every passing minute I felt a little bit more like an ass. Before my mind knew what my mouth was doing, I made an awkward verbal lurch for common ground.
 
“You must have done some pretty amazing drugs when you were a shaman. Did you ever do peyote.”

 

 “Peyote?”

 

 “Yah. The cactus. Gets you high. Makes you puke.”

 

 “Peyote?! Do I look like a Ute to you?”

 

 I had no idea what a Ute was, let alone how one looked. I opened my mouth, then closed it. I opened my mouth again. Nothing came out. So I closed it again. I had no idea how to respond, but I was feeling like an even bigger ass now.

 

Doc stopped working on deep soup pan and looked straight at me. Expressionless at first, then a smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. And then he laughed. A radiance spread out from Doc; a brilliant, invisible light shone out of him. A Mexican saint on a velvet tapestry has nothing on Doc when he laughs.

 

 “I’m messing with you, mijo.” he grinned. “I’ve eaten peyote.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really.” His smile slowly hid back in the folds of his face, but his eyes were still bright.

 

“What else?”

 

 “Sacred mushrooms. Hensbane. Marijuana. Bad bread. Ant venom.”

 

 “What was the best?”

 

“The ant venom.”

 

“Really?”

 

 “No. I’m messing with you again. Ant venom makes me sick. Sicker than peyote. I only used it in dire situations.”

 

 Staring hard into the SOS pad in his hand, he stopped smiling altogether. He looked old all of a sudden. An old man. Tired and hunched.

 

 “Even if it was fun… which it wasn’t...  I was too busy to enjoy myself. Medicine is hard work. Dangerous work. You go out there. Way out there, and you don’t always come back whole. It’s not like this.”

 

He slapped the water for emphasis

 

 “This is real. This is easy. When it’s done, I walk away. I never leave any of myself behind. Best job I ever had.”

 


OPIUM


Opium is boring.


 Sure, it feels great, but you don’t DO anything. It’s satisfying, like a well-deserved nap. But it isn’t fun. You don’t laugh or have deep conversations with your fellow dragon chasers. You sit. Or you lie down. When the music stops, you don’t change the record. If you are hungry, you don’t gorge on junk food. You stare ahead, asleep but awake. It feels great, but it gets old.

 

You can add opium to the list of things that I don’t get: Baseball, beauty pageants, and pure-bred dogs. These things are Big Deals to my fellow Americans. To me, not so much.

 

Joel made opium his Big Deal. His jagged personality was blunted until all that was left was a listless shuffle and talk of getting high. His endearing low-key rage was replaced by hollow ennui.

Boring drug. Boring users.

 

Sticky white tar and sweet white smoke replaced all the reasons I enjoyed hanging out with Joel. I stuck to it for a while. But the vague repetition of the rituals of friendship was depressing. And I was bored. And boring. And Doc was right - I wasn’t all there.

 

Joel and his opium disappeared from my routine, but the restaurant did not. Dirty dishes entered on the left. Clean dishes exited to the right. Suds. Steam. Old food: caramelized, carbonized, half-eaten, fully wasted. Doc scrubbed joyfully, seriously. It was the best job he ever had. Together we were there completely; in every moment of it.

 

Though he stopped showing up at the restaurant, Joel remained a part of Cleanup Crew. I did most of the work anyway when Joel was with me. It wasn’t a stretch to do it all alone. Without him around to talk to, I worked faster anyway.

 

As far as Management was concerned, Joel still worked at the restaurant. That’s because I punched his time card with mine. I figured they paid Joel not to work anyway. Nobody paid attention to Cleanup Crew. The job got done. Checks were cut. Anonymous corporate efficiency. 

I was amused. I felt like I was getting away with something. Sticking it to the Man. When it finally occurred to me that I was embezzling from my company to feed an opium addict’s habit, I should have felt shame. But I grinned and gave Joel an extra ten minutes on the clock. Fuck it. The restaurant was a mess when I punched us in. Now it was ready for business.

 

We went on like this for seven and one-half months. Not once did we discuss our parasitic relationship. Joel had the decency to pick up his checks when I wasn’t there to see him. I did my part by keeping my mouth shut.

 


SALAD PLATES


Doc and I were way out in the weeds, cleaning as fast as we could, but hopelessly behind. Bus tubs and pans were stacked up on the floor around our station. Glasses, mugs and flatware were piled on canting towers of plates. Our sinks were so full of dirty dishes that we had almost no room to work. It was a pure, unmitigated clusterfuck.

 

The Sous Chef bellowed, “Salad plates! Right now! We can’t plate salads with no FUCKING SALAD PLATES!”

 

There were at least a dozen salad plates at the bottom of my sink. Dinner plates, cups and other kitchen crap was piled on top. I plunged my hands into greasy opaque suds; left hand lifting the pile up, right hand fishing out the salad plates, locating them by touch. I managed to pull out three before I found the broken glass.

 

The water glass had been crushed in my sink, and in my blind search for salad plates, I pushed my hand right into it. When I pulled my hand out of the sink, there was a moment when the wound was perfectly clean and visible.

 

The glass severed the webbing between my ring finger and pinky. The incision continued up the palm, splitting my heart line, carving a furrow through my love line, and revealed the bright red meat in heel of hand. An instant later, it filled with blood and pain. 

 

Kitchens are dangerous places. Cuts and burns are the norm. I did what any self-respecting member of the Kitchen Staff would do. I “took care of myself” and got right back to work as quickly as possible. In my case, taking care of myself involved wearing a yellow, rubber kitchen glove for the next three hours. The cut could wait. Chef needed fucking salad plates. Who was I to deny him?

Later, after the salad plates, but before the chafing pans, I turned to Doc.

 

“I need a medicine man. You know anybody good?”

 

“Like Hell you do. For that little cut? You don’t need a medicine man. You need a healer.” Doc didn’t look up from his work.

 

“Healer man. Medicine man. Whatever man.”

 

“There’s a difference. It’s important.”

 

 “Important how?”

 

He turned to me. His eyes were hard.

 

“All Medicine Men are healers, but not the other way around. Healing takes place out here.” 

His wet hand slapped my chest. 

 

"It’s salves and herbs, splints, and pills, bandages and stitches.

 

"Medicine is what we do in the spirit world. You need to Travel to do Medicine. Once you get out there, you need to bargain, to trick and to fight. Medicine is hard work. Medicine can kill you. You don’t need a medicine man. You need to dump the blood out of that glove, clean the wound, keep it dry and maybe get some stitches.

 

“You don’t need a Medicine Man.”

 

He slapped my chest again. His eyes blazing now.
 
“YOU don’t need a Medicine Man. We both know who needs a Medicine Man, but neither of us has the cojones to talk about it. You don’t want to admit your guilt, and I don’t want to want to acknowledge the problem.”

 

Medicine man.

 

Doc’s anger faded to despair. His eyes were weathered stones as he turned back to his forgotten sink. Joel needs a Medicine Man. As sure as Chef needed those salad plates, Joel needs a medicine man.

 

 

THREAD


The restaurant provided a health insurance plan in much the same way as it provided a 401k. It didn’t. Doc was right. I needed stitches. I needed a healer.  

 

We finished the last of the chafing pans and racks & drained our sinks. Doc walked me back to the kitchen. The Kitchen was Done. Done with a capital D. They were still on the clock, getting paid and smoking cigarettes, but dinner was over. The kitchen stations were broken down and as clean as they were going to get tonight. Cleanup Crew would have to contend with whatever was left tomorrow.

 

”Julio, I need my bag.”


“Sure thing, Doc.”

 

Julio straightened up and walked to the pantry looking at me out of the corner of his eye. The Sous Chef lit a cigarette, puffed twice and passed it to Doc while the rest of the Kitchen pretended not to notice me.

 

Julio returned with a nylon gym bag; bright green with a white Puma logo on the side.

 

I smirked. “I think he meant his doctor’s bag, Julio. He’s going to sew me up, not hit the treadmill.”

 “I’ll hit you, joto. Then doc can sew that up too.”

 

“Then I’ll sew both your mouths shut. Give me the bag, Julio.” Doc spoke quietly, but firmly; like a weary parent. He took a long drag on the cigarette and grasped the bag’s bright white nylon straps. He set it gently on the stainless steel prep table, and unzipped it. Kitchen Crew gathered around to watch, keeping a respectable distance.

 

 “You morbid fuckers like this, don’t you,” the dessert chef chirped.

 

Another cook sounded off. Tomas, I think.  “Show him what you are going to sew him up with. Show him the thread, Doc.”

 

The small roll of oily, off-white “thread” that Doc extracted from the bag was recognizable to anyone who has worked with meat for a living.

 

Tendon.  

 

Doc looked into my eyes for a beat. Then smirked. “I know what you’re thinking. You aren’t going to get bird flu, or mad cow disease from this stuff. Your body won’t reject it.”

 

 “You sure?”

 

 “Sure, I’m sure, dickhead. This is 100%, USDA certified white boy tendon. I collected it myself.”

A collective “Wooooooo!” rose from the Kitchen Crew. Someone shouted “Don’t fuck with the Medicine Man.” High fives were exchanged all around. 

 

For the next half an hour, Doc and I provided the Kitchen with the best after dinner show in town.

Doc produced a razor blade and slit the thread lengthwise. Then he slit it again until it was as thin as sewing thread. He threaded a tiny hook-shaped needle and sewed me up in two rows. The first line pulled the tissue together deep inside the wound. The second row sewed the skin closed on top of it. His callused fingers were deft and sure, but they moved very slowly.

 

 


DIRT


Cross-eyed with pain, I wrapped my non-sutured hand around another rapidly emptying tumbler of Scotch. It tasted like smoke and earth… like dirt. Really good dirt.

 

The restaurant was empty except for me, Doc and Julio. We sat the bar. They talked. I contemplated dirt. Shitfaced. I figured I was destined to fall into the dirt on the way home, so it was a good thing I liked the taste. The thought made me chuff out a single laugh. I had to pee, but that would have meant getting up off the bar stool, and it was much easier just to sit, think drunk thoughts, and listen to them talk.

 

 “Julio, I know you don’t deal.”

 

“No man.”

 

“But if I asked you, as a favor to me, you could get me something, right?”

 

“I know some people.”

 

 “I know some people too. But could you get me opium?”

 

“You mean like heroin?”

 

“No. Opium.”

 

 “That’s what heroin is.”

 

 “No, that’s what they refine into heroin. If I wanted raw, unrefined opium, do you know a guy
who could set me up?”

 

“I dunno about that. I could try…”

 

“I’ll ask you something else.”

 

“Shoot.”

 

 “Could you get me weed?”

 

 “Sure.”

 

 “Mushrooms?”

 

 “Yah.”

 

 “Acid, Special K, any of those synthetic laboratory poisons the white girls like?”

 

 “I know a bunch of people who do that stuff.”

 

 “I bet you even know people, or know people who know people, who could set me up with heroin, or crack, or PCP.”

 

 “My uncle is doing time. You know that. I’m sure he knows someone.”

 

 “But not opium.”

 

Julio paused. I pictured him shaking his head. “Well, it’s just that I’ve never known anybody who’s
into that.”

 

”Exactly.”

 

 “Exactly what?”

 

 “Nobody is into opium. Nobody. This isn’t the 1800’s. This isn’t Thailand. Have you ever even heard about somebody getting in trouble with opium? Have you ever even seen a news story about the police busting an opium dealer? No. You haven’t.”

 

“OK. So maybe I can’t get you some. What is your point, Doc?”

 

 “My point is that it’s not normal in this time and in this place.”

 

 “Doc, I’m not following you.”

 

 “Follow this, mijo. Somebody is selling opium. Probably somebody in this neighborhood. As a favor to me, I want you to purchase some. Ask around. Say you want something new. Say you’re out of pot.”

 

“Nobody calls it pot. And I don’t smoke it.”

 

 “I didn’t ask if you did. Stay with me, Julio. I want some opium. Just keep my name out of it. Can you do that for me?”

 

 “I can try.”

 

Not long afterwards, I fell down in the alley behind the restaurant. It was one of those boneless drunk falls where your body parts descend in the wrong order and you end up in an impossible position on the ground. A cigarette butt stuck to my hair, and oily dirt got in my mouth. It tasted nothing like scotch.

 


TRAVEL

 

I listened to Doc from my bathroom floor.

 

“You have been high, so you have been to the spirit world. You probably did not wander too far into it. You smoked a joint and just sort of poked your head into the spirit world. But you did not notice.

But you noticed when you had a bad trip. You have had a bad trip right? Paranoid? Afraid? Scared you were never coming back?”

 

Indeed, I had a few bad trips under my belt.   

 

“You were definitely in the spirit world. You wandered a little too far away from yourself and got scared. Did you panic and worry that you were going to be high forever? You weren’t too far from wrong. You got lost out there. It can be scary.

 

 “There are scary things there. They can eat you. That’s what is happening to Joel. They… Are you going to throw up again?”

 

I looked up at the toilet and considered it.

 

 “Stay with me. Every time Joel goes to the spirit world, another piece of him is devoured. That opium he smokes opens the door. And something expects him on the other side of that door. It knows he’s coming, because it puts the opium in his hands. It orders its dinner to be delivered.”

I made vague promises to myself to stop drinking, and I nodded like I was following Doc’s story through red haze of my hangover.

 

 “Spirits can walk in our world, just as we walk in theirs. Most are half-whispers and almost seen. Give them a second glance and they're gone. But there are some spirits that are very strong and proud. They take a physical form and move among us. They can be touched and seen. They hide in plain sight, as real as you and me. Just as we can travel the spirit world while our physical body stays here, they travel in ours, in a physical body.”

 

 “Doc, you say maybe five words to me when we work together. But once I’m hung over, you don’t shut up.”

 

Doc smiled and I felt a little more human. “Drink this tea, and go back to sleep.”

 

 “What? And miss the rest of your speech?”

 

 “Drink the tea.”

 

 “What is it?”

 

 “It’s mint tea. Not everything is an exotic medicine man potion. Get some sleep. When you wake up, I want you to go get Joel and bring him to the restaurant. Use this if you have to. Doc set down a marble sized ball wrapped in foil on the edge of the sink. I didn’t have to ask to know there was opium inside.  

 

 “Sleep now. It is going to be a long night.”
 


MEDICINE


It turned out that I didn’t even need to tempt Joel with the opium. I walked right into his apartment and told him that we were going to the restaurant. He nodded once then shuffled out the door after me. He was fully clothed, but it looked like he hadn’t changed in days. Or eaten. Or done anything for that matter. When I walked in, he was sitting on the couch in silence. His apartment was spookily neat.

 

My Seiko told me that it was almost three in the morning when we shuffled in the back door of the restaurant. But it couldn’t be right. The Kitchen was in full swing. Dishes were done and stacked, but the pots and pans were still on the stoves. Meat was grilling. Sauce was simmering. Kitchen Crew moved with quiet determination - a grim pantomime of the dinner rush, and Doc stood right in the middle, directing it.

 

There were no customers, no waiters, no bussers. Just us. It was all kinds of wrong. I rolled the ball of opium around in my pocket and tried to get my head around what I was seeing. Why was Doc in charge?

 

Chef is the undisputed War God of Kitchen Crew. His Sous Chef is second in command. Nobody, not managers, not the owners, nobody could bend to their will. They could be fired, true. But not managed.  I knew Doc commanded an unusual level of respect, but there was Chef, working the grill and taking quiet direction from a dishwasher. And a whole kitchen full of his soldiers working fast without complaining, joking or mouthing off. All under the eye of Doc.

 

Doc calmly walked over to us. His face was serene, but his eyes blazed. A single chair and a two-topper was pulled into the far end of the kitchen. It was set for one.

 

“Sit down Joel.”

 

Joel sat down heavily. He delicately placed his napkin on his lap and looked up at Doc with heartbreaking blankness.

 

“Joel,” Doc began, “the man who sells you opium, is the same spirit that you meet when you go into the spirit world. They are two faces of the same entity. This being has nearly devoured you.”

 

Joel stared.

 

“Joel, there is almost nothing left of you. You need to eat.”

 

And with that, Julio put down the first course. It was rich meaty soup with potatoes and vegetables.  It smelled delicious.

 

Joel started at Julio like a manikin. After a beat, he turned to Doc.

 

 

“Eat.”
 
Joel ate mechanically. Consuming without tasting. Spooning in the soup until the bowl was empty. A steak hit the table next, thick but lean. He took is fork and knife to it without being told. Cutting, chewing. Staring at nothing in particular; oblivious to the activity around him. 


But the more he put away, the more passionately he dug in. Soon he was attacking his food savagely. He ate like a starving man who has stumbled into a banquet. And I suppose he was. A heavy stew was next. Before he finished, he dropped his spoon and drank the last of it from the bowl. He devoured racks of ribs. He abandoned all pretense of manners, grasping a whole roast in his hands and biting into it furiously, joyfully.

 

Joel ate an impossible amount of food, and with every course he seemed healthier, stronger and
more… there.

 

And as he shoveled it in, Doc spoke to him.
       

“Joel. I will not say his name, but you know of whom I speak. He was a server here in this restaurant. He gave you opium in this world, and he fed on you in the spirit world. And now you feed on him. The strength you feel is your strength. It is what he took from you, and now you are taking it back as you eat his physical form.
       

“He will not trouble you again as long as you remain here. But you must never return to the spirit world. Avoid all the doors to it: drugs, meditation, spirit boards... Remain here. Because he’s out there waiting for you. And he’s pissed.

 

“I will not rescue you again. I am done with Medicine. I’m a dishwasher, Joel. And now, I have one Hell of a mess to clean up.”
 

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