As my new and very part-time job, I’m going to be doing Pot Wash in one of my favourite restaurants starting tonight. A hot and humid night in July, with me overweight and shorn of all confidence and 55 years old. The lowest form of life in the professional kitchen, in one of my favourite restaurants run by some of my favourite people.
And I can’t thank them enough for the chance. They are wonderful people and it’s a fantastic place. I know for a fact that this means a lot more to me than it does to them. Because I’m terrified and they are in their usual, professional and brilliant environment on a particularly busy night. I’m 55, and I’ve worked in kitchens and I’m not just of going into work with a group of top-of-their-game professionals, I’m terrified of putting my foot out of the door.
Since last December, I’ve done my best not to have to leave the house at all except to walk the dog. For the most part I’ve succeeded. Tonight as a Pot Wash, I’m stepping out into freefall or that’s how it feels.
A while ago I ran my own business and I could afford to eat where I’m going to be washing up dishes in a few hours. I know I’ll drop those dishes and glasses, smash them, no be fast enough, not be fit enough. I know I’ll hold the team up on one of the busiest nights of the year. I am old and slow and overweight and I screwed up my own business. I just happen to know some really good people who are short-staffed.
Screwing up the business brought back the other critical points in my life where I could have done better: a girl brain haemorrhage, the death of my daughter, the failure of a marriage, the death of my mother: they all come back in their different ways.
My wife now, my second wife, the woman who takes no shit and loves me all the same but not for everything has berated me for thinking that any of those things were “my fault” or that I had control over them. She’s right, the narcissism of imagining such command of the world is awe inspiring in its magnitude but nevertheless, nevertheless I wish I could have stopped them all. Most of all though, I wish they didn’t keep crowding in at the least opportune moments.
Back into the kitchen in the house when my girlfriend keeled over: Night after night.
Back into my daughter’s bedroom, she’s cold, she’s blue: Night after night.
Back on the ward with Dad in the 70s and Mum in the 2000s: the wards are different but the same. I am 13 but 50. Night after night.
Stupidly piling up and coming together with the last time in the failed bakery. Silly old man. It’s pot wash.
I’m worried about what to wear: it’s pot wash. It’s washing pots.
I’m worried about what to say: no one will see me, it’s pot wash.
I’m worried about fucking up: it’s washing plates and pots and glasses.
I’m worried about going outside: it’s people I know.
I’m worried about the heat: I’ve worked in kitchens for years.
I had a business, it failed last December, it’s now July. The death of my bakery left me in a lot of debt with start-up loans and outstanding payments. It left me with no energy in the bank, but also with the certain realisation that it was my fault entirely.
“Chase your dream. Open that bakery. You only live once! It’s your passion!”
It’s a busy night because it’s graduation day and proud families with brilliant children looking into bright futures will be out of their special meals. Rites of passage for them as the graduates can demand respect and the parents can accept their own, hard worked pride. I don’t want to let anybody down.
My soul and my hard mind (the one that does fly away into light thoughts and dreams made in hope not swamps of derision) , my brain and my own subjective realism assure me that I will though. My hard reality honed self is certain it’ll a go wrong, I’ll go wrong. So, of course I don’t want to go in. I’m sick with the sure and certain fearful knowledge that it’s all going to be a disaster. I’ve been like that all day. I’m 55 years old. It’s a pot wash job. It’s at a place I know and like with people I know and care about.
I’ve not baked a loaf of bread or made a scone or a flan or a quiche or a pie that I’m proud of or feel anything for since the place closed down. My mother doughs are in the fridge with a thick black ethanol liquor on their surfaces. I could bring them back to life. I could bring me back to life.
I will hide here in my house, away from my wife, away from the work. Let the bailiffs come, maybe I could die here tonight if I wished hard enough? I am wishing hard enough.
But I’ve made an agreement. Those pots and plates and glasses need washing. The good, gracious people at my favourite restaurant where I used to eat when I had money, where I would take my wife, those good, gracious people are expecting me to turn up, do a shift, wash some crockery and cutlery, and go home with the first wage I’ve earned in the outside world in half a year. Sick, scared, old, out of condition: I’ll cry later after the work. After the work is done. I’ll come home to my wife and my dog and my home and I’ll feel different.
I may even feel like I don’t want to hide.
At least for a while. Let’s give it a go. After all, the worst has happened before…