I’d just started there a few days before. I worked in the back, dishes. It was a small place, I think it’d only been open a few weeks. They made alotta different shit, most of it I’d never heard of. Ethnic food, y’know. Asian stuff. Not Chinese, though. Something else. When I got hired, I couldn’t understand a damn thing the manager said to me, but he seemed alright. The interview was short. He didn’t ask much, I didn’t say much. He looked me over and offered me a job that day.
The backroom, where I was, had all the freezers and coolers, the loose food, a prep station with a steel table and rinse sink, and then my area ‘gainst the back wall with a sink, sprayer, and dishwash machine. Like I said, it was a small place, mostly handwork. The wash machine didn’t cycle through most of the time, and I had to dry everything with linen cloth, no conveyor belt dryers or fans. I didn’t mind the work, though. It’s hard to find a decent job in Franklin County—probably like anywhere else, I’d imagine—so I don’t complain when I land something.
Anyway, it was Sunday night, and I was washin’ the dishes. Another new guy—but he was even newer than me; it was only his first day—was at the prep station, peelin’ shrimp. I’d started work at four, and he’d been peelin’ shrimp when I got there. Three hours later, he was still at it. He didn’t speak much, and I liked that. I’d heard him tell one of the waitress’ his name was Francis, but that was all I’d heard outta him. That was good. It was safer without havin’ to talk to anybody. People get in trouble when they start talkin’ too much at the job.
It was real busy that night, and the machine was as loose as ever. On a good day I’d be able to press the ‘wash’ button and the machine would cycle through, at least most of the way, by itself. Then I could dry the last rack or grab another bin of dirties from the kitchen. But Sunday, the machine didn’t wanna do shit for me. I’d press the button and nothing would happen. No water. To get anything done I had to press the ‘rinse’ button with the ‘wash’ button and hold it for three minutes. Three minutes is a long fuckin’ time when you have six bins of dirties, plus two bins of glasses. And glasses gotta be dried and buffed. What I’m sayin’ is, things was gettin’ backed up fast. The new guy, Francis, didn’t seem to care, though. He was with his shrimp.
“This job’s neverending,” I heard him mutter to himself. He was old, at least older than me, and his face was long, weathered. Looked like he’d seen some shit. His hands were shaky, not steady enough to peel shrimp. ‘Probably why he’d been at it for so long. “Just neverending,” he mumbled again.
“What’s that?” I said, turning toward him. I thought he was talkin’ to me.
“I was just saying this here shrimp, it’s neverending,” he chuckled. He had two buckets worth to do still.
“Oh,” I nodded. “Right.”
I turned back to the wash machine. A line cook kid brought another bin of dirties. He said I needed to speed things up. Punk. Couldn’t he see how much I had to do already? I leaned over and looked toward the door to the kitchen; there were dishes stacked up, high. Finally, and I hated doing it, I had to ask Francis for help.
“Hey buddy,” I said, “you think you can throw that shit in the freezer, help me out alittle?”
Francis looked at the buckets. “They told me to do this. The chef even told me to de-vein the shrimp. I don’t know what the hell that means.”
“It means cut the back and take the little green thing out,” I said. “I don’t know why they do that. I never cared about eating shrimp veins. Never crossed my mind. Anyway, I don’t say anything. I don’t ask questions.”
“‘Ask no questions, I will tell you no lies,'” Francis said.
“Yeah. Right. So you can’t help?”
“They told me to do this,” he repeated.
“But,” he grinned stupid, “they also told me to be a team player. So fuck it. I’m sick of this fuckin’ shrimp anyway.”
He washed his hands in the prep sink and came over toward me. Said, “Name’s Francis.”
“Yeah I heard you tell one of the girls,” I said. “My name’s Norm.”
“You gotta dry all these dishes by hand?”
“Uh huh,” I said.
“Man, it’s a lot different than when I was workin’ the Crowne hotel in Miami. They had automatic everything. You loaded the dishes in and the machine did everything but stack ’em for ya.”
“Right, well this’s a small place,” I said.
“Lotta good hotels in Miami.”
“But I had to leave,” Francis said.
“Whaddya mean?” I asked as I scrubbed sticky rice off a bowl.
“Oh boy, Norm,” he shook his head, amused, “have I got something to share with you.”
Ah hell, I thought. I knew I shouldn’t of asked him nothing. Here we go.
“I knew these three guys,” he started.
“Knowin’ three guys is usually trouble.”
“That’s right. And they was holdin’ up little joints. Pharmacies and liquor stores. Just small shit, like this, maybe.”
“Right,” I nodded, half listening.
“Well they got in trouble,” Francis said, “and I had to get outta there. It was gettin’ bad. I mean, I never did anything. I just knew them.”
And you was the driver, I thought to myself.
“I mean, I just drove the car,” he said, drying plates with one of the linen cloths.
“Well I was in Miami for years,” he continued. “My sister, back in ’83, she called and told me to come down. She said there was good work down there. So I flew, and her husband, his name was Jeff, he picked me up. First thing we did, he took me to a strip club there. He said the girls was way hotter than in Virgina. I don’t know about that, but they was definitely wearin’ less.
“Jeff takes me there, and he gives me a pipe, and at that time it was still freebase everyone was smokin’, so I had a hit of that and Jeff asks what I want to drink. I tell him beer and a shot. He gets it for me, and the girl that gives me the drinks talks to Jeff for a long time. After she goes, Jeff says to me ‘Francis, don’t tell your sister, but I’m gonna marry that stripper.’ And I’m high, so I don’t care what he’s tellin’ me.”
“So did he marry the stripper?” I said.
“Yeah, yeah he did. He’s dead now,” Francis groaned, eyes twitchin’.
“I’m sure he had fun while he was around,” I said.
“Well anyhow, that’s when I met Chyna,” he said. “Now Chyna, she was workin’ at that strip club, and then we went back to a hotel room. That first night I met her, Chyna’s boyfriend was masturbating while she was suckin’ my dick. That’s how we met.”
“Okay,” I said.
“And I ended up getting a job at that hotel. But I was workin’ there, and that was where I met the three dudes that hit up the pharmacies and all that. I started hangin’ with them, and things were fine for a few years. Chyna would cook up crack at the place we all stayed at, and she’d have me try it, then we’d all go knock some place over. It was cool. But it just got worse and worse.”
“You gotta watch who you hang around. I hear ya’all are crazy down there.”
“Norm, I’m telling ya, I really know that now,” Francis said, head hung low. “But honestly, I’m glad they’re all in jail. Especially Dino; he had pictures on his camera of me and Chyna fuckin’ in the back of the car.”
“Probably the getaway car,” I said, pretty much to myself.
“How’d you know?”
I sighed. Who was I working with here? It was just plain sad. I’d met a lotta folks like Francis, but never seen ones that yakked so damn much. He had junk sickness or something, too nervous to know how to shut up. He pulled his hand down his long, battered face and yawned. Eventually he went back to drying dishes.
“I just had to get away,” he said. “It was gettin’ too hot down there.”
“I hear ya,” I said.
Christ. The kinda people ya meet. Don’t tell me you’re on the run, I thought. I don’t need to hear that. There’s really just too many crazies in the world to count. This guy’s gonna get fired, talkin’ so much like he was.
Just as I thought that, the manager came in. His name was Hay or Hey; I’m not sure about the spelling. I think it was Hey. I liked it ’cause when I needed him, I’d go ‘Hey, Hey!’ And I got a kick outta that. Hey probably didn’t, but then that probably wasn’t even his name. I guess once they come over here, alotta ’em shorten their names ’cause they think Americans are too stupid to pronounce their real ones. They’re probably right. So Hey came in the backroom with Francis and me and starts shoutin’, “I do background check! I know all ’bout you!”
“That right!” Hey said. “I know! You can’t work here!”
“I have little daughter that come in here! What if..? You can’t work here!”
Francis’ face got longer than it already was. He looked absolutely shocked. He stared at me as I took off my apron. I grabbed my shit fast and went outta the back door without botherin’ to clock out. Hopefully they’d mail my check, but I couldn’t remember what address I’d gave ’em.