Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dishwasher Loading

In my house growing up as a young boy through my early adulthood, my mom would have people come over for dinner, serving various dishes.  She could never finally sit down at the table it would seem.  She was always anxious about how her meal would turn out; if the bread were baking too long, the turkey too thoroughly, or if everyone had enough of everything, and so, constantly ran back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room even while people had been seated comfortably for a while.  “Oh, it looks like you need a small fork.  I’ll get it.”  “Oh, salt…just a minute!”  "Oh, cranberry sauce: I have some of that.”  Then the protests; “No Marcia, I can get it myself, please sit at the table; you’ve done enough.  You’re making me feel guilty,” an aunt or a niece might say.  But my mom would come back with a hardy Jewish mother’s, “No, you sit, I’ll have it in no time...just...sit!” and my mom would run back into the kitchen and get the fork, the salt, the cranberry sauce or what have you.  It would eventually take my dad to beg her to sit with a broken, crackled, “H-o-n-e-y…please sit down with us...,” and that would motivate her?…give her permission?....Whatever my dad's pleas were to her, she would finally find her place at the dining room table with the rest of us.  That was her own mishigas. 

I think that she always found it hard to put on these dinners, as often as we would have them.  After dinner parties at other people’s houses, she would often comment, “It’s so easy for her,” meaning, hosting a dinner party comes so naturally to ‘Barbara’ or whoever’s house she might have been at.  But whatever that fear was never stopped my mom from hosting others at our table.  We had many happy meals and occasions at that long, oval table.  Many liberal political discussions, often over my head, went on in these settings between my cousins, aunts and uncles.  And I, who was never much one for long family visits at other people’s houses, always enjoyed the festivities at our house. 

And as the tummies got stuffed, and the people got full, tired, and ready for some TV, especially my uncle Jack, who as soon as he was satiated would make a quick transition from the dining room to the family room couch, the used dinner plates and setting began to pile up in the kitchen.  I was always a good helper and made sure to get all of the settings made it into the kitchen efficiently.  Perhaps this was because I know how my dad’s head was organized about the cleaning process.  For as useless as my father was about helping in the pre-meal preparation phase (my dad’s main task before people arrived was to get a dress shirt on), he transformed into a cleaning machine with complete control and organization of the entire post-dinner pipeline.  Restoring things to their original condition and place was what my dad was all about. 

The cleaning of dishes was definitely a pre-defined, quantifiable process for him.  There was a beginning, middle, another middle, and then an end to it all.

Step one began with the moving of the used dinnerware from the dining room into the kitchen.  Heavy plates on this counter, glasses over there, and utensils into the plastic basin in the sink for pre-soaking. “No Fred, not there. Glass items are going near the toaster.  Put bowls near the stove for now."  "Yes, father," I would respond with unwavering obedience (, just kidding...I was never formal with my dad). 

Pre-soaking, step two, was very important to him, and every item went through some form of it.  He would either set the dishes temporarily into the plastic basin, or they would get rinsed off well enough that they could at that point be considered clean.  I don’t ever recall there being a speck of food on an item going into the dishwasher.  I remember through the years hearing comments directed at him such as, “Well jeez Bill, you don’t really need to get them that clean if they’re going into the dishwasher.”  Their comment would generally be answered with a simply wry smile back from him; nothing more.  Oh, how little this person really knows about my dad and his dish washing paradigm.  Nothing was entering the dishwasher with food remains of any sort on it. 

Step three was loading the dishwasher.  And here for me was the proof that there is a real thing as an art to dishwasher loading.  He himself referred to it as an art on several occasions.  There were many things in my life that my dad was once good at, but that with age, I either rose to the level of his ability or even surpassed, but loading the dishwasher was not one of them.  My dad had the uncanny ability to so tightly pack a dishwasher, yet allow enough room for the water to run through it, once accomplished, everyone knew never to question him on the topic again.  And believe me, I tried many times, sneaking in ahead of him to load a full set of dinnerware into the dishwasher, only to find out from his subsequent rearranging things that I wasn’t even close.  In hindsight, my attempt had looked like an inebriated derelict had happened upon a pile of dishes and a dishwasher.  I along with my mother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, all who had tried to see if we could crack the geometric code for optimal dishwasher loading, discovered that this was truly something my dad was a natural at. 

There is a good reason that my father excelled at this.  It took me a while to make the connection, but recently it dawned on me.  My father was extremely good at solving puzzles.  All kinds of puzzles.  Word puzzles, geometric puzzles, mind teasers, all of those things.  When I was about thirteen years old, someone gave him a really strange plastic puzzle that was in the shape of a circular column.  It had about twelve levers on top that acted on locks to gates within the puzzle, allowing various discs at differing levels of the contraption to open and shut.  The idea was to get all of the levers from the radius of the puzzle into the center of the puzzle, or vice-versa, if you had already completed that phase.  My dad quickly discovered a very complicated pattern as to how the levers would need to be moved to unlock all of the levels.  It might have taken something like 127 moves.  But he figured it out that night that he got it.  The next morning he showed me the contraption with all of the levers now positioned at interior of the puzzle.  I'm sure he felt satisfaction in seeing my face go white.  I could not begin to imagine how much trial and error action it took for him to figure out that there was even a pattern at all, and then to accomplish the puzzle in such a very short time.  And so loading the dishwasher was child's play in his mind.   I think that accounted for the wry smile mentioned earlier. 

And so when step four finally arrived, unloading the dishwasher, often the next day, I or whoever was around to assist, would gaze in amazement yet again at how many dishes had been so masterfully loaded, and at how completely clean they came out on the other end. 

Dishwasher loading; it weren’t no fun and games in the Herrman household!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sandwich Shop

At about 1:00pm on the afternoon of this Wednesday, I parked my Jeep and walked into a local submarine sandwich shop here in town and scanned the large order board already knowing what I was going to order.  I stood at the wide white Formica counter with several other patrons standing side by side. To my right was a pudgy young man with cropped hair in beige shorts and a black shirt, who had just ordered a turkey sandwich waiting with hands in his pockets while the workers bees scuttled around their side of the counter.  He got his order and then promptly left.

To my left were two large Caucasian guys, one about my height, and other very tall; maybe 6’4”.  Both were well-built construction workers, and both about forty years old.  The one closer to my height was dark haired, clean shaven, had blue jeans, contractors boots and a red t-shirt on, while the larger guy had a three-day old reddish brown beard, boots, jeans, and a light red and black flannel short sleeved shirt over a t-shirt.  He also had a headband holding a roost of hair out of his face. 

As his shorter buddy left the counter to sit at a table, I was distracted when I was asked what I wanted by a shop worker. “Full Italian, light everything, and a large Coke,” I directed.  Then my head turned back to the giant guy to my left again.  Below his sleeve on his right arm was one of those spirally tattoos that people get as a kind of band halfway between their shoulder and their elbow.  His bicep alone was huge. And as I snuck this second look, I said to myself, “This guy has to be a Van Halen fan.  There is just no way he doesn’t crank the VH in his truck. And I’m guessing that truck has giant tires with dried mud sprayed on the side fenders and a lift kit.”

Just then I heard him speak for the first time, pitching his head of hair back to his buddy at the back of the room who apparently hadn’t finished ordering.  “What d’you want on it, bro?”  “Everything!” his buddy answered.  And I said to myself,“That it! He’s exactly as I had hoped he would sound.  That raspy 1980’s Van Nuys home grown, blast KLOS in his Trans-Am, let’s go hit Zuma Beach and party dude.  A David Lee Roth disciple.  And this guy’s a big specimen at that!  He ain’t losing any fights tonight!”

His order was rung up and he sat at the eating counter where his friend was already sitting.  The eating counter in this place is against the far wall from where you order, and then it angles perpendicularly to an adjacent left wall.  It’s a small shop, so everyone’s kind of huddled together.

“Okay, anything else?” the guy at the counter asked me.  “No.”  “For here or to go?”  I thought for a second.  I didn’t have any appointment until 2:00pm, and I’m really kind of curious to hear these guys talking. The sociologist in me?  The writer in me?  Or just a pining for something to remind me of a familiar place and time of years passed…so, “I’ll take it for here.” 

I brought my lunch to that adjacent section of the counter with the two guys just off of my right shoulder.  I laid out some napkins, popped my Coke top off, unwrapped my sub, and I bit into it.  Oh, so good!  They always make great subs here.  And then I started keying into their conversation.  And anyway, how could I not being only about two feet from them? 

“Yeah, Pete said they caught some good Marlin off Cabos.”  The smaller one said.  “Dig that.  You goin’ down there again?” asked the big one.  “Soon as I get more days off.”  “I’m with you bro.”  Funny too because I would have taken them for surfers, not so much sport fishermen.  But maybe they were both.  Shows you my profiling ability.  A few seconds of silence passed by and the big one said in a most understated, yet earnest David Lee Roth voice, “Great sandwich shop.” 

Images of Syrian broken bodies and fighting, Bashar Al-Assad with Charlie Rose, and President Obama making speeches quickly swirled around in my head from the last few days’ media coverage.  Then I took another look over my shoulder at these two guys eating their subs, had another swig of my Coca-Cola, looked down at my sandwich, and I thought to myself, thank God there are still guys like these around!