an Assistant Dishwasher
by GJ Caulkins
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 CD. If you are hungry, you don’t gorge on junk
food. You stare ahead, asleep but awake. It feels great, but it gets old after a while.
You can add opium to the list of things that I don’t get. It joins Miss America, pure bred dogs and
baseball. 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 brown 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 when Joel was with me. It wasn’t a stretch to do it all. Without him around to talk to, I worked
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, and 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
Doc and I were way out in the weeds, cleaning as fast as we could, but
hopelessly behind. Bus tubs and
pans were piled 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,
The Sous Chef bellowed, “Salad plates! Right now! We can’t plate salads with no FUCKING SALAD
There were at least a half 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 water glass.
The 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.”
He turned to look at 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
Doc’s anger faded to despair. His eyes were like 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.