Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kitchen Music

As I read emails and brush up on my Spanish for "The Class that May Kick My Ass" this semester, I hear the lame crap that brays from the speakers of the school cafeteria behind me. Yeah, I hear the usual lame stuff of today's charts like Pink, or some American Idol winner, or whatever, but to make things worse I have to hear Phil fucking Collins circa '86 with Susudio. I came to a conclusion that all kitchen crews in order to get through the shift of slipping and sliding on greasy hole-filled mats (where the holes themselves are filled with stepped-on tater-tots - cooked or frozen or both), and yelling dumbasses waiting for their cheesy fries, they have to listen to simple minded pap.
I should know because from spring of '85 to February 1990, I worked in a sports bar/family restaurant known as Dirty's.
While I definitely had class and language privilege over the Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants who REALLY were trapped in the kitchen for survival (I seriously doubt that my mother would have thrown me out for not working after my 18th birthday as she threatened) I can at least say that I shared the need to have "Diamond" David Lee Roth blasting as white noise to get through the night.
I was 18 when my classmate Billy Perry offered to talk to his manger at Dirty's about getting the prep cook gig there after I told him I didn't have money to buy any of the music he and I used to talk about all the time that we were in class (yes, instead of doing our remedial math, we talked about Savage Dogs, the Slits, and Circle Jerks). Along with our friend Rosemary Lucero, we found some kindred thread in being people of color who liked hardcore and punk. In the back of my mind after telling Billy about my money situation, I also thought back to momma's threat that if I didn't kick-in to the bills and rent, I was out on the street. Which her stress was understandable since she really couldn't afford to support two older teens by herself with either one of us making plans to move on either to college or out of the house.
Dirty's was located on the corner of Richmond Ave. and Chimney Rock. This was the mid-eighties when the Richmond Strip of bars, restaurants, and clubs was in its infancy.
Within a week I got the gig and about a week later, Billy quit (something about wanting to smoke more weed and hang out with his then 17 y/o girlfriend more. Billy was 21 at the time).
The manager who hired me quit too as if leaving me to fend for myself in a shitty place that I swore I would quit within a month for something 'better'.
As the years wore on, with my dropping out of high school, eating anything that was fried, being a slacker full of dreams and shit, I remember the one constant was that the kitchen took on a sort of schizophrenic persona through the music that was being played on a daily basis. During the day shift it was all soul and R&B. The day kitchen which was headed up by Rose Berry, a sixty something year old black woman who could cook her ass off and was quick to share her sexual exploits with anyone who would listen, well she had the rights to the radio. All head cooks or shift leaders had the "right" or call on what radio station the rest of the kitchen had to listen to. So Rose had it on Majic 102.
At 3 when my crew came in, our shift leader (when I first started) was Ramon, and he would put it on 104, the pop/rock station at the time. Ramon wanted to listen to Los Tigres, but the Kitchen God would not allow for a clear signal. However Ramon didn't want to listen to Prince, so Diamond Dave it was. :-(.
Ramon found something better and quit (something about working at Sam's Boat on the Richmond strip which at that time was cocaine central). So I bought a small blaster with a cassette deck from Walgreens so everybody can play whatever they wanted.
After my second year, I met these two metal heads whose names escape me. They were hired as prep cooks and I was moved to fry cook. My belly still hasn't forgiven me of my trespasses during this dark period. Neither have my brain cells. You see, the two metal heads turned me on to two things; Thrash (or speed metal) and acid. Ok, they were hippyish metal heads. While I would trip in class during my last year in school before dropping out, I sat at my desk gripped with the fear of becoming a big stupid loser like all the dumbasses that hung at Dirty's bar at night; burn-outs with coked-out waitress girlfriends getting high throughout their 20s, 30s, and early 40s only to clean up just enough to become a restaurant or bar manager of Dirty's. Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting down the service industry jobs or the people that hold them, I'm talkin' 'bout the peeps who worked Dirty's and places like Dirty's.
Of course this was '86-'87. I didn't get my shit together until I became political and read Malcolm X - the radical equivalent of cleaning up to become born-again.

When I became shift leader, the two metal heads disappeared and our kitchen staff became all Latino except for me at night. The music changed slightly better in that it was no longer in English, but it didn't matter because I always had lyrics like these in my head:

Blind Man’s Penis (Peace & Love)
By John Trubee

I got high last night on LSD
My mind was beautiful, and I was free
Warts loved my nipples because they are pink
Vomit on me, baby
Yeah Yeah Yeah.

A blind man's penis is erect because he's blind
It's erect because he's blind
A blind man's penis is erect because he's blind
It's erect because he is blind

Let's make love under the stars
And watch for UFOs
And if little baby Martians
Come out of the UFOs
You can fuck them
Yeah Yeah Yeah.

The zebra spilled its plastinia on bemis
And the gelatin fingers oozed electric marbles
Ramona's titties died in hell
And the Nazis want to kill
To kill everyone.

A blind man's penis is erect because he's blind

I realized I needed to do something about myself and went to electronics school where I got my Associates. I didn't put that knowledge to use of course until way later in my life, but I knew I had some choices. I quit by reducing my hours to part-time while I spent my week days at the SHAPE Center doing political work or hawking the Militant newspaper. I finally left to work for a company that made truck beds for HL&P, Houston's old electric and Power Company.
My coworkers in the kitchen had families and went on to raise them, when Dirty's was bought out by a guy who used to run Brown's Chicken, a small chain like Church's Chicken, he "cleaned house" at Dirty's, getting rid of all the cokehead waitresses (some of them, I later found out even sold the punani for $. Too bad I did not have that knowledge at the times when I was young and under-sexed. But knowing them, they probably had "No Kitchen Help" policy when it came to their chosen clientele. I guess being Norm or Cliff Clavin of the sports bar underworld does have its own rewards and I guess even coke whores have standards.

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