Monday, January 25, 2010

Harter Union: Part One, Chapter 4

“Look just send a guy over here so he can put up this shelf. Well, it’s Facilities job to do this crap. I would put it up myself but I can’t hammer a nail into solid brick so now it falls to you guys,” I sighed heavily into the phone. “Just get someone over here when you have the time,” and I hung up the phone. I had brought some stuff from home to liven up my office since I had become more of a permanent fixture around here. I brought my big picture of New York City and a couple of other trinkets to go along with my armadillo. They were a small PVC figurine of the 1940s Green Lantern and Buddy Christ from the Kevin Smith movie, Dogma. All of this was the last remnant of my former life.

I also cleaned and organized the office by sorting the cookbooks and recipe cards; I also threw out old files of people who hadn’t worked here since 1977. Darrell was impressed with my work and was also glad I got along with the rest of the staff because I was the fifth supervisor this place has had in two years. I had also just hired my first employee: Phil Bazine.

“Jeff?” Wendy poked her head into my office.

“Yo,” I answered.

“I work Saturday and I was wondering if I could have it off. Get someone else to work for me or something.”

“I don’t work that day. I can do it.”

“It’s not a regular meal, it’s a Special.”

“So? I need the experience.”

“With Kathryn!”

“Oh, come on, how bad could she possibly be? I passed her in the kitchen and the halls and she seems perfectly nice.”

“Try being in a confined space with her for a couple hours and see how your views change,” Wendy warned.

“I’m still gonna do it. Why do you need off if you don’t mind me asking?”

“My sister has a doctor’s appointment. She might be pregnant.”

“Well, congratulations. Or my condolences, whatever.”

“Thanks and remember that it was your decision to work on Saturday so whatever happens is all your fault!” and on that note, Wendy got up and left the office.

Although I hadn’t worked with Kathryn, I have worked around her and had heard the horror stories from Alyson and Maggie but I hadn’t experience them first hand but if any of the stories had any shred of truth, then Saturday was going to be one hell of a night.

I was only ten minutes late but when I arrived; the kitchen was bustling with activity. My office was filled with gaudy centerpieces and silver trays wrapped in protective cloths. As I watched everyone either work or try to avoid working, I heard Kathryn’s shrill voice pierce the air: “Where the hell is Jeff? He was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago!” I raised my eyebrow to that and looked at my left wrist, which had no watch on it, and then up at the clock on the wall. I shrugged and followed the voice to Kathryn Zurich. Kathryn was in her early 50s although she looked in her late 30s and had red hair and was just about the best cook I had ever had the fortune to taste. Unfortunately her temper and red hair had earned her the nickname Red-Haired Dragon but underneath that gruff exterior lay a kind and gentle soul.

“I’m here,” I began, “so everything is now right with the world…”

“Finally! Get an apron on, get the swordfish out of the cooler and start cooking it!” Kathryn ordered, not missing a beat with her pot of cream soup she was making.

“All right,” I turned around, took two steps then turned back toward Kathryn. “How do you cook swordfish?”

“The fish are in the cooler, lay them each on a baking sheet and marinate them in salt, lemon zest, and pepper for 30 minutes and grill them on either side for three minutes. While you’re marinating them, I have other work for you to do,” Kathryn explained.

“Oh, okay,” I turned back around, took a couple more steps then turned back toward Kathryn. “What’s lemon zest?”

“And you work in food service…it’s the outer part of the lemon skin. It’s only the yellow part of the peel,” Kathryn said.

“Really? Wow, you learn something everyday,” I shook my head and headed to the coolers, passing Alyson and Maggie who were peeling cucumbers and carrots. I opened the door to the middle cooler and began looking around for the fish. I didn’t see any boxes that referred to fish or anything fish-like. I walked back out into the kitchen and back to Kathryn. “Which cooler are the fish in?”

Kathryn sighed and rolled her eyes, “The middle one.”

“I looked in that one and I couldn’t find them.”

Kathryn sighed again, louder and threw down a rag she was holding in her left hand. “Are you really that stupid?” she screamed and pulled me back over to the middle cooler. “They are right here under this rack!” Kathryn said, pulling out two boxes of swordfish from under a rack and slid them over to me.

I picked them up and she pushed me out of the cooler and to the counter in front of the grill. “Well, I didn’t think to look under there.”

“Lay them on a baking sheet and marinate them in salt, lemon zest and pepper for 30 minutes; the marinade is all ready and is in the dessert area. While letting them marinate, get the grapes out of the vegetable cooler and get two big trays from the office and neatly begin placing the ready fruit on one tray and the sliced vegetables on another. Also grab a doily off the desk to place on the tray. When the trays are full, wrap them in saran wrap,” Kathryn order, in one breath it seemed. She walked away leaving me and Maggie and Alyson alone.

“Is she a narcissist?” I asked them.

“What?” Maggie asked confused.

“What’s that?” asked Alyson.

“Nothing,” I smiled and began opening the swordfish boxes.

Alyson and I finished loading the van and got in. Food service got the crappiest van Baker had. The floor was all stained and the radio didn’t work. Alyson sat in the passenger seat as Kathryn climbed in the driver’s. The back of the van was loaded with food and dishes so Maggie and I had to squeeze in the back. Kathryn started the van and drove off through the circle drive and onto Dearborn Street where she made a left and headed to Eighth Street.

“I’ve never been to the Collins House. What is it?” I asked.

“It’s the really nice house that the president of the university lives in but he lives in the basement and the top floor is only used to special functions,” Maggie explained.

We made a couple more turns and parked beside a gate in an alley. We all got out, Kathryn opened the gate and we began carrying food up the walk to the back door. Kathryn unlocked the door and opened it to reveal the kitchen. An extremely small kitchen.

“Unload all the food so the Parmenters can begin setting it out when they get here. Jeff, you’re our dish washer so fill the machine and sink so you can be ready for dishes when the Parmenters bring them to you,” Kathryn ordered.

Shortly after we got the food unloaded and the dish water filled, the Parmenters arrived and began helping Kathryn set the tables in the dining room. Parmenters were apparently a group of students who had the grace and social skills to work at these important functions. They wore dark blue uniforms with the university logo on them which, although really nice, reminded me of private school uniforms. I was just standing around watching the six Parmenters come in when Kathryn caught me in her eye. “Okay, people, let’s get to work. You three Parmenters finish setting the tables; you three come into the kitchen and help me, Alyson and Maggie start unwrapping the food. Jeff, you can start washing the silver trays as we finish with them,” Kathryn clapped her hand loudly which startled me and Maggie. “Chop-chop, people!”

When dinner actually started I found out just how difficult working Collins House could be. I was the only one washing dishes and you first had to wash everything by hand in the sink, and then put it on a rack to place it in the dishwasher. The dishwasher only held one rack at a time and after every third wash, you had to drain the machine and refill it. I had the occasional help from Maggie but I was on my own for most of the time.

After a couple of hours, the dinner was finished and the president’s wife was speaking and thanking everyone who made the evening possible. Alyson and I stood out of the way and watched Kathryn listen to the president’s wife. She wrapped it up and everyone applauded and started to disperse. Kathryn’s smile faded into rage.

“Oh-oh,” Maggie whispered under her breath as she put the dustpan and broom away.

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, crap,” Alyson stated.


“Everyone get in the van!” Kathryn screamed and stormed out the door. We all got in the van; Kathryn slammed the door and started it. Everyone could barely get situated before she peeled off back to the Union. She sharply took a couple of corners which felt like the van was going to tip over. We all unloaded in silence except for Kathryn slamming stuff around and muttering. Kathryn told me to go park the van when everything was put away or in the Dish Room and she left, still angry.

“What was wrong with her?” I asked Alyson as we walked from the van back to the kitchen.

“That huge list of people the president’s wife thanked didn’t have one mention of Kathryn’s name. That’s why she was mad. You spend hours in a hot kitchen putting a lot of time and effort into something that makes people happy and you don’t get the credit you deserve tends to make people mad,” Alyson explained.

“That’s true,” I replied.

We got back into the kitchen and Maggie met us at the door. “Can I leave? I have a date tonight.”

“Sure, you both can get out of here,” I said, moving past Maggie, who went outside, and going into my office.

“What are you going to do, Jeff?” Alyson asked me.

“Sit in my office for another hour or so and build up my strength to walk home,” I said, chuckling at myself.

“Well, if you don’t mind, I can take you home if you want,” Alyson offered.

“That’s nice of you. If you don’t mind…”

“No, no. I don’t mind at all.”

The next morning Wendy was late for work but came in with a huge smile on her face. She came dancing in and sat down next to me.

“You’re half an hour late but you’re in a good mood. What’s going on?” I asked her.

“My sister is pregnant,” her smile got wider.

“Well congratulations to your sister,” I said.

“That’s not the good news. She’s moving out so she’s not going to be living with me anymore!” Wendy got up and began dancing around, flailing her legs and doing Egyptian-move dancing and bounded off into the kitchen. Everyone looked at the doorway she went into.

“Is it me or did Wendy’s dance make anybody else physically ill?” I asked.

Part Two begins. Jeff gets a night off and the other workers are left to their own devices.