Saturday, September 27, 2008

I was looking for a job, and then I (didn't) found (find) a job.

I'm in a restaurant on the northwest side of Chicago. I say that, but I can't be sure. I haven't lived in the city long enough to say anything with much confidence as far as geography is concerned. I do know that the unopened Italian restaurant's kitchen, in which I am standing, alone, frantically shoving a three pound ball of unusable flour, salt, brown sugar, and water into a giant black trashbag hanging from the side of a storage shelf, is a good three miles north of my apartment. But it's also a good three miles east. But, I'll still stick with saying it's in the northwest sector of the city, because my house is "way west," as it's described by my friends that live here.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. The ruse had been set up perfectly, and the plan was fully laid out, even written out in pen on an old sheet of notebook paper folded neatly in my back pocket. I would come in, make some dough, make a pizza, shove it down the owners' throats, then sit back and collect my paycheck for a month before having to quit and leave for tour. And at a job that was slated to pay 50K/year, that would've been one hefty check. I don't know how much, but the word hefty keeps springing to mind.

The problem is that the interview went too well. Sometimes, in situations of dire awkwardness, rather than clamming up and shutting down, I turn on the charm, extra charmy. There's no rhyme or reason to this peculiar trait of mine, and I cannot control when it may show itself. Of course, there have been many occasions that I have wished for it to come to my aid, to no avail. For instance. In this particular situation, though, I can only attribute it to the fact that I am new to the city, desperate for a job, and willing to do almost anything to achieve what seems to be, at this point, a week and a half into my search, a nearly insurmountable task.

I showed up to this address in response to an ad on Craig's List. The ad mentioned ever so casually that this Italian restaurant was looking for pizza cooks who had experience with hand tossed dough. "No problem," I thought, seeing as how every pizza place I've ever worked at (which admittedly is only two) used hand tossed dough exclusively. There is no doubt that I have tossed more than my share of pizza dough into the air with my hands. This was a shoo-in, a no brainer; it was any number of bad cliches about the ease of doing something. This was a slam-dunk-sure-thing-hole-in-one-lonely-50-year-old-woman-at-the-bar. What?

It wasn't easy finding the place. When I finally did locate the building, directly across the street from an aging cemetary that I learned had been there since this area was still considered the suburbs, I realized that the reason it was so hard to locate was because there were two giant mounds of dirt and a bulldozer right in front of the building. I used this as my excuse for being late as I walked in the door to meet the owner, though that wasn't true at all. I was just late. Instead of being met with the low chatter and clinking forks and glasses of a lunchtime bustle, I saw dust hanging lazily in the rays of sun that barely penetrated plate glass windows that were butcher papered over, protecting them from the layer of fresh maroon paint that had just been applied, if smell was any indication.

This was not a good sign. I was looking for a job that I could start immediately. However, I'd driven all the way over, and the owner, whose name I'll change here- let's call him... Jum- was extremely affable, and, as Digable Planets said, the vibe here was very pleasant, so I decided to see this situation to its ultimate conclusion, whatever that could be.

Jum and I were alone in this fairly sizable restaurant, and we sat at a small table in the middle of the room. He explained to me that they were putting the finishing touches on the place, and hoped to be open sometime in October. The bulldozer outside, he said, was in the process of fixing their water line, which had been damaged and never repaired by the building's owner. He also "explained a little bit about the job," you know, like every hiring manager says.

In addition to bartenders and servers, I realized all too quickly that the job I was applying for was not "pizza cook," but instead, "Master Pizza Chef." My foot tapped out code on the tile floor while I filled out the application(Get. The. Fuck. Out. Of. Here. -stop- Now. -stop- ). Jum sat across from me in silence while I hurriedly scribbled out the banal information that no one ever looks at. He must have sensed the strangeness of the situation, too, because at some point he told me not to worry about the question and answer part of the application ("What is Customer Service?).

We then began a fairly lengthy discussion about pizza that really should never happen anywhere. It's moments 15 minutes into a tangent on the crispiness of pizza dough that put your life into perspective. But, like I said, it went too well. If there's one thing I can do really well, apparently it's convincing a new restaurant owner that I know way more about the craft of pizza making than I really do. This is why at the end of the interview he asked me to come in next week to cook for him and the other owners. "Shit," I thought. "Sure!," I said.


The thing is, I do know the difference between ounces and fluid ounces. One measures volume and one measures weight. Today, one hour into my very own two hour, special dough recipe that I did not retrieve from the internet at 2:30 a.m. last night, drunk, I become terrifyingly aware that I do not know the difference between ounces and fluid ounces. I realize one hour into my very own two hour, special dough recipe that I did not retrieve from the internet at 2:30 a.m. last night, drunk, that the reason my dough is so sticky and grossly unmanageable is that, instead of measuring out 29.5 ounces of high quality, more expensive than necessary flour, I only measured out 29.5 fluid ounces of the stupid shit. In actuality, I'm the stupid shit.

An audible "Fuck!" passes my lips, and though we are separated by a giant kitchen door with a plexiglass window and about thirty yards, I can sense the owners, Jum and... Noncy (a late arrival, the full blooded Italian of the bunch- I know she can smell floundering) turning to look in my direction. Determined to waste as many expensive, fresh ingredients as possible, and to satisfy my own mind, which keeps telling me, somewhere back there, that this project can still be salvaged ("Nothing's fucked here, dude."), I furiously measure out the additional 3 1/2 cups of flour I initially shorted my amazing recipe and add it in to the stainless steel mixing bowl, and begin the process of suffocating the already gasping dough. When that doesn't fix it immediately, I rush to the sink and dump scalding water into the bowl, and start kneading the doomed mixture like a kitten on a head full of coke, burning my hands in the process.

Were there a military man behind me to gently rest his hand on my shoulder and say, "He's already dead, son," I may not have tried for as long as I did to resuscitate my dreams for a high paying job, but no such apparition appears, so it isn't until five minutes later, when hard chunks of the original dough began to flake off and mix with the milky mess of the "new" dough that I realize I am finished. I briefly toy with the idea of bolting out of the restaurant with the expensive fresh mozzerella and this really nice knife they've provided me with until I realize I put my real address on the application.

I have just scooped out the gory mess into the trashbag and am washing the bowl which gave birth to the hellish creation when Jum comes into the kitchen, and, as if sensing something wrong, asks, "How's it going? Is the dough coming along alright?"

As I turn to face him, a piece of dough, at once both hard as glass and runny as phlegm, falls from its perch on my now ruined shirt and plops onto the floor. Our eyes fix there, just for a moment, then meet.


kat valentine said...

This was very entertaining, even with a hangover. It even makes me miss you, but you can't make me a pizza so maybe not miss you as much if you could.

Anonymous said...

Oh Jonathan!! How this made me pain for you. Oozy, phlegmy dough? Try a chinese restaurant. They don't really cook chinese food at most places anyways and most of the cooks aren't chinese. I think they give you a cookbook at those places!