Sunday, June 12, 2011

An Ode to Dishwashing

Woe to us, the lowly and unsung dishwashers. We do not have reality shows featuring our work, nor lyrical lines of praise in restaurant reviews ("And the forks sparkle, just sparkle, making every bite a dazzling adventure!"). Friends do not come to dinner eagerly anticipating a truly smudge-free glass. Much like the goalie who gains attention more for failing to stop the ball than for dozens of successful blocks, only a dearth of plates or a stained coffee cup merit notice for he whose responsibility is washing up.

And yet, I delight in my role batting clean-up in the kitchen.

My much-derided but nevertheless undeniable "Virgo-ness" is, no doubt, partially to blame. I confess a visceral unease when confronted by dishes stacked in the sink or smears of one sauce or another on the countertop. My fingers begin to twitch and shall not rest until I am placing plates--like with like, from largest to smallest, all facing to the right, thank you very much--into the racks of the dishwashing machine. No doubt a pricey psychiatrist, were I to believe in such voodoo, would pinpoint my need for order in a tumultuous childhood or perhaps the feeling of responsibility shared by eldest siblings (that will be $200, please, and we'll see you next week).

True, too, is the joy...yes, I said it, joy...that comes with smugly refolding the tea towel at the end of sink full of sticky silverware and oily saucepans. When one's life is spent mostly in trying to attain long-term goals (completing a dissertation, reversing the injustices of capitalism or trying to improve on a 8:15 pace mile) there is satisfaction in tasks with a discrete and quantifiable completion. Where once there were dirty dishes, there now is a clean and tidy space. Where once there was chaos, there are now glasses placed neatly in their cupboard and knives sorted and housed securely in their respective drawers. I have no idea how to solve the mortgage crisis, but boy howdy can I scrub a cutting board.

I enjoy the quiet embodied in a sink full of soapy water. When the guests have left, and the kitchen is dark but for the one light above the sink, I like to turn on the little transistor radio that I'm supposed to be saving for emergencies and place it on the counter next to me. It's on low enough that only the occasional phrase or melody rises above the running water, allowing me to meditate on the value of friendship, or my good fortune in having such a cozy kitchen to call my own, or to think about nothing at all.

But the secret satisfaction comes from being the quiet support to the star of the show, the chef. Like Robin to his Batman (without the puns), Spock to his Kirk (without the ears) or Chewbacca to his Han Solo (okay, so I don't like to brush my hair, so shoot me) I know that without my efforts, our hero would fall faster than a shaken souffle. Just as there can be no Picasso painting without the canvas or the brushes, I defy you to make a truly great bacon-wrapped jalapeno pepper without a clean pan and plate. We who provide the clean dishes hear the secret, coded, plaudits in the fetish of "presentation" in fine kitchens (although I suspect that many share my opinion that all those artsy fartsy smears of sauces and foams on the plate just make it look like it still has this morning's breakfast stuck to it).

So here's to the dishwasher, nobly and anonymously putting the kitchen to bed at the end of the day. We raise a sparkling clean glass to you!

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