Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Complainin' Clyde

Nicolo Machiavelli works at my night job, and his name is Clyde: Complainin' Clyde. Clyde's about 45 years old or so, a black man who wears thick coke-bottle glasses. He comes to work everyday wearing an immaculate black cook's jacket. He's the tallest and best dressed guy in the kitchen. He's been a cook for God knows how long, but lost his job at the stadium a year or so ago. He's worked for some of the other restaurants and bars our boss is involved in.

And, as his nickname implies, he complains. A lot. Vociferously.

At first his complaints were valid: god knows there's room for improvement in that kitchen. Clyde would complain about the general cleaning to Pat, the head cook, and then to the owner of the tavern: things would get done. Clyde complained about the lack of prep for the night shift: prep increased. Positive changes.

A few weeks ago Clyde began what i suspect was a concerted campaign to usurp Pat's position. He began to get nitpicky, and instead of complaining to Pat about his issues, he complained directly to the owner. This led to Pat getting called on the carpet. Then Clyde would complain about something else. As remarked upon earlier, the owner has an almost obsessive tendency toward quibbling himself, and Clyde has been pretty much successful in grabbing his ear. He's been so successful in fact that Pat doesn't even quite realize he's been usurped.

As I said, at first I had no quarrel with Complainin' Clyde's litany of wrongs. But two weeks ago, something changed my mind. I had three burgers on the grill, and was cooking a few sausages as well. It's been five years since I've been in a kitchen, and it had only been a week or two cooking at the tavern. I didn't even have my second job yet. The owner came back with a burger. "Brendan, the customer ordered this well done and it's red in the middle. You ARE familiar with cooking to temperature, I'm correct?"

"Oh shit," I said. "I'm sorry, let me fix that up..."

"Man, your timing is all sorts of bad," Clyde piped in. "I never seen someone with such sloppy timing as you." This was new to me: Clyde has never said anything like this before, and why of all times was he bringing it up now, in front of my boss?

"Brendan, I think you ought to listen to Clyde," said my boss. "You need to work on your timing."

No sooner was he out of the kitchen when Clyde looked at me and said, "Man, that stupid motherfucker doesn't know shit about restaurants. Who he think he foolin? Man, this place.. it's all fucked up. I mean he's always saying one thing and then.."

"Order up," said Ted the bartender banging through the door and out again.

"We got two burgers, one done well, a sausage, and a fried oyster," I read. "So let's see... the well done is gonna take a few minutes so gimme.."

But it was too late: Clyde had already thrown all three burgers onto my grill and dropped the oysters in the Fryolater.

"What are you doing?" I yelled. "Man, those oyster take 30 seconds, those burgers are gonna take 10 minutes each! And you're busting on my timing?"

"Relax, relax," Clyde said. "It'll be ok."

The following Monday it happened again. I had been working with Gary over the weekend, who's leaving in a few weeks and could give a rat's ass about the job. A chicken was roasting in the oven, prep for our homemade chicken salad.

"Dude, the thermometer won't pop out and it's been 4 hours," he said as I put on my apron. "Do you think it's done yet?"

I looked at the bird. it certainly looked done. If anything, it looked a little overdone, the skin dried out and crunchy. "I don't know," I said. "Put a thermometer in it. I did a chicken with Clyde last week, and he said as long as it's between 165-175 degrees, the chicken's done." We poked the thermometer into the sizzlign breast, and the needle shot up to 170. "That sucker's done." We set it aside to cool and to make salad with.

Now it was Monday and the owner was bitching at me about the chicken salad as Clyde stood by putting up an order. "I didn't cook that chicken, Gary did," I said. "I'm not gonna get blamed for his mistake." Gary is legendary for questionable cooking and sanitation skills. What the hell does he care, he's o-u-w-t OUT in a few weeks. "It could have been anything really."

"Well, what was the temperature when you took it out? The texture was all wrong, it didn't tast right. Customer complained."

"Look, I helped Clyde do a chicken last week. He said to take it out between 165-175. That's right isn't it?" No response from Clyde; he might as well have been deaf. The owner was going on that the chicken had to be up to about 190 (which is rubbish), and Clyde had nothing to say in my defense.

"Look, you have to do this stuff right, OK?" the boss said as he went out the door.

"Man, the motherfucker don't know nothing about nothing," Clyde said. "Man he dumb as a.. whatever. Hey, is Pat still out there drinking?" He likes to bring up Pat's drinking a lot too.

I didn't say anything, but I began to have more sympathy for Pat when he called Clyde "the Superstar", with a sneer crossing his face. At first I thought it was jealousy, but the fact was that Clyde's whole MO was to complain about other people in order to make himself look good. Meanwhile, he wasn't exactly proving to be a role model to aspire to: last week, as he went through the cold station checking his prep, I watched as he dropped an unwrapped slab of butter on the dirty slimy floor I had yet to sweep. The butter fell into the black muck, and without a moment's hesitation, Clyde picked it up and put it back in the box. It would have stayed there too if I hadn't yelled at him. "Hey man, what do you think you're doing? That shit's disgusting! People gotta eat that!"

"Hey man, relax, relax. It's cool," he replied as he threw it into the trash.

"Relax" was getting to be a refrain. "No it's not cool, it's just fucking gross."

It's an odd thing: by all accounts I have heard, I'm doing really well at my day job. The head chef is happy with me, or at least relatively so. I get criticism, but it is always constructive. The things I don't remember how to do come back to me, and I have more responsibility every day.

At my evening job, I have been pretty much demoted to dishwasher, but with no one telling me. Gary confirmed this for me over the weekend. Clyde has taken on more of Pat's responsibilities and Pat is taking more of my initial role. Meanwhile, Clyde boasts behind the owner's back that he's got resumes out to 10 different restaurants. "How he know I'm even stayin'? Why's he askin' me to do the order? One of you should do it or he should. Man, he don't even know if I'm gonna be here tomorrow, dumbass. The minute I get a job with benefits, I'm outta here."

It's pathetic Machiavellian behavior like this that makes what should be a pleasant, if slightly mind-numbing job into a miserable chore.

Later that evening, just before my shift ended, Clyde got a brief rush. All of a sudden, the guy who'd been de facto demoted to dishwasher was needed on the grill, which I did without complaint (I had not at this point said anything to Clyde about my suspicions). As the rush ended, the little hand reached nine. I scooped my last spoonful of jambalay from the saute pan to the bowl waiting at Clyde's station, took off my apron and prepared to leave.

"Hey, man," Clyde said. "Clean that shit up." There was a small blob of jambalaya ont he side of the stove. He reached over with his towel and wiped it off. "You motherfuckers are all slobs man, you gotta learn how to be cleaner."

I looked up at his goggled eyes. "Man, Clyde since the day I met you, all you have ever done is complain, complain, complain. About everything. You always gotta have something to bitch about."

"Hey hey, now relax," he said. "I'm just trying to teach you." He smiled at me condescendingly and got a nostalgic look on his face. "Hoo boy, I taught many a cook in my day..."

"You know Clyde," I said, taking off my apron. "Clyde, this is a glorified burger-flipping position. They pay me $8.00 an hour with no benefits. I got a lot more going on at my other job, so don't tell me."

"Oooh," he said. "I didn't know they were only paying you $8.00 an hour."

"Yeah well, that's that dude." I said. "So I don't give a shit about a little splot of jambalaya. I'm gonna go have a beer, have a good night."

I forgot to remind him about the butter. I should have mentioned the damn butter.