It is the spring of 1980. I am 15 years old. It is a Friday night, but I am on no date. I am working, performing my duties as dishwasher at The Barn Dinner Theater (now known as Chaffin’s Barn). The small transistor radio is blasting the AOR station of the time (I think it was KDF). The Pink Floyd song “Young Lust” is on.
They pay me $3.35 and hour, and believe me, I earn every penny. I’ve worked my way up from restroom cleaner, I don’t know it, but soon I’ll become a busboy, and eventually work my way up to assistant chef. But on this night, I’m a dishwashing madman. My older co-workers must think I’m nuts, but I’m having the time of my life. I am very good at this job.
The leftover food must be scraped into the 50-gallon slop can for a local farmer to pick up the next day. It’s easiest just to use your hands.
I am a sophomore at Bellevue High School. I’m not popular, but I’m tolerated because I am the younger brother of one of the school’s basketball stars. I’m already a little strange, but with puberty finally kicking in, I’m getting stranger by the minute.
Bellevue is one of those schools designed in the 60’s and 70’s that has an “open” floorplan. There are sections, but very few rooms set to themselves. There are many rooms that are really just cubicles. I have a crush on my English teacher; she is young and bohemian. She would have easily been a hippie just a few years prior. She had discovered I write poetry and encouraged me to enter some of my dark, depressing stuff into some contests. I had no idea how important this would be later in life.
I take typing. Yes, typing. I can type about 65 words per minute on the super-fast IBM Selectrics they have in typing class. I am also learning basic piano techniques in music class. They have this setup where about a single unit has about 10 keyboards arranged on its perimeter. The teacher could listen to any of us individually through headphones. I think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I also take Latin, and Bible as literature.
But none of that matters – the all-encompassing story at the school is that it’s closing down. A court order said so; desegregation they said. There had been a huge fight that winter; parents and students alike made a huge scene, trying to keep the inevitable from happening. Now, it is starting to set in: those of us who are underclassmen will be going somewhere else next year.
The pots and pans must be washed in the sink. After the rinse, they must be dipped in the sanitizing solution.
The world outside is nuts, but I don’t notice much about it. There’s an election going on; Ted Kennedy is giving Jimmy Carter fits. I’ve already made up my mind that I like Ronald Reagan. The miracle on ice had happened in February, but, although we were glad we kicked the Russians’ butts, nobody in Nashville understood the first thing about hockey. There is talk of boycotting the summer Olympics over the whole Afghanistan mess.
And of course, Americans are still being held hostage in Iran. Everything else in the world revolves around that. Gas prices have actually topped $2 a gallon!
“We need more plates!” During busy times, it’s best to line up several trays of dishes while the machine goes through it’s 3-minute cycle. Every third load, do a tray of silverware.
I am saving my money for a car when I turn 16. My aunt says she’ll sell me her 1967 Olds Cutlass Supreme for $700.
I know I’ll need a car, but what I’m really saving up for is one of those TRS-80’s they have at Radio Shack. If I save up enough, I can even get a 5 1/4 floppy drive for it!
I am on the edge of…something.
As the night wore on, I would strip down to my “A” Style T-Shirt. I would load a tray into the dishwashing machine, and pull the lever down that lowered the door. I’d check the levels of the chemicals. I’d sing and dance to the radio as I feverishly washed and washed and washed. I never got tired. I’d keep going till the steam filled the room so much that you couldn’t tell where it ended, and the sweat on my body began.
It wasn’t much of a domain, but it was mine.