Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the potato-peeler

If it weren’t for the thought of what Ahna might look like peeking through her fingers at her grandfather’s whiskered face that next day, New Year’s at the hotel would have killed Greg right then. Every one of the 287 employees in the hotel loathed the day. It was the annual open house where handpicked patrons were given guided tours for their entire families that ended with private dinners in the different rooms. By 4pm, the kitchen had served over 1,500 plates of the day’s specialty entrée: roasted brined pork loin with heaps of sauerkraut spiced with pippin apple shavings and fennel seeds on top.
Greg trudged through the kitchen pushing his fifth cartful of peeled potatoes. Today, they were being fried in canola oil and served as French fries for the children’s plates. It was the only day of the year children were allowed into the private business hotel. A running sous chef dropped a bin of sliced purple cabbage. He looked around to see if anyone saw him. Only Greg had noticed, and they locked eyes. The cook swept the shredded strings back into the bin with his arm, and continued on.
Dora was standing by the big burnishing machine near the dishwashers and she was loading armfuls of forks and knives into the thing. The machine contained thousands of tiny steel balls, and shook violently to break away the enamel on the silver. Greg waved to her, and she returned it. She had orange earplugs nestled deep in her ears, right above the large gold hoop earrings that she wore despite the hotel’s policy against such things.
“Dora, I wanted to ask you a question,” Greg said, just as she turned around and engaged the machine, drowning out his words. He repeated his statement, but again she did not hear him. He stared at her back for some moments and wondered not for the first time what it might be like to see her black hair fall from her cook’s cap across her shoulders. He heard a commotion coming from the other end of the kitchen.
Greg saw the Chef at the end of the hallway. His face was a mosaic of twisted flesh and exacerbated capillaries. His hat looked like it was pulsing atop his boiling head. He was staring at one of the garde mange staff whose cheeks were sickly puckered.
“Then get outta here!” the Chef yelled. He took giant strides across the kitchen, hollering at the line cooks and the extra roundsmen hired for the day. Everyone stopped working. “We need hors d'oeuvres! “ he screamed. “We need ‘em now! We need hors d’oeuvres! Jason’s sick, everybody! He’s gotta go home, because he thinks he’s gonna throw up! He’s gotta go, so one of you has to do his work!” He threw up his hands. “The pot stickers aren’t going to make themselves, every body! We need hors d’oeuvres! Come on, people, you stick a skewer through a piece of meat! This is baby shit!”
No one answered. Jason jogged to the stairwell, hands clamped over his mouth. Greg felt a welled lump rise. When he first started at the hotel nearly three decades ago, he worked at the garde mange station.
“Hey, ah, I’ll do it, Chef,” he said.
“You’re not doing shit, shoemaker.” He strode toward his office. “Mullen, get cher ass to garde mange!” The door crashed close; the heat lamps at each station swayed at the bottom of their coiled cords. The commotion of the holiday resumed as Mullen ran across the kitchen. Greg pushed the potato cart toward the bubbling fryers.

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