Monday, November 30, 2009

Washing the Pot

He loved the drudgery of it. Walking into the busy, noisy kitchen hustling to get up to speed for the dinner service, he’d approach the sinks like a gladiator taking the field. In the short time between the lunch rush’s end and the dinner start-up, when no dishwasher was on duty, the chefs would produce a pile of pots filling both of the deep stainless steel tubs overflowing into piles on the counter. Days when the three chefs were really working up something special, the piles would overflow under and around the tubs on the floor.

Undaunted by the task ahead, Amos would kick aside a path through the pots, making room to take a stand at his post, turn on the taps - take Chef’s “hurry up and get started.” in stride - and begin. The challenge was to make progress through the pile while the three chefs kept continually adding to it through the night. Soon the busboys would begin bringing in their carts of dirty dishes, glasses and silverware that all had to be done immediately to re-supply for the next sitting.

Dirty dishes were stacked into the heavy square plastic trays, hosed down and run along the stainless steel counter into the big industrial stainless dishwashing machine. Lift the lever, push the clean tray out the other side to cool before restocking the waiter’s supply, run the dirty tray in, lower the lever, pulling the steel box over the tray and hit the wash button for it’s five minute cycle. Back to the soaking pots for two minutes, then quickly back to stack the cooled dishes, and prep the next tray before the machine’s cycle was over. If the machine’s red “off” button glowed for more than a few seconds Chef was there to take out his stress on the low man “Hey – what are you wasting time for? Get those dishes moving!” It kept Amos’ mind on a short leash.

He’d come to the place of toil in the hero’s journey. The adventure was well wrought. He’d found the Grail, come to terms with the demons who’d trip him up, conquered the fearsome mountain trolls, and rescued the damsel – wait – no, there’d been no rescues. And here there wasn’t much chance. Amos was the grunt boy of the Resort. He’d taken on the low job, been given “whites” to wear that didn’t fit – the pants not covering his ankles, the shirts pulling at his armpits, buttons that couldn’t be done up over his t-shirts. Terrible pay, no tips, and a good daily dose of verbal abuse. It all only added to his ridiculous-ness, his humbling, his sanctification. It was more like he needed rescuing.

“Any port in a storm.” thought Amos. He’d skied Red Mountain for ten days and headed out when he realized his funds were getting low. He “had” to ski Banff before heading east. But between Trail and Banff there were a few clubs to try and by the time he made Banff his cash flow was down to a trickle.

He’d picked up a French Canadian hitchhiker just after he turned east again towards Banff. How could he pass up a guy standing at the side of the road with skiis in one hand and his other hand empty, arm out in that humbling gesture, thumb up, begging for a lift? Amos had traveled these mountain highways on the generosity of others. It was part of the code to now return the gift to the great universal recycling effort. He was a believer after all. And believers must practice their faith – putting it into action without hope of ever seeing the return – ever knowing how long, far and wide the arc of the cycle might be.

Jean-Claude spoke about as much English as Amos spoke French – to point a fine point on it – fucking little. The Canadian school system had ill-prepared them for this encounter. But somehow they managed to share their stories. Jean-Claude was also on a quest. He’d worked as a fishing guide, taking tourists by canoe into Northern Quebec where only the Indians lived. He was here to ski the Rockies with the funds he’d saved.

Jean-Claude told Amos about a winterized Youth Hostel where they could stay for cheap. It turned out to be a big old log cabin in the woods between Lake Louise and Banff. You cooked your own food and Amos got talking to people there about how they each were managing skiing with few funds. The Unemployment office in Banff held postings for all the jobs in local Resorts and Restaurants and Hotels. There was a steady turnover of positions as people got fired for skiing too much and working too little or moved their way up the job ladder.

Next morning Amos took a trip in and found a job posting for a waiter at the Sunshine Mountain Ski Resort. He called and set up an interview for the next day. He’d have to take the gondola up to the resort the guy explained. “Just give them my name and they’ll let you on.” he told Amos.

Back at the Youth Hostel, he and Jean-Claude agreed to ski Sunshine the next day. Amos just took his skiis along on that free Gondola ride and once up on the mountain no one seemed to be looking for proof of ticket purchase. The job interview lasted maybe ten minutes. Amos had tried to bluff his way into a waiter’s job – lying about his extensive experience. How hard could taking food orders be? But when the guy started quizzing him about how many tables at a time he could handle, the veil of lies became thin and he could see he wasn’t foolin anyone. The guy might have given Amos a chance if his beard, hair, and clothes hadn’t given a first impression of a wooly lumberjack fresh out of camp.

So, he found Jean-Claude and joined him for a sunny day of hitting the slopes. Up until that day, Amos had been thinking that his skiing was pretty fine. But Jean-Claude had skiis like Amos had never seen. Telemark bindings, Jean-Claude explained, were for mountaineering. They’d allow you to lift your heel to climb on the way up. On the way down however, you’d have to perform some pretty complicated dance steps involving almost kneeling with one leg dragging behind while your forward leg swept a wide arc as you shifted your weight onto it, turning to control your descent, while bringing the back leg forward as the forward leg dropped back into the kneel. Jean-Claude was tackling a whole new way of descending snowy slopes – with many tumbles and tries - that Amos had never encountered. “Just when you’ve conquered the mountain”, thought Amos, “the peak only shows you the next, more difficult, one to climb.”

At dinner back at the Hostel, they sat at the long crowded tables with an older guy. His middle age made him kind of stick out in that crowd of youth. Amos noticed that before starting his dinner, he bowed his head for a few long moments. Intrigued, Amos started pumping him for his story. John was from Calgary. He was walking to Vancouver. He was well spoken and well read and didn’t seem like a nutbar to Amos - but a very normal looking guy. John explained that he was taking this time in his life to spend mostly with God as he walked. “Just when you think you’ve cooked up an incredible spiritual quest,” thought Amos, “another more difficult one comes into view.”

Now, Amos was really broke. He might have to start walking east he thought. The last of his money had gone into another night at the Youth Hostel and some groceries for dinner and breakfast. In Banff he found a job posting for a dishwasher at the Post Hotel in Lake Louise. His last 5 bucks went into the Fleshmobile. He drove the thirty miles to the Post Hotel. He didn’t call ahead. He just showed up. He didn’t know what he’d do if he didn’t get the job – but - he figured “there was only one way to find out”.
Amos had just spent most of a month living in a tent. And he looked it. His curly hair was long and his thin beard was wisping over his lips as he tried to convince the owner of a five star Hotel that he’d fit right in. Sitting there in the lobby’s leather chairs. Henri, the Swiss Hotel owner, cut the interview short after a couple of quick questions and offered Amos the dishwasher position. It had opened up just that morning.

“Yeah, great, I’ll take it” Amos jumped at the morsel. When Henri told him room and board was included, Amos couldn’t’ conceal his joy. “Really?” Amos beamed like a birthday boy “Right on!”

Henri smiled. He introduced Amos to his beautiful Swiss wife Heloise, who nodded an acknowledgment in Amos’ direction before Henri passed him off to Wendell the desk clerk, telling Wendell to give him room #12.

On their way down into the Hotel’s basement, Wendell filled him in. Wendell was a wiry little guy. A few years younger than Amos, he came to the Hotel straight out of high school, starting as a dishwasher and had worked his way up to the front desk. Amos could see he was plenty proud of his position and obviously considered himself an authority. “You’re in luck boy, you and me got the only single rooms in the staff quarters.” He opened the door to reveal a dingy, small room with one very small basement window at ceiling height letting in the late afternoon sun. “It’s also the only double bed down here.” explained Wendell “I don’t know how you rate this – but Henri’s the boss. He must like you.”

To Amos, who been sleeping in the snow for a month, this dark little cave with a bed was luxury – a gift! “Bathroom’s down the hall. Staff dinner’s at five.” Wendell told him. “be sure to use the back kitchen door. Kitchen staff’s not allowed to mix with the quests.”
“That’s fine with me man. Thanks.” Amos replied closing the door. He knew he’d only be able to take this small man’s officious directions in small doses. Wendell was eager to give him some advice. “Thanks for your help. I’ll figure things out.”

Amos found that he reveled in the humble task of dishwasher. He loved being a spoke in the kitchen’s wheeling, chaotic, order. It felt like a ship in a storm; the captain barking orders, all hands working with skill and speed to keep the boat abreast of the hungry waves. He was working the bilge pump; bailing seawater from the hold – ignored but ennobled by knowing that he too was saving the ship and the day.

With his back turned to the frenzy, with the chefs’ hot pans sliding past his elbows into the sinks, he could listen to the talk, the bustle, the waiters bringing orders in and the chefs tossing together the plates of food. It was so good to have heavy, steady work to speed the hours by, with absolutely no responsibility on his shoulders. There was no doubt about it. Dishwashers were at the bottom of the Hotel totem pole. Chambermaids were slightly higher. Waiters stood a good head and shoulders above this lowly caste. The chefs lived like the Thunderbirds their wings outstretched with only the owners, who also managed from on high, sitting atop their shoulders.

After a month of being Mr. Hermit in the mountains, Amos felt that he’d lost his ability - or was it his desire - to make conversations. He kept quiet and to himself the first few weeks. Doing his shift, reading or walking at night. If he worked the afternoon/night shift, he’d ski. The Lake Louise mountain proved to be an extensive club with many challenging slopes. His favourite were off the back of the mountain. In that valley there was a chalet with a chairlift that went up the next mountain. It took time to get there and it was often less crowded than the main runs. The cost of the lift tickets would eat away at his minimum wages but he was loving this waystation on his way home and not too concerned just yet about needing to save the funds to get him the rest of the way back to Ontario. Not while there was still snow on the hills anyway.

Slowly, Amos got to know the Post Hotel family. It was a small exclusive Hotel. The staff was only the size of a large family. Chef was the notorious alcoholic father, with a legendary temper. He’d pounce on Amos, his black beady eyes glaring, and shout out some order at him like he should have known what was on his pickled French mind already. “Get me some rutabagas from the basement you Eastern bum!”

Amos hurried down into the cellar - only realizing when he got there that he had no idea what a rutabaga was. He sheepishly returned to Chef and told him so. Amos thought he could see the steam coming out of Chefs ears as he swung a heavy butcher’s knife in the air. “It’s a bloody turnip you imbecile. Where did you come from – a hole in the ground?” Amos could have asked someone else what a rutabaga was but like a cat who’s attracted to those who don’t like cats, he found he enjoyed getting under Chef’s feet. Amos retreated back to the basement before Chef could see the smile on his face.

Henrick was the other lead chef in the kitchen. As far as Amos could see he was the one who actually ran things. He had his own chalet behind the hotel on the banks of a quick wide stony stream. He’d been lured from Europe at great expense, according to him, to make a name for the Post Hotel.

Sebastian was the pastry chef. He worked away in his section of the kitchen with large windows and broad prep tables separated from the rest of the kitchen by ovens the size of a small zamboni. He was a happy mouse. Saying little, Sebastian worked away quietly creating mouth-watering pastries. At the end of a shift, kitchen staff could choose between a beer on the house or one of Sebastian’s creations. Amos rarely chose beer. Beer you could get anywhere.

The Sous-chef was Claude. He was a dark eyed, dark haired, attractive French Canadian lad from somewhere north of Montreal. He’d been to school in France, apprenticed in Swiss Hotels, and had now achieved a position as a Sous chef under Henrick’s demanding eye. He was also an accomplished mountaineer. He would trek up to the peaks surrounding Lake Louise, strap on his skiis and conquer the slopes with the same quick humour and skill he used in the kitchen.

One of the waiters, Mark, had been living in Lake Louise for a number of years. He was considered to be one of Lake Louise’s finest downhill skiers. After an evening shift at the restaurant, he convinced Claude to take him on the trek he had planned for the next day. Claude was hesitant, but Nick insisted. The next evening the kitchen crew was astonished to hear Claude’s sorry tale. Nick had missed a turn on his skis, fallen off a cliff’s edge and broken an arm. Rescue helicopters had to be called in to fetch him from a gulch. Claude was quite apologetic. Nick showed up a few days later with his left arm in a cast, reduced to slinging plates one-handed - and a reputation also reduced to ski slopes instead of mountain passes.

The waiters typically didn’t socialize with the dishwashers, chambermaids, and sundry hotel staff. The sat at their own table in the staff dining room Only Francine, would come and join their table. She’d learned that Amos was a student of literature and she would talk books with him. Amos warmed to this attention. She brought him out of his shell with a favourite subject he could talk easily about. Her attentions shone some light onto Amos. She invited him to ski with her some time. The other waiters took note.

There were three chambermaids at the Hotel. They were led by Marlene; a tall buxom barmaid type with long dark hair, strong limbs and a tough chick demeanor. Amos guessed she’d grown up in a family of brothers. Marlene’s first once-over assessment of Amos had been “just another cowboy.” Her two sidekicks were as different as dog and cat. Heather was a dyed-blonde party girl. A heavy metal rocker, she hadn’t been at the Hotel long and no one expected her to last. The other one was very different. She could often be seen talking in close confidence with Marlene. She was boyishly thin - thin legs, thin hips, thin torso, thin arms, and a thin oval head with pointed features and thin lips. Her short black locks were always a mess.

Jacynthe always wore black and seemed like she’d be more at home in a darkened studio than in the bright sun-sparkling streams and clear mountain airs of Lake Louise. She was not good-looking but Amos found the way she moved and kept to herself attractive. Her English was terrible and it took some coaxing to get her talking. She’d respond to Amos’ questions with curious looks and coy questions of her own – as if she was ignoring the surface question and looking for what Amos was really after.

It was Vince, one of the other dishwashers who first convinced Amos to visit the Cave. The Cave was the pub at the Holiday Inn where the Post Hotel staff would hang out. Amos had been questioning Vince about how he’d ended up in Lake Louise. As a cabbie, Amos had learned the skill of questioning – a way of keeping the attention off ones’ self and learning more about the ever-intriguing depths of human nature. Turns out Vince had escaped Vietnam in an open boat with forty people jammed together in a run for their lives. He promised to tell Amos more of the story if he’d buy him a beer at the Cave after work.

The place was almost empty. The chambermaids were there and while Amos headed for a table in the opposite corner, Vince walked right over and joined them. Amos reluctantly followed. The music was loud. Too loud to talk. The bar had a large disco dancefloor surrounded on all four sides by tables. The dancefloor was empty except for Jacynthe. She was dancing by herself – doing a strange, self-styled, expressionistic performance - the nature of which Amos was sure that bar had never been treated to before. She seemed totally absorbed in what she was doing and oblivious to anyone or anything else. Amos watched curiously – at first with some embarrassment for her. But as he watched he could see that she was totally into what she was doing and that intrigued him.

Marlene was watching him watching her. She was surprised he didn’t laugh and make jokes. Instead he began bouncing his head to the music enjoying the performance. He and Vince had a couple of beers, said goodnight to the three, and left. Amos wanted to get the rest of the story from Vince.

He told a harrowing tale of survival. Amos just kept shaking his head. Off Vietnam’s coast, they’d managed to escape the chase of pirates – who would have taken the women and all valuables – by running straight into a raging storm. Vince and his partner had fought the waves and kept their boatmates from panic. It took them six weeks to cross the Pacific. They lost 13 people to starvation and thirst and arrived at Vancouver Island where authorities locked them up for another 6 weeks. Eventually the Canadian government relented and issued the Vietnamese boat people – as the media called them – work permits. Vince had heard of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and jumped at the chance to be a dishwasher in Lake Louise. Amos regarded his new friend with much greater respect. His first impression was of a friendly, harmless, little man. Now, he saw a man with a lion’s heart and a backbone of fired steel. Amos doubted if he could ever produce such a courage himself.

Amos also discovered that Vince had never visited Chateau Lake Louise. They were just a short car ride down the mountain from the great CN Hotel on the picture postcard turquoise lake. “Do you have a swimsuit?” Amos asked him. Turns out he did. “Bring it along and meet me in the parking lot after the dinner shift. We’ll go for a swim.”

Vince was there waiting in the parking lot. To Amos’ surprise so was Wendell - and Jacynthe hung back behind the two of them. “Do you mind if I join you?” she asked shyly. “More the merrier.” Amos replied. She looked at him quizzically. “That’s a strange thing to say for someone who spends so much time alone.” she said slipping into the back seat.

Amos explained the drill on the drive up the mountain. “It’s all about being at home – acting like you belong.” And just like he’d told them, they sauntered through the grand lobby with high chandelier ceilings and deluxe carpeting and couches like they owned the place. Well – sort of. Amos greeted the staff behind the front desk with a smile and a wave as he led his party towards the stairs at the far end. Vince was gawking, his head turning left and right, spinning around every ten steps to take it all in. Wendell was trailing behind whispering urgent warnings “we can’t do this! we can’t do this! we can’t do this!” Jacynthe strode step for step with Amos, looking straight ahead, cool, collected and purposeful. Mom and Dad with a couple of kids in tow.

The young guy on staff at the pool probably wasn’t fooled by this small family of strange-looking swimmers. But there were no guests in the pool and either he didn’t care or he didn’t dare challenge Amos’ unsmiling request for four towels. Within minutes the guys were splashing around, jumping and diving off the spring board, a great racket bouncing off the stone walls and vaulted ceiling of the large elegant poolroom. They didn’t even notice Jacynthe slip into the water.

As if some chemistry in the water had changed them, the guys’ loud excitement waned. Vince and Wendell decided to head for the sauna. Not a big fan of the heat, Amos told them to go ahead. He sat on the edge of the pool and watched as Jacynthe began to move through the water. As in the Cave the other night, she moved freely letting one motion lead spontaneously to the next without plan or a need to perceive how she was perceived. She moved to a music now that was within. Amos watched and tried to catch the rhythm and tune. After a deep dive she rose facing Amos and gave him a wide smile. He’d never seen her smile more than a grin.

Amos slid off the edge in under the surface. With a few strokes he was beside her. She responded to his presence with a spin and a swirl. He circled her with long side strokes, watching her lithe motions. She dove deep and he dove to follow. They met at the bottom of their dive. She reached out and touched his hip. He touched her shoulder and it was like a current had found a path through them. Amos felt a warmth flow from hip up to his arm and out through the hand that touched her. It lasted just an instant as their buoyancy lifted them suspended in the moment together. They surfaced to find Vince and Wendell cannonballing into the pool on either side of them. They splashed water at the guys and played like three puppies and a cat in the deep end.

The next night, Wendell knocked on his door and opened it wide. Amos was reading in bed. Wendell had a beer in one hand and a joint in the other. “Hey man, come join us why don’t you?” Amos’ first instinct was to send him away. But Amos felt like it was time to squeeze the sponge. He’d been soaking up the spirit alone for a month now – and it was time to share it. He followed Wendell down the narrow hallway where half the staff were crammed into Billy and Steve’s – dishwashers too - tiny room with two single beds. Smoking and drinking and talking loudly over Billy’s banging on a guitar to the Eagle’s “Hotel California” they welcomed Wendell and Amos with a cheer. Marlene and Jacynthe made room for Amos to sit on the bed between them, backs to the wall. The chambermaids were chatting with others around them but their legs pressed on Amos’ on either side. It seemed a long time since he’d felt the warmth of human touch. He let out a long sigh and relaxed – enjoying the embrace of friends again.

Jacynthe passed him a joint and as their hands touched he again felt a warmth wash through him. After passing the joint along, he reached for her hand and – afraid of what the others would think and not caring – held it. She snuggled closer beside him on the bed saying nothing. Marlene elbowed him, looking away, pretending not to notice.

When the party broke up they were still holding hands. In the hallway people dispersed to their rooms either not noticing the couple or being modest and gracious enough to not notice. Amos’ heart was pumping as he led her to his door and without hesitation drew her behind him into the dark room. They embraced and enjoyed a long first kiss, mouths opening and enjoying the taste they found in one another. Clothes were slowly removed. She led him in an unhurried dance. Each time he went to push or speed things up she pulled away until he calmed and slowed and met her rhythm.

They coupled in the deep double bed. His large long limbs stroked and entwined with her thin strong arms and legs working together to draw and pull him in. Her fingers found every part of him and his hands cupped and wrapped around her small waist, buttocks, legs. He could put his thumbs on either side of her breasts and touch his fingers together in the small of her back. She took him in, breathing in his orgasm as he exhausted himself into her.

He rolled onto his back with a generous sigh. “That was good.” He said. “For a writer - good - is such an empty word.” She whispered throwing her leg across him and shifting onto him with kisses to his nipples. Had he told her he was a writer? “Is good the best you can do?” she teased, kissed and tongued him, stroked and pulled him into a new beginning when he thought they were finished. The dance continued. Every time he thought he’d completely expressed himself, she drew him out of himself further and further and he discovered a new passion, a new heat, a new rhythm that he hadn’t imagined there before. He lost track of the orgasms between them. They weren’t the end of the dance but only a peak or a valley in their journey into the night. He was fascinated that she found new places to explore in his bed and he never knew how many ways he could kiss and tongue and stroke and hold her. Each time he came up for air she would draw him back down into the pleasure of their bodies. She found in him an endurance he didn’t possess – or couldn’t find - alone. There were no words. Their hands and limbs, cock and vulva spoke what needed saying.

She finally let him go when the dawn’s light found it’s way in through the basement window at the ceiling of the room. There was no time to sleep. Time only for a shower and a shit and quickly dress to make the morning breakfast shift. The adrenaline kept Amos going all morning. After lunch he ate with the staff. Jac was there but only looked at him across the room like a cat. Keeping her distance. He smiled and let his attention get drawn into a conversation with Nick. He never thought he’d want sleep more. He left for his room, undressed and dropped into bed. In the second it would have taken to fall asleep she came into the room, undressed and joined him again in a coupling. He didn’t remember her leaving. He must have passed out.

In the weeks to come Amos seemed to be in demand. Staff members kept seeking him out; wanting to spend time talking in his room with him or inviting him for trips to scenic spots. Even Rod, the crusty thirty-something Hotel handyman who seldom spent words on the other staff, would stop just to shoot the breeze with Amos. This wasn’t missed among the small circle of staff and Amos found he’d developed a reputation without doing anything.

Amos wasn’t used to this popularity. Socializing had always been something he felt he had to work at. Now, the more he tried to keep to himself, the more sought out he became. He was happy to spend time with people; share thoughts, stories, laughs. He enjoyed meeting each person where they lived, talking about what they wanted to talk about, poking fun at them and always curious about what made them tick. He learned how to make Jacynthe laugh and she seemed to be coming out of her dark corner and blooming a bit in his presence.

Their dance continued. If he displayed any adolescent bravado it was like she didn’t even see him. If he pursued her, she slipped away. But if he was cool and collected and let her come to him, they would connect. They spoke about art. What it is to be an artist. He wrote her a poem - train thunder, clouds make the moon wonder – it started. She gave him a charcoal sketch of a nude that struck him as both ugly and erotic and it disturbed him – like her. She told him that before he’d arrived they where a bunch of people who worked together. With Amos among them, she said, they’d become a family.

He couldn’t see it but it made Amos feel ready. He felt like he was still a long way from knowing what he was ready for. Just that the sponge had been squeezed and she had done the squeezing – found the juice in him and gave him a taste for it. What had happened to him wasn’t just something in his head, it had changed him somehow, charged him with an energy and a spirit that wasn’t his own, but was his to share.

When the stones beneath the snow began carving chunks out of the base of his skis, it was time to go. Henri and Heloise always held a big Easter party for the staff – a thank you at the end of the season. Amos had given his notice a week before but hadn’t told anyone else. That night he said his goodbyes to each person not giving them a chance to grow sentimental. Jacynthe was catching a ride east with him. Nick was coming along too. Between the three of them they figured they had the gas money. Probably. He thanked Henri for such a wonderful going away party. Henri laughed and wished him well.

No comments: