Tray Translation: The Art of a College Dishwasher
As a college student who is desperate to graduate as free of debt as possible, I, in said desperation, took the most hackneyed, demeaning job an intelligent young woman can take. That sentence is very misleading, and not at all what you may think, because in fact, I work as a dishwasher and not anything that requires short skirts or nocturnal romps. My job is more prestigious than that- I had to actually interview to wash the dishes of thousands of college freshman for fifteen hours a week, so I view it as a distinguished honor given only to those in their physical prime who also lack the convenience of a gag reflex.
I highly recommend this job to anyone willing to sacrifice their dignity and pride to wear an oversize button down and disposable apron while scooping sculptures made of mysterious elements into equally murky waters. The invigorating nightly struggles with an insidious pulper and a picky dishwasher leave one refreshed and glowing with greasy hot water and constantly running to restart the tray rack after some innocent customer (read: moron) didn’t push their tray in far enough.
In all honesty, it’s the people that make the job, as I work with several cute older men- nothing says romance like soggy cordon bleu and ‘clean me’ spelled out in chocolate chips and syrup on a tray. Beyond the gentle pulse of love that hangs in the sudsy air is the bonus acquisition of knowledge that comes with disposing of other people’s waste. It is known as Tray Translation and is the singular ability to describe in particular detail the former owner of any specific dinner tray, without, of course, ever having seen them. This handy skill impresses at dinner parties, celebrity fetes and can be used to entertain small wailing children instead of just backhanding them.
I have, in my time as a dishwasher, compiled a rather useful list of several different tray translations that may be used to aid and assist any readers with burgeoning dreams of entering the glorious field of dish washing.
1. The Jock Tray: Everyone knows college freshmen who made any sort of sporting team are akin to Gods. And if you didn’t know that, well bless your naïve little soul, because reverencing a freshman athlete’s every move is the socially required norm on any college campus. At BYU, freshmen athletes have the blessed right to do whatever they wish in the dining hall in addition to having the raving appetite of three small blue whales. The jock tray is easily distinguished by several factors. As the tray rounds the circular depository, it will be invariably placed on one of the top shelves, far out of your pathetic reach. At first, you’ll angrily think this was done on purpose, but then you will realize the person who placed it there possesses more teeth than IQ points, and therefore also has a distinguishable lack of consideration for others.
The second indication of the tray’s former owner is the absolutely immense weight. You will stagger and buckle and groan as you lower the tray to your work surface, desperate not to surrender any of its silverware of other un-shreddable items to the pulper who is always waiting sinisterly at the end of the water-filled trough between you and the tray. The mountain of plates, bowls, cups and silverware will be astounding at first, but that will quickly change to a mix of nauseated awe as you realize they ate everything. At this point, the tray is thankfully easy to sort out and send on its way. However, jock’s rove in massive packs, and there will be another twenty similar trays just behind it.
2. The ‘Dainty Palate’ Tray: These are by far the worst trays to clean. They will arrive deceptively covered in paper napkins, as if they had just noshed on foie gras and cow brains instead of a burger with grill lines drawn on in magic marker. Upon removal of several layers of napkins, you will discover several plates of half eaten food that have been lazily swirled about. If you could interview the diner, it would invariably be a girl, who would simper and gently remind you that she has a delicate sense of taste and is slight of stomach.
Which makes you a heartless person for thinking those nasty thoughts- there’s no way she could have finished even one of her many plates of half eaten food! Do you want to make such a sensitive creature sick? Scrape the plentiful remains of her atrocious waste into the trough, chuck the tray into the dishwasher and harpoon the nearest dish room visitor for good measure.
3. The Asian Adult Tray: For some undefinable reason, there are a regular handful of Asian men who are quite taken with rapidly prepared dining food that all shares the same distinct flavor. Even the off-brand cereal and mysteriously stale pudding cups cause paroxysms of joy. Their trays are by far the easiest to clean, and quickly identified for their meticulous (and you’re somehow sure it’s vaguely racist) arrangement. The tray of an adult Asian man will have a newspaper tucked neatly to the left of his meal, beneath an empty glass (no root beer and raspberry slushy drink mixes for these refined gentlemen!) that once contained water. Their silverware will be to the far right, wiped down and stacked neatly next to a clean plate with an equally clean bowl stacked within.
Their napkin will be perfectly folded and placed within this bowl, and you will feel vaguely disheartened that they couldn’t have at least folded it into an origami butterfly or dish room dragon. You’re pretty sure the pulper would appreciate such a delicate, carefully folded sacrifice.
4. The Tray of the Person You’d Probably Not Be Friends With: These trays are just simply indescribably odd. Lacking any true, definitive personality, the tray of the PYPNBFW will stick out instantly, although there will be no standard indicators. Some of these trays will contain a single plate surrounded by a dozen glasses. Others will be full of well-cleaned dishes, but will arrive alone, mysteriously lacking any silverware. In the same vein, others still will arrive with an inordinate amount of utensils spilling over the edges. You will feel a deep-seated urge to punch somebody in the nose but must somehow resist, because the guy cleaning trays next to you is your hot dish room manager. These trays are often noted for carrying several salt and pepper shakers and even the baskets of napkins that sit on the tables. You will quickly come to the conclusion that the owner of this tray is seriously deserving of a profanity moniker, and that you would most certainly NOT ever be friends with them.
These are only some of the tricks of the trade that I have managed to pick up in my two weeks employed as a damp, stationary version of a janitor. Once more, I highly suggest this job to you. Misery loves company.