We have a new dishwasher at the restaurant at Duke. His name is Arnaldo and he is from Cuba. He is about my height and, I’m guessing not much over half my weight. His skin is dark – ebony – and yet luminous enough to let you see the lines worn into his skin by wherever life took him before he ended up in our kitchen. The way those lines shape and mark his face allow him to exude the same kind of calming presence as Danny Glover did when he turned to Kevin Kline and said, “Man, get yourself to the Grand Canyon.”
That’s it: he has Danny Glover eyes.
(And I hope the obscure reference makes you go watch the movie.)
He comes into the kitchen promptly at five, shakes my hand, and says, “How are you, Sir?”
Sir. So, you see, he has me smiling from the start. And then he goes to work. First, he washes whatever dishes and pots and utensils and bowls we have managed to stack into strange sculpture by the dish machine in the midst of our prep. He then cleans up his area to get it ready for dinner service and then asks me for something to do. Everyday. And with that question he moves from washing to being a part of the prep team, which is good because he actually is a cook; the job, however, was for a dishwasher and a job was what he needed. He doesn’t complain. He works and he smiles and he is kind. Kind in a way I rarely experiece. Kind in a way that changes the way the room feels when he walks in. Kind in a way that makes me glad we work together, even though tomorrow will mark four days that we have known each other. Kind in a way that makes me wonder about me and what it feels like when I walk in the room, whatever room that might be.
Our week has been, as they say in the restaurant business, a “soft opening”: we had eighteen customers the first night, thirty-six last night, and fifty tonight. I’m not much at geometric progressions, but if things continue we should hit a thousand soon after Labor Day. We are happy because it was well into September last year before we hit fifty. We are off to a good start. And we are all tired because we have been going full strength all week, trying to make things the best they can be. I’ve had three ten or eleven hour days in a row and there are a few more to come without much down time in between over the next couple of weeks. Yet, I find myself looking forward to work and one of the reasons is that I get to be around Arnaldo and share in his kindness.
As we move toward the end of the dinner shift and things slow down on the line, the cook’s job turns from creating to clean up and the dishwasher moves into full motion: the last hour is his heavy time, getting everything washed and put away. As Abel and I were wrapping and labeling things to go back in the walk-in, I could hear Arnaldo singing from the dish area. He was singing in Spanish, so I didn’t understand him, but what I did comprehend was he was not singing as though he needed something to get him through the stacks of pots and plates; he was singing like he had the afternoon off and the top down on the Wrangler, full of joy and life.
I am fortunate in these days to say part of what happens when I go to work is I get to watch and listen to Arnaldo sing and be kind. Tomorrow will be a good day.