Hush Puppies Are Up!

I remember when my cousin worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken to earn money while in college.

His mom would make him come through a different entrance to the house because he reeked so badly.

I remember thinking: “Ewwwwww! Gross!”

Yeah, well thou without stench, cast the first chicken thigh into the fryer.

Fast-forward and it’s my senior year in high school and I’m desperately looking for a job. A classmate was working at Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips.

Through him, I got a job working as a fry cook and a bus boy.

Neither job was especially attractive. But since misery loves company, I got my buddy Pedro a job there.

Pairing us up to work was maybe not the smartest thing the managers ever did.

One night I was showing Pedro how to “recycle” the oil.  At closing, we would trot out this rectangular metal gadget. We would open up a spigot, the oil would pour into the machine’s reservoir, and then it would filter the grit and we would direct the recycled oil back into the fryer.

I had Pedro laughing so hard about some tomfoolery during this operation that, when the oil splashed, it landed on his tongue because his mouth was wide open while laughing.

Did I mention the oil was still hot?

Being fry cook was bad (your hair was matted with oil, your pores filled with batter and you stank) but being clean-up person was worse.

Mopping and cleaning tables was not so bad. But woe unto you if you worked a Sunday night and had to bring garbage to the curb for pick-up the next day.

There was a room – yes, literally a room – filled floor to ceiling with a week’s worth of rotting restaurant garbage. The farther you had to reach into the room to retrieve the garbage, the worse it got. There were roaches in there the size of pigeons and they were just as obnoxious.

Somehow I got promoted to manager of the restaurant on Bartow Avenue in the Bronx, a not-particularly great neighborhood.

How not particularly great was it?

The first night I showed up for work, my assistant manager, Javier (a short, funny Puerto Rican dude with a fro, dead-caterpillar mustache and a fuzzy goatee) pointed to pockmarks in the large steel-door freezers.

“You see these?” he asked. “These are from bullets.”

I lasted maybe nine months. All in all, I look back on my time there as a worthwhile growth experience that helped prepare me for work challenges later in life.

By the way, do you want chips with that?

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