Thursday, May 3, 2007

Dishwasher

Dishwasher, by Pete Jordan
$11.16 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 0060896426
Pete is what you'd call a slacker. Born in San Francisco in 1966, as a young man he decided not to follow his siblings through college into respectable, middle class life. Instead he became a dishwasher. The subject of the book is his quest to wash dishes in all fifty states. He sleeps in a tent or on a friend's sofa, quits his jobs at a moment's notice for the most frivolous reasons, and never stays in the same place for more than a few months.
According to an opinion survey ranking the social status of various occupations, dishwasher is 735 out of 740 jobs. Only prostitutes, fortune tellers, street corner drug dealers, and panhandlers are considered less respectable. There's something quintessentially Gen-X about having a "dream job" normally reserved for the lowest dregs of society. The result is a quirky and counter-cultural adventure story.
He meets all kinds of interesting folks on his cross-country trip, including a few racists, religious wackos, bosses drunk with power, and sex-starved women who try to take him to bed. As his notoriety grows, he is chased down for interviews by CNN and the Late Show with David Letterman. Most of the people he describes, however, are just regular, friendly, hard-working folks who could be found anywhere in America: small town or big city.
His experiences are as diverse as dishwashing can get. He works on a giant oil rig, in a remote fishing village in Alaska, a farm commune a la Walden Two, Jewish places, Chinese places, endless pizza joints and upscale restaurants. He eats masticated food off of other people's plates (gross!) and lives as frugally as possible during long periods of unemployment. Some of his bosses are terrific, but there's also tension when one refuses to pay him and another holds his paycheck until he signs a loyalty oath.
Never a classy guy, Pete still comes across as very loyal, honest, and devoted to the cause of a fair deal for the working man. His experience challenges notions about class in America: that people with lower class jobs are stupid or lazy. He self-publishes a photocopied magazine about washing dishes, by the end of his trip he's selling 10,000 copies per issue.
I loved the free-spirited danger as he enters an unfamiliar town and finds work, sometimes making a connection with the inhabitants, sometimes leaving angry never to return. Best of all, there's no phony intellectualism here: the author's obviously very smart but uses a lot of slang and few SAT vocabulary words, so reading it was fun and never a chore.
A strange quest by a most unusual guy. I've never read anything else quite like it, and loved every minute.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I do not like calling someone who works at a useful job one of the lowest dregs of society.

Hansisgreat said...

I didn't say dishwashers were the lowest dregs of society. I said dishwashing is often considered a job for the lowest dregs of society. Just backing up what Jordan says in his book: that dishwasher is usually a lower-class thing.
Thanks for visiting.