Passing Trains

Short Stories... All Aboard!


Hector & Julio, Inc.

It was an early Friday night, and the 8th Street Bag Lady had just slipped in with her bag of tricks. First it was this, then that, until right around six our dishwashers staged an uprising.  Yes, Greenwich Village hosted Marxists, and Calvinists, and Communists, even Columnists, and oh-boy if she was good looking!  Yet, that night it was the comrades of the kitchen who staged a wild-cat strike, walking out on slogans of “Free whiskey for everyone!”  Yet, hardly a hungry eye looked up from a busy plate, this being New York. Yet, it wouldn’t be long before there were no plates.

That’s what I walked into at 6pm that Friday night.  Thus greeted, I called Al’s Restaurant Agency down on Warren Street.

“Al, I’ve run out of pot-washers, and the dish machine just quit.” 
“Sir David, I shall dispatch Knight Hector and Squire Julio, trust they’ll arrive intact at 6:30,” Al said, his Court-of-the-King manner and Avon accent belying the smarts of a Brooklyn Bridge card dealer.
“Al, better tell’em they’ll have to do’em by hand.”
“In that case, give’em steak, especially after they spent this very day mopping-up Romeo’s on 42nd Street. Otherwise, good Sir, don’t worry.”

Al’s “don’t worry” may be taken as the wax-sealed proclamation of the Court.  Nonetheless, by the time 6:30 sped around, the kitchen and me were up to our ears in unwashed dishes, piles of pots, 50 pounds of silverware spilling from sinks, overloaded bus-pans sliding across greasy floors – and my Friday slacks dripping sauce teriyaki.

Yet, it wasn’t too long before our hesitant hostess peeked into the kitchen, grimaced at the chaos, then announced, meekly, “Dave, your dishwashers are here.” 

Standing behind her were Hector and Julio, silk ties in tailored suits, gleaming Italian shoes, and each carrying a brass-on-leather attaché case.  Although you learn to expect surprises in New York, the Cookery’s crew had never seen the like of Hector and Julio before – who must have taken the wrong train, gotten off at the wrong stop, or were those two Milan silk buyers who’d made reservations from the uptown Plaza penthouse.

Me, I preferred rubbing shoulders with the less addressed, like Hector and Julio – professional dishwashers, the engines that make cafés run, the pistons under the hood, the high octane hands turning nervous entrepreneurs into moneyed land owners.

Hector and Julio were the cream of the café crop, unmatched, peerless, and matter-of-fact when it came to pot washing, floor scrubbing, and dish buffing. Each morning, no later than 6, Monday through Saturday, they rode the 3rd Avenue subway down from the South Bronx, and every night the same train home, sometimes at 6, more often ‘round midnight.  I don’t know all that they carried in their leather cases, except for the spare white uniforms – not just “white,” or near-white, but pure white, and their full length rubber aprons which reached down to their rubber over-shoes.

They commanded one catch, however, one that a few foolish restaurant operators couldn’t swallow.  Hector and Julio were paid the professional rate, which was double the going rate: no argument, non-negotiable, period.  Welcome to the Cookery, amigos, you’ll get no tight-wad, penny pinchin’ here.

I had an advantage; I knew these Warren Street amigos, so when they looked into the kitchen, their eyes skipped over the mountain of dishes with a wink and smile.  I had already alerted the chef, but even he was a alarmed when I left “strangers” Julio and Hector locked in the office to de-attaché, while I exited the kitchen as if I had better things to do.  Well, I did, and remember what Al said, “Don’t worry.”

I won’t give away their secrets except to say that 15 minutes later the dish area was caught in a blizzard of suds – white on white, elbow-length black rubber gloves plowing through snow drifts, plates and platters stacking dish on dish, steam bellowing up from stainless steel sinks, amigo engines locked in high-gear.  “God almighty” the chef exclaimed, “where’d you find those guys!”  By 8 o’clock, and in the middle of the rush, the crisis was over.  While patrons waited patiently for tables, Hector and Julio sat quietly on milk crates near the pot-sink eating medium-rare steaks. 

In silk ties and tailored suits, they left the Cookery kitchen -- spotless – after midnight, paid in full - Hector and Julio, professional dishwashers, Warren Street’s best.  If you remember, I used a special term in “Warren Street”, which now fits the way Julio and Hector entered and left, silk on silk, white on white; Masters of the Meal.

© 2001 David Baker/aka/David M. Molloy


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