Here’s a really good rule: You should never allow sixteen- and seventeen-year-old kids to run your restaurant kitchen.
It was 1968, and my friend Paul and I were working in the kitchen of a local restaurant that I’ve decided not to identify—out of fairness to the restaurant, which is still there. Paul had more experience in the kitchen than I did, having worked there the previous summer. I guess that’s why he was put in charge. Paul became the cook, and I became the assistant cook. No one would have dared call us chefs.
Our specialty was fried chicken in a basket, and every day we would bake a giant pot of chicken, which was to be fried later. Neither of us wanted the job, and even though Paul was nominally in charge, we decided to settle the question of who was going to prepare and bake all of those chicken halves by calling “hosies.” If you don’t know what hosies are it’s sort of like calling “dibs,” only far stronger. You could also elevate the level of the hosie by attaching a description of a powerful talisman to add extra “hosie power.”
Now that you understand hosies, you’ll have a deeper appreciation of how we would decide who would be the chicken guy on any particular day.
Me: I call hosies
Paul: Oh yeah? Well, I call hosies double black magic
Me: So? I call hosies double black magic ace of spades
Paul Okay, I call hosies double black magic ace of spades old dirty rags
Me: Well, I call hosies double black magic ace of spades old dirty rags your mother’s combat boots! (I played dirty.)
Eventually one of us would get tired and give up, and that guy would have to cook the chicken.
Once the chicken was cooked we had to separate it into parts for frying. I quickly learned that if you’re chopping chicken into parts, you do not want to extend the forefinger of the hand holding the chicken while chopping. I learned this when I neatly cut off the top of my left index finger.
After Paul helped me pop the top of the finger back on, we wrapped it up in paper towels and duct tape, and I kept chopping. Charlie, the owner of the restaurant, came in, saw my finger, and asked what had happened. When we told him, he put me in his car and took me to the emergency room. The doctor made tsk, tsk sounds after unwrapping my finger, but he fixed it, and to this day, I have no feeling in the end of my finger. I did get out of cooking chickens for almost a whole week, though, so it wasn’t all bad.
Our favorite waitress was named Doreen, and Paul took quite a fancy to her. So how does a seventeen-year-old show his infatuation with an older girl? The doors from the dining room into the kitchen opened directly to the counter behind which Paul was doing his cooking. We carefully aimed a fan to blow directly at the door, and then sent another waitress to get Doreen to come to the kitchen. As the doors opened and Doreen came through, Paul threw a handful of french fries into the fan and they sprayed potato bits all over the object of his adolescent fantasies. She was not amused, but I was rolling on the floor, borderline hysterical. Funny enough, she later ended up dating Paul. I never did figure out women.
The restaurant was owned by a wonderful Greek family, and they all worked the restaurant. Well, almost all. Tony was the son and he was our age. Tony fancied himself a drummer, and he couldn't waste his valuable drumming time actually working in the kitchen. That summer the big song was “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and it featured a seventeen-minute drum solo. Tony would burst into the kitchen with his drumsticks and proceed to attempt to play this solo on the various pots and pans, usually unsuccessfully. We finally had to tell his dad, Charlie, that Tony had to stop or we would have to quit. We didn’t hear much else from Tony after that, but since the family lived upstairs, we could hear the two of them discussing the situation at the top of their lungs. We learned a lot about swearing in Greek that summer, and I still remember some of it. I don’t want to offend you, so I can’t tell you what we learned in English, but if you’re crazy enough to try to translate it, here it is. I may not have spelled the words right because we learned them phonetically.
Fila mou to kolo
These weren’t the worst, but they were the most frequently used. When we learned them we had no idea what they meant, but man, did they sound cool, and weren’t we sophisticated! When we began overusing them, Charlie finally translated them for us, thinking it would help us to refrain from shouting them at people. No such luck. We used them even more once we knew what we were saying.
This story wouldn’t be complete without a brief mention of our dishwasher, Mark. Mark was a friend, but since he was only a dishwasher, he became the focus of our practical jokes. Every day Mark asked us to cook him a cheeseburger. No problem. And for a little extra protein, we’d sneak a fly under the cheese and then tell him not to eat it because there was a fly in it. “Oh yeah, you guys are always joking around,” he’d say, and he’d then proceed to eat his cheeseburger. Finally, knowing he didn’t believe us, we put a couple of dead flies on top of the cheese where they were clearly visible (don’t worry, we’d cook them first on the flat top). When Mark finally realized that we weren’t joking, he began yelling a string of the Greek swears we’d all learned.
Not to worry, Mark never got sick, and to this day he’s still a good friend. He just won’t eat any cheeseburger that I cook.