Sunday, March 06, 2005

Clean up crew

I've been going to Quaker (Society of Friends) meetings fairly regularly since last summer. A lot could be said about it.... I'm sure at some point I'll write some gigantic, rambling post about it which involves my memories from fourth grade and/or my obsession with some bad movie or failed television show.

But today ... just something simple.

After meeting, there is always lunch downstairs, which is called ... simple lunch. Usually, it is simple: makings for peanut butter sandwiches, some carrot sticks, cookies. But on the first Sunday of the month, there is a pot luck, with a wider array of food. Today there was a tomato-rice soup, another rice dish, an assortment of breads and cheeses, homemade toffee and some interesting pastries. There was also the ever-present peanut butter, for those like me who can't get enough of it.

Every week, two people sign up to assemble simple lunch, and two people volunteer to clean up afterward. Last week, when the list of volunteers was looking sparse, I signed David and myself up to be the cleanup crew. Luckily David remembered this later in the week, so that we didn't accidentally sleep in and embarrass ourselves to the point where we could never return.

Meeting took a bit longer than usual; a resolution was passed to display a sign on the lawn outside in observance of the anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq; all the churches on Charles Street were erecting signs of some kind. It was the pacifist nature of Quakerism that first drew us to the meeting; it has been interesting getting to know the group and how it operates. It has a certain eccentric quality which I love; there is a sincerity and directness there which I respond to. The members of the meeting (we are just attenders; one has to apply and be accepted to become a member) voted to display the sign, which will say "Seek Peace on Earth." This is in contrast to the usual sign, "War is not the answer." It was felt that the emphasis should be on peace, not war. One member of the meeting voiced her concern that the sign might be vandalized, or perhaps taken ... "someone might want it for their bedroom."

While no one could exactly imagine what sort of person would want a thirty foot banner proclaiming the need for peace in their bedroom, the committee responsible for the sign also was ready to replace it on a daily basis if vandals struck. It was this sort of quiet, unblinking steadiness that I have found so attractive in this group.

The vote was concluded, and we went downstairs for lunch.

After my peanut butter sandwich made with natural peanut butter and fresh bread, I scouted out the kitchen to see what my cleanup duties would be. It was your standard institutional kitchen, like you might find in any older church or school, with a large iron stove, cabinets full of mismatched plates and mugs, and a large stainless steel triple sink. I got my dishpans ready - wash, rinse and bleach rinse - and awaited the arrival of the dirty dishes.

As lunch wound to a close, I tackled the very basic dishwashing duties - mugs and silverware mostly - while David cleaned the tables and swept the floor in the meeting room. It didn't seem like much of a daunting task at all, although numerous people thanked us in a way that made it seem like no one ever cleaned up at all. Of course, one of the charming older women in the group spilled the beans to David: "For the first two years someone is in the group, we like to sit back and watch them clean up. Thank God for you new people - otherwise nothing would ever get cleaned." She was joking, of course.

Other people came in to scope out my working methods; one member who had shown herself to be very particular about things was a bit surprised to find that I knew how to use the triple sink.

"Did you work in a kitchen?" I admitted that I had done my time as a busboy, so I knew the basic procedure. She seemed both pleased, and yet perhaps a bit irritated that there was nothing to criticize. In my few brief conversations with her, she has seemed to be the type who is slow to defrost; certainly not typical of the people I've met, who by and large are very welcoming. This woman, although warming up to me, wasn't won over completely.

"I've worked in a kitchen. I'm a professional." She then washed the cutting board she was carrying. Incompletely. I surreptitiously re-did it the moment she left.

After the dishes were washed, dried and put away, I scrubbed out the sinks. By this time most people had gone; one gentleman with prematurely silver hair was puttering around the kitchen as well, weeding out anything made of the wrong kind of plastic that had been put in the recycling bin, and generally making sure things were in their proper place. He turned to me, as I was swabbing out the sink.

"You like to work, don't you?"

It's sort of an odd question, but ... "Yes," I said.

"That's good. It's healthy." Then we went back to working. I was struck by how clearly this person saw that side of me.

It is true - I do like to work. One might not know it, considering the amount of time I seem to spend not working - but sometimes I don't feel as though my brain is really functioning unless I have a task. At a party -- my own or someone else's -- chances are I will be in the kitchen, either preparing something, or cleaning up. It's true in my theater life, also: whenever I am about to go into rehearsal, my mind is always a blank until we have begun work. Once we have started, I can think about nothing else. Once the show is open and my task is done, my brain shuts down again, blank and empty.

I finished in the kitchen, and went out to find David sweeping up the last of the crumbs. We said goodbye to the silver-haired man, and walked out into the beautiful day. Spring was coming. Things were clean. It felt good.


Blogger David said...

Fascinating that you should let the crumbs go so easily, Lord.

6:31 AM  
Blogger Hanuman1960 said...

Of all the things that I could have taken from this posting, I was most intriguied by the "bleach rinse". What is the purpose of it? To disinfect the dishes?

As usual, you have a wonderful way with words.

11:11 AM  
Blogger crumblord said...

David: funny how different it is when they are somebody else's crumbs.

Hanuman: Thanks ... in a triple-sink setup, it's wash, then rinse, and then the second rinse is a 1:10 bleach solution for disinfecting. People kept coming over and, thinking it was a regular pan of water, would pour out their coffee into it ... it was testing my bossiness response ... ten minutes and already I was possessive about the kitchen.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

I'm torn on the pros and cons of clean-up crew versus dish maker. When I was still working a real job (and before I began cooking regularly), I would always sign up for the clean-up crew at our luncheons (usually 50 people). Plus, there were the list nazis who always brought lunch meat or always chopped up carrots, or whatever, so it was always slim pickings by the time the list got to me. After the luncheon, we had to leave the dishes with food still in them in the break room so that people could snack later, which always meant checking back periodically during the day to see whether the dishes were empty and you could finally finish your duties as clean-up crew member. It became an obsession over the afternoon, wondering whether I could leave on time or whether I'd be up to my elbows in soap suds in the executive kitchen, cleaning up the last casserole dish for an employee who probably left at 2:30. Yeah, I started bringing the 2-liter bottles of coke and bags of snacks over time, just because they were so ...disposable, thereby absolving me and the unfortunate clean-up crew person of any further worry.

These days, it's a luncheon of one. I am dish maker and clean-up person, and I often say to myself, "I bet you like to work, Jen." But I never answer because that person is so annoying.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Knottyboy said...

Chop wood carry water...find joy in everything you do.

I like the "repayment" of cleaning a kitchen. It shows respect for those that have prepared the meal. The hot soapy water on your arms and the close silly talk of the person who dries the dishes while you wash. Nice end of the evening before the coffe is done brewing.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Ellen said...

I don't know whether this is simply true of Quaker Meetings or if it applies to all small communities of this kind but your experience in the kitchen is exactly what clean up duty is like at the Meeting to which I belong :) Everyone is very appreciative of your efforts but there are always two or three people hovering around as if they own the kitchen ready to point out something you've overlooked (or were simply going to get to later).

I hope you continue to enjoy Meeting!

6:30 PM  

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