After graduating from college, I made it a year and a quarter working with my dad learning how to run a girdle and bra manufacturing plant.  I quit so that I could try to make it as a free lance illustrator and graphic designer.  Unable to pay bills on the few jobs I was getting, I applied to cook in the Bread Shop Kitchen, across from the Bread Shop near Roscoe and Halstead.  This was in 1978.

When I applied, I thought the business was quasi-communal.  I’d been fascinated by communes and intentional communities for several years, never having lived in one, but I had visited several.  After working there a bit I realized The Bread Shop was a privately owned concern with bosses and disgruntled employees.  I focused on cooking, which I was good at and enjoyed.  I liked the people, who were hippies, gays and counter-culture food fanatics.

The grocery store that spawned the restaurant had started as a communal operation but had evolved to a sole proprietorship.  There were politics and hurt feelings, but that had all unfolded and had sort of been resolved before I arrived.  What was left over was an odd assortment of rules, deep suspicions and a staff that sought to make believe that it was the staff in control, not the owner.

Stuff got done more or less professionally.  In Florida, every restaurant was roach-infested.  Once, in the Bo Tree where I worked in Florida, a roach ended up in someone’s lasagna.  The health officials visited us the next day.  They were pretty relaxed.  They told us cooks and the wait staff to wear shoes.  At the Bread Shop Kitchen we had rats.  We left poison for them in the basement, though all that was in the basement were canned goods and daily cash receipts.  We placed poison in the kitchen corners and underneath the stove.

One evening rush, a rat staggered out from beneath the stove, tongue hanging out of its mouth.  It made its way to the open door leading to the dining room.  The three of us in the kitchen watched, frozen in place.  Evidently the rat had just eaten poison.  I hesitated to chase it, fearing it would scurry into the dining room.  I hesitated to even get near it.  The rat decided the dining room was where it wanted to be.

Most of the tables were filled with patrons when the rat slowly walked into the room.  It made its way to the nearest table, crawled between two people and leaned up against the center pole of the table.  There it huffed and puffed, breathing with difficulty.

Not a single person in the dining room had observed the journey.  In the kitchen, we didn’t want to be seen observing the rat, fearing we’d alert diners to look where we were looking, so we copped quick, surreptitious glances.

The rat died.  One by one the diners left, none the wiser.

It wasn’t long after that that I arrived at work to be told that the day before there had been a theft.  Someone (likely a staff member, according to the owner) had gone into the basement and robbed the change box.  All staff who’d worked that day were to be given lie detector tests.  The boss told us that this was written into a document we were provided when we applied for the job.  We take the test or we were fired.

I made an appointment to travel downtown to take the test.


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