IT WAS DURING my Navy days when a friend filled me in on the racket he had for getting better food. "Volunteer to be a dishwasher at the officer's club, the meals are great," he said with his plump enthusiasm, "and you can eat anytime you want a snack and we can go ashore every night."
So I did, having an appetite at that young age that needed a fix every few hours.
There did not seem to be a lineup for the job, (which should have been a tip off), so I reported in at seven the next morning.
The breakfast of ham-and-eggs, home fries, warm toast and freshly brewed coffee was great as we sat at a private little table away from the clamor of the crew's mess.
Finished, we headed for the kitchen, carrying our plates and silverware when my friend said, "You wash and I'll dry."
Standing in a T-shirt, with a soiled table cloth around my waist, I stood in front of the biggest sink I ever saw in my life.
He showed me the amount of soap to use, the proper water temperature and soon the bus boys began to stack the dirty plates.
It was along about 9:30 when we finally had the kitchen spanking clean and sat down for a smoke. Forty-five minutes later the swinging doors began to swing and the busboys came in carrying trays of dirty dishes, cups and saucers.
When I gave my friend a quizzical look he said, "Coffee break, it's not bad."
It was about 11:30 when we were back in shape again.
We had the good lunch he promised, both grinning thinking we had the best of all rackets.
At 12:15 it was back up to my elbows, the heaviest meal serving of the day and not until 3 o'clock were we ready to handle the afternoon coffee break of which he had reassured me, "Not many come in the afternoon."
But it was enough to keep me in the soapy water right up to the cocktail hour.
We sat at our table for our early dinner, my appetite waning. Having piled everything I could get onto one small plate so as to not dirty another big one, I watched him gorge himself.
Now the busboys were at it again, and I wanted to kill them as they piled dishes up and grabbed the clean plates I had just finished washing.
By 9 p.m. we were free for the evening, and like good sailors we showered, got into our dress blues and headed ashore.
The dance was over by midnight and it was nother hour returning to the base, where I finally collapsed face down on the bunk.
The wake up call was at 5:30, and after a breakfast I just nibbled at I was back up to my elbows by seven.
The routine was the same, and I felt emaciated watching him gain weight before my eyes.
That night at a dance I fell asleep while doing a slow fox trot and woke when I heard the girl murmur, "Your hands are so clean."
The week went on, and by Friday I planned to hit my friend with a giant pan and drown him in the soapy water, and be willing to face a firing squad without a blindfold.
But Friday nights are for sailors, and just before falling asleep on the floor next to my bunk I heard him say through mouthfuls of a roast beef sandwich, "Weekends are not bad, a lot of officers go ashore."
My hands seemed to be smaller and a rash had definitely developed before he volunteered to wash and I could dry.
During the middle of the second week I selected a sailor I was sure I did not like and convinced him of what a good deal it was.
He took the deal and I quit.
Never being one to shirk my duty at the sink, or fail to take my turn after a party, I still find the chore an unpleasant one.
It was during a time when my wife was laid up after an accident when a friend called to say he, his wife and two other couples wanted to come over and throw a lobster dinner and provide everything.
Living in an old house with bad plumbing, we have never tried to put in a dishwasher because of the expense involved.
I thought of lobster, corn, dishes coagulated with butter, eight plates, eight side plates, butter bowls, pans that cooked corn, salad bowls, loster pots, all kinds of glasses and silverware so I said, "No, I have a lot to do now."
There was strong persuasion and reassurance that it would be no problem, everyone would pitch in and help with the dishes.
The party group arrived on a Saturday night carrying big ears of corn, fat lobsters, the salad I had made earlier was ready for tossing and things looked good.
Before leaving home my friend called to ask if there was anything I needed.
Having ordered the booze that day I found they had forgotten the scotch and I asked him to bring a bottle.
They all sat on the porch while I cleaned the corn and steamed the lobsters, happy with the buzz of friendship and conversation coming through the kitchen door accompanied by the ice clinking in the glasses.
The meal was excellent and we sat at the table a long time, sipping wine, picking at the remains of the lobsters. I can't recall how it happened, first a phone call from home and my friend left hurriedly with his wife, and somehow about 1 a.m. the other two couples drifted off.
I woke at about 6 a.m. after having spent the night on the sofa.
The kitchen and dining room table looked like a bomb had struck.
There was no way out but to roll up my sleeves, and by noon, after six hours in the tubs, I had everything back in order.
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing chores, and by six I took a large glass, a couple of ice cubes and went for the scotch -- and found the bottle missing.
Being Sunday, the liquor stores closed and my sometimes scotch-loaning nextdoor neighbor away at the beach with his family, I called my friend to ask if the bottle might be somewhere around the house and I couldn't find it.
He reassured me it wasn't and said, "I took it home with me, it was my last bottle."
Dry, I went back to the kitchen to finish the lunch dishes and to prepare dinner in one small pan, if I could.