Book Review: Dishwasher by Pete Jordan

Bryan RAugust 6th, 2008
By: Bryan R

Although it's a bit irrational, there seems to be a bit of magic to the restaurant business. You sit down, put in your order, and with a moments wait, your order is up. Food laden plates pop out from around the corner at an impressive regularity and although we all know there's a chef back there, most of the times we never think about it. And rarer yet, we don't think about how that clean plate was most likely a dirty plate perhaps just moments ago. But without a doubt, a dishwasher was hard at work turning that dirty plate clean. While being a dishwasher is often grueling, thankless, and even somewhat enigmatic, Dishwasher, by Pete Jordan, offers a rare glimpse into this steamy world of professional dishwashing.

Jordan has lived the dreams of many: to travel the nation anywhere his heart desired, and get paid for it. Of course, it wasn't without sacrifice. It often required a diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, considerable couch surfing, and "quintessential dirty work". The tale of Jordan, who practically stumbled into his mission to wash dishes in all 50 states, is part journal, part introspective musings, and a good deal of everyday particle advice (especially when it comes to dishwashing).

There is something incredibly appealing to Jordan's story. Perhaps it's his adventures working at an Alaskan cannery operation where by the end of his labor-intensive stint, he could muscle his way through 50 pull-ups. Or maybe it was his falling in love during a ferry strip along the mystic Marine Highway, the boat passage between Alaska and Seattle. All the while, small anecdotes provide a steady stream of humorous moments, such as how working and living in a ski lodge with complimentary passes can resemble prison life to a non-skier like Jordan. But as with most tales of expansive and arduous travel, there was also plenty of heartache: the string of failed relationships, the back aching labor, and the odd period of homelessness.

Although Jordan humbly bills himself as a dishwasher who just happens to write, his various trials and tribulations allows him to tap into an impressive array of insights, some even on contemporary social issues. While struggling to land a dishwashing job in New Orleans, Jordan is informed by his friend's husband that his trouble may stem from that fact that Jordan is white, whereas all the dishwashers are black. Jordan, who balked at the notion that certain jobs are predestined for certain races, is then accused of being a racist himself since he was trying to take a "black job". Angry, Jordan retorts back that racism is "assuming that shitty jobs should be reserved for blacks."

Mixed into Jordan's larger, overarching tale is a bounty of colorful experiences and details, such as the long held tradition of dishwashers having first dibs on restaurant leftovers (a system he called the "Bus Tub Buffet"), the odd bit of interjected history and quotes from George Orwell, and the drama involved with a vengeful dishwasher at a Jewish retirement home who, against Kosher practices, purposefully mixes the dirty meat and dairy dishes, leaving Jordan to sort out the Koranic implications. Jordan even manages to make a now infamous appearance on David Letterman, a story that may leave you laughing aloud.

Without a bit of a nudge, the book, which at first glance appears to be nothing more than "Memories of a Dishwasher", would be easy to pass over. However, that would mean missing a delightful and sometimes thought provoking tale that's also a bittersweet story as Jordan discovers, with the aide of the blue-rimmed plate and the woman he loves, that dishwashing isn't much of a life's calling. But fortunately, the conclusion is fitting and satisfying. And best of all, it's a entertaining and insightful read, recommended to those who frequent restaurants and desire to peek into the fascinating world of dishwashing subculture.

Dishwasher by Pete Jordan is available on for $11.16 with free Super Saver shipping.

The book cover for Dishwasher
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