I don't mean, particularly, the group of guys who wash dishes in the restaurants and cafeterias across this great land of ours -- although I do feel a certain solidarity with these workers and bow my head to them as well. I'm talking about people much closer to home, people you may actually know: The person who does the dishes in your house.
Why do I feel that these people do not get the respect they deserve? Why do I feel that they should finally get their fair share of the credit in the kitchen? Because I am one of them.
The plight of the dishwasher hit home for me last night. We had friends over for dinner, a married couple. The man brought the wine. Everyone thanked him and inspected the label and congratulated him for his good taste. The wife brought an hors d'ouevre -- crackers in a very fancy box with some kind of homemade dip with little green things in it. Everyone oohed and aahed over the hors d'oeuvre, and ceremoniously dipped in their crackers and smacked their lips at how good it all was.
Then came the main meal, cooked by my lovely B. It was good . . . it was really good. I made all the appropriate comments about taste and texture; the two women discussed where the recipes came from, and how B had tweaked them to give them a special flavor. Everyone heaped compliments on the chef as they asked for seconds.
But who brought all those clean dishes to the table? Where were the compliments for the person who slaved over the sink, filled and emptied the dishwasher, hand-washed the big pots that won't fit in the dishwasher, and carefully soaped and rinsed the wine glasses and special cups that B says are "too good" to go in the dishwasher?
Nobody thanks the dishwasher. Nobody congratulates the dishwasher for producing sparkling glasses and clean plates. Nobody waxes enthusiastic about how the dishwasher loaded the dishwashing machine so all the dirty dishes would fit in and still get clean.
It's a thankless job. You never get a compliment. But nobody hesitates to criticize, usually in a slightly scolding voice, if a tiny bit of tomato sauce is left on the edge of a plate, or the handle of a pot is still a little greasy, or the glasses are cloudy.
I've been a dishwasher for over 40 years . . . for most of my life. I blame it on my father. When I was a little kid, my older sister did the dishes in our family. When she left for college, my father took over the job.
When I then went off to college, and later marriage, I thought that dishwashing was an important job -- after all, in my family it was a responsibility taken on by the eldest child, and then by the alpha male. So I stepped up to the kitchen sink manfully, ready to shoulder this important and serious obligation.
Little did I know at the time that dishwashing is the duty assigned to the person judged to have the fewest skills in the kitchen. The person who can't do anything else. The person who can't measure or mix or roast or bake. The person who doesn't even command the basic fundamentals to set the table.
You know the dirty little secret: No meal can be put on the table without clean dishes. So who does the dishes in your house? Take a moment to thank your dishwasher. Go buy him or her a present or some flowers.
And next time you're in a restaurant, by all means send your compliments to the chef. But send them to the dishwasher too!