(Author's Note: In this chapter, I digress to describe the layout of the kitchen, and the two men who ran the show, Stanley and Ben, in elaborate detail. Busy folks who are eager to see Boiberikaner they know pop up in the story, or who might be following along to discover what Deena Blank ordered for lunch, may wish to skip this entry. Former DR workers who knew these two characters, and other Boiberkaner with an insatiable curiousity about what went on behind closed doors, might find this chapter interesting. The meal-time narrative with camp-side digressions will resume next week.)
The kitchen was off limits to most of the Boiberik community. Guests, like restaurant patrons, had no reason to go inside. Campers were strictly forbidden from entering. Counselors were regarded as unwelcome trespassers (on those rare occasions when they summoned the courage to complain about the campside fare).
Rita may have been treated with obligatory courtesy when she was forced, by communal uproar, to demand more appetizing sustenance. Upon her departure, though, Stanley, the head chef, or Ben, the steward, would express contempt for her violation of the separation of camp and dining room, usually by casting aspersions on the quality of her femininity.
The dining room staff thus enjoyed privileged access. Of course, this was essential for our work. This status seemed, at times, to be a tacit reminder that we were special and distinct from Boiberik's other inhabitants. Outwardly, however, we were not treated as exceptional; quite the contrary.
The general tone of the kitchen was set by Ben and Stanley. Both men took pains to belittle us on a regular basis.
Stanley was a colossus, his true size seemingly augmented by the wooden planks (in front of the stoves) on which he stood as he supervised meal preparation. A dark skinned black man with a massvie head, broad shoulders, a protuberant gut, thick, powerful hands, stout legs and triple EEE cloppers encased in Frankenstein boots, he embodied strength and self-assurance. With Stanley at the helm, no one doubted that the six-hundred odd staff, campers, and guests would be adequately fed.
He was nearly always grease stained, his white cook's jacket and checked pants streaked and smeared with sauces, soups, vegetable extract and meat fibers. Only his chef's cap remained clean. Cigarettes consumed themselves as they dangled from the corner of his mouth, further garbling his indistinct mumble.
He seemed benevolent enough despite his knife-waving belligerent facade. But I was never sure of what he was actually thinking. This was because I was unable to make out a word he said (he did include "cocksucker" in nearly every sentence, of this I'm certain).
Donny Rubien, whom Stanley called, "Peanut," insisted that with practice and patience, Stanley's idiom became decipherable. Fred insisted that careful listening was the key, and actively encouraged me to engage Stanley in conversation.
(Fred often pushed me towards comradery with kitchen workers whom he perceived as either intelligent or enigmatic; hoping that I would form insightful impressions and that we would later compare notes on what made that person "tick.")
But, try as I might, turning one ear towards Stan and then the other, rewording his muffled phrases in my mind and then juggling the syntax in search of meaning, I always drew a blank. I think he called me, "The Professor," and frequently referred to me, and everyone else, as "motherfucker." And I concluded, from his inflection and intonations, that he felt warmly towards the waiters, busboys and peshkies and coldly towards all others. That's as far as I got.
Unlike Stanley, Ben Duboff was universally detested. He was, like Stanley, in his mid-sixties, but appeared older, with stooped shoulders, a sunken chest, and the feeble forearms that older men often are prone to develop through a lifetime of deskwork. His thinning, wavy, gray hair was coated with Vitalis (or possibly, knowing Ben, with Army surplus corn oil that he stole from the storeroom). He framed his myopic, suspicious eyes with thick rectangular spectacles. And there was a band-aid over his right temple, year after year. I suspected that this hid some hideous skin cancer in remission.
Ben was a tightwad and a know-it-all, imperious and uncompromising, quick to bark orders and to criticize, and difficult to reason with. I couldn’t fathom why the Boiberik Board rehired him year after year. Perhaps it was because his miserly ways bolstered the bottom line.
Ben's hero was Douglas MacArthur. I don't know why this was so, unless MacArthur devised a method for cornering the market on rice futures. I cannot imagine that Ben actually fought under MacArthur, although he may have claimed to; he didn’t seem to have the gumption to patricipate in active combat. He boasted posssession of a gun and swore he’d gladly use it on anyone he heard prowling about the kitchen at night; but such threats seemed like little more than another burst of his hot air.
Working for him irked me, and his physical proximity made me cringe. He was a pathetic scrooge. But for better or worse he, as much as Stanley or anyone else, he formed the personality of that kitchen.
The kitchen, like the dining room, had a 1940's look; it boasted no concessions to the streamlined decades that passed since its construction. As one entered from the guest side dining room, the "Salad Cage," was to the left. This cage – a penned off work area – housed Herman the Salad man. He shared this space with his assistant, usually a promising bimmie promoted from the dishwashing detail because someone guessed that he could handle a knife safely, and would tolerate Herman's mindless banter for at least a week before quitting.
The central area of the kitchen was divided by two parallel rows of aluminum covered tables. The sheet metal surfaces were pockmarked by the busywork of countless meals prepared there. The second table was the site of the infamous "Hot Line," so named because it lie directly in front of the stoves and grills from which the hot meals were dispensed.
This loading dock was the ultimate test of your mettle as a waiter. It was here that you called out your orders, then slapped a top hat on each entree as it was prepared, scooping the finished product onto your tray, stacking them symmetrically, lest the ultimate calamity ensue. To wit: hoisting your tray off the line to have it tumble off your shoulder and onto the floor, in front of the chef's and vegetable-scooping bimmies for whom this entire procedure somehow assumed life-or-death significance.
Such a mishap befell my older brother when, as a peshkie, he found himself unexpectedly indentured into guest waiter duties because of a capacity crowd of refugees who had ventured northward from New York City to the Boib for lunch. (His entire dining room career lasted a brief two weeks.)
Beyond the grills and stove, obscured from the entrance by the high brick chimney that rose from the cooking area through the roof, were the "Boxes.” These were walk-in refrigerators, named for their contents: vegetables, dairy products, eggs (and baked goods) and miscellaneous foodstuffs, respectively.
Of the four, only the dairy box became a social gathering place. Why? Because of the chocolate milks filched there. It was not unusual to tug open the dairy door to discover a colleague chugging a half-pint of the creamy brown elixir. (Sometimes they might aspirate a gulp for fear that Ben had caught them with "their pants down" so to speak.)
The meat freezer entrance lie beyond the salad bar. The baker's pantry and work area, the potato and onion room, and the dishwashing machines (manned by an ever changing cadre of bimmies) filled the distant irregular corners of this antiquated cookery.
Chapter VII: Borsht and Basketball
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