truancy writing | kate davis jones

the embodied work life

The Bear is back! I haven't watched any of season three yet (my attention has been monopolized by vampires) but the trailer was enough to get me excited.

Last week, when I was traveling, my friend and former coworker/boss texted me. "We have a double callout on dish tonight," he wrote, "wanted to see if you have any interest in picking up a shift."

I haven't worked in restaurants since 2022. My last restaurant job was with aforementioned texter. We worked in a fancy pizza place that had the misfortune of opening in 2019. I worked there through the pandemic, shifted to part-time, then worked on-and-off as my writing career began to pick up steam.

During my tenure at the restaurant I worked my way down. I started on the line, then demoted myself to prep, then finally landed on dish. I wanted less responsibility at the restaurant so I could focus more on my writing, but I didn't want to quit entirely. The money was good, and my coworkers were my friends.

I quit in 2022 when the restaurant finally allowed guests back inside to dine, but I continued to drop in for "celebrity shifts". When a dishwasher called out, I'd show up at the last minute to work six hours through the dinner rush. I loved these shifts. It was physically challenging but mentally relaxing work, and it was always a treat to "save the day": come in and make everyone else's shift a lot easier.

I miss working in kitchens, but not enough to do it again. It's hard, exhausting, and underpaid. When I was on dish I often made massive leaps in my writing, breaking through walls or solving problems that had been hounding me, as my brain was forced to go semi-offline and focus only on the constant turnover of dish in the pass. I ate well: giant salads made for family meal, piles of fried dumplings, pint containers of soft-serve melting by the sanitizer, quart containers of seltzer from the soda gun. I felt connected to the physicality of the work, yet delineated from it. Work hard, then go home. It's a good shift or a bad shift. There was no long-term vision. It was just work, well done or not, and each shift was a chance to do it differently.

I like The Bear for reflecting those years back at me. It's a nostalgia trip, a way to remember the frenetic rush of the line. In season one, there's a fabulous oner about an overloaded shift gone wrong. I used to have nightmares like that. The sound of the ticket printer just going, going, going, going, going. It's nausea-inducing to remember it.

The pizza place closed late 2023, and my friend became a sous chef at a fancy Mediterranean place. I told him if he needed celebrity dish at the new joint to call me. If I'd've been in town, I would've done it in a heartbeat.

In my career now, my intellectual life is my work, and my embodied life is my play. In restaurants, it was the opposite. Sometimes I miss my work being so deeply embodied. When I turned down the celebrity dish shift, the scale of my disappointment didn't match the scope of the job at all. But I just wanted to be in the dish pit again. Not permanently. Not because I need to do it to pay my bills. But just as a little hit of that energy again, a little reminder, a test to see if I still "have it".

Hopefully I'll get another opportunity again. Until then, at least I have The Bear.