Ken’s Kosher Deli in Matawan, N.J. was my first official part-time job. Most weekday nights, I washed dishes, then swept and mopped up the restaurant after it closed at 8 p.m. I made five dollars an hour under the table, and that money granted me some of my first financial freedoms.
Suddenly, new bike parts, Fugazi’s first EP on cassette tape and BMX magazines became within reach for me without having to wait for a birthday or a holiday. And though I often hated the work, I took the financial reward as incentive to continue working. I was fifteen. It was 1989.
As the summer ended and the days got shorter, the cooks at the kosher deli began readying me for Thanksgiving. The restaurant would be closed for the holiday, but the owners also provided catering, which involved an enormous amount of preparation for the upcoming holiday. Order began to stream in at the beginning of November, and my role transformed from dishwasher to peeler of potatoes and onions.
50 pounds bags of each, every day for a week before the Thanksgiving holiday. The night before Thanksgiving, I worked late — first peeling and mashing, and then lifting and carrying party platters to cars for customers. It began to snow, heavily. And I wondered about how I would get home, with my BMX bike parked in the back of the kitchen, behind the walk-in refrigerator.
At around 9 p.m., the snow was coming down even harder, and the last of the customers had left the restaurant. I washed my hands, put on my coat and rolled my bike through the unplowed parking lot towards home. Along the way, I stopped at the local 7-11. The store had just added a small Dunkin Donuts kiosk inside. I had money, the next day off from school and no reason to rush right home. I bought a bowtie donut, and a new glass-bottled ice tea called Snapple, and sat in front of the 7-11 eating and drinking my post-work snack in the snow.
My hands still smelled like onions.