My First College Job

Like many of my peers, I had to take out student loans in order to go to college. But unlike plenty of people I knew, the idea of owing money bugged me, big time.

I was determined to start chipping away at my student debt as early as possible, which meant getting a job at the start of my freshman year. Unfortunately, without a car at my disposal, my choices were limited to on-campus opportunities. And by “opportunities,” I mean “lowly, minimum-wage paying jobs that rob you of your dignity for just about every moment you’re on the clock.”

That’s how I wound up working as a dishwasher at my college’s dining hall. Now I know what you’re thinking: Do they even need people to wash dishes? Don’t they have those nifty little machines called, well, dishwashers?

Here’s the scoop, people: Yes, they do have the appliance-type of dishwashers, but those only work for standard-sized plates, utensils, cups and the like. When it came to washing those giant vats they’d use to store mashed potatoes, or those mega-sized soup pots, it was all manual, all the time. At least that’s how it went in our dining hall, which meant despite my overwhelming lack of work experience to date, I was qualified to do something to bring home a paycheck.

Grosser Than Gross

On the one hand, working as a dishwasher wasn’t nearly as bad as, say, working at the library or campus bookstore. That’s because my gig required minimal interaction with people, which worked for me. (Clearly, there’s a reason why I chose to be a writer and not a teacher, tour guide or motivational speaker. My preference has always been to work alone.) I’d done my time briefly in customer service and it wasn’t my thing, which meant I was more than content to spend my working hours scrubbing away rather than making small talk and telling people to have a nice day.

Still, some of the stuff I saw in that dining hall kitchen was enough to make me lose my appetite on more than one occasion. While I of course wore gloves and never actually had to make contact with any of that stuck-on slop, there was one day when the smell of old soup was so pungent I almost hurled right into the pot I was scrubbing. On another occasion, I spent my entire shift cleaning two oversized pans in an attempt to remove a layer of caked-on cheese. (I’m sorry, did I say “cheese?” I meant “cheeze.” There’s no way that stuff was made of dairy.)

Over the course of my freshman year, I witnessed more food hall nastiness than I ever could’ve imagined. I saw what happens to the leftover gravy when Meatloaf Night goes less smoothly than planned. I saw how they really clean the frozen yogurt machines, and from that day on, I could no longer stomach what used to be my go-to lunch.

Though I stuck out that job for two whole semesters, when the kitchen supervisor asked if I intended to continue my duties once I returned to school the following fall, I politely informed her that not only would I not be back, but that I doubted I’d be purchasing a meal plan the following year. (Actually, our school gave us no choice, so I selected the cheapest tier and supplemented with lots and lots of cereal and granola bars.) And while I don’t necessarily regret working as a dishwasher, to this day, I still get a little bit queasy every time I see a greasy pan.

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