Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Pot Shack

"What was the worst job you ever had?", asked a favorite website message board. I pondered over it, and for once the answer had nothing to do with TV News.Remember the part of the Guns and Roses song "Welcome To The Jungle", where Axl Rose screams "YOU'RE IN THE JUNGLE BABEEEEE!"? Hearing that always takes me back to the worst job I've ever had.

It was aboard my first ship during my far from illustrious naval career. Fresh from tech school, I was eager to show my newly-learned radar reading prowess in the cushy confines of Combat Information Center. No such luck. A burly Chief with a bad tattoo soon informed me ALL junior enlisted had to serve three months 'mess crankin' - the U.S. Navy's indentured servant program designed to staff their many kitchens.

It wasn't so bad at first - pushing a mop on the messdecks was something I'd done plenty of in boot camp. Ever the schemer, I soon weaseled my way into a cooking gig in the Chief's Mess. For about a week I had it made - cooking up burgers to order for senior enlisted, and eating every third jumbo shrimp that passed my way. The food was GREAT, a far cry from the dogfood they fed us on the messdecks. Soon I was trying to figure out how to smuggle this top-shelf chow out of the kitchen
to sell belowdecks.

I never got a chance to perfect my plan, though. To make a long story only a little shorter, something I said to a humourless Master chief was misconstrued as a smart aleck remark (I know, I was as shocked as you are). Before I could swipe another jumbo shrimp for the road I was being escorted several decks below to a terrifying place I'd only heard about...

The Pot Shack, a 12 by 12 foot closet with large industrial sinks lining every wall. Just off the junior enlisted mess decks, it was where our fellow slaves brought every dirty pot, pitcher and baking pan used in feeding the troops. But there was no automatic washing machine. No, that was my job.

For two solid months I, along with a guy from Coco Beach, Florida whom everyone called 'Maggot', manned the two, wildly whipping oversized hot water sprayers that hung from the overhead. We'd pull ten hour shifts, scrubbing, spraying and cussing as ceiling-high stacks of food-encrusted cookware backed up outside. With steam rising from the dish-filled sinks, visibility was pretty nil inside the Pot Shack.

Not that there was anything to see. From morning to night, we were soaking wet as we reached into three foot deep sinks of scalding water with two feet of protective gloves (you do the math). No matter how hard we busted those suds, we never, ever, ever got caught up. The two losers who relieved us every evening never failed to bitch about the leftover dirty dishes and they'd always pay us back in return the following mornings.

There was also no love for the Pot Shack Warriors. As our fellow shipmates walked by, they always paused to mock and sneer - laughing at our slumped, soaking wet forms. If it weren't for the battered waterproof cassette player strapped to the bulkhead blaring late eighties metal, I may have lost my mind inside that scalding hot prison.

Instead I hunkered down and did my time, banging my head to Maggot's musical selection while I scraped burnt cheese off of three foot wide baking pans and asking myself why in the heck I'd ever joined the Navy in the first place. However, Maggot was less troubled by our plight, seeming content to scrub the days away. He loved his tunes and played the then new "Appetite For Destruction" cassette about forty times a shift. Every time "Welcome to The Jungle" came to that certain part of the song, when Axl Rose asked, "Do you know where you are?!?...Maggot would lift his head and scream, "YOU'RE IN THE POT SHACK BABEEEE!!!" And then he would bang his head with glee as he scrubbed at abaking pan that had been used ten thousand times.

These days I only think about The Pot Shack whenenever I hear that song, or when some well-groomed reporter, who's never done a minute of hard labor in his life, is complaining about his job.

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