Monday, May 23, 2011
Happiness has a name, and that name is Pongo! Pongo, Pongo, Pongo! I’m sorry, but I can’t stop saying, “Pongo!” Since coming to work for Smugglers' Inn, this amazing immigrant from Sumatra has transformed our prep/dishwashing area from a house of pain into a stage for the most charismatic performer in the world--Pongo!
Certainly, we regret the departure of Pongo’s predecessor, Old Jorge, who, in the weeks and months he was our dish man/prep cook, had become a member of our family. A shambling, alcoholic member of our family who could not be trusted around money, but a family member just the same. Old Jorge took over responsibility for washing dishes, stocking our salad bar and making sauces and desserts from his nephew, Just Jorge, after the latter made the unwise decision to run from the Spring Lake Park Police Department in a muffler-less Dodge Neon during the course of a routine traffic stop. Old Jorge showed up on our doorstep the following day, explaining that his nephew had leased him his dishwashing post while he was away. We didn’t tell old Jorge that you can’t sublet jobs like they were New York apartments; the fact was, we had some crusty pots and dishes piling up that none of us was about to clean. Anyway, how bad could a relative of our hardest-working employee to date be?
Plenty bad, as it turns out. A cardinal rule in restaurants is, you never fire the dishwasher, but it was clear from the get-go that this grinning, moon-walking yuckster would be unable to meet the high bar set by his nephew. One ugly puking incident that resulted in the loss of 12 gallons of valuable clam chowder made it clear that even minimum wage is too much to pay some help.
Enter WorkForceUSA.com and Pongo. Pongo, Pongo, Pongo! This website connects employers with new Americans who are hungry to establish themselves in this great land of opportunity. In essence, you pay $20 to post your opening on WorkForce and workers bid on it. The worker who pits in the lowest bid gets the job. It’s the invisible hand of the marketplace at work.
We admit, when Pongo (they don’t use last names in Pongo’s homeland), walked in, we were were apprehensive. It’s not that we are prejudiced (oh, no!). We just had never hired any Sumatrans before. Mexicans, Greeks, Pakistanis, Serbs, Hondurans, Ecuadorians, Trinidadians and Somalis, sure, but never someone from this tiny island nation. Pongo doesn’t exactly make a great first impression, it must be said. His hair, though always clean and neatly groomed, is the color of Orange Crush and seems to cover every inch of him but his face and palms. His red-brown eyes are exceedingly close together, almost giving the illusion that the sides of his face had sprouted handles. Pongo is many things, but George Clooney he is not.
Pongo bounced nervously in his chair throughout the screening of the mandatory sexual harassment DVD and threw his pencil when we did not have a W2 form in Sumatra-ese. I wasn’t holding out much hope when we put him in a uniform (XS pants, XXL shirt) and pointed him to what would be his work station. As soon as he saw the teetering pile of blackened pans and scorched chowder pots, he attacked; there’s no other word for it.
With his long arms flailing, Pongo performed his own brand of triage on the unclean utensils, loading the merely greasy onto racks and sending them through the Hobart while simultaneously filling a sink with water for soaking the most charred items. Before the dishes had come out the other side, Pongo had two big, steel fry pans gleaming, (much to the dismay of our cook, who maintained that his blackened utensils “were just getting good”.)
I didn’t need to hover; I had seen enough to know that Pongo was going to be better than Old Jorge and probably his nephew, too. I left to go write up our first social media marketing plan for our advertising sideline. When I checked back in two hours to tell Pongo he could take a break, all pots, pans, silverware and cutlery had been cleaned and put away. Trays of stemware and mousse glasses, set on trays and stacked with military precision, sparkled from a high shelf. Pongo himself was on a short safety ladder, scrubbing a corner by the dish sprayer. The area where the walls came together was so splattered with greasy dish water and carbon particles that it called forth images of a bloody crime scene.
“Pongo” I said, “you are AWESOME.”
At first, I didn’t think he heard me. Then, he stopped scrubbing and, without so much as turning around, executed a perfect back flip. The ladder never even shook.
I went straight to my office and fanned WorkForceUSA. Then I posted a job opening for a busboy to replace one Adolfo “Spanish” Nunez. When you can find an immigrant who’ll do backflips for $3.28 an hour, there’s no point in employing one who asks for more days, then calls in sick every time Real Madrid gets in a tournament. No, I’ve seen the face of the new Smugglers’ Inn work force. That face, rendered on the back of a child’s placemat by Cat, our resident art student and seating hostess extraordinaire, looks like this:
“Pongo No.1”, Catherine Murphy, 2011