Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in all Fifty States

When Pete Jordan started college, "Other classmates talked about becoming lawyers. Still others aspired to being accountants and dentists. When asked of my own plans... What I wanted was to be free of a job; to travel the country and have friends nationwide whom I'd visit. So my standard answer was, 'I'm just gonna come crash on your floor when you're a successful lawyer/accountant/dentist.'

"It was a claim many took as a joke. Years later, they'd discover firsthand that I wasn't kidding."

After his rude mouth cost him his college bookstore job, Pete worked at a burger joint, and was demoted to dishwasher fairly quickly. "Why the others despised this chore was beyond me."

When he moved to Kentucky, and found another dishwashing job, "hungover, I dragged my sore body and aching head over to Perkins, managing to arrive only twenty minutes late."

[Working at UPS, he was told, "You have a lack of enthusiasm for your work."

"Enthusiasm? I picked up smooshed boxes off the floor. What was there to be excited about?"]

"... Karl asked for my half of the rent...

"'Take it easy... I'm gonna find a job right now.'

"If I wasn't even qualified to pick up packages off a floor, then I definitely wasn't qualified for any of those jobs that demanded 'experience.'"

"A sign in a ... window caught my attention: 'Dishwasher Wanted.'

"The boss-guy asked if I could start in the morning. I could.

"That was it. I was hired."...

"Karl refused to believe that I'd found work in only ten minutes."

So Pete Jordan became Dishwasher Pete. He traveled around quitting one "suds busting" job after another, and publishing a zine about his (and friends' experiences).

"For twelve years, I was the most prolific dishlicker of them all. From 1989 to 2001, I dished my way around the country, unwittingly searching for direction. From a bagel joint in New Mexico to a Mexican joint in Brooklyn, from a dinner train in Rhode Island to the Lawrence Welk resort in Branson, Missouri, and from an upper-crust ladies' club to a crusty hippie commune -- I washed the nation's dishes."

Your reviewer washed dishes in Blacksburg, Virginia years ago, but Dishwasher Pete was a master. He was booked to appear on the Letterman show, and publishers liked the zine so much, they pursued him with book offers.

A reviewer for the San Francisco Bay Guardian called Jordan's book "an instant American classic." Another reviewer said it is "as compelling to my mind as Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

You wouldn't think a book about washing dishes would get those sorts of reviews. I, too, loved Dishwasher.


tanita✿davis said...

Okay, now this sounds just ridiculously cool. I have never had the urge to be anyone's dishwasher, but for a job to get you traveling? Heck, yeah!

Ms. Yingling said...

Just goes to prove that if you do something odd yet somehow weirdly ambitious, and handle your own publicity, you can get some real mileage out of it! Just requested the book from my public library!

david elzey said...

Ah, Dishwasher Pete. I remember him from my zinester days (I think I still have a few of his zines around somewhere). I think out of that era of journal-keeping underclass Pete and Cometbus Aaron might be the Samuel Pepys of their time.

And as for that Letterman appearance, I seem to recall that because at the time no one knew what he looked like that he sent a friend to pretend to be him. The only time Letterman was hoaxed (not counting Joaquin Phoenix?), and what I remember was that he was pretty pissed about it as well. One-upped by a dishwasher!

Anonymous said...

How cool is this? Seriously cool!

gonovice said...

Pete apparently used a nom de plume. Perhaps he didn't want to blow his cover, so his friend did the Letterman gig?

Michael Taylor said...

I used to buy Dishwasher Pete's zines through the mail, one at a time, for a buck apiece whenever he found the time to publish a new issue. Those zines were like getting a letter from the front lines of an alternate reality -- but having spent some time running Hobart Dishwashers during my stint in the fast-food biz, I could relate.

That was a Golden Era for the long-gone Zine Scene. I was glad to find Pete's stories compiled in this book a few years ago. Unfortunately, another great zine from of the time "Pathetic Life: Diary of a Fat Slob" -- never made it to book form. From what I heard, the author (Doug Holland, if I remember right) was offered a book deal, but couldn't -- or wouldn't -- follow through.

Too bad. But at least we have Dishwasher Pete's book to remind us of what once was...

gonovice said...

Some of the zines have online archives or counterparts. The only zine I ever ordered, Fugitive Pope (couldn't resist the title) has a presence there. I looked for Cometbus Aaron after reading David's comment and found some interviews. Might have to look for Pathetic Life now. Thanks!