A co-worker and I were commiserating the other day — mainly about the staggering number of folks that we encounter doing and/or saying stupid things (sometimes both!) on a typical shift. We were wondering what it is these folks could possibly do for a living or how they manage to safely traverse even a mildly busy street without the help of The Boy Scouts — to say nothing of the sheer luck they must rely upon to navigate the dangerous waters of simple household tasks — like showering, for example — I am amazed that their morning toilettes do not routinely end with a trip to the emergency room. If you were to have any interaction with these folks, you’d agree that distinguishing the hot water from the cold water might just fall somewhere outside of their skill sets.
If you were privy to some of the things that I’ve witnessed in my career as a waitress, you’d surely be troubled that many of these people are allowed to operate something as dangerous as a motor vehicle — or a shower. There is a large portion of the population for whom turning on the bathroom faucet may present a problem. I daresay that these are the same people who are confounded by your average pepper mill. I’ve seen all kinds of pepper mill-related stupidity.
There are the people who just shake it vigorously — hoping, I guess, that the pepper will somehow escape, as a result of the shaking, in some edible form and wind up, in whole or in part, on their mashed potatoes. Not surprisingly, this method almost never produces the desired result. To their credit, most folks who choose the “shake it and hope for the best” approach, just settle for whatever amount pepper winds up on their food. Perhaps they’re just plum tuckered out by the energy they’ve expended employing the vigorous shake to ask for a lesson in “Pepper mill 101”.
Once in a while we have a diner who, confused by the pepper mill, decides that his best bet for adding a little spice to his soup is to unscrew the little thingy on the top, allowing him access to the peppercorns that are contained inside the apparatus, which he then sprinkles — whole — into his soup. Within minutes I am inevitably summoned to the table and asked whether or not I think our chowder isn’t just “a bit too spicy” for the average person. I usually point out that while I don’t eat chowder, the current state of its spiciness may have something to do with the thirty-two WHOLE peppercorns that HE added to it. In these cases, I couldn’t be happier to replace the soup — so amused am I by an adult who is utterly incapable of understanding the simplicity of clockwise rotation. I’ll admit to having to resist the urge to check this type of customer for shower burns — the ones that are no doubt camouflaged beneath his oil-stained “Git R Done!” emblazoned t-shirt.
I absolutely love to watch how almost deranged a guest becomes when no amount of banging the condiment container on the edge of the table will yield even a single speck of pepper. Once, just once, I did notice an intrepid banger check his pants for the escaped spice — he did this by licking his finger and then dabbing his wet finger onto the area of his pants that he thought might contain a bit of the escaped pepper. Whether or not he found any, I couldn’t tell you, I simply HAD to look away.
I don’t always look away, though. Because it’s pretty compelling to watch someone search for the holes in the top and, upon discovering their absence, hold the pepper mill up to his ear, shake it, be satisfied that it does, indeed, contain pepper, and then proceed to examine it closely for the holes that, one can only assume, he expected would appear as a result of the shaking. This is usually when he holds it up to his ear again, shakes it again — possibly while uttering some magic words like, “Hocus Pocus!” or “Abracadabra!” — and then realizes that his actions failed, once again, to produce the holes he was so hoping would appear atop the pepper mill. This is when he calls me over to tell me that “this crazy thing is broken!” I try to be nice. I usually explain, while stifling a laugh, that while I would have to agree that this is a very puzzling mechanism, that it’s also a fairly commonplace one. I do this while I turn the top in a clockwise manner and release the ground pepper for him.
Sometimes people are so stunned by my ability to charm the pepper out of the mill that they ask me to repeat the process — they throw caution to the wind and take their chances with over-peppered potatoes just to get another glimpse of how such a thing actually works. Not only do I comply, I often provide a brief narrative while I demonstrate how this nifty little device produces ground pepper from the whole peppercorns contained within. Very briefly I’m happy that stupid people exist in my world — because it’s in these moments that I get to feel like I work as a host on one of those home shopping channels — you know the ones — the ones where they talk for an hour about something as mundane as a pair of socks.
Maybe I should just go ahead and apply for a job at one of those networks. I’ll send along a video of how adept I am at simultaneously using AND discussing a pepper mill. I’m thinking they’ll likely be just as impressed as my customers are by such talent. I don’t want to get ahead of myself or anything — and, God knows, I wouldn’t want to get my hopes up — but I could see myself, at some time in the future, using a cheese grater in my work. Given my years of experience with pepper mills, I think I’d at least be considered for the coveted cheese grater hour. You don’t think they’d start me off with something as easy as socks, do you?
photo credit: Pepper mill