Monday, April 13, 2009


When I worked at the pastry shop, new employees were a frequent occurrence. On a couple of occasions (it's hard to believe this happened more than once), the new employee would announce at 8:00 AM, 2 1/2 hours after he started, that he had to go feed the meter. He would walk out the door and never return. These people were fleeting, barely a memory. 

But there is one person who stands out in my mind, mostly because of her hair and nails. Ideally, in a kitchen, you have neither. But she had a head of wild black hair and a perfect French manicure. Immediately suspect. Anyone worth their sea salt in a kitchen has no nails - or ugly nails - and lots of scars. And burns. And, if you're missing a digit, you immediately go up two notches. In a professional kitchen, he who endures the most pain and disfigurement is king. 

And she who comes to work at 5 AM with perfectly applied eyeliner and hair like Janet Jackson is hiding something. I'm going to call her "Amber."  "Amber" walked around like a woman who had just come out of a salon after having a manicure, with her hands out, ready to scream, "Don't touch me!" if someone was stupid enough to try. "Amber" couldn't use a pastry bag. She couldn't roll dough. And I've never seen anyone hold a knife like she did, with her fingers jutting straight out rather than curled around the handle. Apparently, it was preferable to risk cutting off a finger than it was to chip a nail. 

We all thought the same thing on a daily basis: Who is this person, and, why is she here? And on my own, I wondered if her hair was real. Just a hunch. She and her nails and her fountain of hair were obviously not cut out for kitchen life.  As intriguing information has a habit of doing, hers started trickling out a few days later.  

Her employ was a favor to one of the shop's investors, a retired cop and one-time moonlighting security guard at a popular gentlemen's club in Chicago. She worked there, too. Her stage name was "Ambrosia." A cheap, tawdry dessert best known for its marshmallows. 

The hair and nails started to make sense. But the fact that she was working for minimum wage didn't. She never let on that she spent evenings on men's laps. Ironically, her station (which was really just her place at the worktable) was right next to the plumbing stack, i.e. a pole. So we all sort of hoped in a perverse way that she might show us some moves purely out of habit. Never happened. 

Ambrosia only lasted a few weeks. She was gone as mysteriously as she came. I think the job was just too hard on her nails. 


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