Tonight was my first training shift on “assembly”. Let me tell you about the “assembly” station. On either side of it is the “fry” station, obviously named for the “fry vat” that the “fry cook” “fries” in, the other side is the “broil” station, obviously named for the “broiler” that the “broil cook” “broils” with. “Assembly” cooks as well. Granted, “assembly” does “assemble”, but cooks as well. The name of the station doesn’t hint at what the person filling that station cooks with, so I’ll tell you. “Assembly” is a microwave cook.

I hate to break this to everyone who goes out and pays thirty dollars for a dinner for two at nearly any restaurant that has another restaurant with the same name and a very similar building the next town over, but your food was likely microwaved. Maybe even your steak or lobster. Sure, Red Lobster doesn’t microwave steaks or lobsters (with any degree of frequency), but lots of food goes through the microwave. If it wasn’t obviously grilled or obviously deep fried, chances are: it was microwaved.

Any American will tell you that there is a level of prestige that comes with a certain station in a kitchen, this is by association of the familiarity with the types of cooking that an American is familiar with. If you are working on a fry vat, a person associates this with fast food, and only idiots work at fast food places. I don’t actually believe this, but that’s the sort of generality that I’d imagine most people would have. Grilled steaks, on the other hand, are not mentally associated with Taco Bell or McDonalds, so it carries more prestige. Now, we come to the microwave. People associate it with pop corn you were too lazy to make on the stove, or tea that you were too lazy to put the kettle on for, or re-heating leftovers because you were too lazy to cook something new.

Microwave == lazy == the lowest form of cooking known to Americans.

To cook with a microwave is the aspiration of all Red Lobster fry cook employees.

Today was my first day of training on a microwave. Two days ago, Jerry, who I worked most of the weekend with on fryer, told me that he’s been there for three weeks and he hopes “some day” to make it to assembly. Kevin, who did most of my training tonight, even though Matt was the one getting the extra dollar an hour to train me, had a conversation with me that went like this:

Kevin: How long have you worked here?
Me: [afraid I had just done something either 1) very stupid or 2) had just pulled rank] Um… Four… maybe five days?
Kevin: Do you know how long it took me to make assembly?
Me: [unsure of where this was going] … Uh … no? [still phrasing statements as questions]
Kevin: Seven months.

That made me feel sort of good.

Let me tell you something trippy. It has nothing to do with cooking. And has nothing to do with Red Lobster, except it’s the setting for something trippy.

Months and months back, I had expressed to my mom some thoughts that led her to suggest to me that I should meet a certain girl. This certain girl was named “Jamie” and the only description I had of her was that she had red hair (this, by the way, is not true, but may have been then). Long story short, I had never got around to meeting this person. Mainly because I wasn’t really interested or motivated sufficiently to go around meeting new people just because my mom thinks it’s a good idea. Most unfortunately for the mother/son relationship, anyone from a point about a half a year ago on, anyone that she recommends to me gets a black mark instantly. That’s a learned response, and I won’t go into that just now. Chrystal tells me several days ago that her friend works at Red Lobster. I say, “Oh?” and then immediately lose interest. That friend is “Jamie”. Small world, right? That’s a little trippy, but it gets weird. It get’s trippy. The first time I walked into the kitchen tonight, not knowing that “Jamie” would be there or what she looked like or that this particular person was, in fact, “Jamie”, I thought it was Grace. My old girlfriend from last summer/fall for a month or so. I saw her and I just sort of paused for a moment thinking this was some sort of bizarre trick and I almost panicked a bit. Then, I saw some of the differences, and calmed down. Introductions were made, I figured out who this was, and things were better. She’s not 100% dead on match for Grace, there are differences, I think Jamie is a bit shorter, has blond hair, and her voice is difference… But the personality is similar, which adds another dimension of weirdness for me.

Every time that Jamie came on line to put bakers down, if I wasn’t watching myself mentally, I found myself expecting something. I don’t know what, but I felt expectant. Like the punch line to a horrible joke at my expense was about to crash down on me. That punch line didn’t come tonight, and it probably won’t.