From the vault, 10 years ago...
Almost everyone knows that water boils at a much lower temperature than oil. That is one of the reasons oil is good for cooking; it can take the heat without evaporating. Oil is also lighter than water and settles on the top when the two are mixed. Anyone that has ever cooked with oil must also know what happens when a small bottom layer of water evaporates into gas and bubbles up through the very hot top layer of oil. It isn’t pleasant. The bubble pops and scalding hot oil is thrown all over. I have suffered a fair amount of burns because of this.
Years ago, in what now seems like someone else’s life, I worked for the fast food industry. I use the term industry instead of mentioning specific companies because I literally served time at most of the big ones. For a period of about three years I made just about every piece of fast food on the market: hamburgers, fried chicken, pizza, deli sandwiches, even Mexican. I worked drive through, took orders, made deliveries, and even managed a little. However most of my time was spent in the kitchens. Grill was my usual station, and I was damn good.
Overall, it was a horrible way to support myself during my first few years of community college and I’ve probably blocked most of my memories from that period as a coping mechanism. However there are a few things that I’ll never forget including one very important lesson that I learned while being trained for my very first job:
“Never put water in the fryers.”
Almost every fast food franchise has a fryer for something. Foods like French fries, chicken, hush puppies, fish, donuts, and other bits of un-identified batterables all get dunked into big vats of oil that are maintained at insanely high temperatures and cooked almost instantly. (A side note: once a co-worker threw a hamburger bun into the fryer for a minute, took it out and covered it in powdered sugar. “Here, it tastes just like a donut” he said and surprisingly it did. I lost all desire for donuts after that.) Water, or other drinks, should never be kept near the edge of a fry vat. If a few drops of water are enough to make a big splattering mess of your stovetop, imagine what a full cup of soda would do in a 50-gallon fryer. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.
So I learned that I should never, ever put water in the fryers. Sometimes while working the grill at that lousy high-paced, low-wage, dead end job in my uncomfortable polyester uniform I imagined, even fantasized, about what exactly would happen. I pictured myself, standing as far from the fryers as possible, throwing a cup or maybe a plastic bag full of water into the fryer. I imagined the first few seconds would be quiet and then under the immense heat the water would begin to boil, rapidly bubbling out of the fryer and spewing forth scorching hot oil all over everything in the vicinity. Anything nearby would be burnt; the stacks of cups and other paper goods would be ruined, melted by the heat. The entire fry station would be damaged. The store would have to close. It would be a glorious disaster.
I hated working fast food. I joked to myself that on the day that I finally quit I would indeed throw water in the fryer. Of course, I would never really do something so destructive especially when it could potentially harm many innocent people. Instead, I quit like a lot of fast food employees do: I stopped showing up.
Ever since I have used the phrase “throwing water in the fryer” where others would use “going out with a bang”, or “burning bridges behind you”. One last “Fuck you” as you slam the door closed behind you and never look back. A friend of mine threw water in the fryer when he exposed his bare ass to his entire school and community during a graduation speech. Even Bill Clinton threw water in the fryer when he surprised the American public with his questionable series of last minute presidential pardons on his way out.
It has been over ten years since I last worked fast food. Now, after surviving the debauchery of college and the horrors of graduate school, I have landed an office position. I work at a desk with a computer screen staring at me and a phone that occasionally rings. Sometimes, my work involves accessing shared files; large files stored on mainframe computers that I have never seen located somewhere in the basement. The closest fryer is the one at the chicken place two blocks down. For two years, another individual with similar education and skills as my own but far more experience has occupied the office next to mine. Two months ago he and I began working on a large project together and divided up the task so that I would handle the presentation and he would manipulate the proper files. One month ago our company decided it needed to cut back a bit and he was handed his notice. Yesterday was his last day.
We were never friends. In fact, I really didn’t like the guy. I never discussed my personal life with him and discouraged him from sharing with me (the little bit that he had shared was either borderline offensive or just plain uninteresting). Sadly, he was one of these people whose absence could go completely unnoticed. That is, unnoticed until I tried to access some of the files related to our project and found them conspicuously missing.
I don’t know how he did it, but he had deleted everything relating to the current project from our mainframes just before making his exit. All attempts to reach him have been unsuccessful. His telephone is disconnected with no forwarding information and the only address we had listed was one he moved from over a year ago. With an approaching deadline, it will now cost my company almost three times the estimated costs to complete this project. He threw a whole lot of water into a very big fryer. For the next few weeks, I am going to have to bust my ass with unpaid overtime just to make up for his sabotage and get the project completed on time.
It will be hell, but for some reason I can’t stop smiling about it.