Saturday, October 9, 2010

I was a Teenage Dishwasher At the Rainbow Diner. Were YOU???

When I was 17 years old, my friend David Porsi got hired to work at a tool retail shop called Hershey Tools, owned by a nice man named Julius Herschowsky, in Kerhonkson, NY. His hiring there meant that he was going to leave his gig as a dishwasher at the Rainbow Diner, at the top of Kerhonkson Hill on Route 209. It was owned by an elderly couple, Ramona and Henry Bendell and was open 24 hours a day. I rushed over the two mile trek on my bicycle to the diner and met with the Bendells, telling them that I was a friend of Dave’s and that I was interested in the dishwashing job that was open. They hired me on the spot and told me I could start the next morning.
The next day I showed up at 6 AM and was introduced to the night cook, an older woman named Sarah, with a headful of black hair and a disdain for young dishwashers. The first hour of every morning was going to be hell, as a tired Sarah would go on a daily rant about the idiots who came in during the night, mostly truckers. I just gathered trays full of dishes and washed them, in three sinks—one for washing, one for rinsing and one for disinfecting. The silverware was done differently. It was placed in a galvanized bucket full of a very strong bleach and water solution and shaken vigorously in a rotating motion for about 30 turns, then dumped and refilled with hot water and disinfectant. Another 30 rotations and the silverware was deemed clean and sent out for use again. I was skeptical that the process worked but save for a few stubborn bits of eggs on some fork tines, they looked good.
At 7 AM Sarah’s replacement came in. Anna Pagliaroni was her name and she was a large jolly woman with a large family and even larger bunch of stories to tell. I enjoyed her immensely and discovered that I knew a son of hers, Tim, from school. Occasionally I would stay longer than Anna’s shift and would have to work with , and for, a cook who I will call only Ron. Ron would come in for the late afternoon and evening shift and was often fairly in his cups. Several times customers got their orders cooked by a 17 year old dishwasher, but since no one complained, I guess I did alright. My cue to take over was usually when Ron was so drunk that he would drop hamburgers on the floor right before replacing them on the buns and serving them. There was also a weekend cook named Don, a rotund man who lived alone and who later was discovered to be a pedophile.
We had a couple of waitresses there who were memorable, Sherry , a lovely woman, was one, and there was also Darlene. Sherry’s husband had been killed in a tragic fire several years earlier at the Pine Grove Resort Dude Ranch when the staff quarters caught on fire, killing him and others, to the best of my recollection.
I recall a customer of special note as well. The brother of legendary local State Trooper Doug Dymond, Dennis Dymond was somewhat impaired in some way. This was understood by all and not a factor as he went about his business, which included coming in for coffee every morning at the same time. In fact , you could set your watch by “Diner Dennis” as he was affectionately known.
Dishwashing being an “off the books” type of job, Mrs. Bendell, when it was paytime, would call me over to a little closet just off the kitchen area. In there, with her back to the outside world, she would carefully count out my small stipend for each week’s clean dishes. It was almost comical in the amount of secrecy she did the payment under.
The job went along fine until one winter morning, on Easter Sunday, when a rather large snowfall hit the area. I had been told to expect a busier than normal Sunday and that I should be there by 4 AM. Not having a car, and no way to ride a bike that far in the snow. I had to wait til the roads were cleared. I arrived at about 8 AM to find Donnie Williams, a local kid, already hired in my place. No amount of pleading could convince the Bendells to hire me back, so I wrote it off as a lousy job I wouldn’t miss and moved on to my next adventure: a bellhop at the Granit Hotel.


  1. I was a teenage dish washer in New Orleans when I was 16 for a while only and then I started working at A&G cafeteria prepping food for lunch.

    They thought I was 21 but today I look younger instead of older.

    Age is just a number to me anyway.

  2. i can't tell you how many times i went to the rainbow diner. my kids loved it, my father in law and then husband, norman, spent his free moments there.