Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Infamous Chins

The Infamous Chins. Part 1

In Redford Michigan, I took my first ever real paying job, at the ripe young age of 15 (I was almost 16 and I guess the laws were lenient back then?). That was 1977, Disco was the rage and Saturday Night Live was “The” show to watch.

The Place, Chins Chinese Restaurant. It’s still there on Plymouth Road, as far as I know. I looked on Google Maps and I can find the building, but not the listing, so maybe it closed down. The building looks like it was built in the early 60’s and had been through a few makeovers for sure. The front had a Tiki look. I haven’t been back in so long, I could not say for sure, but I bet it’s about the same still. Everything in a chocolate brown stain and some cheesy totem like carvings with palms about.

So I have to first setup the layout of this place. It faces North and is a rectangle shaped building. About 1X3 proportion. The place could sit around 200 people, I would guess. The front half of the building was the dining split down the middle, north to south. At the back (south side) of the dining room was the waitress’s area. It had the coffee makers, soda and roll steamers. All patrons got rolls and butter with ice water, shortly after sitting down.

Immediately behind the waitress area was the dishwasher (the beast) and about an extra 20 square feet of area to manage the task of the dishes. I am guilty of cooking a few things (eggs, chicken breast etc) in the dishwasher, just to prove a point, that the water was insanely hot! To the east of the dishwasher were the restrooms, which had their own hallway access out to the dining area. There was also a non restricted entrance from the bathrooms to the kitchen/
and dishwasher so we often had patrons wandering where they should not. To the west of the dishwasher was a set of large stainless sinks and beyond that, the rows of ovens and ranges where all the cooking was done.

So the cooking area stretched a ways back and the refrigerators and a huge set of old style stainless steel coffee makers there, used to make/brew the tea. These things were enormous and luckily the waitresses had to refill them. I think they only needed reloading twice on an average day. Maybe 3 times on a busy weekend and I would guess 20 gallon capacity each.

The hallway from the bathrooms also leads back to the “soda” room, where everyone who did, would go to make out, while on the clock. It stored the many syrup and soda water canisters that fueled the soda fountain in the waitress area out front. Past that was a large room that no one could ever seem to figure out what to do with. It was mainly temporary storage for dried foods that wouldn’t fit in the adjacent main store room, chairs, whatever had no other home. The carpet was shabbier than the dining room, which was not the best itself. That’s about it.

The Infamous Chins. Part 2

I began my working career as a dishwasher at Chin’s. My sister had gotten a job as a hostess at the place and they had an opening. She didn’t warn me about how shitty the job would be.

I started on a weekend when they actually had 2 people dedicated to dishes alone. The dishwasher was huge and had a water heater that raised the temperature to around 200 Degrees. Similar to this one;

It was bad enough in the summer that there was little AC in the kitchen and worse that I had to stand right next to the beast. One washer would take the incoming dishes out of the tubs where the bus-boys or waitress' dropped them (the noise was deafening, between the beast and the never ending smash of incoming dishes I am surprised I can hear at all now), rinse them into a monster disposal, load the trays and feed the full racks into the machine. The other washer would take the clean dishes exiting the beast (piping hot, unless they had a few minutes to cool off, which was rare) and have to get them stacked properly for use. Glasses went out to the Waitress area and everything else was positioned so the cooks could load them up.

After I had been there a while, I got to know the characters. Genie was the lead waitress and was a motherly figure, but a very strong person. Most of the time, she was very good about answering questions and providing guidance. If someone did something wrong, she would call them on the carpet. If you back talked her, you were risking your job and were certainly destined for a tongue lashing. She was the police, judge and jury. The owners of the place trusted her to keep it going.

Marvin was the owner, a tired looking man who seldom spoke to the staff. My father sent me his obituary a while back, so that may explain the place closing. To me, he was unapproachable, so we had little interaction, unless he needed something. Then it would be a “take this over there” type conversation.

Marvin’s wife, Kitty, was probably a great person outside of the restaurant. Inside though, everyone was scared of her, except Genie. She had that thick layer of makeup almost like a geisha and looked kind of scary. If she got pissed, watch out. She was so “in your face” that even the cooks (all Chinese immigrants) shied away from her.

Marlon was the oldest (maybe only) son of Marvin. He was in his early 20s and a fairly jovial person. He was left in charge of the place often because Kitty and Marvin were busy at their other larger venue, Chin Tiki in Detroit proper. I did some research and the place I was at was actually called “Chin’s Chop Suey” (shoot me) and was actually in Livonia Michigan, right next door to Redford. It opened in 1955. Marlon’s sister was around too, very cute, petite and very quiet. She helped out with whatever she could.

Lou worked in the soda room, which was also the bar and waited tables too. The waitresses would drop the orders back there and Lou would make the “Exotic Cocktails”. He was a short wide and slightly heavy man, mid-twenties. Smiling almost always and had a great laugh. If Lou was mad about something, he would get so red in the face it was scary. Hi haircut resembled Moe from the 3 Stooges. We wound up being pretty good friends and did dinner after work often, when we both closed the place. Strangely, the age difference was never an issue with Lou and a lot of the other people there. He also doubled as the bouncer. He was trained in the martial arts, studying to become a cop and it was always a trip to watch him walk up to an unruly customer offer his hand and then quietly and quickly escort the person out side, never letting go of that hand. He had confidence in himself that actually spilled over to anyone around him, a feeling that you were safe with the guy. You need a ride somewhere, car died? Lou was there. He was the kind of guy I could only wish good things upon.

The Infamous Chins. Part 3

The waitresses at Chin’s were all pretty, even the older ones (must have been a policy?). They clashed regularly and were a mish-mash of persona that provided entertainment for me always. Since the dishwasher was right next to the swinging doors to the dining room, I would always get to see the shows, when one waitress dragged another into the kitchen by the arm to argue/fight. I would be right there, front row and actually stop what I was doing, cross my arms, lean back on the beast and watch, listen. These were mostly good people, but the mundane job at hand drove them to tear into each other over the most trivial things. It was hilarity to me, and man would they get pissed when they looked up from their arguing to me standing there, grinning like an idiot. Had I a video camera back then, you would be amazed at the footage. They would notice me, scowl and then scamper farther into the kitchen or back room to finish the fight. One would trounce back through first, triumphant and the other(s) would follow, usually looking defeated or teary eyed. Most of the arguments were about customers. Some of the gals had “regulars” and if they tipped good, wanted to keep them all to themselves.

I will run the ladies down;

Stacey; brunette with long curls, it was popular at the time. Excellent body (in every way, though some people might suggest a boob job, I would not) and a very pretty face, a bit like Sigourney Weaver, bit more slender and she knew she was hot. She had a younger sister working there too, who wanted to be as hot as Stacey, but would not make the cut. In short, Stacey was a self made bitch; she knew it and did not care. She was above the whole place, in her mind.

Peggy; very cute in a “girl next door” way. I found out from her that Peggy was short for Margaret and had a long discussion about that not seeming right to me. Still doesn’t. She was the sweetest thing walking the planet as far as I was concerned. I fell immediately in love with her. Me 16 then and she 21. We had a kind-of date once. We went to the Ford Museum/Greenfield Village in Dearborn, where she lived. She had never been herself. I met her at her place (so small I thought it was more fitting to Hobbits or Munchkins even) and had a nice day exploring the village. Our relationship never went beyond friends and she would often join in on our after work get-togethers. I can only hope she has had a good life. She taught me a lot about being a good person, through example. She knew what was worth a fight and what was not. She taught me patience too.

Cheryl; She was just a little bit chunky, but sweet and very cute, kind of like Peggy was. Towards the end of my run at Chin’s, before I joined the Navy, we actually went out a few times. She was only 19, but in college and looking for more than a boy, I am sure. We went to a few movies (they still had a drive-in back then, excellent B-horror movies, we saw Phantasm, Piranha and a horrible movie about bigfoot) and anytime I tried to start some groping (she had a nice body too), I was rejected, sweetly. She moved to Alaska and we stayed in touch by snail mail for a bit, and then lost touch completely.

Karen; It’s hard for me to write about her. Karen physically looked a lot like Louann Fernald

She was the first girl I shouldn’t have fallen in love with. She didn’t go to my high school in Redford, she went to neighboring Livonia. She was gorgeous, witty, happy and seemingly free. One slow night at work she was sitting alone at the back of the restaurant waiting for a customer to come in. I was eating my dinner, which I usually prepared myself. I had seen the cooks drop food on the ground, pick it up and toss it back in the wok for a few seconds, then serve it up. Karen was there and we talked a bit. I don’t know how it came up, but she was asking me about pot. Had I tried it? I had and I always got sick and usually threw up, I didn’t tell her that though. So I offered to get a joint and let her try it, she said she never had before. What happened with her will be a story unto itself.


Soon after I was working there regularly, my friend Rob decided he was bored without his sidekick (me) around and took a job as a dishwasher too. It was regular practice that the dishwashers were promoted to bus boy as those guys moved on to better things. I had been pretty tame at work, but when Rob came on board, he proved to be the catalyst (as always) to mayhem.

Doing dishes sucked, no other way to describe it. It was dirty, smelly, loud, hot, humid and you stood on rubber mats all day that were like honeycomb. You took out the trash, mopped the whole kitchen and vacuumed the dining room (while the waitresses made angry eyes at you because you were holding up closing shop). It was the grubbiest job imaginable, so of course, one must rebel, right?

We started a campaign of revenge, all the while appearing completely innocent of it. We would get sodas, free for the employees. We would take the drink back to the dishwasher area, but save the straw wrappers. Did you know those paper straw wrappers acted like a slow burning fuse when lit and left smoldering? We did, but again, it’s another story on using those to create bottle rocket salvos. It was hilarious when we left smoldering straw wrappers behind the exhaust vent on the beast. The smoke was invisible because of all the steam, but everyone in the kitchen could smell the unusual burning smell. All of the burners were gas, so this stood out. It would not be long before the cooks or Marlin would start sniffing around and we would be oblivious to it when they asked. They would start walking all over the kitchen and out to the dining area too. Once the wrappers went out, just a puff of air and all the ash/evidence was gone. We were laughing at the mayhem it caused, dying on the inside and would crack up after we closed.

The Infamous Chins. Part 4

I will start off here with one of my favorite memories of the place. It was early on a weekend and Rob and I were both working. It was early and not busy at all yet. Rob grabbed an egg and we went back to the large, mostly empty, store room in the very back of the place. The idea was an egg toss. So we started about 10 feet apart from each other and after each tossed the egg to their foe, would take a step back. We were about 20 feet apart when Marlon bounced into the hallway leading to the room and (of course) I had the egg. Even though I could have slipped it into my apron, I made the idiot move of putting it in my mouth. Rob’s back was to Marlon as he entered the room and was surprised. I started to walk toward Rob intending to just go past them both back to work. Marlon stopped me and stood between us and the hallway. He wanted to know what we were doing and Rob took the lead, telling him that we had been cleaning up the trash in the parking lot (a lie, we would only do that if told to). Marlon was suspicious and Rob couldn’t help but start laughing when I wouldn’t say anything. That made me laugh and the egg left my mouth in a beautiful arc and went a good 7 feet before splatting on the carpet. Marlon had to duck to avoid it hitting him. Rob and I were stunned for a second, and then we both erupted in laughter. Marlon was livid, but didn’t know what to do. He sternly told us to clean it up and get back to work. Later that night he did make us police the parking lot for trash, fair enough I think. Weeks later we all laughed about it when we went out to Big Boys after work. Marlon was an ok guy outside of work.

Immediately after taking the job, I started saving my earnings, so I could get a good 10 speed bike. It would make getting to work a lot easier (I hated asking for rides). I got a good one too, not top of the line, but not the bottom either. About $120 bucks if I remember right. The ride to and from work was about 5 miles, maybe a little less. Both Rob and I were speed demons on our bikes. We went as fast as possible, often in the middle of traffic. We would sometimes pass cars when were on the sidewalk! Chin’s was nice enough to let us leave the bikes inside the large store room while we were at work. I had the bike for about a year, then upgraded to my eldest brother’s beaten up 1972 Plymouth Duster. It was baby blue and had a nasty dent on the back passenger side. My brother wanted to dump it after he dented it, so I offered $250. He took it and I was happy to not be biking all over town, especially when it got cold.

We would often go out after work on Friday and Saturday. Some nights we got everything done early and were off a little after midnight. Other nights it was busier and we would be there till almost 1AM. I couldn’t vacuum the dining area till all the customers had left, so it was usually up to the waitress to swish the lagging customers out of the place. Genie would sometimes lock the front door early when she was there closing. We all hated when someone would show up right before closing, for dinner. It was often a drunk and his date from the bar two doors down. We would all lump it and hold out while they ate. A few times we had couples fall asleep in their booth. It was very uncomfortable for the waitresses to go wake them up and ask that they leave. If they got rowdy, Lou was there or some of the larger bus boys to mop things up. So once everything got closed out, the hostess would clear out the cash register and do her count. I would be vacuuming and the waitresses were refilling the salt and pepper shakers. It was forbidden to leave dishes for the next day, so the last task was usually one or two last washer loads of leftovers. Any soup (by the way, egg drop soup smells like a nasty sulfur fart), gravy, rice etc, that was left over, went down the drain. We would leave the aluminum rice pots (about 2.ft across and almost 3 ft tall) to soak for the next morning, because it was impossible to get them clean without it. Sometimes I would take a quart of the fried rice home for the next day or a late night snack.

The time together outside of work was always fun. We rarely talked about current events and just goofed or talked about movies, work, TV, what was going on in our lives. I liken it to warriors (modern or medieval) getting together after a battle and milling over the event. There would inevitably be a story about customer that day. One I recall was Cheryl telling everyone about a guy who had come in and chain smoked, even while he ate. In between bites he would cop a drag. I saw that one myself. Drunks and bad tippers were prevalent in the discussions too. I liked that we had a regular place to hang out after work and laugh/joke. Big Boys had some real good sandwiches too. More than once I asked Marlon why Chin’s didn’t have this sandwich on the menu?? We always tipped really good, unless the service sucked.

As long as I worked there, I had the Sunday morning shift. Besides cleaning up the Saturday leftovers, there were collateral duties. I was presented a rice pot (see above) full of shrimp. The ones that are about 3 inches long. The heads had been removed, but the rest of the shell remained. I had to sit and un-shell the whole lot. I hate the smell of shrimp and most fish for that matter. I wouldn’t gag or anything, it was just annoying. Later the steam from the beast would soak the fish smell into my clothes. I did get real good at shelling the bastards though. The cooks gave me a few tips.

Another collateral Sunday morning chore was cleaning the fridge. It was huge and obviously cold. You had to use bleach, great for the skin. The nastiest thing in there was the blood from the chicken and beef. It would be caked onto the shelves underneath the bins they were stored in. It took a lot of work to get them clean. Sometimes you would find something that had been overlooked for some time, rotten, stinky, and nasty.

The cooks pre-rolled all of the egg rolls for the next week on Sunday morning and I would help pile the bins into the fridge. I asked and was shown how to roll them and they all laughed at me when I tried myself. These guys were like an assembly line when they were rolling. It was always impressive to watch.

The Infamous Chins. Part 5

Karen. This is actually hard to write…and re-live.

As I describer her, she was gorgeous (to me anyway). I wasn’t gaga over her at work or anything, I just thought she was hot. If you could have seen her walking (not strutting..just seductive, fluid, confident, hard to pin down exactly what) in that waitress uniform, you would agree. She started working there a fair while after I had started. She was a friend of one of the Hostesses, Lisa. The Hostesses will be a chapter unto themselves, at least one of them will. Actually at least two will.

So Karen and I were chatting and the thought of her trying some pot came up (it was everywhere in Detroit at that time). I had some friends who grew their own, so it wouldn’t be a problem to get some. They were funny guys, brothers (not black, really brothers). But I wander….

So, the following weekend I have the joint in my car and Karen had agreed we would meet after work. The day was busy and I shooed Rob away at closing and blew off going out with the others. Karen hung back too and we wound up just chatting outside near our cars until everyone left. Once we were alone we got into my car and I don’t even recall if we actually lit the joint, but we surely wound up making out. I think we did light it, but I didn’t inhale much for sure if we did. She must not have either, because I don’t remember either of us being wasted. We quickly got into some heavy petting, all over the top of the clothing. That would be the MO for the duration of our relationship, and I use that term “relationship” loosely. She was a very good kisser and was the first girl I French kissed. She did it to me first (teacher) and I reciprocated.

I wanted so badly to unzip what she rubbed during the subsequent sessions, but I figured if she wanted that, her hand was right there. In hind sight, I am sure if I had undone my zipper, it would have gone further. It will never be known though.

The next weekend we went to dinner at a local Italian place, it was nice, but not real nice. I wound up sitting next to her in the booth, but she was left handed, so we kept bumping elbows. I had to change to sitting across from her. We had a great time talking and laughing and I drove her home (make-out/petting ensued).

So things seemed to be going swimmingly to me, when the following weekend at work, some kind of ruckus broke out fairly late on a Friday or Saturday night. This one I only heard, some yelling from the hallway going back to the large storeroom. I was busy and didn’t go back to see what was up, but I saw a few bus boys go back to take care of whatever was happening.

I found out after the event that it was Karen’s boyfriend looking to kick my ass. I had never seen or heard of the guy, but was told he was about 6’2 and (just my luck) was the QB on the High School Football team. That was all I F-ing needed, to be “the other man” with my first “hands on” romantic interest. Karen actually had the balls to come give me the “Dear John” talk a few days later and say we could only be friends. I was rather crushed, to say the least, but didn’t argue about it. I was still a virgin and had no clue what to do.

I was so bummed that my Mom, in a rare moment of obvious concern (not her fault at all that it was rare, I never showed much emotion or asked for guidance, so she never knew if I was bummed or not, or why) actually stopped me at home and asked me what was wrong. I told her nothing and since she reads these, now you know. I will say it was a kick in the ass that she noticed and asked me that. I decided I had to get over it, at least on the surface.

Karen did invite me to a few more make-out sessions after this point, which confounded me and I have to sadly report that I went along with it at first. It took me a few weeks to figure out that I was just being used to just fill in the romantic vacuum between her and her boyfriend and began making excuses to not see her anymore. I even adjusted my work schedule to not see her as much and wound up only seeing her on days when she was covering someone else’s shift. It was hard for me to be around her anymore.

I calculate now that she didn’t consider what we did as cheating on her boyfriend. I have met many women since who consider much more than kissing and petting as “not cheating”, in their minds. We do always find a way to justify our actions, yes? So many people now pay their shrinks to help do that for them. Justify their bad behavior.

I did actually see the hunchback boyfriend in person some time later (from a distance) and he appeared to be everything he was described to be. He would probably have ripped me in two I expect, if he wanted to. Later though, I never saw him on college or pro football, so I expect he faded into a menial job. The QB thing didn’t pay off.

So like I said, Karen was the first girl I shouldn’t have fallen in love with (puppy love, of course, at that age). It did still hurt, like hell. Like any kid would feel if he got dumped; even if he was self imposing being dumped.

I saw her once more about a year after I left Chin’s. Like an idiot, I came back home after boot camp and was hammered and wanted to go to Chin’s. My friends obliged. She was there, I was lit. I wound up throwing up (classy) out front of the place and her coming out there trying to help. I was so embarrassed (shooed her away then, yelling something nasty I am sure, I can’t remember) that I would never try to contact her again, not even in a friendly manor. Like a puff of smoke, she was gone for good, as was I.

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