J.B. Danigans

The magical J.V. Mall.
The magical J.V. Mall.

The other morning I was telling the kids about my first-ever job. To which my daughter replied, “Yeah, Dad. We know this one …”

“Fine,” I replied. “I’ll just blog about it.” And here I am.

The year was 1987. I was 15. We lived in Mahopac, N.Y., probably a seven-mile drive from the Jefferson Valley Mall. At the time, the J.V. Mall was a beacon of hope. It was only four years old, it was filled with stores, all the cute girls walked the halls on Friday nights. Mahopac, through the eyes of a teen, was dull and flat and cardboard-ish. But the mall … man! The mall was where all dreams could come to life.

So I sought out a job. And landed one. As a dishwasher at a restaurant named J.B. Danigans. It was located on the ground floor, by the rear entrance. Think TGI Friday’s and Applebees and Chili’s, and you pretty much know what J.B. Danigans stood for. Burgers, beers, semi-loud music and the illusion of being in a neighborhood joint (when, truly, you were inside a mall, a stone’s throw from Wicks ‘n’ Sticks and Merry Go Round). My pay was $5 per hour, and I was scheduled to start on a Friday night.

Friday night came. I showed up, and the assistant manager devoted a solid seven minutes toward explain the role of a dishwasher. You do this, then this, and this, and the machine is here, so this and that and that and this. He handed me a schmock and … well, he left me there. Alone. In front of this enormous cast-iron machine that oozed steam and sprayed water. I remember looking at the thing, wondering when my instructor would arrive. But … no. No instructor. Just dishes. One after another after another. They came fast, they came filthy—and I was completely unable to cope. I washed some thoroughly, passed some through with half-assed devotion. It wasn’t about quality. It was all survival.

And, then, the monster entered the room: A plate coated in thick cheddar cheese and a bunch of half-eaten nachos. It looked very much like a scene from Alien, where people are stuck in the monster’s love goop. I had no clue what to do. I tried scrubbing—no dice. Hot water—nary a dent. Finally, with the dishes piling up, I took the cheesy plate and slid it beneath the cast-iron machine.

I removed my schmock, walked out of J.B. Danigans and never returned.

Two weeks later, a $10 check arrived in the mail.

I’d been there for all of 53 minutes.

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