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Cooking with Nazis

naziNobody who works in a restaurant really expects to be there for very long. Even the ones who’ve stuck around for the last decade see it as a temporary position on the way to do whatever it is they really want to do. Waiters want to be actors, cooks want to be chefs at better places, dishwashers want to be DJs, head chefs want their own establishment, and the ones who do have their own place want more time off to open a new restaurant or pursue a different line of work altogether. Especially if the restaurant is a lousy one, coming to work can start to feel a bit like being in detention or a hotel in a tourist destination.

This can tend to make you simultaneously more and less accepting of your fellow employees: if they’re a pickpocket or a pedophile off the job… well they’ll likely be gone soon; if they put the order chits or a glass in the wrong place, they’re a black-hearted scumbag who deserves to suffer an agonizing death.

Even so, some co-workers have been truly startling. Because it tends to be something of a job of last resort for many, I have worked with a few people who could not conceivably do anything else. Ed came on as a line cook seemingly straight out of prison without any of the social skills that would prepare him for life on the outside. He was in his early 30s and the sort of man that sees a neck tattoo as a worthwhile investment. He always walked in that loping stagger that made it look like he was wearing a full diaper. He was always simmering. In my town there are blocks and blocks of these angry sluggers in cul-de-sac lives going around and around without end. Not unlike myself.

The restaurant aspired to greatness though. It was located in the far wealthier neighboring town where jowly executives drive the muscle cars they’ve always dreamed of owning and bored younger women bristle with high self-regard beside them, and the food was “gourmet,” made in-house from scratch, served on chunks of wood, the menu in untranslated Italian. Unfortunately, this put Ed at odds with the décor because he tended to respond to incoming orders with untranslated obscenities delivered in something like a bark.FISH!” there were no customers in the restaurant and he was “FISHING bored!” “OH FISH!” now there were customers and they’d want to eat!! “FISH!” they ordered the spaghetti! It sounded as if his mouth was constantly and violently struggling against his brain’s limited vocabulary.

The problem, of course, was that, to borrow Irving Goffman’s terms, the backstage of the restaurant was just adjacent to the front-stage where the servers gave their regular performance, with or without the semi-rhythmic obscenity chant emanating in the background. This soon put Ed at odds with the head chef and owner, who were probably more tolerant than they would have been in any other line of work- it’s hard to imagine the same behavior wouldn’t lead to immediate firing at, say, a hospital or funeral parlor- because they were short-staffed and he would, undoubtedly, quit before long. Ed was clearly incensed that a cook position involved either preparing food or not preparing food, and without the announcement making any headlines, he soon gave his two-week notice.

Probably the weirdest kitchen conversation happened right around the time he gave notice. It was a slow night and we were chatting in the kitchen while cleaning up. A younger cook was talking about the fraternity he’d belonged to in the states. Canadians, in general, don’t care about frats or know much about them.

Ed: I don’t get it- what’s a fraternity?

Cook: Well, it’s sort of like a brotherhood.

Ed: Oh, okay. I’m in the Aryan Brotherhood!

Cook: …. Oh… Aryan Brotherhood, huh?…

Ed: Oh, yeah! Let me tell you- if you’re going to jail, you’d better be in the Aryan Brotherhood! Ha ha!

So, after that, he was called “Nazi Ed” whenever he wasn’t around, which became permanent a few weeks later. While he had suggested that his was a sort of defensive aryanism, he soon told a joke that could only be described as horrifically racist and made a few other comments that cleared up any confusion on the matter.

I didn’t say anything. I could imagine my 15 year old punk rock kid self being very disappointed at my silence in the face of Neo-Nazi cookery. As a kid, I would have mouthed off at him and work would have been uncomfortable until I got beat up or quit, which would have been within a few days.

Things change, though. They seem to matter less as you get older. On the one hand, yes, I kept my mouth shut because Ed looked like the sort of person who has worn body parts as jewelry at some point. The other thing, however, is that my 15 year old punk rock kid self never distinguished between power and ideology. When you’re that age, it seems like all adults have, more or less, a base level of power, which is simply greater than your own. Ideologies, therefore, seem more important, like clouds of toxic pollution that could potentially infect innocent people and harm us all if we don’t stop their spread.

Now, I realize that someone like Nazi Ed will never have power outside of perhaps isolated acts of violence, and hopefully not even those. He simply hasn’t the intelligence, social connections, or access to capital that might give him power or influence, and so he’s essentially a disgruntled loser. I suspect it’s the level of power that makes a professor or police officer with vile beliefs strike us as more threatening than, say, a goat herder with vile beliefs. I think we recognize, on some level, that it’s not so much what someone would like, in their heart, to do that threatens as much as what they can do.

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57 thoughts on “Cooking with Nazis

  1. When I was in high school, I dished for this one restaurant (the Stuffed Alive.) At the time, one of the cooks was an Elvis impersonator. We all called him The King. I never did learn his real name.

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  2. Great essay. I really like the point about how teenagers don’t understand the difference between ideology and power. I can also see why restaurants can be an employer of last resort for many people. From what I’ve heard, warehouses are also places where a lot of people work if they have too many tattoos and piercings to be employed anywhere else.

    Though unreasonable beliefs lurk behind every corner.

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      • “Everyone’s a little bit racist.”-Avenue Q.

        I don’t think there are any markable social demographics for racism and bigotry. Sometimes it can come from great wealth and privilege. Other times it can come from being among the lowest or closest to the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum and almost living in the shadow of society. This is partially why Jay Gould was able to boast about “setting one half the working class against the other.” The NSDAP received a lot of early support from the lower-middle class men who were out of work during the 1920s and were repelled by Weimar decadence. Weimar Germany was pretty decadent by even our super-liberal standards.

        There was a guy who used to hang out at my coffeeshop. We would talk every now and then and usually about stuff not related to politics. The guy saw himself as a good San Francisco liberal. He was a college-educated engineer (though with a somewhat dysfunctional backstory). However he seemed to sincerely believe that the Rothschilds controlled the world economy or could at least manipulate to their advantage. He would not advocate for anything bad to happen to Jews because of this but he knew I was Jewish and openly told me he couldn’t understand why is friends told him saying these things were anti-Semitic. He thought he was merely stating a Captain Obvious style fact like fire is hot.

        There is also a bar I know in S.F. that is largely considered for very trendy Asian kids and I have black friends who complained about bigoted treatment at said bar. Did someone here or on my other blog make a comment about Asian visitors making bigoted comments about black people?

        There are plenty examples of Jews making bigoted comments as well like Donald Sterling and Dan Snyder.

        Bigotry and racism are varied and know many forms.

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      • That’s what I’m getting at about the expression. I’ve definitely encountered bigots from all walks of life, but they seem to express it differently. I think for some people the stakes are so low, they can join the Aryan Nations or whatever and it won’t affect their general trajectory too much, whereas others might express those ideas very differently.

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      • Typically, people hate those who they perceive as one step ahead of them.

        I would say they hate people who are one rung BELOW them on the ladder because they want to make sure others know what the relative hierarchy is.

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      • Most people never think about those below them, unless they’re putting pressure on them. Hitler didn’t rally the people with accusations against Gypsies. But people are obsessed with whoever’s above them – and not miles above them, but just one rung. It’s a fairly consistent pattern, all other things being equal.

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      • Pinky,
        Gypsies made a convenient target to blame for a community’s own greed.
        Since “everyone knew” the gypsies stole things, there was a communal free-for-all of snatching from your neighbors.

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  3. Nazi Ed will never have power outside of perhaps isolated acts of violence, and hopefully not even those

    Perhaps he also serves as a walking billboard for what people who cling to such beliefs are like. It makes it clear to others that this is what people believe when they have nothing else; they elevate in importance the only thing they have, which is what they were born with and can’t be taken away.

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  4. I forget where, but I was just reading an article about prison gangs, and it made it sound like membership in one was pretty much required for survival. That last quote from Ed might’ve been entirely accurate, depending on what the gang options for white dudes were.

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    • I get the sense that membership in a prison gang is not so much required as it has its advantages. Gangs generally run prisons and some jails. They control a lot of the amenities and probably collect some kind of tax from non-members. Of course, membership has its disadvantages, as in any moment you can be called upon to perform some task that could keep you in jail a lot longer, if not forever.

      The other thing is who knows if this guy was really a “member” of the Aryan Brotherhood. Full membership in a prison gang usually has a pretty high bar. This could be like a petty criminal who once did some business with some mafia associates and then goes on to brag that he’s a made member of a family.

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      • As usual, I get most of my info from movies and TV, but I got the sense that forgoing joining a gang in prison is pretty much akin to forgoing police protection out here.

        Sure, you can theoretically do it, but you are very exposed and vulnerable, on your own, and anyone who wishes to visit violence on you may, without much fear of retaliation.

        You have no backup or protection, and little means to pay anyone for any.

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  5. Rufus,
    Man, the fact that you live in Canada is showing. A lot. That man, in America, probably has a gun. The odds that he will use it, or threaten to use it, on some schmuck where they oughtn’t be, is appreciable.

    You say he ain’t got power. Well, in Canada you’re pretty much right. In America? Not so much.

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  6. I’m wondering if there is a bit of reverse adaptation. Perhaps people to unconventional and note hide able tattoos and piercings adopt unconventional beliefs of various types because those are the only communities where they could find acceptance. This unconventional beliefs could be harmless Wiccan beliefs or dangerous Neo-Nazi beliefs but they both provide an acceptance for the word lacking elsewhere.

    Ross Douthat had a column months ago about what causes people from comfortable backgrounds to give up everything and fight for organizations like ISIL. One of his points is that liberal democracy favors the industrious, prudent, and slightly boring even in its social democratic form. People that can’t conform to what can be called bourgeoisie living or at least do so in public have a difficult time finding a place. Fringe groups from Wiccans to Neo-Nazis to Islamic extremists provide an outlet for those that can not conform.

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    • Freud wrote about this in Civilization and Its Discontents. Civilization and society promote progress, comfort, technological advancement but the price paid for that security is conformity and the individual revolts.

      Though I question how many people from comfortable backgrounds are fighting for ISIL. If you are talking about people like Jihadi John, European Muslims tend to be significantly isolated from mainstream European society and they tend to suffer from poor economic and employment prospects in a chronic sort of way.

      One of the things I noticed about the new geek and “alt-right”* renaissance is complaining about old rules on respectability and how it is totes uncool for law firms and other businesses to be critical of tattoos or neon hair as unprofessional.

      *If it is alternative, it is right seems to be a general philosophy.

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      • The legal profession requires a lot of decorum. Most judges have a high sense of decorum regardless of their judicial philosophy or age. Decorum helps things calm in the courtroom and lots of judges really like that. Really obvious and non-coverable tattoos, alternative piercings, and neon hair has cultural connotations that the bearer has a wild streak. Judges and clients aren’t going to look kindly on this. Enforcing conventional grooming is kind of required in the legal profession.

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    • “People that can’t conform to what can be called bourgeoisie living or at least do so in public have a difficult time finding a place. Fringe groups from Wiccans to Neo-Nazis to Islamic extremists provide an outlet for those that can not conform.”

      And we get to Eric Hoffman’s “True Believer”.

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  7. Admittedly, I am not much of a reader, but a few weeks ago when I was sifting through Proudhon I noticed he was anti-semitic. I wasn’t sure where that could have developed from.
    There wasn’t much* information of the 19th century that pointed anywhere other than the Rothschilds. And it wasn’t the actions of a single agent, as the family deployed into several different financial sectors. So the distribution of the name/ethnicity associated with sectors that commoners held often in contempt. The echoes of that probably traveled a few generations into the future.
    *The Dreyfus affair predated Proudhons time.

    In an unrelated search in english history of firearm laws I found this:
    THE ASSIZE OF ARMS (1181)

    7. Item, no Jew shall keep in his possession a shirt of mail or a hauberk, but he shall sell it or give it away or alienate it in some other way, so that it shall remain in the king’s service.

    Best I could come up with on that was jews fought along muslims at times during the crusades?

    I don’t see much of that relating to the creation of Ed, which is likely the results of the factions of survival in most prisons. About the only words I would have offered Ed would be to point out the mechanisms that have him prosper in prison could be his impairment in the open public.

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    • One old saying on the left was anti-Semitism is “socialism for stupid people”. I’d maybe call it political action for stupid people. It’s had a very, very long shelf life as the classic provincial bigotry. Partly I think it’s because it’s so fluid- what the Jews are supposed to have done keeps changing. And partly it’s the sheer irrationality of it that makes it so fluid. It doesn’t really make much sense, which seems to drive anti-Semites to invest more heavily in the most bizarre and flimsy justifications for it.
      Another old line. Two old men are talking and one says, “All the worlds problems are caused by Jews and bicycles.”
      The other: “Why bicycles?”
      “Ah, but why Jews?”

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  8. Years ago I briefly bunked with a neo-Nazi in a workers’ guesthouse. This was in Germany, where the music cassettes he had were straight up illegal. He’d gotten a cover tattoo over his swastika in prep to come to Munich from the former East for work.

    It was awkward. I bought a tent and moved to a campground shortly after the topic of his politics came up.

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  9. Rufus:

    You really should say neo-nazis, but really the AB is a criminal organization that was originally organized along racial lines for self protection in prison.

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    • This is interesting to know. Where I live, we have many restaurants that are involved with criminal organizations organized along, let’s say, language lines. It was never clear whether or not this was one of them.

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  10. I worked with a neo nazi. He was unfailingly polite and courteous. I did hear about a band he was in and he played one of his songs to some office women. They told me about him. I never had an issue with him and, other than the one time music incident, he never brought his politics/racism to work.

    I was the only one, for some reason, who he let get away with not using his full proper name. His name was David and I called him Dave. He corrected others, just not me. Never found out why.

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