The Politics of Prawns

Trip Start Dec 03, 2004
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Trip End Nov 31, 2005


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Flag of Australia  ,
Friday, June 17, 2005

Somewhere out in the deep water off the coast of Carnarvon, there is a fleet of boats bobbing about, pulling in prawns. Ian is out there dragging them in by the netful, and at the end of three weeks, those prawns will come back in to shore and begin making their way out to restaurants, markets, grocery stores, people's homes. Some of them may even make their way to the Heddy Bistro, the restaurant attached to the All Seasons Hotel in Port Hedland. It certainly has prawns on the menu, and I now have reason to know, because in addition to working in reception, somehow I've been cajoled into working in the bistro at night for my last two weeks here.

When the general manager phoned to suggest this, I was uneasy at the prospect. "I'm not very good with food," I told her, by which I meant serving it, not eating it, which I am good at. "Oh, it's alright, you'll just be doing seat and greet," she said.

So suddenly I was doing a couple fourteen hour days a week, getting to rush home (and now that Donna is working breakfasts, I have to walk to and from work) for a shower and then rush back less than two hours later to work in the restaurant. I'm the "hostess," I guess, deciding what table to place people at, showing them to their table, explaining that in a bistro, you have to go order at the counter, but that I can take their drink orders. I don't know anything about drinks, so I'm always sort of guessing at what they want---did they just say a "Jackson Dry" (which could be a type of beer, I suppose), or a "Jacks and dry" (a cocktail)?

When we're busy I do have to take food out, too, and I'm always afraid that I'll drop it all over someone. I do not enjoy working in the restaurant, even though it means extra money. It's at turns tedious, aggravating, and harassing. The men who stay at the hotel recognize the staff and want to chat you up when you're serving them, which I know is par for the course in a restaurant and one of the very reasons I didn't want to work in a restaurant. I hate being chatted up.

"Can I just tell you?" some guy tells me as he exits the restaurant. "I love that you're wearing a skirt. Women should wear skirts to work more often, it's sad that it's gone out of fashion. I was watching you walk around in it all evening."

Did you just say you were looking at my legs all night? Thanks! A big, fake smile from me and a murmured, "Thank you, sir," with downcast eyes.

On Monday this week all of the West Australian state cabinet came up to stay at the hotel for a regional cabinet meeting, which meant that in reception I was checking the premier and ministers in and making nice with the politicos. That night I was working in the restaurant but got pulled from that duty to help with the function that the ministers were having, a big to-do with all the local big-wigs and a huge amount of food. I just had to clear the plates, which should've been no big deal, but it meant wandering about the packed room while they were in the middle of a strange sort of quiz-game for paper money (questions ranged from "What is the premier's middle name---no, Premier, you can't answer" to "When was the last cabinet meeting held in Port Hedland"). The paper money was then used in an auction for surprise packages, and I wondered about the advisability of allowing politicians to spend our money, if this is the sort of random crap they spend it on.

Some sleazy politician, as I put out a hand to take his plate, shook my hand instead, announced that my hands were "very cold," and that what I really needed was "a hot man in my life." Why, thank you for the advice. I think you need to a) get a life, and b) shave off that preposterous mustache, but am I telling you that? No.

One of the courses at the politicos' meal had involved a generous serving of prawns, so all the tables had bowls filled with prawn shells. As I carried the bowls into the back of the kitchen to dump, I eyed the fishy remainders and wondered if these particular prawns had been hauled onto the N.W. de Grey by Ian before making their way here. When I went back out to grab another bowl and another politician cornered me to chat about my "fantastic accent, and what was I doing in Port Hedland?" I could see, just for a moment, the appeal of working on a fishing boat. No people. And prawns? Don't ever try to chat you up.
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