In 1989 Pete Jordan was a 23-year-old college dropout with no money and no idea what he wanted to do. Hence, dishwashing. The jobs were easy to get and required little skill, thought, or commitment. The work struck a weird spark inside his slacker skull, and Jordan soon transformed himself into “Dishwasher Pete,” an insouciant craftsman who spent the next 12 years traveling the country in a quest to bust suds in all 50 states. He chronicled his journey in a zine, Dishwasher, that eventually garnered a readership of 10,000 and led to some gigs on This American Life. Those who’ve never vomited the morning’s hangover into the garbage disposal before plunging both arms into scalding water for the next eight hours might not get the allure, but the zine and Jordan’s new memoir of the same name (out this month from Harper Perennial) address much more than the grind of a shitty job. Chicago union organizer Thomas F.W. Scanlon, who led his Miscellaneous Workers Local 513 on strike in 1903, is honored, as are notable dish dogs like George Orwell, who recounted his stint as a plongeur in Down and Out in Paris and London, and Little Richard (“I was the most beautiful dishwasher in the world!”). At its heart the book is a (casual) rallying cry for those disinclined toward the nine-to-five. Follow that dream, man, and the land is yours, each town with a couch to crash on and a pile of dirty dishes to provide some coin for the trip. a Tue 5/22, 7:30 PM, Quimby’s Bookstore, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Pete Jordan.