Photo by David Reamer

JOSH WAID IS TALL and thin. His substantial black beard is trapped in a wispy net, his eyes are bright beneath the brim of his camo baseball cap, and his long hair is pulled back in a ponytail. He stands beside a stainless steel dishwashing machine that's whooshing rhythmically, like a sped-up recording of ocean waves.

Waid sprays unclassifiable white goo out of a mixing bowl. "I used to be in the Navy," he says in a syrupy drawl. "I got out four months before 9/11. The military launched my dishwashing career 100 percent."

In basic training he was put in charge of vegetable preparation. While receiving military electronics training, he supplemented his government paycheck by working as a dishwasher at Hooters on the boardwalk in Pensacola, Florida, and as an "executive chef" and dishwasher at JB's Gallery of Girls in Virginia Beach. On the USS Kitty Hawk, while waiting to be placed in his assignment, he did petty duty in the officer's mess.

"I worked a machine just like this," he says. "I worked 80-hour weeks. Now I work half that." He shrugs, "This just seems easy to me."

It's around 10 in the morning and here in the back of Clyde Common, Waid is working his way through the near continuous accumulation of prep dishes. Plastic containers and bowls of every size are stacked at his work area by chefs whose main concerns are getting everything ready for the well-heeled lunch patrons who will begin arriving shortly.

Waid presses play on a battered CD player covered in stickers. Out belches the fuzzy buzz of guitar and manic pounding drums of Pustulated.

"I just listen to metal and frown," he says. "That's how I pass the day." But it's not due to some inherent dishwashing unhappiness. In fact, Waid explains, he feels well adjusted. He set out to find a stress-free job and he's found it.

"This is something I don't have to think too hard about. I don't have to make decisions. There's no pressure. The machine does all the work."

Between prep dishes and the oncoming lunch rush, Waid trots downstairs to clean lettuce and greens. It's a task that has been added to his duties, but he's not looking to move up.

He likes his life in Portland just fine as it is. In the morning, he bikes to work from the house he shares with housemates Ern, Dusty, and Becky in Northeast Portland. As he crosses the Broadway Bridge he looks for the baby Plesiosaur he claims to have seen twice and has dubbed Willamette Willy. At work he keeps the machine churning as he finds images in the grease baked on sheet trays (both Abraham Lincoln and the Toxic Avenger have appeared). He works on a book of photographs he'd like to publish—"a view of the front from the back"—and keeps frowning.

Once he rescued the finger of a deliveryman after it was severed in the freight elevator. "I heard they were able to reattach it," he says.

For lunch he'll head to Rocco's Pizza and play videogames. At five he'll give the oncoming dishwasher a high five and order a double whiskey from the bar. On the weekends he gets "crunked," sometimes plays the spoons with country/western band the Tumblers, and generally lives what he calls "Portland Fabulous."

"The important thing is that I'm not living up to my potential," he says. "I'm just taking it easy in the world. I could work a harder job. I could make more money. But who wants it?"

He's happy to leave that to the people who come to Clyde Common for lunch. He'll be washing their dishes for the rest of the day, fascinated by what they have left on their plates and cursing the occasional piece of discarded gum at the bottom of the champagne flute, but otherwise happy. The richest, best-fed dishwasher in Portland.

Sushi Ichiban (24 NW Broadway) is one of Josh Waid's favorite places to eat when he's off shift. That is, when he's not playing videogames in the dimness of Ground Kontrol (511 NW Couch). Sushi train or Centipede? It's a question for the ages.

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