It is an abstract thing to explain: hashing. Attempts are punctuated by my own dismissive hand-waving; an inability to make eye contact; before I’ve really begun, a surrender. It is difficult to understand not only because the word itself is illogical but because of the greater incongruity: the fact that we (the “hashers”) enjoyed it, forged friendships in this way, recall the job with a smile.
On paper, and to any outsider, hashing is at best disgusting and at worst nauseating. The practice at Stanford is not unique to Suites, but nowhere else on campus is it as all-inclusive as at the Suites Dining Societies. Hashers at Suites are responsible for cleaning the clubs, work on a rotating schedule to do so, are paid a small-but-quickly-cumulative amount for their efforts, and had until very recently the opportunity to make a small accessory career out of it: Suites hashers could work their way to becoming kitchen and club managers, CEOs and CFOs of the soon-to-be formerly-student-run operation.
As a Stanford undergraduate, I lived in Suites for two years, worked as a hasher for three and cooked Sunday dinner (at Suites, Sunday brunch and dinner are student-cooked meals) for two, usually with a friend who became over the course of those Sunday evenings one of my very closest. Suites – my tenure as a hasher and cook – was, to the contrary of all natural instincts, integral to my Stanford experience.
I say “to the contrary of all natural instincts” because there is very natural disbelief that any 18- or 19-year-old girl might enjoy scraping dried cereal from abandoned breakfast bowls. And yet hashing – scrubbing clean an industrial kitchen after a chef has prepared a meal for fifty or sixty of my friends, teammates and roommates – remains one of my most enduring and defining memories of Stanford. On a smaller and more sequestered and less-consequential scale, hashing mirrors the actual stress of restaurant work, and I am sure there was something inherent in the chaos and pace and general loudness that drew me to it, but that is not quite the point. Nor is it that at a very expensive school (in a cripplingly expensive area) where there are never enough hours in the day, hashing – its longest shift just three hours on a Sunday afternoon – was a way to earn a couple hundred dollars every month.
For nearly all of us, the work was needed. But even this is not why I hope that, when an outside vendor is brought in to manage the formerly-student-run Suites Dining Society, they keep student hashing. Looking back now through the unavoidably charming haze of nostalgia, the most enduring takeaway was that, scraping burnt chili from the bottom of a five-gallon pot, I made some very good friends.
Working in two-man teams, we mopped floors and wiped down tables. We washed dishes – hundreds of dishes, thousands of dishes, spent cumulatively hours elbow-deep in scalding and browning water, our fingers and nails worked raw by steel wool. We scraped hardened drippings off oven racks and learned to disassemble and reassemble a deli-meat slicer. At Stanford, where the use of acronyms and nicknames (FMOTQ, MemChu, FroSoCo, LSJUMB) might require an outsider to find a translator, hashing too has its own language: of Hobarts and Robocoupes; of the mess wrought by barbeque chicken and the searing burn of vinegar on a hot grill. For three years I ruined t-shirt after t-shirt, one after another flecked pink with bleach stains.
And yet, if song and scent are our strongest memory cues, there is a playlist that runs in my mind – one punctuated by Robyn and nineties throwbacks and this one 10-minute electronic anthem by somebody or some group called “009 Sound System” – and a particular combination of smells (bleach; white vinegar) that reminds me not just of a weird job I had but of some friends I have not seen in a while; some friends I would not have met if it weren’t for hashing.
The point here (although it is surely the point in general) is not to point out the travesty of the impending ResEd takeover – the unyieldingness, the illogicalness, the gross mistreatment of decades-devoted Stanford employees have been exhaustively documented in this paper in a series of pieces by Miles Unterreiner – but rather to note that, despite ResEd’s insistence to the contrary, Suites was, in simple terms, very good to its residents. Those of us who worked in the clubs as hashers and managers took pride in our work; we left The Farm with our Stanford experience informed in no small part by these our time at Suites.
I of course echo sentiments regarding the egregiously unfair treatment levied upon the Suites chefs – Dennis taught me the secret to a good chili, Tony how to tell a good story, and Frank the importance of an earnest “good morning” – and as much as I believe they deserve better, I believe that future Stanford students deserve Suites as it was, as it is, as I will always remember it.
Emily Layden ‘11