Price Breaks and Heartaches
a journal of retail and failed romance
The Fries And The Fury
As the weeks wore on I found myself spending less time gaming and more and more time slaving away with Rick Raleigh and the rest of the night crew. Who were the other members of this crack force of Empire Burger employees? There was Natalie, a girl about my age with thick glasses and a pleasant smile, and there was Stuart and Cyril; Stuart and Cyril were identical twins, they alternated shifts and never wore their nametags. There were other employees of course but Empire Burger’s rate of attrition was pretty high, even for a fast food joint. It seemed like every month there was a new employee learning the ropes only to end up quitting or getting fired. The assistent manager Ms. Colley said once that you could see the changing of the seasons by watching the new hires. In the summer it was high school and college age kids, in the winter it was wall to wall retirees.
Once I had established myself as a key member of the team, and stopped setting my uniform on fire twice a night, Rick introduced me to one of the more exciting parts of working the night shift.
Junior manager Skippy Vanderhausen had spent the majority of his shift shut in the manager’s office ‘doing payroll’- which for him meant turning the lights off and watching grainy videotapes of classic Kung-Fu movies until ten o’clock or so. Then he was out on the floor barking orders.
“We need to get out of here on time so let’s stop playing around and start the pre-closing checklist.” Skippy walked over to the steam chute and fixed himself a burger, “Natalie! Start restocking the work stations and refilling the napkin dispensers.”
“Got it!” She hastily abandoned the drive through window.
The burger done Skippy helped himself to a large order of fries and a ‘shake’, “Doris I want you to work the drive through window now.”
Doris moved as fast as her sixty year old legs could carry her, “All righty-roo.”
Skippy looked around to make sure he hadn’t missed anyone, “Cyril I want you to…”
“I’m not Cyril you dickweed, I’m Stuart.”
“Oh sorry.” Skippy said, “But I need you to start mopping the back of the dining area and make sure to clean up any bloodstains that might be in the playground, the kid that lost a tooth today was a real bleeder. And Rick, show the new guy how to clean the broiler.”
“Sure thing.” Rick said, “Come on.”
Curious and eager to earn that first paycheck I followed along, I watched Rick grab some scorched looking towels from the edge of the utility sink and begin wetting them down. “Now you see Al, corporate safety policy states that we have to let the broiler cool down for 30 minutes before it can be cleaned. The problem is if we do that we end up getting out of here late and corporate policy also states we can have no overtime.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It doesn’t have to. All you have to worry about is getting done on time and not hurting yourself when you do this.” And with that Rick wrapped the soaking wet rag around his hands and grabbed a piece off the front of the broiler. The cloth hissed and steamed as he ran back past the office, past the freezer to a small vat of brown liquid that sat near the rear exit. He dropped the piece of scalding hot metal into the slimy looking liquid and was rewarded with a puff of foul smelling steam.
I coughed and waved my hands in front of my face, “What the Hell was that?”
“It’s some kind of high grade detergent or low grade acid. The broiler pieces sit in there overnight and then the morning crew reattaches them before they open the doors for the breakfast rush.” Rick explained, the towels still hissing in his hands. “Now come on lets wet these down again with cold water and you can do the next piece.”
That was how I found out the first aid kit was practically empty and started keeping bandages and iodine in my locker. Work quickly became a routine but a pleasant one. I learned every work station and became adept at cleaning the toilets and disposing of vermin that met their untimely demise in Empire Burger’s many mousetraps.
I soon had more than enough money so I could pursue my two great artistic callings; writing and making mix tapes. Both were so important to me, they were my escapes from the mundane world. Twenty-two years later I still smile when I think of the many fan fiction epics where in insinuated myself into the plotlines of classic DOCTOR WHO episodes, and whenever I hear the song ‘Mr. Roboto’ I’m still a little disappointed that I don’t hear ‘Don’t Pay The Ferryman’ immediately afterwards.
Those notebooks of stories and cassette tapes went everywhere with me, I never showed anyone my stories. At that stage in my writing career I was still flailing around creatively and nothing I finished satisfied me. However I tried to share my mix tapes with everyone, playing them on my small boom box until Stuart (or was it Cyril?) threatened me with bodily harm if he heard ‘Oh Sherrie’ one more time.