Price Breaks and Heartaches
a journal of retail and failed romance
The Fries And The Fury
How did I end up in this situation?
Every man asks himself that-usually right after his honeymoon, after the first time he has to change a diaper or after that first day of basic training.
I think the question applies to the situation we are exploring here as well.
I was working the lunch rush at Empire Burger, despite all my complaints and concerns I had found myself adrift in a warm current of mediocrity and I wasn’t struggling all that hard against it.
Then Lilly showed up in line, her lips pursed to place a meal order and remind me that when it came to her I was always left holding the pickle. She was my first love, my high school sweetheart, the girl that could send my wangdoodle to Def-Con 1 status with a bat of her eyes.
But why this girl? Why was she the one when I went to school with lots of girls that were cute in one way or another?
The more cruel of my readers (you know who you are) might say it was because she was one of the rare girls that spoke to me in those days.
The more astute of my readers (there must be one of you out there somewhere) might observe that while she was a pretty girl with a sweet personality, she was in her own way, a bit of a nerd as well.
However there is something more to it than that. I didn’t set out looking to fall for her, I wasn’t really trying to fall for anyone. Junior High had taught me that the teen romance of John Hughes’ films was not for guys that wept like babies at the end of STAR TREK II.
I had met Lilly at the start of my second year in ninth grade.
And yes I failed ninth grade. In the New York public school system yet. The mind still boggles decades later.
So there I was having to take ninth grade all over again; it was like purgatory with standardized testing. In that sad strange year I made many of the friends that stayed with me all during and long after high school. Lilly was one of them, and while I noted she was darn cute and I like her a lot but I never even considered making a move. As far as I was concerned a guy like me didn’t dare.
Until that day in early October that I was in the office waiting for a bus pass and I saw this kid I barely knew. He was a small, skinny, geeky sonovabitch yet he didn’t travel in my social circle. Even now I couldn’t tell you his name or much about him without an old yearbook in front of me.
But that day he asked me if I was Al Bruno III. I admitted I was and braced myself for verbal or physical abuse.
Instead he said, “Do you know Lilly has a crush on you?”
I’m not sure how the conversation ended, all I know is that some small, skinny, geeky sonovabitch had just allowed a sliver of hope into my hopeless existence.
What happened then? What happened then was that the next few years of my life became a sad, embarrassing, wonderful and humiliating soap opera. The kind of soap opera only a teenager could have.
There’s more to it than that, if not for my chasing Lilly I would never have met the woman I married. If not for my chasing Lilly she would never have met the man she married. If not for my chasing Lilly you wouldn’t be wasting your time reading this story!
Almost twenty years later, via the miracle of social networking, I would ask Lilly about that small, skinny, geeky sonovabitch and why she told him she had a crush on me.
Here’s the kicker dear readers. She barely knew him, she knew him less than I did and she had certainly never had a reason to confess to him that she wanted me to bury my acne-laden face in her still-developing bosom.
So here I am, a forty year old man looking back on his teenage years and realizing that his entire life story hinges on the actions of a kid he never spoke to again.
Looking back, I’m grateful for all of it, every moment of it.
But at the time of my taking Lilly’s order at Empire Burger I wanted to punch that small, skinny, geeky sonovabitch in the face and piss in his milkshake.
At first I didn’t recognize her; she had let her hair grow out and was wearing sunglasses. It was Lilly and she was on the arm of someone new. He was a familiar face as well, Jessie Leggatt; he had been a freshman in high school when I was a senior. We knew each other but really only enough to say hello in passing. He had a lot of the same hobbies and interests that I did, we even looked a little but like brothers. They only real differences between us was out age.
And that he had a working car.
And washboard abs.
And he had her.
The happy couple recognized me and came straight up to my register. I wanted to crawl right into my change drawer in my die. Still though, I tried to keep things professional. “Lilly!” I said, “How are you? You look great! And hey there Jessie. You’re looking… ripped.”
Jessie gave me a causal salute that somehow set his biceps rippling, “Al. I thought you’d be making your living as a writer by now.”
I squirmed, “I’m kind of between projects now. So who have you two been- I mean what have you two been doing togeth- No I mean… Oh never mind. Can I take your order?”
Lilly gave me a giggle, “Look at you, you're blushing.”
“It’s a rash. I’m allergic to French fries.”
“Oh.” She said, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Jessie gave me an appraising once over, “You know if you did more crunches it would make your immune system stronger. I haven’t been sick since that time I got into those bad protein shakes.”
“Wow.” I said, “That is interesting. Can I take your order please?”
I was the only cashier currently on duty not suffering from some form dementia and there was a line starting to form. I felt like any moment I was going to burst into tears or leap over the register and tear out Jessie’s throat with the shattered remains of a ‘Blue Velvet’ collector’s glass- part of a six glass series.
“Come on Al,” she said. “Don’t hold out. What have you been doing with yourself since graduation?”
I swallowed hard and reminded myself not to mention that Christy Canyon video, “Oh this and that. Trying not to make a fool of myself of course take a look at this uniform and decide for yourself how that’s going.”
“You still crack me up,” Lilly gave Jessie’s arm a squeeze. “What did I tell you about him Jess? He always tries too hard at everthing.”
Jessie nodded, “It’s like if you use too much weight you’ll lose definition but gain mass.”
“I never saw it that way,” I nodded back. “Now for the love of God please order something.”
“What do you recommend?” she asked.
“The shakes are terrific.”
I kept busy for the rest of my shift, I never saw them leave but I know in my heart they were arm in arm and sharing a laugh. When it was time for my fifteen minute break I excused myself to the freezer and took out my rage by punching the boxes of frozen patties. It was kind of like that scene from ‘Rocky’ except Rocky didn’t get winded nearly as quickly as I did and he didn’t end up trapped under a pile of collapsed cardboard and hamburger.