Price Breaks and Heartaches
a journal of retail and failed romance
The Fries And The Fury
It was going to take a few months for me to save up enough money to repair my car. I got to work via the bus and just stayed at work after closing and started my maintenance work immediately after everyone had left. No matter how fast I worked I always missed the last bus of the night and had to walk home. The worst part was walking past the gas station; the terrified gaze of the cashier shadowed my every footstep. I went through the next few weeks in a fugue; it was work, walk, and bed over and over until one of my irregularly scheduled days off gave me time to really rest.
Those free days were spent playing role playing games and trying to figure out excuses to call up Lilly. I think the hole in the ozone layer was pushing it. The only real lasting relationship I had that year was with a Christy Canyon video.
Meanwhile my sister had run away from home at fourteen to get married and my brother at age sixteen was nailing anything with big hair and acid washed jeans.
Hey it was the eighties that was the look.
I would continue to be amazed that while my experiments in reverse crashing were the source of much amusement around the house my brother’s escapades barely raised an eyebrow. When he set off stink bombs in the house? He was just playing a prank. When he bought an Ak-47 from a friend and carried it around the house at random moments? He was just exercising his second amendment rights. When he engaged in underage drinking? At least he was sowing wild oats instead of locking himself in a room with a video playing and the sound turned down.
In my defense I pretty well knew the dialogue to that video anyways.
It was on one of those long walks home on a cold, rainy March night that a Ford Escort with faded blue paint slowed down beside me, “Hey Al. Need a ride home?”
I looked to the familiar face leaning out the passenger side window, “Natalie?”
“You must be freezing.” She pushed the passenger door open, it squealed, “Get in.”
The tires were bald, the rear windshield was cracked, the dashboard was ominously dark and the driver of the car was legally blind in three states; but it was practically sleeting and I couldn’t feel my toes. The choice was obvious, I got in and made damn sure my seatbelt was buckled.
“What are your doing out at this hour of night?” My teeth chattered as I spoke, she had the AM radio tuned to a light rock station and damn if ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves’ wasn’t playing gently in the background.
“Oh I was just out driving.” She said, “Here hold the flashlight.”
I held the flashlight, “Flashlight?”
“The dashboard lights are dead. The only way I can see how fast I’m going is if I shine a light on it. Usually I hold it in one hand as I steer but since you’re here…”
I shined the light at the speedometer, “Always glad to help.”
“We haven’t talked much anymore.” She said, “Are you still watching Doctor Who?”
“Is there anything else?”
“The local PBS is having a pledge drive. The rest of the Doctor Who fan club is going to work the phones while they play some of the new seventh Doctor episodes.”
I frowned, “Well I’m not much of a fan- fan has too many bad connotations. I’m an enthusiast.”
“Oh really?” She grinned, “What was the name of the Captain’s spaceship in ‘The Pirate Planet’?”
“The Vantarialis.” I said without thinking, then hit myself in the forehead “Oh my God, I am such a nerd.”
“Flashlight!” She said.
“You should really come. It might be a good time.” The glare from the flashlight glinted off the dashboard glass back into the prism of her glasses, “Are you going to spend the rest of your life waiting for what’s-her-name?”
“If I have to.” I said with more than a bit of pride.
“I thought you said she was seeing someone else?”
“They’re just bit players in our love story,” I explained. “Lilly just hasn’t realized that I’m her true love yet. Eventually, if I’m persistent enough, she’ll figure it out.”
Natalie’s knuckles whitened on the steering wheel, I was sure it was because of the slushy conditions, “But what if she doesn’t see you that way? What if she never sees you that way?”
“This is what I stand for- writing and Lilly. If I don’t get her than I failed, I failed at my dreams I failed at my life. If I don’t get published then it will be like I never existed, like I never mattered.”
“Don’t talk like that. You matter to a lot of people.”
I sneered, “Yeah where would the broiler be without me?”
“You just don’t understand do you?” We reached a stoplight, she turned to look at me, “Can’t you see where I’m going here?”
“Yeah.” I said, “The next street up ahead is mine.”
Natalie and I never talked much after that, at the time I didn’t much care. Now I wonder what was might have been.
You deserved better Natalie and I hope you found it, I really do.
After I accidentally bleached the floor I was switched to an afternoon schedule where I could do less damage. It was really a lot of fun with bustling, busy customers in front of the counter and elderly, slow moving employees it. I kept the burgers flowing and the buns toasting, they even let me train a few of the new hires. Two heart attacks and one stoke later I was moved from the broiler to the front counter. I took orders and handed out the correct change, mostly in that order.
I found that I had a talent for customer service, I wasn’t perfect but I managed to sustain an overall pleasant demeanor and keep up with the pace of work. There was always something new to deal with, be it a movie tie-in promotion, or new product or hopelessly out of date fry coupons.
It was in April I finally got something at the register I couldn’t deal with.