Price Breaks and Heartaches
a journal of retail and failed romance
The Fries And The Fury
Work, friends and mix tapes conspired to make January a pleasant blur but once February hit everything slowed back down to a crawl. Maybe it was the constant cold, snow and rain, maybe it was the fact that the staff of Empire Burger seemed to spend the entire month passing the same cold back and fourth, or maybe it was Valentine’s Day. Lord but I hated Valentine’s Day back then, but this Valentine’s Day was the worst of the lot because the district manager was there.
We rarely saw Mr. Cushing; only two things brought him to our location; Secret Shoppers and his mistresses. Secret Shopper days were easy enough to deal with. You see the Empire Burger home office paid ‘Secret Shoppers’ to stop by, order food and then grade the location on service and food prep quality. If the franchise failed too many of these clandestine inspections they could be fined or have control of the franchise taken away.
Not a perfect system I admit but a workable one, except for the fact that thanks to a complex web of bribes and intimidation Mr. Cushing always knew the when, where and who of the Secret Shopper’s visit.
Some secret eh?
A Secret Shopper was always signaled by Mr. Cushing blowing in and sending the management into a panic. No matter how smoothly the day might have been going everything soon erupted into confusion. The staff always got the Secret Shopper’s order right but the regular customers were at mercy of the dark gods of food poisoning.
Those visits however were brief, blitzkrieg-like invasions that ended as soon as Mr. Cushing gave the all clear. Much worse were the days his mistresses came to visit. To this day I am still not sure why Mr. Cushing chose to meet his never ending stream of hopeful strippers and morally compromised college girls at our location. Were I to have a mistress I would choose to meet her at a bar or some seedy hotel; then again if I had a mistress my wife would most certainly find out and castrate me with a dull butterknife.
“But he’s been here for hours.” I said.
“I know.” Ms. Colley said, “I know.”
“And he insists on working the drive through window.”
“He’s making fun of the customers and I think he’s drunk.”
Her voice became a growl, “Al I know. He’s meeting one of his girlfriends here.”
I shook my head, “This doesn’t make a damn lick of sense to me, besides he’s married.”
“Can you please just go work the broiler?”
I did as I was told loading burgers and trying to make small talk with my coworkers, “The new guy on the registers is working out pretty good. I mean for an old guy he’s always smiling.”
“Dude.” Rick said, “His face is stuck that way. He’s had some kind of a stroke and can’t pay his medical bills.”
Rick looked up from his fries, “I’ve had about enough of this place, they’ve got me working too many hours and it’s ruining my school work.”
“Then just tell them to put you on part time.”
“They won’t. They say they will but they keep calling me in on my days off.” Rick explained, “If I don’t come in when Mr. Prowse asks me then he’ll cut my hours too much and I won’t be able to afford school supplies.”
“That stinks.” I said wondering when I should start getting serious about college myself. All I really knew was that I wanted my writing. Sure I knew I should have something to fall back on but I wasn’t sure what I could do or what I wanted to do. I had tried my hand at stand up comedy but that really didn’t seem like a reliable back up career and besides audiences tended to throw chairs when I was on stage.
“Hey Al!” Rick said startling me from my thoughts of higher learning and flying furniture. The green screen had lit up for an order of seventy five fish sandwiches for the drive through. Fish sandwiches were rarely ordered and went bad very quickly so we only made one when it was ordered. They were the freshest food we made. “That’s impossible. It must be a mistake. Even Aquaman wouldn’t order that much fish.”
“I’m not sure Aquaman would order a fish sandwich.” I commented, “It might be someone he knows.”
Then the green screen lit up again, this time it was for an order for seventy five small fires. “Ok. Something’s gotta be wrong here.” Rick said, “I’m going up front. Get some fish patties ready just in case.”
“All seventy five?”
And with that Rick headed up front to the drive through window station. There was some shouting but I couldn’t hear precisely what was being said over the sound of frozen fish patties submerging into hot shortening. When the shouts ended I saw Rick storming out of the building, he paused at the entranceway to give the finger to everyone who could see him and then he was gone. I don’t even know if he ever came in for that last paycheck.
As he left Rick almost collided with Ranya. Ranya was here on her day off and all dolled up with her leather miniskirt and pentagram broach. I wondered if she was going to put in her two weeks notice or something like that. Mr. Cushing was wobbly on his feet but he practically ran out from the drive through station to meet her. I shook my head as they left and wondered which of the two would survive the evening with their dignity intact.