As I entered Fatty Burgers for my first day of work as a management-trainee, I of course had my share of preconceptions, some which were correct and some which were miles off the mark. But one must use what they have at hand, when entering a new situation as a novice.
One thing I could recognize was that Quincy Phlabutt was not entirely welcoming the idea of a new trainee. I assumed I might represent competition, if I turned out to be worthy of the exalted position of a Manager of a Fatty Burgers.
It wasn’t a thing I felt I could tell Quincy, but I wasn’t actually competition. I saw myself as a poet. Working for a fast-food burger joint was not a sign of success. In fact it was proof I was very humble, and willing to accept humiliation. It would be one more event, in my future autobiography, which would describe my climb to success as a brilliant writer. The events would demonstrate I was not a snob as I climbed, and accepted many demeaning jobs. (But I was a snob, in my own way.)
The good part of my poetic snobbery was that I was not about to cut anyone’s throat to be a manager of a Fatty Burgers. I could take it or leave it. However, I was not so sure about Quincy. He might lack the freedom of owning a poetic temperament, and the management position he had might be all that he had, and he might fight like a cornered rat to keep it.
At age thirty-one I was still amazingly naïve, and still tended to see the best in people. However I’d already bopped about from state to state and from job to job far more than many do in their entire lives, and had been the “new kid” at so many jobs that I’d learned to divide people into two types, those who welcomed me and those who did not. Quincy struck me as one who would not.
As a person skilled in poetry, but not much else, I tended to work at “unskilled” positions. But to me the word “unskilled” demonstrated snobbery on the part of whoever came up with that word, “unskilled.” Why? Because it takes a certain skill to endure the monotony of such positions. I doubted the snob who invented the word “unskilled” had the skill to last even a week at many “unskilled” positions, which he in his snobbery had looked down his long nose at.
To be honest, I had a hard time lasting very long at such positions myself. Therefore I had a certain respect for the tougher characters who could last longer than I could. Many were very welcoming towards me as the cheerful “new kid”, initially because I made a welcome break to the monotony of their job, and later because I respected them, and found them far more interesting than the job itself was. People tend to like being viewed as fascinating. But some found me threatening, in some way, to whatever meager poise they had achieved in their precarious position; there is little security at a workplace involving easily-replaceable “unskilled” workers. “Turnover” is high, especially at fast-food joints, and in fact when I returned to work at the Fatty Burgers in California a second time after a year, not a single employee who had been around the first time was still there, except for the manager.
At prior workplaces I had found it well worth my time to make the effort to befriend the people who were most hostile, upon my arrival as a “new kid.” I sought to utilize my most disarming smiles and most ingratiating charm. Often it worked, and in some cases the very people who liked me least, as the “new kid”, became the friends I exchanged letters with after I quit the job and left the area.
Even before we exchanged our first words Quincy Phlabutt had made it clear, with body language, that I was not welcome, so of course I loaded up my disarming smiles and ingratiating charm. This involved “figuring him out”, utilizing my skill as a Sherlock Holmes, which often came up with stunningly incorrect deductions. But it was all I had.
I assumed Quincy must be a rancher’s son, grandson, or great-grandson, for the last name Phlabutt is Caucasian, and, in my four months of kicking about Gallup, I had heard mentions of a Phlabutt Ranch to the southwest, and had bought cigarettes at a Phlabutt Trading Post, in the middle of nowhere. This immediately lowered Quincy’s status, in my not-so-humble opinion.
I was not fond of ranchers. Why? I had a suspicion a rancher might be at work at seducing my ex, who I wanted to be my exex. She and I had come east to the wild west from California to work on a ranch, but, while my job had not materialized, her job had. A certain rancher needed a nanny because his wife had died of cancer, and my ex became a nanny as I did not become a ranch hand. This caused jealousy to enter my Sherlock Holmes calculations, and one thing about the genuine Sherlock Holmes was: His deductions were never poisoned by jealousy.
Mine were. But one power of poetry is that when you are being a dope you know it. It appeared in my scribbles, and I didn’t like what I was seeing. I soon was battling myself, which makes for some tedious reading, in the yellowing pages of my 1984 diary. I’ll spare you the details, and simply state that at that time in my life I could come up with a good many reasons to look down my nose at anyone who owned a ranch.
For one thing, as Raydoe had explained to me, ranchers had stolen the land they ranched. They stole it from the rightful Spaniards who had deeds to the property. Of course, Navajo and Apache explained the Spaniards had stolen the land from them, while Zuni, Hopi and other Pueblo tribes explained the Navajo and Apache had stolen the land from them. None of this mattered much to me, because poets own no land and sleep in their car. My superiority was shown because I had not stolen anyone’s land, while ranchers had.
For another thing, ranchers were despots who didn’t understand democracy. Back in New England, where I was from, the colonial farm was sixty acres, which meant a town could hold over a hundred farms, and this forced people to work together and encouraged democratic processes at Town Meetings. Even in the Midwest, where the average homestead had expanded to 120 acres, towns still held enough farms to encourage democratic processes. But in the arid, wild west 120 acres might barely feed a single cow on a bad year, and ranches had to be huge, bigger than entire towns back east, and rather than encouraging democratic processes they encouraged despotism. Ranchers were downright European, in their king-like attitudes. Back east a blacksmith had to serve many farmers, but out west a rancher might feel he needed his own blacksmith. He needed his own cook, his own accountant, his own this and his own that, even sometimes even his own congressman. He needed to own everything, as absolute dictator of his domain, which was utterly unlike democracy and a terrible backsliding from the spiritual principles etched in the Constitution of the United States. In other words, to be a rancher was like being a communist, in my poetic opinion. A few ranchers might be spiritual, and be enlightened monarchs like King Charlemagne of France, but others were besotted by power, and became mini-Stalins and mini-Hitlers. As a poet, I had no such power, which made me superior.
In other words, from day one I thought I was Quincy Phlabutt’s superior, even as he lifted his regal nose and made it obvious that he felt he was superior to me. This made me wonder. How could he fail to notice my obvious superiority? My Sherlock Holmes side got to work.
One obvious thing was that, although Quincy might have a Caucasian last name, he looked more what Raydoe called “Indio” than many Navajo. I’d noticed some Navajo had brown hair with blond streaks, but Quincy’s was jet black with a blue shine to it. Some Navajo got teased by others for growing bushy Spaniard mustaches, but Quincy’s attempt at a mustache was a slender line of wisp, like a thirteen-year-old’s. Sherlock had some explaining to do.
I did some calculating, and decided, if the first Phlabutt rancher arrived in the 1880’s, Quincy was likely a great-grandson. While the original eldest son might have inherited the ranch like a European king inheriting a kingdom, Quincy was more likely the issue of younger sons who inherited little but a rancher’s imperious attitude. The younger son might have married an Indian, and indeed Quincy looked like his mother, grandmother, and even great-grandmother might have been Indian, but perhaps he received advantages and privileges from his great-grandfather, including a better education, which made him appear a cut above the rest, a rancher’s son with a rancher’s imperious attitude, even though he was merely a manager at a Fatty Burgers.
I recognize it was nervy of me to assume so much about a person I didn’t know. I confess my nervy assumptions to you, to show you the calculations occurring in a whirring, hyperactive poetic brain, as the poet enters a situation where, in Truth, he knows next to nothing. I should hasten to add that, concluding such conclusions, though you know next to nothing, also includes the strategy you decide to employ, dealing with the situation you assume exists.
Basically, I plotted to be obsequious with Quincy, as I walked into Fatty Burgers for my first day of training. I would hit him full blast with my disarming and ingratiating charm. To my surprise, it was easy to do. In terms of the small universe made up of managers of Fatty Burgers, Quincy was a brilliant star. It was easy to flatter him because I was amazed at his ability.
For example, one management-job involved, at the end of a shift, removing the three cash register drawers, counting up what each held, and arriving at an accounting of the shift’s gross profit, which would be used against an estimate of expenses and arrive at a net profit. I knew all about such stuff, as I had to learn such stuff to pass my A-level exam in Economics in England, but this did not mean I liked math or was particularly fast when it came to adding up numbers. I could add, but I tended to be very careful and worked at the plodding pace of a turtle. Quincy was a rabbit, by comparison. As he added on the calculator his fingers were a blur, and he could accomplish in five minutes what took me an hour. He was amazing, and I told him so, and saw a brief and genuine smile flash across his face as I flattered him, but then his sternness reappeared, and he told me there was no excuse for me taking an hour to do what could be done in five minutes.
If I could put myself back in that time, I would offer a friendly rebuttal. For example, I can whip off a sonnet in five minutes, where others might be hard pressed to correctly produce a sonnet in a month. Should I tell them there is “no excuse” for their slowness?
At the time I simply nodded, and told Quincy I’d try to be as fast he was, “counting the drawers.” And I really did try. But I couldn’t come close to matching his skill. He was my superior.
In other areas his superiority could be questioned, especially concerning how to treat employees and customers. Although our management manual held certain written genuflections about how employees should be treated with respect, and how the customer should be treated like they were always correct, Quincy seemed to feel this was put in the manual for show, and Fatty Burgers didn’t really mean it. Quincy felt employees should be payed as little as possible for as much work as possible, while customers should be charged as much as possible for as little product as possible. This was close to gospel, for Quincy.
I begged to differ. I believed there was a reason, outside of Quinsy’s capitalistic reasoning, to go the extra mile for both customers and employees. I struggled with my poetry to say what the reason was, but it was the same reason I was kind towards Quincy, even though in some ways he was a horrible person, only looking to exploit others, even to the point of ripping-off both customers and employees. Even as Quincy rolled his eyes and sighed about my ineptitude, I was poetically rolling my eyes and sighing about his lack of spirituality.
In terms of principles, we were a clash of giants, but in fact we were small people in one of the more remote fast-food joints on earth. Yet clash we did. Almost from the first minute we met we were manifesting a difference of opinion, namely: What matters most? People or profits? Who should you care more for, numbers, or your customers and employees, and even your boss?
Right off the bat I manifested a completely different style of management. Quincy tended to stand with his arms folded, observing, and occasionally pointing out things that needed to be improved upon. I was more of a hands-on guy, who wanted to work elbow to elbow with my staff. Quincy seemed a little taken aback by my willingness to immediately roll up my sleeves and plunge into doing the more servile jobs, but I simply told him New Mexico’s Fatty Burgers were different from California’s, and that I wanted to get a “feel” for what the differences were. Quincy shook his head very slowly, as if in disbelief, but he let me go at it.
This in turn introduced me to the staff, and the simple jobs they did.
None of the tasks at a fast-food joint are particularly hard; the process of preparing a burger and fries and a drink has been broken down into simple steps even a child could do; the trick was to do it faster and faster and faster, in a lunch rush, and I was always amazed by how things could go wrong. A small glitch, such as forgetting to refill a ketchup bottle, could throw a wrench into the mass production of burgers, and a pile of incomplete burgers would swiftly form a backlog, as swearing people rushed about seeking ketchup. Quincy would frown at such blunders and make it very clear such mistakes were not acceptable and would not be tolerated, whereas I tended to laugh, and find more ketchup, and remedy the chaos.
When I had time to think about it, (which wasn’t often, as there was lots to learn), I decided it was safest to allow Quincy to keep his rancher’s role as chief despot. A king likes to feel he is in charge of policy. But I felt the real shaker and mover of policy was the court jester. When some glitch in policy (like an empty ketchup bottle) caused a shambles, it was often the jester who first pointed out the shambles, making a joke of it, and who suggested a change of policy. Jesters had to utilize tact, making light and avoiding blame, or they’d get their heads chopped off, but kings found it useful to have one in every throne room. I felt I could see a way to make a poet useful in the court of Quincy the king.
As a worker I knew the job sucked, but I had learned the job was more fun if you understood all were in what sucked together, and together worked as a team, and together dealt with the amazingly non-stop examples of unforeseen botched-plans with good humor and tolerance. Quincy typified bad humor and intolerance, and it was no surprise to me I was immediately more popular. But Quincy stated good business had nothing to do with popularity. It was about making money.
One thing that Quincy did irked the hell out of me. There was a “management tool” within the workings of the Fatty Burgers cash-registers, which, if you typed in the secret management code, would print out a slip of paper which held a number which supposedly stated whether you were being efficient or not. Basically, it added the number of dollars you had raked in selling burgers the prior five minutes, and compared it with the number of dollars you paid out paying employees. I am not at all certain what the actual break-even point for Fatty Burgers was, as there were other expenses to consider besides labor, but I did notice that, at four dollars raked in for ever dollar spent on labor, Quincy stood serene, with his arms folded, but if that number began to drop towards three dollars raked in for every dollar spent on labor, Quincy became increasingly agitated, and then would abruptly blurt, to an employee, “Take a break!” The employee would “punch out” to take a break, which meant their break was time they were not paid for, so of course the numbers Quincy was focused upon leapt in a favorable direction, even sometimes to a number over making four dollars for every dollar you paid out, at which point Quincy would smile and fold his arms as if hugging and caressing himself.
To a poet like me such a focus seemed stupid. But, as it would have been unspiritual to call a Quincy stupid, I perished the thought, and did what poets do, which is to seek a synonym for, “stupid.” I liked the word “crass”. Quincy seemed crass, for two reasons.
The first reason was that the number on the cash register readout might be an anomaly, produced by some empty ketchup bottle briefly slowing the mass production of burgers, and once that problem was solved production would surge. The last thing you wanted to do, in such a situation, was to yank a worker from the production line, for that would create a whole new problem.
The second reason was that I felt it might be in some way illegal to sit down workers without paying them. It had to do with the concept of “minimum wage”, which in 1984 had been stuck at $3.35/hour for a long time, though inflation meant $3.35 could buy less and less. I knew how frugal I had to be, paid such skimpy wages. To pay less seemed a sort of crime, but Quincy was committing this crime with impunity.
To me it seemed that, if Quincy asked a person to come and work from an hour before noon to an hour after noon, he should pay them for the two hours they were present, but he would sit them down for a half hour before lunch and a half hour after, both breaks “off the clock”, and only pay them for an hour for the two they were present. In effect the employee was paid $1.67 an hour, which seemed a flagrant violation of the minimum wage law.
Yet one thing I liked about Gallup in 1984 was that people tended to dismiss rules and regulations imposed by outsiders. Some did not bother getting license plates for their cars. Why bother? Cars ran just as well without them. And I had learned I had best be on guard at spot-labor jobs, for why should anyone pay me $3.35 an hour, if I would work for less? You needed to be careful, whether you were an illegal alien or a flat broke American poet desperate for work, for people might flash a twenty dollar bill at you, offering it for a job that later might turn out to take ten hours, which would mean you’d agreed to work for only $2.00/hour.
This exploitation was one of the few things I could become hot headed and political about, but the fellows waiting with me for spot labor with me at the unemployment office had not been impressed by my zeal. They were used to grinding poverty and to being exploited and seemed to think I was being a big cry-baby to make a fuss. But I did notice they themselves seemed pretty careful making the initial deal, and if someone flashed a twenty they wanted to know how long the job should take, but, once a deal was a done deal, they were pretty stoic about simply working until the job was done.
Having suffered working for less than minimum wage myself, the last thing I wanted to do was do the same thing to others, but Quincy didn’t merely ask that I do it; he demanded. If the imaginary number produced by the cash register slipped from 4 towards 3, I simply must sit an employee down, unpaid, on a break.
If I had not wanted my ex to become an exex, I might have told Quincy where he could stick his stupid statistics. But, because I wanted my ex to become an exex, I gritted my teeth and was a good, little “management trainee”, and swallowed the feces clotting my throat, and did what I was told. But I felt ashamed for doing it and tended to go visit my employees while they were on break, partly to gain feedback, and partly to apologize for being such a cheap bastard.
This introduces a glorious subject, much richer than the subject of Quincy.
Quincy might have wanted to be the center of my universe, but poets (or at least American poets) seem to gravitate towards the masses. Bosses may demand more attention, but the run-of-the-mill are far more numerous, and to a poet hold much more variety, interest, and beauty. A boss may be worthy of respect, like a big tree in the vista of a sunrise, but a tree is not the entirety of a sunrise, and a lone tree cannot compete with the magnitude of the rest of the vista.
The first employee to impress me was Toonya, which was short for Petunia. She was about as opposite Quincy as a soul can get, female where he was male, and the epitome of pity. She had amazing eyebrows that slanted down like a pleading dog’s, at either side of her forehead, and which filled her face with sympathy even when she was relaxed. I found her expression slightly unnerving, because, if I wasn’t feeling at all grumpy, I wondered: What she was being so sympathetic about? I had the feeling her heart was brimming with pity, as if she looked out upon a world she felt sorry for. But something about such pity holds an unspoken request; it asks you to please, please, please stop. And I wondered, “Stop what?” What was I doing that was so pitiful?
Toonya didn’t say. She seemed the antithesis of a militant feminist, and would never demand or complain, and was submissive to a fault, and so of course Quincy felt no fear of excessively making her punch-out and take breaks. It seemed to me she spent more time on the premises of the Fatty Burgers than many others, yet was paid less, and that just didn’t seem right, especially as she was so kindly. I think just the way she looked at me made me feel embarrassed about being such a cheap bastard, which seemed to be something her pity felt sorry about. Not that she spoke a critical word. She didn’t need to. Her kindness and sympathy made me do a cross examination of myself. I was my own detective grilling myself as a suspect, under hot lights.
Toonya had long, straight, black hair loosely tied as a pony tail well down her back, and skin the color of honey, and I would have guessed she was Hispanic, but, when not in the silly Fatty Burgers uniform, Toonya dressed in the fashions of the older Navajo women, though fairly young herself. She wore long skirts of shiny fabric, dark blue or dark green, pleated and down to her ankles, and long-sleeved, black blouses of what looked like velvet, and sometimes a white-and-black or white-and-brown shawl with patterns like a Navajo blanket. So I figured she was Navajo, and my Mutt brains went to work at the hopeless task of figuring out what a Navajo was.
To me such mental gymnastics always seemed a little like trying to see with your ears, or to determine what particular color a rainbow was, but I suppose an outsider is always attempting to put vastness in a nutshell. (Some even say that is the purpose of poetry.) However, Toonya quietly shattered even the few preconceptions my baffled brains had been able to gather about “cultural attributes” of the Navajo.
For one thing, like most Native American tribes, the Navajo had been through hell and had to learn to live without expecting much mercy. How could they then produce a female so brimming with apparent mercy, pity, and sympathy? For another thing, the Navajo struck me as tough, and stoic, and able to endure pain without pleading, and didn’t even like using the word “please” (because it made one a beggar). Yet something about Toonya’s eyebrows did beg; they begged me to stop being a cheap bastard. I couldn’t really explain it, but they doubled down on the forbidden word “please”, and silently asked me to “please, please, please stop,” like the voice of a good angel sitting on my right shoulder.
She was such a contradiction it made me laugh, for she was stoicism gone haywire. She was like a brave never flinching midst a Sundance ordeal. She was stoic in her ability to never lift a finger to strike back at a capitalist like Quincy. Instead her amazing eyebrows showered the lout with pity. When I watched her my laugh burst out of me against my will, often at the oddest times.
Early in my training I was rushing about in my “hands on” manner, attempting to learn the details of every job done by every employee, and, with the lunch rush over, this involved various “restocking” and “clean up” tasks. I had already refilled every ketchup bottle, which emptied the huge container, (a big foil bag of ketchup with a plastic spigot in a carboard box), we used to refill bottles, so I also replaced that container with another big box from a back room.
With future ketchup-based fiascos averted, I went rushing out to avert future trash-based fiascos, which occurred when the trash containers became full and overflowed, which disturbed the aesthetics of dining. Customers don’t like to eat knee-deep in burger wrappers and fry boxes, which makes emptying the trash a big deal. However, in the middle of a rush nearly everyone is too busy to empty the trash; a manager could perhaps free up thirty seconds of his work force’s time and send an employee dashing out to remove a filled bag and replace it with an empty one. Therefore, to avoid trash fiascos, I was implementing a trick I had learned in California. It was to simply place spare trash bags under the bag currently in use. Then, when the bag currently in-use was filled, the employee rushing out to empty that bag did not need to go to a back room for a new bag but could use a new bag right under the old bag. This simplistic idea was part of my “hands on” approach, whereas Quincy tended to just fold his arms and say, “check the trash”, and only occasionally freed an arm to point out the window at wrappers that blew about the parking lot, demanding someone go out and chase them down.
As I rushed out to the area of booths where customers sat, with my arms loaded with trash bags, I saw the booths held no customers, but did hold Toonya, serenely sitting in her traditional garb. She was not in uniform because she was not working, and later I discovered she had dropped by to pick up her paycheck. She was chatting with Splendor, who wore the fashionable Navajo girl-garb of 1984: Blue jeans and a tight, black t-shirt.
Splendor was militant, and initially hard to like. She was nearly as tall as I was, with skin the color of my deeply tanned Caucasian skin, and had curly brown hair like mine, of about the same length, though we styled our hair differently. Mine was an attempt to be parted and flattened, whereas hers was a sort of afro of big ringlets. In some ways we could have been brother and sister, but she was Navajo and I was Mutt.
Splendor usually looked critical, as if she had a headache, but Toonya had her tamed. Toonya sat with her hands folded in front of her, nodding and sympathetically listening to Splendor complain about something, and Splendor was relaxing from her usual irate expression into a more peaceful sadness and resignation, sitting with her chin in a palm held up by an elbow.
The two women made a pretty picture, backlit by the big window to the parking lot, with the light shining off the Formica surface of the table. To me they seemed strangely reminiscent of an impressionistic picture of ballet dancers relaxing, by Degas. A happiness I felt surge in me made me laugh. Both girls turned to look at me after I laughed, and I immediately felt a little awkward for laughing. Not that I could explain myself. Maybe thirty-six years later, I now have the time to attempt it. But at the time I was in a hurry, and it is hard for poets to explain why they laugh; that’s why they write poems.
To be honest, I laughed because they were beautiful, but didn’t feel I could be that honest. My simple act of laughing had made Splendor rear up slightly, reverting to her usual pose of being indignant, which made me feel a little like the sinister, black-wearing men in top hats who lurk around the periphery of Degas paintings of beautiful dancers. At age thirty-one I well aware how swiftly admiration can be corrupted by lust, so I was not about to tell the women I laughed because their beauty made me happy. Instead I continued on to a trash receptacle near them, desperately groping through my empty skull for something I could say. I looked at Toonya even as I worked, and her sympathetic, inquiring smile made me feel better than Spendor’s glower, and the words that popped out of my mouth were, “Toonya, I’ve been wondering something. Does it bother you to be put on breaks?”
“Oh no! I like breaks!”
“Even though it means you are off the clock, and not making any money?”
“Money?’ She laughed lightly, as if I was being silly. “No, I don’t worry about that.”
“No. I like working here and I like taking breaks here, because it gets me out of Cottonwoods. Cottonwoods gets dull before Little Christmas.”
Splendor softly groaned and looked like I was especially stupid, and, after rolling her eyes, she somewhat scornfully and intrusively explained, “Little Christmas is what you Belaghana call Thanksgiving.”
“Oh! Forgive my ignorance. I never knew that.”
Splendor looked at Toonya and, a bit mockingly, repeated, “’Forgive my ignorance’. Don’t he say that like people talk in the movies?”
Toonya nodded with round eyes sympathetically at Splendor, and then turned and nodded sympathetically with round eyes at me. A bit lamely I added, “Well, I can’t help it. I’m new to the area and that makes me ignorant. Is Cottonwoods the town you are from?” Both women nodded. I continued, “And a Fatty Burgers is better than Cottonwoods?”
Toonya looked up and to the right and thought about it. Then she smiled and decided, “Home is home, but sometimes I like it here. It’s nice and warm, on days it’s cold at home.”
“Your house is cold?”
“Unless we’re cooking.”
Splendor added, “And her home is not a house. It’s a Hogan.”
Splendor explained, “One big room with dirt floors and a hole in the middle of the ceiling to let the smoke out. No electricity. We’re trying to get electricity in Cottonwoods but the Tribe won’t help ‘cause we’re outside the Reservation, and the state won’t help ‘cause were officially squatters, though we’re fighting to get that changed. Cottonwoods has been there a hundred years.”
Though Splendor still looked cross, I was aware she was opening up, volunteering information. I looked out the window and said, “Well, isn’t that something. I didn’t know that either.” Then I laughed again and met their eyes. “Well, thanks for educating me. Be patient. I’ll learn eventually.” Then I hurried off.
As I returned to the work area Quincy was scowling at a clipboard. He informed me, “You haven’t done the post lunch inventory.”
A bit defensively I said, “Actually I glanced it over, but put off filling it out until now.” I took the clipboard from him and began jot down numbers off the top of my head.
Quincy’s brow clouded with disapproval. “Never put that job off.” Then he added, “Can you explain why we’re down a box of ketchup and a box of trash bags in the storeroom?”
This necessitated me explaining what I’d been up to, in terms of ketchup and trash bags, but rather than praising me the slightest for my initiatives, he explained, “You have to watch for missing boxes. Employees will steal stuff to use at home.”
Quincy glanced at the clock, and then added, “You’ve worked into your break time. I hope you know that, if you do that, you’re not allowed to extend your break to make up for the time you worked.”
“No. I didn’t know that. Thanks for telling me. I’ll go on break now. And Oh, by the way, have we got a folder holding the applications of the people we have working for us?”
Quincy looked wary but didn’t ask me what I wanted the applications for. “Current employee’s applications are in the blue “hired” folder next to the red “applicants” folder, above the desk.”
One thing I liked about Fatty Burgers was that management ate for free. I hurried to make myself a quick Triple-Big-Burger with extra Cheese, Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, and then wolfed it at “The Desk”, which was in a tiny room crammed with clipboards and folders in the back. As I ate, I quickly scanned through the applications in the blue folder; it held all the employees we had for four shifts. There were only around twenty-two for a seven-day week, and I noted eight were from Cottonwoods. I gobbled this information with the same speed I wolfed my Triple-Big-Burger, seeing it as part of my training.
My training involved working ten hours, through the lunch, dinner and closing shifts, and I also worked weekends, so I was getting heaps of overtime and making more money than I’d made since I lived in South Carolina. Some weeks I made $325.00, before taxes, which was absurdly good money for a penniless poet in those days, but when I made it back to Raydoe’s little trailer in the campground I was exhausted. My mind felt like a wasteland which held no poems. Instead my brains were assimilating masses of new information. Sometimes I’d find my tired brains thinking about the backroom stock of little, brightly-colored cardboard containers for French fries, but other times I’d find myself assessing employees.
I always found assessing employees a little troubling, for it often involved the faces of beautiful females floating through my head, much like way the face of a new girlfriend drifts across your mind when you’re falling in love. Now that I’m safely thirty-six years into the future I can say, yes, I was falling in love, though not in any way likely to result in marriage or anything more significant than appreciation.
At the time recalling the faces of females didn’t feel safe, and often troubled me, especially when it involved more than one female’s face. I was very stern with myself, and believed strongly that spirituality demanded that lust be corralled in a monogamous marriage, but lust had been able to make a jackass out of me on more than one occasion, which made me a little afraid of it. It might have been different if I was married, but I was alone and terribly lonely. As I slumped in Raydoe’s tailor, without even Raydoe to entertain me, the banshees of loneliness seemed to circle like sharks, and the last thing I needed was the faces of Toonya and Splendor drifting through my mind.
This was especially true if I wanted my ex to become an exex, or so I thought. She was the closest thing to a real marriage I’d ever had, and I was stubbornly clinging to the hope that, if I was faithful to her even as she was unfaithful to me, she would understand how noble and superior I was, awake to the error of her ways, and arrive weeping to beg my forgiveness, which I would magnanimously grant. (In actual fact she likely would have felt such behavior was so demeaning that she would rather have died first, but I clung to my hopes.) But I did notice something odd. Even when I tried to picture her face, I couldn’t even remember what she looked like.
This broaches the subject of a poet’s inner world, which I had to put up with even when I recognized it was unintelligible to most people, and psychologists might call it crazy. I had to put up with it because I was stuck with being a poet.
It would be all well and good if a poet’s inner world could be dismissed as sheer imagination, (as many psychologists attempt to do), but such visions involve too many uncanny coincidences to be dismissed. For example, perhaps, if you are a poet, you will be writing about someone you haven’t seen in ages, and just then the phone will ring, and that very person will be on the line. I’d seen many other examples, and I long thought such semi-psychic events were some bizarre thing that only happened to me, but then I chanced upon Mark Twain’s “Mental Telagraphy” and “Mental Telagraphy Revisited”, and became aware such events were a sort of occupational hazard, faced by writers.
Why are they a hazard? Because you have no control over them. They happen when they happen, not because you make them happen. You can’t make the phone ring by writing about someone who hasn’t called. Most especially, you can’t force dreams, which really are nothing but your imagination, to come true. In terms of what you desire, the inner world is fairly useless. Desire, in fact, seems to end the ability. In other words, if your imagination is focused on hankerings, there are seldom results, but if your imagination is desireless, there are.
I was trying to figure out this difference, but it was hard for me to do, as it was basically a difference between imagination and imagination. What’s the difference? It is not a difference you would suspect a management-trainee at a fast-food joint would be concerned about. Yet, as I slumped in Raydoe’s trailer, exhausted and lonely after ten-hour-shifts, it was something I pondered.
Thirty-six years later I can see the difference between imagination and imagination I delt with was the difference between lust and love, and also between infatuation and active appreciation. However back then all four things blurred together as a mess in a poor, pathetic poet’s skull. Imagination was a slurry, an unrefined mix of gold and dross, and the temptation was to flush the entire imaginative mess down the toilet, as a denial of reality. And in fact to deny imagination in this manner was what some psychologists called “facing reality.” However, for a poet to deny imagination is to deny the essence of their very being. I couldn’t do it. I had to accept the bitter with the sweet and put up with the slurry invading my brains.
By age thirty-one I was no adolescent, and had groped if not grasped, and intellectually understood there was a difference between lust and love, and also between infatuation and active appreciation, but I was a long way from turning such intellectual understanding into anything I could use, in real life. In real life, after work, I was a poor management-trainee dealing with slurry in his skull.
The ability to differentiate the difference between imagination and imagination means little to people who have no imagination, but for a poet it can become all-out war. An inner war. If you survive your victory is something called “discernment”. But at this point in my life survival seemed unlikely.
In terms of the intellectual issue of lust versus love, I envied Raydoe, for he had Bonnie, and having a wife puts the issue of lust to bed. For him lust could be erased by being sated. But even with my ex refusing to be my wife, and my lust unsated, I still could identify lust easily, because it hits you below the belt.
The issue of infatuation versus active appreciation is less physical and was harder for me to come to terms with. Again, I envied Raydoe, when he was crammed in the trailer with Bonnie and two daughters, for they were so in-his-face there was no way he could avoid active appreciation. In such a situation infatuation is the last thing on your mind.
In a strange way the same trailer was even more crowded after Raydoe vanished, when I lived there alone, because I had to deal with all the people my poetic imagination was inviting in, even when they were unwelcome.
What I am about to describe will not make sense to sensible people living sensible lives, for they are not poets. But sensible people living sensible lives would die of dullness, if it weren’t for those who enliven their hard work with the solace of a hit song that plays on the radio in the background of their workplace, or a jester who makes them laugh on the job, or a choir that makes drab church less dreary. Sensible people are in fact beholden to those who are not sensible, because being sensible would be a reason to commit suicide, in and of itself.
How so? Because life isn’t sensible, for every life is based upon a bad deal that makes no sense. To wit: You are born broke. There is no way you can pay your way. If you were sensible, when an infant, you would simply confess you had no money to pay for milk and deserved to starve and die. And you, humble as you are, would agree your life had nothing to offer, and would agree you had no worth, because you were born broke, and you would agree to die, aborted because you had no money when you were born. But a rude poet called a mother disagreed and impolitely stuck her nipple in your mouth and filled you with nourishing milk you hadn’t paid for. The simple fact she did this deed seems to preclude her being admitted into any society of sensible persons. But in truth mothers dwell in a reality sensible people call nonsense. Poets are similar. (The milk of human kindness takes many forms.)
My nonsense involved sitting alone and zoning out, looking at a blank wall, or a blank sheet of typing paper, but seeing something other than blankness. People who gaze into crystal balls are not mysterious to me. I saw things. I called them “ideas”.
Some ideas were intellectual and had little or no heart; various theories would half-form and then be demolished by critical thinking, but at times the heart would creep into ideas as a sort of bias; a theory would be so attractive it fought the critical thinking; at this point the debate became more audible; the theory would be proposed by a nice voice and the criticism be spoken by a snide voice I wanted to dump cold water on. Often the theory revolved around what was moral and what was not, or why morality made sense even when it wasn’t profitable. At this point the nice voice was my idealism, and the snide voices became the voices of people who had mocked me over the years.
It was around this point the voices began to have faces, as I recalled the arguments of old foes who I respected even as I debated them. Old bosses, old buddies, old father-figures, and old girlfriends would all come wandering into the tiny trailer, to cross my mind. Many brought along memories, flashbacks involving vivid scenery. Even items in the scenery had symbolic import. And all this was on the typing paper before I wrote a single word, or on a blank wall that had no wallpaper. And it was at times like this Toonya and Splendor might vividly appear.
I felt I had to draw the line and cut short my musing. If I wanted my ex to become an exex I had no business dreaming of beautiful women from Cottonwoods. Instead I should type. I should finish my novel. It was my ticket out of a life where I had to work at demeaning places like a Fatty Burgers. I got down to business. I had an outline of the plot. What was next? Oh yes, the teenaged rebel Jeromy accuses his lover Iris of wanting to turn him into a banker driving a Cadillac, and to spoof her desires he buys a wrecked Cadillac from a junkyard, and arrives at the high school in the smoking wreck, and next he grandly denounces status symbols with a splendid soliloquy. I set my lip and went to work at clacking the keys of the old-fashioned typewriter.
If I was a true novelist I could have stuck to the plot, but even a novelist might find the work difficult after a ten-hour shift at a Fatty Burgers. For a poet, sticking to the plot is difficult even first thing in the morning, and when weary I saw, to my dismay, my mind produce Toonya and Splendor, unexpectedly, in my novel. What on earth? What were a couple of Navajo women doing among the student body of highschool on the coast of Maine?
I savagely tore the page from the typewriter and crinkled it into a ball, and then whipped the ball into the trash. I was at war with myself. Why couldn’t I make my mind behave? Why was I thinking of Cottonwoods, New Mexico when I was suppose to be focused on Muddekov, Maine?
The next morning I arrived at work for my fourteeth straight day of work, with dark circles under my eyes, not expecting any pity from anyone. Who can understand the suffering of a poet? Anyway, that morning I was unsure I even was a poet. I couldn’t write a single page that made sense. All veered off course into madness. Maybe I wasn’t a poet. Maybe I was just a management trainee, and not a very good one, at that.
In a desultory manner I looked over a sort of map that showed who would work at what “work station”, during the lunch rush. I felt a sort of pang when I saw Toonya wasn’t working. Not that she was a good worker. To be honest, she was steady but slow, but the rush hadn’t started, so all I desired was her eyebrows. She wouldn’t need to say anything. Any suggestion of pity would suit me.
I hadn’t yet been deemed knowledgeable enough to “schedule”, but liked to scan the conglomerations of workers who were supposed to work as a unity, in a lunch rush. Quincy did the scheduling, and he created combinations that made no sense at all, at least to me. I would never schedule like he scheduled.
Perhaps, educated by two times I worked at a Fatty Burgers in California, where most employees were somewhat immoral California teenagers, I had been educated in ways Quincy wasn’t. I could almost immediately recognize who was dating whom, and who had just cheated on whom, and who had just broken-up with whom. Even when I was not a manager I knew when it was wise to go stand between two people, to promote harmony during the lunch rush. Yet, for some bizarre reason known only to himself, Quinsy would schedule such people elbow to elbow.
What made even less sense was that, when Quincy’s scheduling created a problem, he said it wasn’t his problem; it was mine. He delegated the work of cleaning up his fiascos to me. He created two jurisdictions. His was “scheduling”, and mine was dealing with the mess.
I hate to suggest such a thing, but at times I had a sense Quincy would schedule people to work elbow to elbow with other people they hated, (and hated to a degree where they quivered just hearing the other’s person’s name), just to see how I would handle the problems he created.
And indeed, there can be problems. It is difficult for two people, who cannot stand each other, to unify and create a simple hamburger, topped by a blotch of ketchup and a slice of pickle, between the top and bottom of a bun. Conflicting tempers can flare in a hot kitchen, and ketchup can be squirted in faces rather than on burgers.
If I had overseen scheduling I might have avoided scheduling a boy’s ex-girlfriend working next to his new girlfriend, but at times Sidney’s scheduling seemed to specifically aim at such unwise placements. Quincy had a frosty attitude towards human passion and told me that workers should show up on time for work and should work where and how they were told to work. But then he seemed to go out of his way to enflame passions, which undermined working in a cool and collected manner.
This did not merely occur in terms of romances. If we’d had a Hopi employee (we didn’t) I’m quite certain Quincy would have placed them next to the most militant Navajo he could find, in terms of the Hopi-Navajo Land Dispute, (which likely would have been Splendor.) If we’d had a Black Panther (we didn’t) he would have had them work next to a member of the KKK (we had none I knew of). Then, if chaos occurred, and I had to deal with the resultant heat in the hot kitchen, Quincy would have raised his palms in a protestation of his innocence, and would say it was “my problem, and not his”.
Two weeks into my training, I started to recognize my trainer had a strange attribute. He seemed to arrange the very behavior he disapproved of. It was as if there was certain behavior he did not allow in himself, or in his own life, or in his family, that he was curious about. He wanted to see it. He was a sort of voyeur.
This is a very odd thing to recognize in the person who is supposed to be teaching you how to behave. Sadly, I was used to such misbehavior. Hypocrisy was a terrible ailment in America in my time, and my own mother used to say, as if it was a joke, “Do as I say and not as I do.” But when your trainer says one thing and does another, what is his message?
Of course, if you are a management-trainee you are not supposed to be thinking along such complicated, intellectual lines. You are supposed to be thinking about burgers and fries. There were times I cursed my mind’s tendency to play the shrink, and to psychoanalyze innocent bystanders. Yet perhaps, because poets spend so much time in dreamlands, they tend to be “sensitive” to odd subconscious things, rather than burgers and fries. It wasn’t sensible, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. I, (not as the management-trainee Quincy thought I was, but as the poet I actually was), (not the Clark Kent but the Superman), felt a desire to end Quincy’s confusion. I was the psychiatrist and Quincy was my client.
Of course, it likely would have infuriated Quincy to hear I deemed him a quasi-psychotic individual with a split personality, half moral and half voyeur. Therefore, I kept my lips firmly buttoned. But I kept my eyes open. I had to, for the problems Quincy created would occur during my trainee shifts. And one good thing about such problems is that they swiftly bring your head down from poetry’s clouds.
As I glanced over the people scheduled I was glad to see Waz Leroy was on for eight hours, from before lunch until after dinner, for she was an older woman and an excellent worker.
When, curious about her, I had earlier glanced over her application at “The Desk”, I discovered she was another employee from Cottonwoods, and her full name was Wazituyoo Leroy. Later, when I asked her how she pronounced her first name, I heard it was pronounced exactly like, “What’s it to you”.
At the time I laughed and would have made a light comment, but something baleful in the look Waz shot me warned me to bite my tongue.
I would have then let the subject drop, and would have moved on to the subject of burgers and fries, but Splendor was present, and she had heard me laugh. Young and fiery, she could not allow my laugh to go unnoticed. She proceeded to give me quite a lecture about my being an insensitive jerk. It was very informative, and Splendor seemed surprised that rather than being offended, I asked questions. The answers she gave was like having a door to a cellar opened and having daylight stream in.
As a general rule, I tend to detest militant females. I try to be polite, but I can’t help think, as they berate, that the Bible states it is better to sleep on a corner of the roof (which is the equivalent of sleeping in your car) than to endure a contentious female. However Splendor seemed the exception to the rule. Her scoldings were based on hard facts, more down to earth than most bitching suffragettes, and interested me to a degree where I wanted more. I asked questions. I imagine she also found my responsive questioning an exception to her rules, regarding chauvinist pigs. We were, in fact, falling in love. It was a brief friendship, but genuine.
The lecture she gave was about what went into a good employee having the name she had, “Wazituyoo Leroy.” I think Splendor initially meant to shame “my people” for how they had treated “her people”, and was surprised I took no offence. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Splendor sure wasn’t showing any care about how “her people” treated “my people.” But for some reason the poetic gift God gave me short-circuited such comparison. I am very glad the failure-to-take-offence occurred.
I think maybe a poet sometimes is able to accept the fact “his people” are imperfect, and may have in fact treated “other people” wrongly, because a poet himself tends to get abused by “his people.” Sometimes the “his people” are the poet’s own mother and father. Yet, despite a fair amount of grousing about imperfect childhoods, often poets turn right around and contradict themselves; a truism of poetry honors ones mother and father, despite their human shortcomings, which might not seem sensible and might even seem hypocritical, but turns out to be Biblical. Jesus Himself stated “A prophet is not respected in his hometown”, and his hometown promptly proved He was correct by becoming so enraged by his criticism they attempted to throw Him off a cliff and kill him three years ahead of schedule. Not that poets are necessarily prophets, but they do tend to feel unappreciated by the very people they write poetry for.
In any case, if poetic impulses allow one to forgive mothers who abused, and instead allow one to be thankful for milk they received, perhaps a poet like me was able to forgive Splendor’s abuse and appreciate the milk-of-human-kindness she gave, which took the form of a wonderful description of all that went behind the naming of Wazituya Leroy as Wazituya Leroy.
I learned lots of people in a squatter community like Cottonwoods had a man’s first name as their last name, because the man turned out to be irresponsible. It did not matter if the irresponsible man was a member of the U.S. Cavalry in 1880 or a Hippy in 1969, they did not stick around to care for what they had created. The fatherless child was therefore given the absent father’s first name.
Before anyone shames the women of Cottonwoods for having children out of wedlock, I should point out European’s have the same naming practices. Swenson means “son of Sven” and Robertovich means “son of Robert”. A name can say who the father was, without ever saying anything about whether the father was (or wasn’t) man enough to care for the child he created.
In any case, Wazituya was once the small child of a single mother living in a dirt-floored hogan, with the foster father in her life her mother’s brother, and was called something else, when abruptly she was called “a truant”. She was failing to learn what the invaders stated she should learn, by speaking Navajo rather than English. The invaders showed up and stated she needed to go to school. School wasn’t for a few hours a day, from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. Instead the little children were snatched from the Navajo homes and sent away to a Gulag to be reeducated, and they could go for months without seeing their mothers. The Navajo deeply resented this kidnapping, but had already fought and lost a war, and were in no position to fight another. However, when a bureaucrat arrived and, holding a pen over a piece of paper on a clipboard, asked for the child’s name, they might be given a rude answer, such as, “What’s it to you?” And that was what was written down on the paper, and was what the little girl was called for years at school. Because her mother died while she was at school, for years Wazituya didn’t even know what her real name was, nor did her real name appear on any official paperwork.
This is a sad story, and was why Splendor gave me a tongue lashing when I laughed. The origins of Wazituya’s name involved grim times which weren’t funny, but for me the history lesson was a revelation, like a door to daylight being opened in a darkness. I thanked Slendor profusely, which Splendor found very odd, and caused her to be rude, for she laughed right back at me. We continued chatting, and I was telling her my own school could be an awful place to be, at times, when Quincy arrived and wanted to know why we weren’t talking about burgers and fries.
I now see I was going through the process, with the help of Splendor, of having my preconceptions replaced by reality, which is actually the difference between active appreciation and infatuation. Hopefully this explains how I could grow fond of an employee even though she called me a jerk. It also explains why I sometimes worked with a preoccupied look, with my eyes far away. Quincy would then tell me to keep my mind on the job. Little did he know what a poet’s job actually is.
On this particular occasion I was sitting at “The Desk” taking a deep breath before my shift, feeling thankful Waz Leroy was going to help me for eight hours, when the old-fashioned phone on the desk jangled, and I lifted it from the receiver and heard the voice of Waz, sounding both sullen and curt. She told me she couldn’t work. She had to attend to her father’s funeral. Then the phone went dead.
I felt upset, and not merely because I’d lost my best worker. I went up front to inform Quincy, but when I did he shocked me with a scornful and derisive response. He scoffed, “Again? Her father has more funerals than anyone else on earth!”
I felt a sort of shock, and said, “He isn’t dead? Well, I guess that makes me a chump. I felt sorry for her.”
Quincy nodded, adding, “Employees think nothing of lying.”
“Well, I guess I’ve learned my lesson.”
That might have bee the end of my training, but Splendor had just punched in for a two-hour lunchtime shift, and she wheeled from the register to add to my education. “Idiot,” she addressed me, “You know Waz is an orphan.”
“Oh, you’re right. I forgot that.”
“And don’t you Beleghana call any old preacher ‘father?’ Navajo are the same with their elders. In our language, when an elder dies your father dies.”
Quincy intruded, addressing me and not Spender, “I’ve been down this road before with Waz. If you check the opituaries in the newspapers I can almost guarantee you there will be no mention of anyone passing away this past week in Cottonwoods.”
Immediately Splendor responded, to me and not Quincy, “The word funeral is like the word father. It just means a ceremony. Little Christmas is coming. Waz has cooking to do at home.”
Quincy informed me, not looking at Splendor, “Employees should honor the schedule.”
Spender told me, not looking at Quincy, “Don’t do that. Don’t schedule Waz right before Little Christmas. She cooks for all the Cottonwood elders.”
I was glad I had Toonya as a good example, for I found myself nodding in first one direction with my eyebrows sympathetic, and then in the other with my eyebrows sympathetic, but sympathy wasn’t dealing with my problem. I interrupted the argument the two were having (via me) by stating, “Well, it is obvious I have a lot to learn, but I am wondering something, Splendor. You are only scheduled two hours. Could you possibly work longer? Even right through dinner?”
I felt a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I’d asked Splendor out on a date, and felt vunerable, because she might tell me to go jump in a lake. She scowled at me and then pouted. She looked down to the corner where two walls met the floor, and then up where the front picture window met the ceiling, and finally she gave me the slightest of nods.
I could have hugged her, and I suppose I beamed at her. “I can’t thank you enough.”
Quincy commented, “You are lucky. What would you do if she couldn’t fill in for Waz? You’d have to hire someone to replace her. What would you do?”
I laughed, “Well I’d be in a fix, no doubt about it. It’s pretty hard to hire and train people on such short notice. And I’ve noticed something odd about the applicants in the red, applications file. Either there is no phone number at all given, or lots of people have the same phone number”. I turned to Splendor. “I’ve noticed all the people in Cottonwoods have the same number. If I called that number, who would I reach?”
She scowled and gruffly said, “Post Office.”
I nodded. “Interesting. Obviously I have more to learn.” Then I turned back to Quincy and told him, “In California, when folk didn’t show up for work, the management sometimes had to roll up their sleeves and pitch in. Looks like I’ll have to do that, to cover for Splendor as she covers for Waz. But if it gets too crazy I may need you to pitch in. Can you do that?”
Quincy looked down a long, frosty nose, and stated, “If I must.”
I said, “I am ever so grateful.” I did not mean to be sarcastic, but perhaps I was, slightly, for when I turned to get to work I noticed Splendor’s shoulders were shaking, and she glanced at me with an unexpected twinkle in her eyes. Then, as we worked through the lunch rush, often elbow to elbow, I had the definite sense I was falling in love. Little did I know it was the last time I’d see her.
Some sort of “altercation” involving “insubordination” occurred before I showed up for work the next day, and Quincy claimed he “fired” her, though everyone else told me, “Splendor quit.”
However before Splendor vanished from my life, during that final shift together, there was one final torture I needed to experience. It occurred during the height of the dinner rush, when she needed to hurry up front to take orders, and I was working making French fries at top speed in the back. I was enjoying the sound of her voice, as she said, “Double Big Burger, Large Fries, Large Cola,” and then there was the ruffling sound of a microphone being mishandled, and a harsh, male Hispanic voice stated, “Will the stupid Gringo please come to the front and talk to…” and then I heard more ruffling and Splendor’s voice say, “Gimmie that, Glahni.”
I knew the voice was my missing friend Raydoe’s, and dumped a load of hot French fries in the drainer to hurry to the front, and saw Raydoe glaring at Splendor, who was glaring back. As Raydoe saw me coming he announced, before I could even speak, “I am transferred to Tucumcari and will come get my trailer later. But I am sad to see you in that stupid uniform and working with Mulatto trash.” Then he wheeled away and stormed out. I glanced at Splendor and saw her glaring at the rude man, but also looking hurt, as her eyes met mine.
I said, “That guy is so rude. But…what’s a Glahni?”
“A drunkard. He stunk of Garden Delux.”
I nodded. “Usually it’s beer. I share a trailer with him at the campground. Sorry he was so rude.”
“And I’m not mullato.”
I felt incredibly awkward, and what came out of my mouth was, “To me you are just Splendor”.
She pouted and insisted, “He is a very bad man.”
I nodded, but added, “Yes, sometimes. But other times he is different. He gave me a roof when it was raining. It’s hard to hate a guy after he does something nice like that.”
She continued pouting, and then glanced sharply to the side. I followed her gaze and saw Quincy was regarding us anxiously, biting his knuckle. When I looked back at her I saw her face was strangely softened. She said, “Some Glahni are like that. Two different people.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Exactly”, was all I could think to say.
She looked away from me, down at the keyboard, and mentioned, as an aside, “No orders.”
I looked around and stated, “Yes, the place seems to be emptying out. Guess the rush is over. Would you like to punch out?”
She nodded, and as soon as I said she could punch out, she turned away, but then I added, “And thank you for filling in for Waz. You really saved my bacon,” and she stopped in her tracks. She slowly turned around, and inquired, “Saved your bacon?”
I chuckled and explained, “Oh, that is a way people from back east have, of saying they got helped out. You know, the bacon is frying and you get busy with the toast and the bacon would burn, but someone turns off the burner or shifts the pan from the fire. You would have burned the bacon, left to your own devises, but some outsider steps in and saves the bacon.”
She thought about it, and then nodded, seemingly more to herself than to me, but then looked up and met my eye and said “I get it” and then her face gave me a beautiful gift. The face I had never seen smile smiled at me.
If this was a romantic novel, she and I would have married. If this was pornography, we would have had sex. But the fact of the matter was this was reality, and I never saw her again.