This is a short story I wrote and am hoping to turn into a full book one day comprised of other short stories in the same vein. I'm looking for any opinions anyone has on the story and I must warn it is a bit long. Enjoy.
Life Behind Glass
By Joseph Fridley
I can see the cell-phone tower through the window of the break room. The window is level with the top of my head, so the tower is about all I can see. The sky is a nice clear blue with a sprinkling of clouds moving across it trying to race each other to their finish line. There is a man on the tower, hanging from it supported by his belt. ‘What does he see and will he fall?’
Though my eyes are captivated by this scene my hands work through the normal rhythm, straightening and tucking the loose cloth of the red shirt into my pants. Moving up now stopping at the first two buttons of the three-buttons, interlocking them within the fabric. And then, straightening the collar, already stiff from too much starch.
I then adjust my pant’s, standard issue black and just as stiff as my shirt. Except the stiffness in my pants is a result of imbedded grease and not starch. ‘Get your mind out of the gutter.’ Reaching into my pants pocket, I pull out my nametag and pin it to the shirt making sure that it is evenly hung below the McDonald’s logo. I rub my thumb across its smooth surface passing each letter of my name “JOSEPH” followed by the golden arches.
The nametag is important; it signifies how long I have been working here. In many ways it is like the pins that are occasionally attached to my paycheck, one for each year you’ve been working here. ‘I have two.’ Getting a nametag takes a lot of effort and it is the number one way to tell which employees are expendable and which are not. This is similar to Star Trek in which the nameless crewmembers are first to die.
3:00 PM (Back Drive Thru)
I punch my number into the computer to make sure I actually get paid for the duration of today’s working hours. I pick up the headset, heavy and lopsided, inspecting the earpiece pulling out bits of hair and dust. The headset fits snuggly on my head weighing down the left side of my face because of its giant speaker and mouthpiece. This contraption will serve as my bridge to the customers.
“Beep, beep, beep,” signals the headset, and I smile. ‘They can hear it in your voice when you do.’
“How may I help you?”
“Yes I would like a # 1 with a Diet Coke…Oh, and can you Super Size that for me please.”
“Yes, that will be $5.95, please pull around to the first window.” ‘Good thing they got the Diet Coke, don’t want those extra calories.’
I see the customer pull around in a typical car through the double paned window of the Drive Thru. I open my window smiling.
“Hi, How are you today?”
“Good,” he says handing me the money. I punch the right button sequence into register, and she responds appropriately opening up so that I can arrange and sort through the money to produce the right change. Once finished I give him his change and follow it with a,
“Thank you and have a great day, please pull around the second window.”
One car, two car, three car, four, and the day starts to fade to an eerie black. I watch the sunset through the smeared glass of the sliding Drive Thru window.
“Beep, beep, beep.”
“Hi, how may I help you today?”
“Um, yes, I would like…um…a cheeseburger, and like a dollar fry, and um…like a small milk shake.”
“What flavor milk shake would you like?”
“What flavor milk shake?” I say trying to mask my annoyance.
“Um…I don’t know what flavors do you have?” she says, and I slam my head gently into the glass causing it to rattle.
‘The three flavors on the fucking sign.’
“Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry,” I reply.
“Um…vanilla please.” At least she is polite. ‘If she says “like” one more time, I...um...am like going to um…like put a bullet in my brain.’
“That will be $4.05, please drive around to the first window.”
She pulls around driving a white Escalade, with new tags, she appears to be about sixteen, with dyed blonde hair, and contact colored blue eyes to match. ‘Instead of putting the bullet in my brain I would like to put it into her parents’ brains instead.’
7:00 PM (Grill)
Rick, tall and lanky, his shirt is un-tucked hanging down matching his baggy pants. He wears a stained McDonald’s hat on his head; brim facing forward, a look that accentuates the loosely tied apron that drapes over his form. Rick has one of two stand alone positions, either his hands are draped at his sides or he has them on his hips. Joseph thinks that position two is funny, because Rick looks like a mother scolding her children.
Rick, like all the other employees here has the usual back-story. He went to college for a while, then dropped or got kicked out. From there he made his way to his present location, standing in the grill area of this McDonald’s. Not surprisingly, Rick does drugs, smoking a little refer in the back freezer, dropping acid, or sometimes even getting high on mushrooms. All in all, when his head is in the game, Rick is good at his job.
At the moment he is moving in rhythmic fashion, the faster you are in the grill the more pride you can have for what you do. All the positions at McDonald’s are like this. Robbie is working next to him. Rick toasts the buns, sets up the wrappers, ketchup and mustard, maybe some mayonnaise. Robbie then takes over, lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles, a little cheese for effect, and then the meat, wrap and serve.
Technically the sandwich does not get served right away; it slides along the steel table to a heating box that keeps it warm until it is ordered. That way during a rush extra double cheeseburgers, nuggets, etc. are on hand. This saves time. Served fresh and hot just for you, ‘I’m loving it.’
The two are singing as they work,
“Hold the pickles. Hold the lettuce. Special orders don’t upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way. Here at Burger…” they stop singing, Rick turns to Robbie.
“Whoops, wrong song,” the two laugh in union.
Robbie’s an interesting character; he displays an intelligence and confidence that works well to mask his ignorance. Robbie is sixteen years old, white or Hispanic, and enjoys spending the majority of his time either having sex with his girlfriend, hanging out with friends, or working here at McDonald’s while discussing the different ways in which he has had sex with his girlfriend. Robbie is the typical stereotype that is represented by comedians discussing single life versus married life. Except that Robbie is not married, but his eighteen-year-old girlfriend who has just graduated from high school is pregnant. This makes Robbie a statistic, and a different stereotype all together.
“Well we’ve tried just about every single position you can think of,” Robbie says, “Missionary, doggie, just to name a few.”
“Yeah I know what you mean,” Rick answers, “Those are some good ones, I especially like when she is on top.”
Chris, another grill worker, interrupts the two’s conversation, wanting to know if the two need more meat. He moves back and forth across the grill spreading cold burger patties across the grill like a Blackjack dealer. Chris is a 400 lb. black man, who lives with his girlfriend and their two kids. Chris grew up in the hood, he knows what it means to survive, and he knows the difference between a ghetto and the word thrown around by middle class teenagers. His head is scarred from youthful fights and his arms are scarred with many small burns and scorch marks, courtesy of the grill and the many fryers.
Everyone who has worked in the grill or at this McDonald’s has similar burn trophies to match. Rick has small splotches up his arms from splashing grease and a red indentation on his knuckle, a result of flesh meeting hot metal. Robbie’s right hand has a now faded indent from accidentally touching the grill while cleaning it. Joseph has a long slash on his right forearm, and a tear shaped burn on his left hand from a drop of grease that burned right through his glove. The list goes on and on in memory, but never on paper.
Chris goes to get more meat out of the freezer. The freezer stores food and memories, memories of stolen food, of drug intoxication, and of a hide-and-seek-feel-me-up game, a game only done when the power goes out. The freezer might be cold to the touch, but it is the warmest place in the building.
The two boys are left to their play. The rush has died down, but an order is still left on the screen, a constantly changing fish sandwich. First no tarter sauce, then extra tarter sauce, back and forth the order goes. Finally, Robbie in a fit of rage sprays the sandwich with enough tarter sauce to cover five fish sandwiches.
“Wrap and serve,” laughs Rick, and the two do just that.
8:00 PM (Front Cashier)
I can here Rick and Robbie talking in the grill, discussing their supposed sex lives. Robbie has asked me several times to accompany him to a party where he will make sure I get laid, all I have to do is sit there and he will find a girl to take care of all the rest. Thus, breaking my virgin standing, like that’s a bad thing. ‘I bet he would make the same offer to Rick, if he knew that Rick was virgin too.’ Just about everyone here has a comment to make about sex, about something or someone they have done at sometime or another.
Robbie leaves the grill to go smoke a cigarette, and I think about messing with Rick. Sometimes I hide up front and whisper into the grill, which always startles Rick, because he thinks it’s coming from the radio playing overhead. I duck down behind the coffee pots and whisper,
“Kill everyone.” Rick hears the voice and looks up at the ceiling. He seems shocked in disbelief. ‘I wonder if he will.’ I stand up and he sees me.
“Did you say that man?”
“Yeah,” I say, smiling and laughing.
“Don’t do that I thought it was the radio telling me to do that,” he says then starts to chuckle in return. ‘No, Rick never could, no matter how much he wishes he had it in him.’
I’m working the front register now, a title known as “Cashier,” even though it is the exact same job I did in the Drive Thru. This time, however, there is no glass between the customer and me.
The dining room is empty and for the most part clean. The walls of the dining room are dust less, made from dark wood that works to offset the lighter color of the room’s hard wood floors. The hard wood floors are peppered into the mosaic tile design, serving only to catch pieces of food and dirt that fall from eagerly eating customers.
There are only two outside entrances into the dining room, and from where I am standing I can see both of them. The glass doors and large bay windows are lined with posters and stickers advertising the latest sale of food, food that eagerly awaits the customer inside. ‘One window faces the Burger King next door, taunting it with a Big Mac sign that reads, “Hot and ready, just for you.” ‘Just for you.’
This McDonald’s is different from many others, because instead of having a ball pit were the kids can be caged while their parents eat, or a make shift jungle gym that is padded down so that little Timmy can break a bone, but not cut himself, there is a small stage on which sits a large electronic baby grand piano, and the Mac Tonight guy. Piano is impressive and sometimes it is turned on for the customers. ‘I’m one of the few people, besides Eugene who knows how to work it.’
Mac Tonight is impressive too, but for different reasons. He is a crescent moon faced man in a tux wearing sunglasses, an old ploy at selling Big Macs way back when, a glitzy icon for the adult in you. What people do not know, however, is that the mannequin supporting Mac Tonight’s structure is of the female form, making Mac Tonight a transvestite.
Through the glass I catch glimmers of the many cars that are pulling into the parking lot. In no time the doors open as a flock of teenage kids walk in followed by their gleeful parents. A man approaches,
“How may I help you today sir?”
“Oh I would like a # 2, plain, and the Crispy Chicken Salad with Cobb dressing for my wife,” he says, “she’s trying to eat healthier.”
I nod and smile ringing up the order. ‘The Crispy Chicken Salad with Cobb dressing has more fat and calories then a cheeseburger, but it has the word salad in it so I guess it is healthier.’
“That will be $8.55.”
I take his money and look at the line forming behind the customer, the man catches my attention.
“We are all just getting out of Grave Avenue Baptist Church’s Bible Study,” he says answering my look, “have you ever been?”
“Yes, once or twice.”
“What did you think of the youth program?”
“Nice, kind of like a cult.”
The rush has died down once again and the majority of Churchgoers have left. My manager Eugene has sent me to straighten up the dining room. I sweep up the discarded french-fries, spilt salt, dust, dirt, and napkins into my dustbin. The current toy promotion is for Disney’s Finding Nemo, a point made clear as I stare into Nemo’s face while picking up a discarded Happy Meal box.
A customer approaches the front and Eugene who is working the register. The man is carrying a half eaten fish sandwich inside an open blue wrapper.
“What seems to be the problem?” Eugene asks.
“I found a fin in my sandwich,” he answers shoving the food into Eugene’s face. Eugene lifts his head taken back a bit at the grey fin sticking out of the fried rectangle. Eugene smiles and answers the man,
“Well, I guess we found Nemo.”
I smile myself at this comment, and continue about my work. Spilled drinks, exploded ketchup packets, and knocked over salt containers. This mess is small in comparison to some of the other things I have seen here. And this mess pales in comparison to the last time the church’s youth group had been here. Then we were advertising for another one of Disney’s movies, the toy then had been stuffed teddy bears. When I was cleaning up from that mess I found that one of the bears had been crucified, two straws crudely run through its body in a “t” shape. ‘And he wondered why I called it a cult.’
10:00 PM (Washing Dishes)
I am hidden in the back now, bent over the sink washing dishes, or rather, washing the grill equipment, fry station, and any items left unclean by the lazy morning shift. Some of the items I soak in soapy water, while others I just spray down with the shower nozzle, splashing water onto my white plastic apron. I like washing dishes because I am left alone to my own devices, that and I can clearly hear the music playing over the radio. ‘Here I am able to think, ponder, and wonder why.’
Now I am washing coffee pots that held coffee or tea that has not been changed since the lunch rush ended. ‘Made hot and fresh daily, they just never say which part of the day.’ I stop and look up, I hear shouting blending in out with the speaker playing overhead. I look into the grill were I see Rick going about his closing activities. I go back to washing the coffee pots, when I hear it again, louder this time. I head toward the backdoor entrance of the building, an entrance only used for food deliveries and for taking the trash out. ‘Shouldn’t the front door entrance be used for food, while only trash goes out the back, that’s the way it works for most people.’ There I find Christian standing in the doorway shouting. I walk toward him carrying a coffee pot covered in soapsuds that stretches and distorts the images outside.
Christian is trying to take out the trash when a Hispanic boy of about sixteen or seventeen stops him. The boy is a friend of some of the employees at this fine establishment. Christian and this boy had been shadow boxing in the dinning room when Christian accidentally punched him in the cheek. The punch was not very hard, only grazing the boy, but the boy, who is drunk, took this as an assault on his manhood. To make up for this occurrence he is yelling at Christian, trying to instigate a fight. Walking back and forth he removes articles of clothing, first his shoes and socks, next his shirt, all the while trying to call his “boys” on his cell phone. His girlfriend, pretty with blonde streaks in her hair is trying to dissuade him from his current goal, but he just waves her off. The girl could do much better than him, something neither of them knows.
Christian is now angry as hell at the confrontation and is trying to tell the boy that he does not want to fight him, while at the same time instigating the fight in order to protect his manhood. The two go back and forth yelling and screaming at one another, each staking out their territory.
I walk up behind Christian not completely sure of the situation. There is a half naked Hispanic boy yelling at Christian. The boy’s girlfriend tries to push him toward a car, trying in futility to defuse the situation. The shouting match captivates me; the two are locked in their verbal fight. ‘If Christian knows how to fight, why won’t he.’
I break my attention away from the scene and look up to see two Hispanic men in the parking lot; arms folded across their chest the two stands at different angles to each other and the shouters. The man closest to me looks at into my eyes and smiles. I nod and smile back, unsure of the now developing situation. ‘I am 6 ft. 1in. and 250 lbs., decked out in a tall white apron that looks like it was stolen from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, and I am holding a soapy coffee pot in my gloved hands.’ The man thinks this is going to get interesting.
I look down at Christian, who is still shouting with rage, and slowly put my hand on his shoulder. I’m afraid he will swing at me. ‘If he does then the situation will get interesting, I wonder how much damage a coffee pot can do to a face.’ Christian stops yelling, brought back to reality, he starts discussing the situation with me as he comes back inside, pulling the bin full of trash with him. I nod one last time at the two gentlemen, whose arms are still crossed over their chest, and they nod back in union. ‘That is what men look like.’
I sit at a booth in the dinning room next to one of the buildings entrances. I have discarded my red shirt, pinning my nametag to the dirty white shirt underneath, a ritual that will insure I do not poke my fingers when reaching for my keys. I sit staring out the window into the dark; I can see the cars in the parking lot and my reflection in the glass. My hair is disheveled smelling from this place. My eyes look tired, now a faded blue. They drift to the distorted in the reflection of the bag of food that sits next to me.
I sit here waiting for everyone else. After everyone has finished their closing duties we will leave here for our homes. Departing from the building one at time to insure that we do not get mugged and the building does not get robbed. The manager waits inside, while the others get in their cars. Then once everyone is safe he will lock up and go to his car as well. And off we drive into the night, an end to a long day. ‘Is this it?’ read