“That will be $21.78 sir.”
The man stares stupidly at me with his small, piggy eyes. Small beads of sweat form on his sausage lips.
“What do you mean it’s $18.78, last time It was only $15.32?"
I sigh gently and adjust my crinkled GreaseBoy hat.
“Last time you did not purchase the Super Duper 28 ounce Tsunami drink with you Big Bad Greazefest meal sir. I’m afraid this bumps your total up to $21.78 sir.”
The man’s swollen face turns a brilliant shade of maroon. Drool gushes from his mouth onto the red and white checkered counter, leaving angry drops of slobber.
“This is absurd,” he groans. “What kind of Mickey Mouse establishment are you running here!”
I look behind me. All of my coworkers are staring at me. The girls in the drive-thru compartment are all whispering to each other And giggling silently.
“I’m sorry sir,” I say, trying to stand my ground. “If you like you can purchase our 16 ounce Big Boy Slurp, which would lower the total to $16.73.”
The man begins to snort furiously like a raging bull in the ring. McGreasters rumbles as he stomps his feet.
“I want to speak to your manager right now, young man!” He gurgles, spraying rancid secretion over the counter.
My face is now the color of the red counter tile. The man flops his swollen hand, gesturing impatiently for me to hurry up. The other guests are staring now with their mouths hanging open mid chew, bacon grease rolling down all three of their chins. Even the little children stop gorging on their Mini Slop burgers to see what the commotion is about.
“Yes sir, right away.” I mumble. Hector takes over the cash stand for me while I make my way to the manager's office. I push past the grill cooks who are choking on their own laughter and the drive thru staff who try to stifle their giggles. I knock on the yellow office door with the golden plaque that reads General Manager: Pete Holowitz
“Come in.” The voice from inside booms.
I walk in and sit down in one of the squeaky chairs. The manager stops typing at the computer and swivels his chair to face me.
“Martin? what is it son, I’m busy updating the payroll.” I take my slightly wrinkled McGreasters hat off.
“It’s Mr. Edmonds again dad,” I say, gritting my teeth. “He's back causing trouble again about the menu prices and he wants to speak to you...again.”
The manager strokes his fuzzy chin. “This is the 4th time this week,” he says standing from his chair. “Did you try suggesting he get something else to reduce the price?”
“Yeah dad, and then he screamed at me in front of the whole restaurant.”
The manager adjusted his red tie. “Ok son lets go, I’ll go deal with him.”
I bolt from my seat and put my hat back on. Mr. Edmonds was about to be put in his place, and I wanted to be in the front row when it happened.
The manager brushed past his employees. The only noise that could be heard was the sound of the fryers sizzling and the dull rumbles of Mr. Edmonds breathing. I trotted behind the manager as he made his way to the counter. The manager stood tall behind the red and white tile counter.
“Oh you're going to get it now, you fat blob,” I think to myself, trying not to smile at the karma.“You should have just gotten the big boy gulp, god knows you need the gulp junior and the rabbit salad!”
The manager stares right into Mr. Edmonds tiny marble eyes. Mr. Edmonds seems to involuntarily shrink, if such a thing was possible. Everyone in the kitchen stops whatever they’re doing for the second time in a row. Burgers are being burnt but nobody cares, they want to see what happens next.
The manager rubs his chin and finally opens his mouth and says “Good afternoon sir, how can I assist you today?”
The smile fell off my face like an anvil. “Good afternoon sir?” I thought to myself, bewildered. Good afternoon sir? How can I assist you today? Why wasn’t this man being kicked out already?”
“Why,” Mr Edmonds began, his yellow teeth forming a smirk in my direction. “Why, I come here almost everyday sir. I always get the same thing, the Big Bad Greazefest meal accompanied by a large Sloppy River Cola. I know how much the meal cost sir.”
He points a sausage finger in my direction. “But today this young man decided to challenge me in front of the entire establishment and tell me that the meal cost more when I KNOW the exact cost.” Bullets of spit shot out of his mouth at every syllable.
Every time he referred to me as young man I wanted to shove the words right down his sick throat.
“I am so sorry sir,” the manager said in his guest soothing voice. “This will never happen again, you have me deepest apologies sir. Allow me to give you your meal accompanied with a basket of our Junkyard Fries, on the house of course.”
My stomach rises to the tip of my tongue. I can’t believe the words I am hearing. The manager snaps his fingers at the grill line. They snap back to reality and begin to make Mr. Edmonds meal.
On the house of course.
There is no way this can get any worse. But of course, it does get worse.
“I also want an apology from Mr. $21.78 here,” Mr Edmonds rumbles maliciously.“The cheek, the audacity, he won't make it very far by attending to customers in such a manner.”
The manager places a hand on my shoulder. “Go ahead Mr. Holowitz, apologize to this fine gentleman.”
I look at the manager as if a squirrel were tap dancing on top of his head. Mr. Edmonds looks over at me triumphantly and flashes his sickly yellow teeth.
“Dad, you can’t be serious!” I whisper over my shoulder.
The hand becomes firm. “Now Mr. Holowitz,” the manager commands, his guest pleasing smile frozen on his lips.
My cheeks look like ripe tomatoes. My fists are curled into tight balls. The feeling of helplessness rests in my bones. Everyone is looking at me. I want to throw up, and it isn’t because of the grease clouds coming from the kitchen.
Self control Martin, self control.
I lower my head. “I’m very sorry I challenged you sir, I was disrespectful and you did not deserve that.”
The man utters a resounding “Hmph, now that’s more like it.”
The manager hands Mr. Edmonds food on a red tray. “Here you go sir, please enjoy.”
Mr Edmonds grabs the tray like a greedy toddler in the grocery whose mother ultimately gives them cereal they want after they threw a tantrum.
Everyone resumes what they’re doing, but not before giving me one last glance.
The store is vacant now. The grills have been scrubbed, and the counters polished. The manager locks the doors behind us as we walk out to the car. The red neon sign still lights up the parking lot as we pull out, as if it were waving goodbye.
I simmer in the car for about ten minutes before I ask “Dad, what was that earlier?”
The Manager rubs his weary eyes. “Business son. You can’t be contradicting guests like that. You know this.”
“Dad, you know as good as me that he was wrong,” I spluttered. “I thought you were going to take my side this time, but instead I just got humiliated...again.”
The manager sighed. “Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and take losses Martin. It's just a part of life.”
We pull up to the house. The manager stops me before I step out of the car.
“One day when you're in charge of the store, you will understand all the decisions I make, I just need you to roll with the punches for now son,” He places his hand on my shoulder. “Okay?”
I struggle to meet his gaze. “Okay.” I mumble.
The manager runs his hand through my hair. “That’s my boy.”
I do my best to smile.
Self control Martin.
We walk through the screen door into the house. The manager trudges to his home office and I retreat to the bathroom. I pull off my grease stained uniform and turn on the shower. No matter how hard I scrub, The smell of fries cling to my skin refusing to die.
I finish up and pull on a pair of boxers and a white tee. I walk into my bare room and throw myself into the twin bed. The bed creaks and groans as I sink into the soft mattress. My notebook is facedown on the wood dresser. It has been patiently waiting for me to return from McGreasters. I open the book and begin to doodle, my imagination pouring out of the ballpoint pen onto the hungry paper. I draw a Godzilla sized Mr. Edmonds rampaging through a bustling city, knocking down skyscrapers and terrorizing the citizens, who are tiny French fries with arms and legs.
I go downstairs for a drink of water. The tv envelops the living room in flashes of color. The manager is snoring on the couch, the remote propped in his hairy hand. An annoying jingle begins to play on the screen. A dancing burger pops up on the screen.
“MCGREASTERS, MCGREASTERS, COME ON DOWN TO MCGREASTERS HOME OF THE BIG BAD GREAZEFEST BURGER, COME ON DOWN AND STUFF YOUR FACE AT THE PLACE WHERE YOU CAN EAT AT YOUR OWN PACE! COME TRY OUR NEW HOG TROTH BACON BURGER WITH JUNKYARD FRIES AND A SLOPPY RIVER COLA FOR JUST $6.99! COME ON DOWN TO MCGREASTERS, FAMILY OWNED AND FAMILY FRIENDLY! COME ON DOWN AND STUFF YOUR FACE AT THE PLACE WHERE YOU CAN EAT AT YOUR OWN PA-”
I switch the tv off and grab my glass of water. The ice cubes clink as I walk up the stairs. I grit my teeth. The stupid jingle echos in my head on repeat.
In my sleep I dream that I am in my drawing, running terrified from a fearsome monster reaping havoc on the city. But instead of the monster being Mr. Edmonds, it’s the dancing burger from the commercial. The colossal burger beast reaches for my as I cower behind a building. Murderous red ketchup drips from its hungry jaws, ready to consume me alive.
I walk down the stairs with a clean uniform on. I grab some cereal from the cabinet and sit at the table. The manager is already waiting for me, a purple envelope in his hand.
“I discovered this in the mail today,” The manager says in a suppressed tone. “When were you planning to tell me?
My throat seizes up, a hard cinder block replaces my Adam’s apple. The manager pierces me with his eyes. I cannot meet his gaze.
“I dunno, It was application week at my school so I said why not,” I wipe my palms on my pant leg. “LSU has a good art program dad and I have the grades to get a good scholarship.”
The manager massages his neck. “Son we have gone over this. I need you here at the store, the business is finally breaking through the mainstream and it’s hard to find good work these days.”
I bite my lip. The manager has been saying the business is going mainstream for years now. They could barely handle the rat situation at the second location.
“Dad I can always do online or something, I just don’t think that the business would hurt too badly if I went to college and-”
In a flurry of rage, the manager rips up the purple envelope before I can finish my sentence.
“YOUR NEXT IN LINE TO TAKE OVER THE BUSINESS AND YOU WANT TO THROW THAT AWAY TO BE A STUPID CARTOONIST?!”
In a fit of toxic rage, the manager slams the table with a curled fist knocking over the innocent bowl of cereal.
“YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED SON, I'M HERE GIVING YOU A FREE OPPORTUNITY AND YOUR TAKING A FAT DOGSHIT ON IT!”
Dark clouds swirl in my head, a hurricane of black anger.
I begin to lose my self control.
“Why won’t you let me make my own opportunities dad?” I blurt. “I hate coming home smelling like the junk we serve there, I hate having customers scream in my face, and I especially hate that you have my whole life planned out for me already!”
I can’t stop now, all the years of resentment finally gushing out.
“IT’S MY LIFE AND I WANT TO LIVE IT,” I howl. “IM DONE!”
The room feels compressed. The salty taste of tears is on my tongue. The manager is silent for a moment.
A long moment.
Finally, he responds quietly. “If you want out fine but the family comes with the business, and if you walk out on the business you're walking out on the family.”
“What family,” I retort coldly. “There’s a reason why ma doesn’t live with us anymore, every conversation we have is about work. At this point, you're more my boss than you are my dad.”
I wait for the manager to jump from his chair, to strangle me or kick me out the house. But he just sits quietly, his hands folded on his lap. His eyes are red with turmoil. He is the one who is struggling to look me in the eyes now.
When he finally does meet my eyes, I don’t read anger. His eyes are a well of compunction.
The manager stands from his chair and embraces me for the first time in a long time.
“I’m sorry son, your right,” He whispers. “I’m pushing you away just like I pushed your mother away, if you want to pursue your own dreams I shouldn’t stop you.”
I hug my father back. Instantly the crimson anger that flooded my soul is washed away until. Not even a drop is left.