(Art by spoon+fork.)
Work on Monday was going as OK as it could until this guy spazzed out on me when I told him we were out of tomatoes.
“Son of a bitch, let me talk to your manager!” He had on a pair of insect-eye sunglasses, the kind that only California assholes wear.
“We’re out of tomatoes, sir,” Howard called out. He was sitting on a milk crate and slumping against the freezer door, just out of view of the customer.
“A burger’s not a burger without tomatoes!” the customer yelled, sticking his face in the opened order window and looking around for Howard.
“McDonald’s doesn’t use tomatoes, and some people think they sell hamburgers,” Howard’s voice called out again.
The guy flipped the sunglasses on top of his head and rubbed his temples. One eye was bloodshot.
“All events are neutral,” he said quietly. “It’s our own values that we put on them that make them good or bad.” Then he looked at me and said, “I’ll have two hot dogs.”
I walked over to the freezer and pried out two hot dogs from the frozen mass of what used to be the lowest shelf. Because of a power outage, the freezer had melted and frozen again. The inside was one big discolored sheet of ice that looked like polar bear fur stained with piss.
“Can you just deep-fry them instead of grilling them?” asked the man. That was the classic New Jersey way of cooking dogs. Most tourists didn’t want them like that because frying them split the skin and the flesh would burst out.
“The dogs are frozen solid, they’re not thawed out. They’re not going to turn out right,” I told him.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Frying brings out the natural goodness in foods.”
He was right. At least they looked pretty good, considering they expired a few months ago and that the oil in the fryer hadn’t been changed all summer.
I even cooked one for myself later on, but couldn’t bring myself to eat it, knowing that it was old meat. I gave it to Howard instead. He ate it and I watched for something to happen.
“Let me give you some more career advice,” he said when he was done.
“For the sake of practicality, get a shitty job in the city. It will pay less than in Philly, but you only have to ride one train system instead of two and as the years go by, there will be more opportunities to advance than in Philly.”
“Going from NJ Transit to Septa for Philly does suck.”
(Art by spoon+fork.)
For no practical reason I laid out five rock-hard frozen patties on the grill like the die face for “five.”
The customer had wanted some of them medium and some well done, but I was going to cook them all the same and put pickles on the plates of the “well done” ones.
Howard was slowly peeling off lettuce leaves and putting them on the open buns.
“I could have gotten into Ridderman,” Howard said to his shirt collar. “I could have transferred there after I was done with Sack.” Ridderman was the four-year college next door in Monmouth County. It was private and was Whole Foods-expensive.
“Why would you want to go to Ridderman?” I asked Howard.
“I’m just saying I could’ve gotten in–I didn’t want to go. After my first year at Sack, I had a summer job at Ridderman, in the bookstore. I even went to a few classes. I didn’t register or anything, I just dropped in.
“It made me depressed. All those professors are there to train you how to get a job up in an office skyscraper, take a train there and back everyday. There was no nurturing of entrepreneurship. Colleges just train students how to be good employees. Bill Gates had to drop out of Harvard to become the richest man in the world. And he did it right where he wanted to, back in Seattle. When I have my own business, it’s going to be within walking distance to the ocean.”
I didn’t say anything because I had the opposite goal. I had the “office job” sign above my bathroom mirror. I nodded and pressed the spatula hard against the hamburgers on the grill to help them cook faster. Howard kept talking.
“Now Sean, I don’t see the entrepreneurial spirit in you. That’s fine. Being a boss isn’t for everyone, otherwise who would we hire? But let me give you some advice.
“You don’t have to work in the city or Philadelphia for a full-year job. Probably the best jobs–in terms of pay–are in automotive repair because we’re in the 50-50 zone. Everybody has to use their cars.”
The 50-50 zone ran across Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer counties. It got its name from being about 50 miles from New York and 50 miles from Philadelphia, so you got the best of both worlds. But it doesn’t really matter if you don’t have a car, like Howard and me.
“Automotive repair’s too hard. It would be more fun to work on the boardwalk,” I said. Howard shrugged.
“If you want a job at one of the stands you pretty much have to marry into the families. Those skill stands like Frog Bog and the spinning wheels are like in the third and fourth generations running them. The food and souvenir stands don’t want to hire Americans because they’re too unreliable. They hire Mexicans and Bulgarians.”