Chapter 5

A large Taco Bell truck is parked by the back door and the short, stout Mexican driver is fussing with the lift. I open the door and prop it open, flooding the drive-thru with happy accordion music. The smell of spiced taco meat and simmering beans tells me I’m not in Germany.

I put my umbrella and poncho in a corner to dry. The little delivery guy is right behind me with the invoice. Perfect timing. Nobody likes to check in the food and I always seem to be the guy that does it. I hope Robb notices.

I go over and remove the food order clipboard from the wall, take the invoice from the cheerful little rat, and go outside to begin comparing the delivery we’re receiving today, to the order we placed a few days ago. I’m in and out of the building just long enough to get the stink of the back of the house in my nose, and an overdose of “Ayeee yayeeee yayeeee,” in my ears.

I’m officially in a war zone that is dressed up to look like a friendly version of the enemy: menus in English, English speaking counter people. It’s pretty shrewd really; being able to look like an American impersonation of Mexico, when in fact, it’s really a piece of America reclaimed by Mexico—just look inside.

I begin highlighting the items on the shipping invoice that I see on the pallet. The driver is the same cockroach that normally delivers the food. He’s almost finished cutting the long band of twelve-inch wide plastic wrap that keeps the pallet and all its cardboard boxes together. He is a little older than me, but you would hardly know it. His lighter brown uniform, already stained from his earlier deliveries, strains at his movements. His jet black hair is short like mine, but his smile and constant calmness are what tells me this guy doesn’t have to deal with people very much.

When you deal with people—lots of people—things go to hell in a heartbeat, and often for no reason at all. That’s what people do; they look for any reason they can think of to complain so they can save a buck or two. It doesn’t matter to them if you get into trouble, or your reputation is tarnished, or if it costs someone else some money. All that matters is that their commands be obeyed, their egos get stroked, and they get to live the life of an emperor for an hour. Then it’s time to go back to work and be Doris Doodlemeyer—file clerk once again.

Waiting on the public is the hardest thing anyone could have to endure. Every day there’s always a complainer, trying to get something for nothing by making up bullshit stories of poor service or food. Many a person’s honor is cheaply bought, or traded for a taco and a soda.

This driver sees none of it.

I shout out items that are on the list, but I don’t see, and he moves things around and points to the items on the pallet. It looks like he’s being helpful, but he just wants to get this over with too.

Looks like we’re missing a couple of bags of shredded carrots.

“Hey, donday esta la carrotas?” God I hate speaking Spanish, but this guy’s English is almost non-existent, and his extremely heavy accent makes everything he says sound like Spanish anyway.  Why do they hire people to do jobs they aren’t suited for? I bet some American is in the unemployment line because this guy works cheaper. Look at him, just standing there, smiling at me with a deer in the headlights look so familiar with these non-English speaking people. Okay, I’ll try it again, this time a little louder and slower,            “Dooondaaay eeeestaaa laaa caaarroootaaaas?”

He had to have heard me that time. This is stupid, really—it’s his fricking language. Now he looks even more confused, like I’m speaking a foreign language or something, which I am, but it’s foreign for me, not him.

“Hola Frank, What’s up?”

“Oh, Roselyn, thank God! This guy doesn’t speak Spanish or what?”

“Frank, calm down. What is it you tried to say to him?”

“Were missing two five pound bags of shredded carrots.” Thank God for the ones who care enough to learn English.

“What was it you asked for?”

“I just told you, I asked him for the carrots, you know, the carrotas.” Why is she laughing? She is trying not to, but. . .  and look, the driver is smiling and pretending to be in on the joke too. What the heck is wrong with these people?

“Zanahorias, Frank. Carrots are called zanahorias in Spanish, not carrotas.” Now they’re both busting up.

Oh, really? Like I’m supposed to know that? She keeps laughing, getting the rest of it out of her system, and the driver follows along. Great, now I’m the stupid one? I start to reply, when a young Mexican kid walks up. He’s smiling and looking at us, like he’s in on the joke too, but he couldn’t have heard anything. “Can I help you?” I ask.

He says something in Spanish, but he speaks so fast I can’t understand a word of it. It’s like those people who leave a nice and slow message on your answering machine, and then blurt out their phone number right before they hang up. What is up with that? Can’t anybody speak clearly and with the intent of being understood?

“Let me take this for you,” Roselyn says, grabbing the clipboard from my hands. “Looks like you have a new employee.”

”But you don’t know where I left–“

“I got it Frank, don’t worry, you are busy.”

The delivery guy suddenly loses his smile. “Momentito, momentito,” he says as he scrambles back into the truck, probably to find the missing carrot- zana. . . whatever.

“Ok, come with me kid.”

The smell of beans and beef is like a dirty fragrant welcome-mat. In a minute or two I won’t even notice it.  In ten minutes this will be what I’ll smell like.

I walk to the wall with the row of clipboards hanging on it, and the “new hire” clipboard has an application on it, let me see. . .  “Francisco?”

“Si, Francisco, si” he smiles, his dark and dry face cracks and folds at his eyes. Even his lips are cracked, but his hair is neat. New haircut. His eyes hold an eagerness for this job I can’t understand. His new brown pants, black belt, and black shoes have obviously been bought for this job. What a dufus. He will barely make back the money he paid for those clothes before we have to fire him for not having legal ID. I wonder why we even go through this charade. Half our crew is on a revolving door and we are constantly training and hiring new people just to keep up. This guy is obviously fresh off the boat. Look how skinny he is. Why do we let these people abuse us like this? Oh well, he’ll do for now, I guess. We lost Manuel last week because his ID was no good and we’ll be running short until we get this guy up to speed.

I look through the window into the office and see Robb Haley, the General Manager. I knock and wave, just to let him know I’m here.

He opens the door.  “Frank, good, you met the new guy. Get him I-9’d and have him watch the videos.  We’re term’ing Jose M today, his ID is no good. I’m getting his last paycheck ready now.”

Robb winks as he closes the door to the office. He knows I like the poetic justice of having people train their own replacement. I’ve done it many times before. Heck, if it were up to me, I’d make it standard procedure. After all, you were being replaced for something you did so you might as well help out in the process. We’ll term him at the end of the day and get one last shift out of him. We trained him and now just when he’s getting good, we have to train somebody else. We have to let him go: company policy. We could face huge fines if we’re caught hiring illegals.

“Okay Francisco, let’s get a soda before we sit down and fill out this paperwork.”  I hand him a cup and we each grab a coke and sit at a booth that lets me see the employees working. They goof off less when they know I’m watching—lazy cockroaches.

I spread the papers around and start filling them out. That damn boom box gets on my nerves.  It constantly plays that stupid Mexican music and this song appears to be everyone’s favorite. Never trust a country whose national instrument is an accordion. I can’t wait ‘till we open and I can turn on the Muzak. Anything’s better than this.

“Tienes papeles?”  I ask. He has to have two forms of ID for us to hire him.

He hands me a green card, and a social security card.  They both look okay—I guess. How am I supposed to know what a counterfeit looks like? I’m not an expert; I’m a restaurant manager for Christ’s sake. If we really wanted to keep illegal workers from coming here we would ship them back to Mexico once we found out they were here illegally, but oh no, let’s not actually do something about this problem. Instead, we let them work for two to three months, give them a paycheck, and let them get a job somewhere else. Yeah, big disincentive.

I write down the information on the form and sign to the fact that I actually looked at these documents, but I am under no obligation to actually make a copy; I wonder if anyone does.

Here’s this kid sitting across form me: young, able, eager for work. Why doesn’t he just get the legal papers? It just sounds so much easier and a lot less hassle to do this legally, than this illegal routine, with having to sneak into the country too. By the time you calculate in all the time it takes to get here, the expense of getting here, and the expense of acquiring all the necessary fake IDs. These guys probably spend about half of what they make just to get the job. They also probably pay ten times what real documents would cost to the counterfeiters. What a waste. And with the rent and food, how much money could they possibly send home? That’s probably just an excuse, so they can look more noble than they really are. Probably helps them get women too. Hell, you get a new name when you come back to the US, why not get a new wife and family? And when you get deported, your family won’t know who to look for, because you used a fake name.

Okay, focus Frank. Let’s get on with the next form: The W-4. “Tiene casada?”

“Si,” he smiles.

Of course. I mark down married on his W-4 form, and I put a one in that column. I put a one in the head of household and one for himself. Three exemptions so far. I love the answers I get for this one:  “Tiene e-hose?”

“Si”

Yeah? You’ve got kids eh? You’re still a kid. “Cuantos?”. . . wait for it. . .

“Siete”

“Seven?” He smiles and says nothing. This guy isn’t even eighteen—twenty tops, and he has seven kids. Did he start raising a family at twelve or thirteen, or did they all come at once last year? Oh well, it’s not for me to tell him how many children he can claim. That’s between him and the IRS—like they’re ever going to get ahold of him. That’s… let me see… ten exemptions. He won’t pay hardly any federal or state taxes. He will use the roads, buses, have access to EDD for employment discrimination suits, the HUD for housing discrimination. He probably doesn’t really have kids so they won’t go to school on our dime, or have free lunches for low income families, or be eligible for food stamps and clothes from local charities, churches, etc. . . at least we don’t have to worry about that. Plus he may go to jail when he gets caught, but when you add the meals and court costs, and transportation back to Mexico—that will cost us taxpayers, so all in all, he is putting back a whole lot less than he is taking out. Nice. Oh, and he’ll use our roads and bridges, without even getting a drivers license or having any of that pesky and expensive insurance stuff.

Oh God, don’t get me started about driving. Stop signs? Just a suggestion, really, just like back home. Four-way stops? Just stop and then go. Easy right? Honk if anyone gets in your way, that’s all there is to it. Park on the side of the street? Open your door any time you want. The moving vehicle coming up behind you will swerve and go around you. Get in an accident? It’s a fake name anyway. Hit someone walking across the street? Just keep going. Who is going to know you did it? You don’t really exist. Thank God we have some legal immigrants. At least you can identify them. It’s harder to get away with stuff when people can find out who you really are.

I take an angry sip from my soda and wake from my little rant. This place gets me so riled up sometimes—all the time really.

Roselyn comes up to the front counter and inspects the progress of the opening workers. She seems to be moving to the rhythm of the music. . .  actually, so does everyone else. Everyone is smiling, and wiping, and sweeping, and stocking, and bobbing, and swaying to the music. It’s like watching a Mexican version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory.

Ok, I’m done writing down all the information on these new hire forms. I need to introduce this guy to Jose Martinez, otherwise known as Hosem.  We had one guy, Jose Rodriguez. We called him Hoser. That was the great. We had a Jose Diego before, and we called him Hosed. Not much else to do around here for fun really.

Oh, there he is, putting on his apron. “Hosem, this is Francisco; a new-evo employee-ado.” They say hi to each other. “Por favor, el trabajo con tu, oy.” I see the two of them are slightly pleased, but with blank looks staring back at me. Great, I’m not getting through to them. This really sucks when I am speaking their language and they can’t even understand me. “Tu es la instructor-a-doro. “

“Maestro” A familiar voice from behind me says.  Roselyn is just working away, not thinking twice about helping me out with my Spanish, which after all, is her native language. She is sporting that smile of hers, I can never tell if she is laughing at me or just happy. I look back and see the two I just introduced talking rapidly in Spanish and Hosem looking very pleased, as if he has just been promoted. So clueless.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
%d bloggers like this: