Chapter 6

Beans are simmering on the stove and I see Aracelli stirring them, judging their consistency with an experienced and confident eye; perfect as usual, the result of doing this five days a week, and for longer than anyone else has been here, just ask her.

I reach up and gently pull the grease trap down from it’s perch in the overhead vent above the stove she is working at. We haven’t even opened yet and it’s almost overflowing. This obviously didn’t get checked last night. Great job Darren. Now I will have to clean up after you, as always, and make you look good. Too bad you never do the same for me, you little toad. Instead, you just stand around, yacking on your cell phone or with a customer or employee, and looking for any little thing out of place to run to Robb with, making me look bad so you can look good by comparison. Frickin Darren, even when he’s not here he can get on my nerves. I empty the little metal container and now I need her to clean it before putting it back up where it came from. “Aracelli, lavas this. . . chingaso por favor?” I don’t even know what that thing is called in English. I think chingaso is Spanish for thingamajig. All the managers say it when they don’t know what to call something.

“Okay Frank.” Her smile reveals the familiar gap between her two front teeth. Nice girl, a little homely and quiet, but she’s very reliable.

The stainless steel in the kitchen area shines, and except for that dent near the prep table, it looks brand new. How can you tell old stainless from new stainless, anyway? It doesn’t stain, or tarnish. . . I guess that’s why we use so much of it.

The walk-in refrigerator is at 37 degrees, everything looks organized and dates are on everything.

Back by the office I see that Hosem is setting up the video player for. . . that new guy, so he can watch: the “Welcome to Taco Bell” video, the “Sanitation” video, the “Sexual Harassment” video, and the “Food Handling” video—all in Spanish, of course. I hope no one’s planning on taking a break any time soon. Actually, it couldn’t hurt for these idiots to watch those videos again. They all seem to forget about this stuff about a week after they see it.

The floor out front seems to always need sweeping, and now is no exception. Luisa has just joined us, late, as usual, and not completely dressed and ready for work, like she’s supposed to. I hate paying these people to get dressed. “Luisa, la piso por favor. . . Don’t look at me like that.” She thinks her seniority makes her off limits to do the more menial jobs around here. Roselyn and Aracelli have been here longer than her and neither one of them acts like that. None of the other employees like her because of her attitude either. She’s their “Darren” I guess.

Looks like Juan has just finished the windows. He does good work. The air-conditioning vents in the ceiling are looking a little fuzzy. “Juan, por favor. . . “ I point to the ceiling vents. I hope he sees the problem too because I have no idea how to say fuzz or ceiling vents in Spanish.

“OK, Frank, I got it,” he says with a heavy Mexican accent. “How you say in English Frank?”

“That is how you say it in Spanish and English—Frank. . . ” He doesn’t seem to get the joke; they never do. I wonder if they have comedy in Mexico. None of these guys laugh at any of my jokes.

I kinda like Juan. At least he tries to learn the language of the country he’s living and working in, and he is here legally—his ID is okay. Hmmmm what should I tell him? What would Willie. . . “bosoms,” I tell him. I gotta keep a straight face or he won’t buy it.

“Bosoms,” He’s smiling really big, like he got a gold star on his English exam.

“Yes, bosoms.” I turn towards the front counter. Just wait till he asks Darren or Robb to inspect his bosoms—that should be fun. I hope I’m around when he does.

Juan walks to the back of the house to return the window cleaning supplies, and I hear him muttering, “bosoms, bosoms, bosoms” to himself as he disappears behind the kitchen.

After inspecting the bathrooms, and circling the restaurant from the outside to make sure we look good to the public, I enter through the front doors like a customer, and see what they are going to see when they first step inside.

The bright orange and purple colors of the tables, chairs and even in the overhead menu attacks my eyes, and the Spanish music on the boom box assaults my ears. It’s a good thing we don’t have both of these going on at the same time when we’re open, or nobody would want to come here . . . except maybe blind Mexicans.

Robb bought the radio to keep the workers happy while they work. They can play it before we open in the morning, and after we close at night. It seems to work; everyone is singing. They all seem to know the words, and they always inject an “ay-yay-yay,” or a shrill, “whee-whee-whee,” like a pig. They seem to think those things are needed, but I really have to wonder; if they are so important, why didn’t the musicians put them in the songs themselves? The musicians are Mexican and they should know their audience is going to be doing this to their songs.

The menu board looks fine, and all the menus are clean; everything looks good. The customers will be thrilled. I wonder who’s coming in next?

Ah, there is Jesus punching in and getting ready for his shift that starts in about ten minutes. No one will ever accuse Jesus of being lazy. When ever I ask him to clean the bathrooms, I never get any grief. “Lava los banos, por favor.” He nods and smiles and walks off towards the mop station. Hmmmm, I wonder if it’s proper to have Jesus clean the bathrooms. I hope I won’t be damned to hell by some religion. Come to think of it, I think Jesus has cleaned our bathrooms every day since we hired him two weeks ago. No wonder they look heavenly. . . Yeah, that wasn’t funny. I think I’ll keep that little joke to myself. I’d hate to get excommunicated before lunch.

I pass through the prep area, and a slow and mournful melody begins playing on the radio. I know what I’m going to see before I even turn around, but I look anyway. All the boys are serenading the equipment as they clean and stock. They are wiping and sweeping tenderly to the music, like they are cleaning someone’s grave or casket or some other terribly important, but tragic thing.

The girls listen intently while gently swaying to the music.

Juan is on one knee, polishing the stainless legs of the prep table with one hand, while his free hand is in the air, emphasizing the drama of the moment as he croons the words to the song.

Oh-my-God! The new kid is hugging the cash register. This is so fricking funny! They seem to be having a contest to see who is the most sincere in being so sad. Now the new kid has dropped to both knees and he is pleading with the cash register. I’m glad they were not cleaning the bathrooms when this song came on. The women look on knowingly and approvingly. I wonder what they are singing about.

The whooping during these songs is the same as in all the others, only a little sadder and a lot slower. Instead of ayayay, Its more like, aaaaayaaaaaaayAAAEEEEYYYyyy, and instead of the whee-whee pig noise, it sounds more like a couple of pigs are falling off a cliff, WHEEEeee, WHEEEeee. It’s like they took the last song and slowed it way down—and that’s it. Same song, same added sound effects—just way slower. Us Americans couldn’t pull that off. We can’t go, Yeehaw or , “Wahoo” and slow it down and make it sad. It just wouldn’t work.

Hmmm. Let’s try. I’ll add my American version to this song. . . Wait for it. . . “YiiiiiiPeeeeKaaaaaYaaaaaaaaay.”

Why is everyone staring at me? Well I proved my point. Americans can’t do this, it’s purely a Mexican thing. Slow equals sad, fast equals happy. You can’t make it any simpler than that.

There they go again—undaunted, emoting their hearts out, as if remembering their homes so far away and the places they used to play as kids, the trees they used to climb, the girls they used to chase, or maybe they are thinking about their families and friends, birthday parties and holidays, and the good times they left in order to come here to work and live like kings compared to back home, where many homes don’t even have floors or air conditioning, where most of the roads aren’t paved, and beds and mattresses are piled on floors, or a few blankets thrown in the corner of a room, where bathrooms are a shack over a large hole a few feet from the house. This is kinda making me sick—it is so phony. If it was so good back home, why didn’t they stay there? Because it is so much better here—that’s why.

I open the door to the office, and quickly close it, effectively turning down the hypocrisy.

Hey, what happened to Robb?

It’s time to get the drawers out. We open in just a few minutes, and there’s no telling what disaster awaits: equipment failure; employees not showing up; someone gets burned or cut; a customer complains. . . I gotta be ready for anything.

I turn the tumblers and open the safe, and then there’s a knock on the door.

I look up and see Rodrigo smiling through the window. “Hey Frank, whazzup?”

I lean over and open the door. “You’re late!” Either he didn’t hear me or he is ignoring me. Whatever.

He thinks he’s so cool; God’s gift to Taco Bell. Great, welcome to it. He punches in and begins to get dressed, taking his time and talking loudly to everyone in Spanish. I see by my watch he has punched in late, and he’s not fully dressed either. I gotta stay on top of these guys or this place will go to hell in a matter of days.

My turn to knock on the window. He turns around. I point to my watch.

“Sorry, Frank, sorry,” but he keeps on walking and talking and putting on his name tag and hat on his way to the cashier’s station. Rodrigo speaks good English and because of that, he is a cashier like Roselyn and Luisa. Bi-lingual front-of-house help is really valuable in a restaurant. So many of these guys don’t even bother to learn the language, so they get stuck with the back-of-house jobs, washing dishes, prepping food, cooking, it pays less, and it’s more work, but that’s the price you pay for not learning the language.

I look over the cash register and compare it to the calculator tape with Robb’s signature on it. Everything looks to be in order. It’s time to walk this up to the cash register.

Luisa is standing around, as usual. This is what happens when you give someone a chance to earn some money—more money than they could have made in Mexico in several years, and all you ask in return is for them do a little work. Poor morals. These people are obviously not brought up well. Blame it on poverty, but I think it’s poor parenting. Their parents probably weren’t good role models either, or their parent’s parents, or their parent’s parent’s parents. I wonder how far back you have to go to find the lazy ass who started this whole laziness thing and slap them for ruining all these future generations of people, or maybe it’s in their genes.

I slide the drawer in Rodrigo’s cash register and leave it open so he can count it.

I go back and get another cash drawer, and when I bring it up front to the to-go window, I hear Roselyn say, “abierto.” She walks to the front door with the screwdriver in her hand to unlock the deadbolt. I turn back to look at the radio blaring away on the prep table and watch Aracelli turn it off, pick it up, and walk it back to the employee break area where it will sleep until after the last customer leaves tonight.

After slipping the drawer into the register, I hurry back to the office, open the door and hit the Muzak machine switch. “—Gypsies, tramps and thieves. . .” This is my favorite task of the day. Such Relief. We’re in America again—kinda.

Nine-fifty on the dot. The five customers who were waiting outside for us to open, follow Roselyn to the order counter and Rodrigo begins to help them. We are open. Everything is clean, stocked, and we’re ready for anything, and as every day begins with the sun rising, something difficult will definitely happen today.

The early customers, the ones that were waiting out front for us to open, crowd the cash registers. I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Okay Frank, all the bosoms are clean!” Juan is standing proudly beside me. All noise in the restaurant has stopped. The customers, employees, Cher ended her song, even the traffic outside—all silent.

“I cleaned all the bosoms in the restaurant Frank,” he says again, taking full advantage of all the attention he is getting by doing such an obviously terrific job, not only on cleaning the aforementioned bosoms, but also displaying his mastery of a new word, A word he has probably figured elevates him into the upper echelons of the native speaking society, as he, no doubt, has never heard any of his friends or co-workers utter it. He is a Mexican genius.

The customers appear confused as they look first from Juan then to me, then back to Juan again.

How could this happen? I feel a warm flush begin in my chest and rush up through the top of my head. Roselyn’s mouth and eyes are both wide open. What should I do? Smile? Pretend like nothing happened?

“Okay, Okay, Thanks Juan.” I push him away from the counter and towards the back of the restaurant. There is some laughter and chuckling, and then the conversations resume, but now much louder and more animated than before. The back of my neck is sweating. It’s obvious Juan knows something is up, but he’s not sure exactly what. I’m just going to try to forget that whole thing ever happened. Soon we will be busy and nobody will remember this little incident anyway.

I hear Roselyn taking orders and being very polite. She would be a good manager, but that will never happen. She is a Mexican, and that means one day she will leave for Mexico to visit her family right before Christmas, with only a few days notice so you can’t terminate her, or dock her hours, or punish her in any way whatsoever. This is why we are always short-handed though the holidays and scramble to fill every shift—they all do this.

You can tell them that if they want a holiday off that they should ask for it and we will give the workers with that most seniority the preferred dates, hopefully keeping the older employees and giving the newer ones an incentive to stay longer, but that never works. They all say, NO, NO, we don’t need any time off. We’re going to stay here this year. Then a week before Christmas—BAM! Oh Frank, I am going back to Mexico day after tomorrow. I need my last paycheck.

Almost half the staff did this the first year I worked here, which is how I got promoted from cashier to shift-leader so quickly, but they don’t care, they made their money—more than most people in Mexico make in a year, then they go home and live the good life for several months before coming back and putting this job down as a reference so they can get hired someplace else, and like every other entry level position, if you have experience, you go to the front of the line.

There are no consequences for the truly selfish. Even though Roselyn has never done this in the almost two years I’ve worked here, it’s still possible. It could even happen this year. Too bad, she is very good and we don’t get very many non-Mexican applicants to save us from this travesty.

I have some time to count another drawer in case I am needed to help with the rush. Before I get to the office I see Jesus is in the back emptying the mop bucket and putting everything away, which reminds me, “Necesi tas agua and soap por favor” I tell him we need to have a clean mop bucket ready in case we need one quickly or “on the fly” as we say in the restaurant business. In Spanish it is, “on la mosca.” Working in a restaurant you learn all kinds of Spanish. I bet I could get by just fine in Mexico if I had to.

Robb has magically reappeared in the office with a briefcase in his hand. He opens the door, “I’m on my way to corporate for an emergency meeting. This shift is yours Frank, from this moment on.”

He said that like he had gotten the store ready to open himself and he’s now handing over the rest of what’s left of the shift to me. Yep, he’ll make a great District Manager.

“So are you ready to be a manager?” he asks. I start to reply, but he continues. This is going to be another one of those one sided conversations. “This meeting is probably to officially announce I’m the next District Manager. Reggie will take my place here as GM, so I need to find another assistant manager soon to take his place. . .”

Really? It’s not like we haven’t been talking about this almost every day for over six months.

“. . . I haven’t made up my mind which one of you is going to get the spot yet so I need you to really impress me, Frank. Darren is a hot shot and rising quickly. I would hate to see you not get this because you didn’t try. . .”

I strain to keep a calm expression on my face, but what the hell? All my hard work up until now has just been relegated to the, “stuff that didn’t count” category. What I do from now on is all that matters.

“ . . . Cream rises to the top, Frank, and I’ll know it when I see it. . .”

Yep, that wasn’t condescending.

“Oh, by the way, you need to term Jose M. His last check is on the clipboard in the office along with the paperwork.” He opens the back door, “get him to sign for it before you give it to him. Well, gotta go, have a good day.”

“You, too, Robb. Nobody deserves this more than you.”



Jesus has just finished getting the mop bucket ready and he’s now inspecting the paper goods shelves. He looks over at me with a puzzled look on his face. “Cual es?” he asks, pulling out a thin white cardboard container.

I open up one of the boxes of toilet seat covers and take one out and show it to him. He doesn’t seem to recognize it. I place it over his head and push down so his head goes through pre-cut center, and the rest settles around his shoulders like a thin, white bib. He smiles. Okay, enough goofing around.

I return to the office, open up the safe and begin counting out the last drawer.

Robb is such an asshole. I don’t know why he just doesn’t make a decision and begin training the new assistant manager now. The transition will be smoother for the entire store when it’s time for him to leave. Waiting until the last minute is stupid.

If I get the Assistant Manager’s job, my pay will more than double, plus I’ll get medical and dental. That would really help Mom out at home, plus I’d be able to pay for college, and I’ll be able to get a car when I get my license later this year. I don’t want to be one of those guys in his twenties, trying to look cool as he’s pedaling around town on a bike with slicked back hair and wearing a thin faux leather jacket, dress shirt, dark levis and shiney black dress shoes and white socks.

A loud banging on the door interrupts my counting. I try to see who it is, but they are banging on the door, not the window, so I can’t see them. They bang again and this time I sense urgency in the pounding. What could be so important?

I barely get the door opened before she begins yelling, “Frank, hurry, quick, it’s Jesus.” Roselyn’s eyes are bugging out of her head, and that worries me; she never loses it.

“What’s wrong with Jesus?”

“Come quick, quick, quick!”

She grabs my arm and practically drags me to the counter. I look out into the restaurant and instead of seeing a melted employee burned beyond recognition, or a choking employee hanging by his neck from a ceiling fan, doing spastic circles in the dining room—I see something much worse.


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