Chapter 8

All through lunch, I keep my eye out for any sign of Jesus coming back from the head.  Nobody says a word about the incident. There seems to be an unspoken rule about not acknowledging the situation.

When the lunch crowd has quieted down, a shy and slightly calmer Jesus emerges, slowly and cautiously. It looks like he is waiting for the all-clear.  All I can think of is, Finally, He has risen, but I don’t dare say it.

Everyone tries to act like nothing happened so Jesus can pretend that nobody saw anything. People give denial a bad rap. It’s times like these that make me think they should actually teach it in school, but then again, these types of things are probably better learned at home—or at work.

I pull out a cash drawer from a register and walk to the office just ahead of him and I can feel his eyes burning into my back. I hope he doesn’t have anything sharp in his hands. Wow. Think about it; getting pierced by Jesus.

After counting the cash, slipping it into the safe and filling out the Daily Sales Report, I put the freshly counted drawer in the first register and tell the still-getting-dressed-and-talking-to-her-friends-Estrella, to count it, relieving Roselyn of her duties.

This is going to be fun. Roselyn is not somebody you want to be on the wrong side of, not that she’s violent or anything, but because she is always on the right side of every argument and she knows it. She’s like a Mexican version of Oprah and Dr Phil combined. You can’t argue with her. The more you argue, the more you both know you are wrong and she is right.

As Roselyn counts the drawer in the office, I pick up the clipboard with Hosem’s last paycheck on it and ask him to follow me to the table in the corner of the dining room.

Francisco comes over to the table, too, but three is definitely going to be a crowd at this party. “Ah, Francisco, Trabajo bien?” I ask, trying to see if he likes his job. He nods, and blurts out some Spanish. “Mañana. Same horas.”

“OK, Gracias. Adios, Jose.”

“Adios,” Jose replies.

Francisco stands there, smiling and staring at us. What? He doesn’t understand Adios? Is it me, or isn’t Adios his language. I stare back at him.

He finally gets the hint and leaves.

I remove the envelope with Jose’s name on it, containing his last two weeks pay, and place it nonchalantly to the side where I know he can see it. Hosem doesn’t have much of a poker face.  This must come as a bit of a surprise after that brief promotion he just received.

Now comes the fun part.

“Jose, we tango a rejection notice-eus from the government-o. They say the nombre tu gave us does no tango la number-os correct-o.” I always skip the “Although this does not necessarily mean termination,” part. It’s so stupid. I mean, that’s what we’re doing. I guess there is the possibility that there was a screw up somewhere, but I’ve never seen it happen. These guys know they’re illegal and just take their last paycheck and go to the next unsuspecting employer without much argument.

I guess for them, they just need to get new jobs every couple of months; inconvenient but not impossible, with all the places that take in cheap foreign workers, driving down the working wage. A naturalized citizen would require much more: more pay; more hours; more benefits. I guess it’s cheaper to do it this way. It means more profits, and that is the name of this game, right? Profit above honor?

He looks down at the envelope, and then down to his lap. He’s young. He’ll go through this many more times in the next twenty or thirty years—might as well get used to it.

I pull out the company speech we give all employees upon their termination. It is written in English and Spanish. I give it to him to read; there’s way more Spanish in there than I should have to learn.

“We really like working with you, Jose. You are a good worker and everyone here likes you. I don’t want to let you go, but the law states that we may only employ people with valid ID authorizing them to work here in the United States. The government has told us that the documentation you gave us does not match up with the information you provided, so we have to let you go. Should you fix this problem any time in the future, we would love to work with you again. Here is your final paycheck. Please sign right here acknowledging you received it. Thank you and Good luck.”

This was either designed by corporate lawyers trying to avoid any unlawful termination suits, or by a corporate big-wig trying to avoid creating a disgruntled former employee, who may return later with automatic weapons.

He nods and signs the form. I hand him the envelope. He gets up and moves slowly towards the door.

I’m sure he won’t waste too much time before applying to another restaurant and getting them to train him, only to have to fire him too. Must be some kind of game for them.

Hosem walks out through the back, shaking solemn hands along the way. This is one re-run I enjoy watching to the end.

When he disappears behind the kitchen, I get up and go to the cash register, but first I must pass Jesus, who is vigorously mopping the dining area after the lunch rush. I can’t tell if he’s still mad or not, his eyes are fixed on the mop and the floor in front of him.

I take my cash drawer out of the register and walk back to the office.  Roselyn has just finished counting her drawer, and she is leaving the office as I walk in. Perfect timing. Too perfect. “Frank, it’s all done.”

“Thanks, Roselyn.” She hesitates for a second.

“And Frank. . .”  Here it comes. She shakes her long black hair out of her way and looks me square in the eyes, just inches from my face.  “That was mean what you did to Jesus.”

“Roselyn, it was all just a misunderstanding, I swear. I never told him to go out to the dining room and put those things on customers. That would have been stupid, it would have made us all. . . me, look stupid.” Mission accomplished anyway. “He did that all on his own, I was just as surprised as everyone else.”

“Oh si? Try telling that to Jesus.”

“I did. It’s not my fault he’s as dumb a brick.”

“Jesus is only seventeen years old—“

“I knew what ass gaskets were when I was five.”

“You never grew up in the country, far away from a big city, and being poor does not make you stupid.”

Oh, so this is about being rich?

“You have many benefits over him. He may seem stupid to you, but he knows very much what happened today, and his feelings hurt like anybody else, even you.”

I can’t believe I am taking this crap from a fricking Mexican. “Look Roselyn, this wouldn’t have happened if he would have learned a little English like you.” Oh shit. What did I say? She takes a step back and slowly sizes me up, from the floor to the top of my head.   I brace myself for impact. . .

“Okay, Frank, I believe you did not try to hurt his feelings, but you be careful next time. And. . . “ she takes another step closer and we are now almost nose to nose. This may hurt. “I know that we are in America and here people speak English, but a guy who hires and works with many Spanish speaking workers, a manager who wants to be a leader, would learn to communicate with his workers—like Darren.”

“Darren’s a kiss ass.”

“I know who Darren is. He’s the one who tries to communicate with his staff like a real leader should.”

That did it.  I slam the door behind Roselyn, and wait for the outside door to close so I know she has left for the day. It would really suck if she was outside waiting for me to leave so she could kick my ass with another one of her “Darren is better than you” sucker-punches.

I look out the window. Rodrigo and Luisa must have watched the whole thing. Great, now what is the crew going to be saying about me? I’ll just organize this office a bit. I don’t think I can handle condescension from those two slackers right now.

What the hell happened today? Miscommunication, the cream rises to the top, bosoms, ass gaskets as bibs. Being told the situation was my fault because I don’t speak Spanish and that doesn’t make me as good a leader. If some French kids started working here, would I be required to learn French, too?

“Hey Pancho, start any rebellions today?” Oh God! Now I have to deal with Darren. I can’t tell whether he has heard anything or whether this is just his sarcastic way of starting the day. “The name is Frank, remember?”

”Oh hey, and I’m Bond, James Bond. Ha.” I hate the way he always laughs at his own jokes. “The place looks good my man, nice job, nice job, so how was it? Busy? Slow? What are the numbers?”  He picks up the clipboard with the Daily Sales Report on it.

Darren is trying to be every bit the Robb Haley that Robb himself wishes he were. Obsessed with numbers, procedures, but constantly smoking cigarettes outside and talking on his cell phone to God knows who. Cream aint the only thing that rises to the top: shit floats too. The office phone rings and I answer it. “Hello, Taco Bell.”

“Frank, good, I caught you. I just got out of a meeting here at the district office and I have some bad news.” Great, more bad news.  “Is Darren there yet?”

“Yep, he just got here.”

“Good, put me on speaker.”

I hit the speaker-phone switch and hang up the receiver. “Darren, Robb has some bad news.”

“What?!”

“How do I know? He hasn’t told me yet.”

“Okay you two chill out. Corporate has just gone over the numbers and apparently, with the economy as it is, and sales down by over twenty percent during the last three quarters, it doesn’t make sense to open up another store in this district.”

“What?” Darren asks, but we both know what that means.

“Yeah, I know how you feel. I’m not getting a district. As a matter of fact one of the DM’s just got canned and his district is being divied up among the remaining DM’s to cut costs.”

“So when do they predict we’ll be back on track to expand again?” Darren asks.

“Ever the optimist. I like that Darren. Unfortunately there is no plan to start construction on the next unit. We may even sell the property we were going to build it on, but here’s where this affects you two. . . ”

I look up at the ceiling. Just dump it all right here Lord—I can take it.

“As of immediately I am taking over the scheduling of the staff, and I am faxing over a new management schedule right now. You will see it any second.”

Sure enough, the fax machine begins to whine. “New schedule?” I ask.

“Yeah, you guys luck out. As you are still paid hourly, you will each give up a day a week, and I am going to be pulling six day weeks.”

“And Reggie?” Darren asks.

“Since I’m not leaving, Reggie, of course, is not getting promoted to GM. He and I are going to do all the heavy lifting. You two are going to fill the gaps. Look at the schedule coming over the fax and I’ll be in tomorrow morning if you have any questions. I gotta run. I have to cut some hours on this week’s schedule for the employees and have it ready by tomorrow morning.”

“Don’t worry Robb, we got your back.” Darren says, burying his nose in Robb’s ass and planting a big wet kiss.

“Thanks guys. We’ll need it.”

We exchange some fake pleasantries and the call is over. When the fax is finished we both look at it together. Both Darren and I are down to four shifts per week, and it looks like we’re cooks and cashiers again for half of them. We have only two shift leader positions each. “Brutal,” Darren says. Reggie’s schedule covers most of what Robb can’t. Being an Assistant Manager on salary means you get all the hours you want, and then a few you don’t want too, but you get paid a lot more. I could’ve really used that money for a car.

“Darren, come look at this,” a voice calls from out front.

He leaves and I put the last of the invoices in the file cabinet and get ready to leave.

I close the office door behind me and slip my now dry poncho over my head, and pick up my umbrella. Juan and Llorena are on their way out too. “Pinche Pancho” they say under their breaths, shaking their heads, smiling.

“It’s Frank” I shout. They flinch and quickly walk to the door. Fricking Darren. He keeps calling me Pancho and now everyone else does, too.  I would love to stick his head in the microwave and push the “soup” button. Oh well, this day is finally over. Time to go home and relax—maybe even take a shower and get some of this rotten day’s stink off me.

Juan opens the back door just ahead of me and about a dozen cops come rushing in, flashing badges and talking Spanish.

“Atención, atención, todos empleados aquis por favor.”

As the agents flood in I see the letters ICE on the backs of their jackets in bright white letters. Immigration—yes! There is a silver lining to this dark cloud of a day.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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