Redeemed and Blessed
Getting bad news is hard to swallow at the moment, but I know things will work out -- they usually do.
For the last two months, I worked here as the star cook for this four-booth-and-counter-for-six steak-and-egg diner. I prefer nights over days, since that’s when the real excitements goes on. The natives go crazy after dark, and it does make the time fly by. But whenever asked, I’ll gladly pull a double shift for any cook who fails to show up, for that happens a lot here, I’ve discovered, and I can sure use the money.
And now this has to happen.
Today a visiting regional manager drops in for an unannounced visit. A fresh young college type, he and my inept manager, a Mrs. Dee, huddles in a corner booth for over an hour, pouring over paperwork while Darlene and me run the place. They had all of the shift schedules, time cards, a month’s worth of purchase orders and other forms spread out in neat stacks, and Darlene keeps going over there to fill both their cups with our good coffee -- the whole time Mrs. Dee is chain-smoking her menthol cigarettes and trying her best to answer all of his questions.
This all takes place during the morning lull, so I stand over by my grill, giving it a shine and straightening things up. That takes no effort, since it’s my normal routine. Darlene, she stays busy wiping down empty booths or stacking clean utensils from the steam washer, but ever so often she comes over and whispers to me how she is getting worried for Mrs. Dee.
She’s a grown woman, I finally tell her, and she can take care of herself. Besides, I got things to do here. Darlene just bites her lip and goes back to re-stocking her shelves. I walk in the back to get me another box of eggs, and when I come out, he holds up a finger like he wants more coffee, so I send Darlene over. She’s the waitress here -- not me.
She comes back with the pot still full and sets it back on the burner. Then she turns and wipes her hands on her apron, saying he wants to see me.
Her eyes look all nervous, but that’s the way Darlene acts anyway, so I lay my spatula on a towel I keep next to the stove, pick up a cleaner one and go see what this guy wants.
I slide in next to Mrs. Dee, facing the man who wears a shirt and a tie. He’s sorting papers and doesn’t look up right away, so while he’s doing that I signal Darlene to bring my cup over, and then I start digging around the edges of my fingernails with the towel. He stops then to look up at me. Next he laces his hands together, and he gets this intense look before he speaks.
“I am informed that you don’t like to wear our company shirt.”
I snort inwardly, but I don’t respond. I’ve already had this argument twice, and so I have my reasons set to go.
He never moves, but he does test me with what passes for hardened eyes.
“You will wear the company shirt.”
This guy has obviously never stood behind a grill before.
“That polyester crap has just been proven to catch on fire too easily.”
“Are you refusing to wear one?”
I’m not about to bow down to this youngster or his ghastly red shirts, so I sit up a little straighter, displaying the “keep on trucking” dude printed on the front of my tee shirt, and I shoot back.
“You have one in cotton?”
“So you refuse to wear our shirts.”
I stare him in the eye while Mrs. Dee begins to fumble for her Newports.
“You got one in cotton, I will wear it.”
Three seconds tick by.
“Then consider yourself fired.”
He next opens up a ledger book, carefully detaches a prepared company check from one page, and he places it on the table in front of me.
“Go collect your things and leave the premises.”
I keep staring into his eyes, deadpan.
Mrs. Dee lights her cigarette, and she gazes straight ahead. The next five seconds creep by slowly as I think what to do next.
Two months ago, right after moving here, I bought a new bicycle. It’s a cheap and dependable means of getting around, and it has suited me well.
So after this defeat at the hands of the company man, I peddle back to the apartment with a swirl of thoughts going through my head. The main one centers on my room mate, Joe. He will no doubt be less than pleased to learn that I now am unemployed.
Another deals with my fourteen-year-old son who just started school here. The three of us live together.
The other is on the weather -- these November days are beginning to turn chilly. Along the way I pass several roving backpackers walking the streets of Midland, which gives rise to a sudden idea. A recent special on television had featured balmy Corpus Christi as the place to be during the winter, and it’s just a few hundred miles south…