Extra Crispy

$_32
First sentence submitted by Madeline Walker of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

I’ve wasted my life. I’m fifty-years-old and cooking french fries for people who are too lazy to do it themselves. Droplets of grease weigh down my arm hair, and my skin shines with sweat. It’s a hundred degrees back here, and all day I’ve been lugging twenty-pound boxes from the freezer across the slick floor so these slobs can have their chicken strips, onion rings, and breaded fish fillets.

I yank a large bag from the mini-freezer beside the fryer, rip off a corner, and tilt it over an empty basket. Frozen fries tumble out in chunks of stuck together sticks. Crumbs escape through the mesh and crackle in the three hundred and fifty degree oil. I lift the basket from the holster and set it into the amber pool. The frost coating the fries explodes to steam with a symphony of sizzles and snaps. The surging bubbles form a mound above the fryer basket as if soon to be followed by an emerging submarine. Oil mists onto the surrounding stainless steel, some dotting my work shirt.

“You realize we’re in the middle of a lunch rush, correct?” my boss, Richard, asks. “We don’t have time for you to stand around daydreaming. Wake up and drop more cheese curds.”

Silent, I open the mini-freezer and extract a bag of curds. I don’t speak to Richard much. I don’t look at him much either if I can avoid it. Passive aggression is the only way I can safely communicate to him how much of a douchebag he is without risking an outburst like the one that got me in trouble ten years ago.

I didn’t take this kind of shit in prison. I wouldn’t have survived if I did. But I’m in the real world now, and sometimes in the real world you have to bend over and take it or they’ll find someone who will.

“How long on the grilled chicken?” the expediter hollers.

“Thirty seconds,” someone responds.

Sounds string together endlessly through the day, the slam of microwave doors, the clink and scrape of metal spatulas on the grill top, beeping timers, rustling wrappers.

Back again comes Richard’s nasally, never-quite-left-puberty voice: “I need those cheese curds now.”

“I can’t make them cook faster,” I say, still staring at the rumbling oil because if I look at him I might throw a haymaker. Eight hours a day, four days a week I listen to this shit.

“If you would have dropped them five minutes ago instead of wandering off to La La Land they’d be done by now.”

“It’s too late for that, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone is going to starve to death if they go another sixty seconds without cheese curds.”

“Cut the smart-guy act and get it done. Why don’t you have more chicken strips cooking? There’s only four left over here.”

“I’m getting to it.”

“Then hurry up and get to it!”

He speedwalks toward the counter. His arms pump when he walks. Nevermind that he treats me with such disrespect, that prissy strut alone is enough to make me want to swing a mopstick at his temple.

Thirty-two hours a week of minimum wage is not enough to rebuild a life from scratch. I used to work a full forty until my old manager quit and Richard got promoted. Now he creates the schedule, and he has been chipping away my livelihood ever since. Next week he only put me down for three days.

With so much struggle and so little to show for it, my quality of life begs questions about the purpose of living it at all. I rent a mattress on the floor of an old classmate’s unfinished basement, and his welcoming nature has been fading ever since his girlfriend started staying over more. I eat only the food I can sneak from the restaurant. When I have several days off in a row I’m forced to ration it, and it does not age well. Hamburgers harden and buns turn stale, grilled chicken becomes oddly gelatinous, onion rings grow soggy and amoebic.

Beep beep beep… Beep beep beep… The leftmost digital display flashes red zeros. I lift the basket and rack it. Oil rains from the golden, glistening fries and lands in the fryer like drizzle on a pond. I press the ‘Clear’ button to silence the timer. The display to the right is counting down from twenty. Richard’s precious cheese curds are nearly done.

I wouldn’t say I ever had it all together. I used to work construction with cash from odd jobs on the side, respectable enough but nothing to brag about. I had a son. His mother left me. I had a girlfriend. After the incident, she left me too. My son visited me once in prison. I was escorted, wearing handcuffs and a pink jumpsuit, into a room so thick with disinfectant it was hard to breathe. Not much was said. We sat across from each other at a crumbling fiberboard table in scratched folding chairs and tried to blink away our tears and stifle our quivering chins. I don’t blame him for not coming back. Visits between us would have only served as painful reminders that I was no longer the father he deserved.

He turned twenty-five last week, and wherever he is, he is old enough to know he doesn’t want me.

I lost everything and everyone because of Benny Parisi. That skinny little rat fuck shouldn’t have been even a sliver of my life, but he became the biggest piece.

I don’t care what they say, marijuana is not a drug. If it weren’t for the random drug tests mandated by my parole I’d be panhandling and robbing change from wishing wells just to buy it. And if I were high, Richard’s pathetic attempt at the biggest ego in the restaurant would make me laugh instead of pulling on the hairs of my patience. I bet alcohol does more harm in a week than marijuana has done in its entire existence. The only bad thing I’ve ever known weed to do was introduce me to Benny Parisi.

He was like the junkie’s farmer’s market. If it was in season, he had it. For a long time I resisted his sales pitches and stuck to the pot, but he was like a cracked-out used car salesman with an enthusiasm that made his invitations for test drives strangely convincing.

One evening, ten years ago, Benny offered me a sweet deal on a car he had just got on the lot, and as he talked through cracked lips and looked at me through bloodshot eyes bulging from sunken sockets, he couldn’t say enough good things about it. It was sleek, white, sexy, and fast. It was cocaine.

I should’ve known something was wrong when he offered me the price he did. I told him the ounce of weed I was buying would help me celebrate my fortieth. He convinced me to take the party to the next level, and offered me a “special birthday price” to do so.

That shit was laced with something. A half-hour after the first lines I started getting dizzy. I began to sweat at forty-five minutes and soon after had to peel off my shirt, because it looked like I had jumped into a lake. After an hour my muscles started twitching. My jaw locked. Sounds grew washy. My mouth dried of spit, and my tongue tasted like metal.

I didn’t know what to do. I needed help but couldn’t call 911 unless I wanted to wake up cuffed to a hospital bed. Benny will have answers, I thought. He fucking better, I thought. He lived on the opposite side of the trailer court. I put on a dry shirt and stumbled toward him through copper streetlamp spotlights, tripping over speed bumps, paranoid of black-veiled night-ghosts flashing in and out of my peripheral. They haunted me the whole walk though they were never there when I looked.

I scaled the wobbly steps at the back door of Benny’s trailer and knocked. No response. I knocked again. No response. I knocked again.

“Who is it?” came a muffled voice from the other side.

“Mark,” I responded, holding myself up with help from the railing.

“It’s one a.m. What do you want?”

“I need more shit,” I said, knowing to appeal to his greed, because he wouldn’t open if I told him the real reason I came.

He laughed. “You’re a fiend, bro.”

I heard the knob unlock, and the door opened my direction. He turned and led me to the living room. My hands guided me along the walls down the hallway.

“That coke’s good shit, huh?” Benny said.

“What’d you do to it?” I asked.

I reached the end of the hall. Light bled across the living room from his iguana tank.

“What’re you talkin’ about?” he asked.

“What the fuck did you do to it? There’s something wrong with that shit.”

“You’re trippin’, bro. You need to go home and sleep it off.”

“Goddammit, Benny, what did you do?” I’m not sure if it was the adrenaline or what, but something breathed clarity through the fog in my mind, and behind that fog lived rage.

“Leave, bro,” he said with a finger pointed toward the back door. “Now.”

He stood beside the couch as did his four-foot bong. I grabbed it, turned my hips, and brought it up like a golf club into the bottom of his chin. Gray, burnt-smelling water poured down the tube and along my arms, cascading down the sleeves of my shirt, soaking into the front and running down to seep into my underwear, lukewarm. Benny pancaked backward onto the coffee table with a thunk and the splintering of wood. I brought the bong over my head, the remaining resin water pissing into my hair and rolling down my face, and I swung it down like an axe. The orb on the bottom, clear glass swirled with cream to look like smoke and streaked with lime green and orange, buried itself into his abdomen. The oxygen burst from him with a whoof. The table legs snapped from the screws and the top dropped. Off rolled Benny. The strength of the bong astounded me. I brought it down on his lower back again and again, and it did not shatter. I whipped it at the iguana tank which was apparently not as hefty, because it exploded with the sound of miniature bells and shot forth glass shards glistening like icicles. His stunned iguana lay trapped, perhaps dead, underneath the bong, and though spiderwebbed with cracks it still had not broken.

I vaguely remember tripping down the stairs outside his back door and the feel of gravel on the side of my face. Despite my previous precaution not to call 911, I woke up cuffed to a hospital bed.

Due to Benny Parisi’s broken jaw, ribs, and internal bleeding, the jury considered the bong to be a deadly weapon and found me guilty of felony aggravated assault.

My body jolts sideways. Timer beeps echo back into my ears along with Richard’s voice, “What the hell are you doing? They’re burnt!”

I look over and see the redness of his face behind steamed glasses and his arm extended toward me, and I realize he just pushed me.

“Which hand do you write with?” I ask.

“What?”

“Are you right-handed or left-handed?”

“Right,” Richard says. “What does that have to do with anything?”

I snatch his left forearm and clamp all ten of my fingers around it. He tries to wiggle free, but he’s not near strong enough.

“I asked,” I say, “because I don’t want to disable you too badly. I just want to teach you a lesson.”

I rip his left arm in the direction of the fryer and push it toward the oil until his hand disappears beneath the surface. It crackles and roars like popcorn and static at full volume. The grease bubbles violently as does his skin. Drops spatter the air. They fall on my arms and the backs of my hands with the tiny stings of nettles. He doesn’t scream as I expected him to, but rather his mouth bursts open in silence, and his eyelids peel back nearly as far as his thin lips. I pull his hand out and shove him. His feet wipe away from the slick tile, and his head crashes down upon it and bounces back up before he rolls over and grabs his forearm where my hands were only a moment ago, his crispy skin sagging from his bones. Finally he finds the air to scream, and he bellows with sobs and indiscernible babble.

I step over him and walk to the expediter window. I survey the food waiting to be handed to the customers. I take two bacon cheeseburgers, their warm buns squishing under my fingertips as I clutch the waxy wrappers. I pull a large cup from a stack beside the register and walk to the soda fountain where I fill it halfway with ice then to the brim with frothy brown root beer.

There’s a lot of commotion around me, people and voices and movement, but for the first time in a while I feel peace. At least in prison I had a few friends, real conversations, and a hot meal three times a day. I sit at a booth by a window while I wait for the police to arrive. The sun is beautiful today. The breeze nudges the heads of tulips to and fro. I eat a couple of burgers. I slurp my root beer through a straw.

202 thoughts on “Extra Crispy

  1. My God.. U have really written the story so well. It depicts all emotions n pains of a person..
    We all feel we go to restaurant to eat and enjoy, but really never knew the hardship of people actually working there..
    This blog really made me think about the things I had not ever thought of.. Nice writing .. Waiting for more..🙂 good work

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Prompts are definitely an exciting and fruitful challenge. In my high school creative writing class our teacher gave us a prompt every day, and we wrote about it for ten minutes then picked one at the end of each week to edit and expand upon. I’ve been partial to prompts ever since, but I didn’t spend much time with them in the following years. Coming back to them now, the only word that seems appropriate is inspirational, because they force my mind to explore realms it likely wouldn’t have otherwise crossed into. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without prompts forcing my expansion.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “sometimes in the real world you have to bend over and take it or they’ll find someone who will.” You’ve given a bunch of pretty lines. The plot is undoubtedly impressive. I must say my last few minutes were spent in blissful reading. Moreover, the idea about building a story on one-line submissions is indeed attractive.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never really thought about the process in this area of work. This was a great read and gave me insight to something that I have never personally gone through. Love it ! Check out some of my journal post for some great reads as well🙂

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  4. Lovely article especially because it related directly to what I did too. I too worked at a burger joint that was busy most of the time. During very busy times, we served close to 100 customers in under 45 mins. And during not so busy hours, we possibly had 10 customers every hour. Some of them were absolute pricks who could not wait 30 seconds longer for a dish that was ordered to be served, like Steve Giese explains. On Saturday nights, we hardly would see any customers between 8pm and 1045pm. Just when are about to close, and as my manager anticipated, we would see 30-40 customers come by, make a mess of the eatery, behave in the most insane way and leave the place completely dirty making our work miserable. By the time we clean the eatery, clean the kitchen, and go home, it would be 230am. And, that is when you would feel like eating a burger and a cheese cake.However having shared my stories briefly, I do not regret having worked at the burger joint and I had taken everything from the job as an experience and exposure. Most importantly, I am happy I served my customers well despite their horrendous actions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can relate to your story, Pritish. You definitely encounter a lot of disrespect in the fast food industry. I could tell you stories for hours of the things people said or did that were so ludicrous they’ve stuck with me for over ten years. But like you, I grew from these experiences and am a better person because of it. I hope some of those jackasses we dealt with can some day say the same. Kudos to you for not letting them drag you down to their level.

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      1. I agree with you Steve, makes us a better person. These experiences teaches us “value of customer experience and satisfaction, patience and leadership.” It also taught me the value of money, the importance of working that extra hour(s) for paying off bills, buying groceries, repay tuition fee, and in a sense made us be more responsible in life. In fact, I now run a food tech startup in India, and because of social media and many food websites, I notice customers whining a lot more online about their experiences at eateries. Honestly, it far worse than the ones i dealt with personally at the eatery whilst working. Today, most of the customers don’t have a clue about what they talk but do so for the sake of increasing their social quotient. That is even worse. In fact, it spoils the eatery’s reputation and hence most of the eateries’ managers or owners don’t give a damn to customer feedback unless and until it is put forth diplomatically to them. At the end of the day, I am having a laugh to witness all this and able to relate easily. Sometimes, it helps to close business deals haha.

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        1. Yes, I agree with what you said about the online complainers. Some people just want the attention or need to feel empowered. That is quite an impressive list of lessons you learned, certainly not one I could have come up with on my own but now that you’ve listed them I wholeheartedly agree. I wish you the best of luck with your food tech startup. That sounds like an exciting and rewarding endeavor.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. FYI – to give you an example for the kind of complainers you deal with – “steak shouldn’t be served with chips, it should be served only with mash potato.” I feel pity for the chefs around the world haha.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha. Yeah, I’ve come to think of short stories as a lush restaurant dessert. With such a tiny plate you have to jam it full of richness and flavor or the customer won’t feel like they got their money’s worth, but if you had a novel-sized plate of such a dessert it would be too cloying to handle, and they would get sick after a while. I try to find a way to pack as much flavor in there as I can without making even a small plate too overwhelming to the palate.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually I got it from “I wasted my life,” but yep, interesting to see where the mind goes. This blog has been a fun challenge. Thanks for reading! I’m glad you liked it!

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  5. I am sincerely impressed with your writing. This is a heart-breaking story. Plus, I have known a cook who is an ex-prisoner and I can definitely confirm that that’s the way he feels in many aspects of your story.

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    1. Thank you, Austin. I have to admit, I’m a bit confused by your question. I just checked out your blog, and you have over 6,500 followers. If what you’re referring to is increasing the engagement of your subscribers (likes, comments, etc.) then my critique would be that you should be careful with the guest posts and your open invitation for story submissions. While at your site I got lost in the piece about the tuba player, and I thought I was reading your work, and I was getting excited about how I liked your style. But then I finished it, and I was reading through the comments people left, and I noticed it wasn’t you responding to them. That’s when I realized it wasn’t your writing, and I was a little bummed. Above that post were two posts of poetry, one tagged “Guest Post.” So at this point I’m confused as to which writing on Your site is Yours and where I can easily access more of it which, as someone who is curious about your work, is a bit frustrating. What draws us to individual authors is their style or “voice.” Each is unique and some resonate more with us than others. I think that is part of the reason for the success of my blog. People have commented about how much they like the way I tell stories, and those are the ones who keep coming back. I fear if your own writing gets diluted by all of the other posts on your site then no one is going to remember what your voice sounds like and they’re not going to feel that itch for more. I think it depends on what the aim of your site is. If it is to spread the writing you enjoy further into the world then you’re on the right track, but if it is to build your platform as a writer so that you’re more marketable to an agent then you should concentrate on yourself and save the guest posts for things you feel very strongly about. If the reason you’re posting so much other stuff is because you want to remain active, I would say that might not be necessary. I’ve read a lot of blog advice articles and they all recommend frequent posts, and I’ve come to disagree. I think those might refer more to the pop-culture and bulletpoint type blogs. With writing, in my opinion, quality far outweighs quantity. The ones that keep blowing up my inbox are the ones for which I soon lose interest. Life has been a bit hectic lately, so my next story is still several days out which will mean a posting gap of over two weeks, but I’d be willing to bet people will still show up to read it. There is a guy I follow who hasn’t posted anything in a month, but when he finally does you can be sure I will open it up as soon as I get that email because I loved the last one so much, and good writing is worth the wait. I’m not sure if this is what you were looking for, but I hope it helps in some way. Sorry for getting long-winded. I’m still curious about your writing.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great to hear. I’m glad I could help. Role models are important in this craft. I just saw on your blog that you’re starting middle school in the fall. How awesome that you’re already set on wanting to be a writer at your age. I didn’t realize I wanted to get serious about it until I was 26. With all that time to grow and nurture your talent you could be one of the greats by the time you reach my age. Stick with it. I can’t wait to read the results.

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  6. That was a great read. Thanks for following my blog, I checked yours out, out of curiosity & I’m not normally into the fiction written on a lot of blogs, (I prefer non-fiction) but I do like a good short story & when I came across this story I just had to keep reading. It feels like non-fiction. And I felt tense towards the end of it. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

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