This blog contains short stories, thoughts and other writings in support of my memoir: The Other Side of Town
Chuck and I worked one summer at his neighbor’s house doing yard work. I’d get up pretty early, get on my bike and meet Chuck across town at his house. On most days, I’d say hello to Chuck’s folks, grab a bite to eat then we’d walk next door and start working were we left off from the previous day.
It wasn’t very difficult work and usually consisted of raking and weeding and things like that. I can’t remember what we were paid, but it wasn’t a lot. We had been working a few weeks and things were going along okay, as I remember it. Usually he’d pay us cash every week. But when he stopped paying us for a few weeks, we started to get a little anxious. The last week of the summer, he finally gave us a couple checks. The next day when Chuck and I went to the bank to cash them, both checks bounced.
I got my first real job when I was a sophomore. It was at the McDonalds close by my house when McDonalds still actually hired teenagers. While I put forth lots of effort for things I liked to do, considered typical work a necessary evil to pay for my growing comic book collection.
A few of my friends had also applied for jobs at McDonalds. Chuck accepted a position. Ralph applied too. But quickly realized he probably couldn’t work with Chuck after Chuck left him there one day before school. Ralph had been chatting with some girls at the counter while we all waited in the car for him. And after putting us perilously close to being late for home room, Chuck suddenly took off, leaving him stranded in the McDonalds parking lot.
The McDonalds interview wasn’t exactly rigorous. And consisted of looking the interviewee up and down to make sure they weren’t drunk or high then scheduling a start date. After successfully navigating the interview, I handed in my available work hours—no Saturdays, no Sundays; nothing too late or early and, at all costs, I wrote, “I’d like to avoid closing the restaurant whenever possible.” To my mind, these hours were completely reasonable given the manager must have been aware of the statute describing how long, and at which times minors were allowed to work in the state of New Jersey.
The manager, Susan, was a large woman with an unfortunate thyroid condition that made her ass and thighs grow to a terrific size while her upper body remained about normal. Susan wouldn’t tolerate any crap from actual employees, much less the kid sitting before her not yet worth his weight in shit. And after correcting my schedule for laziness, handed back the refactored version: every Saturday and every Sunday until closing and early on Mondays. I tried to hide my disappointment, even while gripping the piece of paper tightly in frustration.
While I wasn’t destined to be employee of the month any time soon, Susan loved Chuck because he was willing to work all available hours during the summer and didn’t complain once, not even when tasked with cleaning up the mess around the dumpster that raccoons had left the night before. Meanwhile, I was trying to supplement my income with mass quantities of Big Macs, fries and shakes. Deservingly so, the diet I chose began to grow my ass to match the size of my ego. But I drew the line after a few coworkers started calling me “Mr. Susan.”
McDonalds definitely had few interesting characters that worked there. There was “Bullet head” Bob. Bob didn’t actually work at the restaurant but instead would come in often to receive his veteran’s discount. No one ever charged him of course. He’d show his card and we’d just wave him by. I mean, the poor guy had a damn bullet in his head. And every day I saw him it looked as if that day might be his last. I think a free cheeseburger and cup of coffee was the least they could do. Actually, there was one manager that tried charging him once. But after ringing him up and telling him the amount, Bob just sort of stood at the counter and stared at him. It looked uncomfortable. Bob mumbled something, felt around his pockets quickly, took his food and walked off. The manager didn’t know what to do. But after noticing other employees looking at him out of the corners of their eyes, just sort of accepted it and went to the back. He even asked me: “does that happen a lot?” I just titled my head and shrugged. Bob wasn’t trying to act like he was special or anything. He just really didn’t have any money. Even though Bob was slow-moving and even slower talking, was kind of an interesting guy. And if he was in the mood, might even tell you how he killed a bunch of Vietcong back in ’67. I tried not to push him too hard, but at the same time, really wanted to know. Mostly though he would just ramble on over how hot it was over there and how much worse military food was than McDonalds. Sometimes I’d see Bob sweeping up a little around the tables. He was probably bored and felt he should try to pay his way, at least a little.
The night manager, Lewis, was a tall, sinewy character with a short Afro, glasses, and a penchant for coke and women with large rear-ends. And, like most cokeheads, was really fun and easy going when all dosed up, and an intolerable asshole when jonsing for a fix. Lewis was mentally weak and prone to bad judgment if high and would do nearly anything for an opportunity to stock up on his supply. At the time, I really didn’t know anything about cocaine or how it affected people that used it. I just thought he was a moody son of bitch most of the time. The fact that he’d sometime work at blinding speeds while other times hardly at all, I thought, was just part of his polarized personality. It wasn’t until one day I was scheduled to work late and noticed the break room door was closed when I got there. I never saw that door closed even once before. Hell, I didn’t even realize there was a door there. I didn’t want to disturb anything going on but at the same time needed to punch in. Rather than knock though, I just pushed it open. Sitting at the table was Lewis. And surrounding him was half the night crew. They had cleared the table of everything and were snorting loudly as if they’d all caught the same common cold. I punched my card and never said a word about it.
At first I considered trying to “persuade” Lewis to change my schedule in exchange for my silence. I’m sure Susan wouldn’t mind knowing what was going on in that breakroom when she wasn’t around. I thought about approaching Lewis. But soon, Lewis approached me. I told him I’d keep quiet if he would change my schedule. He said he’d think about it. I said okay. I guess I wasn’t very convincing as a blackmailer back then.
I knew this guy named Frankie—a friend of a friend and townie that dealt drugs from his bedroom window. Besides dealing all manner of narcotics, Frank was a good basketball player actually. I remember playing a pickup game at Columbia Middle school and Frank showed up. After being selected for a game, I clearly remember his superior ability with the rock. He had terrific ball-handling skills and was very fast. His talent was such, had he chose to play, would have been a real threat on the varsity team.
One night Frank asked me if I wanted to go down to the high school to hang out under the bleachers. I had nothing better to do so I went. As soon as a large enough group arrived, Frankie busted out the weed. I knew that’s what they would be doing but decided to go anyway. I had tried pot before I just wasn’t in the mood to smoke that night. Actually, I thought there might be girls there so that’s probably why I went. But there weren’t. Or if there were they weren’t really interested.
After a while, I grew bored of watching everyone else get high and I decided to leave. But no sooner did I get back to the street, did I see the cops blocking the only way out. Suddenly I was approached by two of them with flashlights. “Hey you! Get over here,” one commanded. Since I felt I hadn’t done anything wrong, I figured I had every right to be defiant. But apparently that’s not how cops operate. And after ignoring their request to comply a few times, they quickly moved in and forced me to comply. I was unceremoniously pushed up against the squad car, handcuffed and put in to the back seat. When I got to the stations they sat me down…next to Frankie of course.
In the car on the way over I heard the cops talking to each other about a chase they undertook with some redheaded kid. That had to be Frank. Apparently they were really amazed with how fast he could run after attempting to pursue him on foot. It wasn’t like they were just a bunch of donut-eating, flatfoots after him either. Because there were definitely a few pretty athletic cops on the force. John Del Duca, who was an amateur boxer, was one of the cops chasing him. And Ed Amerlan, a huge, athletic guy that managed to keep in shape despite sitting in a car 12 hours a day was also in pursuit on foot. The fact that Frank left them all in the dust anyway was a testament to his speed. He outran them so badly, the only way they eventually caught him was by staking out his place and waiting. I guess I was wrong from the beginning…apparently he was putting his talents to good use.
Lewis agreed to change my schedule if I could get him some stuff. So I reached out to Frankie and he agreed to sell me cocaine. Looking back, I think if just one person told me I was being an idiot for getting involved I probably would have listened. Not to mention if I got caught I probably wouldn’t have held up very well under questioning.
I went to Lewis and told him about Frankie and, amazingly, he changed my schedule the very next day. No questions asked. Man was this guy a fiend. But no sooner did he change the schedule, did he tell me how Susan called him at home. She wanted to know why he’d changed my schedule. He gave her some lame excuse about some other employee wanting my hours? No one wanted my hours.
Lewis must have been really desperate because he entrusted me with $1000 of his money the day I was supposed to meet Frankie.
I got to Frank’s house and sat by the pay phone across the street at a gas station and waited. Then I waited some more. Finally the phone rang. I answered. It was Frankie. He told me he wouldn’t be able to make it.
The next day I slumped into work, disappointed. Not only would I have to continue to work weekends, but was starting to prove to be unreliable. I approached Lewis with the envelope of money. I told him that my source was giving me the runaround and that I wouldn’t be able to make the buy for him. I then tried giving him his money back. “No no, you hold on to it,” he said. “Keep trying. I trust you,” he finished. He trusted me? I think Lewis was hitting the pipe along with the blow. I didn’t really want to hold on to his money; I just didn’t want the responsibility anymore.
The next night at work I saw Lewis again. I could tell that he wasn’t in a good mood. So it didn’t surprise me that he wanted to know where his money was. I told him that I didn’t have it on me. He suddenly became irate and was throwing a fit. I told him to calm down. But he wasn’t listening because he was ranting incoherently about some bills and other stuff he needed to pay. I told him I’d bring it in on my next shift. He wasn’t happy but accepted it.
My next shift I had his money. He apologized over his behavior from the night before and told me just to hold on to it until my guy came around. What the fuck!? I told him that this was the last time. And if he blew his stack again, I’d throw his damn money in the French fry oil.
When I walked in to the breakroom, I noticed my hours were back to the original days and times on the schedule. I immediately questioned Lewis about it. He told me that Susan was giving him grief so had to change them back, but that he’d make it up to me in another way. When I asked how, he said he’d look the other way when I emptied the food bins on my way out. I thought about it for a minute. Free food wasn’t a bad second option.
I got home and saw my father outside racking the lawn. I asked him if he had a preference for McDonald’s food. When he asked why, I told him it was because I was buying a shitload of drugs for one of the managers at work that was now repaying me with near unlimited amounts of free cheeseburgers, fries, shakes and things. Just kidding. I lied and told him it was part of an employee incentive program. I doubt he bought it, but at the same time wasn’t about to turn down free McyD’s. He was pretty open to any kind of food I could get but had made a special request for a Filet-O-Fish with extra tartar sauce on Fridays. That seemed reasonable enough.
Eventually I did get Lewis his stuff and things were going along just fine: while I was growing my ass through the mass consumption of Big Macs, Lewis was dwindling down to practically nothing snorting the stuff I got him. Life was good. But as they say, all good things must come to an end.
The store, and actually all McDonald’s stores at the time, was starting to go through many changes. Changes to management and changes to the cooking process through automation technology where afoot. It looked like the fast-and-loose, Wild West days of old would soon be coming to an end. Apparently, owners back then actually wanted to start making money. Gee, what a concept.
They were beginning to look more critically at their staff; and especially, at management. And I don’t think it took them very long to isolate where their profits were going. We weren’t being particularly careful about it—while I was stuffing five-gallon plastic bags full of burgers and fries under my coat, Lewis was stuffing his nose with enough white powder to coat a weeks-worth of French Toast Sticks.
But unfortunately, and given the new management strategy, it wasn’t too long before both Lewis and I were being heavily scrutinized. Lewis was fired first, as I recall. I’m not even sure if they gave him a reason either. And if they did, was pretty high at the time so wasn’t articulating to me very clearly.
Susan was a good manager. But who eventually left the store after she started dating my uncle. They moved to Florida, got married and had a kid. I, after enjoying a period of extreme extravagant living on McDonald’s dime, was also fired for trying to make off with nearly one hundred dollars-worth of Big Mac’s, fries and one Filet-O-Fish with extra tartar sauce.
" The Other Side of Town was so good! It doesn't sound like jokes a lot of the time which is brilliant. I was laughing out loud! " ~ George Verongos LS