While I was a student, I had a part-time job at an investment firm paying five whole dollars an hour! (Wow!) Then the company folded; lawyers, to make a very long story short. This left me scrambling to stay afloat during the recession that was beginning to unfold in 1990. The best I could find was a part-time fast-food gig, which for many people is the employment of last resort. But as far as diversity goes, I was living the dream.
I told the story about this wonderful job, and several others which instilled my love for contemporary capitalism, on my free web host account. (Remember those? This was back in ancient times, when a 56K modem was a speed demon.) Unfortunately, Big Tech swallowed the web host, chewed it up, and eventually spat it out. Therefore, my real curriculum vitae hasn’t been seen in well over a decade. Once again, I’ll share my experience of burger-flipping, in all its multicultural wonder.
Labor, n. One of the processes by which A acquires property for B. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
I had to do something to pay the rent. Since I hadn’t been getting anywhere by searching through the meager ads in the paper, I applied for a couple of fast-food positions. I had worked at a pizza place my first summer home from school, but it was very depressing to have to go back to dealing with food after having been in the world of high finance. I got a job at a burger joint; the manager was impressed with my résumé.
The line workers were often Mexicans, who constituted a racial plurality. (Rather oddly, one who worked there briefly, an arrival from East Los Angeles, was as white as Francisco Franco, but covered in gang tattoos like any other vato.) There were a fair number of blacks as well, about the same number as whites. Most of them typically exhibited barely-concealed hostility. The Mexicans were truculent and cocksure, practically strutting around like roosters, but the blacks were harder to deal with. On the plus side, they at least understood American culture, which made them more relatable in that regard. So all told, the scales were in balance, and I was undecided as to which race was more unpleasant.
I got along pretty well with my manager, an older guy who was often humming soul-music riffs from his younger days. All of the managers were pretty decent folks, if one ignores the fact that they shorted us on our hours — that is, other than a certain hothead who, mercifully, didn’t last long.
Many of the rank-and-file employees were members of various youth gangs. I got to hear the news, as it broke, about how the Crips were moving into town. I also got to learn lots of nice phrases, such as chinga tu madre. Most of these young punks thought they were Bruce Lee, John Holmes, and Pancho Villa all rolled into one. Nary a one failed to claim expert knowledge of martial arts. And one of them had recently impregnated a co-worker. I can still recall the workplace discussions: “Just get an abortion,” said the father. “It’s not like running down jackrabbits on the road,” replied the mother. I just wondered why she didn’t have the good sense not to have anything to do with him in the first place. From anecdotal evidence, I understand that “macho men” knocking up their female co-workers isn’t too uncommon in fast-food joints. I fear for the country’s gene pool.
But wait a minute — as all good Marxists know, racism is a tool the capitalists use to keep the proletariat divided, right? If you believe that, maybe you should apply at the local burger shack, where you can try being a proletarian for a while. Perhaps you’ll get a real-life lesson in the wonders of diversity.
One of my happiest moments at the job was when they sent me to another location for a day, because the other store had a staffing shortage. The employees were all rednecks, and although I’m not part of that subculture, I felt right at home. It was a comfort being among real Americans at last. For one day I was away from the racial pressure-cooker and didn’t have to deal with truculence. The equipment was generally dilapidated, and in some cases barely functional, but I wasn’t about to complain. This was unlike the place I usually worked, which had shiny new equipment despite being staffed primarily by genetic detritus who ought to have been sterilized for the sake of posterity. I found that detail a bit ironic.
The hours were limited, probably to keep us from getting the benefits entitled by full-time employees. And, although the minimum wage had been increased a while before, the money men in Congress built in a loophole so that the businesses could still screw many of their minimum wage workers over: There was a three-month period in which workers could be paid a “training wage” equal to (surprise!) the old minimum wage. I recall that the debate in Congress was that it would mainly affect “kids with summer jobs” who don’t deserve equal pay for their toil. Eeeaaahhh, dem kids don’ need no money. [Dismissive wave of hand and sneer.] T’ree fifty’s good enough for ’em. The most farcical element of the charade was the notion that it takes people three months to be trained in the sublime art of how to fry a burger. Anyone who can’t figure it out within three days ought to be surgically sterilized.
Thus, practically speaking the fast-food joint only brought in $400 a month. The problem was, my living expenses at their barest amounted to $600 a month. (Half of that was rent. These days, I doubt one could rent a half-decent shoebox in deepest, darkest Detroit for $300.) If our hours had been reckoned honestly, the shortfall would have been considerably less. There was a timeclock, but no timecards. This meant that the manager got to write down how long we had worked. It’s rather like assigning a fox to do a physical inventory of the henhouse. I know I got screwed out of a good deal of cash, and so did the other guys. But the economy was in a shambles, and even burger-flipping jobs were damned scarce, so our options were to put up with getting shafted or be unemployed. Perhaps some of you are thinking I should have consulted a lawyer. Yeah, right.
Sacrifices therefore had to be made. I didn’t want to add to the credit millstone on my shoulders for something as frivolous as food. At first we were allowed to take home any leftovers at the end of the day, but that ended when one of the little punks got too greedy. There were still opportunities to snatch finger food out of the warming trays, however. Food stolen from a dishonest employer tastes great. And theoretically, burgers are only supposed to be on the warmer for 20 minutes; after that, they are trashed. The occasions when I took the bag of wasted food out back to the trash bin, I got to eat. I nevertheless lost ten pounds in a month.
At that point, just about the only thing I had left at home was a big bag of rice. I started finding bugs crawling around in it, and one day I found several of the little chupacabras floating in the pot after I added the water. I then put the rice in a coffee can, froze it, thawed it, and then took it to my apartment’s porch. I turned my fan on at the lowest setting, then slowly poured the rice from the can into a pot through the blowing air. This separated the rice from the insect corpses, because the rice was denser and therefore didn’t blow as far. I was happy because I had clean rice, and the ants were happy because they got to eat all the dead rice weevils.
All this came to an end when one of the teenage gang punks — the same one who had ruined our leftover food scheme — thought he would make a name for himself by messing with me. I was just trying to do my job and scrape together enough for rent and half the bills. But no, he had to try to prove what a tough guy he was. In the corporate world, people flaunt expensive laptops to demonstrate that they have testicles the size of basketballs; in the blue-collar world, things work a little differently. If you’re thinking that I should have gone to management, it would have been nice if the boss had done something after this punk sent one of his friends to rough me up the day before, because he had known about it. He didn’t, of course. If you’re thinking that I should have turned all four cheeks, well, had I done that, it would have sent a signal to the other punks that I was an easy mark, and then anyone could have picked on me with impunity.
He and his buddies had been hassling me for a while. For days he’d been threatening to fight me after work. Enough was enough, and I took the initiative during work. Clearly, I was in the wrong; to be in the right, I would have had to allow myself to get ambushed by a pack of gang-connected Mexicans in the parking lot. Heaven help any white guy faced with a situation like that in today’s political climate. The manager on duty fired him on the spot. The next day, he strongly suggested that I should resign. He and the head manager sympathized with me, but I guess he was trying to cover his butt. I took the hint, and I ended up having to move back in with my folks for a couple of months.
I wish I could say that this is one of those stories which ends when someone leaves a lousy job only to find a better one. But it was very slim pickings at the time, and I was stuck with other bottom-of-the-barrel work for the next four years. Fortunately, life has been kinder to me since then. Nevertheless, the aftereffects of starvation are stubbornly hard to shake, even now. I season my food too much, wolf down my meals, and generally have a scarcity mentality regarding eating — but I’ll certainly give that particular restaurant chain a miss, even if the hunger imp says it’s my last chance to find grub for weeks. Exploitation lost them a customer. The rest of the big corporations can go to hell, too, as far as I’m concerned.
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 This means “I considerably appreciate your mother’s beauty and charm.”
 My cultural references might be getting a little dated. Bruce Lee was a famous martial artist who acted in several kick flicks. John Holmes was a porn star noted for the size of his trouser kielbasa who died from AIDS in 1988. (As Jesus spake, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Thus saith the Lord.) Pancho Villa was a Mexican revolutionary/bandito who, because he managed to pull off some successful border raids, became a folk hero to his kind. I’ve seen Santeria candles for sale bearing his image.
 She was white, and very characteristically Nordic. He, of course, was of the Latinx persuasion. I never heard what they ended up doing, but surely the product of their love survived gestation despite the father’s wishes. With the passage of time, the taquito incubating in the Aryan oven back then is now over 30.
 At the time, the minimum wage was $3.80 per hour and the so-called “training wage” was actually $3.35/hour — about 88% of the full amount. Nowadays, unless superseded by state law, the minimum wage is $7.25/hour. The “training wage” still exists, but those age 20 and above are exempt; they can learn to fry a burger in well under three months. Yet, the law still maintains the fiction that teenagers require three months of “training” for that, conveniently screwing them out of full pay on summer jobs. It is now $4.25/hour, about 59% of the full minimum wage. That’s pretty shabby, especially given all the Bidenflation, and quite a slap in the face to our nation’s youth. Back in the day, an hour’s labor under this exploitation loophole still would’ve bought me a cheeseburger combo with change left over, but good luck with that today.
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