Wednesday, February 4, 2009
I showered and shaved. I wore jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. My face was still burning from the razor and the October wind when I walked in. The woman who had called was pouring coffee for the only other person in the place. She recognized me and smiled.
“Go ahead and have a seat,” she said. “I’ll go tell him you’re here.”
She zipped off toward the kitchen and I sat at the table furthest from the middle-aged lady with the coffee. She seemed nice, but preoccupied: an open newspaper across the table and some kind of paperwork on top of that. I had a good angle on the television. Everybody was talking politics, with the election only a week away. Everything in the place was made of dark wood.
CNN was splaying Ted Stevens across the screen. The Alaskan senator lied to a federal grand jury about receiving money, gifts and home renovations. They were gifts from an oil company executive and other people he was litigating the law for, making everybody rich, rich, rich.
I just needed a job. Four bucks an hour, plus tips, would be fine. The unemployment checks weren’t cutting it. Originally, Carney’s Corner sounded like a great place to work, but my first interview was shaky, at best. But, I felt good about this second one. Either they were interested or nobody else applied for the job. At least I was here, under the dim lights, leaning on the back legs of a wooden chair.
Besides, I was happy with the way it was going. I was smiled at and spoken to in a hospitable manner. I also liked the nature of the work. You drive around town, bringing people food. You give them food, they give you money. An exchange between two real people, over real and necessary services. It was much better than sitting in front of a computer, cubicled and busy, all day. Tapping on a keyboard, sending letters into space or somewhere far less interesting.
Plus, nobody misses a delivery driver. If I needed to, I could just stop showing up. If John McCain had won the election, there was a chance I would leave the country. That pick-up-and-go aspect of the job was great.
I looked into a small, adjoining room. There was a working fireplace in there and a poker propped beside it. For me, this was the comfortable subtlety I enjoyed in houses that have been converted into businesses. There was a pleasure in looking at the walls of an old bookstore or craft shop and seeing the ghost of a sink here or an out-of-place banister there.
“I can’t believe these people would be so stupid,” the woman with the coffee said.
I looked over and she nodded toward Ted Stevens who was being escorted out of a courtroom.
“They already have all this money and power and they just want more.” The woman wore slim bifocals on her unsmiling face. “I don’t know why they would do something like that.”
“He just got caught,” I said and shrugged.
“You’re right. They’re all probably stealing our money somehow.”
“Yep,” I said. “He was just careless.”
The woman sipped loudly at her coffee and set it on the opened newspaper. She was fixated on the television, which was mounted on the wall. It was that point of the election where everybody had an opinion about everything. I had opinions too, but I knew they didn’t matter. In one week, Ted Stevens was going to lose his senate race in Alaska after an initial lead. Ted Stevens was always followed by Sarah Palin on television. She was on a ten-minute cycle at every station it seemed. Of course she too would arouse questions about carelessness and when it all was tallied she was never even close to becoming the vice president.
The waitress was back now. She smiled at me and walked to the woman drinking coffee with the newspaper placemat. They made quick talk and the waitress signed a paper. The woman tore off the top copy and gave the yellow and pink ones to the waitress. There was talk about orders and inventory and other stuff a delivery driver didn’t have to worry about.
The two women said their goodbyes and reminded each other to not forget to vote. The lady with the coffee and newspaper smiled at me as she passed, which I interpreted as “Good luck.” Now the waitress came over to the table and sat across from me.
“He’ll be out in a minute,” she said. “But I’ll get things started by telling you a little about the job.”
I nodded, but there was only one thing I wanted to know: how would they pay me? This whole delivery job would be off if the pay wasn’t under the table. I had no idea how or when to work it into the conversation. I couldn’t accept, unless it was under the table. I figured the moment reveal itself .
“I guess the first thing you should know is the job’s a lot of long hours,” the waitress said. “A few 10, 11-hour shifts.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “I was required to work one 12-hour-day a week at one of my old jobs. Once I’m there, I can just push through.”
She huffed from her nostrils, as if she knew exactly what I meant about working. In fact, since I had been trying to get a job here, I had seen no other waitress except the one I was speaking too. She obviously wore many hats, signing paperwork and conducting interviews and all.
“There’s a lotta nights and weekends,” she said. “Do you mind?”
“No. Not at all.”
“Lotta rude customers and impatient people,” she said. “Is that okay?”
“You won’t see your friends and family much,” she said and leaned in, putting her hands on the dark wooden table between us. “Do you have a family?”
“Yes,” I said. “I have a wife and a son. But, like I said, I’ve worked long hours before.”
“You seem to be okay with everything.”
“I’d be a fine employee,” I said. And when I smiled, I felt like that was a lie too.
In reality, I didn’t want to work at all. I wanted to stay home and write. I had even developed a writing regiment. But I needed money. My wife worked, and she took night classes. My son was five and wouldn’t stop growing or eating. There were other needs too: clothes, gas, school and play shoes, credit card bills, booze, local taxes, toilet paper. In short, society and life were forcing me into this. And if I had to work, I would prefer to ride around in my car and make as much money as possible.
I wondered if this made me like Ted Stevens. He probably told himself he was just doing what he could to survive. If I was willing to rip off the unemployment system by taking tips and collecting from the state, did that make us both criminals? Even if I was operating on a much smaller scale? I mean, he was already rich with a large home, a few cars and high-powered connections in the leadership of this country, while I was unemployed, trying to get a job delivering fish for Carney’s fucking Corner.
Besides, he got caught. I wouldn’t be so careless (unless you count writing a blog about my actions and intentions). I didn’t want to double the size of my house or accept bribes on behalf of special interests. That was rich, rich, rich. I just wanted to be able to buy my son something for Christmas.
“Good to see you,” the owner said as he entered the dining area. We had a rough start during the first interview, but he seemed much friendlier now. By friendlier, I mean he shook my hand and said hello. He really wasn’t smiling or anything. If I were watching this whole interaction on mute somewhere, it would appear that we were exchanging insurance information after a fender bender.
The owner’s cantankerous personality filled the entire room. He was as happy as the dark wood paneling. His hands were large and callused, his hair was non-existent and he hobbled around the place like he had an ailing sciatic nerve.
“So, remind me,” he said, “What is your experience?”
I wasn’t sure what experience he thought would make a successful delivery driver. I had been driving for many years now, been reading street signs longer than that. I knew how to say, “Here is your food. This is the total.”
Instead I gave my stock interview accolades.
“I’ve worked with the public in every job I’ve ever had. Worked in a fast-paced, deadline-oriented environment. I have no problems getting along with my coworkers. Never call off. Always willing to work hard.”
The more I spoke, I saw the recognition in his face. It must have been my deep and slow voice, or maybe I was regurgitating the same proactive language and power adjectives I had used the first time I was in here.
“You are that inventor guy,” he said, snapping his fingers.
This was not true. I wrote for an invention company — product description. The cubicles. The letters to space. I had never invented anything, although I am convinced a urinal hockey game would be popular in public restrooms.
Instead of the typical urinal cake, there would be a goal or net. A puck would rest inside of the urinal. Then, the guy pees, moving the puck toward the goal. There is something instinctive about peeing on stuff in a toilet, whether it is toilet paper or nickels. Then, when the guy gets the puck into the goal (which would also function as a sanitizer), he would flush and the rush of water would cause the puck to rise up, into the urinal again.
“Yes,” I said. “I worked there.”
“Well look,” the owner said as he propped his feet onto one of the many empty chairs. It was probably the only chance he got to sit down all day. “There is more to being a Carney’s delivery driver than just driving around delivering food.”
This confused me. I had thought the opposite. That I would drive around and deliver food, as the delivery driver.
“When you aren’t making deliveries, we may have you waiting tables or washing up dishes or ringing out six-packs.”
I didn’t like the way this was sounding.
“Yeah,” the waitress said. “Some days you may only have one delivery, so you just busy yourself by mopping a floor or keeping the fire going.”
I looked over to the fireplace in the other room. At the stupid and inappropriate fireplace. The poker was still lazily leaning against the brick mantle while the flames continued to dance. There were things about that last statement that bothered me: One delivery a day. Keep the fire going.
I felt it was time to discuss my payment demands.
I looked up at the television and they were talking about Sarah Palin still, or again, I wasn’t sure. She was on the stump, raising concerns about every aspect of Barack O’Bama’s personality. The election was a week away and she would disappear for a while after that.
“I already told him about the long shifts and the weekends and evenings,” the waitress said.
“And you’re okay with that?” the owner said.
“Sure,” I said. Although I wasn’t really sure. If my pay was based on tips, how many tips could I expect washing dishes and tending the fire? I thought I should just leave now, before I get careless and say something about how the owner looks like Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force or an aged, gout-ridden Mario Brotherer.
“You don’t have a job now, do you?” he said.
“No. I’m unemployed.”
“So what? Are you collecting or something?”
“Yes,” I said.
“So you want paid under the table, or what?”
“That would be ideal,” I said. Now everything was coming together.
“Something like an hourly wage and tips?” he said.
“That would work for me.”
“How much were you thinking per hour?” he said.
This is where I became flustered. I had no idea what to suggest.
“I really don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never had to barter about pay. Is it like ‘I’ll trade you a camel and two harems’ or something like that?”
Nobody thought that was funny, so I pretended it wasn’t either. We just all sat and looked at each other for a few stretched seconds.
“What about six bucks an hour plus anything you make on delivery you keep?” the owner said.
“Sure,” I mumbled. I still needed more than one delivery a night in exchange for all the nights and weekend shifts. For the greasy skin you come home in when working in a restaurant. For the 10-hour days and fireplace maintenance. I wanted tips, not a six-dollar-an-hour job.
“Alright,” the owner said, jumping as if he remembered there were chicken wings in the fryer. “We have a few more interviews to do and we’ll probably let you know by the weekend.”
“Thank you,” I said and stood. I shook his hand and the calluses scraped my soft, freshly-moisturized palms.
The waitress stood up too. She extended a hand.
“Thank you so much,” she said.
“No, thank you,” I said. I knew she did everything around here and probably worked every day, probably paid into the state unemployment program. I gave her the only honest smile of the entire interview.
“We’ll talk to you by the weekend,” she said and left me alone, with Barack O’Bama on the television and an election approaching. It seemed that I and everybody else in the entire country was on the cusp of something happening.
The weekend came and went and I never got a call. They must not have wanted me at Carney’s Corner.
The election came and went and Ted Stevens may have already started his community service, or whatever it is they do to wealthy people who break the law, and Sarah Palin didn’t become the vice president.
Now we are all looking for new jobs.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The woman from the restaurant/six-pack shop called on Wednesday. She wanted me to come in for a job interview.
They needed a delivery driver. I needed a job. And I had a car. I walked in and applied the week before.
My reasoning was simple: I wanted a place that would pay in tips or under-the-table, so I could still collect my unemployment checks in full. That, and the place was named Carney’s Corner.
For most of my life, I’ve appreciated and been fascinated by carnivals and the people who worked there. Those lucky people who traveled from town to town, scamming the locals with rings too small to fit over the necks of empty milk bottles. The ones who sat in the dunk tank, insulting anybody who passed. I loved the cadence of the barker from his bally platform and the smell of funnel cake filling the fairgrounds.
It seemed as if everything I ever wanted in life was in those booths, surrounded by the stuffed prizes, tacked to the walls. In fact, when I was 14, I considered leaving home and catching on with the carnival. My new home would be the carnival and over time my family would accept this. That impulse lasted for two or three years and then passed. But, there was always a part of me that craved the carny life, and this restaurant/six-pack shop seemed to be the next best thing. A delivery driver at Carney’s Corner. Perfect.
It was a Friday afternoon when I first walked into Carney’s Corner. There was a man at one of the dining room tables. He was the only person in the restaurant and was talking to the only waitress. She held out her index finger, implying she’d be with me soon. There were voices and barroom noises coming up a steep set of steps. I didn’t go down, but assumed that was where most of the money was made. I walked into the six-pack room, which was filled with coolers, leaving little space for a person to move.
I was thinking about buying a sixer of Camo, but felt maybe that would make a bad impression. Coors Light or Yuengling would have been somewhat respectable, but Camo? It would certainly hurt my chances of landing the job. I walked up to a counter and unmanned cash register. There was a shorthaired lady hunched over washing dishes. She turned around, saw me and dried her hands on her jeans. She was shaped like an avocado and she looked tired in the eyes.
I told her I was here to inquire about the open delivery driver position.
“Okay,” the lady said, placing her palms on the counter. “Let me give you your first tip: don’t show up during the Friday lunch rush.”
I looked at the lone old man in the dining room. The waitress held up her finger again.
“I know these things ‘cause I’m a delivery driver too,” the lady at the counter said. “It’s okay though. He’ll probably still talk to you. He may yell at you a little, but he’ll talk.”
I didn’t know who He was, but I knew for damn sure He wasn’t going to yell at me. I’ve already put in my time at jobs where you were demeaned and scolded. I’ve worked in food service, retail, a newsroom and a professional office; I was done being talked to like that by bosses and supervisors, coworkers with years of seniority and, worst of all, customers. I just wanted to deliver food, like the employment description read.
Then the waitress came over. She was in her 40s and had the same tired look as the delivery driver. I knew it. I’ve pulled 60-hour workweeks before. It’s a glazed, humorless look. Like a shark’s eye. It’s when all your tiredness is only experienced off-duty. So when you are working, it’s all a blur. You just push through and worry about bloodshot and darkened eyes later.
“He’s here about the job,” the delivery driver said to waitress. I smiled and didn’t talk, tried to look hirable.
“Oh, okay,” she said and put her notepad in her apron. “I think he can talk to you now.” She craned her neck and looked back, into the kitchen.
“Yeah, he may be able to talk to you now.” She leaned back again, looking into the kitchen.
I just stood there.
“I may be able to go back and get him,” she said and kept looking into the kitchen, then back to me, smiling and seemingly not sure how to handle the situation.
I smiled again and the delivery driver went back to washing dishes. I noticed the back of her shirt; it was a Carney’s Corner tee shirt. I clenched my fists and tightened all the muscles in my body with delight. I knew I could get yelled at a little for a shirt like that. I would wear it everywhere. To the dentist, the comic book store, the liquor store, the carnival. I would even wear it under nice clothes, to weddings and funerals.
“I’ll be right back,” the waitress said and went through a door, into the kitchen. Minutes later, an ambling, bald man was in front of me, at the counter. He was leaning down, over me, and was not smiling. He wanted me to know he was the owner.
“I’m here about the delivery driver job,” I said. I didn’t like how he hovered over me like that. He wore a dirty, white tee and a dishtowel rested on his shoulder. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to come across as a hard ass or if he was just always like this, but I didn’t need this job that badly. I decided right then that if he even raised his voice to me, I would yell right back at him. I wasn’t even sure I wanted the job anymore. Maybe I would grab that six-pack of Camo on the way out.
“You have a car?” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
“You have a job?”
“No,” I said. “I was recently laid off.”
“That seems to be happening a lot,” he said. “Where did you work?”
“An invention company in Monroeville.”
“What’s that mean?” he said and straightened up, relieving me of his shadow. “You made inventions all day?”
“No,” I said. Then I paused to let that ‘no’ resonate. “I was in the writing department. I wrote the product descriptions for anything and everything a person paid to patent and market. That’s what I did.”
“Oh yeah,” he said. His voice lowered a little. He seemed curious of my response. “You know this area well?”
“Yes,” I said. “I live right on 66. Maybe four miles down the road.”
This was partially a lie. I really did live four miles down the road, but I didn’t know my way around Delmont, per se. I am naturally horrible with directions and there was not much reason to drive around and become familiar with Delmont anyway. There’s just a bunch of houses, a few small businesses and car dealerships, some auto repair places and wooded backroads. It’s a nice enough place to pass through, but there is no reason for a person to know their way around. Besides, I could certainly get a map and learn my way around.
The owner wanted to know about my availability. I told him I could work whenever he needed me.
This was also a lie. I didn’t want to work everyday, just enough to make up the difference my unemployment didn’t cover. I certainly didn’t want to be a strictly a weekend warrior either. I knew that’s where the best tips were, but I needed a
Saturday night out every now and then too. The last thing I wanted was to work all nights and weekends.
“Lots of weekends and nights,” the owner said. “Gotta be able to work them.”
“Sure, sure,” I said.
He gave me an application and shook my hand and went back to the kitchen.
“You can sit here, if you’d like,” the waitress said and slid a seat out for me at one of the empty tables. Now there were two of us, the old man and I, sitting in the small dining room.
I sat and began to fill out the application and was immediately disappointed. It was as if they went to Big Lots and bought a generic job application pad. I entered all my work experience, as requested, but there was no place for a phone number. So even if I was honest on the application, there was no way to call and verify. It was the same with the references. The application asked for names, addresses, how long I’ve known the each person but not a phone number. I decided I would make one up: Chaz Wisnewski. Turtle Creek, PA. I’ve known him for six years.
When I finished, I read the application over. Related job experience, management skills, college education, willing to accept less pay than earned at previous jobs — I was certainly qualified. In fact, I was over-qualified for a delivery driver. There was no reason I shouldn’t be hired right now. Maybe this would all be held against me. I didn’t even care about the job anymore. I just wanted to go through with it. Fill out this application, get out of Carney’s and see what happens.
I left the application on the counter, forgot the six-pack of Camo and left.
Continued Next Blog…