Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Carney’s Life -- Part I

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…