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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Bitter and Sweet (05/28/09)

TITLE: You Want Fries With That?


I’m clocking in, irritated before the day has even begun. Last minute shift changes annoy me. Cars hanging in the passing lane when they aren’t passing, making me late for my shift, aggravate me, too.

I’m third generation American, of the Italian variety, though you wouldn’t know it by my first name, Janet. I’m a burger flipper by day, aspiring writer by night. A daughter cut off from family funds merely because she (I) failed a semester (or two) of college.

People assume I’m stupid because I work at McDonald’s. My father says that’s not true. People think I’m stupid because I skipped classes and hid out in my dorm room watching soap operas. Fine, dad, you’ve got two other daughters (über over-achievers), you can fawn over. You don’t have to worry about me.

Juan, another burger flipper, wiggles his fingers at me, his way of waving. I call him “Joo-an”— with a “ja” sound, not “ha.”

“Good morning, Hanet,” he says. “You has hash browns?”

“Yes, Joo-an, I has them.” These immigrants—they should go work at Taco Bell. I set the fryer for 325 degrees. Joo-an’s all thumbs at the coffee maker. No equilibrium when he’s around me—ever since I asked to see his green card. The aroma of coffee begins battling with sausage smells, making me wonder how many customers will try to redeem expired coupons for free java with a purchase of a McMuffin. People.

Tammy’s on duty today. Each manager emphasizes something different. She’s big on creating “golden moments” for our customers, especially the younger ones. That means when the old woman with the granddaughter in a wheelchair comes in, and the little imp whines she already has the Easter Island Head toy from “Night in the Museum,” I’ll have to give her Rexy with a smile. Then I’ll have to watch Joo-an come from around the counter and give Meez Hennifer a spin around the restaurant (like it’s really a restaurant). They’ll chit-chat with patrons before stopping in front of Ronald McDonald where Meez Hennifer will drop in her big-bucks-quarter donation.

“Janet,” Tammy says to me as the hash browns brown, “I need you in booth one.” Booth one takes the drive-through orders. I’ll have ninety seconds to get the customer past my window from the time they give me their first menu item at the speaker. That’s when the register’s internal clock begins ticking. Talk about pressure. People usually start their orders and then ask everyone else in the car what they want. Money-fumbling is the norm. Tick-tock.

I also detest when smokers exhale into my face. Then there are the Prius owners who ask how many carbon emissions went into their Big Mac. Shouldn’t all Prius owners be vegetarians? Just asking.

It’s almost noon when Tammy releases me from the booth. I utilize the facilities, gulp down a Coke (yowza—a perk) and take over register three.

Things have slowed down when I look up to see the old woman, the grandmother. She and her granddaughter in the wheelchair come in every Tuesday and Thursday after preschool. Except today, there’s no wheelchair and no Meez Hennifer. Joo-an comes over though he should be helping his customer at register one, a guy in paint-splotched overalls.

Meezez Trenton, where eez Meez Hennifer?” There’s urgency in Joo-an's voice—not the usual quiver—even though he’s standing in my space.

“She’s really sick, Juan. It's res-pir-a-tor-y.” She demonstrates with a deep breath. “I’m hoping a milk shake will help.”

The painter-guy-customer marches over. “She’s gonna be all right—right?”

“I’m praying, Brian.”

What? These people know each other’s names? This is McDonald’s, for Pete’s sake!

Joo-an slides around the counter and engulfs the grandmother. She burrows into his light blue Oxford shirt, near his nametag. Brian, the painter, pats her shoulder.

I can’t decide if this scene is sappy or tender and sweet, but either way, it’s breaking my heart. My acerbic, little, nineteen-year-old-heart. Acerbic? No, I’m not bitter. That’s for old people. Old people whose lives are empty and meaningless.

“You okay, Hanet?” asks Juan.

“Fine, look—never mind. I’m getting that milk shake.”

Tammy peeks out from the kitchen, a hovering head over the gathering burgers. “What’s going on?”

I want to tell her it’s all good, that people are being served, really served. A golden moment under the golden arches. It’s what I’m thinking, but I can’t bring myself to say something that gooey.

Not yet.

Baby steps, Hanet.

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This article has been read 972 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Loren T. Lowery06/04/09
I have often read that to change our perspective on the matters of life, all we need is a paradigm shift. After reading this, I know there is one other necessary element, a tender(albeit reluctant in this case)heart. The inner dialogue of "Hanet" is revealing to the point of being coquettish in a beguiling way. Your use of dialect was without offense. My favorite line - "that people are being served, really served" The story is also nicely served up, indeed!
Sonya Leigh06/06/09
LOVE the details in this story. God is in those details. This is masterfully written, really--I could hear the mc talking, thinking, being aggravated. Just juan-derful!
Joanne Sher 06/06/09
Great job of interior monologue especially. Super exhibiting of the personality shift. Masterful.
Sheri Gordon06/08/09
Your MC/s voice is perfect. (I'm afraid to admit I may have had that voice in my younger days.) Excellent inner dialogue. Your writing really put me in her head.
Sara Harricharan 06/08/09
LOVE this! I absolutely love it. Because it is real and authentic and I can relate to it more than you'd think. I like how you had touches of character to Janet with things like Joo-an. This was just great this way and I liked the thought of people being really served under those "golden arches" Great stuff!
Connie Dixon06/08/09
This story stimulates my thinking about judging some people and misunderstanding most. Really great job on your dialogue. The only offense should go to those of us who can't see all people through God's eyes the way Joo-an does. Loved this.
Sherry Wendling06/08/09
Just love this one! The MC's inner monologue fairly dances with the sparkling dialogues, descriptive action, and expert use of understatement.
And all in 1st-person present tense, no less. Delicious writing!
Genia Gilbert06/08/09
This would have also worked in "Light and Dark", I think. I love it when the light starts coming on in the heart and mind of a basically great young person! In this case it also softened a bitter young heart, and I loved it.
Karlene Jacobsen06/08/09
Once again, your writing amazes me. I enjoy when my irritating qualities are pointed out, and I'm laughing while it's done. Like someone once said of a well-known speaker, "you can kill me, and make me laugh while you're doing it." (I mean this as a compliment.) A teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down...right? :)
Dee Yoder 06/09/09
Beautifully and realistically written. This teen hides her heart like so many others in the world now, but inside, she's just like everyone else: needing a touch of humanity to show she can care. I don't think the voice is too bitter--most of us think like this at least ONCE during our work week. (:
Bryan Ridenour06/09/09
Great writing as usual...Well done.
Mona Purvis06/09/09
Captivating and current. I just had this conversation with my 14yr old grandson at a local Mexican Rest. You put it out there for us to deal with. Haunting.
Colin Swann06/10/09
All the ingredients: interesting - descriptive - brilliant dialogue - definitely not a fast food snack!

Thanks, Colin.
Carol Slider 06/10/09
This is so incredibly, amazingly REAL! It's hard to believe it's only 750 words, because there's so much here: so much detail, so much warmth and reality and truth, as this young girl begins to glimpse how people form connections... even in a fast-food restaurant. Splendid writing--very, very well done.
Jim McWhinnie 06/10/09
Simply remarkable writing that just jumps off the page.

My, you're talented.
Beth LaBuff 06/10/09
Love the names and the ethnic pronunciations (as well as everything about this)! After reading this, I have high hopes for Hanet!
Janice Giesbrecht06/10/09
Amazing character development in such a short piece. They are so real. Reading was like watching from the order line.
Carol Slider 06/11/09
Congratulations, Lisa! I LOVE this story!
Beth LaBuff 06/11/09
Lisa, super congrats on your level placing and Editor's Choice! YOU ARE AMAZING! Hanet endeared herself to others besides me! :)
Pat Guy 06/11/09
Congrats on a piece that endears the reader to the characters in a very real slice of life moment. Well done Amiga!
Diana Dart 06/11/09
Here I sit amazed again - at your dear Lisa! The characters you create are lovable in their own way and oh, so real. The voice here is bang on and her observations of others just paints the picture. Love it totally (and incidentally it made me want a milkshake!)
Chely Roach06/11/09
You rock, Lisa girl! This was hilarious, but also thought provoking. I ditto all the intelligent things that Loren said, lol. Congrats!
Myrna Noyes06/12/09
Oh, Lisa, this is REALLY good!! :) You have the 19 year-old "burger flipper" personality down perfectly!! I love the "golden moment under the golden arches"! :D HUGE CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR EC! You are such an awesome writer and a consistent "placer"! God bless your gift!!
Lisa Johnson06/13/09
I enjoyed your story a great deal. The characters were so authentic, and the dialogue was so real. It was good to see the soft side of "Hanet" peek out from behind her jaded facade. Congrats on your level placing, and thanks for your kind words about my story.
Sherry Curtsinger06/16/09
Beautifully written! I love the sarcasm; fun to read. It reminds me of myself, and I always learn from mistakes...to be kinder, more patient and less impulsive.
Charla Diehl 06/23/09
Big congrats on this win--I knew it would place.