Tuesday, August 09, 2005


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #9: Golden Arch-Enemy (with Fries)

At this point in the narrative I feel compelled to make an observation. I realize that as a large corporation, McDonald's provides gainful employment to thousands of people, that for many it offers not only a steady paycheck but also a sense of self-worth and purpose when they might otherwise have none. I'm saying that it is a job that many people take pride in, and they are right to do so.

However, I think it's also fair to say that none of those people worked at this McDonald's. The breakfast crew consisted of 9 other be-visored, be-vested workers. Eight of them were in high school, I would discover, although one or two of them were older than I was. All of them were doing their jobs with the aid of assorted drugs, and before the day was out, I was dearly wishing I was too. For them, the restaurant was merely a place to get high and get paid while doing it.

My 9th and last colleague was a gnarled, grizzle-haired fellow of indeterminate age--although I would guess about 109--known simply as Huck. Not Huck as in an intrepid boy who might go down the Mississippi, but Huck as in the sound someone might make if he had swallowed a piece of popcorn the wrong way. Because that was the very noise this man often made, usually in lieu of regular speech. Huck worked exclusively in the back room, hauling palettes of frozen patties (both sausage and hamburger) from the freezer to the kitchen, unloading the daily delivery of assorted buns and English muffins, all pre-sealed in bags of 12, into their respective racks, and delivering trash to the Dumpster out back.

This is just me taking a shot in the dark here, but I think that Huck might have had some cognitive issues--possibly lifelong, although a guess at a diagnosis of senile dementia probably wouldn't go amiss. You could speak directly to him, and he would simply stare at you, and then hitch his chest and start up with a guttural, "Huck. Hu-u-u-ck!" The first time I met him, 40 seconds after punching in my first day at work, he made this rather disconcerting noise in response to my greeting and I thought it meant he was going to vomit on my shoes. But he just turned around and proceeded to bale buns into a rack. In short order, I realized this was his response to everyone.

Manager: Huck, can you get us some more Canadian bacon from the freezer?"

("Huck. Huck.")

Drugged out coworker: Yo, Huck! You in there, man?


A passing philosopher: Huck, what say you? Can you define for me the just man? Or perhaps would you care to expound on the nature of truth?


But he would respond differently to some questions. For instance, if you asked, "Huck, how do you like working here?" his face would twist into a reddening mask of hate and he would mutter and swear bitterly.

Or if he saw mold on any bun or bread surface, he would emit a shocked gasp and cry, "Fa-hucking mold!" and throw it away as fast as he could, then wash his hands vigorously, and wipe down any surface where the offending matter had been.

Doubtless he was faithfully adhering to the precepts of good food care, as laid out in the official McDonald's employee training videos, a series of three programs I was forced to endure that morning. The first one extolled the virtues of life as a member of "the McDonald's family," which I thought was overselling the experience a bit, seeing as I had already taken the job. The second video was, in an odd moment of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other, an object lesson about proper hygiene and cleanliness, which put me in mind of a film strip I had seen in 8th grade health class, dealing as it did with such crucial matters as regular bathing, applying deodorant to both of one's underarms daily, taking care not to explore one's orifices while on duty (or at least, I inferred, not to be caught while doing it), and being sure to wash both sides of both hands after using the washroom or disposing of feminine products (something I certainly resolved to do if I encountered any in the kitchen). On these videos, I won't editorialize except to say it gave me a certain, perhaps unfair, notion of the kind of employee McDonald's tended to attract, given that they had gone to the trouble and expense of producing a video of this nature.

The third tape was a documentary on breakfast preparation, and to this I paid keener attention, as I would soon be learning how to flash-grill frozen sausage patties and wrangle hash browns into the deep-fryer. This was actually useful in parts, and certainly instructive. For example, I discovered--to what I'm sure will be your instant comfort--that McDonald's had a strict policy regarding food spoilage. No single menu item (except cookies or fruit pies) was permitted to sit in a heating tray for longer than 60 minutes. If it wasn't sold by that time, it was to be discarded (alternately, I discovered, employees could purchase hour-old menu items for their own consumption, at a 50 percent discount, if they were on break or their lunch hour). Also, if any employee discovered mold on any bun or food item, it was to be discarded immediately. I wondered if this was a common problem throughout the McDonald's chain, as the video lingered on this topic for some time, showing food in various stages of mold coverage, including some examples so severe, it made one wonder how long the item had been left in the heating tray (although I suppose management wanted to ensure that no employee would mistake a massive growth of mold for, say, a side salad).

Clearly, this portion of the video had left its mark on Huck. To say he was positively vigilant against mold is like saying those Spartans were a little keen to hold that pass at Thermopylae. And now that I think back on it, mold must have been a big problem because three or four times a day, you could hear him swearing about it in the back room.

After a while, I didn't think much about Huck because I had to get busy learning how to construct sausage 'n egg biscuits, Egg McMuffins and Hotcakes 'n Sausages plates. Grueling, exacting work, this was, at least at first. But once you learned the routine, you became a cog in the vast breakfast-making machine and your conscious mind receded into the back of your skull, possibly even out of your skull. I began to see how a self-induced narcotic state might be a boon to my coworkers. And doubtless I would have joined them had I stayed long in the employ of the Great Burger Clown (or, as a friend of mine called it, The Empire of the Giant Golden Breasts).

I've met people who worked at McDonald's for exactly one day. Heck, I met someone who worked there for two hours before he realized his entire body was covered in a sheen of French fry grease and knew he would kill himself--or someone else--if he stayed.

I lasted exactly two weeks--long enough to earn one paycheck totaling $201 before taxes. My exit, at least, was dramatic and satisfying, and almost worth the two weeks of getting up at the crack of ass every day and burning my hands on hot grills in an effort to cook frozen sausages and viewing the world through a smear of grease that never seemed to come off my glasses.

It was around 11 and we were wrapping up breakfast and prepping for lunch. The breakfast shift always ended its day by putting away leftover sausages and biscuits and getting out the hamburger patties and palettes of bagged buns for the lunch crew to handle.

This day, the manager asked me to go into the back room and bring out some buns. It never occurred to me to wonder why he didn't ask Huck to do this, so I went.

The manager had requested a bag of McDLT buns. The McDLT had just been introduced that year through an aggressive commercial campaign that featured a dancing man (portrayed by a young and decidedly more hirsute Jason Alexander, George from Seinfeld. Check it out here--scroll down and you'll see it) who was inordinately happy about the fact that the McDLT was so packaged as to "keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool." What you may not recall is that the McDLT was also larger than any other sandwich item McDonald's made. The buns were almost a half-inch wider than Big Mac buns, for example.

Despite this size difference, the McDonald's bakery that packaged the buns were not supplied with larger bags to accommodate the larger buns. Instead, they were forced to pack the same number of McDLT buns into a bag meant for smaller buns. This may sound like a trivial matter, but it led to problems (which you can see I've ana;yzed pretty closely). For example, the buns would either become mashed together, or their sheer size would force the plastic bag to split at the seam at some point during its preparation and transit to individual restaurants.

Huck was in the freezer when I entered the back room and made my way to far end of the row of racks where we stored the various buns for McDonald sandwiches. The McDLT buns were in the very last rack, right next to the manager's office. I pulled a bag of buns out of the top shelf of the rack, headed back to the kitchen, then stopped. I looked closely at the bag, then carried it into the light of the open rear door.

Every single bun was covered with a light dusting of mold.

When the bags split open, of course, air and moisture seeped in, accelerating the process. I didn't know this at the time, of course. All I knew was I had to pitch these. I winged them out the rear door and straight into the Dumpster, then went back for the next bag on the McDLT rack.

Only to discover that it was was covered in mold. So was the next bag. And the next.

In the end, I wheeled the entire rack to the rear door and, following my video training to the letter, began hurling bag after bag into the trash.

And that's when the manager came back to see where I was.

"What are you doing?!?" he shouted.

I showed him the bag I was just about to throw out. He peered at it wildly then pushed past me and looked in the Dumpster.

"You don't throw them out!" he shouted.

"But the video--" I said stupidly.

"Oh, screw that!" he shouted in my face. Then he ripped the bag out my hand and removed a bun that was clearly covered in white patches of mold. "Look, it's easy," he said, and proceeded to wipe the top of the bun with his hand. "It just brushes off. Then you toast them--" The bun toaster was a necessary feature of every McDonald's "--and burn the rest off."

I'm sure I stood there with my mouth agape. Now I knew why he had asked me and not Huck to get them. Huck would have freaked out.

"What?!" was all I could muster.

He thrust the bag back in my hands. "Toast these up and get them to ready for lunch prep."

Maybe it was because he was only a couple years older than I was. Or maybe it was because I was perpetually tired and grouchy from getting up at 3:30 every morning. Or perhaps I was simply being civic-minded. But most likely it boiled down to the fact that I simply had no respect for the man.

Regardless, at that moment, I said, "I don't think so," and winged the bag into the Dumpster. I reached for the last bag at the bottom of the rack.

The manager was livid. "You do what I tell you or you can get the hell out."

"That's fine," I said. "I'll be sure to call the Health Department when I leave. In fact, I'll take some of these moldy buns with me as proof." Yeah, boy, I looked real intimidating in my yellow vest and visor with my big red hair sticking up.

At that moment the manager took an aggressive step towards me. I'm not sure what he intended to do--thump me or simply take the last bag away from me. We'll never know, because at that moment, we heard a raspy scream and the manager and I both jumped.

Huck was standing right behind the manager and had heard the magic words "moldy buns." He looked at the bag in my hands with wide, wild eyes.

"FA-HUCKING MOLD!" he screeched over and over. The manager tried to calm him down, but Huck wasn't having it. He began to stride rapidly back and forth across the room, shouting "Fa-hucking mold!" over and over.

And then, to the manager's horror and my amusement, he suddenly ran into the kitchen, screaming "FA-HUCKING HUCK-HUCKING MOLD!" to my coworkers.

Oh, and the growing line of customers at the front who were just queuing for lunch.

The manager bolted into the kitchen after him. And at that moment, I decided to leave. I punched out and hurried to my bike, chained to the light pole next to the Dumpster. Slinging the last bag of McDLT buns over my shoulder, I steered the bike one-handed through the drive-up window, past the stunned attendant. As I turned out onto the street, I heard someone shout "HEY!" and hazarded a glance behind me.

Through the drive-up window, the manager had spied me leaving. He was leaning out the side door of the restaurant now, yelling. I thought for a moment he might actually give chase. What a sight that would have been, the manager running down the highway after his yellow-visored, yellow-vested rogue employee, who was pedaling madly away on his 3-speed, his frizz of red hair and a bag of purloined buns waggling in the breeze.

But he didn't chase me.

And the buns turned out to be unnecessary. I did call the county health department and was assured they would look into it. Just to be safe, I also called McDonald's headquarters in suburban Chicago and ended up talking to an employee relations person who seemed more concerned about the need for bigger plastic bags for McDLT buns than he was about a regional manager who was willing to serve customers moldy bread.

I never did find out what happened to the manager because a week later my mom got an offer on our house and we began preparations to finally move to New Hampshire. The same week, I also received in the mail my one and only check from McDonald's.

I never returned the uniform, by the way. The day we finally moved, we piled a huge load of trash up by the curb and hired a local guy in a pick-up to haul it all away. As he was loading up, he spied what I'm sure to him was a perfectly good set of clothes: black polyester pants, off-white, grease-streaked shirt, and matching vest and visor, all sitting folded on top of a box of rags.

"Hey," he called to me, pointing to the vest and visor. "Are you sure this is trash?"

"Yep," I called back. "That order's to go."

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Shit, how many jobs have you worked?

You worked more jobs by the 9th grade than I have ever worked in my life.

Great Story. Thanks for the Jason Alexander commercial. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw him doing those again sometime soon.
I lasted exactly 3 hours at my job at Wendy's (and never did get paid ...) I was 15 and spending the summer at Goose Rocks Beach sounded a hell of a lot more appealing than serving up Taco Salads. My exit was not nearly as dramatic, though --- I simply never turned up again
Great story, as always.

I ordered a pizza a few years back from a local independent place. The pie arrived with green, moldy sausage lumps on it. Not only did the manager refuse to believe me when I called the place, he accused me of putting the moldy sausage on it, in the hopes of getting free future pizza.

I took pictures and then drove the pizza back to the place. I wanted my money back and an apology for the weird accusation.

The manager pushed me out the door, rotten pizza still in hand. I ended up standing outside, showing my fuzzy sausage balls to incoming customers, until the dude gave me my money back just to make me go away. I called the health department the next morning (I'd kept a sample of the rotten crap in a Ziploc for their edification.)

On another note, thank you, thank you, for the link to the commercials and other bits. I have friends who are too young to have seen Crispin Glover's massive freakshow appearance on Letterman. Now, I can share the dream with them.

Now, to bed. I have to be all perky to record some public radio commentary bright and early in the morning. Maybe I'll interpret it Crispin Glover-style... Yeehaw!
Oh man, I haven't laughed out loud since [insert major natural disaster here], this is for some reason one of the funniest things I've read in ages.

If it's any comfort to you, I once worked with a girl who confessed to having been a McDonald's manager, and at my predictable "Ooer, THAT must have been good", replied "No, McDonald's and KFC are pretty decent as far as restaurants go... just don't go to Red Rooster." (It involved things like keeping food that was out of date, returning food from the heated trays to the fridge, etc... the sort of thing you can probably do at home but not when you have 500 customers a day...)
Oh, bad fuzzy bun, bad bun, go, go now, go away.

Good DAY, bun.

I said, GOOD DAY!
I knew it.
I was not dreaming when I told my love that I think I was biting on molds ... :(

Stupid ... puhhhking molds.
Thank you...I haven't laughed that hard in some time...How is it that your jobs from youth were always full of crazy coworkers and hilarious situations? My jobs from my teen years were simply tedious and boring, but I never worked in a mall movie theatre (multiplexes had taken over by the time I was old enough to work and I'm sure they weren't nearly as adventuresome) and I never worked fast food either. Seems I was missing out...That Jason Alexander clip was hilarious too! Great post!
FABULOUS post. I was laughing out loud...my coworkers were annoyed but I don't care, it was worth it. :)
Good for you! Wish all the people at fast food joints were like that. I was more of a pizza joint gal myself.
Ah, MM, my brother. I too was a McDonald's employee, though I lasted almost two years. (And I was in high school.)

I'll add to the mold story with one of my own -- also involving a McDLT. I worked with a cretin named "J.W." who really had not paid attention at all during the hygiene videos. One day, in the grill area, J.W. was leaning over a partially assembled McDLT, applying the condiments. A massive, sinewy lump of spittle and mucus fell from his mouth and landed among the shredded lettuce. And he continued to assemble the sandwich. I said, "Uh, J.W., you're not going to serve that are you?"

He said, "What they don't know won't hurt them." And off the McDLT went.

I never said anything, because I am a wuss.
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