Okay so I lied. Just a little bit. There will be no short story with this post because the story was not as short as I remembered, I've been super busy, and it's ultimately just not all that good. I will post some excerpts from it and you can let me know if you want it all. Circle Of Light, for that is the title, concerned one party in the summer of 1985 and the month or so I spent at the Smyrna McDonalds. This Mickey D's short tenure is what this post is about.
To refresh your memory of where we left off: I was bound for Memphis State in September. At least that was the plan. I had even toured the dormitory I would be living in earlier that summer. So I put in my two weeks notice. I worked those last two weeks in a bit of daze. I spent the last day doing much of nothing. It was a tradition of sorts. Then right on the eve of moving to Memphis I learned my parents either didn't have enough money for it or just didn't want me to move away. I had covered my living expenses. They were supposed to have come up with tuition. So I ended up at M.T.S.U. that fall which is quite the novella of disillusionment and pseudo artistic angst that I'll post here soon.
I should have gone back to work at the McDonalds in Murfreesboro. But I didn't. I viewed such a move as a failure. So I decided to try the Smyrna Mickey D's instead. It was closer to where I lived. That was my justification. The story of that job is short and almost violent. Why you ask? Well it was because of Why. That's why.
The store manager was some dude named Mark Why - real names be proof as The Minutemen put it so nicely. He seemed cool at first, but he soon turned out to be my own personal Satan of the deep fryers. The job wasn't too bad at first. The only real difference from the Murfreesboro McDonalds was that the cooks had to wrap the food (I was terrible at it - origami is just not my thing) and they had a compulsion about parking lot cleanliness yet didn't appreciate when I took thirty minutes to do it one night. Most of the crew was still in high school though a few were college age. I even knew a couple of dudes from back when I used to live in Smyrna during 8th grade. They wanted to celebrate my return to Smyrna by going to the old Rock School site to smoke some kill. It was that kind of work environment.
It would have been complete misery except for the girl there who taught me how to sweep. Her name was Melissa Shelby. I developed a mad crush for her; the irrational youthful sort that is doomed from the start.
From Circle Of Light: McDonalds = repetitious tasks, evil customers, and a uniform of lovely brown polyester. Yep...you just can't look any more suave when decked out in a McD's uniform. Flip the burgers, sear the burgers, wrap the burgers, clean the parking lot and don't let one cigarette butt escape your attention, mop the blood off the tile floor. What an exciting place to be until 1am in the morning then coming in the next day at 5am. I'd drag ass into the place in the morning in an anti-social stupor trying not to f***k up the egg mcmuffins. I avoided my fellow employees as if they were live mines.
I would recite Zen koans under my breath to help fight the deadness I felt and everybody would laugh at me and the deadness would inch closer. My co-workers were all faceless masks, dope fiends, or orphans of intelligence. Until I met Melissa Shelby.
She was mysterious and new. My job was suddenly worth going to in the afternoons. Polyester never looked better. She wore her light brown hair cut in a bob and her large eyes which she claimed gave her x-ray vision. I tried to act groovy but she saw right through me. I wasn't about to fool her with my sensitive bohemian act. I needed to prove I wasn’t just a pseudo-intellectual. So I went to the M.T.S.U. library and checked out some Nietzsche. Listened to my Richard Hell albums and wished she would murder my heart.
All of this from the story is true. Perhaps the romantic vision is idealized, but the misery wasn't. The place was a prison. When Jason And The Scorchers played the Last Chance Dance that fall I couldn't go even though I asked off for the show weeks earlier. I was the low man in a highly stratified system so I never got time off. The best I got to do was listening to a few minutes of it broadcast over the radio in the break room that day. The job sucked, but when they started in with me closing every Friday night and coming in at daybreak on Saturday repeatedly I quickly got sick of the crap.
I had a talk with Mark Why. Why? Because I was pissed. He assured me that the scheduling anomaly would be addressed and I wouldn't have to work such shifts back to back again. The schedule comes out for the next week and damn if it's the same as ever including a Friday night closing and Saturday morning opening. Mr. Why and I had some words. Mine were loud and laced with what I thought was punk rock venom, but probably would sound more like whining if I could hear a replay now, but the gist of it was that Smyrna High School was having a big dance that Friday night which is why I was on the schedule. Why threw around words like teamwork, cooperation, and promise, but I had heard those same words just a week before. I had probably made up my mind to quit during that meeting. Not only to quit, but to work my schedule through that coming Thursday and then just not come in on Friday. To hell with them. To hell with all dances but slam dances. Cats Records in the 'Boro was having a free concert and that's where I needed to be.
I jazzed all of this up in the short story: The world that had once seemed so big kept getting smaller all the time. The job bore down upon with hydraulic certainty and the grease spattered me to my bones. But I kept coming in to work as a curious blankness of feeling came over me. I detached my thoughts to focus only upon Melissa. I might have been just a fragment, but she was complete.
Late at night I would sit up writing her into myth. She was my Zelda Fitzgerald and Carolyn Cassady. I would come in for the breakfast shift and she was there biting her lip like she would do and somehow this made me think of Salinger's Franny reciting prayers under her breath. Just when it seemed like I'd make some deeper connection with her the chaotic work environment would pull her away. Our voices would be drowned out by timers and orders, but there was the one grand evening after close where she taught me the proper way to sweep. I should have told her that she had already swept me off my feet.
I started writing poems for her; each one a mess of sticky Hallmark sweet homilies. I ripped them out of notebooks and scattered them through my room in the hope they would rewrite themselves. They were my fetishes of failure. I spent hours in the college library imagining I was Kerouac after his football injury at Columbia.
One night out of the blue Bruno called me up to go out drinking. He had quit the Army reserve in a fit of madness. On The Road was our favorite book and he had decided to become Dean Moriarty. He had fallen out with his girlfriend and decided to embark on a 3 day binge of drinking & purification. If life seemed slow in arriving the least one could do while waiting was get drunk. We sat behind his house talking about the ruin of our youth seeing who could out do the other when it came to horrible predictions. Everything was tragic and sentimental and stupid including us. I went on about Melissa and the mental agony of the golden arches.
Bruno's simple advice, "Quit."
I swallowed down some more Heaven Hill whiskey and it seemed right. I would work my shift tomorrow on Thursday and that would be it. I would tell Melissa how I felt about her and see what would happen. It gave me an adrenaline rush to think about it all. I drove home that night filled with a beatific joy and it wasn't just the whiskey. I bumped into my bedroom and adjusted my eyes to the dim light. The LED from my clock/radio cast a ghostly light upon the scattered poems I had written for Melissa. A car would drive past every now and then and the room would be awash with momentary brightness until the car made the corner and the light and sound would fade until I finally fell asleep. When I awoke I wondered if the previous day had been just a dream.
Bruno called me up later to remind me that I had agreed to quit and confess my love to Melissa. Quitting would be the best thing to do because if Melissa turned me down there would be no point in ever showing up again.
I tried to look cool in my uniform that night. I sat in the break room with a cigarette dangling from my lips like Marlon Brando and James Dean forgetting that the icon of the moment was the machine gun toting Sly Stone in Rambo II. Melissa came into the break room smiling sweetly. I dreamed about kissing her, but instead I just asked her what's up. We did the chit and did the chat thing and then I told her I was quitting. She told me she hated quitters and went back to work. I felt like I was just 2 inches tall. I didn't inhabit reality. I was just a pseudo-intellectual over analyzing every moment of my life checking out books from the library and then barely glancing through them I was so wrapped up in what was going on in my head. Cigarette ash drifted to the floor. I'd have to mop it up later.
The night passed by in a shadow form. I wanted to tell the girl I loved her, but I was just a quitter. It wasn't that she really hated me; she just didn't understand why I was leaving. A thousand times that night I thought I should talk to her, but the right moment was hanging out in some other town talking to some other girl. I had finally worked up the courage as we walked out the door. The closing crew gathered in the empty parking lot for some 2am loitering. I turned my head for a second and lost track of Melissa. How can you lose track of somebody in a group of 6 people in a deserted shopping center parking lot.
I stepped out from the shadow of a lamp post and I saw her. She was walking halfway across the shopping center lot singing faintly to herself. She reached one of the lamp posts and stood beneath it in a perfect circle of light. Somebody behind me yelled and I looked back for just a second. When I turned around Melissa had vanished again. I started across the lot to where she had been. The parking lot lamps started to go out one by one; they would flare for a moment and then with an angry buzz softly fade to black until finally the only light left came from the post Melissa had stood under.
That's the end of the story. And that was the way my last night at that McDonalds went. The part about her hating quitters, the cigarette, and the parking lot is all true. I did find her at her car not too long after I had walked across the lot, but I just said goodbye to her with the intention of seeing her again. I never did. It was just a string of workplace related infatuations for me that never went anywhere. I'll probably write about some more of them in passing as we cycle through all of the places I've worked, but don't worry; I won't go into much detail and I promise no more excerpts from short stories written when I was 19. As for the Smyrna McDonalds - I hope Mark Why had fun working that Friday night of the big dance without me around to flip the burgers. I know I had a blast watching Riff Rath and Burning Hearts in the Cats Records parking lot (Bruno would get threatened by the Burning Hearts manager after he wrote a bad review about them for Sidelines in which he made lots of disparaging references to their effeminate glam metal look).
Next on the list: After a month of idleness and drinking with Bruno I end up at a brand new pizza establishment in Murfreesboro.