workzine

Jan Priddy, 11/28/2011

Current occupation: public high school and college English teacher

Former occupation: Art teacher, quilt store clerk (best reverse income), baker, architectural draftsperson, freelance designer, dog magazine columnist, direct delivery junk-mail rep (most disreputable), record store sales clerk, abused Taco Bell employee.

Contact information: My work has earned an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship, Arts & Letters fellowship, Soapstone residency, Pushcart nomination, and recent publication in CALYX, Raven Chronicles, and North American Review. An MFA graduate from Pacific University, I live in my great great aunts’ house on the north Oregon coast where I am not completing a novel, but do irresponsibly rant and thoughtfully rave on my “Quiet Minds” blog: http://janpriddyoregon.blogspot.com. Also find me at andpride [at] gmail. com

#

The Girl at Taco Bell

Last summer we stopped on Aurora

Avenue North at the place I worked

my first job in high school. From behind

the counter, she answered my tiresome

questions: Lard? Trans fat? How are your beans

fried? A strand of hair came loose, she sucked

on it and smiled. Everything different

from forty years ago. Everything

the same. She smiled continuously,

her head cocked to one side, all the while

I talked. And when I finally made up

my mind, she washed her hands, piled lettuce,

cheese, and tomato on tortilla

shells. I offered her the extra dimes

and she added sour cream, salsa,

a packet of hot sauce on my tray.

How many hours had I kept busy

when the store was empty, pouring sauce

into tiny cups, snapping on lids?

We knew our manager spied on us

from across the street while we stood

and cleaned everything after we closed,

hauled meat to the refer, mopped floors, scrubbed

the steam chest, counters, tongs, spatulas.

Sliding forth the tray, she said my words:

“Thank you, please come again,”

and while I ate, she said it again,

handing change to the next man in line.

Still, I believed the girl: “Thank you, please

come again.” I believed her patient

smile. It once was mine. Someday I’d like

to see Wall Street suits maintain their cool

while scooping refried beans and ground beef,

filling cups, making change—minimum

wage. This smiling girl stood her ground while

strangers fussed over animal fat,

ice in their cups, counting change. I owe

her a Hallmark card, acknowledgement

that her work is hard—I owe her some

bright token reminding us both this

is temporary. How sweet it will

be to recall the work here some day,

perfectly, as if from a distance.

Author’s Footnote: For my first job I was paid $1.25 an hour, and I was the second fastest taco wrapper in the store. A boy I trained was making $1.60. I asked the owner about why the kid was paid more, and he said, “He’s a boy. He has a car.” Well, I might have had a car, if he’d paid me a little more.

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