Not only did he refer to it as the Harbor View KFC-Taco Bell, but Gene required that the radio always be tuned to 97.5 Lite FM or that the Christopher Cross greatest hits cassette be played over the restaurant's state of the art sound system. The employees wished that Gene would upgrade to the compact disc, so they would not have to flip the tape every half hour, but they also wished he wouldn’t because when someone had to walk to the back and flip the tape, for that brief moment, there was a minute of silence—a minute of sanity.
The entire building had just undergone a massive construction project to run wiring and speakers throughout the restaurant. Gene hired a moonlighting RadioShack employee as a consultant to assure that the sound system was of the utmost quality. The system was equipped with 16 three-inch in-ceiling speakers with a 120 watt amplifier and 4 ohms, whatever that is. Gene didn’t understand any of this, but he wanted it to be loud but not too loud, and clear. The restaurant barely had 16 tables. Inside the drywall, it was almost like the human circulatory system—there were more wires than substance.
The system sounded great, but the music playing just made the place feel like a state of the art elevator. The employees joked that they worked in the elevator of tomorrow, and they called Gene, Gene Wilder after Willy Wonka. That’s as far as their imagination went. They weren’t clever enough to riff on the songs because in a world of pure imagination they would be the Oompa Loompas. Perhaps they subconsciously internalized this. There is a lot of internalizing that happens in fast food work, especially at combination KFC-Taco Bells.
On this day, just like every day in the world of fast food, Gene knew better than to try to explain free market economics to a 16-year-old. He knew the sad state of the American education system, but he couldn’t resist the urge to look smart in front of his employees. True, it was not much of an accomplishment to elaborate on the differences between Milton and Keynes to a teenager with poor facial cleanliness. Gene felt partially responsible for the teenager's complexion. Todd’s routine acne could very well have been the result of constant exposure to the industrial seed oils used to fry chicken. Then again, the pimples could be a reaction to overactive hormones, and Gene suspected the employees had been masturbating in the privacy of the deep freeze. While the thought was off putting, he was more worried that some kid would get stuck in there and he would be ruined by lawsuits or bad publicity. One could only imagine the headlines—“Death at Oregon combination KFC-Taco Bell.”
“The reason that I pay you so little, Todd,” Gene said as he hunched over to be on eye level with the smaller teenager. He placed one hand on Todd’s shoulder and pointed his other hand upward with an open inviting gesture. Gene was in dangerous territory, this was no place for a novice. He was attempting a maneuver that combined manipulative techniques. He was making sure to say Todd’s name as he had learned from a Dale Carnegie audiobook and combining a posture technique he had seen on an episode of Happy Days — the gentle half-arm embrace with the opposite arm open to the world, as if welcoming Todd into a bold tomorrow or selecting him as his running mate. Gene would be Oregon’s Lt. Mayor and Todd would be third assistant to the office of the Lt. Mayor. Rust Belt midwestern cities accumulated a proliferation of elected titles during the New Deal, and cities like Toledo, rather than dispose of these vestigial positions, expanded them. Of course they weren’t running for office, but one could imagine them standing on a stage in front of a crowd of drunk union workers (this was pre-opioid epidemic, and the accepted back pain medication was hard liquor and Stroh’s). Al from Happy Days employed this maneuver often, and he seemed really knowledgeable on whatever life lesson he was giving Richie. Meanwhile the Fonze would be leaning against the jukebox dismissively shaking his head, but there weren’t any Fonzies at the combination KFC-Taco Bell. Gene made sure of that. “Because I can. If you quit, I’ll replace you by the end of the day. And have that employee trained to your level within a week without stretching any resources.”
“You can afford state of the art speakers, but you won’t give me a 25-cent raise?” Todd was honestly confused. He actually believed Gene had a point about economics. Todd took home economics in ninth grade, but all he learned was sewing buttons and making those little pizzas on biscuits. If he got fired, he thought he should apply at the Pizza Hut based on his Home Ec experience.
“I can afford to give you a raise and I won’t.” Gene paused for effect. That was a really good line that was under-appreciated by the teenager. No one within earshot appreciated that, it was too bad. “This is a business. It’s not a public works project. I’m not paying you to paint murals of the Edmund Fitzgerald. If you want that treatment then grab your knapsack and head on down to the soup line or Pizza Hut (combination KFC-Taco Bell-Pizza huts were starting to spring up across the country and Gene would have nothing to with this unholy amalgamation, he never missed an opportunity to deride the pizza chain).”
He was really on fire today. He was going to start carrying a tape recorder and turn these quips into lectures or maybe a program for dealing with teenage fast food workers. Time to lay it on, he thought. He threw his arm around the kid, “No, I care about you too much for that. So I pay you what I do. So you build character. Maybe someday this will all be yours.”
Gene backed away. He noticed that he got a little too close to actively oozing acne, and it seemed possibly contagious. God knows what else is happening in the walk-in, there were female employees after all. At $5 an hour, there isn’t much of a reason to live, and before suicide or Heaven’s Gate Hale Bop comet fast food suicide pacts, promiscuous sex and unprotected sex romps run rampant. He should find a way to record his thoughts. This would be great for an advanced course in his program.
“You don’t even own a yacht.” There it was. This was a monthly occurrence, usually coinciding with a round of firings and new hires. The employees said it to each other multiple times a day, but not to the boss.
It was true. Gene did not own a yacht and therefore was not a Harbor View Yacht Club member. He was invited to lunch at the club regularly but this was not the same as having membership status. Gene dreamed of being a part of the Harbor View elite, but that would never happen as a fast food franchisee. Even if he had the money, the combination KFC-Taco Bell was too much baggage. While he delivered an excellent and tasty product, he was no oil man. One of the Yacht Club members was a Rockefeller cousin. Another was the grand nephew of Charles Lindbergh.
Gene had a plan, and it was far-fetched, but he was sticking to it. As right as the recalcitrant worker was, he was not going to hear about it from an Eastie (East Toledo was one of the worst neighborhoods in the country, thus making it a great recruiting location for minimum wage workers, but the residents were subhuman). If Adolph Lindbergh wants to say you’re not one of us, then fair enough. But not Jeff Spicolli. He can find a job somewhere else, and let his termination serve as an example just as it has with previous sacrificial lambs. Their fast food god was a vengeful one. The lovable colonel was dead.
Spicolli felt the invisible reins of impropriety pulling him back. In this moment, one can immediately stop and ask for forgiveness. The alternative is to keep going — scorched earth. Spicolli chose the latter, but the problem was that he didn’t have anything else to say. His only gripe was that Gene would never be rich and he should stop acting like it. This was hardly a grievance, more of an observation, and hardly an observation to be fired over. Regardless, Spicolli was fired up and he had the floor, so he said the first thing that came to mind and what came out was a five minute diatribe that ran the gamut, covering worker productivity, morale, efficiency protocols, and a handful of chicken recipes. Gene really needed to purchase that tape recorder. Maybe, his RadioShack attaché could get him a discount.
Spicolli’s sermon was so enlightening that Gene no longer wanted to fire him. If there was such a thing as a promotion he would get it, but there wasn’t. A wage increase was an idea, but Gene had never done it before. He didn’t even know how to do the paperwork for it. Just write a larger number on his check, he guessed. But never giving a raise, was a point of pride. Besides, he could just steal all of Spicolli’s ideas and still fire him. The salt and vinegar fried chicken was a home run. That was right up the Yacht Club’s alley. He could see the Yachters unabashedly picking up a bucket of salt and vinegar chicken and taking it with them on their million dollar yachts. This was it. His ticket to the big time. But first, he had to fire Jeff.
Katrina heard Jeff’s rant and fell in love instantly. She wanted to take him to the walk-in cooler and immediately start performing sexual acts on him. Of course this was not the first time she had this feeling at the combination KFC-Taco Bell, and this wouldn’t be the first time she acted upon it either. However, this was the first time she really felt inspired to do a good job.
She sucked in her gut and pulled up her belt a little. She didn’t have to suck too much because the uniforms were all too small. Some suspect that Gene was a pedophile and liked looking at the girls in tight uniforms. Others thought that he was going for the Hooters vibe. The truth was that Gene delayed buying new uniforms as long as possible, and when the time came to buy new KFC-Taco Bell uniforms, only smalls were available. The extra weight she attempted to suck in and her pimples were just a part of the job — a side effect to $5 per hour work like a side effect to a side effect. Katrina had a week off during Christmas and she lost five pounds and her skin cleared up dramatically.
As Jeff sullenly returned back to his station, Katrina perked her chest up a bit as he walked by. He did not notice, but Katrina wasn’t going to give up that easy..
She knew like everyone else that Jeff was getting canned, but she also knew Gene was a coward and would wait until the end of the shift. She guessed that Jeff knew his days were not for long and this would be it for him, and with that being the case maybe they could have sex in the corner next to the frozen drumsticks and potato wedges.
Half of Katrina’s parasympathetic system was dedicated to seduction, while the other half was planning the sexual act. She must make sure that she was on top. Not that she had a position preference, but it was just that the last time she had sex in the walk-in cooler, her back was on the freezing floor and the old folded-up seafood taco bowl cardboard box didn’t help much. That wasn’t even the worst part. The sex got pretty hot and heavy and the thrusting resulted in a can of meat filler falling off the shelf and landing directly on her face. She could vividly remember watching the can fall and rotate in slow motion like an Olympic diver performing a half gainer. Sometimes in the winter, which is like always in the Toledo suburbs, if she laid down in her cool bed at night, she would flash back to the can, nearly breaking her nose. There was blood all over the walk-in cooler, but the sex was good. The rumor would later be that she lost her virginity in the cooler, which didn’t bother Katrina, it was much better than the real story that she was molested by her uncle. She had to be more assertive this time, she really didn’t want to run the risk of getting frostbite again.
Jeff had cooled off and was back to working. Calling it work was a bit of a stretch. Compared to real work, this wasn’t work. Even compared to other fast food work, this wasn’t work. Gene was right, the KFC-Taco Bell employees were lucky to get paid, they did barely anything. Preparing a meal for a customer was nothing more than throwing fried meat in a bucket. The workers on the Taco Bell assembly line did not deserve much more recognition because they were just slopping meat and the occasional vegetable into a tortilla. They were far from the sandwich artists at Subway.
Katrina snuck away from the front counter and slid next to Jeff, leaning her shoulder into his arm. “Hey Jeff.” Katrina said suggestively.
“Sup,” Jeff responded, barely acknowledging her existence. He was focused on the task at hand, which was mentally taxing for the KFC-Taco Bell employees — putting fried meat into a bucket. Despite not paying much attention to Katrina, he knew what her next question would be and he was ready to respond in an angry impatient tone.
“What are you doing?” Katrina asked.
“Putting meat in a bucket! God I hate this job.” Jeff paused for a moment as if he realized something, “I quit.”
Jeff wrestled with his KFC-Taco Bell shirt. The plan was to rip it off and storm out, but halfway through, he realized that the shirt was too tight and it wasn’t tearing off, so he switched to the less dramatic plan, but still effective measure of pulling it off over his head and throwing it down, but now the shirt was tangled, and it was tighter than before, almost like a Chinese finger trap.
As Jeff stormed out with the shirt knotted around his neck and one arm stuck uptight caught in the sleeve, Gene reminded him that he would have to pay for the shirt, if it was not returned. Then suddenly a silence swept over the combination KFC-Taco Bell, as if the quickly prepared fried chicken and taco universe had come screeching to a halt. Todd turned to Gene and said, “I’ll flip the tape.”