The summer following my junior year of high school was when I first entered the workforce. I was young, excited about earning my first paycheck and perhaps a little naive. That naivety lead me to take the first offer I received from an employer without weighing all of my options or turning in all of my applications. I was literally hired on the spot, which at first flattered me greatly, for I thought that surely this employer could sense that I was certain to be a phenomenal employee. This was an ignorant assumption. It is doubtful that the lower management of the local Hardees establishment possessed the ability to see the future. Thus began my 2 month streak at my first job. Though there are many stories that occurred in that short period of time, there is one that stands out above the rest and is worthy of earning the 13th spot in my nostalgic moments.
To set up the scene properly allow me to give you a brief description of what my job duties consisted of. I was the "chicken man." This meant that all of those glorious pieces of fried chicken limbs were generated from my work shop located at the very back of the restaurant. It was a grueling process. I had to wear an apron and plastic gloves. I was required to remove any excess pieces of fat and the occasional feather from the chicken. I then dipped everything in a bowl of artery-clogging batter and then it was off to the oil vats. It was a thankless job. I would've loved the opportunity to fry the burgers or better yet, work the register, but the position I signed up for was the late shift chicken cooker, so what could I do.
My trainer was a guy by the name of Tremaine who was about 2 years older than me. Tremaine quite possibly was the most frightening person I have ever met. This is quite an accomplishment considering some of the characters I have ran into over my 31 years of life (see Nostalgic Moment #9 for a close second place.) Tremaine rolled with a rough gang and there were rumors constantly encircling him about the various victims he beat up at school, generally for the mere satisfaction of being violent. Needless to say, he was someone that I wanted to remain happy or at least subdued. In order to do this, I couldn't mess up. There was just one problem with this situation. I couldn't understand a word Tremaine said!
Ok, do you remember how in the past I mentioned that I tend to exaggerate from time to time? I suppose saying that I couldn't understand a word Tremain said is a pretty big exaggeration. Allow me to correct my mistake. I understood about 22% of everything he said. Usually, I'm a bad listener (ask my wife,) but when it came to Tremaine I centered all of my focus on catching the gist of what he was saying. This usually required my absolute attention on trying to read his lips, because what bellowed up from his throat was shear nonsense. To add fuel to the already adequately stoked fire, it really ticked Tremaine off whenever I asked him to repeat himself. So basically, I had one shot of getting it right, or else I was headed for disaster.
It was an evening and the dinner traffic had slowed to the occasional sedan frequenting the drive-thru window. I had completed all of my required tasks, the prep tables were cleaned, the dishes washed and the back room mopped. So, I decided to take a break and I plopped down in a folding chair to relax for a few. As I sat pondering my pathetic life, Tremaine appeared in the doorway.
"Wha you doin' ba heh?" he asked, in his gruff, very southern voice (note that I'm attempting to spell everything out phonetically so that you are given the full effect of how difficult it was to understand him.)
"Uh... nothing," I said, promptly hopping to my feet.
"Wan sumin do?"
"Ite, goin freeza and spread da chickens." He said this as though it was something I was required to do on a daily basis. I had no idea what the heck he was talking about.
"Go in the freezer and spread the chickens?" I repeated, hoping that he might clarify.
"Yeah man, goin freeza and spread da chickens!"
"Ok," I said with what I'm sure was an overly-exaggerated attitude of compliance. I headed back toward the giant sub-zero freezer inwardly swearing at myself for not knowing what I was to do. Why was I such an idiot? Didn't those q-tips work? What did spread the chickens mean?
As I approached the freezer, I swiveled back with one last attempt to decipher Tremaine's strange encrypted message. "So what exactly am I supposed to do?"
Tremaine growled. "Dummy! Get back there and spread da chickens!"
I quickly entered the freezer and closed the door behind me. Surrounded by boxes and boxes of frozen chicken, previously prepared Tupperware bins of Cole slaw and gigantic tubs of biscuit batter mix, I nearly buckled over and started to cry. I tried to remember from the hours of my intense chicken prep training any mention of the bizarre task of spreading the chickens, but alas I drew a complete blank. Did he want the boxes to be spread apart? That seemed too trivial. Maybe I was supposed to separate the newly arrived boxes with the ones that had been festering in the freezer for several years. That did seem plausible. As I pondered, the minutes ticked away and Tremaine must have become restless. I was suddenly startled by his daunting presence in the freezer.
"What you doin, man?" he asked, a confused scowl etched across his face.
"Uh... I'm spreading the chickens," I answered.
"Nah man, open da boxes!"
I quickly complied, literally collapsing on the floor in an excited frenzy and ripping open the top flaps of the nearest box of frozen chicken. We were getting some where. I was on the verge of learning the secret art of spreading the chickens and I was eager to please my trainer. Open box at my knees, I looked up anxiously at Tremaine.
"Get da bags out!" he ordered. I didn't question. He was the pro. I stood up with the two heavy bags of chicken bits, probably beaming with some sort of accomplished pride.
"Trow em on da flo!" he said, pointing to the stainless steel floor of the freezer. I dropped the bags with vigor.
"Now, spread da chickens!"
I swallowed, scratched my head in evident confusion and probably mumbled a silent prayer. All that work and still I had no idea how I was supposed to proceed. In a situation like this how would you spread the chickens? Tremaine was beyond impatient. I could sense that I was about to be on the receiving end of a pounding so I took a deep breath, made a choice and then kicked the bags of chicken around on the ground. I'm sure for Tremaine it was as if he were watching a twisted game of soccer. It was all I could do. In my mind I was definitely spreading the chickens. The bags that had once sat next to each other on the freezer floor were now good and scattered. I gave the bags several kicks, all the while fretting and hoping that my obvious idiotic display was indeed the action he was looking for.
"You stupid man!" Tremaine said, exiting the freezer and leaving me all alone, still kicking the chickens.
I smacked my head. "I'm such an idiot!" I said out loud. Tremaine was probably going to fetch his pair of brass knuckles.
When the door of the freezer opened, I was backed against the far wall, shielding my head with my hands and anticipating the worst. Tremaine was standing in the doorway with a hose. This was a change, Tremaine was getting creative with his choice of weapon. I never expected to getbeaten with a rubber hose.
Tremaine walked up to me, handed me the hose and pointed at the bags of chicken on the floor.
"I said, spray the chickens!"
I stared blankly at the rubber hose and then down at the chickens. A pathetic smile formed on my lips and I bashfully glanced up at Tremaine. "Oh spray the chickens!" I said, excitedly.
Tremaine just shook his head and left me to perform my newly-learned task.
Shortly after this episode, I put in my notice.