Burger wuss, p.1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 1999 by M. T. Anderson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.
First electronic edition 2010
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
Anderson, Matthew T.
Burger Wuss / M. T. Anderson. — 1st ed.
Summary: Hoping to lose his loser image, Anthony plans revenge on a bully, which results in a war between two competing fast-food restaurants, Burger Queen and O’Dermott’s.
ISBN 978-0-7636-0680-0 (hardcover)
[1. Fast-food restaurants — Fiction. 2. Restaurants — Fiction. 3. Self-acceptance — Fiction. 4. Bullies — Fiction. 5. Humorous stories.] I. Title.
[Fic] — dc21 99-14257
ISBN 978-0-7636-1567-3 (first paperback edition)
ISBN 978-0-7636-3178-9 (reformatted paperback)
ISBN 978-0-7636-5234-0 (electronic)
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Somerville, Massachusetts 02144
visit us at www.candlewick.com
I told them I was there for the interview. A beeper went off. For a second, the girl stared at me. The beeper was still going off. “That’s the quality control beeper,” she explained. “I’ll go get Mike. He talks to people about working. Excuse me.” She turned around. I smiled in a secret way. I thought, They will suspect nothing. I look as calm and normal as can be.
Mike was the manager. He wore blue, and everyone else wore green. He seemed very friendly and held out his hand. I shook it. He said, “I’m Mike. Nice to meet you. You’re Anthony?”
I said, “Yes. It’s nice to meet you, too.”
He said, “Let’s sit down. Would you like a shake?” We walked out into the dining area. He said, “Now to talk, would you prefer a booth or a free-standing table?”
I shrugged. I said, “Booth, I guess.”
He grinned. “Good!” he said. “That will be fine!”
We sat down at a booth. I carefully put my hands on my lap. Over my head was a cardboard mobile of Kermit O’Dermott, an elf who talked to hamburgers. The sun was coming through the windows and searing the tile floor and the plastic vines and rhododendrons.
I said, “It looks very cheerful in here today.”
He said, “Isn’t it nice? Corporate Headquarters just sent us some new signage. It’s very effective, don’t you think? Now.” He had a clipboard with him. My application was on it. I felt very nervous. I thought to myself, Green sateen. Green sateen. I thought this for private reasons. There are times when you have to hide what you’re really up to.
I said, “So.” The cardboard Kermit O’Dermott was playing his magical harp. In commercials, it made beverages dance.
He said, “So. Could you tell me some things you could say about yourself?”
“Yes,” I said. “I could tell you I’m sixteen —”
“Can you drive?”
“Yes,” I said, “but I don’t have a car. I can walk here from home.”
“Do you have any previous work experience?”
“Yes,” I said. “I had a paper route for three years. I know that isn’t making burgers or anything, but, you know . . .”
He was looking out the window over my shoulder. There was a Kermit O’Dermott–themed jungle gym out there, and some kids were playing on it. He turned back to me and grinned. He said, “Good, good. The reason you would like to work at O’Dermott’s? Just a few words.”
I could not tell him the real reason. I had prepared a clever and cheerful-sounding fake reason. I told him, “I really like people. I like meeting people and I like talking with them. People are so different, and it’s great to see people from all over. In a job like this, I would get to see all sorts of people that I couldn’t see otherwise. Maybe I’d learn something about people that I can’t even know yet.”
He laughed. “That’s the spirit!” he said. “We work as a team here. We even play as a team.” He looked out the window again at the kids on the jungle gym. “That’s how it is. Should kids be doing that?”
I turned around and looked out the window. I shrugged. I said, “I think kids pretty much always hit each other like that.”
He said, “Little kids’ skulls are really soft, though. You don’t know that until you have your own kids. My wife just had kids.”
“Oh,” I said. “More than one?”
He said, “Two. Twins. Two twins.”
I said, “I think the skull thickens after a few months or something.”
He said, “Well, Anthony, it just so happens that we have a position open at the moment. Do you know Diana Gritt? She also goes to Taft High. She just quit and left a cashier position open.”
I rubbed my knees with my fingertips. I considered evil. I thought, Green sateen. Green sateen. I said, “Oh, yeah? I know Diana Gritt.”
He said, “Small world. I have a few more interviews this week, but I should be able to call you back pretty quick.”
I said, “Really? That would be great.”
He said, “Great. Now let’s talk about hours.”
Through the plastic undergrowth I could see Turner come out of the back, dressed in green. I watched him. Turner was the reason I was there. Turner and anger. He stood behind his register. He ran his hand over his greasy blond crew cut. Mike and I talked about hours. I saw Turner see me. I thought that suddenly he had an ugly look on his face. He shook his head. I laughed to myself and looked again. Now I couldn’t tell if he had recognized me. I thought maybe the ugly look had just been him cleaning his molars with his tongue. Maybe he had not recognized me at all.
Mike and I were done with the interview. We stood up to shake hands. I banged my knee on the table. I hunched over. When I swore, it was quietly. Mike reached out to give me a hand. I tried to smile. I was bent over a little. I rubbed the knee. Mike was saying, “We are part of a team here. I hope you’ll become part of our team. I think you’ll really like it here.”
He turned and walked toward the counter. Turner faced the other way. Before I left, I stood for a moment. I thought, Green sateen, and stared at him. I stared at his back. His neck was a boiled red. We stood there for a long time like that before I left.
Some paramedics were ordering Happy Lunches. Maybe for someone else. They pointed at the board. They specified their prizes.
The next day, I met my friends Rick and Jenn at the mall. We met in the food court. There was a Wendy’s, an Au Bon Pain, and a Happy Wok. All the seats and tables were fixed to the floor. We watched kids we knew from school mop and daub. They were uniformed in red.
Jenn and Rick both worked at O’Dermott’s. Jenn was taller than Rick. Rick was more muscular than Jenn. They were in love. They were holding hands.
“Hey, Anthony,” said Rick.
“Hi, Anthony,” said Jenn.
I said, “Hi, Jenn, Rick. Hey.”
We looked around. I said, “So what’s up?”
Rick said, “Basically, dog bites water.”
Jenn nodded in agreement.
I said, “Sure. Dog bites water?”
Rick and Jenn looked at each other and smiled. They sighed. Rick looked at me and explained kindly, “When there’s no news, the newspaper always runs a picture of like three kids playing with a fire hydrant and a dog biting water.”
“I see. And I was supposed to get that?”
Since they started going out Rick and Jenn had kind of become their own little nation, with its own special language.
“Well, there’s not much news,” said Rick.
“Rick’s older brother won’t get out of the bathtub,” Jenn offered. “He thinks everything is unclean.”
“Man,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Rick. “He’s wearing down his loofah.”
“Is he okay?” I asked. “I mean, like: okay?”
Rick looked a little uneasy. He said, “I don’t think so. He cries the whole time.”
We all looked at our feet. Rick’s brother was usually normal. He had a straight B average. We were quiet.
“Here’s news,” I said. “I applied to O’Dermott’s.”
“No way!” said Rick.
“That would be so chow if you were there!” said Jenn.
“You know,” said Rick, “Diana quit. Last week.”
“So you told me,” I said.
“You have all this stuff to look forward to!” said Jenn. “Like the worst are the guys from the computer company who come in at lunch and go, ‘You know, you could increase efficiency if you like reorganized around a different networking principle,’ and it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m just a cashier here, but no, please, why don’t I during my lunch break just reorganize the whole company, sure, thanks buddy, thanks for all the genius.’”
“No,” said Rick. “The worst is like the senior citizens that keep coming back for free coffee and then sit around swearing and groping the employees.”
“No,” said Jenn. “The worst is like that woman, the Iced Tea Lady, who orders like four large iced teas and then when you go into the bathroom later it’s —”
“No,” said Rick, “or the guy who can’t —”
“The unsalted man?”
“Yeah, who like —”
“Oh, God, he’s the worst! He really is!”
They grabbed hands and screamed in high-pitched voices into each other’s faces.
“So I have all that to look forward to,” I said.
“Yes,” said Jenn.
“Too crew,” said Rick. I didn’t know what he meant, but I let it slide.
“If you get the job,” said Jenn. “It’s pretty competitive.”
I gave her a look. “What?” I said. “Are you saying I’m not qualified?”
“No, man,” said Rick. “But not everyone can get a job.”
I said, “Because I think I’m qualified to work at O’Dermott’s, thanks.”
“Calm,” said Rick. “Calm. It’s great you’ve applied. We’d love to have you.”
“Better O’Dermott’s than Burger Queen,” said Jenn. “They are all a mass of shame at BQ. They just got a condiment troll.”
“What’s a condiment troll?” I asked.
“A four-and-a-half-foot plastic troll that dispenses ketchup and mustard,” answered Rick. “It’s a promotional item.”
“They should just hide their faces in their paper crowns,” said Jenn.
“But good luck,” said Rick. “Really. That’ll be jump if you end up at OD’s.”
“Jump,” I said. “Yeah.”
It was evening. My father was sitting on the kitchen counter, talking to my mother. I was walking up and down the stairs for exercise. I was improving my calves and hams. The telephone rang. I had just reached the landing for the twenty-fourth time.
My mother called up to me, “It’s Mike from O’Dermott’s.”
I went down and got the phone. I took it into the living room. It was portable, so I could also hear WMTA and Mrs. Gravitz from next door.
“Hi,” I said. “This is Anthony.”
“That’s the neighbor’s boy,” said Mrs. Gravitz distantly to her daughter. They kept up their conversation in a mumble.
Through the static, Mike said, “Hi, Anthony. I’m calling to say you got the job.”
“That’s great!” I said. “I’m really looking forward to this.”
“We’re glad to have you as part of the O’Dermott’s team.”
I wanted to make a good impression. I said, “I, like I’m so glad to be part of it. I wouldn’t want to be at Burger Queen. Have you heard, they just got some kind of . . . have you heard about their troll?”
There was a silence. Mrs. Gravitz buzzed like locusts.
Mike said, “Troll? I don’t know about a troll.”
I said quickly, “Their troll . . . with ketchup?”
“Oh,” said Mike. “That’s what we call in the business a promotional condiment dump. It’s a fine piece.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay.”
“Well, Anthony. Why don’t you come by at two on Saturday? Then you can undergo trainage.”
So that was it. I wrote down the time on a pad and read it back to him. I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Mrs. Gravitz said she’d remind me.
It was a good thing that Mike — or anyone else empowered to make hiring decisions — could not look inside my mind. The day I found out about my rosy O’Dermott’s future, my head was going a mile a minute. A psychic Mike might have detected a certain strangeness. It was good he could not read my thoughts. I paced in my room. I had decided it was important to hide any outward signs that might make people like him suspicious. That was part of my scheme. I was just pacing. Nothing strange about that. I guess my teeth were sort of grinding. And when I got particularly angry, I caught myself making a kind of barking sound. I kicked the furniture a little. I occasionally pounded on the desk and cried, “Why, why, why?” But otherwise, outwardly calm. And this is what I thought:
Okay so I am angry, okay so I am not thinking very logically, but the time is past for being logical, and now it’s high time for no more Mr. Nice Guy. Being Mr. Nice Guy got me exactly jack, I can tell you — everyone saying I’m such a sweet kid, it got me nothing but screwed over, and I mean big time. It’s time to drop-kick nice. Forget it. What I need now is revenge, and revenge is what I’m going to get — yes! What I really need is a plan.
She is wonderful for so many reasons, and luck, you bet it was luck to have her fall in love with me in the first place, considering who I am, which is not anyone much, being that I don’t have many friends and am thought a freak by what I guess are all and sundry. But I have a heart and yes I loved her and the reasons just started with these:
• She was so beautiful when I first saw her: dressed all in green like an elf of the forest, as if she should have been playing a mandolin, perching in an apple tree, her uniform as she bagged my fries sparkling in the light, and as I said to her, looking at the smoothness of her face, “I have exact change,” the smell of the burgers wafted across us like strands of her flaxen hair in mountain winds.
• She was haughty for some time, by which I mean she didn’t pay any attention to me when we passed in the halls, which is not surprising because I am not anybody, I mean not one of the rich or the handsome or the pierced or the shaved — and her not recognizing me in the hall, which I guess made sense, seeing that our only conversation had been about
— a Big O sandwich
— six piece nuggets
— small fries
— medium chocolate shake
— (exact change)
her not recognizing me in the hall, as I said, made me want to speak to her even more, so that after the talent show, when everybody finally saw me and knew what I really could do and what I had inside me, when she came over and complimented me on my act as The Laughing Contortionist, I actually had the spit and guts to ask her out on a date, which we went on, and she said I was a riot and we had like this great time and pizza.
• She had like the most beautiful smile. It was perfect in every way. It lit up the whole of her face and made her cheeks to dimples.
• None of her teeth were hers. The real ones were knocked out on some steps several years ago. The guy got away with her wallet and her mother’s purse. All of the new teeth were made of an un
• She had an enormous appetite. She was not a very large girl but she could put away a very large pizza. I am telling you, she ate with gusto. At first we were going slice for slice, and then she started lapping me, and soon I had all this admiration for her like when cowboys meet a dame who can not only hold shots of tequila better than they can but can eat the dead worm too.
Being around her can be summed up like this: She convinced me to do things I never would have done. When I think about my life before I met her it’s mostly a landscape of video games, movies, hanging out, eating chips, not buying things, saying, “What’s up?” saying, “Nothing,” saying, “Yeah, man,” and going on the occasional incompetent high-impact sports spree with Rick, for instance the homemade bungee jump we named “Mother’s Tears.”
Before her, my life was dull, and I knew I was safe, safe, safe. I was going crazy, things were so safe. I would look out the window on hot nights and know, out there, people are living. By living I guess I meant making out and cow-tipping. I would be like, I am trapped in here, in my own safe little life, but I am a teenager and this is supposed to be the time when I am really living, and I would pace in circles trapped inside the house, and drink all of the orange juice, and pace some more thinking about popular kids in fast cars, and I’d go to the basement and turn on the Game-Brat and wallop orcs until the screen was green with blood.
But she changed all that. I had this suspicion that she lived whatever life she wanted to. I knew she hung out with the kids who all the gossip was about. The good-looking kids. The kids who laughed in the halls. I imagined the parties, the ski trips, the beach runs. I wanted unusual things to happen to me. I was a little afraid of her, because I thought they were already happening to her. I thought I was too nice. Too quiet. Too shy.
The second time we went on a date, we were driving home from the mall, and I was frightened by her, and I was wondering how I was going to bring up the subject of Am I allowed to kiss you?, when she told me to pull over, and I saw some kids vandalizing a sign, and I thought, No way am I pulling over, but she said, “Pull over,” and I didn’t want to seem like I was afraid when she wasn’t, so I pulled over.