The rust-bucket Chevy, with a loud sputtering muffler and an overdue inspection sticker, pulls fast and reckless into the parking lot, its brakes squealing as it grabs up a spot. A pimple-faced 17-year-old jumps out of the car and bends his lanky body forward, reaching back in for his lunch and other essentials, then slams the door shut.
Halfway through his 15-minute drive to work, the vicious rain had abruptly stopped and he is truly grateful for that. The outside air is damp and refreshing and feels so good in his lungs. Up above, a rainbow, vivid in its colors, stretches across the sky. He looks up and takes it all in.
Off in the distance, he imagines a pigtailed farm girl is looking up at it too. She is cradling a cute little dog and singing a much-beloved Jazz standard; a Tin Man in a tux accompanies her on a grand piano. The pimple-faced 17-year-old, who is determined to make a name for himself someday, smiles at the thoughts of his own creative juices. He decides to give the iconic Dorothy a full Jazz band and puts the Cowardly Lion on drums, the Scarecrow on sax, Glinda the Good Witch of the North on upright bass and the three Munchkin men of the Lollipop Guild on trumpet, clarinet and trombone. Then just as quickly, he decides against it, erasing them from his mind and going back to his original melancholy scene of Dorothy singing wistfully with Toto in her arms and her tuxedoed Tin Man accompanist at her side, his clumsy tin fingers gliding awkwardly across the grand piano’s keys.
“I should write this down,” he says proudly. The pimple-faced 17-year-old dreams of becoming an author someday, or possibly a poet or playwright or maybe even a filmmaker. He thinks about it all the time; he is thinking about it right now.
While his mind wanders, dreaming of a big and famous future, his 20-20 vision remains fixed on the vivid rainbow with its splashes of color arcing across the vast sky. He allows himself the luxury of looking up at the sky for one more minute, then pulls out his phone to check the time.
“Dammit, I’m late again,” he says in a testy voice.
Dorothy, Toto and the Tin Man will have to wait. He rushes through the parking lot and into the mall with the speed of an amateur superhero, not slowing down until he reaches the Food Court. He puts on his official employee visor and reports for duty at a hamburger joint that has its own pigtailed icon, an instantly recognizable freckle-faced redhead named Wendy with a joyfully innocent cartoon smile that’s always intact.
The on-duty manager; short, trim and overly-anxious; makes a point of checking his watch and shaking his head and says “late again” in a nasal voice with a snotty tone, then tells the pimple-faced 17-year-old he’s on French Fry duty and goes to great lengths cautioning him about over-salting.
“Yeah, sure, okay,” says the pimple-faced 17-year-old, shrugging his shoulders and doing his best to stifle a laugh, “no over-salting, got it.”
A plus-sized co-worker, twice his age and significantly more than twice his size, with long wavy black hair gathered up in a ponytail, raises an eyebrow and smiles to herself, amused by the on-duty manager’s frustration with the pimple-faced 17-year-old’s cheeky attitude. They’re true-blue work-friends and she wants to give him a high-five, but the on-duty manager is standing right there. Instead, she smiles and looks in his direction. “Thank God you’re here,” she says in a sweet voice, “we’ve been super busy.”
The greasy aroma of fried food hangs thick in the air as a diverse workforce, of various ages and attitudes, all toil away in a frenzied state of drudgery. A crush of customers; smiling, sour faced and indifferent; are lined up for service.
The day marches on. Orders continue to be taken. Cash registers ring. Money and pleasantries are exchanged. Burgers get slapped onto buns and fries are furiously corralled into cheerful thin-cardboard containers. Above it all, on the corporate logo, the iconic freckle-faced redhead smiles down upon her hard-working crew, including of course, the pimple-faced 17-year-old, currently on French Fry duty and mindlessly over-salting, who dreams of becoming an author someday, or possibly a poet or playwright or maybe even a filmmaker.
Paul Germano lives in Syracuse, smack dab in the center of New York State, with his dog April, a beautiful, strong and lovable Pit Bull mix. Germano’s fiction has been published in roughly 35 print and online magazines including *Boston Literary Magazine, The Drabble* and *Voices in Italian Americana.*