by Than Pence
Clarisse works fast food and can't help but think about the Mexicans that come in.
|She saw them come through the door and she groaned.
“Mexicans,” she muttered to herself.
Presently, she knew that if she referred to them as Mexicans, those in her social circle would look at her like she had said a vicious curse. But her time waiting tables at the Binge Hut reminded her that they didn’t mind being called Mexicans. She distinctly recalled a statement from one of her former co-workers, Diego. He’d been a dishwasher. “I am a Mexican. You cannot be saying that I am something else. I do not speak Latin. I am not from Spain. I am being from Mexico!”
Clarisse knew from then on that they didn’t mind being entitled as such. But those around her seemed to take it offensively, even though they weren’t the Mexicans.
Another distant memory always floated up when she saw Mexicans. It was of her mother chiding her for saying it one day. “Dear, they’re not Mexicans. They’re Latino Americans. And don’t let me hear you say otherwise. Ever.”
Her mother had been a hypocritical advocate for civil rights that Clarisse only now understood: her mother would be the first to put a label on one group or another, claiming political correctness as being her dear friend, but Clarisse now knew what being “politically correct” really meant. It was just a polite way of discriminating against one group of people or another.
But the groan that had emitted from Clarisse couldn’t be ignored. Each time a group of Mexicans came up to her counter, they had a big order that took the kitchen a lot of time make, usually putting other people’s orders on the back burner, so to speak. It wasn’t a situation desired by any fast food employee.
It was times like this when Clarisse missed working at the Binge Hut. There, the Mexicans were her co-workers. Here, at Happy Smiles Burger, they were akin to an enemy. And she knew that if she voiced her thoughts, she’d sound racist but she wrestled with herself that the ideas weren’t racist if they were true. Were they?
Mexicans would come in large groups, in droves, and order several Number Threes, Maxi-size, with extra cheese – con queso – and crisp, fried apple pies on the side. And the kitchen got so backed up that they inexplicably blamed Clarisse for allowing the order to go through.
“Just doing my job,” she’d mutter under her breath constantly, and once when her boss, Brian, expressed a similar accusation towards her.
That particular incident with Brian had ended when she snarled about how she couldn’t stop the Mexican’s from coming through the doors. The goddamn doors, she vividly remembered saying, but it wasn’t the biting swear word that Brian and other listeners had reacted to: it was her use of the word “Mexican”. Clarisse had been whisked to the back in that moment and verbally scolded in a manner that only reminded Clarisse of her mother.
“Clarisse, they’re not Mexicans. They’re Latino Americans. Or just guests. Try to remember that before you start mouthing off on the front line.”
She’d remember Diego in those rare, annoying moments, and during times like now, when the little Mexicans were chattering amongst themselves about “Numero Tres, con queso, y Maxi, si, Maxi!”
Behind her, Clarisse could hear mumbled comments from the people in the kitchen. The word “Mexican” was on the edge of their tiny verbal maelstroms and she waited for the moment when Brian would ferry them to the back like he had her, months ago. It would only be right as he was a few feet away – actually closer to the kitchen – and definitely heard the muttering, the commenting, the apparent lack of “Latino American”.
Clarisse sighed and the Mexicans approached. In all, they ordered nine Number Threes with six being Maxi-sized and three being the unexpected Midi-size. As soon as the order showed up on the screens in the kitchen, Clarisse felt her face heat up: the cooks were now beginning to scramble to get product cooked. Meat was being grilled, fries were being dropped into vats, and it was like the kitchen had exploded with unwanted excitement. But it felt louder to Clarisse for some reason: like it was tinged with hatred towards her.
“Just doing my job,” she reminded herself while also muttering that the kitchen needed to do their job and make the damn food. Brian looked at Clarisse and gently shook his head before disappearing into the back to help the kitchen catch up from her devastating order, from the Mexicans and their voracious appetites.
She handed the Mexicans their cups, doling out a few “thank you’s” and accepting “de nada’s” from whoever offered them up. She knew as long as she focused her attention on the Mexicans and the rest of the dining room, she’d not lose her cool and “mouth off” on the front line, as Brian had so pointedly put it.
It was several slow and heated minutes later when the Mexicans’ food was bundled up and handed out. In that time, Clarisse had taken two more orders between four people. Those people were now hovering around the front counter, waiting for the number to be called. As each order rang into the back, disrupting the cooks, she heard more grumbles and soft swears drift from the kitchen onto the front line and, undoubtedly, towards the customer’s ears. She felt her face heat up with embarrassment and waited for the moment when one of the pairs would demand their money back for either waiting too long or being made to feel unwelcome in a nominal fast food environment.
Brian was leading the soft swears in the kitchen and snipping at the other cooks for speaking too loudly about the Mexicans and how it wasn’t right that the, the Mexicans, only ate once a day. In minutes that passed like uncomfortable hours, Clarisse finally had the front counter clear and Brian came back up front to blow out a sigh of relief, as if he had stopped a train from smashing into a baby with a soiled diaper.
He looked at Clarisse and said, “Go on break.” That was all she needed but she wasn’t hungry so she went out into her car. On the way out, she let in four more Mexicans and was happy to know that Brian would be dealing with them personally.