If Life’s a Roller Coaster Then Why Does it Feel Like We’re on a Tilt-a-Whirl?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic


Anyone who's ever worked fast food can agree that it was more than they bargained for, but there's always something strangely moving about the experience. Of course that's buried under heaps and
heaps of rage and frustration, but it's there, probably. It's Frank's first job, and he never really saw himself getting so attached to the sketchy hotdog place or its staff but he finds even
himself surprised by how hard he's willing to fight to save the staple of his town's teenage culture.

Submitted: July 15, 2018

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Submitted: July 15, 2018

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The “help wanted” sign was kind of faded, like it had been there for a long time and was holding onto the window pane by willpower alone. The restaurant itself wasn’t much better off, quite the opposite really. Most of the stone was cracked, there was a flock of geese in the parking lot, and a hockey stick on the roof, not to mention the sign for Ricky’s Hotdogs now read “Riks Otdo”.

I had interviewed with a woman named Bettie who only had one eye and one hoop earring who said “eat” instead of “it” four days prior. I now found myself staring up at the same “help wanted” sign, wearing and itchy T-shirt and a baseball cap that had velcroed itself to my hair. I went behind the counter and clocked in, sort of. It took a few minutes of pounding on the touch screen before it registered, by which point a girl had rounded the back wall.

“Hey, you the kid I’m training?” I turned to face her, finding my company to be completely bald. I didn’t ask why.

“I guess so, I’m Frank.”

“Niki.” Her tone was sharp, but not angry. “Come on, I’ll go over the basics.” I followed her to the back of the store. “That’s the storage room; if you run out of something, there’s probably more in there. Don’t ask where, no one knows.” I nodded, briefly glancing into the cluttered mess of a room before following Niki back towards the front. “This is the kitchen. Don’t touch anything. Also don’t ask questions. You probably don’t want to know the answers.” That was unsettling. “Okay, this is the register, so that helps most of the time. Hit ‘tender’ to ring them up, got it?” I blinked, coming back to reality.

“Uh, yeah?”

“Good enough.” She nodded. “Oh, by the way, don’t hit the ‘print last’ button unless you absolutely need to.”

“Why not?”

“It prints exactly seventeen copies of the last receipt.”

The rest of the shift went by in a monotonous drag, customer after customer, slightly questionable hotdog after slightly questionable hotdog.

Nine o’clock rolled around at last, ending the dreary cycle for the day. I chose to suppress the knowledge that I’d have to go back the next for the time being.

My mother was waiting for me when I got home, sprawled out across the couch with a cigarette in her hand. “How was work?” she asked, snuffing out the smoke.

“Fine. I only got yelled at once.” I sighed, flopping down beside her.

“Oh no! Was it your boss?”

“No, just some customer.”

“Ah baby, people are terrible, you just have to brush it off. Only spit in their food if they really deserve it.”

I laughed, tossing my hat into the chair and slipping off the belt that was definitely too tight, turning my attention to whatever soap opera my mother was watching.

Every employee in Ricky’s Hotdogs, or, as the sign read today, “ick dog”, was staring at the clock as the hour hand finally landed on the seven, meaning it was actually ten o’clock. Bettie seemed to take great joy in locking the doors, and Keith in ripping off the headset. Niki had downed her sixth cup of coffee and was just as cynical as ever, though she spoke a bit faster and waved her hands around more. I busied myself hauling trash bags to the back door, forming a decently large mound before kicking the door open and walking them to the dumpster. Supposedly there’d once been a cart used to carry them all at once, but it had been left out and mistakenly taken by the garbage truck a number of years ago, or so Keith said. On my way back from the first load, I noticed a browning, slightly splotchy mattress slumped against the wall a few feet from the door. I eyed it cautiously, half scared it was nearing sentience, as I slipped back through the doorway. Three loads later and Niki had joined me, lugging disturbingly squelchy garbage outside. I was the one to break the silence.

“So, do you go to school around here?” It sounded just as awkward out loud as it did in my head.

“Yeah.”

“Really? I haven’t seen you before; you’re kind of,” I paused, not sure how to get out of the conversational hole I’d dug “recognizable.” I decided.

“You mean I’m bald.” Apparently Niki wasn’t one for subtlety.

“Oh, uh, yeah, kind of.”

She snorted.

“Yeah, I guess that is a pretty noticeable thing.” And with that she was off. She’d said it so casually that I wasn’t really all that worried about having offended her, but it was still an odd exchange.

The next day was Friday, and I found myself roaming the stands with my friend Lyndsey as our football team neared their inevitable defeat. I could have cared less about the game, but we were there for our friend, Joey, a trombone player in the marching band. Joey was a good kid, a scrawny ginger who snorted when he laughed and made an easy target for bullies. He wasn’t a fighter though, not that there was anything wrong with that; he preferred to keep to his pacifist morals after all. Lynn, on the other hand, was the perfect opposite. She was this pretty, punk rock chick with short dark hair and a solid right hook. She was basically every teenage boy’s dream girl, honestly it was a wonder I didn’t have a moon sized crush on her.

Joey waved at us from where he sat, significantly shorter than the other boys in his section, his uniform collar covering his nose as he raised his arm. We waved back, Lynn putting an unnecessary amount of energy into it, making our friend smile.

As halftime approached we made our way to the fence so that we had the sports version of “front row seats” to watch our friend. We couldn’t actually tell which one was him, but we’d tell him he did great anyway. “Who are we even playing?” I asked, squinting to try and read their uniform names.

“Beats me, some private school I think, Saint somethin’ or other.” As the words left her mouth I found my eyes glued to the other side of the field, where the other school’s cheerleaders were gathered, or, more specifically, at one in particular, a bald one.

“Aye, whatcha starin’ at?” Lynn asked, leaning over the fence more. “Dude, are you checking out the other team’s cheerleaders?” she laughed.

“What? No!”

“Yeah, sure.” She rolled her eyes dramatically. “Gotta say man, not your usual style.”

“No, seriously, I wasn’t. I think that’s my co-worker over there.”

“Wait, the hyper-cynic you told me about?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.” She hummed, settling her gaze upon the girl I was now almost certain was Niki. We fell into silence as the drum majors climbed their respective podiums, or so I had thought.

“Oh, but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” she purred, disturbingly close to my ear. I snapped my head around to get after her but was met with a finger to my lips as the down beat fell. Lynn was like that, kind of loud, kind of crass, but she’d never mean any real harm.

I was chased around the parking lot by a goose the next day. It was a good five minutes spent hiding behind a bush before I felt it safe enough to make a mad dash to the door.

“Hey Frank.” Niki waved over her shoulder as I clocked in.

“Hey.” There was a moment’s pause before I blurted “Were you at the Creekville game last night?” She stopped in her tracks and I wasn’t sure if I was expecting her to call me crazy, or call me a stalker; could be both.

“Yeah, why? Not what you expected?” Her tone held its usual sharpness, but there was something serious laced beneath. Of course a family of six chose that moment to walk in. Fortunately, for my curiosity’s sake, they got their food to go.

“You don’t really act much like a cheerleader ya know.” I tried, an attempt to satisfy the desperate need to have my questions answered.

“Yeah, and I don’t look like one either.” Niki scoffed, violently wiping down the counter. I grabbed the broom so Bettie wouldn’t get after us for screwing around.

“Why?” I was being kind of a persistent jerk and I knew it, but I really wanted to know.

“Because it was too much.” The statement surprised me; her voice had lost it’s edge. She looked almost solemn, staring down at nothing with a distant expression. I opened my mouth to respond, though I hadn’t a clue what I would say, but she beat me to it. “They used to make us have long hair. They would monitor our diets to make sure we didn’t gain too much weight. They even made us get these god-awful spray tans,” she said, cracking a bitter smile. “I didn’t want to give it up though, I loved it too much. We found out our coach was leaving, she was the one that made us do all that garbage, so the night before our last practice with her, I shaved it all off. I just never really wanted it back, you know?”

After Niki’s big reveal, things went by a lot more smoothly. The shift was slow, surprisingly so, and Niki and I got on much better. It was like a sort of barrier had been broken down.

We were able to close up pretty quickly that night thanks to the abnormal lack of customers, and I was on my way out the door, the others a few paces behind.

“You look like you could use some company sugar,” came a voice through the darkness. I jumped back, having found myself far too close to the woman who’d spoke.

“N-no thanks, I’m uh, not, uh,” came my garbled response before the woman cracked up, a smoker’s laugh.

“Relax kid, god knows you lot can’t afford me.”

“Hey Holly.” Niki waved, proceeding to her car like this was normal, though, seeing as her and the woman were on a first name basis I had to assume it was.

“Wait, so there’s a hooker who works outside your restaurant at night?” Lynn asked, disbelieving, as she flipped through an issue of Justice League.

“Yeah, her name’s Holly apparently.”

“God, this place just gets better and better doesn’t it?” she asked, rolling over to swap comics with Joey.

“Your job sounds more than a little sketchy man,” he said, nodding a thanks to Lynn and adjusting the one earbud he had in. The muffled sound of Anthrax filled the room, not that we minded. Joey was kind of a secret metalhead, and it was kind of awesome.

 

“What’s going on?” I asked, walking through the doors to “dog”. There weren’t any customers there, again, and all the employees were in a huddle around Dylan, the shift manager.

“Team meeting,” Niki answered, sliding over to let me into the circle.

“Is that everyone?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Okay, so you’ve all probably noticed how dead it’s been lately.” Everyone nodded. “Apparently this new fast food chain restaurant just went up down the street and they’ve put a major dent in our business.”

“This isn’t a dent, Dylan, we have no business,” Keith piped up, earning a slight shuffle of amusement from most, and a slight glare from Dylan.

“Point is, things aren’t looking good for us. We’ve got to find a way to stay in business, any ideas?”

Several bad ideas later and we hadn’t gotten anywhere. “What if we cut prices back?” suggested Brian.

“I don’t think you understand,” Dylan began “we literally cannot legally buy cheaper meat.”

“Oh.”

Half of us got sent home early that night, resulting in a crowd waiting outside, protecting Brian from the geese as he waited for his mom.

“Hey, you guys wanna come over?” Keith asked after Brian’s mom had finally pulled out of the parking lot. “We can order a pizza or something, I dunno what you guys are into.”

“I’m down.” Niki responded, a hand on her hip.

“Sounds cool.” I shrugged, checking the time. My mom didn’t care too much about when I got home, so long as it was before midnight. It was a school night after all but she didn’t need to know I was hanging with some college guy and his roommates. Still, there was always that possibility of me getting stabbed, so I texted Lynn just in case. Cool beans she had said, sending a finger guns emoticon that didn’t really look like finger guns.

We’d been at Keith’s apartment for about an hour before he and all three of his roommates passed out. I was kind of surprised actually, I’d thought college guys would be a lot cooler, or at least able to hold their alcohol a little better. Keith’s roommate, Niki, and I were all crammed onto their tiny couch, watching a nearly muted episode of “Seinfeld”. My coworker and I made eye contact and I watched as her eyes flitted over to the pizza that had been left, out of reach, on the counter, then back to me. I nodded and Niki slowly rose to her feet, tip-toeing over to grab the box. I gently removed Keith’s sleeping roommate from my shoulder and lowered him slowly onto the throw pillow, a slightly too intimate experience for my tastes, but what use did pride have in such a situation? The two of us slipped out, carefully closing the door and pausing in the hall. “Do you think we should have left a note or something?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper, echoing uncomfortably in the empty hallway. Niki glanced down at the pizza box in her hands, then back to me.

“Nah”

We both nodded dismissively to the man walking up to the stairs as he eyed us suspiciously. Niki and I were currently sat on the landing between the second and third floors of Keith’s apartment building sharing a cold pizza.

“Ya know,” began my company once the man had passed, “it kinda sucks that some soul-sucking corporate chain is probably gonna put Ricky’s out of business.” I nodded and hummed in agreement. “It’s like,” she paused “like, Ricky’s has always been there, and I mean, yeah, the place is a dump, but it’s sort of like a staple of the community, like, a landmark or something.” she mused, biting into the pizza aggressively, struggling to tear apart the now chewy crust.

“I get that, I think that’s probably why I started working there. I mean, you think ‘man I need a job’ and the first thing that pops in your head is that stupid, broken neon sign.”

“Yeah” Niki laughed, nearly choking on a particularly rubbery clump of cheese.

“Maybe there’s something we can do?”

“Like what? We’re just a bunch of broke teenagers, what good could people like us possibly do?”

“You’d be surprised.” I stated, staring off into the distance, which was really just the concrete wall on the other side of the staircase. “I think,” there was a pause as I settled on my next words “I think we’re stranger than anyone really knows. I mean, we’ve got the reckless attitude, the lack of self preservation skills, and enough spite to power this hellhole of a town. There’s nothing stopping us but ourselves really.”

“That was really deep.” Niki commented, joining me in staring at the wall as though either of us had a clue what we were talking about.”

“You’re home late.” My mom said lightly as I shut the door behind me. “Long night?”

“Yeah,” I smiled to myself “it wasn’t too bad though.” I set my keys down on the counter and walked towards the bottom of the stairs. “I’m gonna go ahead and go to bed, ‘kay?” I asked, starting up the staircase.

“Alright, goodnight Frank.”

“Night.”

 

I hated Tuesdays. At least Monday came with the excitement of seeing your friends again or turning over a new leaf of positivity, which never lasted beyond first period. By Tuesday you remembered why you’d been counting down the days, minutes, and seconds to Friday night.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, sighing deeply as I waited for Lynn to get out of the principal’s office. In the true spirit of a Tuesday afternoon at Creekville, Lyndsey MacBorough had gotten into a fight. It wasn’t too bad this time, fortunately; no broken bones and no one was suing. From what I understood, some guy did something stupid, pissed Lynn off, she pissed him off, he got in her face, and then she decked him.

The office door flew open and Lynn emerged, wearing her busted lip and bloody nose proudly. “Sorry that took so long dude, had a tough time talking my way out of suspension.”

“Yeah, whatever, you owe me though, I’ve been waiting for half an hour; I should have left you to fend for yourself.”

Lynn cackled, punching me lightly on the shoulder. “Nah, you wouldn’t do that, you love me too much.”

“You’re lucky I do.” I rolled my eyes, grabbing the keys out of my picket and jingling them in Lynn’s face. “Let’s go.”

 

“This is like, I dunno, some kinda teen movie level plot here man,” Lynn declared. Gesturing wildly with her fork. Sunday morning, more specifically, three o’clock Sunday morning, brought us to a booth in Denny’s, tossing around ideas for how to save Ricky’s. “I’m proud of you dude, fighting against a big corporation and all, it’s really cool.”

I nodded, swallowing the clump of bacon in my mouth. “Yeah, I just don’t really know how to do it.” Joey paused after my statement, seeming to turn it over in his mind.

“What if you found a way to get people excited about it again? I mean, that’s the whole reason you’re sinking, something new popped up and people lost interest.” he tossed out, leaning back in his seat.

“That’s not a bad point actually,” Lynn mused, following Joey’s motion “like, why do we all like Ricky’s?”

“It’s just always been there, it’s a part of life, ya know? My mom and I used to go there for my birthday when I was a kid, and sometimes, if I had a bad day, we’d go there for dinner, she’d take me to cheer me up.” Both of my companions nodded.

“My dad would take me there after dance recitals when I was little,” Lynn added.

“I live really close, you know,” Joey began, “so, sometimes, when I got really stressed out, I would grab whatever money I had and I would walk there and order whatever I could afford. My mom used to get mad at me for going off on my own, but she never really did anything about it; I think she kind of understood.”

“See, that’s it!” Lynn burst out, earning a glare from the waitress who already looked like she’d rather be anywhere else. “Everyone has at least one significant memory of Ricky’s, you’ve just got to shove it in their face and remind them!”

 

“Dude, is that an actual thermos full of coffee?” I asked, disbelieving. The metal container in Niki’s hand was huge, like, I don’t even know where you would get something like that.

“Yeah, and?” she said, taking another sip, clearly not expecting an answer. Today the two of us were passing out coupons outside of the local hardware store instead of actually working at the store because there was essentially no need for us to be there. So far it had been a solid hour of “Hi come to Ricky’s” and I was almost ready to give up the whole cause. We were in uniform despite the fact that we weren’t actually at Ricky’s; we’d been asked to wear our work shirts outside of work whenever we could, we were basically free human billboards. “Man, the only upside to this is that they let us stay clocked in,” Niki grumbled, taking another gulp of her coffee.

“Yeah, people are just not having it today.” I’d gone to the restroom earlier and had found more coupons than I could count in the trash. “Aren’t you a cheerleader? Do something, I dunno, entertaining.” I suggested with a rather undignified flop of my hand.

“And what do you propose I do, start chanting about hotdogs?” she scoffed with a flip of what would have been hair if she had any.

“No, like, do some kinda acrobatics or somethin’, surprise me.”

“Oh my god,” she rolled her eyes and slapped the pile of coupons down in my hand, making sure her shirt was tucked in and stretching a bit. She bent backwards into a bridge and continued into a walkover, shaking herself out before launching into a run a doing some sort of mid-air contortion I most definitely did not know the name of.

Long story short, apparently having a scrawny bald girl doing acrobatics will attract a lot of attention. We burst through the doors of Ricky’s laughing with a full tip jar in out hands.

“What the hell did you two do to get that much money?” asked Dylan, staring at our earnings in disbelief, We all pooled the tips and donated them to “Operation Save Ricky’s” as Brian had dubbed it. Apparently Keith had been singing at some local bars and on the streets to help, which kind of surprised us all.

“Like, I hate this place, but I don’t hate it, ya know?” he had said. I didn’t really know what he meant by that but if he was helping out then I didn’t really care.

“How did the coupon thing go?” my mom asked from the kitchen, peeking her head out.

“Pretty well I think, Niki started doing all these crazy flips and things, it was so cool.”

“Wow, sounds like it, is she a gymnast?”

“I don’t know, she’s a cheerleader though.”

“Ah, that’s neat, do you want cheese on your burger?”

“Yeah, thanks. How was work?” I asked, grabbing a plate out of the cupboard.

“Eh, same old, same old. I had this girl come in to try and get an at-home bleach job fixed, poor thing lost so much hair. They should really put more warnings on bleach kits.” My mom had very strong feelings regarding bleach kits, being a hairstylist and a peroxide blonde herself. She absolutely hated the things and wished they wouldn’t be sold to the general public at all, since most were more likely to completely ruin their hair than achieve the desired outcome.

“Yikes, that’s always rough.”

“Yeah, she got all weepy when I told her I’d have to cut it more, not really sure what she was expecting.”

“A miracle probably.”

“They always do.” My mom rolled her eyes, laughing a bit. “Oh, I forgot to tell you, I’ve started offering discounts if people bring in receipts from Ricky’s”

“Wow,” I was taken aback. “Thank you so much.”

“Hey, it’s the least I can do, you kids are putting in so much work.” There was a long pause as we ate, so much so that I thought the conversation had ended. My mother set her glass down. “I’m proud of you, you know. Not just for this, for everything. I’ve put you through so much, with the divorce, and the move, and the money, but you’ve never once complained to me for it. You’ve always been such a great kid, and I know I’m not really the best at this whole ‘parent’ thing, and god, everyone always told me I’d probably land you in therapy, but here you are, fighting for something you believe in and trying to make a difference.” She rubbed at her face, her voice cracking.

“It’s just a hotdog place, mom,” I tried, my voice breaking, tears welling up in my eyes.

“No, it isn’t. It’s more than that.” We were both openly crying now, and I’d probably be embarrassed about it later, but the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind yet. “It’s kids breaking down barriers, asked why it is they can’t change the world; it’s the kids who are going to save the future.”

 

It had been three months since I started working at Ricky’s. The sign was still broken, Holly still worked on the corner, the mattress hadn’t been moved, now there were two hockey sticks on the roof, and there was a steady flow of customers through the door. Keith sang a lot during work, and sometimes Niki would go outside and jump around to attract attention. It wasn’t perfect, customers still got pissed, and we got pissed right back, the competition was still there, and we all reevaluated why we hadn’t quit pretty much every other shift. It wasn’t a “ride off into the sunset” kind of ending, but we were teenagers, so it wasn’t really an ending at all.


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