The next day I woke up early and went to McDonald’s to have that breakfast I wanted to have yesterday. It was nine in the morning, three hours before my interview. At that time, obese people were already in line, waiting patiently for their turns to pack their bodies with extra calories they didn’t need. I looked at myself and realized how skinny I was, despite my constant visits to fast-food restaurants. I didn’t know if that was a blessing or a curse.
The manager in charge was Blanca, a short, manly girl whose hair was shorter than mine. She wore a white, spotless shirt and a yellow tie, and her black pants still had that line in the middle, which suggested she spent a moment ironing them every day. Unlike her, the rest of the crew wore blue and wrinkly polo shirts and black hats with the McD’s logo on the front.
When she spotted me in line, Blanca greeted me with that classic toss of the head. Every time I did that, I ended up having neck pains. She took my order and was extra friendly. I realized they do that with customers who are fairly new because they want you to come back. I could understand that. There was a Jack in The Box nearby, as well as many other restaurants around, so they had to do whatever was necessary to keep you happy.
The line wouldn’t shrink anytime soon, so she kept the small talk to the minimum. “So what are you doing today?” she inquired while typing in my Egg McMuffin, hashbrowns, and black, sugarless coffee.
“I have an interview. Staples,” I said, pointing north.
“Ok, where did you work before?”
“Cucas. Isla Vista,” I said while giving her a five-dollar bill to pay for my food.
She took it, gave me the change, and I put the coins in one of those clear, rectangular boxes they have near the register, where the picture of a kid with piteous eyes makes you want to be altruistic even when you are not. My food was ready right away, which made me wonder if they keep extra sandwiches in the kitchen, in some warm corner, so people don’t have to wait that long.
“Good luck!” Blanca said before I took my tray and walked toward one of the many tables in the lobby. The girls in the kitchen giggled when they saw me, and I assumed they did that to anybody.
They did not.
Later, at Staples, Juan took me to one of the offices in the back of the store, next to the break-room. There was an old, white desktop computer (just like mine) and a cluster of papers on the desk, which made my head spin for a second. There were also two chairs under the table, and the cloth of dust on them indicated nobody had used them in a while.
“All right, ese,” Juan said while shaking the mouse to make the computer screen shine. His head was shiny, too. He must’ve shaved it that morning. His red, extra-large shirt and baggy black pants made him look shorter than he actually was. Fuck, I thought to myself. This guy is giving me a job, and all I can do is make fun of him? What kind of a person am I?
“You wanna do the test in English or Spanish?” he asked.
“Yeah, you gotta do a test before I hire you.”
“You don’t want me to fill up an application first?” I wondered. “I thought you wanted to interview me.”
I could see the annoyance on his face. “Look, I’m hiring you, like, under the table, you know what I mean? Do the test first, and then we talk about the application, ok?”
“Ok,” I said. “What kind of test is it?”
“It’s simple stuff about the company, know what I mean? It’ll be easy. So, what language?”
I thought about it, sat down, and said, “English.”
Two hours later, I realized I’d made a small mistake.
“You didn’t pass the exam,” he said, holding a sheaf of papers in his left hand. I’d called him when I finished, then, I assumed, he got the test results on a different computer I wasn’t privy to. “But you didn’t fail, either.”
“Meaning?” I squinted. The clarity in his words was as blurry as a window on a rainy day.
“You’ve got a yellow light, which means many of the questions you answered were almost right.”
I was still not getting it.
“Ok,” he said, “you know, they ask you the same question sometimes in a different way, so some of the answers are mixed up, like, you said yes here, and then you said no here, but they are actually the same question.” He showed me a paper with the answers. I was beginning to see what he meant, but also, in my mind, I was giving Staples the middle finger for being so fucking deceiving.
“So, what are we doing now?”
“You’re gonna do the test again,” he said. “In Spanish.”
I thought about it. He was right. It was likely that the ambiguity in my answers was due to my lack of understanding of the English language. There was nothing wrong with that. I was confident I was going to do a better job in the future. But not everything was as easy as we expected. Later he came back and told me I failed the test again. I didn’t want to blame myself, so I blamed the system for using strange and incoherent Spanish on their tests. Clearly, someone else had mistranslated these questions and answers.
Of course, that was all bullshit.
“What do you mean I didn’t pass the test again?”
Juan sat right next to me, in that office with the mountain of papers on the desk. On his left hand, he carried a new set of papers featuring my latest erroneous answers. “Yeah, I mean, you gotta pay attention to what you’re doing, man. There’s no need to rush, know what I mean?”
Yes, I knew what he meant.
The third time I did the exam, I was shaking, the breakfast I had early that morning was no longer in my stomach, and my gut yelled at me, telling me that it was time for me to have either a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. And yes, I wanted to eat, the roaring in my gut was annoying, but I was determined to finish this fucking test.
And then a miracle happened.
A short, fat guy with a thin and weird-looking goatee entered the break-room. He looked at me, and I looked at him. For some reason, maybe the color of my skin, the lack of confidence on my face, or the words on the computer monitor, he knew I spoke Spanish. “Que onda morro?” he said, which roughly translates to ‘what’s up boy.’
I told him what was up, for the angry look on my face was apparent. He walked toward the lockers that were in the break-room. For one second, I thought he was ignoring me, which I thought was cool. I mean, if I were listening to a recording of my voice, complaining because I couldn’t pass a test, I would’ve grabbed a hammer and destroyed the recorder myself.
But he wasn’t ignoring me. He came back, carrying some papers in his hand, which made me wonder if the job here consisted in holding sheets of paper all day long while walking around the store. If that was the case, why the fuck do they want me to do a fucking test?
He entered the office. The nametag said his name was Sergio. He sat next to me, gave me the papers, and said, “These are the answers for your test. Do it now because if you fail again, you are not going to work here. Got it?” I didn’t know why he was doing that but didn’t want to ask, either. We were obviously tricking the system into thinking I was a smart person, but you know what they say: desperate times call for desperate measures.
I took the papers, said thanks, and began to type the right answers. He left but told me to give him the papers back later. Ten minutes after that, I called Juan and told him I was done. He came, gave me the green light, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit ashamed of myself. Did he know Sergio gave me the answers? I didn’t know but didn’t want to ask that either. He told me to come back in two days and start working.
I went to school that day and told my friends about my new job. They congratulated me, telling me how happy they were to know I would be able to practice what I learned at school. And they were right because I barely spoke Spanish at Staples. I was also able to eat at the cafeteria, and my roaring stomach thanked me for that.
Photo by Pavlofox.