Jan Priddy, 11/28/2011
Current occupation: public high school and college English teacher
Former occupation: Art teacher, quilt store clerk (best reverse income), baker, architectural draftsperson, freelance designer, dog magazine columnist, direct delivery junk-mail rep (most disreputable), record store sales clerk, abused Taco Bell employee.
Contact information: My work has earned an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship, Arts & Letters fellowship, Soapstone residency, Pushcart nomination, and recent publication in CALYX, Raven Chronicles, and North American Review. An MFA graduate from Pacific University, I live in my great great aunts’ house on the north Oregon coast where I am not completing a novel, but do irresponsibly rant and thoughtfully rave on my “Quiet Minds” blog: http://janpriddyoregon.blogspot.com. Also find me at andpride [at] gmail. com
The Girl at Taco Bell
Last summer we stopped on Aurora
Avenue North at the place I worked
my first job in high school. From behind
the counter, she answered my tiresome
questions: Lard? Trans fat? How are your beans
fried? A strand of hair came loose, she sucked
on it and smiled. Everything different
from forty years ago. Everything
the same. She smiled continuously,
her head cocked to one side, all the while
I talked. And when I finally made up
my mind, she washed her hands, piled lettuce,
cheese, and tomato on tortilla
shells. I offered her the extra dimes
and she added sour cream, salsa,
a packet of hot sauce on my tray.
How many hours had I kept busy
when the store was empty, pouring sauce
into tiny cups, snapping on lids?
We knew our manager spied on us
from across the street while we stood
and cleaned everything after we closed,
hauled meat to the refer, mopped floors, scrubbed
the steam chest, counters, tongs, spatulas.
Sliding forth the tray, she said my words:
“Thank you, please come again,”
and while I ate, she said it again,
handing change to the next man in line.
Still, I believed the girl: “Thank you, please
come again.” I believed her patient
smile. It once was mine. Someday I’d like
to see Wall Street suits maintain their cool
while scooping refried beans and ground beef,
filling cups, making change—minimum
wage. This smiling girl stood her ground while
strangers fussed over animal fat,
ice in their cups, counting change. I owe
her a Hallmark card, acknowledgement
that her work is hard—I owe her some
bright token reminding us both this
is temporary. How sweet it will
be to recall the work here some day,
perfectly, as if from a distance.
Author’s Footnote: For my first job I was paid $1.25 an hour, and I was the second fastest taco wrapper in the store. A boy I trained was making $1.60. I asked the owner about why the kid was paid more, and he said, “He’s a boy. He has a car.” Well, I might have had a car, if he’d paid me a little more.