Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Days As A Corporate Hamburger Slave

I was brought to this planet as an infant and locked in a dark house, where I was subjected to Sarah Vaughn's version of "Lost in the Stars," looped over and over for 12 hours a day.
An old woman came to the house each afternoon and prepared  me lunch, usually tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. She also taught me how to read. The only books at my disposal were a handful of paperback novels from which the covers had  been stripped away. For many years these were the only books with which I was familiar: Judith Krantz's Princess Daisy, James Michener's Texas, Arthur Haley's Hotel, Irwin Shaw's Rich Man, Poor Man, Dana Fuller Ross's Montana, and Sammy Davis Jr.'s Yes I Can.

These six titles were the sole foundation of my formative education, and radically colored my perceptions of the country that would be my home.

The man who had stolen  me was the owner of a large number of Burger King franchises, and when I reached early adolescence this man began to groom me to be a regional manager in his hamburger empire. For ten years my entire world was essentially contained between the covers of the thick Burger King operator and employee's manual. A replica of a Burger King kitchen was constructed at considerable cost in the prison that was my home.  At this point the old woman mysteriously disappeared from my life, and I was expected to subsist on a relentless diet of Whoppers, Whopper Juniors, Whalers, BK Broilers, Chicken Tenders, French fries, and milk shakes. My weight ballooned, and a doctor would visit the house every two weeks to check my blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which had to be kept under control through medication.

Very gradually, over a period of many months, I was taken from my home on brief, closely chaperoned visits to the Burger King restaurants that would soon be my domain. Initially I was asked to simply observe as my master made his rounds; I was instructed to take careful note of the operation and environment of each of these restaurants, and to measure them against what I had learned in my education. I listened as my master upbraided managers and addressed quality control, customer service, and procedural compliance issues.

The humans I encountered on these field trips struck me as literally alien, and bore little or no resemblance to the characters in the novels I had by this time committed to memory. I was at the time utterly incapable of entering into anything resembling an actual conversation, but I wasn't there to speak to these people; I was taught to see around them --or through them-- and to concentrate my attention on the "unvariables" of institutional consistency, product preparation and delivery, and customer service.

I learned to scrutinize daily reports, payroll logs, maintenance expenses, and inventory records. I became intimately familiar with protocol at every level of operations. The constellation of Burger King restaurants --all of them virtually identical (and any deviations in procedure, performance, or ‘atmospherics and environment’ were to be noted)-- represented the full extent of my orbit.

The most difficult part of my transition to limited autonomy was learning to drive. Nothing about the process made any sense to me, and I seemed to lack the coordination necessary to operate an automobile. Over three months I went through a half dozen nervous driving instructors, and damaged four company cars in minor mishaps.

Every night over that period I was driven to isolated suburban locations --shopping mall parking lots, mostly-- and put behind the wheel. I made no progress, and my master became increasingly impatient with me. I couldn't take over my regional management responsibilities until I obtained a driver's license.

Initially my failures were blamed on the instructors, and I watched  helplessly as these poor characters were bullied mercilessly by my master and his inner circle of cronies, a small group of menacing white men whose job titles and duties remained unclear to me. I recall one particularly horrifying incident in which one of my instructors --a frail, mild-mannered schoolteacher-- was tied to a light post in a desolate parking lot in the middle of the night and flogged, then abandoned.

Eventually, after the dismissal of my fifth instructor, my master's fierce displeasure was directed at me, and I was subjected to prolonged and regular punishment, often of  a severe and physical nature.

I must say that this proved frighteningly effective, and I made rapid progress that allowed me to pass my driving test on the third try.

Within two years I was presiding over the most successful string of Burger King restaurants in the United States. Profit margins increased incrementally in each of my first two years, and I was rewarded with a new Saturn Coupe and a plaque from the Burger King Operators of America.

Despite this success I was, I now realize, unhappy. I was haunted by those books I had read as a young boy, and the disconnect I sensed between the America of those stories and the small, incredibly controlled Midwestern world I found myself living in. My dream life, such as it was, was filled with vivid images of Sammy Davis Jr.'s Las Vegas and the West of Michener and Fuller Ross. One day, as I was on the highway driving between two of the restaurants that were part of my regional responsibilities, I just kept going, headed almost unconsciously west.

To make a long story short: I ended up in Las Vegas, where I spent two weeks and lost $50,000 in Burger King receipts. I quickly realized that --naive as I was-- I was ill suited for a life as a big city playboy and gambler, so from there I drove to Montana, where I traded the Saturn for a job as a ranch hand. For reasons of personal security I can't disclose my exact location, but I can tell you that the work ethic and obsessive attention to detail that were instilled in me during my formative years have made me a valuable asset to my current employer.

I've lost almost 70 pounds, and I discovered that I apparently have an innate understanding of horse psychology, and a natural affinity with the animals. I'm a cowboy now, and out here nobody seems to ask any questions, which is of course just fine with me. I recognize that I don't really have a whole lot to say.

I have made inquiries, and I have been told that you could drive 100 miles in any direction and not find a single Burger King.

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