The PuzzleBurger Place: A Short Story
Thirty-three year-old Charles Dominic went into PuzzleBurger and ordered a number 3 combo meal: triple bacon and sausage cheeseburger; fries which he supersized for sixty cents more; a soft drink which he also supersized for seventy-five cents more; and a dinky little box of cinnamon treats.
He paid for his food and found the most isolated table that seemed to be available. He was twenty minutes early for a job interview with someone called 'Mr. Brown.' He ate his food and thought again, for the ten zillionth time about the course his life had taken, and precisely how it was that he had come to this point; once again he sought, in vain, for the x-marks-the-spot secret way out of his existence of desperate banality.
When he finished he went back to the counter. When someone acknowledged his existence, Charles said that he had a two o'clock interview scheduled. "I was told to ask for a Mr. Brown," he said.
'Mr. Brown' turned out to be a kid with reddish-blond hair and freckles on his nose. He couldn't have been more than 19 or 20. "Hiyah, Chuck! Good to see you. Just have a seat and I'll be right with you."
Charles Dominic preferred to be called 'Charles.' He could live with 'Charlie,' but he hated 'Chuck.'
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
That's why he hated being called 'Chuck.'
'Mr. Brown' eventually joined Charles thirty minutes later, without even a hint of an apology for the delay. Apparently, Charles's time was not a commodity to be valued nearly as much as 'Mr. Brown's.'
The young man was not wearing his name tag, so Charles could not even see the first name of his persecutor. So it was to be 'Chuck' and 'Mr. Brown.' 'Mr. Brown' and 'Chuck.'
The officious little twit glanced down at the application that Charles had filled out and submitted three weeks prior. Looking back up, he had the nerve to ask, "So, what brings you to PuzzleBurger?"
"What?" Charles said.
"Why do you want to work for PuzzleBurger?"
Charles had heard him the first time, and had understood the question. The "what?" he had blurted out had been a kind of 'Tourette's Syndrome' moment, if you will, of astonishment at the question. Of course he had expected the question and was even prepared for it. But this did not stop him from being insulted, indignant, disappointed, and appalled (Yes, all four), anyway, when the question had come.
Sure, PuzzleBurger was a multi-trillion dollar corporation, clogging arteries and jacking up the bad cholesterol all over the planet. But Charles didn't know anything about business and wasn't interested. He had taken his four-year degree in comparative religions. At this particular moment he was applying for a job of mopping the floors, cleaning the bathrooms, that sort of thing.
Did 'Mr. Brown' mean to ask why Charles wanted to mop floors for PuzzleBurger, as opposed to doing the same for Burger King or McDonald's or Taco Bell?
Things ran through Charles's mind.
You see, 'Mr. Brown,' I'm on sabbatical from my post as Chair of the Philosophy Department at Harvard, and I want to keep busy.
I'm really the owner of the PuzzleBurger chain, and we're doing an episode of "Undercover Boss."
I'm independently wealthy and I want to see how 'the other half' lives.
I'm a filmmaker doing a documentary on the fast food industry. Or, I'm a writer doing research for a book on the fast food industry.
After working for Hilary Clinton in the U.S. State Department, in the Barack Obama administration, I've been looking for a career change. A new challenge!
On the other hand...
I'm looking to work here so I can more conveniently carry on my affair with your mama!
I can drop by on my lunch break when your daddy's at work.
I hear your father's not getting the job done, if you know what I mean.
Back to reality...
Charles took a deep breath and gave the correct answer. He explained that PuzzleBurger was probably the number one name in the fast food business the world over, that it was an iconic organization. Charles talked about how he had grown up seeing the PuzzleBurger commercials on television and hearing the jingles on the radio; and how the iconography of the restaurant chain had left an indelible impression on his mind. Of all the places of this kind he had applied to, Charles said, this one, PuzzleBurger, had been on the top of his list of desirable employment. Blah, blah, blah...
'Mr. Brown' accepted this answer stoically. Charles felt like washing his mouth out with acid.
Next 'Mr. Brown' took a fine-toothed comb to Charles's work history, demanding an accounting for every minute of the gaps between jobs.
Charles bobbed and weaved, zigged and zagged, hedged and fudged and dissembled skillfully.
Then 'Mr. Brown' asked Charles a bunch of situational/attitude questions. What would you do if a customer did this or that? What would you do if you saw a co-worker doing a task that was off procedure? What would you do if you saw an employee stealing? And so on and so forth.
These were the same kinds of questions (fifty of them) that Charles had fielded three weeks ago, when he had filled out the employment application online. Charles imagined that, somehow, 'Mr. Brown' wanted to see if Charles would give the same answers, in person three weeks later that he did before. This was an absurd expectation, of course. But, whatever.
The interview over, 'Mr. Brown' gave his dismissal. "Thanks for coming in, Chuck. We'll get in touch with you if we want to go further with you in the process."
Process. Process? There's a PROCESS involved in capturing the privilege of working at PuzzleBurger! How about that?
Well, after all that Charles Dominic did not get the job. A week later, when he'd called, he was told by 'Mr. Brown' himself that, "We decided to go with other candidates."
Charles's girlfriend, Rosalyn, eased his soul. Eight years his senior, she was his consolation and support. They had been seeing each other during the tail end of her marriage and the period of her trial separation from her husband. Now that her divorce was final, she and Charles could be open about their relationship.
Tonight was a special night. They were preparing dinner together at her place. Charles would meet her only child for the first time tonight, her eighteen year old son, Robbie -- a whip smart (according to his doting mom) first year business administration major at Princeton.
Robbie came in and fell into the embrace of his mom. Hugs and kisses. Then, taking him by the hand, Rosalyn called out to her lover that this, this dashing young man was her son, Robbie.
Charles Dominic looked up from the soup he was stirring and smiled with his entire body. He could not contain his glee. Why it was 'Mr. Brown' -- The 'Mr. Brown' -- from PuzzleBurger! He put the lid back on the soup, came from around the counter, and closed the distance between himself and the young man in three long, galloping strides.
Charles clasped the young man's shoulder and shook his hand like a butter churn. "Well hello, Robbie my boy! I'm so glad to finally meet you. Your mother has told me ever so much about you!"
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