Don Fredd: Temp to Perm: A Journey

May 7

Edwardo is on my case again.  The temporary title of acting manager at The Napolitano Ristorante weighs uneasily upon his crown.  I can always tell when the “suits” that monitor this branch of the franchise are planning an inspection.  Everything is swept, then double swept.  I am warned to follow the rules with regard to how many ounces of topping the manuals call for.  I’ve explained all too often that, when I’m busy, it’s grab a handful of mushrooms or peppers and dress the pie.  I don’t have time to weigh everything.  I usually add the fact that I’m the only pizza guy who works alone, juggling and tossing the pies with dazzling acrobatics which has them nearly touching the ceiling—a great crowd pleaser.   I then dress many different combos while my sixth sense tells me when to check the oven.

So, when Edwardo takes me to task in front of the staff for being too generous with the toppings, I play along.  I’ve been with the The Napolitano for over a year, my longest job stint ever.  He’s only been on board for a few months.  He relies on me.  I’m like the grizzled, veteran sergeant upon whom the new ninety-day wonder begrudgingly relies.  To be truthful, however, I’m sure, at twenty-nine, that I’m younger than he is.

Another factor in our relationship is that Edwardo is not that well acquainted with the English language.  I’m fairly certain his reading skills in that tongue are sub-standard.  Almost daily he hands me bulletins from the central office, “What’s going on here?” he says, shoving the papers in front of me.  When I explain, he usually comments “That’s what I thought.”

A sample of the grocery list he gives me before we open includes such items as “’let us” and “on yongs.”  I’ve never made a big deal about it nor mentioned it to anyone.  I don’t know enough Italian to see if he is even literate in that language.  Suffice it to say that I don’t mind taking his orders, being reprimanded for minor issues, or saving him from embarrassment several times a day.  Deep down I know he knows how tough I’d be to replace.

June 25

There are only a few full-time employees.  Pepe mans the grill and sandwich station.  His nickname is odd as he is Chinese with a last name of Wu.  He has an infectious smile and is always upbeat.  He, if things are slow, will wander over to my pizza counter to chat.  I rarely can understand his rapid fire delivery of heavily accented English, but evidently he thinks my laughter is an index to enjoying his stories.  He refers to me as “boss flend.”

Flo is a heavy-set black woman, a single parent with two boys who do well in school and sports.  She supervises the party room as well as helping Pepe out and cleaning tables.  The rest of our workers are always short-term.  High school kids invariably quit (via text I might add) on a Friday night if there is a big party going on somewhere.  Mother’s hours are another hit or miss proposition with regard to showing up.  Their kids get sick or some other excuse for which management must learn to adjust on the fly.  My normal shifts are ten to six weekdays and noon to ten on weekends.  I’m supposed to have Monday and Tuesday off, but I can’t remember the last time that happened.

A week ago Edwardo hired a new full-timer.  Word has it that she is his cousin but so close to the family that he’s like a brother to her.  She works the register, acts as hostess, gets drinks, and helps Pepe and me deliver orders to tables.  Maria Anna is very attractive.  She is a shapely twenty, soon to be of legal age, and a part-time student at Cambridge Community College.  She has an olive complexion and jet black hair that, depending on her mood, she wears several different ways.  Edwardo, perhaps a bit guilty for any nepotism, is usually on her case after nearly everything she does.  When he is back in his office and before we open, she slips over to my station to vent:  “Is he always this way?”

I advise her to pay him little mind with the rather puerile advice, “Don’t let him get to you.”

She and I have become fast friends, enough for Edwardo to take me aside, hand me the company manual, make me turn to the section on fraternization and read it aloud.  When I am done I tell him I will, in the future, keep my hands off Flo and Pepe, which causes him to explode because I’m not taking him seriously.  Maria Anna has very strict parents, he says, and the only way she can have this job is if he looks after her all the time. Okay, I say, as I shake his hand: “I’ll keep an eye on her as well.”

July 12

When I made my promise to Edwardo regarding his cousin, I fully expected to keep it.  I enjoy my personal freedom.  Having dead-end jobs allows me the option to move on whenever I feel like it.   I’ve had women in my life, but I find not having to consult someone else if I feel like Indian food, want to read all weekend, or see a particular foreign film at the Kendall Square complex is a blessing.  I admit to being a loner and my off-work pursuits are those which few individuals can share; therefore, friends are rare.  I also don’t care about establishing roots or relationships.

Though we’ve only been workmates for a brief time, it seems that Maria Anna enjoys being around me.  Each morning she stops by my station while I set up for the day.  A few days ago she wanted lessons on how to toss a pizza in the air, which required some physical contact on my part.  Edwardo’s stern censure via his famous “death” stare caused me to curtail the tutorial.

Another instance of her interest in me occurred when I had to get something from Edwardo’s office.  It has a keypad to open the door.  The code is 1234, which everyone knows, so it is rarely locked.  When I went in, Maria Anna was sitting at his desk looking through some papers.  Fine, I thought, she’s his cousin so it’s probably no big deal until I saw that the folder she was viewing and taking great pains to cover up was my personnel file.  There was nothing much in my folder—some tax forms and health insurance paperwork as well as my original job application.  I have a mania about having anyone know my biographical details.  When hired I deliberately listed an old address with a note that I would soon be moving.  My references were faked to the degree that three people and I have a pact that we would vouch for each other when it came to job references.  Under the education section I had written “yes” after the box labeled “high school.”

In reality I have several college degrees:  a BA in philosophy, an MA in Comparative Literature, and I have jumped through all the PhD hoops in the American Studies program save for the dissertation.  It would take too long to explain why I never handed in the final draft of that magnum opus relating to Herman Melville other than to say that it had nothing to do with incompetence, writer’s block, or any alcohol/opioid addiction.  To be honest it became a labor I hated, like a house guest who promises to crash on my futon for only a week and then stays on and on.  It was an albatross around my neck. If I wanted to read Gunther Grass, well, I couldn’t, since I needed to plumb the depths of Leon Howard’s biography of Herman Melville.  When I go home now, I do what I want.  Who cares about being addressed as Doctor!

Having just slammed the PhD program, I readily admit that I have always enjoyed the classroom, took great pleasure doing well on exams or a professor’s comments in my essay’s marginalia.  Most of my education has been free due to scholarships, grants or fellowships.  On occasion I might register for courses in anything that tickles my eclectic fancy, but have recently taken to designing my own subject matter, compiling a syllabus and final project.  I just finished one on Trollope’s Palliser novels and am currently trolling around for another project.

Aside from a few like-minded friends, no one in the world knows of my background, educational or otherwise.  Why, one might ask, with such an academic legacy do I toss pizzas and live in a one bedroom apartment in a somewhat seedy neighborhood.  Freedom!  Since I graduated with my philosophy degree at age twenty, I have had well over a dozen jobs in the nearly ten year span.  All of them are low skill, minimum wage or close to it.  This allows me the freedom to up and leave.  I quit if I don’t feel like going in and would rather spend the day in the Tufts University library.  I quit if I feel like spending three months hiking around and visiting the cultural grave sites (David Hume) of Scotland, which is what I did before landing my present Napolitano gig.  I will quit if Edwardo gives me too much shit on a day when I don’t feel like taking it.  I could quit anything on Friday and by Monday be waiting tables, creating omelets, or tossing pizzas almost anywhere in the Cambridge-Boston area.

I chose the food industry because it cuts down on meals.  Presently I’m allowed a thirty minute lunch and dinner break during my ten to six shift.  There are dollar restrictions, but no one pays any mind.  I just go, fix myself a salad, top it with tuna and away I go to a distant table and eat while working on the Boston Globe puzzle pages.  My apartment’s fridge has milk, cans of Coke, and grape juice.  If I’m hungry late at night or early morning, I’ve a dozen boxes of various breakfast cereals to select from.  I don’t own a car; I bike or jog the two miles to work.  I live off Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge so my monthly bus pass takes me where I want to go in foul weather.  I bank half my check for the next sabbatical (a literary sojourn to Ireland and Wordsworth’s Lake Country).   Freedom!  And I put it to those of you who, as you wake each morning for a two hour commute into Boston/Cambridge from your suburban retreat to a job that may soon be outsourced to the Philippines or lie next to a woman whose fondest dream is a tanzanite sale on the Home Shopping channel, I ask you what you’d give to be in my Merrill walking shoes.  Just toss a few essentials into a backpack, forget the rickety sticks of second hand furniture or any forwarding address, merely walk out the door heading for the Green Mountains of Vermont with not the slightest regret.

August 2

My relationship with Maria Anna is progressing apace.  I like her and, much to my surprise and unless I’m the victim of wishful thinking, she seems to enjoy my company.  We usually spend thirty minutes together in the back alcove when we begin our ten o’clock shift.  It is my routine to grate the day’s cheese from ten pound blocks into particles neatly fitted into plastic storage bins.  She perches on the table aimlessly swinging her legs as we chat about the topics of days past and present both in and outside the world of pizza and our baked ziti specials.

Aside from her delving into my personnel folder, I strongly believe that she’s gone through my backpack.  I am compulsively neat.  I bought the most compartmentalized pack I could find.  The two zippers of the main opening are always kept next to each other in the closed position.  Since it won’t fit in my locker, Edwardo allows me to stow it in his office behind a filing cabinet.  Last week I went to grab it after work and saw that the zippers were not where I religiously align them.  Edwardo, I thought, going through my stuff looking for prima facie evidence that his cousin and I are an item?  But then I remembered some comments she made concerning Billy Budd.  It struck a chord so I’m sure it was her.

After I jog to work, my running shoes are stowed in the bottom of my bag.  Depending on the weather so are shorts, a tee shirt and water bottle.  Reading material in is another pocket.  I’m currently on a Thomas Mann kick so a Penguin paperback of Buddrenbrooks plus a notebook devoted to my thoughts as I read occupies that nook.  There is another notebook stuffed into an outer compartment.  I developed the habit, when I read certain passages relating to character description, of rendering that prose description into charcoal or colored pencil drawings which I may later go over with watercolors.  The notebook I was carrying was left over from the characters in Trollope’s Phineas Finn project.  I thought, not to be wasteful, that I would use the final blank pages if Mann offered up some interesting character description worthy of my sketch pad.

Someone had taken my material out and leafed through as it was upside down and backwards from the spot I kept it in.  I won’t bore you with other telltale signs of entry, but I certainly had enough proof without resorting to DNA or fingerprints to know it was Maria Anna.  At first I was bugged, but then I wondered if she was trying to find out more about me because, well, because she was interested in me in a romantic way.

August 7 (The Afore-mentioned Billy Budd Incident Explained)

She was excited about a summer session she had started, Classic American Short Fiction, which sounded about right for a blitzkrieg, four week, five nights a week course.  One text was a Signet paperback which featured Billy Budd on the cover and contained other Melville stories.  She proudly held up the book, knowing that I enjoyed reading but ignorant of my ambivalent dissertational relationship with good old Herm.

“Have you ever read this one? It’s about a con man who travels around New England.”

I acknowledged that I had read “The Lightning-Rod Man.”

“But what do you think of the cover?”  She said, almost pushing it into my face.  “I’ve always envied people who can draw, but I don’t think the guy on this cover looks much like how the author describes Billy.  Look at the description on page twenty-three.”

Ah ha!  Caught at last, you backpack voyeur.  She had seen my sketches. But my tactic here was not to let on.  My life and its pursuits are a closed book as will soon be evidenced by combination locks on the new bag I’ve Amazon-ordered which will also fit into my employee locker.

“I think the reason for the cover mismatch has to do with the film version. Billy is played by Terrance Stamp, whose portrait the cover most resembles.”  I related this in as much of an off-handed manner as I could.

She didn’t know the film so I mentioned the excellent cast—Robert Ryan and Peter Ustinov.   She wanted to know if I had the movie.  Perhaps we could watch it together.  I thought the Cambridge Public Library might have a copy, but she said we would have to watch it at my place because her parents weren’t too happy with her at the moment and, besides, they had no DVD player.  Before any time frame could be decided on, Edwardo yelled her name.

“Claggart calls! Avast any fun, me hearty!”  She rolled her eyes as if she were dazed senseless by his clarion call.  Yes, I was finding her most endearing even to the degree that I would ditch the idea of locking up my stuff—pry away, my little vixen.

Sept 28

The past few weeks have been very enjoyable.  Maria Anna’s shifts and mine coincided, so the ten o’clock morning ritual, as I grated the day’s cheese, was spent in quiet banter which displayed her sense of humor, at times rather self-deprecating.  She brought pastries from an Italian bakery near her home.  Issues in her new American History class were brought up for my opinion, and she happily shared her quiz results.  When work began it was all business, but we shared a bond of Edwardo’s increasingly weird edicts (probably issued from on high) on how the restaurant should operate (only two pats of butter when bread was served with an entrée and bread only if the patron asked for it).  The Billy Budd DVD was not available other than buying it.  I had not asked her out on a date even though increasingly she seemed to enjoy being with me, but I was still not convinced, given the nine (soon to be eight) year age gap, that she considered me anything more than a good friend.

October 1

On the first day of October she was late. I clocked her in as I had done a few times previously and went to my mind numbing task of grating pizza cheese (our so-called special four cheese blend).  Just before eleven, when we were due to open, as I was giving the cheese machine its final cleaning, she appeared at the opening of the alcove, stood with her silhouette backlit by the hall light for a moment, then came up to me, standing no more than a foot away.  She wore no makeup, not that she needed much, and her hair was pulled back into a pony tail, secured by a rubber band.  Her eyes were red and puffy.  She reached out for my hands, pulled them down, pinning them to my sides, and teetered forward with her head resting smack dab between the “O” and “L” of my Napolitano tee shirt.

I waited, biding my time for the snuffling to either abate or evolve into a full sobbing fit.  Neither happened, and she slowly regained control, looked up at me said, “Edwardo’s gone.”

I don’t know how many meanings “gone” has, but I mentally raced through a baker’s dozen before asking, “What do you mean by gone—back to Italy, dead, car accident?”

She let go of me and leaned against the Formica counter.  “He won’t be at the store anymore; that’s all I can say right now.”

“So who’s boss; who’s going to run the show?”

“Lugo the Lust Bucket.”  And, just as she said it, someone banging a metal pizza pan with a wooden spoon was screaming for all assholes who wanted to work today to assemble at the hostess station.

According to Lugo everyone was an ass of some sort.  Pepe was a skinny ass, Flo was a fat ass, Maria Anna’s was hot ass, while my sobriquet was simply “asshole.”  He handed out new assignments.  Flo would run the register and seat customers.  Maria Anna would work the sandwich and salad station, Pepe was the new pizza maker, while I was relegated to bussing tables and cleaning the restrooms every hour, a spreadsheet prominently taped to the inside door to be initialed when my demeaning task was done.

While we were all stunned by the new roles, he went on to extol his accomplishments.  He gave us a rundown of his career.  When he was fifteen, a high school dropout and a gang member from Chelsea, Massachusetts, he hooked on with the Napolitano chain.  His friends were now dead, walking the streets or in prison, but he’d worked his way up the ladder—cleaned toilets (here he looked straight at me), done double even triple shifts (since we were open from 11 to 10, I had no idea what a triple shift might be), and was finally given a store to manage until four years ago, when he was made the head of training.  He held up a large notebook; this was the company manual, his bible that, each night, just before going to sleep, he would open at random and read a page out loud.  In his view we all had jobs today; but tomorrow was another story.  If we screwed up during our shifts, he would decide whether we’d be invited back for another day’s work.  Just like in sports, if you screwed up you were gone.  The Napolitano wasn’t a job, it was a calling. “If you love this job and put your heart and soul into it, it will love you back.”  He held the manual aloft, slowly brought it down to his lips, kissed it and then shouted that if he caught anyone not working their asses off then “don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out tonight.”  And, on that cherry note, I grabbed a mop and headed off to latrine duty while Pepe stood in front of the pizza oven wondering what to do next.

Needless to say the lunch was pure chaos.  Pepe had made a few pizzas before, but was only comfortable stretching the dough out on the counter, which takes more time and makes it impossible to get the thin crust we were noted for.  Sandwich orders were hit or miss and much money was lost because Lugo had to “comp” entire tables for poor service or terrible meals.  As for me, well, the restrooms were never cleaner, and it wasn’t bad bussing tables while the rest of the tribe were losing their collective heads.

At three we closed and Lugo, after reading the riot act to us, put me back on pizza, Pepe on the sandwich board and grill, and Maria Anna back handling the register.  Our collective punishment was that all staff was required to be in by eight sharp tomorrow to go over new rules and procedures.

I’m very good at handling adversity, but Maria Anna was upset at my demotion.  It was benching your best player in her view.  It bothered me not a whit as I knew it would fail, that Lugo, perhaps knowing my skill, was merely trying to establish his role in any pecking order the restaurant had.  At 9:30 PM I slipped a note to Maria Anna inviting her to vent during an après work drink at Finnegan’s, a tavern a block down from our place.  “Anything but Italian,” she said, before heading off to the ladies to primp for the event.

I let her cool down while we waited for our Irish nachos.  She wanted a drink despite being just under age, and we negotiated a boilermaker for me with the sidecar of scotch surreptitiously slipped into her diet ginger ale.  She’d known Lusty Lugo from his association with Edwardo, had met him a few times at family get-togethers.  He was a snake, a lecher; he put down everyone around him just to make himself look good and managed to marry one of the chief investor’s daughters, an ugly woman to boot, so he was with the company for life.  There were stories of his sabotaging the reputations of people he didn’t like or felt threatened by.  Sexual misconduct in the form of staff strip poker parties at his home, to which she had been invited but never gone. There were rumors of how he was managing to skim profits or product from various locations he’d managed or visited.

“He’s out to get you just like Claggart treats Billy.  He sees things in you that he can never be: you’re brilliant and artistic, get along with people, good-looking and a great worker.”

“Thanks, but I’m not so sure about all of that.”

I nodded my appreciation of her compliments but stopped there. I am certainly not brilliant, above average maybe due to an excellent memory, but that’s as far as I’ll go.  I do get along with people because I always agree with them, then quit if I figure I can’t abide their political, social or cultural opinions.  I’m average looking but very “fit” so that raises me a bit in the looks category.  I am, however, a wonder with pizza dough, if I do say so myself.

Thinking my silence was modesty, she decided to reinforce the subject. “Oh, come on, everybody knows how much you read, how much stuff you know.  I told my professor what you said about Billy Budd and how Buddhism enters into the story.  Also, it was cool that you went to Melville’s house out at Arrowhead—he’d never thought of doing that.  This is why I think it a shame you never went to college.”

It was at this point and after two beers (not much of a drinker) that I decided to reveal some of my past.  I offered up that I had indeed been to college, had a degree in philosophy (senior thesis on Schopenhauer) and a master’s degree in Comparative Literature (I thought it best to leave out the PhD bit).

Her reaction was to lean back, put both hands pyramid fashion over her nose and mouth and keep echoing “oh, my god, oh, my god, you could be a professor at some big college, maybe even a university.”

By now the ever diminishing patrons were eyeing our table speculating what the hell was going on over there.  Did he just propose or simply tell her that he was gay but still wanted to be friends.

As the initial shock of my educational past wore off, she reached over and grabbed my hand.  “Why, with all that education, do you toss pizzas and put up with all the shit you have to for a crummy paycheck?”

I know it made little sense to her, but I explained my “freedom to do what I wanted whenever I wanted rationale” at least twice because, after the first rendering, she kept shaking her head and muttering, “I don’t understand; I just don’t understand.”

It was nearing closing time, and our conversation turned to what the present job situation held for us.

“Are you going to quit? I don’t think I can stand being there without you.”  She reached out as she spoke, grabbed my hands in hers while looking into my eyes.

I didn’t say anything, so she quickly detailed why it would be suicide for her to quit.  She needed money for tuition, she’d  rear-ended a BMW while driving her dad’s car, and he insisted she pay the deductible (a thousand bucks) plus, since she was nearing twenty-one, her parents were now insisting she pay rent just like her siblings had (she was the youngest).  If she took even two weeks off to hunt for another job, she’d be destitute to say nothing of the fact that Edwardo had hired her at a pay rate that was way above the scale paid for the job in the past.  Lugo would soon discover that nepotism and want  “favors” to continue the largesse.

I thought that now might be the opportunity to clear up the Edwardo mystery.  “If you don’t mind me asking, what’s up with Edwardo?”

She paused for a second then got up.  I thought she was going to leave, but, instead, she came over to my side of the booth and scooched in.  I’ve always thought two people sitting side by side in a booth was strange (how can you talk without straining your neck?).  She tucked one leg under the other and faced me.

“He’s never coming back.  He was a bystander when his friends were buying drugs.  It was a setup.  He ran and had to jump a fence and broke some ribs and both ankles.  He’s in Mass General.  A cop got hurt and there were guns involved.  When he can walk, he goes to jail to await trial and will probably do time.”  She held my face in her hands, stared for a moment, and made me promise not to tell anyone—then admitted that Lugo already knew.

I helped her on with her jacket, and we held hands on the way out.  I insisted on paying for an Uber to get home.  When it came we hugged and, after a short pause, there was a quick kiss followed by a much longer and decidedly more passionate one.  I hiked back to the Napolitano restaurant, grabbed my bike and pedaled back home, the cool breeze a decent anodyne to my slightly drunken state, initiated by my strong feelings for Maria Anna and Belhaven Scotch Ale.

October 2, pre-dawn hours

I got a few hours sleep and then, around 4:00 AM, I sat at my desk and jotted notes on why I liked Maria Anna:

  1.  She had great calves.  She’d run track in high school and took dance for years.  I enjoy women who are athletic.  My single membership to Planet Fitness could easily be bumped up to include family.
  2. Weeks ago the office copier had jammed.  Pepe was the likely culprit as he has a tendency, when thing go awry, to begin pushing any and all buttons.  I was hunkered down attempting to reach way back into the metallic bowels and dislodge a piece of paper.  Maria Anna came in.  She was wearing a skirt which she immediately hiked up, dropped down on the floor like a mechanic sliding under a Buick and used her thin arm to probe for the snag.  It took her several tries, but she was high five triumphant as she brought out a shard of paper no bigger than a three by five card as evidence of her success.  She had smudge on her cheek and a blurry Jackson Pollock painting running from her hand all the way up her arm.  I am impressed by women who abandon their femininity for the sake of the greater good.
  3. She wears her hair many different ways.  It’s always a surprise—up, down, wavy, pony tail, severely pulled back as a ballerina would, and the classic chignon.   Every day was a surprise; it was like being with many women, not just one.
  4. She has a self-deprecating sense of humor replete with making faces and mimicking accents.  The closest I could come to any public persona might be Elaine Benes of the dated Seinfeld series.
  5. Having three older brothers, she is comfortable around guys.  Swearing, endless sports references, and poor table manners are aspects of maleness that don’t bother her, save for off-color stories involving sex, when she very discreetly edges away with, “Well, I’ll leave you boys to it.”

As I finished the list I was still unsettled.  I knew working for Lugo would be a nightmare.  Maria Anna was correct.  He did have it in for me.  He might have a pizza tosser he’d trained at a different franchise already waiting in the wings.  Rather than fire me because he had no grounds, he’d simply make life so difficult that I’d have to quit, my unemployment compensation probably out the window.  The same might be said of Maria Anna.  He knew she was Edwardo’s cousin and after one look at the books, he would see that she was being paid more than the position was rated.  And, if she wouldn’t come across sexually, why bother with her.

Yet she had to work; her finances were desperate, but the implication was that she could not get through a shift unless I was there to support her.

October 2—9:45 AM

I arrived early.  I rode the bus, my back pack not full of much in case I needed to clean out my stuff.  The lockers are in the narrow hallway, not good at all for changing.  We used Edwardo’s office if we need privacy.  As I slipped into my work uniform, I noticed that Lugo had made himself at home—Xerox copies of “Employee of the Week or Month” certificates on the wall and photos on his desk of him at various career stages.  The place was quite neat compared to Edwardo.  There were personnel files on his desk.  I was going to look through them, but knew that, if I was caught, he’d undoubtedly have me run out of town.  I heard a locker open, cracked Lugo’s door and saw it was Maria Anna.  She was nearly done wiggling into her black work skirt, only needing to slip on a blouse to cover a black bra.  “I know you’re watching me,” she said slowly turning around thinking it was Lugo.  “Here, have a good look.”

“Oh, my god, I thought you were Lugo.”  She took a few quick steps, wrapped her arms around me and within a few seconds was in tears.  She wouldn’t let go.  I was the tree branch she clutched to keep her from falling over the cliff’s edge.  I sidled us over to the locker, grabbed her Napolitano logoed work shirt and pried her apart enough to slip her into it.

“You’re leaving aren’t you?”  She leaned back enough to see the damage her sobbing had done to my own shirt.  “Christ, I made a right mess,” she said as she tried to wipe off her slobber residue. “Let me get some paper towels from the ladies.”

I grabbed her arm.  “Are you sure you are staying.”

“I have no choice, at least for a few months.  If I drop out of school, live on the streets and sell my body to everyone but Lugo, I might squeak by.  So, I’ll try my best and maybe I’ll get lucky.  He’ll lay me off and I can collect unemployment.  You have any ideas?”

I was about to say something but was interrupted by Lugo’s voice, “Assholes meeting in five minutes at the register.  Everyone in full uniform looking clean and sharp.  If you’re a minute late, keep right on walking out the door.”

She looked up at me.  “Change back into your street clothes.”  I said.

“Why, is my uniform stained?”

I didn’t answer her.  I peeled off my shirt and slipped off my work pants, thereby answering the boxers versus briefs issue for her.  She followed suit and for a few minutes we were both in our underwear in front of each other.  Her black bra and panties matched; my skivvies had a Red Sox motif.  We dressed as civilians.  Lugo yelled the time remaining and began a countdown.  I went into his office, got a sheet of paper and penned the words “THESE ASSES QUIT!” in bold black print.

“Turn around.”

“What are you doing?”

I used masking tape and stuck the note to her shapely rear end.

“You’re in charge of the back packs.”

I handed them to her.  She slung one over each shoulder.  “Whatever happens in the next few minutes, remember to smile.”

I scooched down so she could mount me piggy back.  We lumbered down the corridor towards the front of the restaurant proper.  When Lugo saw us he bellowed, “You lovebirds are late.  Less time dry humping and more hours thinking about your jobs.”

He saw we were piggy back. “You think this is a big joke.  I don’t joke!”

By the time he got those words out we were close to the front door, and Maria Anna’s buttocks message had been read by the staff.  Pepe started clapping, and the assembled few joined him.  I felt Maria Anna’s weight shift as she turned to wave and blew a heartfelt kiss to our fellow sufferers.  I kicked the door open.  She reached out to give it an additional shove, and we escaped to the safety of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge.  I paused to shift her weight higher up, and we trotted down the street to the wonderment of the wage slaves hurrying towards their daily fate.

I didn’t know how long or how far I could carry her.  Metaphorically it could be weeks, months, or even years.  She wasn’t heavy at all, and, when I stopped for a traffic light, she buried her face between my neck and shoulder.  I couldn’t tell if the moisture was related to tears or the off chance that she was kissing me.  Either way, I could deal with it.  We had seen each other nearly naked in the hallway.  When we got to my apartment, as she looked over my ever-growing library, notebooks and other extensions of my identity, she would come to know more about me than anyone else in the world.  But tonight and for the foreseeable future, I would focus on her becoming a permanent part of my life.  Perhaps, my sacrificing some of my freedom would be offset by something else.  Whatever that would be was certainly worth the physical effort and discomfort I was experiencing in the now burning hamstrings and lower back as I carried her all the way to what might be, tentatively at least, our home.

For more on Don Fredd, please see our Authors page.