When I applied to the Jack in the Box “restaurant” on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica, between a pet hospital and a park in which the very elderly seemed to enjoy rolling white bowls on a manicured square of lawn, I was able to cite some experience in food service. Had I not worked an entire weekend at one of the snack bars in Zuma Beach? Had I not washed dishes for a few weeks at the Malibu Pharmacy’s coffee shop? Had I not busboyed at Ted’s Rancho Restaurant, several miles to the south?
I was hired, and experienced class resentment for the first time. If my origins had been any lower middle class, they’d have been working class, as we don’t call it in this country, but I’d just completed my first year as a university student, and had no crud under my fingernails from tinkering with my own automobile engine. Half my co-workers were high school dropouts. None was soft. While I would surely go on to the life of glamour and ease and privilege guaranteed all college graduates, they would flip burgers for the rest of their lives.
I never actually flipped a burger. My own specialty was drinks, which might sound easy, but bear in mind that sometimes I had to put more syrup in the machine. And because Jack in the Box offered only malts, it was my sole responsibility when someone ordered a milk shake to give the malt a little shake. Working class hi-jinx!
Unlike most of my jobs, I actually lasted long enough to receive a raise, of five cents per hour. In the course of a 40-hour work week, this put an additional $2 in my wide-wale corduroy trousers. What the department stores called Mod was very in at the time.
You will have read by now that John Lennon once had a job making sandwiches for sale at the provincial British airport that many years later would be renamed in his honor, and that he spat in the sandwiches. Our star burger-flipper, Barry Something, did no spitting, if for no reason other than when it got busy, there was barely time for breathing. One Saturday night, after things had calmed down, Barry tried to borrow a cigarette from me. I was a Tareyton man (LOL) in those days. It was Barry’s view that Tareytons “taste[d] like a colored girl’s Kotex.” I suppose I might have asked how many white girls' sanitary napkinw he'd tasted, but his gritty proletarian poetry had rendered me speechless.
Jack’s advertising at the time — this was several years before the criminally adorable Rodney Allen Rippy — was largely about the chain’s Secret Sauce. I think said sauce consisted almost entirely of mayonnaise, sugar, and food coloring.
The place’s proprietor (who I discovered made something like $120,000 per year in an era when the biggest stars of major league baseball were making maybe $150,000) was a nice guy, but with a perverse sense of humor. If it wasn’t too busy, he found it amusing, though it cost him a buck or two, to assign Barry to the intercom (via which drive-thru diners placed their orders). Did I mention that Barry was a harelip, and his speech barely comprehensible? His exchanges typically sounded something like:
BARRY Iyi akşamlar. Ben sipariş alabilir miyim? [Good evening. May I take your order?]
BARRY Ne yemek istersiniz? [What are you having tonight?]
DINER You trying to be funny, pal? Because if you are, I’m going to come in there and punch you in the nose. What do you think of that?
BARRY Mogu li vam ponuditijabuka promet s tim? [How about an apple turnover with that?]
DINER Hey, you know what? I’m going to McDonald’s, smartass.