I told them I was there for the interview. A beeper went off. For a second, the girl stared at me. The beeper was still going off. "That’s the quality control beeper," she explained. "I’ll go get Mike. He talks to people about working. Excuse me." She turned around. I smiled in a secret way. I thought, They will suspect nothing. I look as calm and normal as can be.
Mike was the manager. He wore blue, and everyone else wore green. He seemed very friendly and held out his hand. I shook it. He said, "I’m Mike. Nice to meet you. You’re Anthony?"
I said, "Yes. It’s nice to meet you, too."
He said, "Let’s sit down. Would you like a shake?" We walked out into the dining area. He said, "Now to talk, would you prefer a booth or a free-standing table?"
I shrugged. I said, "Booth, I guess."
He grinned. "Good!" he said. "That will be fine!"
We sat down at a booth. I carefully put my hands on my lap. Over my head was a cardboard mobile of Kermit O’Dermott, an elf who talked to hamburgers. The sun was coming through the windows and searing the tile floor and the plastic vines and rhododendrons.
I said, "It looks very cheerful in here today."
He said, "Isn’t it nice? Corporate Headquarters just sent us some new signage. It’s very effective, don’t you think? Now." He had a clipboard with him. My application was on it. I felt very nervous. I thought to myself, Green sateen. Green sateen. I thought this for private reasons. There are times when you have to hide what you’re really up to.
I said, "So." The cardboard Kermit O’Dermott was playing his magical harp. In commercials, it made beverages dance.
He said, "So. Could you tell me some things you could say about yourself?"
"Yes," I said. "I could tell you I’m sixteen—"
"Can you drive?"
"Yes," I said, "but I don’t have a car. I can walk here from home."
"Do you have any previous work experience?"
"Yes," I said. "I had a paper route for three years. I know that isn’t making burgers or anything, but, you know . . . "
He was looking out the window over my shoulder. There was a Kermit O’Dermott-themed jungle gym out there, and some kids were playing on it. He turned back to me and grinned. He said, "Good, good. The reason you would like to work at O’Dermott’s? Just a few words."
I could not tell him the real reason. I had prepared a clever and cheerful-sounding fake reason. I told him, "I really like people. I like meeting people and I like talking with them. People are so different, and it’s great to see people from all over. In a job like this, I would get to see all sorts of people that I couldn’t see otherwise. Maybe I’d learn something about people that I can’t even know yet."
He laughed. "That’s the spirit!" he said. "We work as a team here. We even play as a team." He looked out the window again at the kids on the jungle gym. "That’s how it is. Should kids be doing that?"
I turned around and looked out the window. I shrugged. I said, "I think kids pretty much always hit each other like that."
He said, "Little kids’ skulls are really soft, though. You don’t know that until you have your own kids. My wife just had kids."
"Oh," I said. "More than one?"
He said, "Two. Twins. Two twins."
I said, "I think the skull thickens after a few months or something."
He said, "Well, Anthony, it just so happens that we have a position open at the moment. Do you know Diana Gritt? She also goes to Taft High. She just quit and left a cashier position open."
I rubbed my knees with my fingertips. I considered evil. I thought, Green sateen. Green sateen. I said, "Oh, yeah? I know Diana Gritt."
He said, "Small world. I have a few more interviews this week, but I should be able to call you back pretty quick."
I said, "Really? That would be great."
He said, "Great. Now let’s talk about hours."
Through the plastic undergrowth I could see Turner come out of the back, dressed in green. I watched him. Turner was the reason I was there. Turner and anger. He stood behind his register. He ran his hand over his greasy blond crew cut. Mike and I talked about hours. I saw Turner see me. I thought that suddenly he had an ugly look on his face. He shook his head. I laughed to myself and looked again. Now I couldn’t tell if he had recognized me. I thought maybe the ugly look had just been him cleaning his molars with his tongue. Maybe he had not recognized me at all.
Mike and I were done with the interview. We stood up to shake hands. I banged my knee on the table. I hunched over. When I swore, it was quietly. Mike reached out to give me a hand. I tried to smile. I was bent over a little. I rubbed the knee. Mike was saying, "We are part of a team here. I hope you’ll become part of our team. I think you’ll really like it here."
He turned and walked toward the counter. Turner faced the other way. Before I left, I stood for a moment. I thought, Green sateen, and stared at him. I stared at his back. His neck was a boiled red. We stood there for a long time like that before I left.
Some paramedics were ordering Happy Lunches. Maybe for someone else. They pointed at the board. They specified their prizes.
Burger Wuss. Copyright (c) 1999 M.T. Anderson. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA
Copyright © 2001 by M.T. Anderson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.