Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.


November, 1988: Okay, so when I was 19 years old I was homeless and went to go live on my friend Lou’s couch in Palm Harbor. Lou and a couple of friends I had known since high school were all employed at this really busy Burger King at the corner of U.S. 19 and 584, and they got me a job there. I spent six or eight months living on Lou’s couch, eating his mom’s food, bumming rides to places, working at Burger King and spending my paycheck on Kool Moe Dee cassettes before splitting in the middle of the night to move back to Gainesville and freeload off of people there. I was a selfish dirtbag with bad tattoos and limited social skills, barely employable and chiefly interested in getting loaded and beating people up. (The first chucklehead to pipe up with something like, "What’s so different about you now?" gets one of these here empty beer cans upside the head.)

Anyway, we’re talking a real high point in my life. In fact, if the me of today met the me of then today, me of today would punch me of then in the balls to teach me of then a much-deserved lesson. And then me of today would run, because me of then was a big, angry, drunken thug who welcomed those bright flashes of pain for the all-too-brief respite they provided from a life spent gazing at the cinders of its own dead soul. And me of today is a puss who watches Truffaut movies and wears glasses and khaki pants and stares at computers all day long and knows about wine.

But working at Burger King wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. First of all, all my shithead buddies worked there, and we could do shit like coordinate dance routines to Misfits songs while assembling the delicious materials we sold as food. It was also the first steady paycheck I ever earned in my life, and dealing with the gig’s meager demands gave me a glimpse at that mystical, fabled land others called "responsibility."

In addition, on my first day I got to dress up in this bulbous Rodney the Reindeer costume and scream obscenities at passing cars. That was alright. Plus we got free soda, and there were some rock ‘n’ roll chicks working at our shop who were usually up for dirty break-room shenanigans. And there was also the occasional adventure, like when someone would shit on the floor of the customer bathroom or the time Lou figured out a way to operate the microwave without having to close its door and was happily irradiating everyone that walked by.

Rodney goes pee pee. Merry Christmas!

One of the mightiest struggles of the Burger King era involved a "Be Capable" named Kim. Be Capables (get it? "Be Capable?" "BK?") were people with various mental and physical problems that were placed in the less demanding, more menial (believe it or not, there was a slight gradation) Burger King jobs in an effort to teach them skills that would benefit society. I had nothing against most of our Be Capables, probably because at that shitty point in my life I was barely one or two Y chromosomes from being designated Aspiring Be Capable For Life.

But Lou hated this one particular Be Capable named Kim. She was in her early 30s and prone to these weird fits where she would turn into the Mummy and start lumbering around all glassy-eyed and stiff-legged, wrecking things and choking people. Though tiny and suffering from a heart condition that both precluded strenuous exertion and turned her skin an unusual shade of blue, she drew on an immense reserve of strength during these fits and was a real challenge to subdue.

Occasionally her fits would adopt a less aggressive tone than the more common, Boris-Karloff-inspired episodes: She would spin in circles for a few seconds before lurching into action, zipping along blindly in one random direction or another until hitting an obstacle, bouncing off of it and starting the whole process all over again exactly like one of those old battery-powered Radio Shack toys from the days when wireless remote control was available only to high-falutin’ rich kids.

But Kim was also very critical and mean, constantly belittling people (to the best of her limited capabilities) in a squeaky, mewling voice. Which is why I didn’t really blame Lou for not liking her. Kim certainly seemed to like me just fine, probably due to the time where I was squatting down to grab a bucket of foul Burger King pickles and the crotch of my pants ripped from zipper to ass, displaying my dangling, underwear-less weiner and balls. Kim, the only witness to the incident, was delighted. She would talk about it with a faraway look in her eyes at every possible opportunity.

Anyway, Kim’s job was to put frozen burger patties on the conveyor belt that fed the broiler. Nothing else. She didn’t have to go in the walk-in freezer to get the burgers, or open the boxes that they came in, or sweep or do anything at all but load these frozen meat-discs into this giant, clanking robo-oven. But she was incompetent, and during busy periods it wasn’t uncommon for the person working the burger station to have to dash back to the conveyor belt, shove Kim into a corner and throw handfuls of burgers into the machine in a frantic effort to ensure commuters would get their recommended daily dose of soybeans, horse meat and spider eggs (or whatever the hell it was Burger King put in those sumptuous, affordable patties).

One day when Lou, Kim and myself were the only employees on the clock, I was standing at the fry station trying to figure out a way to use ketchup and a hollowed-out French-toast stick left over from the breakfast rush to fake cutting off one of my fingers when I heard Lou curse and run back to Kim’s station to feed the infernal machine. The lunch rush was just beginning and he had run out of meat-stuff.

"Hey Pat!" he barked. "Get me two cases of Whoppers and a case of burgers out of the walk-in! Now! Now!"

I liked the walk-in freezer. The walk-in freezer was nice. It was cool and dark and quiet, and one time this frisky heavy-metal girl that worked with us followed me in there and touched me on the po-po. It had felt good. So I knew Lou needed these burgers pronto, but I couldn’t resist taking a few moments to breathe in that sweet, cold freezer air and enjoy the peace, the quiet and the memories.

When I emerged, Lou was locked in a death struggle with Kim. She was glassy-eyed, drooling and clearly having one of her fits. She also had a pair of metal burger tongs about three-quarters of an inch from Lou’s face. Lou, a stocky and enormously strong guy who played varsity high school football as a sophomore, had her by the wrists and was straining to control her. Every couple of seconds those tongs would clap shut like the jaws of a pit bull. Snap! Snap!

I dropped the burger boxes and rushed over to grab Kim.

"Make… the… burgers," Lou managed to squeeze out while fighting for his life.

"Hold on!" I said. "I’ll help you!"


That was Lou. A good soldier to the end. I ran to his station and started filling orders. From the back of the kitchen I could hear the continuing sounds of struggle. Kim was groaning low in her throat like Frankenstein with a hangover, Lou was grunting with the effort of battle and those menacing tongs kept snapping shut every few seconds. Snap! Snap! I was pretty sure I heard punches being thrown, but I didn’t look back. Just the thought of the desperate conflict happening back there was bad enough – I was afraid the actual sight of Lou beating up this poor old Be Capable while she had a seizure would scar me for life. I put my head down and concentrated on filling the orders that were pouring in.

After a few harrowing minutes of this, I heard the door to the walk-in freezer slam shut. Not long after, Lou returned to the burger-making station while I ran back to the fryers. He was sweating, breathing hard and his clothes were disheveled. I didn’t like the look in his eyes.

Wordlessly, we worked non-stop for the next hour or so, until the rush was over. As it slowed, the full weight of experience began to hit us, and shock set in. Was Kim dead? I looked over at Lou, but he wouldn’t catch my eye. In fact, he wouldn’t discuss the terrifying experience at all for months to come, and even then would only mumble something about being startled to look up and see Kim coming at him "like a Dr. Who monster" with those metal tongs. I don’t blame Lou for being reticent to talk about it. I mean, to this day I find the whole experience totally unsettling, and I’m not the one who had to engage in hand-to-tong conflict with a Be Capable.

We continued to work. A little while later Kim emerged from the walk-in freezer, a little more blue than usual but seemingly unharmed.

"You guys are mean to me," she said. She died a few months later, but not at work and not because of anything Lou did.

This is Lou. I do not know why he is wearing a helmet.


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