Bad Counsel (part five)
In the whole class there were no male students. Andrée exchanged a sheepish half-smile with another girl, acknowledging they’d be losers if they actually worked on their project, and both bent over their phones. At the end of the class, the teacher clapped his hands. “Okay, everyone.”
They all left.
Enough of that. She signed up for online units. She began to think you could do anything…or nothing…and when the school gave you a certificate you would just use it as currency.
“I know about office administration because I got this. See?”
But Andrée doesn’t see why a miserable grind, years of it, makes the painstaking acquisition of things, even real estate, a substitute for life. And since last time at the store, she’d left the whole mess in the middle, walked out, Andrée thinks Jonas will not take her back again.
She’d had to park her mother’s car uptown for an interview, one that ended up just a bunch of women in a room with plastic chairs along the wall, and three kiosks, where you filled out a form and got your picture taken. Picking up the car, she’d asked the guy in the booth, “Do you hire people?”
Maybe she’d phrased the question a little weirdly (her brain taxed by red asterisks, and the refrain: A required field is missing). He made a joke. “Yeah, we tried cats. Didn’t work out.” He enjoyed his joke. He beckoned, as he chuckled, summoning from behind the fence―via a bleat over the loudspeaker―a slender, dark young man, who wore a white polo shirt, black pants, and a yellow vest.
The lot boss grinned sideways at Andrée. “Go for it, bud.” Not her, a sort of narration. When the employee faltered his way around the padlocked fence to reach the window, the guy tapped his wristwatch and yelled: “Lunch! Get the booth…right? LUNCH!” Again and again the staffer nodded; each time, he caught Andrée’s eye, as though she could tell him anything. Each time she nodded back.
“You come on with me,” the lot boss said. “I’m Buel.”
She guessed she was having lunch with Buel; and that she was paying her own share.
“You like kebobs, hummus, that kind of thing.”
Andrée, nothing against kebobs, answered: “Sure.”
“Mom!” This was what she thought Buel had yelled out to the man in the apron. Another joke, she supposed, and shrugged…trying, while she was at it, to shrug his fingers off her shoulder. Buel kept nudging her forward. The owner, as Mom must be, offered his hand.
“Andrée,” she said. Then she got it. Buel had given her his one name; he was getting hers. He’d asked her right off the bat, as they strolled up the street, if she had a criminal record.
Had she ever been sued? (Jeez.) Did she pay taxes last year?
“Not paid them. I file. I always get a refund.” Maybe he’d ask how much. This buffet/carry-out place had been only a block from the lot, the walk a short one. Buel swung a chair to a bistro table by the window.
“Andy!” Nicknaming her. “So, you want a pita wrap? Lamb?”
“Chicken.” She hadn’t seen a menu. “Diet Coke.”
They ate, and when she’d got to the explanation, that there had been too much (she had not heard Buel utter a four-letter word)…too much junk, to put up with, at her old job, he swallowed the bite he’d been chewing, chugged his iced tea, and began his harangue.
“Exactly, exactly. You see how it is…are you gonna walk in someplace and say, give me whatever job you got pays the most? Like they would. Yeah, put me in senior management, right now. You know, you can make a hundred thousand a year, and still you can get social security! You ever make more than thirty, Andy?”
“Thirty!” She’d been about to say, ha! twenty—but again Buel wasn’t really asking.
“So what happens when you retire? After the system keeps you down your whole life? I mean…if you were one of the privileged ones from the start, great for you. This is a government program that’s supposed to keep poor people from dying in a dumpster… The richer you are, the nicer handout you’re gonna get. So it’s like, rich people, always nagging the poor about saving their money, right? How are you and me gonna save our money?
She opened her mouth. He went on.
“Then you wanna bitch on folks who have no chance to earn any more in their lives than they’re stuck with, for not buying into the Cadillac healthcare and the platinum IRA! Trust me, if you’re the designated loser, the world’s gonna make you lose.”
She walked with him back to the booth, liking him a little more…thinking too he was kind of a weirdo. And he’d given her an application form to fill out. He sat on his own stool. The only place for Andrée to sit was the wooden step under the door. She scribbled in the spaces, hunched over the clipboard, and Buel, when she handed it up to him, commented, “Porterville Road. You seen the little green house, right where Porterville comes out on thirty-two?”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)