Bad Counsel (part five)
She took a seat on a wobbly chrome-legged chair, at a classroom table. Two girls, already friends, sat talking for forty minutes about a cable show. The teacher talked for his pay, deaf to them.
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 left the whole mess in the middle, Andrée thinks Jonas will not take her back again.
She had to park her mother’s car uptown for an interview, that ended up a bunch of women in a room with plastic chairs along the wall, and kiosks, where you filled out a form and got your picture taken.
Picking up the car, she asked the guy in the booth, “Do you hire people?”
Maybe she 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. Couldn’t see over the wheel.” 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.” 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, having nothing against it, answered: “Sure.”
“Mom!” This was what she thought Buel had yelled out to the man in the apron. Another joke. She 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 had asked her 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?
“I file. I always get a refund.” Maybe he would ask how much. This buffet/carryout place was 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 got to the explanation, that there had been too much…too much junk (she had not heard Buel utter a four-letter word), to put up with at her old job, he swallowed the bite he was chewing, chugged his iced tea, and began his harangue.
“Exactly, exactly. You gonna walk in someplace and say, give me whatever job pays the most? Like they would. Yeah, put me in senior management. You know, you can make a hundred thousand a year, and still get social security? You ever make more than thirty, Andy?”
“Thirty!” She had been about to say, ha! twenty—but 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 program that’s supposed to keep poor people from dying in a dumpster… The richer you are, the nicer handout you get. So like, rich people are 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.
“They wanna bitch on folks who’ll never have the chance to earn more than they’re stuck with, for not buying insurance and starting an IRA! Trust me, if you’re the designated loser, the plutos are 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. He gave 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, said, “Porterville Road! Sweet. Seen the little green house, right where Porterville comes out on thirty-two?”
The little green house, his, is a double-wide on a block foundation under a row of mature spruce, trees grown tall enough to have lost their lower branches. She stumbles from Buel’s gravel drive over layers of cones, some fresh and waxy, some old and rotting.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)