Friday, December 3, 2010

31. Gratitude

Those behind me in line reacted to the smell before I did. We were at one of those fancy fast-food restaurants with a “snake-through” line and I was about to order a cheeseburger with fries when I noticed it. I turned and saw a man in a working uniform being stared down by everyone around him. His shirt announced that he was a city wastewater department employee and, to put it mildly, he was gamey.

I purchased my food and sat as far from the line as possible. The entire place was buzzing and those in line formed a three-foot gap on either side as they moved slowly through the process of getting their lunch. Even the clerk at the ordering register couldn’t suppress a grimace as the poor fellow went through.

I resolved not to think about it and bent over my food. But then I noticed a figure standing over me and I almost gagged from the spell. It was the smelly man.

“May I join you mister?” he said. “All the other tables seem to be full.”

I looked around. Sure enough, the place was packed and whatever seats were vacant had suddenly been filled with packages, coats, or even empty food trays. Before I could answer, he sat across from me and began unwrapping his food.

“Thanks,” he said. “I’m starving.” He began to devour his burger and I pushed mine away.

“If you don’t want the rest of that, I’ll take it,” he said, and flashed me a smile.

Crapola. It was C.W.

“What the hell are you doing?” I fairly hissed it out.

“Whatschew mean?” he mumbled through a mouth of food.

“You smell awful.”

“You would to if you had my job.”

“Dammit. You don’t have a job. What are you trying to prove?”

“I’m not trying to prove anything. Just testing your species on gratitude and honesty.”


“Yep. I been reading the newspapers and couldn’t help notice all the politicians braying on about doing something for the common working man. So I’m running some tests.”

“By ruining everyone’s lunch?”

“You mean you don’t think resolving problems involving the sanitary collection and disposal of wastewater represents an honest endeavor?”

I chewed on a fry and thought. “Well, sure,” I said.

“You just don’t want to be reminded of it,” he said.

“Maybe not during lunch.”

“When then?”

“When the problem arises.”

“I see,” he said. “A necessary evil, that’s all I am?” He ate silently for a moment and then looked up with hurt in his eyes. “You know, I learned this morning that your newspaper editor doesn’t even believe I deserve a pay raise this year.” He said it loudly enough for the whole room to hear.

Would serve them right as far as I'm concerned. - C.W.
I wanted to crawl under the table. I’m not sure the embarrassment was for me, personally or for, as he puts it, “my species.”

“Oh well, he said. “I’ll get by,” and he took another bite of food. “It’s a pretty easy job if you can remember one thing.”

“I’m all ears.”

“You have to remember not to bite your nails unless you’ve been wearing gloves.”

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