Here are a couple more tales from the gas station saga. These are from a chapter called Major Malfunction in which everything I touch breaks in the typical literary conflict of Man Vs Machine.
Radiant unnatural red pooled on the counter in between the frozen mocha, French vanilla cappuccino, and the tropical punch slush machines. It seeped between the cracks of the cups where they were stacked up and bled beneath the display unit of single serving coffee creamers. It oozed into the open drawer where we kept the parts needed to complete the task. The syrupy tropical punch slush mix pooled on the floor at our feet. The two of us swore simultaneously as we watched in a complete state of shock as the deluge happened in slow motion. “I’ll get the paper towels and a mop.” I sighed and said as I glanced quizzically at my second shift co-worker who had so graciously stayed later to show me how to clean the machine and change the out of date bag of syrup. Something told me it wasn’t supposed to turn out that way.
I watched her work earlier, as the myriad of components were systematically washed, dried, and reassembled. The whipping chamber was emptied and rinsed out, the dispensing nozzle soaked, and the propeller cleaned. All the dust was wiped out of every crack and crevice. It was a laborious process. It looked like she did a decent job and I hoped to God I wouldn’t have to do it again by myself in the near future or if at all. Of course, a couple of customers complained that the machine was out of order for routine maintenance on the muggy summer night.
Disaster struck the second she snipped open the corner of the fresh bag and poured all of the contents down the hatch. It immediately dropped out of the bottom and stained everything in its path a bright unyielding red. She fumbled trying to hastily take everything back apart as I struggled to stop the swelling mess before it got even worse.
“I need a band-aid,” she said suddenly and stood up straight as she held her hand a loft. She had gotten herself good and how she managed to do it was anybody’s guess. She went back to administer first aid on a sliced finger. Her blood mingled in the slush mix. It was hard to tell the difference. Not there was enough to time to watch as the customers crowded around at the beginning of my shift. “Looks like you spilled something,” one of them chuckled and said as I cashed him out.
“You think?” I added and swept my hand over the blood slush spill. His face grew serious as he noted the magnitude of our mess.
“The thing just broke. Mercury must be in retrograde or some shit like that.” I said through my customer service smile and tried to have a good sense of humor about the situation. Sadly, my statement was lost on him.
“Well good luck with that,” he said and left. It was then I looked up and happened to catch a glance at my unfortunate coworker as she resumed her task with a bandaged hand. My eyes went wide as she reached for another bag of syrup. “Nooooo!” I shouted, ignoring the line of customers and practically vaulted over the counter, slipping and sliding on the recently mopped floor as I ran to her before she reached for the pair of scissors. “Don’t pour another in there!” I shouted as I moved to swat the bag out of her hand.
“What?!” she looked perplexed. “But we have-”
“Don’t do it! Don’t trust the machine! Put up an out of order sign on it for now. I’ll look at it during the night if I have enough time. Go on, get out of here. Go home,” I said. The mess was almost cleaned up, and a she had already stayed an hour or so over her time to help me. “Are you sure?” She looked as if she had a long day already.
“Yeah, go.” I took one last look at the rest of the beleaguering mess before running back to the counter to resume cashing out the customers.
It was one in the morning shortly after the beer coolers closed when the store died down and I took time out to glance at the sticky red owner’s manual for the accursed equipment. It was in the drawer during the spill. “Lube!” I shouted aloud unaware of any costumers that may have entered the store as I happened upon the answer to all of my problems. “You need to lube up the gasket!” I dug into the drawer and pulled out a spare little black rubber gasket. I grinned and held it aloft at a customer who came in and started pouring himself a cup of coffee as he could care less about the gasket. The bottle of lube, however, was nowhere to be seen. First or second shift must have misplaced it the last time the machine was cleaned.
Out of all the condiments and condiment accessories the ketchup and mustard pumps will forever be my nemesis. For something so simple there were far too many working parts for my bedraggled brain to handle on some nights. Inside are plungers, caps, springs, and tubes. Each individual piece has to be taken apart, scrubbed, and the contents squeezed out of the nozzle when the container is emptied and then refilled.
“I think I got it this time,” I said to myself as I assembled all the pieces accordingly and primed the pump. Nothing came out. I grew to loathe the things, especially when there was no other recourse then to take all apart and try again. After the third time trying, everything was smeared in a sticky red mess. It got the counter and dribbled down to the floor. Ketchup oozed out of everywhere else in the damned contraption but the nozzle. Am I missing something? Is there another part that I’m forgetting? I started to fret. A thought nagged at the back of my mind and I pictured a mythical missing piece, a tiny spring perhaps or gasket lube, tucked away somewhere. Maybe it fell or was stuck in the drain. To think, littlest spring could very well be the source of all this agony. I was just about to dart back and scour the kitchen again when a customer walked in. I nodded in acknowledgement, as I stood over the ketchup pump as if I was a surgeon trying to resuscitate a dying patent. I looked down and noticed all the red splotches and smears on my hands and arms and all over my work shirt. No wonder why I got a weird look from her, I frowned as I cobbled the pieces of the pump back together poorly as opposed to having it splayed open for the entire world to see my shame. I ran to the hand-washing sink to clean myself up enough to cash her out.
After that, I made my decision to ignore the deplorable dispenser. There was so much more that had to be done in the store. For one the food cart was left out of the freezer, still leaden with all of the tube meats, taquitos, and condiments. It had been there for about an hour or so, infringing on health code violation territory, while I spent so much time fiddling with that accursed pump. I only managed to fill six of the twelve coffee pots and boy howdy that was a big no-no especially during the calm before the morning storm, which was set to descend upon us at any second. All of the counters had to be wiped down and trash bagged up and walked to the dumpster. I had a guy pay me in a pile of sticky car pennies and those had to be rolled up.
No more than a minute after the jumbo dogs were deemed heated enough to be eaten, a customer went without ketchup. “Uh, miss, the ketchup’s not working,” she said frowning as she held up her bare jumbo dog. The dispenser of doom mocked me as it sat on the counter, reduced a poorly assembled decoy. What was I missing? I wrung my brain for any answer but I could not wrap my brain around it.
“I know. I’m sorry I can’t get it to work for some reason.” I sighed and then gasped as I was struck with a brilliant thought. “Oh, there are condiment packets! Just over there on the other side. There is mustard, mayonnaise, sweet pickled relish, and we even have hot sauce!” I felt exulted in the fact that my customers would not go without their condiments and I wouldn’t have to deal with the ketchup container any more. I thought about sliding it straight into the trash hole in the counter, or perhaps drop kicking it into the parking lot; out of sight out of mind.
But still, it bothered me greatly. Once the store was again empty, I put it back together the right way and pumped once, twice, thrice, and nothing. My hands were again strained a sticky red. This, I thought, this is the meaning of madness. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results! Why couldn’t I leave it well enough alone? I felt myself becoming unhinged. Why won’t you work!? My brain screamed I pumped harder, and then I tried it slower, gently priming the piece. The ketchup only got up the tube so far and nothing but air spurted out. “Come on! Work damn you! Work!” I cried when I was alone; pounding the thing as if I was trying to bring a loved one back to life. At the same time I pictured myself picking up the full container, and smashing it upon the floor. Oh what a big bloody mess it would make- a beautiful bloody mess. I fantasized about running around with bright red hands smearing ketchup wherever I could reach. I thought about signing my name so everyone knew this masterpiece was mine. I could roll in the puddle on the floor and make ketchup angles.
The manager would surely have a coronary when she walked in. I’d be fired, hauled away in handcuffs, or even murdered. All of those options looked like a sweet release from my wretched life as a third shift cashier. “Why? Goddammit! Why?” I wailed as I balled up my fist and pounded at the thing live I’ve never pounded before. “Why don’t you work you bloody son of a bitch!” I screamed. In the midst of my fury I failed to hear the door alarm as another customer happened to walk in for coffee.