My coworker’s mom was a bit of a bleach freak. One time she dipped her long-haired cat in a solution of bleach, claiming it was a country prescription for scaring off fleas, but I secretly think she just wanted it whiter. Bleach and buckets are what come to mind when I think of my first job, working illegally for $4.25-an-hour at the local fried chicken shack. Not buckets of bleach, mind you, but buckets of raw chicken pieces. Five gallons of pieces and parts, divided up by livers, gizzards, breasts, and dark meat. It made it easier on the one frying, but hard to forget.
Big vats of oil bubbled in shiny silver machines that beeped when the twelve-minute timer told all the chicken was ready. Seven minutes on the frozen fries, machine-chopped into perfect matchsticks. The livers and gizzards fried the fastest, and went the fastest. Next door to a textile mill that pumped out tube socks and t-shirts by the hour, the food for twenty-seven cents was the favorite.
“Gimme six livers, two gizzards and a wing,” the orders would start. Then, counting out nickels and quarters and more pennies than a pocket should hold, “No, no. Make that four livers and two gizzards. That’s all.”
This went on nonstop for the two hours of half-hour lunch shifts, the line constant and the orders the same. It made one good at counting change. It made me hate the feel and smell of coins, gritty, gummy and metallic from someone else’s pocket. It taught patience and the concept of putting the customer first, something any fifteen-year-old has in short supply.
Mopping sweat from our foreheads made teenage acne even worse—what kid needs more grease on his face? Mopping the floors each evening, my coworker would add big splashes of bleach, just like her mom, as we wiped away the stickiness and stink of the day. But, forty bucks was forty bucks. And somehow fried chicken is still my favorite food.