Orientation: Part 1

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I bet it would have sucked to be a medieval man-at-arms.  You’re off there attacking a castle, climbing some rickety ladder to scale the battlements, and then just when you’re almost at the top, all of a sudden the big iron rim of a cauldron full of boiling oil appears above you.  You’ve got plenty of time to see it coming, but you’ve got absolutely nowhere to go.  Up won’t work; that’s straight into the oil.  Down will take too long, and moving to the sides — well, gravity’s going to have some words to say about that.  Plus the cauldron is pretty huge, so it’s basically oil no matter where you go.  Frying’s not a pleasant way to go.

“Dan, are you paying attention?”

“What?  Yes, absolutely.  The, um, fryer timer goes off automatically at, uh, five minutes.”

Matthew sighs, exasperated.  “No, five minutes would be way too long!  It cooks for 150 seconds.  You’d burn all of the fries to a crisp long before five minutes.”

“But a timer goes off, right?  So when it buzzes, I get the fries out.”

“Well, right, but if you don’t know when the timer’s going to go off, how can you plan what else to do in that time?  There’s a rhythm to the restaurant,” Matthew tells me seriously.

I suppress the urge to roll my eyes.  Matthew’s a good kid, but it’s already clear that he and I aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on this job.  I see this as a way to exchange my manual labor and minimal attention for cash, whereas he’s fully invested in the Børger brand.  On the other hand, he’s a manager at age 24, while I’m 30 and don’t know what I’m doing, so maybe there’s something to be said for his viewpoint.

“Give me time, Matt.  I’m more of a ‘pick it up organically’ kind of guy.  I’m getting the broad strokes right now, and it’ll all fall into place once I start to put it into practice.”

Matt puffs his cheeks out and blows air distractedly through his lips, running one hand through his curly black hair.  “Okay,” he tells me.  “We all learn different ways, and I don’t want to shove this down your throat.  But you understand that this is important, right?”

I don’t, of course, but he looks so enthusiastic that I can’t help but agree with him.  It’s infectious.  I’ve never met anyone who was this invested in burgers before.  Cows aren’t even this invested in burgers.  Matt really, truly wants every Børger customer to have an excellent experience.  Unfortunately, he’s got to make that happen through people like me.

It’s not that I don’t care.  It’s just that, at the end of the day, this is just a place to work, and it doesn’t matter to me if I do a spectacular job, or a job that’s just barely good enough to keep from getting fired.  The pay’s the same, the people are the same, and by dinnertime, no one’s going to remember whether their lunchtime burger was excellent or only adequate.

So actually, it is that I don’t care, I guess.  But I’m right not to.  No one cares.

Except Matt, who is earnestly telling me about the art of the upsell.  “When someone orders anything that’s not one of the combo meals, you ask them if they want to make that a Børger Bøx.  No matter what it is!  Even if it’s just a drink, you can still ask them if they want to make it a combo.  Sometimes they do!”

“Matt,” I interrupt, “I’ve got a question.”

“Shoot.”

“I’ve just about got a handle on how to pronounce Børger.  You basically say a U while thinking about an O.  But how do I pronounce Bøx the way you just did?”

“The way I did?  How did I say it?  You can just say it as normal!  The funny O is only important when it’s written, for branding–”

Matt catches me grinning at him, and slides his speech to a stop.  “Dan, come on.  This is your first day, and we’ve got a lot to get through.  This stuff is important.”  But he’s smiling, too, so although I know he means it, it doesn’t come off as a reprimand.

This kid’s actually a human being!  It’s a heck of a departure from Edgar.  I’m never going to be the kind of guy who knuckles under to authority, but it turns out that if they’re willing to meet me halfway, I get a lot more reasonable.


I’ll spare you the rest of the hours of training.  You’re probably not going to start working at a Børger chain any time soon, and if you do, you’ll get your own orientation day.  Suffice it to say that at the end of the day I have been taught the corporate-approved way to flip burgers, cook fries and box up meals.  I have also seen videos on whether it’s appropriate to sexually harass coworkers (it’s not), whether it’s okay to show up late (it’s not), and whether it’s a good idea to tell your friends to visit you at work (it is, unless you socialize with them, and then it’s not).

I won’t say that all of this information went in one ear and out the other, because that’s not exactly true.  It went in one ear and into deep storage, to be retrieved if and when it became relevant.  That may sound a lot like forgetting, but it’s different in certain important and hard-to-define ways.

There is one line worth repeating from the training videos: “So where does the name Børger come from?  It’s a burger with the flavor of foreign innovation!”  In other words: much like Häagen-Dazs, our name is total nonsense, and we’re banking on the American public’s willingness to pay a premium for things that sound like they’re exotic.

Matt, of course, has a much more positive spin on this.  “Most people like to keep their life in the same comfortable pattern it’s been in.  But they also like to add excitement, as long as it doesn’t challenge their routine.  We’re able to give them that, all by putting a slash through an O.  Pretty great, huh?”

I’m not sure I agree with him, but it could just be because I’m bitter.  I had a life in a nice comfortable pattern, and when it got slashed through, it affected way more than a single vowel.  So why should everyone else get to pretend that they’re disrupting things with just a burger?  Let them go through what I did!

That sort of phrase probably isn’t going to win me employee of the month, so I keep it to myself.  Not that it matters much; according to the wall, in five of the last twelve months, the employee of the month has been Matt.  It’s pretty clear that I’d have to do a lot more than just not yell at people to measure up around here.

If I hadn’t met the guy, I’d expect to hate him.  He’s just so nice, though, that it doesn’t even cross my mind.  He’s not winning me over to the customer-service side with his speeches or anything, but he is at least making me feel a bit bad that I’m never going to live up to his expectations.

Leaving work, I check my phone and find a few texts from my friend Brian, an EMT and pretty much the only person who knows about my powers.  I’d tried to surreptitiously look at my phone during the videos, but Matt caught me and gave me a half-annoyed, half-disappointed look.

“Dan, come on.  You’re watching training videos with your new manager.  Can you put the phone down for today?  I’m not going to tell you not to check it at work, because you’ll do it anyway when you think I’m not looking and it’ll just hurt our working relationship.  But can you give me today?”

It was a weird sort of motivational speech, but it got me to put my phone away until I was leaving the building, so it clearly worked.  As it turns out, Brian’s texts are only asking me how the first day of the new job went, so they weren’t time-sensitive.

Looking back over the day, I’m surprised to realize that it went well.  Matt and I have a deep and irreconcilable difference over how much a Børger employee is supposed to care about the job, but I like him and I’m not dreading working with him, which is already leaps and bounds more than I expected.  I would have figured that having someone younger than me as a boss would bug me, but he’s just so enthusiastic and nice that there’s no way to resent him.

“Pretty great,” I text Brian.  “Could be fun job.”

I get back, “Want to get burgers to celebrate haha”

“Want me to put you in the hospital haha,” I write in response, which is not all that witty, but it’s a reference to where he works and it’s the best matching answer I’ve got.  Look, I’m working at a burger joint.  You can’t expect Shakespeare.


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