Sometimes when I am having a very bad day, I will comfort myself with this thought: "At least I don't work at Burger King." This is nothing against the people who do work at Burger King--in fact it's the opposite. I toiled away many weekends and after school evenings at Burger King in high school and I can vouch for the fact that the job is often vile and horrible and much more complicated than it seems to the uninitiated.
When this thought popped into my head this week, it brought with it the memory of an incident that happened way back in my BK days that has haunted me ever since.
The story involves two guys: SA (whom I did have a fleeting crush on) and PL (whom I did not). In the Burger King kitchen there was a narrow walkway one end of which led to the front end and the other end of which led back into the kitchen. There were two garbage cans on one side of that path which were my responsibility as "dining room hostess." (Yeah, I know.) There were also various supplies stored in that area that were used in other parts of the store. One Saturday morning, PL had walked up the walkway to get something while I was in the middle of changing the garbage can liners. He was trying to make his way back into the kitchen, pushing a waist-high white plastic can on wheels, but was having a hard time navigating between the shelves and me. I was pushed as far against the garbage cans as I could go, even wedged between the two a little. While Paul was trying to push, pull, and jiggle the can through, he caught SA's eye and said, "Lardass." Clearly, clearly,clearly referring to me.
I was deeply wounded. Stunned. Could not understand why PL, who had never had a hostile word for me before, would say something so hurtful directly in front of me. The fact that the remark was made to SA, whom I did have a crush on and with whom I often had long, friendly conversations made the whole thing all the more painful. And SA's chuckle--ouch.
This is something I have dragged out on all sorts of occasions and low moments in the twenty-some years since, which is to say I have thought of it not often, but at least periodically--especially when SA crossed my mind or weight issues were nagging me.
In the context of weight issues, I most often thought of how sad it was that at a time when I was only slightly "overweight" and well within healthy bounds, I allowed such a misguided, narrow-minded, mean-spirited comment have so much space in my head and heart. And in an even broader, more political sense, I saw PL, SA and myself as victims of unrealistic expectations foisted upon us by the media. There were still a lot of times, though, when the memory had the power to make me wince, make me blush, make me squirm in echoes of my adolescent agony.
You get the picture: It has never fallen off my Most Embarrassing Moments Top 10 in all of the years since it happened. And never, not once, did it occur to me, as it did this time, that in the white plastic container PL was pushing was LARD, which was what went into Burger King's fryers until the arrival of vegetable oil in the more enlightened and health-conscious '90's.
So, it had also not crossed my mind that there was a real possibility that PL's intention was not to comment on the size of my ass but to make a silly little pun relying on the proximity of my ass to a 30-gallon container FULL OF LARD. The container was (not surprisingly) not spotlessly clean and there were smears of the white stuff visible on the lid and handles of the can so I may have actually had lard on my ass--which means I may have paraded around Burger King that afternoon with a shiny white substance on my (average-sized) ass, but I can live with that.
Lest you think I'm wholly delusional--I do realize that the other explanation, the conclusion to which I jumped and to which I've clung all this time, is still a possibility. In either case, I'm sure PL thought my ass and much of the rest of me was big--I was never an itty, bitty thing and PL was exactly the kind of guy to whom that kind of thing mattered in terms of picking girlfriends, but his making such an overtly cruel remark was out of character. In fact, PL and I went on to forge a fairly warm buddyship that was only mildly overshadowed by the nagging memory of the Lardass Moment. I have never really been able to fit the lardass incident into the context of every other experience I had with/of PL, but that never stopped me from holding tight to my original interpretation of events.
Regardless of the "true" meaning behind PL's words, what the hell is wrong with me? How foolish is it to be haunted by the words spoken by a person who was, at the absolute outside, a peripheral person in my life? A person whose opinion of me should've mattered little even in that moment and progressively less as time went by? An incident I should've dismissed if not that day, then surely that month, that year, and definitely in that decade!
Of course, if I'd done that we'd have never had the singular pleasure of this post and then where would we be?
I Failed My Students
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