Labor

I am 15. It is the summer

of 1982. I’m working illegally

at the Sonic Drive-In.

Weatherford, Oklahoma.

 

I am a car hop and as such,

I am required to wear

a Sonic baseball hat, the front

two quadrants of which are

 

made of some sort of soft

foam. The rest of the hat is mesh.

The hat’s bill feels squishy

like the Tater Tots I carry

 

to the car in bay 3, a tow truck

to be precise. I see as I

reach out to hook the

tray onto the driver’s

 

window that the woman

in the passenger seat is

crying into a knot of Kleenex.

She is also wearing

 

a hat, the one mandated of

all employees at our local

McDonald’s franchise. She works

the drive-thru. I am thinking

 

many things as the driver,

a man I do not know, mines

his pockets, the glove compartment,

the space between the vinyl seats,

 

for the amount needed to pay

for the Tater Tots, the cherry

limeade, and the vanilla Coke.

My memory is $1.72. I think

 

of a boy my age in someplace

I can only think of, a place

like India or Colombia, and what

he would have to do

 

in his country to earn $1.72 in 1982.

The man does not have

enough money to pay for the food

and drinks, and he asks if I

 

can take the coke back, we’ll share

the limeade, he says to the boy

holding the tray and to the girl

still weeping, the hat still in her lap.

 

In 1982, if a person were to

start his car, back out of the bay

at the Sonic, make a left onto

Main street and head west

 

to the nearby on-ramp of Interstate 40,

he might get on the highway

and drive west toward Elk City, Sayre, Erick,

and look out his window and in

 

any direction, he might see as many

as thirty oil rigs at one time.

He might wonder about the men,

where they are on their fourteen-hour

 

shift, the hard paste on their skin,

the enormous greased chain

whipping around the dark shaft of the drill.

That man might wonder about

 

drilling, about the future of oil, about

the cost of the gas in his tank,

about how oil become petroleum and so

he will not consider the young man

 

from Watonga whose left foot was crushed

in the early dawn when the drill bit slipped

off the coupler as it emerged from

the hole in the ground nearly 100 times

 

the length of his truck. He will not think

of the crew chief, the ambulance driver,

the ER doctor, the scrambling screaming

roughnecks, the truckers charging past,

 

the highway patrolmen arriving at the scene,

or their fathers who poured the asphalt

for the highway thirty years before, or

the men who will haul the heavy barrels

 

of sludge, the farmer who sold his land

to the oil company, the backhoe driver who dug

the first hole, the paramedic in the back of

the ambulance unsure of what she’ll see.

 

The driver will not think of the

man at the wheel of the tow

truck who was called to the scene

of an accident at an oil rig to haul

 

the victim’s car back to town. He will not

think of the girl who took an extra job mopping

the floors of the Weatherford General Hospital

one morning a week to make extra

 

money for her college fund or what

she said when she saw her brother

who should be at work hurried

into the emergency room his

 

Wranglers sliced up the side and his

entire leg wrapped in red rags

or what her father said to her in bay 3

of the Sonic Drive-In as he described what

 

it was like to arrive at an oil rig accident

to do his job. And the driver will certainly

not think of the boy at the Sonic violating

the Fair Labor Standards Act in the summer

 

of 1982 or what this boy will remember

at his desk 32 years later, lost

in an impossible task that almost

no person would consider work.

 

Reprinted with permission from TriQuarterly Review, Issue 148, Summer/Fall 2015.

css.php
Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message
Skip to toolbar