I didn’t get a short story done last week. So hopefully I will get two done this week or the next or the week after.
A short story
Christopher D. Bennett
(This story is autobiographical, but exaggerated for feeling, rather than being 100% factual. Or look at it this way, this is how I remember it. It might not be exactly how it happened. Don’t ask me what is true what isn’t. In fact, don’t ask me anything about this story.
No names are changed. Nobody is innocent.)
I pulled my Lumina into the corporate office parking lot. Today was going to be a big deal. I had been the General Manager at the Campus McDonald’s for over a year now and hadn’t received a raise yet. Today was that day because after pestering my boss, the owner’s son-in-law for several months, I had finally been granted a Performance Review, an event where raises are handed out.
I don’t want to say that I was arrogant walking in the door. I wasn’t the current golden boy. I had been briefly, but like everybody else in the kingdom, eventually your shine dimmed and a new golden boy took your place. The current golden boy was new to the company and was an old family friend. Golden Boy actually seemed pretty high speed, as he did actually have successful restaurant experience in Des Moines and Kansas City. He also had a reputation for dipping his quill in the company ink, but that is story of his fall from grace. That isn’t this story.
Things being what they were, I felt I was at in at least a decent position. Almost all my numbers were good and the numbers that weren’t good, were trending in the right direction. Campus was the hardest store to run because it had the least sales. You couldn’t just throw money at problems and hope they went away. Every dime counted.
I walked into the office and was greeted by Bonnie. She was an older woman and friendly, but not super warm. She told me that they would be with me in a moment. So I had a seat and waited.
After a few minutes Son-In-Law came out of a backroom and motioned for me to come in.
I followed him and he sat down on a table opposite of me. Next to him sat the owner of this chain of McDonald’s, The Senile Old Man.
The Senile Old Man always seemed like a nice enough chap. You next to never saw him because half the year he was in Arizona and the other half the year he was doing whatever it is that millionaires do that have entrusted their son-in-law to run the business. The few times he actually came into Campus he seemed to wander around staring at the lights. If I didn’t know who he was, I would have been inclined to call the police and see if there had been a recent nursing home breakout in town.
I honestly have no clue if he any clue if he had any passion for the burger business that had made him filthy richer. I do know that Senile Old Man loved light bulbs. If there was a light bulb out, he would let you know. If there was a light bulb going out. He let you know. Not in a polite way. It was as if you had failed in some meaningful quest.
When he opened a brand new restaurant, he changed the light bulbs in the lamps that faced the street every day for 2 weeks. He would drive by every night, until he found the light bulbs he liked.
He wouldn’t care if you were running a meth lab out of the back room, as long as you were doing it under the proper illumination.
When he did finally bumble his way to talking to you about anything but light bulbs, it was usually about Son-in-Law’s athletic accomplishments.
“You know Chris, he beat Nebraska with a foot.” He once told me, with a twinkle in his eye. Then he repeated the phrase a couple more times. I’m not sure if it was for emphasis or if he had forgot that he had told me this already.
Sometimes it was hard to talk to him. In fairness, he wasn’t completely senile, but on the other hand, he was getting there. In the room I was sitting in waiting to hear about my raise, I had sat through many a meeting where he meandered around a point for several minutes. Not necessarily coming to it. Not necessarily having one. Meanwhile sitting next to him, the twinkle in his eye was rolling his.
The Senile Old Man badly wanted to retire. He had a successor plan put in place for years now. He would overpay his son-in-law and his daughter. Then eventually they would buy the chain of McDonald’s from him and then he would spend the rest of the years he had left in Arizona.
Unfortunately for him, his son-in-law was seemingly never going to be approved for ownership by corporate McDonald’s. You could say lots of things about Son-In-Law, but you couldn’t honestly say he was a hard worker.
As little as I ever saw Senile Old Man in my store, I only saw my direct supervisor Son-in-Law barely more. He had a skill of scheduling meetings for right when I was off for the day. Then he wouldn’t show up. I would call him. He wouldn’t answer the phone. Then he would call back. Say he was on his way. An hour would go by. I would call him again. He would say that he couldn’t make it and reschedule for another day. On that day, we would have the same dance.
I knew that I wasn’t necessarily well liked by these two. I did have a brief moment as the Golden Boy, but that time had passed. However, I did feel like my accomplishments would need to be at least noted. Acknowledged.
Even the worst economics student can tell you that a yearly raise that is less than the inflation rate actually serves to decrease your buying power. Essentially demoting your economic worth. I was going to be satisfied with two-three percent raise, but knew I was worth more. I had been making the General Manager minimum for over a year.
And, I was worth more than that. Even an egoless assessment told me that my numbers were better than half the General Managers in the organization and they were all making better than me.
I had the best drive-thru times in the organization.
My food cost was the best in the organization.
My labor percentage was under goal.
My Full Operation Review scores were in the high 80s and low 90s. My surprise visit scores were even higher.
My Secret Shopper scores were the highest in the organization.
The store had lost $70,000 the year before I took over. My first year I had cut that number to $30,000. Meaning the store actually broke even if you took out the annual Dasher Management fees they charged each store to pay for Son-in-Law’s six figure salary and company Escalade.
I had the best young management staff in the organization. Granted, none of those people were destined to carry on in the service of Dasher Management, but they were there. I trained them.
The Performance Review started out like I anticipated. They went over all my numbers. They were good. They were better than most of the stores.
Then they began to praise my management staff. I might have the best management staff in the organization. They were smart, caring, competent, and mostly leaders.
Then the Senile Old Man closed the file folder that contained all the paperwork that they had that related to my store and placed his decaying old hand on top of it.
He took a glance at Son-in-Law and then looked back at me and said:
“You have a good staff and you have good numbers, but… we just don’t see it.”
This was the first sign that the performance review wasn’t going to go half as well as I hoped.
“What?” I stammered out. I knew the Senile Old Man didn’t like me. Many rich people don’t like me. Not all rich people, but there is definitely a sect of rich people that, on a subconscious level, don’t like it when poor people disagree with their opinions and have (GHASP!) the audacity to tell them. The Senile Old Man was definitely a card carrying member of this sect. He like to speak (incoherently). He liked to hear himself speak, in the way men of inherited wealth like to hear themselves speak. He liked other to hear his words and ruminate on them as if they were a great gift of wisdom.
Senile Old Man did not offer many great gifts of wisdom. Unless it was about light bulbs. Even when somebody holds your job in their hands, there is only so much biting of one’s tongue one can do.
Even with this known disdain, I still was surprised and confused.
“You don’t see what?” I asked.
Son-in-Law placed his hand on the file at this time. It almost felt slightly rehearsed, their physical doubling down on my numbers.
Then the following came out of his mouth:
“All of these numbers are good. Some are great. But we just don’t see it.”
Maybe he thought repeating the Senile Old Man’s words were an adequate explanation, but it wasn’t an explanation at all.
Senile Old man piped up again, “We just don’t see how you’re responsible for these numbers and your staff.”
“It is like that just happened, despite you.” Son-in-Law added.
Son-in-Law continued, “We just don’t see any passion for the business in you.”
I couldn’t argue this at all. While I loved many of the people that worked for me and even the ones I didn’t like, were at least interesting, I loathed my job. I would have taken any job that paid in the ballpark that wouldn’t have led to a gap in health insurance. I would have gladly scrubbed port-a-potties 40 hours a week for similar pay and immediate health insurance.
Sometimes you get in a rut in your life and you blink an eye and a year has went by. You didn’t have time look for another job because you were working 60 hours a week at your current job that you hated.
It was at this point Son-in-Law’s demeanor, which up to this point had been somber, started to perk up.
“Yeah. Like how much you love playing on the slow pitch softball team! If we could get that kind of passion out of you for running your store… that is what we want.”
I did enjoy playing softball, but it was hardly a passion. If they thought I truly cared about that, it caused my brain to crash. They knew absolutely nothing about me. Or about any of my true passions.
Then the Senile Old Man opened his mouth and played his ace card.
“Listen Chris. I like you. But I’m starting to lose respect for you.”
If he could have, or if he would’ve thought about it, he would’ve followed this with the phrase, “Checkmate.”
My head began to swirl and I’m not sure I paid any attention to the next 5 minutes or so of the meeting. There might have been a moment that Senile Old Man made a claim that he could take a dump in a box. Take that box to Campus and it would be a better General Manager than me.
That could be my imagination because I was immediately taken back to a night a few months before on the strip in Las Vegas. I had been sent to Las Vegas with a $40 per diem to the McDonald’s National Convention with a bunch of middle-aged ladies that spent the entire trip playing penny slots.
The only other General Manager in the organization that was not infatuated with staring at a slot machine at all hours was Brown Nose. I ended up spending most of my free time sightseeing with Brown Nose.
Brown Nose also didn’t fit in with the rest of the General Managers because she was younger than them and clearly didn’t come from the blue collar background.
One night, near Caesar’s Palace, Brown Nose started setting up shop on Son-in-Law. He was lazy. He didn’t know what he was doing. He wasn’t very smart. He was the product of nepotism. On and on and on.
I mostly listened and then I opened my mouth and let the following words foolishly escape:
“I like Son-in-Law, but I don’t respect him.”
Now here I was. Back in the present. Hearing my words being parroted back to me from the craw of Senile Old Man.
As my mind slowly returned to the present, Son-in-Law was proudly going into the details of how they were going to reclaim me.
“… And that is why Golden Boy is going to be working with you to get you where you need to be.”
“Uh-huh.” I said and then I gathered up the pages of my performance review and walked out of the office. I felt like I had been struck by a car. Only I was more in shock than the time I actually was struck by a car.
This was the most thorough backstabbing I had ever received.
As I sat down in my car, I thought about how I really had no clue who I could trust in this organization. I really needed to get a new job.
I looked at the first bad performance review of my life. I knew I was going to be burning this as soon as I got home. I started the car. Headed home. Never more demotivated in my life.