The manager’s name was Dawkins; they called him Donk…not clever, but for some reason supernaturally right. Donk’s habit was to cast an eye from Val’s hair to his shoes, a rape-threatening eye. It was the term Val and Sasha, in the kitchen, laughed over, liked using. Donk always said Valentine, in full, because he was saying, you got a girly name.
“It feels like violence,” Val said, low-voiced, and Sasha shook his head.
“Get some green beans out to sides, Red Shirt just went for number three.”
In the ceiling, in dummy sprinkler heads over sides, over meats, over desserts, over exits and the bathroom alcove, were cameras. Customers who brought baggies, usually gallon-sized ziplocks (but some amazingly organized…secreting shopping bags under tables, stacked with snap-lid containers), got ID’d by those with access to the monitors. Red Shirt, Skinhead, Fat Fuck, Bin Laden, Oprah, Cheeto Bandito. These were not, maybe, the Plenty House Buffet’s most valued customers, but Val saw sense in a few of the arguments the ones that got caught offered. It was supposed to be all you could eat. You already paid for it. The restaurant threw a lot of food out. They overcharged.
Besides all that, here was a whole lawsuit waiting to happen…
Sasha had a couple vids taken on his phone. “Yeah, Donk is toast, any time. Any time.”
Val didn’t even think, neither did Sasha, taking into account the one or two people who might on a given day be putting chicken legs down their pants, it was so much the money, as a kind of…state of mind. Donk would say the Plenty House lost thousands.
“But then you have to figure they still got their ten ninety-nine, or whatever. And if people are happy and they come back…I mean it can’t be just, a chicken leg costs a dime…”
“They have to pay me to dump it in the fryer, so that’s chump change divided by a chicken leg. Or a wing. Or is it multiplied? Anyhow, you get the idea, Val.”
“So if you’re full time, and you get health care…”
“Right. More bread crumbs on the bird. Pretty soon, leg costs a dollar.”
“Still, it doesn’t seem right. Isn’t there some kind of thing where you spend money to make money?”
“That’s not Donkanomics, buddy.”
“Yoharie! What’s wrong with you? Move it!”
Val pulled on a pair of plastic gloves. The green bean recipe was only a gallon-sized can dumped into a chafing dish bin, a little jar of pearl onions dumped on top of that, the whole thing stuck in the steamer. The beans were cooked already; it took five minutes to heat them up. There was a clamp-on tool for pulling the bin out, two for lowering it into its slot. He had to wheel his cart out to the floor, get the empty dish set out of the way, drop in the full one.
The gloves were for nothing, since Val didn’t really touch anything, but customers saw you working out there, and it made them happy.
He smiled at a woman holding tongs over baked potatoes, her wrist flopped defeatedly. There was always a runt, a puny spud showcased in its foil wrap, and Val, thinking of all the food they threw out, wondered why. You got no advantage using things up, when you didn’t use things up. Maybe it was for calories. The marketing ideas from Plenty House headquarters could get uberwonky, it was true.
He tried saying it to her: “Take that little one. It’s only a hundred calories.”
She gave a tentative smile, and he coaxed, “Come on.”
She gave a wider smile. “How come you don’t have the ones with cheese?”
“You mean, like, au gratin? Cause you get cheese and bacon, all that shit, over at the fixin’s table.” Well, they called it the Fixin’s Table.
“Yeah, like the casserole kind.”
“Dunno. Better grab that little one.”
She took it.
He didn’t think he’d failed.
She’d been going, not only for the potatoes, but the scones, a kind of weird house specialty. Biscuit dough, dry, tinted orange with cheddar cheese, flavored a little too sweet. Another variety dotted with blueberries. The Plenty House, up at the cash register, sold boxes of these at Christmas (November 1 to December 26), bedded in their candy striped cardboard with shredded green paper—Nasty Old Scones, as he and Sasha called them. There weren’t just four, there were eight. Disappointing.
He’d got a box for Dawn.
“You like those?” he asked, curious to know.
“Oh, I like the cinnamon.” Third type. “Your Dad likes ham on the cheese ones.”
“I gotta try it. Probably takes a lot of greasing up.”
She’d got his meaning, too, after a second.
“I microwave them, hon.”
He’d gone back in, through the front door, to make the purchase. It was really to see Sasha, because Val had been fired that afternoon, for not, somehow or other, getting in this woman’s face enough. She’d got out the door with her side dishes, bent on filling out the Thanksgiving board.
That was Donk’s theory, people did that.
“They pay for a turkey.” He shrugged. “Then they don’t wanna pay for anything else.” This was almost confiding, coming from a guy who’d just sent Val downtown.
It was like that…the Plenty House had a central office in an old mall, and if you got canned, you had to bus in to do your paperwork.
“You don’t fit in well,” the woman had said, and she hadn’t taken her eyes off his piercings and nail color. “With the culture.”
(2018, Stephanie Foster)