Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

My first job and misdemeanor in the US — I Think

by | Apr 8, 2024 | Life | 0 comments

I was loving it. Do you want fries with that?

I always tell people my first job in the United States was at Starbucks because admitting the truth is a bit harder and somewhat illegal.

My first job in the United States was at McDonald’s.

There! I said it!!

I won’t tell you that it was better than you think. It was probably worse than you think.

You come out after your shift with a smell of rancid, overused seed oil that sticks to your pores and hands-on for dear life.

I visited San Diego when I was seventeen. My aunt had contemplated me moving there and finishing high school while I helped her raise her third kid — think like an au pair.

My mom had sent me with an “official” letter in Spanish stating I had completed the tenth grade at my school in Colombia.

This letter was written, printed, and signed by my mom and no official representative of my school, and it was meant to show I was ready to be in a senior grade.

In my mom’s mind, it was that easy. “What makes you think you can go be a senior?” “Well, I have a letter from my momma here, and she says so.”

I did not end up using the letter to stay in San Diego and study, but it did come in handy after being hired by McDonald’s.

At my training, the HR person asked me how old I was, and when she found out I was still underage, she was concerned that they had not collected all the proper information that showed my mom would allow me to work.

I quickly thought on my feet, and I showed this letter to prove to this person that my mom was indeed authorizing me to work underage.

I told the trainer the letter explicitly stated my mom’s consent for me to work.

It didn’t.

It was just a paragraph where my mom said I was a nice boy and a good student who had finished his junior year and had no mention of her permission for my underage labor.

The HR person looked at it intently for two minutes, pretending she knew enough Spanish to read this letter.

She didn’t.

No one takes two minutes to read the two sentences my mom had crafted. Then she folded the paper and said, “Okay, then.”

Maybe in those two minutes, she wasn’t trying to read the letter, but she was having a midlife crisis, “Jesus! What am I doing with my life? These people need no training to flip burgers and dunk fries in automated friers. You just flip burgers and dunk fries in automated friers.”

I was on my way to the glamorous life of a burger flipper.

My family was proud of me.

After my first day on the job, my aunt took me to the backyard of her house and took a picture of me. In the photo, I’m wearing my corporate-sanctioned uniform and McDonald’s cap.

I’m standing in a menacing pose, and next to me is my five-year-old cousin. We are both holding a football. What? I don’t even know what I was trying to accomplish or communicate with such a picture. None of the garments fit right, and my waistline was already showing the signs of partially hydrogenated oils and excessive calories.

I still have this picture, and I will never show it to you because talking about it is embarrassing enough.

When my aunt would pick me up at the end of my shift, she stopped short of hosing me down. But I wasn’t allowed anywhere in the house until I showered.

If I wanted to rest after a long shift, I could sit in the toilet before showering. It seems extreme, but the smell from working in that small, hot space flipping burgers and dunking fries warranted such a measure.

McDonald’s in itself was forgettable.

It wasn’t even a stand-alone McDonald’s. It was a McDonald’s inside a Walmart.

The only thing I remember from my time is that I gained twenty pounds in the first two weeks.

I know what you are thinking. “Whoa, Carlos, you are such a visionary. You were testing the hypothesis of “Supersize Me” before Morgan Spurlock.”

I wasn’t doing such a thing.

I tested a different hypothesis, “I bet I can try all the items on this menu before I have to go back to Colombia.”

I accomplished my mission. I even tried the very disgusting Filet-O-Fish sandwich. Other than those tidbits, I don’t remember much about my time working there.

I do remember the conversation I had with my aunt after my training.

I got in the car, ready to make fun of my classmates.

I especially wanted to mock an older lady who was also there getting the training. She was white, had white hair and blue eyes. In my mind, she didn’t belong there. She didn’t look like the kind of person who in my country would need a job like the one we were training for.

So, I wanted to mock her.

My aunt, who typically likes to joke around, turned serious and said, “I know things are different in Colombia. But in this country, we don’t make fun of anyone who works an honest job.”

That stuck with me.

That, the memory of the smell and the most stubborn last five pounds I have never been able to get rid of.


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