Thursday, November 02, 2006

meat meat meat meat

The first job I ever found all by my little lonesome was at a fast food joint called Arby's. I was living in my first apartment with the Dishrag. As the only reliable source of income, I clung to this job like a barnacle despite the ensuing horror. Besides, I knew I'd been lucky to get it in the first place. I'd been hired not because I had experience, not because I had a nice personality, but quite frankly because I had big tits.
They got exactly what they paid for, too. After one night on the counters, during which I gave a guy 15 dollars in change for a two dollar purchase made with a five dollar bill, I was relegated to the sandwich board.

The 'Seventies may have been the era of disco elsewhere, but I recall them as a time of scuzzy polyester clothes, dopesmoke and poverty. Our state economy was gasping it's last. The Japanese were buying up moribund businesses right and left; anyone who wanted to pay bills had to dance to their tune. The tune playing was 'Japanese Management Technique'. And oh my God, if you ever want for an example of cultural misapplication, then picture trying to force the children of the pioneers into the role of identical happy worker ants.

In a corporate environment it must have been exasperating; but in a minimum wage environment it was just grotesque. This was FAST FOOD. Our manager was a crying drunk. The assistant manager was a chainsmoking slutbag who used to ash her smokes in the coleslaw tub. Our crew was made up of high school students, poverty-stricken young marrieds and the marginally employable.
Manditory morale building seminars?
Let me see if I understand this...You want me to give up my evenings to attend 'manditory morale building seminars' until 10:00 at night? I won't be compensated, there will be no child care, but there will be singing? And cake? And we'll split up into teams and do cheers? 'Night Crew, Night Crew, we're number ONE! We're the ones who'll get it done!'

Listen, fucker, I have bills to pay. I don't own a car; you don't pay me enough to own a car. I ride the bus an hour each way just to get here. You have me down for split shifts; I get no damn sleep as it is, this is a minimum wage job with no benefits.
I am an adult with A LIFE.
Oh fuck yeah, they did. And if you didn't participate, you got fired.

Now this was bad enough. But working day to day at Arby's on top of all that had a lunatic charm all it's own.

Arbys was new at the time and was struggling to find an image. It opened with the full-on hearty cowboy thing. This didn't fly too well in a town populated by folks who had moved there to escape from cowboys and were doing everything short of building a palisade to distance themselves from everything beefy, hearty and cowboylike. Somehow Arby's got the message and backed off on that, but the lobby remained distinctly 'chuckwagony' It was very weird to see a group of Pakistani standing there waiting for their sandwiches, surrounded by saddles, longhorn mounts and wagonwheels.

Arby's pride and joy were it's big, beefy sandwiches, meat meat meat sliced from 100% pure beef roasts cooked fresh daily in their beefy hearty convection ovens on site. By cowboys. (Or at least quasi-cowboys. Oh fine; people in chequered neckerchiefs.)
The description and the reality were two different things, however. What you got was a hamburger bun with a bunch of hot deli slices mashed onto it, and then you proceeded to a condiment bar and added things like mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup...and a very unfortunately named, whitish, translucentish substance known as Arby's 'Horsey Sauce'.
Do NOT go there.*

....let's say it together, shall we?
What. The. Fuck.

....So it wasn't really a burger and it wasn't really a deli sandwich, and you were supposed to put ketchup on it.
People who had seen the advertisement on television ended up milling in the lobby with a brightly wrapped sandwich on a plastic tray, searching for an answer. It was tragic.

In a desparate bid to remain open a salad bar was installed, but you had to police it to keep people from making the honest assumption that it was there to build sandwiches from... probably aided in this mistaken impression by the fact that there were NO DRESSINGS OFFERED. Regular customers learned a Pavlovian fear of the salad bar** and refused to buy salads, and the salad, consumed by grief, rejected and alone, withered and turned brown and limp and looked the very picture of appetizing, being the first thing you greeted right through the door.

There is no other way to put this: The Arby's beef roast was a thing of crawling horror in it's raw state.
Pay, attention, children.
Remember the movie Soylent Green? No, now stay with me. The kicker was that dead people were hauled off to a central location where they were dumped into giant vats filled with a digestive fluid that broke them down into a sort of undifferentiated slish from which nutritious Soylent Green was made.***
Arby's roasts used emergency room discards.

No, ha ha! Oh, ha, to my joking is laugh!

No, Arby's roasts only looked like they were made from emergency room discards. What they were made from were the chunks of meat trimmed from premium cuts to pretty them up. Honestly, it started out as good stuff. But then they would soak these trims in a papain solution, and they would begin to....get...kinda....soft.
And kinda....greyish...on the outside.
The meat chunks which had started out as discrete entities became an intertwined mass, which was then drained like a cheese. Spices - the industry term for chemical colorants, a truly frightening list of preservatives and SALT up the wazoo - were injected, and the whole mass was forced into collagen tubes, which were in turn forced into heavy visquine and vaccuum sealed.
The roast you unwrapped weighed in at about 30 pounds, although I don't recall exactly. Once freed from its' casings it would lie there on the board and....creak.
I swear to God.
Black-red chunks of raw beef bulged from a cocoon of grey foam; interlaced with loooooooong strands of partially digested tissue# ...the whole weeping a thick, clear liquid that smelled of kerosene.
Cree ee eeak.
The roast went into convection ovens and came out transformed. What was once something that looked as though it had shot out of Cthulhu's asshole was now a deceptively normal looking roast of beef.
Smelled great, too.

Other meats were served as well...turkey, chicken, ham and roast pork, as I recall. All produced by the same process, all fascinatingly disgusting in their uncooked state. Each roast went onto an electric slicer and whipped back and forth in a blur of juice and protein sawdust as the slices were cut away, thin enough to see newsprint through. The stub ends were loaded into a bustub, and at the end of the evening they were bundled together tightly, loaded onto the slicer and cut up. Then back into the tub. Two huge plastic jugs of barbecue sauce were stirred in and the contents left to marinate overnight. The next day this was heated in the oven and sold in scoops as barbecue sandwiches. Good ones.

Now, barbecue is a pretty primordial affair and generally the less you know about it the better, but that sauce....oh my God, that sauce. I do not know what was in it, but almost as soon as I bent over the tub to mix the ice-cold shit into the sliced meat my eyes would burn, my sinuses would swell shut and my pyloric would start to flutter and shimmy. Just remembering it makes my mouth fill up with spit and my tongue cringe. It smelled perfectly fine, though. Regular ordinary barbecue sauce-smell.
Once it was baked, like I said, it was delicious.

It being the 'Seventies, our uniforms were ugly enough to make small children cry and were made of plastic. Plastic clothing is always a good choice for people who work around open flames as it melts into a hard candy shell that protects the body's tissues from unsightly charring as they cook. Plastic clothing is washable, and although no actual soil is ever extracted by washing plastic clothing, it is washable. You can dump a gallon of dishwasher solution onto it and run it through the Hobart, you can beat it against the hard stony heads of Republican party members, you can dry clean it and you can wash it with solutions used to DEGREASE ENGINES, but the shit simply will not come clean. But it is washable.
That's why everyone always smelled like sour tallow whenever they were in uniform. As a consequence we Arby's galley slaves were very big on perfume and aftershave. Sadly, this only compounded the fonkay behind the counter during a rush.

The first time I was ever flashed was at Arby's. I was mopping the floor around 2: a.m. when a bum knocked on the glass door. When I looked up, there was his tiny shriveled weenie hanging out of the zipper hole of his pants. He was doing a little dance, too, grinning and bobbing, pointing to it delightedly with both hands as though I might miss out on the whole purpose of this performance without the extra visual cue.
Everyone laughed at me. Ha, ha ha, you got flashed.
They called the cops, grudgingly, and the cops thought it was pretty funny too, ha ha ha, gave the premises a quick once over and drove off.
I, on the other hand, had to ride my bicycle home. Alone. By myself.
Three miles.
At 2:30 am.

I quit. Ha ha ha!

*it was tasty sauce, as long as you didn't actually see it. the mental picture was inescapeable.
** the grouchy broad with the big tits and the meat slicer would bean them with rolled up balls of foil from behind the pop machine. death from above.
*** gosh, I hope I didn't ruin the ending for anyone.

#science experiment time!
(You spent night shift getting stoned in the walk-in!! so instead of thawing the wrapped roast in a sink full of hot water overnight, you unwrapped the roast , threw it into the bottom of the sink and dumped several hotel pans full of stale water from off the steam table over it, and left it over night.)

take one uncooked Arby's roast at room temperature. place in large, deep sink full of hot tap water. leave overnight. the next morning, skim the foam, which should come away from the surface of the water in solid, styrofoam-like chunks, and describe what's floating in the water.
OO! OO! I know! pick me!
Ok. You remember Cousin It, right? Little hairy lump? Imagine if, like cousin It got married? To another It? A girl one? And she got pregnant? But since they're Its, shes, like, going to have a whole litter instead of just one, right? But cousin It doesn't have a job, so Mrs. It has to get an abortion?

um, yeah.


  1. Excellent post! It reminds me of a chunk of episodes in Buffy, somewhere around season 5 or 6 where she was working in such an establishment. I thought they had made that stuff up for the purposes of entertainment, but it sounds like it really is that bad.

    Loved your definition of spices.

  2. but... i used to like Arbys.

    not like they're around here anymore, but sometimes? on long roadtrips? you can find them in rest stations... and i'll get a sandwich.

    and i think i'll stop doing that from now on. also- Horsey sauce was good, dammit.

  3. qenny: you are BACK!!!XXXXX!
    I remember exactly the Buffys you mean! I was a HUGE fan of that show. I had to stop watching it because I was getting addicted.
    Yes, it really was that bad. the reason those episodes were so funny is because they were only millimeters away from the actual truth. and re spices? thats no joke. that really was the legal definition.
    Claire: the horsey sauce was good! it probably still is good! but you've never seen an entire bustub filled with it on a hot summer afternoon. it can...its...
    um....very HORSELIKE.

  4. Ooooh, I remember that buffy episode where that old woman had that thing coming out of her head and was eating all the employees. Great show.

    I never eat at Arbys. There's one not too far from here.

  5. I am so relieved I have NEVER eaten there. Vegetarianism saves the day AGAIN! Now I have to go inspect my salad for EColi.
    I have a friend who wen to work at the Container Store and they wanted her to do cheers before every shift. She quit. Or, is it technically quitting if you have not worked an actual shift yet?

  6. Laws-a-mercy, woman - you have some wicked powers of description!

    This all reminds me of my teenage summers working as a hostess on the graveyard shift at Denny's (the only place open 24 hrs for miles around, btw, so you can imagine) and as a busser at a chain Mexican food restaurant. I'm not sure our outfits were as bad as yours, but the Denny's waitresses uniforms were beyond humiliating. And there's nothing like smelling like beer, cigarettes, old sour cream and salsa at the end of the day!

    I think working in almost any food service position, besides being a high-end chef, can put you off of resaturant food for a while. Fast food is, of course, the worst. I'm glad I only did it a couple years as summer jobs, though. I feel true sympathy for people who have to do it to make a living.

    Remember to tip your servers well, folks!

    P.S.: Anyone remember how in that episode of Buffy the monster in the old lady's head looked like a giant schlong, and then it attacked Willow, the lesbian on the show? Good times.

  7. Pam: every time you read one of these grossout posts i get embarrassed! but yeah, buffy! rawk!
    claire; ew indeed. mega ew.
    mutha: good for you. Arby's is what turned me into a vegetarian for six years. a kosher one at that.
    danator: oh geeze, girlie, Denny's?
    DENNY'S? holy crap, their menu is like the fricken dictionary! backpay is owed you for hazardous duty and yes....willow! i heart willow! her sweetie pie was adorable too...they were such a great couple!

  8. hendrix7:01 PM

    I think you've just convinced me to become vegetarian...

  9. Top post FN. It's all just so like it is though isn't it. God bless ameria for the FF culture. And god bless the japanese for their silly little ideas about how to get more value out of us.
    Rule no. one has to be, see that shit and run.

  10. Ew! The way you described that meat was just so graphic. Yukky yuk. I could almost smell it. And the sauce. I'm intrigued by that. The jobs we do, eh? What a nightmare. I bet you had loads of customers though, didn't you?

    Some jobs just suck don't they? I think working with food is really hard. I worked in a deli once and I ended up giving most of the food away to the people who were nice to me. And the waste always shocked me - it was horrific. I found a nice 'pig man' who took it home for his nice piggy!

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  12. hendrix: just be an 'avoidarbysatarian' and you should do fine.
    tom909: there is good, ethical fast food, like In-n-Out Burger, but the majority....not so much.
    molly: i know! the waste generated was obscene! and this was back in the days of 'not sold by x:00, throw it away'. and it didn't get fed to pigs, either; it went into a LOCKED DUMPSTER. shades of Grapes of Wrath! god forbid some poor homeless person should snipe a cold sandwich!

  13. now why oh why oh why did Willow suddenly become a lesbian ....I never got over that....I was gutted.And the girlfriend , big moon faced moose.

  14. I took my daughter to lunch at Arby's just yesterday. It seems to have melded into the uniform and garish world of fast food at this point. No Chuck wagon dinging rooms. No roasters on view. Still with the plastic uniforms though. Always with the plastic, those fast food people. Flashers should be required to wear plastic pants. The fly would probably saw off anything they attempted to display. Beats community service.

  15. now i can never again eat at Arby's. i did used to work for Kentucky Fried Chicken. i won't eat their either.

  16. beast; oh crapola. she wasn't your type anyway (no moustache, no hunchback)
    kristy: for all we know the wino flasher is the manager now. or a roast.
    pink: i worked for K-Fried too! so did the Yummy Biker way back when. ah, the sludge at the bottom of the pressure fryer...mmmmmmmm. i'd still rather eat there than arby's if i had to choose, though; the meat is still identifiable.

  17. y'know, goddamnit, i used to like Arby's. never goin' there again.

    and it's too bad places like that exploit workers who are unfamiliar with their rights. BY FEDERAL LAW if an employer requires that you be in attendance to ANYTHING, be it training, pep rallys, whatever, THEY MUST PAY YOU. PERIOD. Not paying you for those motivational seminars was blatantly illegal. you could have refused to show up and filed a suit against them if they fired you. but of course the vast majority of people working minimum wage jobs have no idea this is the case. god i hate corporate america. and japan.

  18. What a weird world of food.

  19. You know, when I read this, I laughed so hard that I cried. True, all true.

    And then I went "Mmmmmmm, Arby's. I haven't had Arby's in a while. That sounds good."