Like so many of us out there I started my working life in the fast food industry. For me, it was Pizza Hut.
I began as a dishwasher, became a cook, then a “crew leader,” and finally an assistant manager. When I moved to Gainesville I transferred to a Pizza Hut there. They didn’t need another assistant, so they bumped me back to cook. No one seemed to notice that I was still drawing an assistant manager’s pay, and it didn’t seem right to me to bother them with it.
It was a pretty happy time for me, I was young, thin, and strong, full of the kind of self-assuredness that is the sole province of immortal youth. (Those who didn’t understand might have called it arrogance, but they were obviously all very stupid.) While I despised the company I worked for, I loved my friends and my co-workers, smoked and drank without consequence, and discussed politics, girls, and philosophy into the wee hours, rarely making it back home before dawn.
In a strange way, my “success” in my job at Pizza Hut stemmed from the fact that I disliked the company that owned it so much. I cared so little about working there that I was consistently much more honest with management than was probably wise, which they responded to by promoting me. (Once, within a two-week period, I took a personality test at both Pizza Hut and Home Depot. These tests were designed to replace the disallowed polygraphs to determine whether prospective employees were honest or not. I answered both tests exactly the same way. Home Depot formally announced that I would never be allowed to work at any of their stores — ever. Pizza Hut tried to fast track me into their store manager’s program. To this day I still haven’t been able to decide which reaction was the more ridiculous.)
The least fulfilling job in a Pizza Hut was folding boxes. Fold the box, stick a corrugated sheet into it to keep the bottom of the box dry, and throw it on the pile. We used to make games out of it, competing in both overall speed and stacking ability. One day however, I had ended up in the back office by myself, folding boxes while I read the same cartoon taped to the ice-maker over and over. My mind was even more restless in those days than it is now, much less able to enjoy the respite brainless repetitive tasks can provide. My eyes scanned the office while my fingers worked, finally lighting on a thick, black magic marker. My box folding slowed considerably after that.
“No cats were harmed in the making of this box. Well, almost none.” read my first secret message, hidden under the corrugated lining where it was doubtful anyone at all would ever see it. “Fun for the kids! Fold this box into a real working nuclear submarine! Instructions on reverse!” It didn’t really matter to me if anyone actually read my box-bottoms, it was just fun to write them. Mostly because I was pretty sure it would be really bad if anyone found out.
“What’re you looking under here for? Still hungry? Eat an apple.”
“Roses are red,
violets are blue.
I just got felt up,
by Winnie the Pooh.”
“This pizza lovingly provided to you care of the lowest paid employee Pizza Hut could possibly find.”
“I wanted to be a doctor. Instead I make pizza for a living. Enjoy eating my crushed dreams.”
“Did that smell right to you?”
… and similar nonsense.
Maybe a week later, I was out back behind the restaurant (ironically, I was crushing boxes that had come in on the supply truck to go into the recycle container) when that store’s assistant manager came out looking for me. It seemed that some customer had gotten a message in the bottom of a box a couple of days earlier. She and her husband hadn’t known what to do about it, and so they had called the Gainesville Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff’s office hadn’t taken them seriously so they mulled it over a day deciding what to do. Finally, the couple gathered all of their friends and family up into three cars and hit the Pizza Hut in force. They figured they’d need the numbers to set the situation right since the cops wouldn’t help, and were even at that moment raising hell out in the dining room demanding to speak to managers and lawyers and company presidents and god only knows what else. I asked the assistant if he had seen the message on the box in question. He told me yes he had, and what it said.
“Please help. I am trapped in a box-making factory. Call the police.”
They were good Christian folk, even if a trifle dim and humorless, and I had been hoisted on my own petard. The assistant told me that even though there was no direct proof, it wasn’t like anyone working there had any doubt about who might do something like that. (The individual he was referring to being me.) He strongly suggested I just get in my car right there and then and drive home. The family had already been told that I wasn’t there that day, and he said he’d clock me out after I had left.
The next day I showed up at the restaurant to find the store manager (Bob) waiting in the dining room for me. He said I wasn’t allowed to clock back in before the area manager and possibly some regional chief got done chewing on my ass for awhile. Bob was an alright guy but I knew the other two were righteous pricks and I simply smiled and slid my shirt, hat, and apron across the table. (No, I think I kept the apron. I didn’t have one at home.) Bob smiled back and shook my hand, and told me he would miss me and that I was a good employee and a joy to have on the staff. We both cracked up laughing at that.
Later that same day I started working for the Independent Florida Alligator, a family owned and student run newspaper serving the University of Florida. It was a great job where I not only enjoyed the company but appreciated the folks I worked for. I did production work as well as writing, and ran a regular comic strip.
And no secret messages were ever written into the newspaper to be subjected onto an innocent and unsuspecting populace. Well, almost none.