A Bit More about Pronghorn

So Asa Pemewan has a job, and things are possibly looking up for him. For now, he can stay there and as he is. The Pronghorn Project will not be ending here, or I hope it will not, but for now, it is in a good place to leave off, and I have some other ideas I’d like to try out for a while. Look for a new project starting next week!

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll continue to do so as I look at trying my hand at a few other things, and, as ever, if you’d like to support my artistic endeavors, I welcome it; click here.

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Pronghorn, Chapter 46: After the Night

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

At length, Asa’s workday ended, and he headed back to his parents’ home. As he got into his car, he noticed that he smelled of grease from meat and melted cheese, of flour and yeast, and of the sweat that standing close to ovens that belch their febrile breath into the open air without ceasing will pull from flesh. I guess it’ll be something I get used to, he thought as he started the vehicle and headed out.

The night was dark. Recovery from the Tuesday Storm was still ongoing, and some parts of town still did not have power. Overhanging clouds suggested humidity, but no rain was called for–and none in town complained about it. Pronghorn Creek still flowed faster than its wont, and the ponds that served as small reservoirs against the town’s most dire needs–and as fishing spots in and out of season–yet churned turgidly. For now, at least, there was water enough and more.

The drive home was quiet. A few people were out on the roads, heading home from bars or, like Asa, from service jobs only now ending for the day. Perhaps one or two were out getting a last-minute bite to eat, whether prepared at a fast-food place still open or to be prepared at home once gotten from the grocery store. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies patrolled, of course, but Asa knew that they would be doing so, and he kept his teal hatchback well below the posted speed limits as he wove through the series of turns that took him back to the house where his parents lived.

When he arrived there, he found the porch-light on, and he saw the glow of a lamp left lit in the living room. No shadows moved against the glow, but as Asa left his car and shut the door, approaching the house, he heard motion within it. The shift of floorboards told him somebody else was awake, so he did not make the effort to step quietly he otherwise would have.

He keyed the door, opened it, and found his father settling back into his chair with a beer in hand. He looked up at Asa and asked “How’d it go?”

Asa closed the door behind him and settled on the living room couch. “Pretty well. Brought home a little bit of cash in addition to what I earned on payroll. I also ran into a few interesting people–although that wasn’t always so good. One smelled like a distillery; another kept losing his pants. That kind of thing.”

“If nothing else, y’ get around a bit. And a paycheck’s good.” Asa’s father pulled at his beer. “So, y’ get any fancy discounts or anything?”

“I get one meal on shift, personal pizza or the equivalent. Theoretically, I get half off if I actually order, but I don’t think I’m going to want to do that much.”

“Yeah, but y’r mom and I might. Can we use y’r discount?”

Asa shrugged. “I’m not sure on that point. I want to think so, but I can’t swear to it. And it’s probably not the kind of thing I can ask yet. I go back in tomorrow, and I should be on the regular schedule next week, but I’m worried about staying on it. I haven’t got as much built up as I’d like to have, and I’ve not got a lot of other prospects for work, so I don’t want to take a chance on screwing this up.”

Asa’s father nodded. “I can understand that.” He took another pull from his beer. “But y’ve always worried more about screwing up than y’ve thought about how to do well, y’know. It’s like y’r so afraid of being wrong that y’ don’t try to be more right.”

Asa’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure I follow.”

Asa’s father set down his beer. “It’s like this, Asa. Most kids’ll go out, run around, jump off stuff, fall flat on their faces, cry a bit, and then jump again–and maybe make it the second time. Y’d take a run, then pull up short, gauge the distance, and decide that y’d rather not take the chance of falling than take the chance of making the jump. It’s part of why y’ did so well in school, y’know. Y’ got really good at doing what y’ were told. But there’s more that needs done than that, and that’s where y’ falter. Y’ think about what y’ve got to lose, and that’s a good thing–if y’ also look at what y’ can get if y’ make it.

“Now, y’r right that a pizza’s not a thing to take a risk over, and y’r right that y’ can’t afford to take on a lot of risk right now. But even when y’ could, y’ didn’t. Like with that one school y’ could’ve gone to. But y’ didn’t, said that moving’d be too hard. And now? Now y’r delivering pizza–which is good work, but to do it after how many years of going to school? It’s gotta hurt y’, son. And I hate seeing y’ hurt, y’know. Always have.”

Asa hung his head. “You’re right. I have always been more worried about the consequences of screwing up than about the benefits of doing well. And, at this point, I don’t know how to get out of it. Honestly, I feel like my time to take risks has passed, like if I tried it now, I’d look more a fool than I can stand. I mean, if a younger person takes a risk and fails, we chalk it up to youth. Someone my age does, he’s an idiot and deserves to suffer.”

He lapsed into silence. His father said nothing. They sat together quietly for quite some time.

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Pronghorn, Chapter 45: Running into the Night

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Asa Pemewan continued to make deliveries under Manny’s tutelage through the evening. The senior driver allowed Asa to take roughly half of the orders to the doors and to keep roughly half of the tip money that resulted–close to fifty dollars, all told. When Asa asked him why he would give up on the money, Manny laughed and replied “It’s how it’s done, Newbie. It’s how I was trained. You ever train anyone on this, you do the same thing for ’em. Pay it forward, right?”

Asa could only nod at the comment. That, and think about the differences between the work done at the restaurant and the work he had done–and would probably still need to do–elsewhere. Because part-time work isn’t enough, even if it is decent work. I need more.

Asa and Manny did not only have delivery work to do, though. As predicted, cleaning the restaurant bathrooms fell to Asa–listed as “Newbie” on the chore board in accord with what had been explained as traditional. The work was not wholly unfamiliar to Asa; he had lived in apartments before, and he had generally kept his places clean. But the kinds of things that get left behind in restaurant restrooms–feces smeared on seats and walls, urine sprayed about, a splash of vomit, blood and bandages and pads and tampons that did not quite make it into the garbage can–were in excess of Asa’s experience. Gagging and retching took up time that could have been otherwise spent, and he was glad to wash his hands and get back on the road for deliveries when they came.

Too, Asa began to meet other coworkers as they came in for their spans of hours. Felicia continued to ooze disdain for him–and for the other workers in the store. Asa noticed that few spoke with or to her during the evening. He also noticed that Manny was shown a fair degree of deference, even by Jennifer, and that one of the cooks, a wiry, one-eyed man named Robert–never “Bob,” but only “Robert”–was given a wide berth. “Not because he’s mean, mind,” Manny said as he and Asa made another deliver, “but because he moves so damned fast and has bony elbows. And there was the one time with Dan Jackson.”

“What was that?”

“Punk newbie a few years back. Thought he was hot shit because he had a fancy car, didn’t think he needed to know things other than driving. Now, Robert’s head cook; he says do, you get it done. Jennifer doesn’t argue with him, you see, and even the higher-ups know he knows what he’s doing better than they do. But Jackass–Jackson–doesn’t do when Robert says to do. And Robert’s cutting produce at the time, chopping onions or peppers, I forget which. Anyway, Robert aims his eye at Jackass, but Jackass doesn’t care, just flops his ass down. So Robert throws his knife at him, lands it in the wall right above his head. And I mean like a quarter-inch above his head.

“Now, you’ve seen the knives on the make table, right? Got an eight-inch knife and a ten-inch knife. Robert’s got a cleaver squirreled away somewhere. None of the rest of us can find the damned thing. I think he sleeps with it or something. Anyway, the ten-inch knife’s the one that sticks in above Jackass’s head, quivering in the wall. And then the damned cleaver comes out, and Robert’s still cutting the produce, looks at Jackass and says do again.

“That time, Jackass did. I think he needed new pants, too.”

Asa looked agog at Manny. “How’s he still working?”

Manny chuckled. “I think he saw some stuff overseas. He doesn’t talk about it much, though. Don’t ask him, neither. I get the impression that he’d not approve.”

There were other drivers, too. Dan Jackson was long gone, of course, but there were Paul Keane–a taller, younger man, but reasonably humble–and Gerald Smitherson–a smart-alecky twenty-something who walked with a swagger when he wasn’t where Robert could see him. He’d proven worse than Felicia for disdain; while she seemed to spread her annoyance indiscriminately–and was at least a good worker–he made a point of poking at Asa.

“I know Aunt Olive didn’t think you were worth hiring. Not that I’d work at the Chandlery. Everybody in the family knows that’s where we put the rejects–which makes it great for Olive. But you couldn’t even get on there” came one tirade, and Asa shook his head as he walked away from Gerald. It only prompted a “Just keep walking, Newb. I don’t know why you’d come back here, either.”

“Don’t let it get to you” said Manny later on another run. “Gerald’s following Jackass–but he knows to do when Robert says to do. Never do know where the hell that cleaver is.”

“Why does Jennifer keep him on?” Asa asked his tutor.

“Robert? Because he’s damned good at the job.”

“No. Gerald.”

“Oh, that. Yeah. Well, he’s a Smitherson. You’re from here. You know what it means.”

Asa sighed heavily. “Yeah. I do.” It means that he can do more or less what he wants, and nobody’ll do a damned thing–except the head of the family. But who that is with Bartholomew gone isn’t clear. “He’s going to get worse, isn’t he?”

“Probably. It’ll take some time before someone comes out on top of things out there. And maybe the Hochstedlers and Zapatas’ll get involved, too. Hell, they’re all cousins or closer, anyway. It makes sense they’d be up in each others’ business.

“But don’t worry. Someone’ll pop up, keep the rest in line. You’ll be okay that long.”

Asa thought I wish I was that confident.

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Pronghorn, Chapter 43: Running Again

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Asa Pemewan followed Manny as the latter walked back into the restaurant. “Put the bag back on the rack and come over here, Newbie,” Manny said as he reached into his pocket. Asa complied quickly and quietly, joining Manny at one of the restaurant’s two cash registers.

“Normally, we use the one register,” and Manny pointed to one as he spoke, “for carry-out orders and dine-in. The other,” and he pointed at the one he stood before, “is usually reserved for delivery work. It gets really busy in here, we run both on both, depending on which one’s open at any given moment. But it’s not often that busy. Middle of the day like this, almost never.

“So, what you do is you come back from the run, and you come to a register and tell who’s running it that you need to cash in an order. That’ll usually be a manager, but I’ve got it, too. The order’ll get pulled up, and you’ll be told how much you owe. You pay it–and get change if you need it. First few orders, you’ll need change every time. Later, you can give the exact amount. Then you check and see if there’s another order ready. If there is, you take it and go. There ain’t, you see if they need help on make table–well, later for you. You go see if dishes need doing or something else needs cleaning. We’ll get you trained up on the make table, but that’ll happen later.”

Asa nodded along as Manny rattled off the things that would need doing. “Well, Newbie,” Manny added, “is there another order ready? Move your ass and check!”

Asa hurried over to the rack, seeing only empty bags on it. He then peered into the pizza oven, seeing two pies in it. He looked above the table where he had seen Felicia cut the pizza earlier and noted a tag hanging from it. “Delivery” appeared on it, and Asa said “We’ve got one coming out before long. I’ll check the address while it cooks.”

Manny nodded as Asa did so, running a finger over the map along a route from the restaurant south on 701 to just inside the marked delivery area. “It looks like we’re going to be out longer this time; the order’s south of town.”

“Got a name on it?”

Asa returned to the table and looked at the tag again. “Damn! It does.”

“You don’t seem pleased, Newbie.”

“It’s a guy I know, a guy named Richard. He’s not a friend.”

“Well, damn, I guess I’m not getting a tip this run. But you’re gonna run into folks you know, since you’re from here, and some of ’em ain’t gonna be your friends. Still got to make the run, deliver the pie. So you’ll have to suck it up, Newbie. But it’ll get easier the more you do it.”

“If you say so.”

“I do. What, you think I ain’t got folks who don’t like–pies’re comin’ out.” Manny pointed to the end of the oven, which was disgorging its steaming food. “Watch Felicia, now.”

Asa did so, noting once again how deftly the woman flipped the pies out of their metal plates and dropped the cutting tool across them over and over, separating one pie into eighths and the other into twelfths. She boxed them and handed them to Asa, her words to him again oozing disdainfully from her mouth. “Marginally better, Newbie. Try to do it yourself next time.”

“I will” said Asa as he pivoted with the boxed pizzas in hand and put them into one of the insulated sacks. He grabbed the ticket from atop them and waited for Manny to check out the order, then followed the senior driver out of the restaurant and to his car. Asa sat silently as they drove, and when Manny pulled up in front of Richard’s house, Asa got out of the car with the pizzas in hand and walked with his trainer to the door.

Arriving at it, Manny said “Check for a doorbell first. This one doesn’t look to have one, so knock.” Asa did, and they waited for a minute before the door opened. A scruffy face showed through the gap between door and frame. “Yeah?”

Manny stepped forward slightly. “Pizza’s here. You Richard?”

“Yeah.”

“It’ll be $21.73, sir.” Manny waved Asa over and began to take the pizzas from the bag.

“Why’s it take two of you to deliver some pizzas?”

“Training the new guy.”

“Huh. Well, looks like all his schooling did him good.”

Asa felt himself blush. Manny repeated the price of the pizzas, and Richard handed over the exact amount; four five-dollar bills, a one, seven dimes, and three pennies. He took the pizzas and shut the door forcefully.

As they walked back to the car, Asa asked Manny “Does that happen often?”

“What?” came the quick reply.

“Getting no tip and getting the door slammed in your face?”

“More of the first than the second.” They got back into Manny’s car. “Some folks are tight.” The car started. “Some’re just poor.” Manny pulled out, making a U-turn in the street. “They tend to apologize for not tipping. One guy, though, used to be a rep over in Austin kept trying to stiff me on the bill, which was an asshole move. I voted against him as often as I could.”

“And slammed doors?”

“It happens. Like I said, everybody’s got folks that hate ’em. Doin’ this, it puts you into a position where folks think they can act out. Sometimes, we’ve got it comin’. Most of the time, though, assholes is assholes. They’ve gotta be handled. No way around it.

“Most folks’re okay, though. Most of ’em.”

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Pronghorn, Chapter 42: On the Run

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

From the end of the pizza oven–a mechanical monster belching hundreds of degrees of heat from its mesh-track innards–came a pie a foot across and just over an inch deep, thick dough piled with cheese and meats and mushrooms. One of the cooking crew, a young woman named Felicia, deftly snagged the pie from the end of the oven, shucking it from the pan in which it had cooked and onto a weathered wooden paddle. Stashing the pan under the table and taking a yard-long metal arc from atop it, she rocked the arc through the pizza, splitting it in half, into quarters, into eighths before sliding the pie into a waiting cardboard box. Twists of her wrists closed the box, and Felicia snagged a hanging ticket; she called out for a driver, and Manny nudged Asa Pemewan. “Go get it, Newbie. It’s our run.”

Asa nodded and hustled over to the waiting cook. “Get it faster next time, Newbie” oozed out of her mouth as Asa took the rapidly warming box and printed ticket from her. Manny said behind him “Put the pie in a bag, and check the address on the map.” Asa did as he was bidden, sliding the pizza into an insulated bag an peering intently at the address on the ticket–an address low on West Fourth–then at the map. Manny asked “How do we get there?”

Asa thought back on what he had been told not long before and what he knew of the town from having grown up in it. “Normally, we’d take Water to North Oak and cut up to Fourth. But there’s still cleanup going on on Oak between Second and Third, so we can either take North Main and have to make left turns, or we can take North Cedar and extend the trip by a couple of blocks. Cedar’ll probably be quicker.”

“What about coming across Fourth from College?”

“College has lots of stop signs on it. And there’ll be pedestrians, even with it being summer. Probably slower, unless Cedar’s got cleanup I didn’t see. Which it might; a lot of people are still trying to get back from the Tuesday Storm.”

“Don’t I know it. But, yeah, Cedar’ll do. We’ll time it. So, what you do when you take a run is look for the order. Number should be on top of the ticket.” Manny pointed, Asa noted and nodded, and Manny went on. “On the computer by the pizza rack, you look for the order, highlight it, and select it.” He did so. “Then the machine’s gonna ask which driver, by initials. All three. Ain’t got a middle name, use X where the middle initial oughta go.” He entered his own. “Then the order vanishes, ’cause it’s yours. And then you hustle your ass out the door and to the car so that you can drive to make the run. Should take about twenty minutes, check-out to cash-in, so let’s go!” He snatched the bag and ticket and rushed out through the door whence he had entered not long before. Asa hurried to follow and took the shotgun seat in Manny’s car.

Manny slung himself into his driver’s seat and handed Asa the bag. “Hold this” he said as he started the car, lurched it into gear, and headed towards the customer Asa was sure was tapping an impatient foot and glaring at the advancing second hand of a watch. And Asa was sure he was not going to survive to accept the customer’s abuse, for Manny wove around the other vehicles on the road, scooting through two yellow lights and slowing down just enough to count as a stop when turning onto Fourth from Cedar. All the while, through, Manny kept up a friendly chatter, more than once commenting on Asa’s white-knuckle grip on the pizza bag–“Keep that up, Newbie, and you’ll crush the pie”–and the door-pull afterward–“Gonna need a new one, you keep crimping that thing.” The tone was reasonably good-natured, and Asa recognized it as a joke, but he did not loosen his grip until Manny pulled the car to a stop and said “Hand me the bag.”

Asa did so, and Manny slung himself out of the car, hustling up the driveway to the house whose address matched that on the order ticket. Asa could see him knock, saw the door open, saw pizza leave the bag and go into waiting hands and money come from those hands into Manny’s apron pocket. Manny returned and slung himself back into the car, thrusting the bag back at Asa. “Come up with me next time, Newbie. I should’ve told you that this time, but you should’ve guessed at it, too.”

As the car started back up, Asa said “I will.”

“Good. You won’t learn unless you do.” Manny pulled back out into West Fourth street and turned onto Main. “Heading back’s not as urgent as heading out. Back keep you from getting new business, sure, but out gets you yelled at and calls to the store. Also gets you less money. Neither helps.”

Asa nodded and found himself gripping the door again. Manny laughed at him. “You’re gonna need to relax, Newbie. Give yourself a heart attack in my car, I’ll kick your ass.” He smiled as he said it, but Asa got the sense that he more or less meant it, and he replied dryly “I’ll try to wait until we get back into the restaurant.”

“Good! Then Jennifer has to fill out the paperwork, and I can make another delivery!” Manny laughed again, and Asa began to realize that low-level haranguing would be going on for a long time while he was working at the pizza place.

He thought I’d better get used to it.

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Pronghorn, Chapter 41: Meeting Manny

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Asa Pemewan did not have to wait long. When a short, stout man, scruffily bearded and with shoulder-length curly hair came in through the side door, Jennifer called out “Hi, Manny!” and Asa turned to face him, raising his own hand in greeting.

Manny replied “Hi, Jen,” and punched a series of numbers on the keypad by the door to the breakroom. “So, we’ve got a newbie?”

Jennifer nodded. “That we do! Manny, this is Asa Pemewan.” She gestured to Asa; he extended his hand. “Asa, Manny Davis.” Manny took the hand, shaking it; his hand was somewhat oily, but his grip was firm. “He’s just signed on as a driver, so if you could show him how it works today, I’d be grateful.”

“Can do. So,” and he turned to Asa, “first thing’s first. Driving’s a cash-handling job, so you’ll need a bank. You got an apron?”

Asa shook his head. “No, sir.”

Manny smirked. “Sir, huh? Well, you keep calling me that, Newbie. And you get an apron, one of the half-aprons, like this one.” He gestured towards his waist, around which he had tied a six-inch wide strip of black cloth with three pockets in it. “Should be some in the storage closet in the breakroom.”

Asa nodded and retrieved an apron of his own, tying it around his own waist as he came back. Manny nodded. “Good. Now, one pocket, you’ll want to keep a couple pens, maybe a rag of some kind. ‘Nother pocket’ll be where you keep your bank. Now, when you clock in next time, Jennifer–or whoever’s running the store; we’ve got two other management, and District sometimes shows up and runs things–will issue you some money. You’ve gotta make change, y’know. So you’ll get–” he gestured, and Jennifer opened a cash drawer–“twenty dollars total. It’ll be a ten, a five, four ones, three quarters, a dime, two nickels, and pennies to round out. You take pies to people, they give you money, you make change. You come back, give the store the money owed for the pies, you get what’s left. Customers give you more, you keep it. Customers give you less, they don’t get pies. Easy, right?”

Asa nodded. Manny continued. “Good. So, you also get a buck a run. Make twenty runs, you don’t give back your bank. Make more, the store gives you more. Make less, you balance the store up to twenty minus the number of runs you make. So, make twelve runs, you give the store eight back at the end of the night. Make twenty-five, the store gives you five more. Make sense?”

Asa nodded again. “It does.”

“Good! So money’s handled.” Manny paused and frowned. “Wait, no. No. Always count back the change the old-school way–unless a customer says to keep the change. Then you make sure you got enough to start with. But if they don’t, you count back up. So if you got an order for $18.66, customer gives you a twenty, you do this.” Manny pulled out his own bank and counted up. “Sixty-six is sixty-seven,” and he counted out a penny, “sixty-eight,” another, “sixty-nine,” another, “seventy,” another, “seventy-five,” a nickel,” makes nineteen,” a quarter, “and twenty,” and a one-dollar bill joined the coins. “Usually, you count it into the customer’s hand. Sometimes, they want it on top of the pies. Then, whatever they give you–even if it’s nothing, and there’re some assholes who’ll do that–you say ‘Thanks’ or something like that, and you smile when you say it. Then you hustle your happy ass back to the car and get back to the store. Got it?”

Asa nodded yet again. “I think so. Practice’ll help.”

“It will. So, money’s handled. But you’re not gonna get anywhere you don’t know where you’re going. So, look at the map.” He gestured to a wall from which hung a map of Pronghorn with a dark marker-line drawn irregularly through the outskirts of town. “Inside the line’s the delivery area. Outside, we don’t go while we’re on the clock. Had a guy get stabbed in the junk a couple years ago doin’ that. Not an experience we want repeated. Make sense?”

Asa squeezed his legs together at the suggestion of genital trauma and nodded. “Stay inside the lines. Got it.”

“Now, you from here?” Asa nodded. “Then you know the numbers run parallel. Two hundred block of East Second’s due south of 200 block of East Third. Creek screws with it a little, but not bad. Numbers start at Main and the creek. Try not to be on Main or Park; traffic’s a pain in the ass. Water’s not got many lights or stops, so it’s your friend. School zone’s an absolute. Do. Not. Speed. Through. It. Cops will pull you over, and they will take all damned day with you. Don’t be an example. Make sense?”

“It does.”

“Good!” Manny glanced at a rack not far from the door. “So, pizzas’ll go there in the warming bags when they’re made and boxed. You might get to help with that; depends on if they need help on the cut table or the make table. But they’ll teach you that when you need to know it. For now, you’ll get to deal with the pizzas that’re put in bags–along with cheese bread and wings and such. Sandwiches and pasta, too, now. At least for now. Corporate keeps shipping in stuff and not telling anybody. Pain in the ass, really. But you’ll handle it, right?”

Asa nodded once again. “I can.”

“Good! It looks like an order’s about to come out of the oven. Give it a couple-three minutes, and we’ll be on our way with it. I’l show you once or twice, have you do it guided, and then, tomorrow, you’ll be doing it on your own.

“Welcome to the team, Newbie.”

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Pronghorn, Chapter 40: Popping in to the Pizza Place

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

On Monday, as directed, Asa Pemewan returned to the Pizza Place, clad in a black t-shirt, khaki slacks, and black sneakers. The last were new to him, bought over the weekend from a local thrift shop in anticipation of coming to work. And I can get newer shoes after the first paycheck, Asa thought. These just have to get me through until then.

Jennifer greeted him shortly after he walked into the restaurant. “Hi, Asa! Welcome back! Did you have a good weekend?”

Asa did what he could to match her cheer. He smiled, nodded, and replied “It was better knowing that I had work to come to at the end of it.”

“That’s great! Keep up that kind of attitude, and you’ll do fine! So, come on back, and we’ll get you started.” She gestured to the back room again, and Asa followed. Jennifer continued to talk as they went along.

“So, you’ll have to read through the orientation packet. I’ll set you up in the payroll system while you do, and I’ll clock you in at two–it’s a couple minutes past, now. When you come in, you’ll clock in on the keypad by the back room.” She pointed at a wall-mounted number-pad as they passed. “You’ll clock out the same way. You’ll have an ID number in your orientation packet. Key it in on the number pad. Then it’ll ask for your password. That’ll start as your birthday. The first time you use the system, it’ll ask you to change it. Do so. It’s like a PIN number for your ATM.”

Asa nodded as they reached the back room. “Got it.”

“Good! So,” and here, Jennifer pointed towards one of the tables, “you’ve got the packet and your two shirts. Duck into the bathroom and put one on, and please tuck it in.”

Asa nodded again. “Not a problem,” he said, and he went into the bathroom, soon emerging with the polo–black with blue collar and blue elastic on the ends of its sleeves and a slice of pizza embroidered over the left breast; a pair of sewn rounds sat high on the right–on and tucked in smartly. A driving cap had been included in the package with the shirt; Asa had it on his head, as well. When he returned to the back room, Jennifer said “It looks good on you! You’ll notice a couple of circles sewn into the shirt. Your nametag goes there.” She tossed him one; he caught it and saw that its white plastic had “Pizza Place” engraved into it. A printed label on it read “Newbie,” and Asa looked up at Jennier quizzically. She smiled “It’s a bit of a tradition. You’re the new hire, so you’re ‘Newbie’ until someone else signs on. Then you get your own nametag.”

She sat. “Everybody here’s worn one of those. I think that’s the third one the store’s had. They do wear out after a while. But you may not be wearing it long. We still need another driver.”

“That’s a comfort.”

“Just think, though! Until we get another new driver, there’ll be a lot of business for you. That means more tips for you, more money in your pocket.” She leaned in. “This is one of the few jobs that actually rewards you for working harder. Make more deliveries, get more money. Make deliveries faster, make more deliveries. Work harder, make deliveries faster. It works out for you. Or, at least, it does if you’re willing to work for it. Are you willing, Asa?”

Asa nodded. “I am.”

Jennifer nodded sharply in reply. “Good! Then you’ll need to go through the orientation packet. Read it, do the assessments that’re in it, and keep it ready while you work here. Other than for the orientation, I’m not going to quiz you or anything, but you’ll need to know what all it says. Company policies are all in it, and we’d really like you to follow policy. It’s kind of the point of having policies, you know.”

“I understand,” Asa said.

“Good! Well, I’ve got to get back to the front of the store. Customers come in, they expect to see smiling faces and food getting ready, and I get to make sure that they do! Come get me when you get done. I’ll have you start out on the make table, work it for a while until the head driver comes in. He’ll be the one who trains you.”

“He, who?”

“Manny Davis. He’s been here for a few years. I’ve got one or two folks’ve worked here longer, but Manny’s got the best driving record. Works the make table like a boss, too. Won’t take a management job, though. I don’t understand why.”

I think I do, Asa thought, but he nodded his head and said “Okay. Thanks.”

“Alrighty, then.” And Jennifer popped back up to the front of the restaurant, leaving Asa alone in the break room with his orientation packet. He opened it and read, finding the first few pages generally saccharine materials congratulating him on taking the first step into an exciting, fast-paced career with ample opportunities for advancement. After the laudatory tract ended and a company history was presented (“Pizza Place Pizza Parlor first opened in Gary, Indiana, in 1962.”), the dry corporate boilerplate began, outlining the restaurant’s reporting hierarchy (employees report to managers who report to district managers who report to the head of the franchise, and the franchise head liaises with the corporate offices, still in Gary) and showing uniform standards. General policies, as well as specific position duties and store roles, followed, as did compensation and bonus programs. Those piqued Asa’s interest, and he made ample notation on his pages before filling out the assessment. That done, he tore the relevant pages out of the orientation packet and took them up to Jennifer.

She smiled as she took them. “I’m glad to see you got it done. Now, we wait for Manny.”

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The State of the Pronghorn Project

At this point, I’ve been working on what I’m calling the Pronghorn Project for about two months, with posts going up at 6 in the morning (my time; I’m in US Central) each weekday. Readership has been fairly decent, although I would, of course, like to have more. As a way to get some of that “more,” as well as to disentangle the Pronghorn postings from some others that I push out each morning from another website, I think I’ll be shifting to having Pronghorn Project Posts pop up at noon, moving them to lunch from breakfast. Some of the social media work I have been doing suggests that that is a better time to have things go up, anyway.

So, starting tomorrow (1 March 2017), Pronghorn Project posts will go up at noon. They will still go up in the accustomed location, so nothing will move other than the time, so far as Asa Pemewan and the folks he interacts with are concerned. I hope you’ll still read along–and tell your friends. I think they’d like it, too!

Pronghorn, Chapter 39: Local History (IV)

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

It has been remarked that the LeBeaux family undergirds education in Pronghorn; Guy LeBeaux was the first schoolteacher in the town, giving the school district its motto–and in his own conduct upholding that. He remained engaged in study and scholarship throughout his life, as his papers–held at Pronghorn Community College’s Pronghorn History Museum–attest. And he passed a love of learning on to his family–easily done early on, when families still tended to follow one another in trades and professions, and when the town and area supported the family well in its intellectual endeavors.

One of Guy’s great-grandsons, Richard LeBeaux, was one of the more vocal proponents of education as the town grew and throve. After marrying a daughter of the Zapata family–his Cajun descent and the Catholicism traditionally associated therewith made such a marriage more attractive to both families than another union with the Lutheran Hochstedlers and the Methodist Smithersons–he made several wise investments not long after the turn of the twentieth century and so found himself in the position of having a fair bit of wealth to apply to local and personal concerns. Much of that wealth went to enhancing the school, helping build it from a one-room schoolhouse to a larger building and into a full-on campus. (His brother, Chase, helped to establish the track and field teams that would become a Pronghorn hallmark. Richard was resistant to the idea, claiming it would be a distraction from the vital work of learning, but Chase had his own funds to apply to the task, and the town approved of the establishment, so Richard was obliged to relent.)

Richard’s one child, son Jacques, sought to follow in his father’s footsteps. The Great Depression hindered that pursuit to some extent; he could not, for example, afford to go east to study, not even so far east as Tulane, where his father and grandfather had both studied. But he did learn what he could where he could, and he applied it to good effect in World War II. When he returned, though, he realized that the emerging world would require more skilled and accomplished workers than had hitherto been the case, and he petitioned for permission from the city and county to set up a trade school, offering up no small part of the family fortune to do so. Permission was granted, unsurprisingly, and construction started in short order–providing jobs that were welcome even amid the post-war boom. The first building on campus, Meriwether Smitherson Hall, was completed within half a year, and classes began that fall. Jacques was killed in a car accident before more buildings opened; when he died, three more were under construction, names already spoken for, but the next one to be raised was named after him and the family that had made schooling in Pronghorn happen.

For all their interest and involvement in education, however, both Richard and Jacques largely abstained from working in the field. Both believed that their financial influence on the institutions would have adverse effects on their ability to be part of the faculty–and both were likely correct. The same was not true of their cousins, however; Chase’s daughter, Heloise, was long an English teacher at the grade school, and his son, Henri, taught welding at the trade school. A more removed cousin, Charles Hochstedler–descended from one of Richard’s sisters–was an early administrator over the trade school and took over leadership of the project after Jacques died. With some financial and political support from the other Hochstedlers, Charles pushed through the transformation of the school in the 1960s from a trade school only to a junior college, using it as a means to help prepare the local students for attendance at four-year schools in San Antonio and points further removed from the small town. The efforts worked, although they had the unexpected consequence of helping to funnel the best and brightest people out of town; they had access to the kind of education that allowed them to move and establish themselves elsewhere. Even so, when he died in 1982, Charles’s funeral was attended by nearly a thousand mourners.

Other members of the LeBeaux family still remain involved in Pronghorn education. A fair number of the teachers at the primary and secondary schools are descendants of Guy, although the family has had a couple of generations run long on girls, and most of the family adheres to traditional mores–the women who marry, which has been most of them, take their husbands’ names. Henri has since retired, and his younger son “Deux” Lee works in retail, but his elder son, Abélard, is noted as a fearsome chemistry instructor at the college. (He is one of two, and while students want to take classes from his colleague, those who have completed their studies tend to look back with thanks at Abélard; he prepares students better for what they will have to do.) Another cousin, Everard LeBeaux, serves as the head librarian for the city. (He is working to align the schools’ libraries with the town, expanding privileges and research ability across the community; his efforts are meeting with limited success.) Many members of the school board are also descended from Guy, although, again, many of them do not carry the LeBeaux name (Smithersons abound, oddly enough), and the president of the school board has almost always been someone other than a LeBeaux.

The trend looks like it will continue. Many of Guy’s descendants are of college age, and a great many of those who are find themselves in one kind of educational program or another. And many of them make a point of coming home to Pronghorn, at least for a time. The schools therefore enjoy an influx of new teaching techniques and ideologies, helping make the town a glistening gem among the limestone hills.

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Pronghorn, Chapter 38: Coming Home Again

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Asa Pemewan walked into his parents’ home, his home for the time being, calling out “Mom, I’m back. And I have some good news. And I need to apologize for being an asshole this morning, because I was, and you didn’t deserve to have me be one.”

Underneath the murmur of the air conditioner working against the Hill Country warmth, there was only silence in the house. But Mom’s car’s here, Asa thought, and I didn’t think she’d be hiking out anywhere today. Maybe she’s just in the bathroom. But when he went to it, he found the door open and the room empty.

“Mom?” Asa called out again. Maybe she’s taking a nap? He began to move through the house, walking quickly, calling out for her again and again. But she was not in her bedroom, nor was she on the living room couch, and not many other places in the house admitted of good napping.

The flesh on the back of his neck tightened, as did that just below the hollow of his throat. What if she’s hurt? Or worse? She doesn’t talk about it much, but  know she’s got some health problems; did one of them rise up at her? He began to grow frantic as he went from room to room, his calls for her growing louder and more strident as he went. If something’s happened, I don’t, I don’t know what I’d, I’d–

He noticed that the back door was standing slightly ajar. He went to it, opened it, and saw that his mother was kneeling near the fence at the back of the backyard. “Mom?”

She did not turn, but waved him away brusquely. Asa relaxed. At least she’s okay. He stood just outside the back door, watching her as well as he could. No garden tools and no wagon, so she’s not planting. But she was wearing a glove, so what the hell is she doing?

As he watched, Asa saw that his mother was wrestling with something–and, with the way the fence moved, it was something in or with the pipe-supported chain-link that separated the Pemewans’ lot from its neighbors. And the sound that reached him, a yowling and hissing, told him that it was probably a cat that had trapped itself in the fence that occupied his mother’s attention. And so I don’t want to bother her. But I think I can be helpful.

Asa ducked back inside and went to the medicine cabinet, grabbing an antibiotic ointment and bandages of several varieties. The cat’ll do what it’ll do; the only question’ll be how much of it it does to Mom. And he waited at the kitchen table with the supplies for a few more minutes, until his mother came back in, sweating. And, as he expected, there were several thin red lines on her hands and arms. “I’ve got the bandages, Mom.”

She went to the sink to wash her hands. “I’ll skip ’em, thanks. But if you’ve got the ointment, I’ll take it.”

“I do. It’s on the table. I’ll put the bandages away.” She nodded as he did so, washing her hands while he returned to the medicine cabinet. When Asa got back to the table, his mother was applying the ointment to herself. She looked up at him. “Well, how’d it go?”

Asa took a seat. “First, Mom, I’ve got to apologize. I was an asshole this morning, and you didn’t deserve it from me.”

“You’re right. You were, and I didn’t. But I forgive you.” She resumed the application. “Now answer my question, Asa. How’d it go?”

“I suppose it went alright” he replied flatly, meeting her gaze levelly. She stopped and cocked an eyebrow at him; he smiled broadly after a moment and added “if getting hired counts as alright.”

“That’s great, Asa! I’m glad for you!”

“Thanks, Mom. I start Monday afternoon–or I do if we don’t have another storm blow through, or the manager doesn’t die, or something like that.”

“You know, you don’t have to be so morbid all the time, Asa.”

“What? It’s a concern, especially since it happened to the last one.”

“But you can’t expect that it’s going to happen again.”

“Just the same, I can’t expect it won’t, either, since it has.”

Asa’s mother sighed heavily and shrugged. “I get so tired of you doing this, Asa.”

“Doing what?”

“Finding the cloud in every silver lining. I swear, sometimes you go out of your way to have it bad, even when you’re doing well. I mean, you just got a job off of walking in off of the street. You’ve going to have money coming in. And you’re talking about the job getting pulled because a storm blows down the building and kills the manager.”

“You’re kind of stretching a point, Mom. I didn’t exactly say that.”

“Close enough! And the idea’s the same, anyway. Every time you have something good come up, you look for how it’ll go wrong.”

“Well, Mom, it’s gone wrong often enough I have to look for how I’ll get screwed over.”

“That’s just it. You don’t. You really could just let things be good every now and again. You could let yourself be happy with how things are. But you don’t. And when your dad and I are happy for you, and you do that, you make us feel like damned fools for doing what parents are supposed to do. We’re supposed to be happy for you when you do well and when you get good things, and when you pull your ‘look on the bright side of death’ thing–”

“I didn’t know you knew that movie.”

“Asa, everybody knows that movie. And don’t distract me. When you pull the crap you pull, you undercut us, take away one of the things we need. And it hurts us, Asa. Your dad’ll never admit it, of course, but it hurts the both of us.”

Asa lapsed into silence.

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