"Hot. August. Nights."
"I know what you said, but what's that mean?" I ask.
"Hot August Nights, man, I don't know. It's this thing."
"Yeah, thing. In Reno. Cars, music, girls and stuff."
"You've ever been there?"
"Where? Reno? Yeah, lots of times."
"For this August thing?"
"No. Not that."
"So you don't actually know what it is?"
"It's a thing, man. In Reno. What more do you really need to know?"
Randy had a point, actually. We both simply wanted to get away for the weekend and didn't much care to what or to where. I personally would have chosen to head to the coast, Santa Cruz, probably, for the cool ocean breezes, the seafood, and the college bars with the girls from UCSC. It was about a two hour drive to Santa Cruz, except on Fridays when everybody in the Bay Area heads to Santa Cruz, then it may take four. It takes three hours to get to Reno, unless it snows and they close I-80 at Donner Pass or it's Friday and everybody from the Bay Area that didn't go to Santa Cruz heads to Reno, but since we are headed to Hot August Nights, snow shouldn't be a problem. Reno is okay though. There would be casinos, food and women.
Randy is my grill man tonight. He's handling everything off the flat top. Bradley is the fryer guy -- the various potatoes, fruit pies and tacos. Melody is working counters. I, as the illustrious, college educated assistant manager, cover as needed, close out the registers at night, secure the money, turn off the lights, and lock the doors. We close at eleven, and if I am lucky, I can be out of there by midnight. As assistant manager, I've been promised that if I work hard, I'll have my own store in a year or so, maybe get a district job (like Training Coordinator) in three, and move on to a corporate job in five. Corporate is the cherry -- out of the stores and into an office environment, and the corporate offices are in San Diego. That's what I've been promised, but I've talked to enough people now to know that it's usually a lot more like fifteen years before you can get to corporate, but first you've got to survive being an assistant manager. The fifty hour week I was told was normal (five tens) would be a pleasant break from the seventy to eighty hour weeks I've come to expect. In fact, that's why I am so looking forward to this weekend. Tonight is the fifteenth straight day of working from noon until closing. Two more, and then I finally get a week off.
"Bradley, have you ever been to Hot August Nights?"
"That thing in Reno?"
"Yes. The thing in Reno."
"Oh, yeah," he says and nods his head. When Bradley nods in assent, it is a deliberate, big gesture. His head moves up and down slowly, and the action is deep enough to involve his shoulders and even a bit of a bow from the waist. There is no mistaking that he is fully engaged in his answer. "Yeah, a couple years ago, my brother and I went."
"What's it like?"
"Well. I mean a couple years ago, my brother comes to me and says 'Hey Brad, you wanna go to this thing in Reno?,' and I said 'okay,' but like once we got there, we went to the casinos and never came out. I lost like a shitload of money. After that, I never went again."
"I thought you just went to Reno last week?"
"Oh, I've been to Reno, man, I just never went to that thing in Reno again."
Bradley is okay. He's somewhere in his mid-thirties, works in a burger joint and lives in a room above his sister's garage, but he's okay. I wouldn't dare let him near a cash register, not because I think he's dishonest, but because he can't count and would probably be robbed blind by every teenage kid in the city, but he knows his fryers and will do anything I ask him to do eagerly if not well. Most of the time I don't know if he's stoned or if he's just wired a little differently from the rest of us, but I like having Bradley on my shift, especially on a weeknight like tonight when business is a little slow and we can get a lot of the cleaning done. Tonight I'll have him pull the filters out of the fryer exhaust hood and take them out back to clean. Nobody else likes that job, and I get a lot of moaning and grumbling when I have anybody else do it, but Bradley never complains.
Melody, on the other hand, is dangerous. She's twenty, very easy to talk to and to look at, and she's fast. During a lunch or dinner rush, there's nobody I would rather have up front than Melody. Her register drawer is always right on too, never had an overage or shortage of more than a couple of cents in the six months I've worked with her. Thing is, except for Bradley and me, I don't think there is another male team member that she hasn't slept with. The store manager told me about her my first week here. She had a reputation, he said, not just here but around the district, and it was none of his concern what I did with that information, but if I was to get involved, make sure it stayed out of the store, and preferably out of town.
"Melody, what you know about Hot August Nights?"
"It's some kind of thing in Reno, isn't it?"
"Yes," I say. "In August."
"Probably would be hot then." She looks at me and smiles. I try not to speculate at what she had in mind with that smile, but it would be very, very easy for me to infer that she is being very seductive. I like when she smiles. In her unguarded moments, when she's not with a customer or not trolling for a guy, she seems dark and melancholy, wounded perhaps, and hurting. I know her reputation, and I wonder (as I often find myself doing when she's working my shift) why a girl who is as good looking and personable as she can be hasn't found her way into a relationship with somebody with prospects -- a guy with a degree and a job that has some future to it, someone respectable. My God, she's slept with Randy. Randy dropped out of high school, lives in an apartment that he shares with two other guys, neither of whom have a job nearly as prestigious as Randy's grill man position in a burger joint, and Randy rides a bike to work because he lost his license after his third DUI conviction. His personal hygiene can leave a lot to be desired too, and Melody slept with him twice. She even initiated the second encounter, showing up at Randy's apartment late one night and inviting herself in for a drink. Everyone knows this because Randy, along with all of his other questionable traits, has absolutely no discretion.
Of course that raises the question of why I myself am even considering going to Reno with Randy. I know why he's asking. He needs a ride. Once we get there, we'll probably part ways and not even see each other until it is time to return, but still, what am I thinking? It's just this thing about the restaurant trade -- we work when everybody else isn't, and we're off when everybody else is at work or asleep. Most nights after I've gotten done working for twelve hours, I don't get home until one in the morning, and then I have to do things like laundry and cleaning the bathroom. If I make myself something to eat, take a shower and watch any of the shows I've got recorded on the television, it's already three or four, then I've got to get some sleep so I can be back at work by noon. There is really nobody around at those hours to talk to except Bradley, Randy and Melody, whom I have just spent most of the day with. There are some other assistant managers in the district caught in the same off-beat existence, and occasionally I'll get a text from one of them in the wee hours of the morning bemoaning the fact that work makes any kind of social life near impossible. The married ones don't text, but they talk at the district meetings about how the hours are wrecking their marriages. Affairs with co-workers and spouses having affairs with people who work normal hours are not uncommon.
"So have you ever been to Hot August Nights?" I ask Melody.
"Not really my thing," she says.
"So where is your thing?" Oh my God, as soon as the words are out of my mouth I regret it. Should have at least said "what's" instead of "where," but still, I was raised better than to talk about a woman's thing in public. Maybe she won't notice, and maybe she'll be polite enough to ignore it. All I wanted to know was if she doesn't go to Hot August Nights, where does she go? I was just making conversation, not trying to get myself reported to Human Resources.
"Santa Cruz," she says.
"Really?" She didn't notice, or at least she's being polite.
"Yeah, I like the Bay, and the food."
"I'm going this weekend."
"Just a couple days to get away for a bit."
"That's a good thing."
"Want to go?"
"You want to go to Santa Cruz? Hang out, do the touristy kind of thing?"
"With you?" I didn't know how that came out. I didn't want it to sound condescending or insulting, and I didn't want to sound stupid and naive either, but I wasn't sure what it was I was being invited to do. Melody is ten years younger than I am, still at that time in life when there aren't so many hard and fast rules; places and things hadn't yet had time to take possession of the soul. Its easy when you're twenty to go wherever the opportunity leads without having to worry about how the cat will get fed or when the oil in the car will get changed, and back then I slept where I could without taking into consideration who had been there before or who might find out.
"Yeah. If you want, we could just meet down there. Let me know where you're staying and I'll find you."
I find there are some things that are hard to say no to, and while there are a dozen scenarios that are racing around my mind all of which include Melody and me generating our own heat in the cool August nights of Santa Cruz, I can't help but hearing the voice of Fiver, the prophetic rabbit of Watership Down proclaiming the approach of "a danger, a bad thing," and seeing my career covered in blood.
"I don't know," I say. "Randy and I were talking ..." When I mention Randy, Melody's expression instantly darkens.
"Forget I said anything," she says venomously, and walks away.
I walk after her. "What? What did I say?"
"Nothing," she says, but doesn't look at me.
"C'mon. It must be something I said."
"Look, here's the thing. Randy is a lying bastard who has been spreading stories about me that simply aren't true. If he's your bud, fine, just leave me alone."
What's the possibility that she's telling the truth? What if she's just a nice kid, maybe a bit naive, maybe too trusting, and what if she's got this reputation because Randy is an ass? What if she sees Santa Cruz as an opportunity to have some fun, win a stuffed animal on the Boardwalk, and get a kiss goodnight at the door? What if she sees me as someone she can trust? What if I'm not just her supervisor or co-worker, but a friend? Hell of a thing.
"Melody, look, I was just talking, you know?"
"What did he say?"
"Him," she says and gives a nod filled with disgust off in the direction of Randy and the grill. I bet if she thought she could have gotten away with it she would have spit in his direction.
"Randy? Nothing. He was just saying he was going to Hot August Nights and was looking for a ride."
"About me? What did he say about me?"
"Not a thing, Melody." Technically, that's not a lie. Randy had not mentioned Melody in the last five minutes of conversation we were having about Reno, but I know that's not what Melody is asking. She wants to know how loose Randy has been with the details of their intimacies.
"Look, my thing is more Santa Cruz than Reno."
This is the reason there is a company policy about dating employees. I should never have shown any interest in going to Reno with Randy as it totally screwed up my chances of going to Santa Cruz with Melody.
"Look, Melody, I don't want this thing to interfere with our working together."
"I'm not interested in your thing."
Okay, so what do I do with that? I never mentioned my thing, although I admit that I had inquired about Melody's thing, but only after she mentioned her thing, and despite what was going through my mind at the time, the term "thing" was employed most innocently.
"Yeah, your Reno thing. With Randy."
"I don't have a thing with Randy."
"Not what I heard."
Oh my God.
"What have you heard?"
"About the thing between you and Randy."
I gasp. I don't believe I have ever in my life gasped except when I was sarcastically feigning surprise at the obvious, but in this instance, I gasped. I look over at Randy, but he he has his back to me working some burgers on the grill, which is fortunate, because if he had made eye contact with me I might well have had to beat the shit out of him right there in the store.
"I was a little disappointed when I first heard it," Melody continues. "I didn't want to believe it. You're good looking, you know? But hey, if that's your thing, go for it. Nothing to be ashamed of."
A customer enters the store and walks up to the counter. Melody turns from me and dutifully, cheerfully, waits on him. I have no opportunity to pursue our conversation. I head to the grill to confront Randy.
"What have you been telling people about us," I demand.
"What are you talking about, dude?"
"What are you telling people about me?"
"I say the dude's dope, ya know, best A.M. in the district."
"Then why would ..." I stop. There's probably been enough damage done for one night, and I am too tired to trust myself to handle things correctly.
"Nothing," I say.
"What about the Reno thing?"
"What about it?"
"Are we going?"
"No, we're not going. I remembered I had this thing I have to do."
"Cool. I'll ask my cousin. He's got a '57 Chevy that is lit, so he's probably goin' to Reno anyway."
I should never have gotten involved with Randy in any way except work. There's no room in my personal life for relationships from work, except that in this industry, I don't have a personal life. My district manager keeps saying that things will get better, but he's divorced and everyone says it was the job that caused it.
Melody is done with her customer, so I walk back over.
"Is there a possibility that that Santa Cruz invitation is still open?"
"Look," she says. "You're a nice guy, but "bi" isn't my thing."
"No, I was just thinking maybe we could do lunch or something."
Melody looks at me, and her eyes are like daggers. I try not to speculate at what she had in mind, but it would be very, very easy for me to infer that she is being very seductive.
"Fine, give me a call when you get there," she says.
"I don't have your number."
"You're the assistant manager. Look it up in my file."
"Great. I'll call you."
"I'll be there with my mother, so count on three for lunch."
"What about your thing in Reno?"
"Hot August Nights?"
"About you and Randy. It can be difficult to work along side an ex."
"It's not an ex thing, you know?"
"Sure. Not an ex thing."
I sigh heavily. Never date an employee. It's just not a good thing.