(a chapter within Wonderbread Man, novella, foundation for a film)

“Cooooop. What’s up, buddy?” said Fahid.

“Not much, pretty normal, getting to know the routes, ” said John.

“C-Man!” came from down the hall. ” You up for Sal’s or Jersey Mikes?” said Rashard.

“Hey, whatever…just have to return by one,” said John.

“Hey, us, too. We gotta be back with you knucklehead. Whose driving?” said Rashard.

“I got you,” said Fahid.

Mr. Wright, the general manager approached and waved at John to follow him.

“Be with you in few. Wait for me.”

John followed a few steps behind Mr. Wright from the outside garage into the Bakery division to the sound of whirling machines and tiers of multi-storied equipment, hizzing and slashing about. They passed the vats of dough being tumbled and turned in heavy mixing bowls. Every worker wore a hair net, in white, with short sleeves and white powder all over their black shoes. Safety glasses made it hard to tell who people were at times. At times, the noise was hard to handle and he wondered if some employees ever went partially deaf from working here. The temperature also seemed to have dramatic swings almost from one machine to another for their different purposes.

They passed through the needing area with great pulleys weaving to and fro. To the right passed large, rectangular conveyer belts with perfectly positioned circles of fresh dough like a giant strip of candy dots being streamed into ovens. Another turn, and bread was being gingerly dumped onto another system for drying, cooling, and then onto another completely separate system in an other area and room for packaging into these dappled colored, orange, blue, red, brown, and yellow dotted plastic bags ready for packing onto trays which in turn, were slotted onto racks, which in turn, where wheeled into inventory, which in turn were dislocated from the factory onto the delivery trucks to stores throughout the Richmond, Virginia area.

They entered an office just off the factory floor, one with one glazed window in which you could only see light but couldn’t make out any details of objects. Mr. Wright began, “John, we’re glad, you’re here.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Now, I hear it’s going well. Is that so?”

“Why, yes sir, of course. The training, driving school, and everyone around here has been great.”

“So you don’t seem like a fish out of water?”

“Why so?”

“Why, so” he mimicked. “Well, you’re the only one without a tattoo.”

“Should I get one?” He remarked and chuckled.

“No,” he smirked, “and a college education.”

“Well, there’s no harm in it, is there?” John replied.

“No, that’s not what I am saying. I’m saying that this is the perfect place to start. You’re a smart man. Get to know your job and let’s see what happens. There’s a hell of lot of opportunity here. State. Regional. National. And you’ve got something the other’s don’t have and it’s clear. So not to get ahead of yourself or myself but keep your pecker up.”

“My pecker?” and he thought, ” Yes, my nose to the grindstone.”

“It doesn’t have to be a grindstone for Christ’s sake. Go enjoy yourself, learn, but don’t get too close…you may be in charge some day of some of these men or women so get to know them.”

“It’s oftly, early for that, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” and he made a slight remark under his breath that was undiscernible to John (“oftly”) and paused, “and it might be, just trying to get you to understand that this is a good company. 158 offices nationwide. 6800 employees. 401K. great benefits. And bonuses at different levels. You’ll see it and get to understand it.”

“I see. Thank you so much Mr. Wright for the guidance and direction.”

“What are you 33?” said Mr. Wright.

“Yes.”

“The same age as Jesus, right?” said Mr. Wright jokingly.

“He may have been 31. I am not sure researchers know for sure.”

“Well, men do take longer to find themselves,” he said in a somewhat snarky but sympathetic tone. “Kids?”

He thought for a moment if he had intended on making a crack at Jesus or him or felt he might have been talking about someone that he was familiar with due to the age reference. “Yes, three…and thank goodness for this opportunity.”

“Not much in teaching, I guess. You needed to get out of there anyway…I guess you could always name boats in a shipyard if it didn’t work out.”

“I had to work two jobs in my twenties just to afford Pampers. At $20 a pop, they were killing me. Did you know that a policeman’s and judge’s retirement formula is different than a teacher’s…the multiplier has more weight or less whichever way you look at it.”

“Well, we don’t do enough for our teachers. Don’t understand it as our young are the foundation of everything that is to follow. And we wonder why we are behind the Chinese and what Norway or Denmark or something?

“Do you have children?”

“Yes, five, all in private schools, some private colleges, and doing very well. We even have our first marriage coming up. Four girls and one boy. Should have invested in the Church!” There was a moment of silence as Mr. Wright seemed to stare at John.

“Well, thank you Mr. Wright. Is there anything else?”

“And be sure to get as much into that 401K as you can squeeze now. I know it’s difficult with all you have going but you have the benefit of time and time is the essential ingredient to success, all success that is…and remember what I said Cooper… keep a little distance,” as he added with emphasis with his finger.

“Thank you again.” John closed the door behind him and hustled down the hallways and factory floor junctions with white powder seeming to spark from his Timberland boots and out to the parking lot where his newfound buddies were waiting for him. They jumped into the Ford Focus with the dented back right rear fender and headed to Sals. The radio was hooked up to an ipod with a few dangling wires attached as well as a GPS unit sitting in the ashtray. Classic Rock was playing on the radio, a song by the Steve Miller Band, “time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future,

“So how’d it go?” said Fahid.

“With Mr. Wright or driving?” said John. There was no response.  “No problem. Still a little shaky on the backing up and turns in some places. Almost scrapped a few cars on Broad the other day, but thankfully made it…And Mr. Wright. He just wanted to see how I was doing. He seems like a pretty straight up guy.”

“Yea, he’s alright until bonus time comes around and then, suddenly, we’re all employees again,” said Fahid.

“Hey, there’s this cornhole tournament that we all join in the fall and winter,” said Rashard. Bring the Misses and come play with us on Monday. I’ve got the signups and am putting you all on the team. We’re going to call ourselves, ‘The Wayouts. Remember? from Fred Flintstone?”

“Alright, sounds good, but how about a name having to do with bread, like the ‘Loafers’ or I’ll think of something…, “said John.

“I think we’re going to stick with the Wayouts, we voted on it….Cool? It’s $40 per couple and we go to Gus’ afterwards for Trivia Night, it’s in the Fan,” said Rashard.

“Yes, cool.” said John as he thought of the cost of a babysitter for three children times three hours a night once a week for eight weeks. He could handle the $280 now.

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