Burritos and Gasoline: An Excerpt
By Jamie Beckett
An author in our midst…
Somewhere within the pages of every issue of 863 Magazine (specifically page 6) we include a humorous essay from the undeniably peculiar mind of our own funny guy, Jamie Beckett.
With a wandering imagination and far too much free time on his hands, Jamie has also produced longer works, including his debut novel, Burritos and Gasoline.
The bulk of the story takes place in the front seat of a dilapidated Ford Taurus, which the main characters enlist for a long, strange road trip. Starting in central Connecticut and continuing on a direct trajectory to north Florida, readers encounter a bizarre array of characters and events that keep the story moving even as they pose an interesting question for the main character, Frank. Just how far down is rock bottom, anyway?
We hope you enjoy this glimpse into the pages of Burritos and Gasoline:
Manchester, like so many towns that came into their own during the golden days of the industrial revolution, can be viewed in one of two ways. How you choose to see it depends very much on your point of view. It could easily be taken as a lovely little working class town, full of charmingly narrow streets, majestic leafy trees, a multitude of tidy parks and several thousand residents who represent the salt of the earth. The place exudes a certain southern New England charm that cheerfully embraces and celebrates the town’s hard working, mechanized roots.
Then again, it could be viewed as a prime example of urban decay, where the potholed and cracked asphalt arteries are thickly lined by weather beaten, multi-family homes inhabited almost entirely by families who are either too poor or too dumb to move somewhere more prosperous. Somewhere like East Hartford, perhaps.
In general, I subscribed to the latter opinion. A fact that I’m not the least bit proud of.
As fate would have it, I lived in East Hartford, which borders Manchester to the west. I suppose you could say that my hometown was distinguished from Manchester primarily by being a more economically hopeful place overall. It wouldn’t necessarily be true, but you could say it. Others certainly have.
I believed that degrading theory with all my heart in those days. Although if I’m being honest, I didn’t have much heart to work with at that point.
Even further west, only one short river crossing away from my own apartment, was Hartford, the capital of the state. In Hartford there was opportunity. White collar jobs in government office buildings or the crisp, clean, modern glass and steel high rises of the insurance industry paid much better than most of what was available on the east side of the river. A certain measure of status was attached to having a job, or even better, a career, in the city. To be employed in Hartford was to be upwardly mobile. Those who were lucky enough to steer their cars west with the morning commute were seen as being headed in the right direction in life. Those lucky bastards had hope. A big, rosy, flashing neon sign that read, “Prosperity!” was clearly visible on their horizon.
My drive to work took me the other way, to Manchester, which forced me to squint into the rising sun as I made my way. I lived in East Hartford, hardly more than walking distance from downtown Hartford and a substantially better life. As a matter of fact, I’d lived in East Hartford for the entire 42 years of my existence to that point. But I drove the wrong way to work. Each morning I steered toward that blue collar kingdom with a chip on my shoulder and a scowl on my face.
It was that fact more than any other that caused the color to slowly bleed out of my life. The act of driving eastward, away from the opportunities of the city, eventually caused me to become a shell of the man I was convinced I should have been. I’d achieved so little, my life was barely a thin shadow of what my boyhood dreams had suggested for my future.
To be blunt, I was one hundred percent dissatisfied, disgusted and disinterested in any aspect of even my own life, let alone anyone else’s.
Then the hands of the clock ticked over to 5:05 PM. Everything in my world was about to take a big, dramatic turn in the wrong direction.
“Frank, we’ve got a problem.” Ted was matter-of-fact. He didn’t hem or haw or beat around the bush in the least. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.” The words rolled smoothly, effortlessly off his tongue. There was no emotion of any kind in his voice.
I returned his gaze with the blank expression of a man who’s only recently received a sudden, debilitating head injury. “Huh?”
“It’s your attitude, Frank.” Ted wasn’t apologizing and he wasn’t about to backtrack or try to rephrase the salient point of my visit to his office. He merely proceeded to form the news into neat little bite-sized portions that he no doubt assumed I would find more easily digestible.
When it came to personnel matters, Ted Winters was the consummate professional. He didn’t show his feelings one way or the other. For all I knew, he was mentally working out the potential benefits of changing auto insurance providers while we were having our little chat. The man was that emotionally detached from his work. He was a wonder. And I mean that in a good way.
Ted continued, “Your productivity scores have been sliding for months … you’ve received three consecutive unsatisfactory reviews from your supervisor and from what I’ve been able to gather, you haven’t made any effort to correct these inadequacies at all.”
Throughout the entire exchange, brief as it was, Ted was polite, dispassionate and unshakable as he delivered the bad news. I, on the other hand, was having great difficulty getting myself mentally up to speed. I watched his mouth move for several more seconds, although not a word was sinking into my addled brain. By the time the gist of his message finally began to register, I realized that Ted was holding an envelope in his right hand, offering it to me. Slowly, unsteadily I took it. The envelope contained my paycheck. The one I’d expected to receive without comment from Mildred moments earlier. Now here it was, weighing on my mind far more than it did my hand.
As it turns out, the thin slip of paper inside that envelope represented the last paycheck I’d ever receive from an employer. No more would I take money in exchange for hours of mind-numbingly dull work each week. Not that I didn’t want to. But in a tight job market, a man in my position was left with limited options.
I’d given so little thought to each of those previous 400 odd paychecks. The first one got me excited, I imagine, although I have no clear recollection of picking it up or feeling anything one way or another about it. The last one certainly caught my attention, though. My head was swimming. The rest of me was locked in place, not moving an inch. I was dumbfounded.
“Good luck, Frank.”
Ted stood deliberately and reached out to shake my hand. I rose unsteadily and shook the offered appendage, as much out of reflex as anything else. Then I turned to the open door and slunk out. Mixing among the throngs that were lined up to receive pay envelopes of their own from Mildred, I felt oddly out of place. For her part, Mildred sat as quietly as ever, diligently working her way through the pile of envelopes on her desk and the associated line of workers that stretched out through her doorway and into the hall beyond.
Shouldering my way through the crowd, I began making my way toward the main exit as best I could. The walls seemed to heave and swell as if they were attempting to expel me from the building. The floor beneath my feet felt as if it had softened to the consistency of marshmallows. Time lost all relevance, except for the fact that I wanted to get out of that hallway, out of the building and out of the company parking lot, as fast as I possibly could. Unfortunately, try as I might, I felt as if I was unable to move any faster than a hobbled octogenarian using a slightly irregular walker.
Thank you for reading this excerpt from Burritos and Gasoline, which is available in full length in paperback and ebook formats, sold exclusively through Amazon.com.