You just turned sixteen. You’re looking for a job and don’t know any better, so you apply to Chuck E. Cheese. You walk toward the seating area near the robotic singing Rat and begin lling out an application. Name: Ali-Reza Zahiri. Sex: Male. Ethnicity, you’re not sure. Both your parents are Iranian but you were born in the states. Your blood is Iranian, but your mentality isn’t. You don’t like intricate rugs. You hate rice. You hate festive music. You hate dancing. You own a Lou Bega CD, read Men’s Health, like sushi. You feel white, but still hesitant to mark it. You cop out and check ‘other.’
Three days after you ll out an application you receive a phone call asking if you’re still in- terested. You’re excited about the idea of your rst job and accept an interview for the next day. That’s when you’ll meet your manager Greg. You don’t know this now, but Greg is a dick. Greg is disappointed about his life and will take it out on you. You assess him as the talentless guy who wanted to be an actor but is instead managing a children’s restaurant. He asks you questions like, if you could be any cartoon character who would you be? You wonder the point of this question. Be careful though, this is the make or break it point. If you say Pepé Le Pew you’ll be seen as sexist. If you say Yosemite Sam you’ll look racist. You say Bugs Bunny and smile, but refuse to show teeth. You’re hired on the spot. Congratulations.
First day on the job Greg introduces you to everyone.
“This is Pablo.”
“This is Juan.”
“Nice to meet you, Juan.” “This is Elsa.”
You pick up the trend. All your co-workers are very approachable, especially Juan. Every time you look at him he is smiling at you. Every time. He is heavy set with a large stomach but a at ass. Juan is your trainer. You’re shocked you need training to work at Chuck E. Cheese. Juan asked your name before printing your name tag. “Oh Ali, like Aladdin?” he asks.
Your eyes roll. Exactly, fuckhead, just like Aladdin. You think of telling him Aladdin is a loosely based documentary on your life. You don’t because there is a 23.4 percent chance he will believe you.
Juan gives you a hat as part of your uniform. You don’t think about this now but will later wonder why it has so many white stains. Your rst day you learned the protocol of washing dishes. Rinse. Put in dish washer. Take out of dish washer. There are written instructions there in case you forget. He then walks you into a closet just outside the dining area. You see a large rat head looking straight into your eyes. You silently pray he doesn’t say it, and that’s when he does. You have to dress as a rat every half hour for fifteen minutes. Juan walks you through putting the suit on correctly. Pants, T-shirt, giant head, how can you fuck that up?
The suit is warm and sweaty. You think about the sweat from all the others who have worn it. You imagine a thin paste coating the inside. Your rst time on the oor a young boy comes up to you and kicks you in the leg. You want to kick that little shithead back but you can’t. Instead you refer to your training. You put both your hands on your cheeks and shake your head from side to side to act embarrassed. You are embarrassed but the suit did offer a form of protection. Walking on the oor you check out every thirty-something bombshell mom, each wearing low-cut tanks trying to salvage their youth. A young girl runs from twenty yards away and gives you a hug. The hairs on your arms stand. Seconds later, a boy throws a pizza crust at your face and reminds you how much you hate kids. These bastard kids don’t smile, they smirk. They woke up that morning knowing they would fuck Chuck over. They make you want to punch yourself in the nuts. Note to self. Even though it might seem like a good idea, never punch yourself in the nuts.
Questions about your name start coming from co-workers. So your name is Ali? Where are you from? You tell them you were born in America but your parents are from Iran. Oh that’s cool, they say. That is followed with a three second moment of silence because neither of you know what to say. Your friends would try and mock you by speaking in an Indian accent. Apparently any foreign country that isn’t America is welcomed with an Indian accent. If you didn’t know this, now you do. After the third time of explaining to your friends you are not from India you consider carrying an atlas with you for visual evidence. You then donate ten dollars to your local elementary school in hopes it will be used toward creating a geography program. To avoid any such conflict in the future you will now tell everyone you meet you are French Canadian.
It’s dif cult to determine your ethnicity by looking at you. You have tan skin, bushy eye- brows but a clean-cut face. You have been mistaken for Italian, Mexican or Greek. An elderly customer approaches you and blatantly keeps asking where you’re from. When you nally tell him he puts both his hands in the air and says, “That’s OK, That’s OK. Just as long as you’re happy to be here.” You wonder what that’s sup- posed to mean. First it was the Blacks, then Jews, then Mexicans. Now it’s you.
Your second day at work isn’t any better than the rst. You receive the joyful task of clean- ing the restrooms. It looks like confetti of shit and piss fell from the roof. After nishing, you walk into the break room to nd your coworkers eating a cake. Six Mexicans huddled over a table, only three chairs so the other three were standing. The green frosting read ‘Happy Birth- day Jonny.’ Some use their hands to grab at the food; the more civil used plastic forks. There weren’t any napkins because they didn’t need any. No food was going to waste. Any rogue piece of frosting or crumb would undoubtedly make its way off the table and into someone’s mouth. One by one they would take a moment to sip their drink. After a few seconds a natural sense of entrainment occurred where they all took a drink at the same time, put down their cups, then recommenced their handout. A piece of cake slips off the fork of your trainer Juan and lands on the ground. You assume he wouldn’t pick it off the floor, you assume he wouldn’t eat it, but god bless him he does both. With each bite they look at each other with smiles, a sense of camaraderie. A brotherhood that with each moment is exponentially increasing. You’ve always wanted to be a part of a fraternity; this could be your chance. A window opens, the dishwasher offers you a slice, “Hey primo, you want piece?” he asks you. You think about declining but don’t. What makes you so different from them? All of a sudden you’re the Chuck E. Cheese employee with standards? Fuck it, it’s chocolate. You opt for a fork and grab plate. Your fork accidentally hits a coworker’s as you both go for the same piece of cake. She looks at you and says sorry. If she only knew how sorry you would be after you finish, she would rescind her apology. You remember your manager warning you about the danger of eating off someone else’s plate.
You recall him telling you a story of a former employee getting hepatitis from doing so. You then recall thinking bullshit on that same story. The idea of eating other people’s leftovers isn’t as disgusting as you rst imagined. For justication purposes, you consider yourself one of the people invited but got there late. You were hesitant your rst bite, but the eager eyes surrounding you offered comfort, security. From then on, each bite felt like another step toward the edge of a building. You take a moment to look around af- ter cleaning your plate and notice three not so elegant things. Everyone’s head is down. Everyone is stuf ng their mouth like it’s a race; who can disappoint their parents the quickest? And nally you see your re ection in a mirror. Surprisingly you were smiling but didn’t feel it. Then slowly those thirteen muscles it takes to smile-relax and the thirty-three it takes to frown-tense. You see a smear of frosting on your shirt from wiping your hand. You see yourself side by side with people whose idea of a promotion is a dollar raise and a new hat. At that moment you realize you’re all equal. It is depressing.
The next day you knew it was your last. A kid pissed in the inner tubes. Every child that slid down into the ball pit began crying. Greg walks over to you with a bottle of Windex and a cloth and tells you to clean it. You wait till he walks away then throw the Windex and cloth in the ball pit as your last fuck you to Greg. You then walk into his office and tell him you’re done. He tries to look upset but was sympathetic to your cause. He was you fifteen years ago and wishes he made the same decision. At that moment you realize what Greg really was: misunderstood, sad eyed, and a wrong that was too difficult for him to make right. You hand over your name tag that carried the biggest myth about you: your name.