Today is the first day of the rest of my life -- or some bullshitlike that.

I come back inside from my smoke break and these arrogant kids are battingaround a ball of wadded-up masking tape. One winds up and delivers a pitchfrom over by the dirve-thru window to the front counter, where another takesa swing with the broom handle. He makes contact but that ball/tape onlydribbles off to rest among some quarter-pounders under the heat lamp. Lookslike foul territory to me. They laugh gleefully.

I hang back by the door for a moment. They knew I was just outside. Theyknew I'd be back in a moment. Yet this is how they act. They will producelooks of oppression when I tell them to knock it off. They will actput-upon.

On the other side of the counter there is a man; small and old. He wearsa wool suitcoat though it is June. He just wants a refill on his coffee.He is here every day and they never see him. There are three girls, eachstuffed into half a shirt. Wine-lipped nymphs. They laugh at the clowningboys. I hate the girls for giving their attention to fools. I envy thefools for receiving it.

When I come to the urn and fill a large coffee, the boys pause with thatyou're-going-to-ruin-our-day-aren't-you-look. But instead I go around thecounter and give the old man his coffee. Then I take a seat in the nearestbooth. Here are my cigarettes. I light up.

One of the girls -- the redhead, she is the prettiest -- reminds me alot of Nara. She was my "friend," which meant she signed my yearbook andsometimes talked to me in the halls. I never saw the inside of her parents'house. I don't know her middle name. I never found out if she had sweatyhands. I'm not sure how many colleges she applied to. We talked aboutMichigan, because it was "our thing." She had an aunt who lived there. Me: grandmother. "Getting to Michigan this summer?" "Has your aunt evertaken you out to Mackinac? You'd love it." The awkwardness of ourimmaturity now makes me sick, as I suck the smoke deep into my lungs andkick my legs up on the bench.

These kids, these self-important jerks who work for me, look on inpuzzlement. There are no ashtrays so I flick ash onto the floor. Thesekids are the type Nara would have liked. Well, probably not liked, but beenamused by. Went out on dates with. Why? I haven't figured that out yet,but I know she could just as well have gone out with me. If only I'd beenthose boys. Drank a beer. Laughed out loud. Shouted my own name as Idanced. For some reason nymphs always like narcissistic jesters.

I contemplate telling the redhead to come over to the booth. She lookslike the type who would accept a cigarette. I'd ask her what she likes toeat and order those pimply kids to bring it over. They've now gone back totheir baseball game, but half-conscious of my presence. They whip the ballat one another when they think I'm not looking.

"You okay, skipper?" says one when he notices my intense gaze. He's thetype to be disingenuously polite.

"Check the fries," I respond dismissively. No authority in my voice. Idon't see if he actually carries through on my order.

The redhead half-turns to sneak a glance at me. She's one of those womenwhose breasts are really high, appearing somewhat oddly close to hershoulders. Is this a natural anatomical variation or the result of somekind of bra? I've long wondered, but certainly haven't done enoughresearch.

The old man with the coffee is annoyed by my smoking inside the restaurantbut too timid to protest.

The masking tape ball arcs high, whether hit or pitched, I don't know.Coming right toward the disingenuous kid, he swats at it, deflecting theball straight into the fryer. "Oh, shit," he mouths. By reflex, I guess,he reaches for it. In a second he pulls his hand out, shouting obscenities,jumping up and down with his hand buried in close to his stomach.

I see the Nara look-alike has the requisite tattoo on her lower-back. Herslooks like a magnolia. Probably means that she also has the requisite navelpiercing. Kids these days.

The tape-ball bursts into flames, like a tabletop at a Japanese restaurant. I don't feel like moving. The automatic sprinklers will kick inmomentarily. If I could turn them off, maybe I'd move. Kind of feel likewatching this whole place go up in flames. I don't own it. Just themanager, but it'd be freeing none-the-less.

About the author:

Martin Brick studied art at St. Norbert College and is currently doing doctoral work in British Lit at Marquette University. "Management" is part of a series of linked character sketches titled "96 Breeds of Love (And Other Ailments)". Other pieces from this project have recently been published in The Shore, Glut, The Journal of of Modern Post, and Wild Strawberries.