In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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When Paul Ryan worked at McDonald’s in the ’80s, he might have been representative of a largely teenage sea of fast-food workers, a perception that persists today. But last time the National Employment Law Project checked, the average age of fast-food workers was 29, and more than a quarter of workers were supporting a child. These jobs are not just a source of teenage pocket money; they’re something adults are trying to survive on.
The average pay for someone with the job I had is around $8 an hour—about half of what’s needed to keep a family with two working parents and two kids afloat. (That is, each parent would need to work two fast-food jobs.)
American culture is full of lingering afterimages of Midwestern guys making cars and mining coal, but, to quote an excellent headline from the Chicago Tribune, The Entire Coal Industry Employs Fewer People Than Arby’s. This is the modern working class—fast food, retail, warehousing, delivery, call centers. Service workers.
Art Director Jenn Boggs
Excerpt from “I was a fast-food worker. Let me tell you about burnout.” in Vox
But it isn’t over when it ends, it goes on after it’s all over, she’s still inside you like a sweet liquor, you are filled with her, everything about her has kind of bled into you, her smell, her voice, the way her body moves, it’s all inside you, at least for a while after, then you begin to lose it, and I’m beginning to lose it, you’re afraid of how weak you are, that you can’t get her all back into you again and now the whole thing is going out of your body and it’s more in your mind than your body, the pictures come to you one by one and you look at them, some of them last longer than others, you were together in a very white clean place, a coffeehouse, having breakfast together, and the place is so white that against it you can see her clearly, her blue eyes, her smile, the colors of her clothes, even the print of the newspaper she’s reading when she’s not looking up at you, the light brown and red and gold of her hair when she’s got her head down reading, the brown coffee, the brown rolls, all against that white table and those white plates and silver urns and silver knives and spoons, and against that quiet of the sleepy people in that room sitting alone at their tables with just some chinking and clattering of spoons and cups in saucers and some hushed voices her voice now and then rising and falling. The pictures come to you and you have to hope they won’t lose their life too fast and dry up though you know they will and that you’ll also forget some of what happened, because already you’re turning up little things that you nearly forgot.
Editor Paul Reyes
Excerpt from Break It Down by Lydia Davis
There was some genuine worry about my traveling alone, open to attack, robbery, assault. It is well known that our roads are dangerous. And here I admit I had senseless qualms. It is some years since I have been alone, nameless, friendless, without any of the safety one gets from family, friends, and accomplices. There is no reality in the danger. It’s just a very lonely, helpless feeling at first—a kind of desolate feeling. For this reason I took one companion on my journey—an old French gentleman poodle known as Charley. Actually his name is Charles le Chien. He was born in Bercy on the outskirts of Paris and trained in France, and while he knows a little poodle-English, he responds quickly only to commands in French. Otherwise he has to translate, and that slows him down. He is a very big poodle, of a color called bleu, and he is blue when he is clean. Charley is a born diplomat. He prefers negotiation to fighting, and properly so, since he is very bad at fighting. Only once in his ten years has he been in trouble—when he met a dog who refused to negotiate. Charley lost a piece of his right ear that time. But he is a good watch dog—has a roar like a lion, designed to conceal from night-wandering strangers the fact that he couldn’t bite his way out of a cornet de papier. He is a good friend and traveling companion, and would rather travel about than anything he can imagine.
Business Manager Diane John
Excerpt from Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck