HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA–Resentment, anger, and pity were among the emotions mutually felt by Burger King employee Duane Hesketh and customer Robert Lalley during a class-conflict-laden transaction Tuesday.
According to sources, at 4:22 p.m. PST, the upper-middle-class Lalley approached the working-class Hesketh's register at the Beach Boulevard Burger King to order a meal. The two men instantly became locked in an icy showdown of mutual loathing and disrespect, each resenting the other and everything he represents. For the next seven minutes, the age-old conflict between the haves and have-nots was played out in a passive-aggressive verbal exchange that betrayed no trace of the roiling vortex of bitter hatred that lay just beneath the surface.
"May I help you?" Hesketh asked the golf-loving, SUV-driving financial planner standing before him. Without making eye contact with the mulleted cashier, Lalley replied, "Whopper Jr., large fries, and a large Diet Coke."
Hesketh, who as Lalley ordered was "thinking about how maybe I should get my G.E.D.," stared blankly at the cash register, stunning the customer with his inability to carry out the most basic instructions. As an irritated Lalley repeated his order, Hesketh made an effort to suppress his anger over being forced by economic circumstance into a life of blue-collar servility and mindless, soul-sapping repetition. He expressed this resentment by acting as if he'd failed to hear Lalley's order, asking three times, "Did you say fries with that?"
The conflict deepened when Hesketh rang up the order incorrectly.
"Eighteen dollars? That can't be right," said Lalley, his weak-chinned face, conservative haircut, and business-casual attire repulsing Hesketh. The cashier's mind then wandered to the upcoming getting-high-after-work-in-the-parking-lot-with-Shawn-and-Joe ritual that constitutes one of the few moments of pleasure in his largely intolerable life.
"Huh?" said Hesketh, putting Lalley's middle-class Baby Boomer liberalism to the test by forcing him to realize that he deeply despises the blundering ineptitude of the uneducated.
"Christ, I've seen trained chimps respond to verbal cues better than you," the stone-faced Lalley did not say aloud. "If you were one-tenth as good at your job as you are at slouching around in baggy pants, you'd probably own the whole fucking Burger King corporation by now," he opted not to add, instead toying anxiously with his Citizen watch.
Hesketh then told Lalley that his order would have to be voided and rung up again.
"Maybe you should ask someone to help you," said Lalley, struggling to resist the overwhelming urge to grab his social inferior by the collar and smash his vacant head into the cash register until one or the other cracked open.
Eager to antagonize the despised customer, Hesketh continued to putter, spending two minutes fumbling with the "void" process before mumbling to Lalley that he would not be able to refund the money until the manager opened the register.
"I'm sort of in a hurry," said Lalley, welling with a mixture of rage and pity for the acne-riddled wage slave on the poor side of the counter.
When the error was finally corrected, Hesketh began to gather Lalley's food items as slowly as possible. The food-gathering process was further stalled when, waiting for the fryer timer to run down, Hesketh received a cell-phone call from his ex-girlfriend. During the 90-second conversation, Lalley said he heard the words "Camaro," "the baby," "have to be in court that day," and "the other baby."
"What kind of inbred dolt wears $180 shoes to a job where he walks around in grease all day?" Lalley asked himself while watching the futureless 23-year-old stand by an empty metal rack, waiting for the Whopper Jr. to arrive from the grill area. "Especially when he barely makes minimum wage."
At no point during the seven-minute transaction did Hesketh pick up a burger and grind it into Lalley's face. Nor did he drop his pants and wipe his ass with his cap, or give in to his intense desire to set the kitchen on fire. Lalley showed equal restraint in resisting the urge to scream or repeatedly snap his fingers in front of Hesketh's uncomprehending, mouth-breathing face while yelling "Hel-lo? Hel-lo?" in a comic exaggeration of a developmentally disabled person's voice.
Despite driving both participants into near-apoplectic rage, the exchange ended without incident.
"[Lalley] finally got his food," said Huntington Beach resident Janis Monroe, who was waiting in line behind Lalley. "Then he huffed and walked out. Actually, he did say, 'Thanks,' but he was being sarcastic."
After finally getting his food, Lalley retreated to the Burger King parking lot, where he joylessly consumed the Whopper Jr. in his Ford Explorer rather than dine in the restaurant and spend another second in the presence of the doomed souls inside. Hesketh, meanwhile, retreated to the walk-in cooler, where he smoked a cigarette and pilfered cheese slices in a vain attempt to restore some of the dignity of which he is regularly stripped.
"This sort of situation is unavoidable when you have such a disparity in earning potential," said Dr. Art Hermann, author of Consumer And Consumed: Class Conflict In Our Market-Driven Postindustrial Society.
According to Hermann, such inter-class run-ins occur roughly 600 million times a day in the U.S.
"And a large portion of those 600 million incidents," Hermann said, "will be at the hand of Phillip, the arm-dragging troglodyte who bags my groceries down at the Safeway."