The prize-winning author’s work will soon be featured on fast food packaging. We got an exclusive excerpt of Saunders’s Chipotle-themed short story.
“The Burritomaker Waffles,” by George Saunders*
On Monday our boss at Chipotle, Mr. Fanwiggle, tells us that he has to fire the poorest employee. His hands are tied, he says, pinching rice out of his dyed moustache.
“I’m afraid the boys at corporate have been monitoring your dreams,” he says, “and they found that individuals with less savings have a lower Subconscious Job Approval score. We want everyone to have a healthy, sky-high SJA, don’t we? Ha ha! Anyway, somebody tell Cordelia to turn in her uniform when she gets here.” He twirls into the back room where we keep live chickens plugged into the Positive Poultry Experience virtual reality module.
“Jeez, what a total crap-knob,” snorts Arnold, the only coworker who still speaks to me after the BurritoBomb™ incident during FlexMex Week. Arnold drowned horribly in a vat of pinto beans last year, and now he’s a ghost only I can see, but anyone might hear him carrying on.
“Shut up, dude, for real,” I say, “or Fanwiggle’s going to ship me off to that island prison where they do those unethical hot sauce experiments.” I start assembling carnitas tacos for a big fat fur-coated lady who just walked in, but I accidentally add guacamole, which causes my Chipotle Choker to administer a small but painful shock to my Adam’s apple, still singed from last time.
“Look who it is!” Arnold whoops. I look and it is beautiful Cordelia, smiling in the yes-I’m-beautiful way that straightens out my spine, etc. “Are you gonna break it to her, you weenie-dick?”
“Don’t you have some other dimension to visit,” I ask. Oh, warped world, is this the sort of thing I’m here to do? Ruin a beautiful girl’s day by telling her she’s not allowed to mix salsa professionally anymore? Should I be asking all these questions in my own head, or out loud? Do they violate my contract? Will I ever be able to stop? Did I brush my teeth this morning?
“Hey there,” says Cordelia. “I’m late again, if you can believe it.” I can. Cordelia’s not even allowed to own a clock, because she lives in Bootstraps Barricades, an urban anti-welfare complex where time has been outlawed for some reason. All of a sudden, in a moment of crippling empathy, it’s like I can gaze straight into her not-quite-happening, too-true-to-be-real, please-god-don’t-let-it-be-where-I’m-headed life, with a saggy couch and a cross-eyed toddler who’ll never learn to talk because he once drank a cleaning product that dissolved his teeth.
“I don’t think it matters,” I tell her, thinking about how sad it was when my dog Truffles got creamed by a businessman test-driving an UltraVespa last week. “Erm, say, do you ever…”
“Yes?” Cordelia prods.
“Get the feeling that we’re all just trying our hardest, and there’s good deep down in the worst and sleaziest human beings—Fanwiggle too? Like, we all make mistakes, and bad ones, but we all have a working moral compass, though it’s sometimes grimy and hard to read, and you can’t pawn it off or anything, it just sits there in the flesh of your heart, needle spinning, telling you not to give customers extra sour cream no matter how nicely they ask for it?”
“Um, definitely not,” Cordelia says.
“Told you,” Arnold points out.
“Oh,” I start. “Well, in that case, do you want to go stand outside the Apple Store across the way and see what commercials are on the windowscreens? Because I quit and also you’re fired.”
After recovering from the shock of her termination, she agrees, but no sooner are we out the door than a Taco Bell death squad descends from a hovercopter, bursts of gunfire from their FlavrBlast® assault rifles shredding our torsos into barbacoa. One of them leans down to put Dorito chips on our dead eyes, a warning to other Chipotle soldiers. I forgive him, I really do. I forgive them all. You can’t know what I mean, how it feels to finally let go of everything, including your opinion of cilantro. But I promise—I swear on our margarita mix—you will.
*George Saunders did not actually write this.