I used to work in an office, in a neighborhood where it was hard to find lunch for less than $10-12. Then, a Taco Bell Cantina opened up. This was a good day.
Not only could I now get a pretty cheap lunch on the days I neglected to bring something from home, but it was also a fun, new thing for my pleasant coworkers and I to talk about, an illuminating example of the mundane things that rile up people who sit in offices and get paid to click on things for eight hours a day. We didn’t talk much about ourselves, not in any substantive way, but we did like to talk about food and booze.
It’s like a regular Taco Bell, but with more menu items, and also alcohol!
Like, alcohol alcohol?
Like, spiked Baja Blast freezes, or something.
Yeah, but if you have the option to drink a boozy Baja Blast, why would you pick beer?
It quickly became a favorite lunch spot. Occasionally, some of my coworkers and I would stop there for a drink after work. There was even one night when we stayed out at a happy hour late enough to warrant some drunken quesadillas and Crunch Wraps.
One coworker joked with me—in the way one jokes when the mundane drunkenly amuses them, when in the company of the people who are riled up by mundane things like the opening of a fast food restaurant near their office—that I should order with her name and she with mine. I don’t know why she suggested this, nor why I thought it was funny, but then we were at the kiosks selecting our drunken treats, typing in each other’s first name and last initial.
When they called my coworker’s name, slinging out my gordita, I felt a surge of energy burst in my chest. I approached the counter to accept my fourth meal and watched as the teenager in the black and purple uniform sized me up and regarded me, a bearded person with long limbs and wide shoulders, with a purportedly feminine name. I felt the urge to explain myself to them, to tell them my real name, because how on Earth would someone with that name look like me?
Before I could say anything, though, they handed me my gordita and said, “Enjoy, _____.”
My cheeks flushed. I could feel them, hot as the lamp used to keep the tortilla chips warm. I wondered if my drunken cohort noticed, how I radiated unexpected energy, how I tingled, how I smiled, elated at being regarded as feminine with no questions asked.
None of them knew the person I am, not at my deepest root, but for one simmering moment in the Taco Bell Cantina, I was who I am, in a roomful of my friendly, slosh-mouthed, inebriated coworkers. A flickering euphoria in the pleasant mundanity.
D.R. Baker is the founder and editor of Tiny Essays. Their writing has appeared at Book Riot, Submittable, HowlRound, Entropy, Memoir Mixtapes, and others. As a musician, they have played guitar and bass for various acts over the past decade. Raised in New Jersey, educated in Ohio, and with brief forays into Michigan and Nevada, Dan now lives in New York City with their partner.