Jerry works at the Steinberg Hotdog Factory, a large industrial plant employing many folk from the enclosing zip codes. The factory is an economic prop to many surrounding business, their hotdogs put the town on the map. Jerry’s job is to inspect equipment sanitation levels after procedural cleaning. He paces metal platforms above vats of bubbling, smelly hotdog mix, checking boxes on a clipboard. Jerry despises his job and is quite miserable with his foreseeable future.
Jerry lives in a small apartment off Haverford Street with his wife and dog. A weiner dog. Jerry hated the irony, but his wife enjoyed it so much she named the dog Mustard. Jerry’s getting ready for work right now. He ties up his shoes and grabs his corporate issued clipboard. Swinging the apartment door open, he receives a peck from his wife and struts to his car to begin his Steinberg commute. Upon arrival he’ll be greeted by the Steinberg Hotdog Man, a billboard hotdog with arms, legs and a smile. It stands in still frame wave aside the parking lots entrance. Jerry always dreamt of vandalising that sign, tearing an arm off, perhaps lighting the full thing ablaze. While pondering such illegal activities he boards the highway, joining a row of traffic jammed cars. Jerry sighs and props his head up, preparing for the boredom of waiting for more boredom.
Five years later a man walks the same highway. Between lines of abandoned, dusty cars he treks hastily, clomping a small backpack through barren silence. The man slows his trot as a low rumble comes from the distance. An approaching vehicle. He turns to a car nearest to him and whips open the door. Sliding beneath the passenger dashboard, the rumble grows louder as he closes. A quick peek out the windshield, he spots motorcycles lane splitting on either side. Ducking back, the rumble crescendos as the bikes pass. He waits for fading rumbles and exits with a sigh of relief. Slamming the door, he peers down the road for the bikes dispersing paths. Instead, he spots a motorcycle propped up 100 yards down his row.
He sees the other, still driving bike on the row over from him rumble toward the horizon. He reaches for the car door and notices that the thick dust had been wiped clean from the handle when he first opened it. Climbing in, he realises the biker in his lane must’ve seen the used, dustless car handle. Quickly the man decided that must change cars, jumping again out of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the biker had arrived and yanks him out the car at a faster rate than he originally exited at.
“Where the hell you think you’re going,” screams the Biker, tossing him out and to tumble on the concrete.
“I don’t have anything- I don’t,” the man crouches up on his knees.
“Don’t you fucken move,” the biker yells, pointing a gun the man only now notices, “Are you alone?”
“YES please don’t, you don’t have to point.”
“If you’re not alone,” the biker lowers the pistol, “My friend who drove off will be doing a drive by in minutes.”
“I’m alone,” the man gasps.
“Good," the biker holds out his hand, “Your pack. What’s your name?”
The man hands over the pack, “Roger.”
“Well Roger”, the biker begins to go through Roger’s bag, “I’m guessing you’re headed for Steinberg.”
“Yes, ah, is it still, like existing?” Roger asks, staring at the man’s removal of his items.
“No chaos yet,” the Biker takes out a bottle of water, “Or more than normal I suppose.” The biker takes a sip, “Well, you’re in luck.”
“You got yourself a Steinberg taxi,” the biker smiles, revealing crooked teeth. He raises Roger’s pack and shakes it, “And already paid the fare.”
Jerry stands beside a hotdog vat in a lab coat, and checks the 26th box of the day. Swabbing the side of the giant mixer, he ponders if the hotdog liquid would kill him instantly if he were to jump in. Deciding that it would be a slow drowning, he instead moves on to swab the next vat.
Jerry turns around to see a sanitation worker in a quarantine suit and fumigation hood.
“Mr. Jones wants to see you in his office.”
Jerry walks away between the maze of vats to a side door along the wall. Knocking twice he enters after a muffled call.
“Yes come in now Jerry,” Mr. Jones stood looking down at inventory lists, arms splayed on either side of his desk.
“What’d you want to see me about,” Jerry asks, slowly closing the door.
“Well Jerry, I have some good news and some bad news for you today, what’d you like to hear first.”
“The bad news sir.”
“The bad news alright, well see Jerry the bad news is that the economies tanking alright. Hotdogs, not America’s goto food you see,” Jones looks up from his papers and sits back into his chair. “Baseball’s going down, we’re going down, the future’s not bright for sales or, frankly, our nation. No pun intended.”
“None taken sir”
“Good alright, so yeah that’s the bad news Jerry.”
“What's the good news sir.”
“Well the good news is the good folks up in the board office decided to do a little internal investigation, research and so forth, and they found out—get this—they found out, your job. Your job, clipboards and such, it'd take a computer five minutes. FIVE.”
“Five minutes sir?”
“Maybe even four.”
“Oh but get this,” Mr. Jones eyes brighten as he leans forward, “It’d cost us next to nothing.”
Mr. Jones slams his hands down, “Pennies.”
Jerry whistles in amazement. Jerry then processes what Mr. Jones is saying and his face falls. He now understands his employment is ending. Mr. Jones notices Jerry’s realization and reaches his hand out. Jerry takes Mr. Jone's hand in a loving grasp and begins to weep.
“Jerry I was asking for your clipboard.”
“Oh,” Jerry sniffles and replaces his hand with the clipboard, “Should I have my desk cleaned out by the end of today?”
Mr. Jones looks at Jerry confused, “What fucken desk are you talking about we didn’t even give you that lab coat.”
Jerry looks down at his lab coat.
“I’m still going to take it though,” Mr. Jones says, outstretching his other arm.
Jerry slips off his thrift store bought lab coat and glumly offers it.
Mr. Jones picks up a piece of paper off his desk and begins to read, “The company would like to remind you that although your termination should be seen as a personal failure, failure is natural in life. And like you’re grandmother would always say, the best remedy for failure is a Steinberg beefer available at local convenience stores in multiple flavors such as smokewood, teriyaki, beefer classic, smokier wood-”
Jerry quietly slips out of Mr. Jones office as he began to spout off the new 2-for-1 pricing details for footlong hotdogs. Walking back through the maze of dog-mush vats, Jerry finds the parking lot door and begins a walk of shame to his car.
Five years later Roger steps off the Bikers motorcycle and onto a bustling shanty town street. The Biker, silent beneath the loud rumble of the bike, tosses Roger’s empty pack onto the ground and takes off. Roger picks up the pack and peers around. After years in a post collapse world, Roger finds the bustling life a abnormal scene. Tents with tables of random goods lined the streets with smaller living quarters behind. Roger thought about the tales he heard of the Steinberg shanty town, and looking around he finds them true. He saw hotdogs, dried and twined together, changing palms amongst the hagglers. He looks up at the factory chimneys, whose shadow covered the street. The tip billowed smoke.
“You there!” Roger hears a call from one of the shopkeepers. Turning, he sees an old man with guns and knives laid out atop. Roger begins to walk over as the old man asks,“You take a taxi here?”
Roger stops in front the mans table, “Yeah, fare was a bit high though.”
The old man laughs, “Biker fellow, Bill, he’ll clean you out alright.”
“So, what’s like, the conversion rate on these hotdogs with, stuff?” Roger points over, where said dogs were switching hands.
“Oh we’re laissez faire here, big goods will get you hauling crates of hotdogs round,” The old man motioned to beneath the table, where several such crates lay firm, “They keep for months, keep you alive for months too. Systems worked out real nice.”
“Who’s making the dogs?” Roger motions to the smoking chimney.
“Damn fine question” the old man smiles, “See making dogs in a factory like this requires lotta resources, course everything's offline, it's a collective effort see. We have a group of volunteers going out cross country to warehouses, fetching barrels of ingredients. Everyone takes turns fetching least once, course you can do it for bounty too. The boys inside just mix it up and cook it all up for a small cut.”
“Okay, but how do they do that without power?”
“Stirring don’t take much, rest’s just wood fire and jerkying,” the man motions to the smoking chimney, “Course, all the porridge type stuff we need to make dogs, it ain't something you could just find by yourself.”
“How do you find it then,” Roger asks.
“Hehe, well before everything went down,” the old man shrugs, “I guess they had a paper list. Some lucky bastard gots that now.”
“Well, he’s what, making hotdogs and just giving them away?”
“Yup, families get a set amount a week after long held residency. Rests tradeable for gas, gold, or grenades,” the old man fingertaps a tabletop grenade.
“Huh, but who’s the guy who got the list of warehouses”
“No clue,” the old man pulls out a rag filled with loose hotdogs, “Fellow went smart and kept a low profile, I suppose he just stays inside the factory.”
“A shy dog.”
“Dog?” the old man offers a hotdog.
It’s 1 am in the morning as Jerry quietly approaches the Steinberg hotdog billboard. Armed with a can of spray paint he begins by adding a secondary hotdog between the Steinerg hotdog mans legs. He then moves on to a classic “fuck jones he a pussy ass bitch” tag along the chest. Dotting the eyes with glee Jerry skips back to his car. Taking a moment to savor the view of the defaced dog, Jerry clicks on the radio:
“-GLobal economic collapse. Complete. We’re seeing national failure of the electrical grid with 9/10 of people out of power. Gas prices are expected to rise into the 15$/gallon and refueling lines are destined to be blocked by highway hysteric congestion. Yellowstone has exploded, I repeat, yellowstone has exploded-”
Jerry turns the radio off. He sits silently for minutes, until four cars come screeching out of the Steinberg entrance. Security cars, presumably the guards racing home to their families. Jerry thinks about what he has to go home to. His wife had left him after he broke the news about his job. If Jerry went home he’d spend the last days of his apocalyptic days until death with a weiner dog called Mustard, who’d silently mock his very existence.
Jerry looks up at the towering chimney, and thinks about his foreseeable future. He thought about hotdogs in a apocalyptic sense, and remembers the lists in Mr. Jones office. He thinks on what hotdog making secrets might lay in his filing cabinet. Jerry got out of his car, and starts walking towards the factory.
Five years later Roger gathers with a crowd of shantytown people around the Steinburg factory entrance. Little children giggle all around, he catches phrases of ‘hot dog man’ and the ‘factory magician’. Piecing it together Roger realizes he might be about to witness a hot dog delivery. Suddenly a door along the factory wall bursts open and several men carrying crates march forth. Accompanying them is a man in a lab coat and Willy Wonka hat, holding a clipboard. As the men approach the still closed gate, the man with the clipboard begins to call names. Families came up to the gate, the man with the lab coat peering at their faces and back down to his clipboard. As he checked them off, the men would pass crates of food to the families. Roger watched the man, not knowing he was Jerry. And there Jerry stood, for the foreseeable future, happily checking boxes, on a non-corporate clipboard.