A native of Southern California with three years of fast-food experience and many years of dreaming of his fifteen minutes of
fame, Jon Morgan Davies currently resides in Georgia, where he is neither famous nor, at the moment, a fast-food restaurant
employee. His work has appeared in such publications as Cutbank, Menda City Review, and the Yalobusha Review. A companion
story to "The Next Superstar," "Off the Map," appeared in the Summerset Review. http://no1bag.angelfire.com/
The Next Superstar
"That should have been me," I point out to my mother as we watch Paul Moyer, Colleen Williams, and the rest of the Channel 4
News team sort out the mystery of the newborn abandoned in a Burger Shack dumpster.
I take out the trash there six days a week, and the one day I'm off, the one day that Wanda takes out the trash, she finds a
baby. Now she's been on at least three TV news shows, and she's famous.
"How did you know it was a baby?" Kim Baldonado asks Wanda on the television, thrusting a microphone into her face.
"I wasn't sure," Wanda says, "but I heard screaming."
"You want me to have a baby so I can put it in the dumpster for you to discover?" My mother asks.
"Don't make jokes, Mom," I tell her. "This whole thing is wasted on her. Can't you see?" Wanda is about six-feet-tall and eighty
pounds overweight. She'd never make it in the movies. Me, I'm leading-man material — not the greatest physique but good
enough to be doctored, and I got an incredible voice — someone just gives me a chance.
"No one's ever been discovered on the TV news," my mom says.
"I've been in dumpsters before," Wanda continues, after another question from the newscaster, "to get boxes and things." She's
still wearing her uniform. Like usual, her hair is braided into one long cord, which she fiddles with her fingers. Unlike usual, though,
there's a white ribbon strung in the braid.
"She'd never dress that way at Burger Shack," I say.
"You hate watching it so much," my mom says, "why don't you turn the station?"
"And watch her on some other news show?" I ask.
"People's Court is on Channel 9," my mom says.
"I don't want to watch that," I say. Wanda tells again about how she cleared away three plastic trash bags and slipped in a pile of
rotting tomatoes and lettuce that had broken free, finding the child laid in the collapsed center of another bag. The child was
wrapped in newspaper — nothing more. With each sentence, Wanda plucks her hair gently with her right hand, as if she's
strumming a song. She seems nervous. I don't want to admit it, but I'm hooked by the way she tells her story. It's some good
The first day I'm back at work after Wanda's discovery, I notice a new sign posted outside the office: "Check dumpster for life at
open and close." Marcus volunteers to take out the trash for me at nine, when I usually take it out for the first time each day, and
when I refuse, he taunts me: "Jaime thinks he's going to be the next superstar."
"The dumpster was already checked," I say, "Stupid." But it's true — I hope to find another baby, or at least something,
something important. The neighborhood's messed up enough it's bound to happen. Planned Parenthood's just a block up, and
public housing's three blocks over. And that park, right beside it, I know people are selling drugs over there.
I listen closely after I raise the dumpster lid. I hear nothing. I scoot an empty plastic milk-shake crate under my feet and stand
atop it so that I can see inside — semitransparent trash bags, some brown french fry bags, and a loosened assortment of old
buns, tomatoes, and onions. I jiggle the trash bags on top for good measure. But no baby, no nothing, at least as far as I can
tell. And then I step down and sling in the new trash.
"Find anything?" Reggie asks, as I exit the gated trash area. Reggie cleans up the parking lot each morning, takes about two
I shake my head.
"Didn't think so," Reggie says. "April had me go through there this morning when I came in."
"I know," I say, nodding. "But I thought, you know — the last few hours or so."
"I been keeping an eye out," Reggie says.
I nod, go back inside.
All day, we debate why Wanda wore her uniform during the interviews. "It was right after work," Louise hypothesizes. "She didn't
have time to change."
"But she had time to do her hair," Tamika mocks. "Did you see how stupid it looked?"
"The company made her wear the uniform," Kenneth says, as if the answer is obvious.
"No, it was the TV stations," April says. "It's all about visuals on TV."
Michael, the store manager, says he doesn't want to hear anything more about it after three or four people request his views.
"The whole thing is an embarrassment," Michael says, "to the community, to the store, to us. How many people are going to avoid
eating here now?"
But lunch is as busy as ever. We continue our debate in whispers, and during my break, I study A Man in Silence, a play at the
Basement Theater I'm hoping to get a part in. My teachers in high school always said I was good at acting, but I haven't been able
to do any since graduation. Too many professionals around here, too many people with experience or drama degrees — no one
cares about raw talent. You have to know someone — or catch a break. Like Wanda. I bet Wanda got Kim Baldonado's business
card. And I bet she won't even use it.
That night, I watch the TV news for Wanda and the baby. Channel 2 has an exposé on other trashed babies and their mothers.
Wanda shows up briefly, a segment from an interview the day before, crying, "I don't understand it. I don't understand how
anyone could do this to their child." She gives a moving speech, I have to admit. Channel 7 interviews several police officers
regarding leads, as well as one lady "from the neighborhood," who I've never seen. Wanda doesn't figure. And then at ten, in the
middle of Law and Order, Channel 4 claims there's been a breakthrough. Jennifer Bjorklund stands outside two glass doors at
what's supposed to be the police station. They've found a woman, forty years old, who officers think is the mother. Her name
hasn't been released. Details are to come on the eleven o'clock news, and then the station returns to regular broadcasting. I turn
to Channel 5 to get the scoop now. But no one seems to know anything more. The woman's been brought into custody and is
Wanda is at work the next day. Tamika tells her how good she looked on television. April asks for the lowdown on how and when
the interviews were conducted.
"It was right after work," Wanda says. "I had sixteen calls on my answering machine, and they kept coming. I told the people to
just come on over. I should have unplugged the phone, but reporters were already showing up at my door."
"Told you," Louise says.
"How'd you get the ribbon?" Tamika asks.
"This woman from Channel 13," Wanda says, "she braided it in for me. I would have changed, but a lot of the reporters said it was
better if I still had the uniform on."
"See," April says, "I was right."
"You want to take out the trash?" I ask Wanda.
"No," she says.
Wanda works the sandwich board through breakfast but switches to the front counter at lunch. I work fries, so I have a good
view of everything happening at the registers. Several people ask Wanda if they saw her on television, but each time she shakes
her head no. A couple of people don't ask — they insist, and finally Wanda gives in, and they ask her what it was like to find the
baby. "I'm working," Wanda says. Or: "I don't want to talk about it." Or: "I can't talk about it." Or: "You saw the news. You know."
If I'd found the baby, I'd have memorized the best version of the story, studied the best places to pause, to raise my voice, to
lower it, to scream, and I'd have told it to each and every person who asked with relish. But then I'd have been working fries, and
no one could have talked to me anyway.
That night, Paul Moyer does an editorial on the state of our society, on the circumstances that could bring a forty-year-old to
leave her child in a fast-food dumpster, on the lack of concern bred not only in many of our families but also in our community as
a whole, a community that could tolerate such actions, that could let a mother's pregnancy go unsupported. I keep waiting for him
to talk about Wanda as hero, keep thinking about how, if that had been my day at work, it would have been my heroism. But he
never mentions Wanda. And neither do Channels 2 or 7.
I don't stay up to watch the Channel 5 news — or any of the others.
Wanda doesn't show up at work the next day, doesn't even call. By ten, once Michael realizes she isn't coming, he has to
scramble to find a replacement. He yells at April about the sidewalk not being hosed down, about the front counter not being
adequately stocked with bags — he never yells. He has something important to do, something that won't allow him to fill in at the
register that morning.
What Michael thought so important, I discover, is the dumpster. That day, just before I leave, I take out the trash one last time.
When I get to the dumpster area, though, it's locked. Locked. There wasn't a lock before.
Michael — or someone he hired — has welded a ring to the gate, and passing through it is a shiny silver padlock.
I return to the office to find out how I'm supposed to get in, but before I ask Michael, I see the sign outside. The old sign has
been taken down. In its place is a new one — and beneath it, a hook, on which hangs a set of keys, three of them. "Dumpster,"
the sign reads.
I take the keys and return to the gate, where the trash bags await. I unlock it and step inside, and then I unlock one of the two
dumpster lids and raise it. I listen for cries, for babies, for dogs and cats. But there's nothing, of course, no life at all.
That night, on the Channel 4 news, Kim Baldonado talks to the mother of a twelve-year-old boy who was killed in crossfire
between police and armed suspects in a bank robbery across the street from a mall. The mother recounts how wonderful her son
was, notes how he didn't deserve to die, asks how God could allow this.
"Sad," Colleen Williams says, after Kim finishes her report.
"Yes," Paul Moyer agrees.
Channel 7 recounts the event from a police officer's perspective — sixteen bullet holes in the door of his car, him trapped for two
hours while the swat team did its work. Channel 2 interviews a bank security specialist about how to prevent such attacks in the
future and how we can protect ourselves.
I watch all two hours of the evening news, from five until seven, switch between each of the three newscasts, but not one of them
mentions the Burger Shack baby.
"Wanda," I think, "what a waste."
Jon Morgan Davies