Thursday, February 21, 2008

McDonald's: They've Got Your Number

In theory, I have no problem with McDonald’s “extra value” meals (read: twice the death at half the price) but that does not mean I ALWAYS want an extra value meal. Call me crazy, but (whoa, that was fast) sometimes I just want a hamburger and a Coke. And maybe a mouth-scarring apple pie as an after. Sadly, this seemingly simple desire seems to cause great difficulties wherever I go. I am beginning to think I would gladly do away with the extra value meal concept if it meant avoiding this conversation:

Nite Owl: “Hi there, how’s it going?”

Clerk: *GRUNT*

Nite Owl: “Ok, then, I’d like to place an order TO go, but not an extra value meal…”

Clerk: A number TWO? Extra value meal? (pushes some buttons)

Nite Owl: Uh, no… TO GO, but NOT an extra value meal.

Clerk: *GRUNT* (pushes some “undo” buttons, disgustedly)

Nite Owl: Right then, I’d like a hamburg… (barely gets to finish the word)

(Sound of final receipt printing: CHA-CHUNK-CHA-CHUNK-CHA-CHUNK-BING) 95 cents please!!!

Nite Owl: Uh, yes. A couple more things actually.

Clerk: GRUNT! (Rips up receipt)

Nite Owl: So I’d like one hamburger…

Clerk: A number one extra value meal?

Nite Owl: (Grits teeth to avoid smashing a napkin-holder into the cash register)
NOOOOOOO… just a hamburger and…

Clerk: With cheese?

Nite Owl: What?

Clerk: Do you want cheese on your hamburger?

Nite Owl: (Fighting back urge to tell clerk that a hamburger with cheese is actually a cheeseburger, until he realizes that some idiot costumers probably DO complain that they wanted their “hamburger” with cheese after the fact.)
No THANKS, just a HAMBURGER.. with uh, just plain, I guess. Nothing on it. And a small Diet Coke… (again, barely gets to finish sentence)


Nite Owl: Wait… wait!!! A medium Diet Coke? I said a small.

Clerk: We don’t have small anymore, just medium, large, and oil tanker size.

Nite Owl: You realize that makes no sense right? You realize that you can’t have “medium” if there is no small, right?

Clerk: (Eyes glaze over, like grease-coated McDonald’s fries glistening in the sun)

Nite Owl: Forget it! Medium is fine. I also want an apple pie FOR dessert.

Clerk: A number FOUR? Extra value meal?

Nite Owl: NO! Not a number four! A hamburger, a Diet Coke, and an apple pie! Can’t I say anything that phonetically resembles a number without your extra-value sensor going off???
I’ve got to get home by FIVE, you know?

Clerk: What did you say?

Nite Owl: I said I have to get home by FIVE!

Clerk: What?

Nite Owl: Five. FIVE!!!

Clerk: OH! He’s our shortstop!

So you can clearly see my lack of fondness for the “extra value” concept. It’s enough to almost (repeat, ALMOST) scare any sanity-loving man off of artery-obstructing sodium-enriched food for life.

And for what it’s worth, the first time this happened, when I got home I discovered that my “plain” hamburger (with no cheese) was SO plain that it had no ketchup, pickles or shredded onion either. It was just a lonely, forlorn beef patty stranded on a McDonald’s bun.

Apparently, if you don’t walk into McDonald's and simply shout, “NUMBER THREE! LARGE! TO GO! WITH A COKE!” then you are seriously jeopardizing your chances of getting anything that even remotely resembles what you asked for. Of course, you’re still going to get a stale fish fillet or two that you didn’t want, and a couple of items will be missing completely… hell, that’s a given… but at least your order will be in the BALLPARK, and you’ll avoid the long, drawn-out vaudeville routine with the counter help.

It’s not that McDonald’s workers CAN’T take an order properly, it’s just that many times they’re either disinterested or rushing because they’ve got so many damn people to serve. I worked in fast food for eight years, and can tell you it’s not a pleasant job; it can really wear you down. Believe it or not, I’m a bit more patient than most customers when it comes to fast food service. But come on. Even I have my limits.

If things keep going this way, I may end up recruiting a bunch of my friends to dress up in costumes that represent my order. You know, like the old “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” guys from the movies, only with a McDonald’s theme. Steve can be the burger, Jon can be the hot apple pie, and I’ll be the Coke, and we’ll all just dance in the door and sashay right up to the counter. Who knows? Visual aids could be just the ticket to getting me what I want. Either that, or we'll end up getting our teeth kicked in by both the staff and customers. I say it's worth the risk! Besides, Jon dresses up as a hot apple pie on the weekends, so it wouldn’t be a big stretch for him anyway.

I don’t WANT to go to such extreme lengths, but it may ultimately come down to that. After all, trying to get a burger and a Coke isn’t supposed to be so stressful it clogs your arteries more than the meal itself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Life: So Good, They Named a Prison Sentence After It

Life on Earth, I think we can pretty much all agree, is a royal suck-fest. If you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention. War, pestilence, disease, famine, poverty, racism, sexism, John Mayer videos… yeah, it’s pretty much an all-around open-all-night pain-rodeo. This is not to say there aren’t smatterings of pleasure and meaning to be had, like rainbow-colored sprinkles on a turd-filled cupcake. But let’s face it folks. This planet and all its inhabitants, by and large, pretty much blow.

And we really don’t know what to do about this dire situation in which we find ourselves, do we? As a result, we often catch ourselves aping the same empty platitudes and clich├ęs that everyone else says, even though we know it’s all a crock. When was the last time you told someone, “Cheer up, it’s not so bad, things are going to get better” when you knew deep down things WERE that bad and they WEREN’T going to get better? You knew your words were empty, and yet you said it anyway because you didn’t know what else to do. Even worse, everyone knows that these expressions are just things people say and no one ever takes them to heart, which makes them even more pointless.

In this sea of human heartbreak and woe, I find myself alternately peeved and amused by the new-age-happy-bots who want me to find joy and beauty in EVERYTHING, be it the luminescent glow of the impending brake lights on the car three inches in front of me, or the enveloping feeling of warmth right before drowning, or the relief of being homeless and not having to worry about falling out of a nice, soft bed every night. These nutters genuinely believe that if the rest of us would only adopt the correct perspective (and walk around in a state of constant mental disconnect) we could really convince ourselves that the world's a pretty spiffy place afterall, where pink unicorns romp and frolic and there's a bonanza sale at Whole Foods every day. These are the same loonies who read "Real Simple" magazine, drink kiwi-flavored tea and need to de-toxify their bodies every six days.

Don’t get me wrong: I can certainly understand the value of being optimistic in certain adverse situations. Perhaps being fired from my job would be a good thing, because it would allow me to pursue my dream of playing the bongos on the streets of Pango Pango in a leather speedo for the rest of my thigh-chaffed days. On the other hand, what does it say about our existence that we feel so compelled to search for vestiges of “transcendent beauty” in everything from the ordinary to the mundane? Is reality SO sucky that we need to front-load our battered psyches with delusions of omni-present beauty and goodness in EVERYTHING? I guess we do.

And please don’t hit me with the gratitude routine. I’m extremely grateful everyday that I wasn’t born blind or deaf, among other things. But if you want me to find meaning/beauty in life by comparing my “fortune” to the misfortune of others, then count me out. If the best thing one can say about life is “At least I’m not that poor sucker” or “Thank god life didn’t kick me in the ‘nadz THIS go-round,”… well, that’s not exactly a glowing recommendation for the whole existence-hootenanny is it?

However, since existence on this planet is currently the only game in town, I guess it makes sense to hope for a couple of straights and flushes along the way until it's time to cash out. But please don’t kid yourself into thinking that somehow you’re ultimately in “control” of the game just because you’ve won a few hands. Sure, you can better your odds if you work on your strategy, but in the end the house always wins, and the game is always rigged against you.

And admiring the pretty lamination on all the pretty playing cards is never going to change that.