I could start by describing my first taste of their French Fries, soggy like fattened noodles and shining with salt and grease diamond jewelry, but I won’t because you could start there just as easily. You and you and you. And this essay isn’t about you. It is about McDonald’s. And me.
One time I ate a teriyaki burger at a McDonald’s stall in the Honolulu airport then vomited it on this stupid tank top I was wearing as I waved goodbye to a gigantic rainbow through the little round window on the plane. I imagined the McDonald’s in the airport in Hawaii is lonely because it is so far away from most of the other McDonald’s restaurants in the world. You have to fly over an ocean to get there. I had to look away.
I believed my mother the time she told me Chicken McNuggets were actually berries. I was in elementary school and had told her I didn’t want to eat dead animals anymore because one of my teachers was pretty and a vegetarian and she had mentioned it in class.
I believed my mother and she fed me the McNuggets. I alternated between dipping them in honey mustard and barbecue sauce and I liked them and I guess I am thankful. I learned to think of everything as berries after that. Fifteen drinks into the night and I will think: fifteen berries isn’t so much. Maybe I will grab another handful.
When I was a kid, I already knew I was a Bad Guy because I always rooted for the Hamburglar.
Fuck that clown and his friends, I thought.
Steal their burgers.
Ronald McDonald was a creep.
Remember those tiny aluminum foil ashtrays?
McDonald’s down south still had them when I was an undergraduate and whenever I used one I felt like I was going back in time, puff by puff almost, to be with my mother and family or a friend from carpool’s mother and family. I wanted to go back in time and feel something sincere about the cardboard cutouts of plastic Disney figures or My Little Pony or whatever the Happy Meal toys were.
I wanted to feel McGenuine again.
I could’ve totally started this with hash browns. You know. And you and you and you. We all learned when breakfast time was because of that 10 AM shift change and the availability of Happy Meals, not a rooster or sunrise.
I remember waking up to get the whole family a Saturday breakfast on my bike and feeling like I was made of gold. My legs were muscled arches. I would try to ride my bike through the drive-thru but they always gave me shit about it so then I would wheel it inside with me and then they would give me shit about that but eventually I would get my food and bring it back home for everyone and do the whole thing again the next weekend.
I remember celebrating a graduation at McDonald’s once. I don’t remember what I graduated from, but I remember that graduation better than any other graduation because we ate McDonald’s afterwards.
I think it was grad school, last month.
There were also Birthday Parties at McDonald’s, lots of them, but I don’t remember if I was ever invited. In my memory of childhood, I was just always there, in a booth at McDonald’s, waiting for another toy.
I lost my virginity at a McDonald’s. I think. It wasn’t a “greatest moment” if you define “great” as having anything to do with “enjoyable.” I was sitting on the clown’s lap. And Grimace was right there, smiling. “We thought he was at least twelve,” the Hamburglar said to my mom. It was his way of apologizing.
That wasn’t true. The Hamburglar never said that.
Mom was always a big help at McDonald’s, especially during the Happy Meal Years. She won’t go there with me now because they don’t serve alcohol.
I wish my mother wasn’t so tied to my McDonald’s memories. She wasn’t going to be when I started this. The essay or whatever this is was mostly supposed to be about leaving ketchup packets on people’s seats during bus trips to Jesus camp. Those were quality McMoments.
But I have got to say this one more thing about mom at least: my mother used to stop at the drive-thru and ask to buy all the happy meal toys at once (they usually came out weekly) so I could have them all together. Later I found out it was also so we didn’t have to eat there every Monday, when the toys were debuted. But what she never understood was that I wanted to eat there every day for the rest of my life, regardless of the toys. Being at McDonald’s meant being somewhere fun. I was just luvin’ it, that’s all.
Sometimes I feel like I am cheating on McDonald’s with lake trout joints, farmers’ markets, delis, and places that sell real food.
But I don’t feel so bad, because McDonald’s is selling all these sucky wraps now and won’t super size me anymore. They have fruit salads now. It is like they don’t even want me to get fat and die anymore. I have to smoke twice as much to make up for it.
Did you know that Chicken McNuggets come in four distinct shapes: Bone, Ball, Bell, and Boot. The McNugget, a miracle of fast food evolution. Chickens themselves come in as many shapes as there are chickens. There are about 19 billion chickens on the planet at any given time, which means there are always three chickens for every person. That means all of us could spend every second of our lives with our mouths completely full of Chicken McNuggets and the chicken population would be in no danger of extinction.
When I figured out I could order a sausage biscuit with cheese but no egg patty, I never looked back. Put a hash brown on that shit. Remember the McGriddle? That sucked clown dick…but I remember trying really hard to buy into the hype when it first came out.
My deep childhood love for stacking a hash brown in a sausage biscuit, that shit remains. I used to scrape the excess melted cheese off the greasy wrapper with my front teeth.
Every single day I think about eating these.
I want Ronald McDonald to live in my house and serve me breakfast in bed and advise me on important matters like the Alfred to my Batman. I want Ray Kroc to replace the ghost of my dead grandfather.
That’s a lie and I feel shitty about it.
I don’t want to live with any of the McDonald’s characters at this point in my life.
I am still down with the breakfast sandwiches, but I don’t get to McDonald’s as often as I should.
In fact, I rarely ever eat there now and the last time I did I felt sick.
Let’s be honest for once: Sometimes I have trouble separating the Cookie Crisp convict from the Hamburglar in my memory. I probably haven’t said “Happy Meal” in years.
Which is really sad to think about.
I want to crawl into a pile of French Fries and sob.
I want to add myself to the Dollar Menu as a permanent item.
Timmy Reed is a writer from Baltimore, Maryland. He has recently been published or has work forthcoming in a number of places including Necessary Fiction, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Akashic Books, and Metazen. Check out his story collection, Tell God I Don’t Exist, here: underratedanimals.wordpress.com