Step after step, I’m walking toward a slow death. My friend Isaac and I are on our way to a fast food burger joint, and it doesn’t matter which one because they’re all basically the same. We’re only undertaking this expedition because Isaac knows a guy who he thinks will give us free food.
It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon, and the sun is sitting on my shoulder. The two of us are sweating profusely. We’re human slugs leaving a trail of perspiration in place of mucus, and we’re seeking out salt instead of avoiding it. The food we may or may not receive is very likely 50% sodium and will cause our eyes to dry out and turn to dust.
I’m ridiculously stoned. We both are. It’s the only reason I’d drag my feet through these doors to willingly gorge myself on this God-forsaken semi-edible food. I don’t know when or how often they change the grease at a 24-hour fast food restaurant, but I probably wouldn’t like any answer I’d be given so I’d just prefer not to know. Ignorance is bliss.
Entering the establishment, I take in the odor du jour. Immediately I smell the fries, which is odd to think about because potatoes aren’t supposed to have that pervasive of an aroma. Frying tubers appears to give them supernatural powers of scent; all it takes is a hot oil bath in a stainless steel box manipulated by magical runes on the front of said box. I wonder if fried potatoes became just “fries” out of respect for the crazy degree of change in their smell.
There are a few other odorous traces lingering in the air as well. I can smell bleach, which is good. I like a clean restaurant. There’s also a faint hint of ass whirling around my nasal passages. That one is not so good, and now I can’t help but wonder what they’re using the bleach to clean up.
Ambling through the lobby, I wander into the gaze of the only two patrons to be found within this fortress of fried foods, and I can feel the whole of them focused upon us: two men, four dead eyes, maybe eight teeth. I think I’ve found the source of the aforementioned body odor.
“Isaac, what’s up, man? I haven’t seen you in forever, dog! How’s it going, ya big ape?” In the span of seven seconds, Isaac has been addressed as three different mammals by an employee with a name tag that had been modified to read “Bong.” I’m not sure if this is the guy Isaac came to talk to, and I’m really not very keen on trusting a guy who has christened himself “Bong” with my food. I’ve already decided the poor horses that had to die for the burgers in this place had a higher I.Q. than Bong.
“Whoa. Hey, what’s going on, Donnie? I didn’t know you worked here.” That answers my question. Bong definitely isn’t who we came to see, and I can now make out that his name tag originally said “Don.”
“Yeah, man, I’ve worked here for like two years.” He looks confused, and I am too but for a different reason, I’m sure. I want to know how long ago he changed his name, and if it’s been awhile, I’m eager to learn how he has kept a job here with a name like that.
“Oh, wow. That’s cool. Uh, hey, is Alan around?”
“Alan doesn’t work here, man.”
“Oh! Shit. Did he quit or something?”
“He’s never worked here, dude. He works at that burger place five blocks that way, like toward your apartment.”
What the hell? We walked to the wrong restaurant, and not only that, we went right past the one we were supposed to go to. We went out of our way only so that we could dehydrate a little extra under the sun.
“Oh, shit. Really?… Can we have some free food?” I thought Isaac might ask this guy, but I didn’t think he would blurt it out so soon.
“Uh… I guess so. You guys just come on back here, and we’ll cook something fresh.”
Isaac and I are back behind the counter now, and the two men in the lobby are still staring at us. Isaac introduces me to Bong as “my friend Jerry – he’s not a douche bag.” I have to participate in some dumb handshake this asshole probably made up on the spot, and then he gives us a tour and starts to acquaint us with the staff.
The first person we meet is a tall, lanky dude with the oiliest skin I’ve ever been witness to. I can only assume he doubles as a Slip ‘N’ Slide on the weekends for extra money. His name is Frankie, and he works the prep table. He smells a little ripe, but overall, he’s a pretty nice guy.
I notice a bandage on Frankie’s finger and liquid on the floor. It’s bleach. It turns out the cleaner was for the blood on the ground from when he cut his finger a little while ago. The floor got a disinfection, and the fast food patrons got a walking infection with an adhesive bandage on one of his nose-pickers.
Next, we meet the drive-thru order guy Steve. Steve is a man with uncomfortably long fingernails, and they make one wonder how he wipes his ass and keeps it sanitary. This is where the ass smell is coming from.
“How’s the t.p. here?” I act as if I might be in need of the restroom facilities, but I’m really doing research on Steve. I want some answers.
“I’ve had better.”
That’s all I need to know. In the span of five seconds, I’ve confirmed in my mind that the last piece of ass Steve got was his own.
There’s one other guy no one is introducing us to. He’s on the grill toward the back of the building away from everyone else. The only one who seems to have any contact with the mystery employee is Frankie. Did that guy cut Frankie?
The grill guy is fairly normal-looking as far as normal in my book goes. His skin is as white as mayonnaise, and his shoulder-length hair is dyed black matching the burger patty he’s letting burn. He doesn’t seem angry, just indifferent. The burger catches fire, and he roots around in his left pocket to procure a cigarette. He leans down and lights his cigarette on the burning burger, and nobody bats an eye. One of the oddest things I’ve ever seen is treated as a normal occurrence in this place.
By now, I’ve lost my appetite. Isaac is still ready to eat but gets pissed when they won’t put cheese on his free burger. In my head I picture grill guy getting cigarette ash on the meat, and Frankie’s wound opening up and blending with the ketchup. I imagine Steve handling the finished product and wrapping it up nice and sloppy with those hands, with those tainted fingers. Even though it’s just my imagination, I can’t help but think of this as an everyday thing.
I’ve come to realize something after pulling all my thoughts from the past hour or so together. People don’t become obese and die of heart disease because some gross person is flipping burgers in the back. These places are disgusting whether or not the kitchen and its inhabitants are clean. The truth of the matter is it doesn’t matter what’s done to the food by the employees at the local fast food joint. It’s what’s being done by the national chain – the whole body of restaurants – that’s killing us.
Isaac grudgingly sinks his teeth into his lactose-free hamburger. My stomach growls because I really want one, too, and I die a little inside. I’ll just eat some peanut butter when I get home. How bad can that be?