698 words by Stanley Lieber
I recall lunches composed of the following elements: Pepsi from a glass bottle, Doritos ("Nacho Cheese" -- this was long before there was any choice in the matter), sweet pickles, minced ham lunch meat on Roman Meal bread with Miracle Whip to make it edible. These were sacred food groups, to my father, and their vibrant, singular colors -- one color per product -- were seldom deviated from. Every other week, two fold-out cardboard boxes would arrive from the model club and we would spend the rest of the afternoon assembling 1/72nd scale aeroplanes, tanks and/or other miscellaneous military hardware (that is, after Father took a nap and I got some quality time alone with the cable movie channels). Even though 1/48th was my preferred scale, the model club didn't offer that choice. In any case, Dad wouldn't have cared if they did. We stayed small to conserve paint, even though the occasional larger scale impulse purchase lead to us running out in the middle of a project and having to improvise "battle damage" on the bare area. These things came to pass ninety-five years ago, as the crow flies.
I often recalled all of this while sitting in line at the Burger King. Through mouthfuls of yellow steam (window rolled down; hydrogen exhaust in front of me) I could taste particles of flame-broiled dingo meat as they were diced into nothing, making their journey from broiler vent scrubber to the after-life. My stupid, antiquated MoodGadget kept timing out and powering itself down, which lead to blast after blast of cold distortion as the mesh reader in my trike's head unit switched back to raw signal (volume cranked up to 20 to compensate for an old non-mesh wireless transmitter). At least I wasn't wearing INtraFACE, which would have made it a pain to adjust thumbwheels and buttons. It was 60 degrees Fahrenheit with me in my two layers of MoodSweater.
I would alternate between this Burger King and the McDonald's up the street. At each joint the Manager Who Worked The Customer Portal During Lunch Rush would smile and try to make small talk, accusing me of not having been around "in a while," even though I'd ordered the same combo package there four days in a row. Each time I would clamp my mouth shut and jab into their eyelids with my mind, hoping to break something in there that would prevent them from tirelessly offering the same observation day after day after day. It never worked right, as anyone who ate at this type of place regularly can attest. I am told these mindless automatons actually were artificial -- not human at all -- but I preferred to simply think of them as authentic, flesh and blood arseholes. Gave me something to be angry about, which is always a concern for people at that age.
Also, you have to understand, I didn't really like the food. I ate the marked fries by default because it would cost more to get a same size drink and dingo wrap by themselves. The hallucinogenic advertisements broadcast through my waste (and let's be honest -- who would have believed that fecal matter gets around quite so much?) would dissipate within twenty-four hours, and, in any case, were perfectly safe barring allergies. That's what the short-range mesh surrounding the place offered up as advice at the last possible moment before your vehicle was locked into the delivery path. In this way I felt my Constitutionally guaranteed free will was being artfully subverted. The intersection of poverty-hardened pragmatism and a comfortably sensible diet had a broken traffic light, there at the Burger King. (How's that for an archaic reference point?) In any case, I usually opted to shit bad television and save my pennies.
I make it sound so disagreeable, I know. But all I had was my debit rating and the ad-free Chinese place a few blocks away closed down their line at 14:00 standard, so I grumbled and I lived with it.
Ah, listen to me go on. I can't even focus on anything but the lights in the ceiling. How was school?