Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eating McDonald's Makes You Feel Ugly (My Very Last McDonald's Experience)

When I was twenty-one, I traveled to Rome with a rucksack jammed with a few shirts, a journal, and a few books. I found a small room by the Termini station. The room had a bed, a desk, and a single light bulb hanging on a wire above the bed. I wasn’t sure whether I was living in a pensioni or an abandoned flat and the woman who negotiated the price of the room with me never cleared this up. I only knew I her at the Termini station, she spoke only Italian, and I didn't trust her at all.

So I refused to unpack my bag, to let myself get comfortable. Instead I spent my time trying to figure things out. The bathroom mystified me. I couldn’t figure out the roaming shower head, or the hot water influenced solely by the flushing of the toilet. It took me several days alone to sort out the mystery of the light. I was already accustomed to pooping in the dark when I realized, by happenstance, that the light went on only when the door was bolted from the inside.

In the dark, alone, unable to read the newspaper to pass the time, fumbling for the toilet paper that always ran out, I realized, for the first time, that the laws that had always governed my life were slowly but surely evaporating.

Around this time, I the urge to do something I had not done for years: eat McDonald's.

It was a cool April morning. Walking by Termini station, I noticed the odor of McDonald's. I followed the odor, even though I felt vaguely ridiculous crossing the street and standing in the long line snaking out of the restaurant.

The line moved at an unhurried pace. I buried my nose into my guidebook, aware that the blood was rushing up to my cheeks, that I was suffering an acute bout of embarrassment. When I reached the counter and saw the spigot for red wine along with the soda fountain and coffee urn, I felt overwhelmed. The idea that I could simply order wine at McDonald’s, that I could do so in mid-morning, and that I could drink the wine on the street inspired in me true, vivacious joy.

“Yes,” I said and I actually pumped my fist.

Then I smiled deeply and ordered a sausage, egg and cheese McMuffin, two hash browns, and two cups of red wine.

I said to the young girl who was taking my order: “Rome is a good place to be happy.”

È lei ubriaco?” I imagine she said.

I sat on the curb outside, happily eating my sandwich and drinking red wine for breakfast.

After eating, I wandered up and down the freshly hosed, morning avenues. This is Rome! I told myself. I inhaled the exhaust from the motorbikes. I stopped to examine the paper menus taped on the windows of the cafés. I watched the impeccably dressed Italians, extravagantly hurried, rush in and out of doorways and taxis as if they had some other, marvelous place to be.

I had already seen more handsome people than I had ever seen in my life, when I stepped into a bar on Via Montbello, ordered an espresso, and looked into the full length mirror on the wall. I didn't like what I saw: my hair was a dramatic mess, my eyes were bloodshot, and I looked like a loiterer in my blue jeans and sneakers. My entire being seemed to be burdened with a profound ugliness, a gestating ugliness, something from within: McDonald's was infusing my body and my emotions with a profound sense of self-loathing.

I had no idea how to behave, so I pretended I was in a hurry, gulping my espresso in one scalding hot sip. Then I stepped onto Via Montbello and walked up the street, my tongue swelling, and continued walking for some time until, somehow, I found myself back on Via Montbello, in an utter panic, because I had no idea how to get back to the Termini station.

I stepped to the corner and vomited McDonald's onto the street.

Then I sat on a stoop, put my head on my knees, and fell in and out of sleep.

I didn't know it then, but (thankfully) I was experiencing my last McDonald's hangover.

No way Anita Ekberg ate McDonald's


Karen said...

I walked by a McDonalds in Philly the other day (underground at Suburban Station) and, peering in, I decided that it was the saddest place I had ever seen. From the dingy, windowless walls to the expressionless employees to the fat lady who kept stealing bites from her child's Happy Meal when he got distracted, the whole place was downright bleak.

Seth said...

McDonald's is the new Hell. If Dante wrote The Divine Comedy today he would set The Inferno in McDonald's.

Bert said...

I'm glad this experience cured you of McDonald's, but I am appalled that you ate McShit in Rome.

Seth said...

Bert: You should be appalled. I'm sorry. I was only 21.

bill b. said...

Hah--this story is brilliant. Bravo!

Steve said...

Its been years since I've tried anything from Micky-D's, but I have lately taken on the unholy habit of stopping by Dunkin'Donuts on the way to work to grab my breakfast- 2 egg and cheese crossaint sandwiches with a large coffee. Again, the first bite is utter euphoria. By the last bite I feel like my innards have just been hit by a friggin' freight train. But I always go back for more...

Seth said...

Is that kosher?

Steve said...

Yes. I don't eat treif.

My neighborhood in the Bronx just installed a kosher DnD. There are tons of them in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. They even have a kosher "Subway" sdandwich joint over there now. There are even kosher Mcdonald's in Israel.

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