Searching for My Identity in a Queens McDonald’s

I’ve written about my local Queens McDonald’s before.  It is across the street from my mother’s apartment building.   It is also the worst run McDonald’s in the country.  The managers are so chintzy here that you have to ask for napkins.  They have removed all the napkin dispensers.   And God help you if you ask for another packet of ketchup.

Every morning, I go downstairs to this McDonald’s.  Why?  Don’t I live in New York City now, the home of hip coffeeshops, where your latte is served by some slender beauty from NYU and all the customers are reading David Sedaris?   Well, remember – I’m living in Flushing.   There is no Starbucks by my home.  There is a Dominican diner and a bagel shop, both terrific, but these are tiny Mom-and-Pop operations that do not want me taking up their space while I read blogs for an hour  — at least not for the price of a cup of coffee.  At McDonald’s, I can buy a cup of coffee and then write on my laptop until the battery runs out.

Sidenote:  I probably could write a haf-decent decent blog and never walk more than half a block from my apartment building.   On Monday and Wednesday I can write about the Pathmark supermarket downstairs where cars smash into things like in a senior citizen NASCAR race.  On Tuesday and Thursday, I can write about the crappy McDonald’s across the street.  On Friday, I can write about my mother.  And on the weekend, I can let my Penis guest post or I can write about blogging or kiss the ass of some popular blogger.  For some odd reason, I think this would be a more successful formula than the one I have now.

OK, back to McDonald’s.  Last week, there was a bit of drama over my ordering the Egg McMuffin without the meat.   Usually, I don’t order breakfast at McDonald’s.  I buy a cup of coffee and do some writing.  But despite my eating my Cheerios on that day, I found myself hungry.  I decided to order an Egg McMuffin.  I am not a fan of those greasy sausage patties, so I asked for a sandwich without the meat.  They charged me the same price.

“Shouldn’t the sandwich be cheaper because I’m not getting the meat?” I asked.

“No, said the bored cashier with that ‘I don’t give a shit attitude’.  “It is the same price.”

This bugged the hell out of me.  Clearly the meat portion is the most expensive part of the sandwich.  Shouldn’t they at least offer me a tomato as a replacement?

I mentioned this experience on Twitter later in the day, thinking I was the first person to ever notice this phenomenon.   I was not.  Vegetarians said this happens all the time.  They always pay the same price as the regular sandwich.

I am a nice, gentle soul.  Normally.  But when I see the “little man” wronged, especially when it is done by a mighty corporation, I MUST take action.  Consider me the Obama of the Blogosphere.  The next day, I strapped on my new belt that I bought at Rite-Aid for five bucks (as I was walking the day earlier, my belt buckle broke, and my pants starting slipping down, so I snuck into the drug store, was surprised that they sold belts, and got myself a nice bargain that looks pretty good), and swaggered down to McDonald’s.  I ordered an Egg McMuffin without meat, was charged the regular price — but before I handed over a penny, I demanded to see the manager.  A seventeen year with a Kanye West cap approached. 

“The manager is out.  I am the ASSISTANT manager.” he said.

I explained my problem.  He said that my cause was hopeless, because this was corporate policy. 

Some people say you can’t fight City Hall.  Maybe they are right.  Oh, by the way, I am still waiting for that phone call about my free flight from Dockers/JCPenney.

Yeah, let’s see how much Obama really “changes things” in Washington.  Hah!

Anyway —

I am in McDonald’s RIGHT NOW.  I usually write while I am here, but today I am mostly reading some blogs ($2.95 for two hours of wi-fi at McDonald’s).

I am also in an introspective mood.  I am thinking about my identity — both online and off.  Who am I?  What am I doing with my life?  Can my life be as “rich, bold, and robust” as they say about the coffee on the McDonald’s cofffee cup? 

Recently, I changed my Facebook network to “New York” from “Los Angeles” and ten people wondered if I had permanently moved.  It means nothing really.  I just did it, in the hope that some blogger that lives in New York might notice and invite me to a wild party with loose women while I am in town.

I am slow to change.  It wasn’t easy changing my network on Facebook.  I still don’t know what I want with Sophia.  Or where to live.  Or which new shows to watch in the new TV season.  If you look on my sidebar, you’ll see that I added some new widgets as an experiment.  This template is so old (2005), that I have to hand code half the gizmos.  I “designed” my header on a rainy afternoon way back March of 2005.  What does it mean?  Who is that kid?  I have no idea who that is, but it has been my “icon” since I began this blog.  Is this how I really want to be “branded?”

Last week, Maggie Dammit got her blog re-designed by the talented Sam of Temporarily Me.   Last night, I must have chatted online for a half an hour with new friend Jennifer from Thursday Drive about how jealous I was of this header because it captured this blogger’s identity so successfully.   My semiotic “blog header” analysis was worthy of Roland Barthes.  Look how much information we we get from this photo.  There is a picture of Maggie.  She is cute and likeable.  She has a quirky expression on her face, so we know that she is approachable, like Meg Ryan.  No on would ever say this person is a “bitch” or she would “stab you in the back.”   Look at all those books she has!   She is not a dummy.  But she is NOT a lonely, bookish hermit.  She is using a MAC!   And she is confident.  She has her arms up, like those women in those Sure deodorant commercials.  She is a hot, but approachable, literary, but trendy, confident, but caring.  Hell, I don’t just want to read her blog.   I want to marry this woman!   Now that is good branding.   She clearly knows who she is. 

Do you know who I am?  I doubt it.  Do I know who I am?

Let me go back to talking about McDonald’s.  Every morning, on schedule, a tiny old Chinese woman enters the store, carrying a plastic supermarket shopping bag.  She comes to every table:

“DVDs?  DVDs?  Good DVDS!”

Her business is pushing bootleg DVDs.  I have never seen a customer buy anything from her, or even look at what she has to offer.  The McDonald’s staff seem to have a “deal” with her.  She is allowed to sell her wares, but only if she gives each table one pass, and then she quickly leaves.

She just made her rounds a few moments ago, just as I was writing this.  She always comes to me first, because she see my laptop, so she figures that I am in the market for bootleg DVDs.

I always say, “Thank you.  No.”

Something changed in me today.  Maybe it was curiosity.  Maybe it was introspective mood, my thinking about my identity.  Maybe I just felt like doing things differently.  I have been changing lately.  Didn’t I almost have email sex with a stranger?  Didn’t I act assertively when I confronted the McDonald’s assistant manager about the unfairness of the no-meat Egg mcMuffin?

“OK, let me see what you have.” I told the Chinese lady.

She immediately sat across from me, grasping her plastic bag, ready for her sell.

“I know you like this –”

She reached into her bag and pulled out a group of DVDs wrapped in two large rubber bands.  They were all macho-type B-movies that I had never heard of, with titles like “The Killing Machine” and “Fists of Blood.” 

“You LIKE these!”  she insisted.

She was wrong.  I thought about Maggie’s header.  It was so clear “who she was.”  I found it amusing that this DVD saleswoman was completely off track.  Who does she see?  She sees “MAN.”  Her first assumption is that I want to watch this mindless violent shit. 

“No, no…” I told the DVD lady.

“Ah, I KNOW what you like,” she said, pulling out another collection of DVDs wrapped in rubber bands.  She was persistent.

This collection of DVDs came closer to my identity.  They were DVDs of Hollywood movies out in theaters RIGHT NOW.  I assumed that these are created by someone shooting a video in the theater as the movie was playing.  You can find stuff like this on chinese YouTube. 

“How much?”  I asked.

“Four dollars.” she said.

I was tempted for a second, just to buy something, but her collection consisted mostly of the most lame-brained comedy and action films out today.  These were movies I wouldn’t even watch for free on Chinese YouTube.  While I might see “Pineapple Express” because it is the only thing playing on a Saurday night, do I really need an illegal DVD of the movie?   Don’t they ever make any bootleg videos of good films or art films, or at least Woody Allen films?  Still, her choice of mainstream Hollywood movies came a lot closer to my true identity.

“I’m sorry,” I told my new friend.  I was wondering if I should buy her a cup of coffee while we sat together.

But she certainly wasn’t leaving… just yet.

“Ah, so this is WHAT YOU LIKE…”

She pulled out a final collection of DVD’s from her bag, wrapped, as usual, in rubber bands.  This was her “special” collection.  She smiled knowingly because she was confident that she had finally figured me out —

The DVD all had buxom, naked women on the covers, some blond and some Asian.  The films had titles such as “In and Out” and “My Favorite Geisha.”

“These you REALLY REALLY LIKE… huh?!”

The saleswoman was clever.  She had come very close to figuring out “who I was.”  But a person’s identity is a complex thing.  It cannot be isolated into just one characteristic.  Like many men, I am interested in naked women who want to be my geisha girl.  But that is not WHO I am.  She did not understand me at all.   If I don’t truly understand me, how can she understand me?  She was so confident in her sales ability, that she could manipulate my inner desires to sell me something, that she completely overlooked a even MORE important aspect of my identity —

— I am way too cheap to spend four bucks buying a porno DVD in McDonald’s!

I am finding out who I am a little more each day.

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61 Responses to Searching for My Identity in a Queens McDonald’s

  1. Sheryl says:

    Why don’t you just order an English muffin?

  2. V-Grrrl says:

    Forget therapy! Forget introspection! Forget your rut!

    Don’t worry about discovering who you are, CREATE the person you want to be. Didn’t you learn anything while living in LA? Take control of your brand, Neilochka, before some little Chinese bootlegger does. Do you want your identity pirated and sold on the cheap? Noooooo!

    I think we should all work to create an appropriate brand position and market strategy for Neil. Submit your new blog titles and slogans HERE in the comments section.

    [Look at that Neil, I just hijacked your comments section. GO ME!]

  3. Neil says:

    They don’t have that on their menu! I bet you they still will charge me for the egg mcMuffin. I think if Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Vegetarians all got together, we can win a class-action discrimination suit.

  4. Neil says:

    V-grrrl — and why is letting YOU decide my identity any better than letting a old chinese woman selling dvds do it? You don’t really know me either. You think you know me. But until we are stuck together on a desert island with no food, shelter, or clothing, you don’t really know a person.

  5. Momo Fali says:

    If you figure out how to live that rich, bold and robust life, please share how to do it. I don’t even need the bold or robust part…but, rich would be nice.

  6. V-Grrrl says:

    NeilKramer.com–A cock in the hand is not worth one in a bush

  7. Neil says:

    Momo Fali — that IS what is says on their coffee cups. And their coffee ain’t bad. But again — they are so cheap, they don’t give you sugar and cream packets. They do it for you from a dispenser, so it takes five minutes for the checkout girl to serve you a cup of coffee.

  8. Neil says:

    V-grrl — I changed my mind. You DO know me well.

  9. Danny says:

    Fascinating. That McDonald’s sounds like the most depressing place on the planet. Are you sure you don’t want to zip to Manhattan on the subway each morning and enjoy a fantastic latte and a free New York Times at Balthazar as you write on your blog surrounded by the Soho glitterati? (God, am I a snob–one of those nasty elitists the Republicans were screaming out last week.)

    I usually applaud your fights with corporate America but I find myself in the crazy position of agreeing with McDonald’s policy about their Egg McMuffin policy. Their whole business is set up for standardization, it is the farthest thing from a mom and pop organization and there’s no way their books could handle a variety of prices for the same item. Your request would open a can of worms—what next, someone wants a discount because they don’t want the special sauce on a Big Mac? When I worked at Wolfy’s Hot Dogs in Chicago we strangely had a sizable Indian clientele who were vegetarian and would ask for hot dogs with everything but hold the hot dog. I was forced to charge them full price for a steamed bun and condiments. At least you got an egg!

  10. V-Grrrl says:

    NeilKramer.com
    We accept our competitor’s coupons!

  11. V-Grrrl says:

    NeilKramer.com
    Cheap, free, and funny since 2005

  12. bejewell says:

    I’m actually surprised she didn’t pull out the porn sooner. I know it’s a sweeping generalization, but I still would have pulled the porn out first.

  13. ingrid says:

    Huh.

    Identity is a strange thing. What seems so evident to everyone else (about us) is so hard to discover in ourselves.

    I *could* list off a bunch of adjectives about your delightfulness, gentleness, creativity, horniness and eccentricity… but I don’t think that would help.

    :) all of this to say, maybe it is good not to define yourself and just be. Here and now. Your best self.

  14. V-Grrrl says:

    And Neil, why do you always associate getting to know someone with getting/being naked? Wait, don’t answer that…

  15. SciFi Dad says:

    Dude, your McDonald’s sells porn?!?

    Maybe that’s why you pay for the meat even if you don’t want it.

  16. V-Grrrl says:

    Oh yeah, ya gotta pay for the sausage whether you eat it or not.

    Sci-Fi Dad is TOO funny

  17. Neil says:

    Danny, Danny — I can’t believe you are taking McDonald’s side. Are you voting for McCain next? How hard would it be to have a thirty cent discount to whoever doesn’t order the meat. We’re not talking about condiments, but one of the essential parts of the sandwich. Or at lease substitute a tomato. I need to go to Burger King and see their “Have it Your Way” policy really exists.

    And as unpleasant as this McDonald’s is, there is nothing as TRULY depressing as sitting in a Los Angeles coffee shop with ten other people writing a shitty screenplay on their laptops, glancing over at you to see if you are ‘someone’ to care about or not.

    Bejewell — maybe I should take it as a compliment that she didn’t take out the porn immediately.

    V-grrrl – Someone please hire this woman for a job in PR!

  18. TMC says:

    Good for you, skipping the sausage… it does Mr Whoozut no good at all.

  19. sarah g says:

    Good morning :)
    Firstly, my dad is a vegetarian and I remember a time, long before boca, where he would want a grilled cheese sandwich and they ‘just didnt make it’. He’d have to order a ham/cheese and instruct them how to do it without the ham. It was quite humorous, but sad. Now many places he frequents, had already ‘created’ a special sub for him, which now is a ‘huge deal’ for the vegetarians.

    I appreciate McDs not giving out everything and being ‘chintzy’. we waste too much anyway. offering a ‘mini mac’ (since they’re just too big) and a non meat option would be good solutions.

    As for identity, I would end up spouting off Christian stuff..we dont know who we are until we know ‘whose’ we are. That kind of thing. But not knowing what you want, is okay to a certain extent. It keeps you open to what is best for you, which is NOT always what WE want. Such as we want a handful of napkins that we arent going to use. its best for our environment that we arent given all of them to waste.

    I dont think you need to be ‘branded’ to be who you are though, to find who you are; just be honest. I think the introspective thinking is helping you make those realizations and its a big change to be open to doing that. Good for you!

  20. All Adither says:

    If Mickey Dees charges you less for no sausage, then they have to charge all the parents less who order plain cheeseburgers for their kids. And people who order filet o fish with no cheese. And it just gets too confusing. Having to ask for napkins is pretty low though. Have they had a rash of napkin thefts?

  21. OK, first? I think I’m in love with you.

    Second? I think it’s awesome that you get all that from my blog header. Me and my friend got drunk and took about 823475 pictures, and that was the only one where my eye didn’t look completely wonky (it does that when I’m smiling.) So after eleventymillion takes we found one I could sort of live with, and I still made Sam photoshop a sliver off my arms because I am vain and fat (two more things you now know about me from my header) but in the end I felt pretty good about it.

    And then? Most people said they really liked it, but there were a few who thought it really wasn’t “me.” And that sent my head spinning because that was the first time I really realized that each person who reads my blog had formed a crystalline image of who they believed I was, and nothing — not even who *I* said I was — was going to change that. It was totally trippy.

    My point? You’re fucked either way. And I have always totally dug your header.

    And you. :)

    (Sorry for the book.)

  22. mamikaze says:

    I don’t know of any fast food joint that gives you a discount for special orders. you are pioneering a brave new sandwich ordering world. be careful where you step. I hear the cheeseburger mafia is a tight knit community that doesn’t like to be crossed.

    you passed over a good deal on those DVDs. lol.

  23. Crys says:

    i know who you are.

  24. sassy says:

    I’m beginning to think that French McD’s employees get their training in Queens.

  25. abigail road says:

    I am not a huge consumer of McDonald’s, unless it’s 3am and I’m drunk, but I seriously can’t believe they just don’t sell Egg McMuffins at your outlet. From what I understand, there are ‘egg’ Mcmuffins, and ‘sausage’ Mcmuffins and Bacon and Egger McMuffins (or something like that). You should just zip across the Canadian Border and get your Egg Mcmuffin.

  26. Crys says:

    ok, i was lying about that, i don’t know you from a hole in the wall, but if i had to pick three things about you that i might possibly know through my radical sense of intuition, they would be:

    * you are wry
    * you are self-deprecating
    * you love 2001: A Space Odyssey

    …prove me wrong, McDonald’s Guy.

  27. I saw a show on MSNBC the other day about McDonald’s. They said a manager in a good location (not yours) can make over a $100,000 a year. What the hell have I been doing with my life? They probably deal better porn too.

  28. 180/360 says:

    Egg McMuffDives and Porn? I clearly have not eaten at McDonalds in a very long time.

    At least you didn’t “find yourself” so desperate that you had to buy porn at McDonalds. That’s positive!

    But unfortunately, all I can think about now is naked Geisha girl’s suggestively eating the meat out of your sandwich. GROSS.

  29. Chris says:

    Hmph. Lots of territory covered today. Who am I? (a phony – me, not you) Is McDonalds discriminating? (possibly) Is your header tired? (that’s personal – sorry) Does the Chinese woman have any cheap porn on VHS? (I could use a little…)

    Time for my Mensa meeting. Bye.

  30. Kate says:

    Well at least she didn’t offer you gay porn. Or maybe that would have come out of the next pocket…

    As for having your blog design reflect who you are? Mine really doesn’t. It’s new and it’s really really pretty. I don’t think it necessarily reflects what I write. What I write isn’t ugly – but it’s disorganized and random and doesn’t have a clear cut theme.

    But I like it when things are pretty, and whenever I look at my new design it makes me feel happy. And if I could manage that every day when I looked in the mirror…well that’s a pretty good goal.

  31. Mr Lady says:

    Two observations about your failed thought patterns.

    One: I for one started reading you BECAUSE of your header. I think it encompasses you nicely.

    Two: “Clearly the meat portion is the most expensive part of the sandwich.” That’s your fatal flaw. It’s not meat, yo.

  32. Caron says:

    Identity is a slippery thing to grasp. Knowing who you aren’t is step in figuring out who you are.

    I actually had part of a day last week where I truly felt I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. A moment of unapologetic authenticity. They don’t come along very often. I’m glad I was able to notice it at the time.

    I think we often don’t recognize the trueness of ourselves because we’re so busy measuring ourselves against others.

  33. A friend gave me a coupon book for Dunkin’ Donuts. It included a free sausage and egg sandwich. But when I said I didn’t want the meat they told me they couldn’t do it. It’s very hard to explain things sometimes. I even went to the point of saying they should make the sandwich, only pretend to put the sausage in, and give me the sausage-free sandwich. They said they couldn’t do it. They just had to put the sausage in.

  34. All your readers are missing the obvious. Why didn’t she try to sell that porn to your penis?? He would have bought it without hesitation. Stupid lady. She clearly doesn’t know you at all.

  35. wendy says:

    I think you were too embarrased, not too cheap..to buy the old chinese ladies porn. if it had been, say, a russian dude..on the corner, I bet he would have tempted you.

    I mean, 4 dollars.. that’s a lot of bang for the buck.

    just sayin.

  36. MammaLoves says:

    Now that kind of insight is probably worth paying for the meat you won’t eat.

  37. Neil says:

    TMC — I don’t not eat the sausage for any religious, health, or eco reasons. It just tastes like metal.

    Sarah G — As usual, you bring your unique, loving viewpoint to things, so I don’t want to be the Grouch Who Stole Goodness, but I doubt that any of their intentions have anything to do with the environment, and just wanting to save money. But I like what you said about honesty!

    All Adither — Like I said to Danny, there is a big difference between not asking for a pickle and not asking for the meat. This McDonald’s clearly does things that are not efficient because of their bottom line. So, they already do confusing and time-wasting things when it is good for them. They do not have self-serve soda or coffee because they don’t want any of us to get freebies. They are stingy with their ketchup and napkins, so customers have to run back and forth asking for another napkin. I don’t see why customers shouldn’t ask them to moderate their ways for OUR bottom line. If they are going to charge me for that sausage, and I don’t eat it, I should at least insist that they donate the piece of sausage to a homeless shelter rather than letting the profit they just made on me not taking it go into Ronald McDonald’s pocket. Or next time, I will just take the sausage and hand it to the next person in line.

    Maggie — that is very surprising. I was positive that you had a professional photographer friend take that. It reminded me of those photos that they use for movie posters, like in a chick flick. Jennifer and I really spent a long time talking about looks and writing, and discussing what we want to look like when we finally publish a book. Have you ever noticed that everyone looks so ‘writerly’ on the back of book covers, wearing turtlenecks and pouting sexily? I bet you a lot of people buy a book because of the author’s pouty look!

    Mamikaze — Those DVDs looked like they were wrapped in Saran wrap, so I am not too confident of their quality.

    Sassy — That is for another discussion. The difference in service in an LA McDonald’s versus one in Queens.

    Abigail — Here an Egg McMuffin comes with the meat.

    Crys — Other than the best opening to a movie EVER — with the cut from the prehistoric bone to the spaceship, I have never made it to the end of 2001 without falling asleep. So, as they say, two out of three ain’t bad.

    Captain Dumbass — You should see what the janitor of our apartment building makes! He is the richest one here.

    180/360 — That was gross.

    Chris — You know — no one ever did this bootleg selling with VHS. I wonder why.

    Kate — Mark my words. And hopefully Maggie will give us the stats — but she will get more readers now because of how cute she looks in that header.

    Mr. Lady — and the next thing you will say is that their “angus beef” is not really —

    Caron — I have a feeling you know who you are.

    One more note about McDonald’s. People used to go there because it is cheap. Now, I can go to a diner and get a better burger, fries and soda for the same price as a Big Mac combo! You would think people would stop going there — unless they just wanted to work on their laptop while they were in Queens.

  38. DaveX says:

    Don’t worry. My blog header features some sort of ride-on animal that nobody can quite nail down. It’s something like a seal, but with a bushy squirrel tail, weird feet, and a saddle!

    As for Mickey D’s– GROSS. I haven’t been there in a zillion years, and will never go back. As far as I’m concerned, these simply don’t exist.

  39. I just got back from Shanghai where I was led by my ‘personal shopper’ (read guy who grabs as you leave taxi and brings you to all his friends market booths) to a back back back room, to a closet, locked down room with copy copy best dvd’s for sale. make good pricey for my new best american friend.

  40. Kateanon says:

    I don’t know you you are. I don’t know who I am either. This is hitting me today, damn introspective post!

    I think I’m gonna crawl in bed & pull the covers up tight now…

  41. Kateanon says:

    I don’t know who you are… damn typos

  42. sarah g says:

    loving viewpoint and the grouch who stole goodness; made me laugh!

    This year we wont have to send you the fall pictures, youll get to take your own!

  43. Lezzles says:

    You should move to France Neil, the wifi in MacDonalds (or MacDo as we like to call them) is free.

  44. Shelly says:

    I’m partial — very partial — to Mickey D’s Cinnamon Melts, and they’re less than 500 calories according to their website.

    I haven’t been reading your blog for very long, but it’s easily one of the most enjoyable, especially your introspective, rambling posts like this. Whatever your true self might be, you are very entertaining.

  45. Memarie Lane says:

    I am a lonely, bookish hermit with a Dell laptop. Go me.

    I remember once asking for ketchup at McDonald’s, and they asked me how many packets, and then recorded the number on a little clipboard. Couldn’t believe it.

  46. So what you are saying is that I am not popular enough for you to kiss my ass?

  47. Neil says:

    Lezzles — Free wi-fi in France?! So, basically the profits they get from me not eating the meat goes to the French people in their free wi-fi!

    Shelly — I never heard of McDonald’s Cinnamon Melts. What part of the country do you live in?

    Memarie — That’s why I like Wendy’s. They give you all the ketchup you want.

  48. Egg McMuffins here come with ham, not sausage – that is a Sausage McMuffin. Also, have you tried asking for a plain English muffin, or did you just assume that they don’t have it because it isn’t listed on the menu?

  49. Kate says:

    I order Egg McMuffins without the egg all the time. It never occurred to me that it should be cheaper!

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