the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: McDonald’s

The Problem with the Tray at McDonald’s

One childhood ritual of mine that continues to this day is my method of eating French fries at McDonald’s. I spill the fries onto the tray, rip open two of those jagged-edged ketchup packets (one is never enough) and squirt the tomato delicacy into the empty zone situated between the fries and the edge of the tray. As most of you probably know, when I say “the tray” I don’t mean that I eat directly off of the dirty, plastic, dark-brown McDonald’s tray. No, I throw the fries on the paper “placemat” that is slid on top of the tray by the McDonald’s employee before the arrival of the food. These placemats tend to be colorful advertisements on the front, extolling the fun and community-mindedness of Ronald McDonald, while the back contains the nutritional information, hidden from the customer’s view.

My French fry eating method has one major drawback. Since there are no waiters or busboys at McDonald’s, the customer is expected to do his civic duty and bus his own tray. Several garbage receptacles are provided with swinging doors, so a customer could open one of them by pushing it inward with his tray, avoiding hand contact, and then with a mere shake of the wrist, empty the tray into the darkness of the receptacle. The cheerful customer would then place his tray on top of one of the gray, fake-linoleum receptacles, adding it to a neatly arranged pile of identical trays, ready to be cleaned and reused.

While I am sure this clean-up system works efficiently at the McDonald’s Engineering Lab at Hamburger University, my ritual of spilling out the fries and ketchup onto the paper placemat exposes a major glitch. My placemat always sticks to the tray itself, and no amount of shaking, or banging the tray against the side of the receptacle can ever release it from its greasy prison.

This unfortunate problem requires me to make some hard decision when I visit McDonald’s. Should I stick my hand into the receptacle and manually pull the paper placemat off the tray, potentially splashing ketchup all over my hand, arm, or even my shirt? Or should I just pass the problem off to others, by tossing the tray, with the sticky, stained, paper placemat, right on the remaining pile of trays.

Over the years, many of my friends, having the same difficult with the receptacles (after copying my technique of eating French Fries) chose the second route of action, rationalizing it by insisting that they, “cleaned it off as best as they could.” I could never sink that low. My parents raised me to do better.

But recently, as in many stories, a change in direction came from an unlikely source, forever changing my relationship with the garbage receptacles at McDonald’s. Last week, after my yearly checkup, my doctor told me that I had high cholesterol and sugar levels, and that I should probably stop eating at McDonald’s. A mere day later, another event occurred, adding more fuel to the drama. The Dominican Diner down the block closed down, seized by the State of New York for the non-payment of taxes. The closure of the diner left McDonald’s as the only place within ten block to grab a quick and inexpensive cup of coffee.

McDonald’s or not? That is the question. My decision was — I compromised. This week, I visited McDonald’s four times, but only to order a cup of coffee – no food. No breakfast burrito. No hamburger. No chicken wrap. Not even French fries. I noticed that because I only ordered coffee, the cashier skipped the tray, and just handed me the coffee, right into my open hand – even if I intended to drink it at the restaurant.

This not only enhanced my health, but revolutionized my handling of the clean-up. After drinking the coffee, I now simply push open the garbage receptacle with the paper cup, and toss it away. No more fighting with the unruly paper placemat grabbing hold on to the tray for dear life. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even start to bring my own cup down to McDonald’s and avoid using the garbage receptacle at all.

Truth quotient: 100%. This is the type of story you get when the truth quotient is 100%.

Storytelling and Ideology

I go to McDonald’s almost every day for a cup of coffee.  There is one downstairs from my apartment building in Queens where I live, so it is convenient.  McDonald’s coffee is cheap, pretty good, and the location has wireless.  I can sit there for an hour and half without feeling guilty, like I do in a typically overcrowded New York Starbucks with limited seating, and others waiting.

About two weeks ago, I mentioned on Twitter that I was trying out their new oatmeal, and that it was mediocre.   I complimented McDonald’s for at least offering something healthier than the Egg McMuffin.  A few people commented back, mocking McDonald’s and their lame attempt to be “healthy.”  Others blamed McDonald’s for American’s obesity problem and vowed to never bring their children into the fast food chain.

It was a good and interesting discussion.  It was only a few days later that I felt a surprising chilling effect.  Knowing that McDonald’s is not a favorite locale of my readership, with all sorts of negative connotations, should I mention my daily trips to McDonald’s anymore?  How does this affect my “brand?”

Of course, I already know your response to that question.  You are all nice people.   You are going to say I should write about anything I want.  But I’m human, too, and I think peer pressure is a worthy subject to discuss, even when it is involved with something like storytelling.

I remember speaking out against the “People of Walmart” website, calling it mean-spirited, even though so many of you thought it was hilarious.  But let’s face it, millions of people go to Walmart every day, whether we like it or not.  How many personal storytellers have now decided NOT TO TELL their little story about their family’s trip to Walmart online because of the negative association the store has with their online friends?  How many women are afraid of telling some funny story about feeding their baby some baby formula, scared to death that they are going to be attacked by breastfeeding advocates.  Or is THAT the point?  To change people’s attitudes by peer pressure?

We are not talking about opinion pieces here.  We are talking about stories.  Human stories of life.  I think we need to make a distinction between opinion/news and storytelling.   Arguing about the Republican’s health care plan is political.  Arguing with a non-political story about a Republican-voting wife is not always appropriate.  It could just be a story about going to the doctor.  Even Republicans have to go to the doctor.

We all proclaim that the internet is about “giving voices” to everyone, and “letting everyone tell their story.”  But do we really believe it?  Perhaps what we are really saying is that “we want to free the voices that have the same beliefs that we do.”

Stories are a funny business, because not every single story is a moral tale, or even makes the hero look good.  For instance, there was once this fight in junior high, and my friend got involved, and rather than helping out, I ran away, wanting to save my own ass.  I’m sure you can see why I fear telling this story.  It is a tale of cowardice.  But it is a human story, a story of a specific time and place.  My eyes are already rolling from visualizing the comments, a combination of friends supporting me and trolls saying someone should cut off my dick.  Too often, we read each other’s stories like they are public announcements of confession or attacks.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I supposed it is the job of the writer to present his unique story in a way that undercuts the reader’s stereotype.  One day, I would like to write a truly beautiful post about my local McDonald’s.  Yeah, yeah, I know it is a corporate giant and the food is terrible and is making our children into fat slobs.  I know all this, and I agree with you.

But I enjoy my cup of coffee in McDonald’s.  Rightly or wrongly, my McDonald’s attracts a very mixed crowd, and in my eyes, it is probably the most ethnically, racially and class mixed group I have ever encountered in one enclosed place.  There are blacks and whites, working class guys, and a businessman stopping for a quick bite before he runs for the bus. And you know what?  We are all nice to each other.  We have a common denominator — McDonald’s mediocre fast food.  Even though McDonald’s isn’t kosher or halal, I see both Jews and Muslims in the playground area with their kids, playing together.  In some ways, my local McDonald’s is our neighborhood’s public park, our Central Park — and even more diverse.  People write poems about Central Park.   Why not about McDonald’s?

But I wonder what the reaction would be if I wrote this glowing tribute the the Golden Arches.  Now if I had a McDonald’s advertisement plastered on my blog, THAT no one would care about.  But a personal opinion would be ripe for attack.  Would some advocate suggest that McDonald’s is “using” minorities for corporate gain by supplying them with cheap, unhealthy food?  Perhaps.  But that is not the story I am telling.  And it would ruin the point of my story.   After all, you might write a lovely tale about your family’s lovely luncheon at the organic food restaurant in the Village.  I’m sure you would not appreciate it if my review of your story was “typical long-winded stuff about a wealthy New York going to a cafe of overpriced food with other white, privileged patrons.”

I believe ideology is the enemy of storytelling.  Let people live their lives and tell their truth, without shame, even if the story doesn’t always fit into your box.   If you really want to hear “the voices of people,” you have to hear about visits to McDonald’s and Walmart — because that’s part of their story.

Note:  Speaking of stories, you can read a post I wrote for Studio 30+ about the pitfalls of searching for photos of topless women online when you are a 30+ male.

99 Billion Served


“God, inspire me,” I say as I look up at the stars in the night sky through the window inside McDonald’s, where I sit on the hard, bright yellow plastic bench typical of the fast-food chain, sipping my small, tepid coffee, which cost me only a dollar during a promotion running for the month of November.

God says nothing.

Cindi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” plays on the speakers, but I doubt this is God’s specific message for me.  Nowhere in the Torah have I ever read, “When the working day is done/ Girls – they want to have fun.”

A group of raucous black teenagers eat Big Macs and cheeseburgers at the next table.   Their dialogue about school is as sprinkled with vulgar obscenities as the salt is on their greasy fries.

I gaze out the window again, hoping for a sign.

And there it is — the McDonald’s sign.   Why did I not see it earlier?   It stands tall, in front of me, blocking my view of the stars and the moon like an urban redwood, or the massive monolith in the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey.”

There are words on this sign.  Words that are familiar to me.  And as a writer, I love words.

99 Billion Served.

Once upon a time, the first McDonald’s opened in San Bernardino, California, and they sold their first juicy patty to an eager teenager looking for a quick bite.  Through the years, this young business franchise journeyed throughout the world, and dominated China, Russia, and the Louvre cafeteria.

99 Billion Served.

What all-American man isn’t inspired by the guts and glory, the charisma and cojones — the manly domination — of McDonald’s?

If life is like a McDonald’s hamburger, then my potential is limitless.  There are new markets to conquer, new adventures.   I can add bacon to my burger.   How about living it up with TWO patties?    Or experimenting with a sesame seed bun?

I hear your message, oh sign.  Thank you, God.  I hear you and I understand.

“If you are loved, like a good hamburger, there is no stopping you from achieving your dreams!  You can grow and grow and grow, like Jack’s beanstalk, reaching into the clouds.  There is no status quo.    You can be “99 billion” in the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness lottery, rising and flourishing, bursting forth into the world, constantly reaching for more.”

Yes, I hear you!

“Where is McDonald’s now on the leader board?” I ask myself, stealing a phrase from the judges on Dancing with the Stars.   Is the company close to 100 Billion Served yet?

“Go for it, my friend!” I shout at a poster of Ronald McDonald.   “Will there be a special event planned?  Will coffee be 89 cents during a promotion?”

I go onto my iphone to read about the famed McDonald’s sign on Wikipedia, and my spirit sinks like a balloon-boy-less balloon.

An early-1970s McDonald’s sign in Austin, Minnesota, showing the number of burgers sold. From 1969, the number was displayed in billions, increasing with every 5 billion. When the total reached 100 billion in 1993, the signs of this era were changed to display 99 billion permanently, as there was only room for two digits.

Huh?  Only room for two digits?


So, McDonald’s just stopped changing the sign because there wasn’t enough room for another digit?  Is a major international corporation really so lazy and bloated that they can’t add one more slat into their famous sign so they can accurately portray how many burgers have been served?  Do they care anymore?  Are they just shoving food out of the drive-thru window without tallying up the sales?

I’m no design genius, but couldn’t McDonald’s create two cards that read “10” and “0” so it would read 100 billion and still only use two slats?  I could create these cards at Kinko’s for them myself… overnight!   I could probably even do this on my printer at home!   I understand fear of change — I still haven’t changed my original blog template and design — but there is a big difference between a lone unpaid blogger in Flushing and one of the most famous corporations in the world?

This McDonald’s sign, lit like a neon beacon, is a false Messiah, like so many before.   She is a sparkly whore.   This is not a sign from God, sent to inspire me to greatness.  “99 Billion” was a message from 1993, a crumbling reminder of  lost focus.  This sign is a fraud, a message of “no change,” the sluggish, slurring words of an overweight billionaire who lost any sense of pride, excitement, lust, or creativity 17 years ago, and now lives life like a pet hamster on his wheel, going in circles.

This is not the life I want to lead.  I will never look for inspiration in a fast food restaurant again.

I curse you, McDonald’s sign.  I curse you, God.  There are no messages tonight.

Morning Dew


You need to grab nature wherever you can get it.


I walk on the cracked, gray, concrete of  the New York streets  to the McDonald’s across the street, the artificially colored arches calling to me, “Coffee!”

Before I can reach my destination, I face a challenge, like most explorers must.  I need to cross over a thin strip of lawn that separates the parking lot from the drive-thru from the main entrance.  This yard is green, and well maintained.  I try not to trample anywhere beyond the pathway.  The grass is wet and sparkly.   It is my morning dew.

I know I am deceiving myself by considering it morning dew.  I am trying to be poetic, to connect to Thoreau and Walt Whitman, even though I am in modern, decaying Queens.

There is a water hose curled up like a python near the drive-in sign that advertises the latest dollar meals.  I can see the hose.  I know it is there.  I know that a staff member must water the lawn every morning.  I know God is not sprinkling his natural goodness on this god-forsaken piece of land.    I have never seen this McDonald’s employee  in action, but I know that he was there before me, probably very unhappy about getting up so early to come to work to water the grass.

Even though I know the truth, I SEE the water on the grass as morning dew.  The idea that morning dew has appeared across the street from my apartment building, in Queens, on this little plot of lawn — well, it just makes me happy.  Water and grass.  Can you get more elementary than that?  With enough water and sun, a Garden of Eden could bloom, right on this spot, right next to the drive-in window of McDonald’s.

I kneel in front of the lawn.  I always rub the top strands of grass, watching the drops of water fly into the air.  I like when a droplet hits my skin and gives me a tickle.

I always wanted a dog, but have never owned one.  When I rub the wet grass, I can imagine the wet hair of a  little dog, playful after a refreshing bath, shaking the water from his body to and fro.

The morning dew greets me like that friendly dog.  Even when I feel lonely, one touch of the morning dew can change everything.

Damn You

This was a long week in real life.  It was also a long week ON the internet. 

I joined Stumbleupon, then inadvertently sent invites to everyone on my Yahoo email list.  The evil application tricked me with their checked “tell your friends!” box as the default choice, rather then the logical unchecked one.   I sent glowing testimonies to 300 people, including a few top producers in Hollywood who have now banned me from Burbank.  One blogger who I haven’t interacted with in two years sent me an angry note.  A nice woman from Idaho was confused about “why I loved Stumbleupon so much.”  Several of you actually joined Stumbleupon because I asked you to!  I felt like a total ass. 

Damn you, Stumbleupon!

A few days ago, I went on Twitter and talked about some minor personal issue with Sophia.  I figured that it was safe because Sophia never goes on this application.   BUT — I didn’t realize that the new Yahoo Messenger 9 Beta has some “cool” new addition, where unless you shut it off, “broadcasts” other applications — such at Twitter — right onto Yahoo Messenger.   So much for being an early adopter.   As I chatted in Twitter, Sophia was sitting in Redondo Beach reading each of my tweets in real time!   She was not happy.

Damn you, Yahoo!

At 3AM this morning, I posted a poorly written post.  My clever idea was to talk about sex under the guise of writing about “passion” in politics.   Note to self:  Do not write posts at 3AM.   When I woke up, I noticed that the first five comments were all about the election rather the real point of the post –  getting laid! — so I just deleted the creative failure. 

Damn you, libido!

My uncle, Milton, was buried on Wednesday, in the spot in the cemetery next to my father.   When looking at my father’s tombstone, I was reminde that my father also passed away in September, in 2005, not long after I started this blog.   Milton was my father’s younger brother.   He was cremated in SF and brought here on a flight by his longtime female companion and my cousin.   It is unusual for Jews to be cremated, so I had never seen something like this before.   I have to admit, that despite the sadness of the event, there was some macabre humor involving the ashes.

Neil:  “Can I carry something for you?”

Female Companion:  (handing me a small shopping bag with a box inside)  “You can hold your uncle.”

I think my uncle would appreciate the humor.

There are some complicated family stories involving him that I would like to tell some day, but for now, let me just say that he was a cool and loving man.  He was buried with his favorite hat and a copy of Sports Illustrated. 

I also learned that he read my blog, and liked the sexy posts.  I wish I could talk to him more about this. 

Damn you, Time, which waits for no one!

After I deleted my post this morning, I slept (that’s what happens when you write posts at 3AM).  When I woke up, I felt guilty for not publishing anything today.  I took a walk downstairs.  It was raining, but I forgot my umbrella.  I was unshaven, my chin with graying stubble.  There was only one place to go — across the street to McDonald’s.

Yes, THAT McDonald’s.  I was going to end the week the same way I began it – by going to my infamously bad local franchise for a cup of coffee.  For some reasons, I seem to magically come up with blog posts when I visit.  Some have a Greek Goddess as their muse.  I have Ronald McDonald.

I ran across the street in the pouring rain.  I entered the McDonald’s, and stood on line.  When it was my turn to order, I stepped up to the young woman at the counter.

“Can I help ya?” she asked.

“A small coffee, please.”

“With the senior discount?”


“Do you want the senior discount?” she asked again.

Now, I’m usually quick-witted, with a ready reply to any comment.  But her question was so unexpected, I just stood there, as silent as a solid as a statue of an aging Adonis, not knowing what to say.  I’ve gone to bars where they have carded me, and I have laughed at the idea of anyone thinking I was twenty-one, knowing that the dude at the front door is just going through the rituals, but WTF — a SENIOR DISCOUNT?!  A senior discount for my cup of coffee?  For me?   Is that what I look like to a seventeen year old girl?  Isn’t this the typical age of the typical bikini girl in Maxim magazine?  I was hoping that this type of girl would be throwing herself on my bed after I publish that best-selling novel?  I never expected that she would SEE ME as a senior citizen visiting from Boca Raton! 

How much is it to color your hair at Supercuts?

Damn you, McDonald’s!   (but at least I got a post out of you again)

When I returned home, I told my mother the story.   She laughed and laughed, combing her white hair back, selfishly enjoying my misery.   But as an woman who has been a member of the AARP for several years, she also had some sage advice:

“Next time someone asks you if you want the senior discount, you say YES!”

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.

Fruit and Walnut and Procrastination Salad


Here is today’s Citizen of the Month’s word of the day: Procrastination.

For some reason, I have a feeling that many of you are familiar with this word.

There are different levels of procrastination. Watching the pre-Golden Globes Award Show rather than doing your bills is a mild form of procrastination. You can rationalize it by saying “everyone else is doing it.” Other forms of procrastination are more embarrassing, like downloading videos from

My form of procrastination today occurred during lunch. It began when I went to McDonald’s. Why did I go to McDonald’s? After all, I live in the land of 1000 Fast Food Restaurants, and I went to boring ol’ McDonald’s. The reason I went to the Golden Arches has less to do with today’s word of the day, procrastination, than with last week’s words of the day: laziness and indecisiveness.

Once in McDonald’s, I felt guilty for just being there. Most of their menu is just crap. Last time I was there, I tried to be “healthy,” but I was not impressed with their bland chicken sandwich. I decided to “be good” and order a salad, but the DOLLAR menu was beckoning to me like a cheap hooker.

“Why spend over four dollars on a salad when you can buy a hamburger for $1!” the dollar menu said to me. “Do you have money to throw away? Think how proud your family will be when they learn you had lunch for $1!”

I went to the counter and ordered a hamburger.

“Is that all?” snapped the teenager girl behind the counter.

I noticed other customers looking at me with unfriendly glances, as if they were thinking, “What type of freak ONLY orders a $1 hamburger?”

“Would you like a fries and a drink?” the teenager asked.

I caved in to the pressure.

“Uh, I’ll have a coffee.”

“A Coke?”

“A coffee.”

“Coke or Diet Coke?”

This is not the first time that someone outside of New York City didn’t understand me when I said “kawfee.”

“A cup of cof-fee” I said in my best midwestern anchorman voice.

“Is that it? Would you like something else?”

This girl was relentless. Are McDonald’s employees taught to bug you until you order THREE items?

I quickly scanned the board and randomly ordered McDonald’s Fruit and Walnut Salad, which cost me about two dollars.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about McDonald’s Fruit and Walnut Salad:

The fruit and walnut salad is a fruit dish sold in US branches of global fast-food chain McDonald’s. It was launched by famous tennis player Venus Williams in May 2005 [1], and is part of their move towards creating a healthier image.

The ingredients are seedless grapes, apple slices, candied walnuts and low-fat vanilla yogurt. Including the walnuts, it has 330 calories. The apple slices are dipped in the preservative calcium ascorbate, a compound of calcium and vitamin C, in order to keep them crisp and prevent them losing color and flavor. rates its good points as: very low in cholesterol, low in sodium, and very high in vitamin C, and its bad point as “very high in sugar”.

US apple producers welcomed the expected extra demand for their products. McDonald’s announced that it expected to require 54 million pounds (25 million kg) of apples per year. The move makes them the largest food-service customer for apple producers.

McDonald’s corporation has now switched to the Snack Size Fruit & Walnut Salad, a much smaller version than the original salad.

So, apparently, what I received was not the original salad, but the new “snack size” fruit and walnut salad.

I’m not the type who complains in restaurants, if you can call McDonald’s a “restaurant,” but this fruit and walnut salad was a major disappointment, not because of the taste, but because of the size of the product. The “salad” was literally 1/2 of a sliced apple, five grapes, a teeny-tiny plastic bag of candied walnuts, and three tablespoons of yogurt. If I really wanted small-size entrees, I’ll go to some fancy French restaurant, not to McDonald’s.

This fruit and walnut salad was really beginning to piss me off. This is what they pass off as something healthy? I could put together this crappy “salad” in two minutes, and it would cost 1/4 the price. I tried to forget all about it. My plan was to do some writing in McDonald’s, but as I ate my lunch, my mind kept on focusing on back on this wimpy fruit and walnut salad. It began to represent something BIGGER than just a cheap fruit salad at a fast-food joint. It became a symbol of how all of us have been cheated and ripped-off by too many people too many times!

Of course, some might wonder if I really was THAT upset about this fruit and walnut salad? OR was I using it as an way to PROCRASTINATE and not do my work? You make the call!

“I wonder how much profit they’re making on this fruit and walnut salad.” I asked myself. There was only one way to find out. I counted exactly how many pieces of each “healthy item” were in the plastic container and walked over to Ralph’s Supermarket to find the truth out for myself. Take that John Stossel!

With pen in hand, I started my research in the fruit section. Delicious Apples were selling for $1.49 a pound. I threw one apple onto the scale so I could figure out the exact cost of a 1/2 apple. I stood there a few moments, trying to figure out the math in my head, but luckily I remembered that my cell phone had a calculator.

Figuring out the correct price for six grapes was more difficult, and required some mathematical equations that I hadn’t used since the ninth grade. It’s also surprisingly time-consuming to count how many grapes are in a bunch without losing track of the numbers.

Next, I divided the cost of a box of candied walnuts by 1/12th.

The cost of three tablespoons of yogurt was the most confusing.

Luckily, a friendly Ralph’s Supermarket employee came by and asked “Can I help you with anything?”

“Yes, you can.” I answered. “How much would you guess three tablespoons of yogurt would cost?”

At first, he thought I was just crazy, but his attitude changed when I explained what I was doing.

“Hey, it’s great you’re doing this. My wife once ordered that fruit and walnut salad in McDonald’s. What a rip-off! She went back to eating Big-Macs. At least with a Big Mac, they give you some food! This is an important issue that affects us all. You should write this in the Los Angeles Times!”

(Do you hear that Los Angeles Times? Tough luck, suckers. You rejected me last time.  This hot story is going right to the Washington Post!)

The result: McDonald’s makes a enormous profit through their Fruit and Walnut Salad. And that’s not even including the discount they must get by buying in bulk.

Thanks, Jim from the Ralph’s Supermarket in Hermosa Beach for your assistance in the expose!

I arrived home from lunch two hours later. I was exhausted from all my hard research and thought I deserved to take a nap.

Which I did.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: The Toothbrush

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