Thursday, January 19, 2006

If I had a million nuggets

When I was in elementary school, my mom worked late one night a week. My dad and I would amuse ourselves by going out for dinner and then to someplace to browse. Although we had to go down toward the mall for these activities, we were philosophically opposed to mall-crawling. Instead, we went to Hechinger's or Builders' Square, precursors to and victims of the Home Depot and Lowe's explosions. Or we went to the giant auto mall and looked at the minivans. Or we went to Staples, where I drooled over the Dymo labelers. Sometimes we went to Radio Shack, which back then counted most of its revenue from actual radio parts. On those Wednesday or Thursday nights, I got to be Daddy's little geek-girl. It was excellent.

For dinner we went to such purveyors of haute cuisine as Wendy's, Burger King, and Arby's. We didn't go to McDonald's because it was common knowledge among my elementary-school peers that the nuggets contained chicken feet; and also because my burgers always came with ketchup, pickles, mustard, and onion bits even though I specifically requested "Just ketchup and pickles. No mustard or onions, please. Thank you." Furthermore, McDonald's was inside the mall, and the others were across the road.

We especially liked Wendy's because they'd just introduced the salad bar. Not only did it have salad, but it also had tacos, pasta with three different kinds of sauce, and our personal favorites, Green Fluff and Glue Pudding. One time I served myself a bowl of Chocolate Glue Pudding and triumphantly held it upside-down over our table. My dad warned me that this was a very bad, very messy idea, but it turned out to be a very good, very clean idea, as the Chocolate Glue Pudding proved itself completely defiant of gravity.

We also liked Wendy's because their kids' meals had quasi-educational toys. They had little wind-up toys, bubble wands, detailed rubber models of animals... For a while they had these 16-page hardback books about jungle animals. I collected all four, but when I got my second book on pandas, I asked if we could maybe go to Arby's for a while until Wendy's got some new stuff.

All these places were great until I went completely vegetarian at 19. It wasn't really planned; I'd stopped eating red meat in high school, which wasn't that hard. That summer, after my sophomore year of college, I worked at a therapeutic camp for Bad Kids. They didn't serve much meat there, but what they did serve looked downright nasty. One of my Bad Kids came back from cooking club one day with a pizza bagel, topped with diced green peppers. "I made this for you!" he crowed. "You're one of those veggie people!" The bagel was pretty good, and I figured that I might as well just conform to his assumption. After all, I hadn't had any meat in 5 weeks, didn't miss it, and was actually starting to like veggie burgers.

I still love Wendy's. Of all the fast-food chains, they've got the best pre-packed salads. I was terrified in high school that I had developed an allergy to Frosties, because every time I got one from the Wendy's next to the school, I had an asthma attack. My allergist looked over the official list of ingredients and declared there was nothing I was allergic to in there. What I was allergic to was the cleaning solution they used in the Frosty dispenser. In true 16-year-old activist fashion, I complained to the manager, and they changed their cleaning procedures. I love small towns. And I love Frosties. They love me back--I haven't had an asthma attack from one in a decade.

But last night I saw a new commercial for my favorite fast-food joint. They were touting their 99-cent value menu (mmmm, 99-cent Frosties...) and the actors were saying things like "I get paid 16 hamburgers an hour [for babysitting]" and "Honey, you look like a million chicken nuggets."

I was very disturbed.

If that babysitter lives in a state where fast food isn't taxed, she gets $15.84 per hour. Dude. That's anal.

The wife (girlfriend? mistress? high-priced hooker?) looked pretty attractive to me, but to her husband (or whatever), she falls a bit short, at $990,000. My wife suggested that perhaps with the lights out, she gets the remaining $10,000. That's 10,101 and 1/99 orders of nuggets, for anyone who's counting.

We're so conditioned to think of 99 cents as $1 that it's perfectly reasonable to expect a million 99-cent orders of chicken nuggets to cost a million dollars.

And yet we congratulate ourselves for finding a gallon of gas for $1.999, which will truly be less than $2 once someone finds a way to tithe a penny.

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