Sunday, June 7, 2009

The New Roadkill

My life is a place where things come to die—plans, good intentions, potential, woulda-coulda-shouldas, great ideas, friendships—life in general, really. I was pondering this as something else wandered into my life for its demise: a cheeseburger. A fucking cheeseburger. I’d like to say it threw itself under the tires of my Monte Carlo, but I know better.

It fell out of a burger shop bag that lay on its side on the shoulder. I suspect it was fresh out of someone’s vehicle because I only left the apartment to get some MGD and put gas in the car. I couldn’t have passed that spot in the road more than 10 minutes earlier and it wasn't there then. The burger was probably still warm. Shit.

It could be a good thing to run the burgers down. Sometimes I swear those burger joints are out to get us. They’ll take our last dollar just as we clutch our clogged chests under the suffocating darkness of a fatal heart attack. They’ll take our children’s last dollars as the hospice nurse arrives to make us more comfortable during our last days with chemical-laden-beef-induced cancer. Is there even any dairy in those “shakes?”

But other times I want that cheap and easy satisfaction of the ever-unholy gutbombs. I want to be just pulling away from the drive-up window as my unoccupied hand—in sensual, nearly automated motion—unwraps the warm, waxy paper in peels of soft, reassuring crinkles.

I want the smear of ketchup on my knuckles and gooey American cheese in the tiny gullies around my fingernails as lift the sandwich to my mouth, just barely keeping the pickles securely pressed under the top-flap of a steam-soggy bun. And as I bite, the meat slides just a bit beneath the excess of mustard and onions. (I hope I didn’t drop any in my lap.) Fuck, it’s good.

I’ll just take one more bite and then shift gears, I say to myself. But, it’s so good I nearly finish the whole shit as I drive two miles down main street in second gear. The pistons are so hot and angry they threaten to swap cylinders. That’s a game of Wac-a-Mole that no one needs, but the burger is like a womb.

Then I nearly burn myself on the grease-fire-hot French fries. The salt is rough in the oil on my fingers but I’m shoveling them in; It’s a good thing I got the “large.” I bite open a couple of ketchup packets and squeeze them into the carton of fries. Some fries get covered, others get none, but I like the variety and surprise. I take another mouthful of shoestrings and double check with fatty, salted fingers that my seatbelt is secured.

And a Coke or a shake? Jesus! I can never decide, so I get both. Hell, they’re still cheap. What we don’t spend on this processed food will only end up in the doctor’s pocket anyway.

I lick the ketchup off my fingers and grab the ice-cold cup that drips with condensation. My fingers slide around the wet, now-slightly-greasy, wax-coated cup. I slurp some of the water droplets off the side of the cup before shoving the giant, Alaska pipeline straw in my mouth and sucking down about half the soda.

I’m a little bloated when I reach for the shake. Another giant straw slurp and the faux-vanilla, milk-syrup chemical spill coats my esophagus and stomach. I’ll probably develop type 2 diabetes before I get home, and I sure wouldn’t want to see what the mass of food in my stomach looks like. I’ll bet it’s an unappetizing and chunky brownish-pink sludge.

It was this meal experience that rushed through my mind in that split second that I drove over the cheeseburger. I know it was a cheeseburger because I recognized the paper. It was still wrapped and round and that soft crush was more nauseating than all the animals I’ve ever rolled over with a splattering crunch or crack.

The meal that could have been, but never would, dropped into the inky, empty depths of my soul without so much as a rustle. I thought about turning around to save the burger—it might still be in the paper—but I saw a car behind me. My heart sank. Fucker.

There could have been more food in the bag by the shoulder, too. How did it land there? Was it tossed out by ungracious and angry punk kids in the back of their abusive stepfather’s pick-up? Did it fall from absentminded person’s car roof? Did someone have a diet-related revelation before even opening the bag, swear off everything but tofu and righteously hurl the bag out the passenger window?

I will never know. I arrived home depressed and too ashamed to go back out. I sat on the couch with the six-pack. Nothing good was on television and, as the sun went down, the room darkened around me.

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