One Tragic Meal, Please
I have a one day job in
San Francisco, and while considering my lunch options, I finally
settle on Delfina, a charming restaurant nestled in the Mission
District that splendidly integrates Californian ingredients with
a superb knowledge of Italian cuisine. But what to
eat? It's definitely a toss up between the grilled fresh
calamari with warm white bean salad and the liberty duck leg
confit with grilled torpedo onions.
No, really, I go to
McDonalds for a "Big N' Tasty." Only $1.00!
I get two.
Fast food restaurants
in big cities are a little different than they are in the burbs.
The main "dining" area sometimes only consists of a
few stools or tables, but there is often overflow seating,
either upstairs on the second level or downstairs in
a basement dining room. At this McDonalds, it's a
basement. I grab my delicious and inexpensive
paper-wrapped artery hardeners and head down the stairs, taking
a seat in the crowded, windowless room.
I've brought the book I'm
currently reading, but I didn't notice when I grabbed it this morning that I
only have two pages left. It looked like there were more, but it turns out the last thirty pages or so
and chapter notes and all that boring shit no one ever reads.
So, I'm left to eat
my lunch and stare either at my disappearing Big N' Tasty (not
that big, nor tasty) or other people.
I choose other people.
It's an odd thing, I
realize after a while.
Here we are, about thirty-five of us, crammed into this
basement section of the restaurant. No windows to look out,
nothing on the walls, just seats, tables, and human beings in
close proximity. And
no one is talking to anyone. Only one or two are reading the
newspaper. No one is even looking around, except for
Stick thirty-five dogs
in a room, and there will be barking, scampering, urinating, and
the inevitable sniffing of butts. There will be biting and fighting. There
will be, within minutes, fucking. Same goes with probably every
other species out there (substituting hoots or grunts or chirps for the
barks, of course). Well, fish would just flop around
and die, I guess. Still, there would be interaction with most
other types of creatures, a lot of it, the finding of
mates, the choosing of sides, and lots of wrassling and snapping
until the pecking order has been decided upon.
And here we are,
people, the most advanced and intelligent life-forms on the
planet, sitting in silence. We've built cities and launched
spacecraft and created languages. Why don't we say something? Why don't we
(except for me) even look at each other?
I'm not much of a
talker, but it hits me. That
guy sitting over there could be my best friend. He's not, but he
could be, for all I know. If a conversation started, who
knows? We might hit it off. We might be friends for the
rest of our lives.
Surely, someone, somewhere, met their best friend in a fast food
joint. If you asked enough people, "Where'd you meet
your best friend?" someone would eventually say
That woman over there
could be the love of my life. Sure, she's in her mid-70's. And I
think she might have a glass eye. But
so what? It's possible!
Take this one fellow
with the hat and team him up with me, and maybe the connection
of our two brains and thoughts and ideas and intelligence and
be the perfect combination to start the most successful business
in the history of the country. Why not? Ask enough business
owners how they got started and eventually one might say,
"Well, I met this guy in a McDonalds, and a couple years
later we started a business."
How did you meet the
people in your life? Through childhood, school, work, friends,
neighbors. But there must be some people you know, and know
well, who you met randomly. In a bar, on a bus, at a park, a
show, maybe even a fast-food restaurant. Maybe McDonalds. When
you met them, did you think "Hey, this is my new
friend?" Did you become friends immediately? Of
course not, but it had to
start with a word, a sentence, a greeting, a "Nice to meet
you" or a "Got the time?" or a "Hey, how is
that new Spicy McChicken Sandwich, anyway?"
Ask enough killers
where they met their victims, and eventually one will say
"I met him in a McDonalds."
That guy. The one who
could be my best friend. He could be my worst enemy, instead. We could
wind up hating each other. Possibly. Fist-fighting.
Knife-fighting. Destroying each other's lives. Who knows? The
two of us meeting could set off a chain of events that would find
us, decades from now, trying to kill each other with .50 caliber
Browning M2 machine guns in Chilpancingo, Mexico on New Years Eve.
While dressed as penguins. You never
Why don't we talk? Why
don't we say anything? Why do we just sit here, quietly munching
and staring at our meals. There could be friendships and families founded from
right here, right now. There could be drama, just waiting
to unfold. Two of us could have a child who would have a
child who would have a child who would cure cancer, or possibly
invent an exciting new kind of pretzel treat. And we're
sitting here doing nothing about it!
Of course, weíre
affecting each otherís lives anyway, by not talking.
Take the Asian guy finishing off his fries over there. By
not engaging him in conversation,
Iím affecting his life. If I were to talk to him, he might
walk out of here a few minutes later than he would otherwise (or earlier, considering my
conversational skills and that my mouth is full of Big N' Tasty) and might miss (or catch) his bus and
then be too late/early to randomly meet the love of his life/his
worst enemy. Or, hell, the bus could just run him over. By
not talking to him, I'm not setting events in motion, and
thereby allowing other events to be set in motion, instead.
I hold his life in my
hands, right now. Go ahead, Mr. Asian Fry-Finishing Person. Take
your time. Take your time while I sit here, controlling you like
a puppet. Chew slowly, savor those fries, they could be your
last. I own your future. I decided what comes next. You are my
temporal bitch. A word from me, or two words, or no words,
could alter your future, or not alter it, as well as the future of your children, and
their children, if my silence even allows them to be born.
You can affect people
all over the world by doing nothing. In fact, you do. You can shut yourself off
from the world for a day, a week, a month, and still wreak havoc
with peopleís lives. By not stepping out your door, you donít
bump into people. You donít draw their looks, donít get in
their way, donít remind them of something, donít make them
think theyíve seen you somewhere before. Which leads to other
thoughts, hesitations, decisions, actions, impulses. Which leads
to different futures. By not
taking up a seat on a bus, someone else sits, takes a load off,
feels that much less unpleasant for being on a bus that smells
like unwashed feet. They have a better
day. They make a different choice, later on, than they would have made if theyíd
had to stand. Maybe get that promotion or surprise
someone with flowers or are kind to a stranger.
Maybe two people fight
over the seat and have shitty days as a result. Or someone sits
next to their future best friend. Or their future wife. The
person who will someday get them a dream job or loan them money or invent something with them.
Maybe they sit next to
their future killer. Or victim.
You leave a hole
everywhere you donít go.
Asian Guy, my puppet,
finishes up and leaves, walking into whatever future I've made better or
worse by not interacting with him. I'm his puppet, too, of
course, and the puppet of everyone else here and
elsewhere. We're all puppets, our strings stretching back
in time to the Big Bang. Whatever set that off.
Now, however, Iím not
satisfied to passively influence the lives of others. I want to
see it happen, make it happen. I'm already sad I didn't
aggressively interfere with Asian Guy's life. I want to say something to
someone, strike up a conversation, or, more likely, I want someone
to say something to me. Sure, I know the chances of establishing
a life-long, life-changing friendship with someone in this room
is slim, but not as slim as eventually winding up in a death
struggle with one of them in Mexico. And I donít really think I could have hot sex
with the woman in her 70ís. Not with that glass eye,
anyway. Yeesh. But still. You never know.
But I just sit there,
looking around, and I wish something would happen in all the
silence, and I wish someone would say something, do something, change
something, and a then woman sitting nearby reading a newspaper suddenly laughs out
loud, and she screeches "Oh! They found Winona Ryder guilty
of shoplifting!" and then she looks around at everyone,
waiting for someone to say something, and then she looks at me,
and sees me looking at her, and she laughs again, and she says "Guilty!" and
I look at her, and then I look down
at my burger, and I think, Oh,