I am a well-intentioned guy, but I am also a complete flake, and that combination can sometimes produce some very unexpected results. Such was the case on the day of the Great Cheeseburger Rebellion. Despite my dreams of a smoothly functioning fast food society and my complete lack of planning, I somehow managed to kick off a wave of localized burger chaos in the span of my short lunch break one day. Worst of all, there’s probably a nice (possibly “former” now) fast food cashier out there somewhere cursing my stupid face as she relates the cautionary tale of my treachery to friends, family, and future fast food workers, and all I wanted to do was to be a nice guy.
I don’t know why I can’t just stand in line at a burger joint like a normal person. On the exterior, I don’t normally do anything abnormal. I look just like every other forty-something blue collar guy who can’t seem to rush to his next heart attack fast enough. A nice kale and quinoa salad for lunch like my marathon-running girlfriend suggested before I left for work that morning? No, no, I wouldn’t want my murky bloodstream clearing up any. That might make it easier for my next cardiologist to see what kind of damage I’ve really done. These are the kind of thoughts that run through my noggin while I stand there. Move aside, practicality and maturity, we’ve got to make room for the inane, abstract, and utterly unproductive.
I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking about before the man two customers in front of me ordered his two cheeseburgers each with two bottom buns, but I know that once those words rattled past my eavesdropping earlobes, they filled my head with such sudden force that they bulldozed everything else out of the way. Did he just say two bottom buns? Can you do that? Why on earth would you? What sort of heathen splits up the hallowed traditional top bun and bottom bun combination? I could feel the foundations of the customer service industry tremor and see the fabric of society unraveling before my very eyes. It didn’t matter that some small logical part of my brain tried to scream from its sad little corner that this was not that big of a deal and that the guy must have been trying to avoid sesame seeds for reasons of allergy or possibly dentures. What mattered was that he had taken up ideological arms against the established norms and mores of the fast food legacy, and I, for one, was not going to stand by and watch it happen.
Actually, that’s exactly what I did. The cashier rolled her eyes and sighed a small but exasperated sigh, even glancing quickly at another cashier standing just a couple of feet to her right, but she soon collected herself, smiled a false smile, and asked the gentleman if he’d like anything else. As she finished totalling the order, stepping away from the cash register, and plunging herself into the burger and fry preparation processes, I couldn’t shake the idea of those four orphaned burger bun tops discarded back there on some countertop, or worse, in some trash can. My mother’s accusatory tones rang out from childhood memories. There really were still starving kids in Africa, right? There had to be. I wasn’t sure yet what I was going to do to make this right, but it was going to be for them. This was no longer a matter of consumer injustice; this was a humanitarian atrocity.
I formulated my plan as the woman from the other register now took her position at the scene of the unreasonable request. The man who’d ordered the four bottom buns had made his way to the soda machine, and I may have visibly sneered as I imagined him coming back to request just the cola syrup without the carbonated water. As the man behind him and in front of me in line began his impossibly long lunch order for his officemates, I decided that I was not going to say anything to the bottom burger buns guy. That was confrontational, and it in no way improved the status of the abandoned bun tops in the back. What I really needed to do was to counterbalance his heinous offense and to restore order to the universe.
I was so proud of myself when it occurred to me to order two cheeseburgers with all bun tops that I probably visibly beamed. It wasn’t enough just to think of it. Oh, no. This was far too great a deed for that. Instead, I envisioned the scene over and over again in my head. When I got my rapidly approaching turn at the cash register, I was going to claim those pitiful bun tops, and those around me would swoon with admiration. The cashier, I assumed, would blush with gratitude when she realized I’d resolved the troublesome issue for her and for the entire restaurant staff. She’d probably walk to the back and whisper to them about what a wonderful thing I had done, pointing shyly from behind the grills and fryers.
When the customer in front of me stepped aside with his lengthy receipt, I stepped quickly up the counter to announce my intentions, but the cashier had already turned and begun to gather some items for a previous order. As she worked with her back to me and to the rest of the dining room, I attempted to peek past her into the back of the kitchen in hopes of locating the bun tops. I craned my neck this way and that, stood on my tiptoes and crouched down low. I only noticed the oddly-shaped grease stain on the seat of her pants when she bent fully at the waste to reach into a box on a lower shelf and her substantial hind end partially blocked my view of the burger assembly line where I now saw the discarded bun tops sitting precariously perched next to a pile of other scraps. “Hurry up!,” I thought at her, “Hurry up, hurry up! They’re going to throw them away!”
I was so giddy and anxious when she straightened and turned to walk back that I quickly blurted, “I want those buns!” before she even reached the register.
I was so wrapped up in salvaging the bun tops that, for what should have been a terribly uncomfortable amount of time, I didn’t even realize exactly the scene I had just created. The hefty little cashier came to a halt in mid-stride, and I could feel every gaze behind me lock onto the back of my head. The cashier’s face went crimson under her blonde curls, and a few feet back and to the left of me, I heard a little gasp. The cashier’s eyes flashed with frightening rage as the murmur in the line started and grew.
“No!” I stammered quickly, “Nonononono!” I waved my hands frantically at her, trying to quell her anger. “Not your buns,” I explained, “that guy’s!” I said, pointing to bottom bun guy over at the soda machine.
What was once a murmur of offended shock now became one of confusion. One gentleman snorted loudly. The cashier’s face somehow retained the same amount of annoyance while gaining an added element of disapproving amazement. Bottom bun guy looked mostly alarmed, but I swear there was also a tiny glint of flattery in his eyes.
I sighed and collected myself, prepared to explain with a little frustration of my own what it was that I actually wanted. “Look,” I explained slowly, “I just meant that I want the burger bun tops that guy didn’t want. He wanted two cheeseburgers with all bun bottoms, right? I want two cheeseburgers made with the tops he’s not using. I wasn’t looking at your rear end.”
“The hell you weren’t!” a creaky voice crowed from behind me. I spun around and glared back at the steadily increasing crowd to see a frail little old woman pointing an accusing finger at the television monitor above my head. There I stood, in full color, right in front of the register. She’d obviously seen me struggling to locate the bun tops in the back and assumed I was trying to get a better view of the cashier’s bottom. I briefly weighed the perceived craziness level of frantically searching for bun tops over the perceived creepiness of actively ogling this poor woman while she tried to do her job.
I pivoted quickly back around and tried desperately to reverse the deterioration of this situation with some clarity. “Okay, a little bit I was,” I tried to say as gently as I could, “but only because there’s a little bit of a stain on the back of your pants.”
The cashier whipped her head around to the left and proceeded to stumble around in tight, counterclockwise circles as she attempted to view her own rear end. Snickers arose quickly and cruelly in the crowd as she spun around like a dog chasing its tail. Realizing that she’d now been made to look like a bit of a fool, she came to a halt and glared at me, seething through flared nostrils. “Sir,” she growled in a low tone that suggested she might be waiting at my car when I tried to leave, “what do you want with your cheeseburgers?”
Once she handed me my cup, I wandered over to the soda machine through all of the uncomfortable stares and filled my cup while trying not to make eye contact with bottom bun guy. I drank a lot of soda because it gave me something to do and because I was trying to create a sort of soda film in my mouth to insulate it against whatever quantity of saliva they were gathering in the kitchen to put on my cheeseburgers. I wondered how it all could have gone so wrong. I was trying to be a good guy. I was trying to balance out the universe, to save the burger tops, to stand up for Africa’s starving children! It had all gotten so turned around!
When the cashier who had waited on bottom bun guy called me up to get my order, I had just about convinced myself that, regardless of the social mess I had created up front, I’d still rectified the problem of the abandoned bun tops, and that had to count as some sort of win. After all, even though it perhaps didn’t take the most optimal of forms, I had gotten my all-important message of not separating the bun tops and bottoms out to everyone in the restaurant. Maybe it was alright if I had to break a couple of eggs in order to get my proverbial omelet made.
Still dodging uncomfortable stares, I shuffled quietly to a corner table away from everyone and unwrapped my first cheeseburger. “Look!” a little boy called out loudly to the young mother seated with him, “That man has two tops!” The mother turned her face toward me, and I saw her confusion melt into understanding as he began trying to coax her son into returning his attention to his own meal. “I want two tops!” the little boy declared. His mother leaned across the table to quietly reject his demand, but he met her answer with a loud wail, “He has two tops! Why can’t I have two tops?”
I froze, a bite of cheeseburger stuffed into my left cheek. My eyes widened as I watched the slow motion car wreck of each of the people still in line first turning back to look at me, then mumbling to each other. I banged my knee against the table as I started to rise and quickly tuck the remainder of my meal away for travel. Up at the register, I could hear the next young man in line ask for a two cheeseburgers made with only bun tops. An aura of victorious delight rolled over the line of people waiting to order. Customers who had already ordered but not yet received their meals were beginning to walk toward the counter. The cashier prepared to explain that they were not splitting any more buns up, but she didn’t even get the first three words out of her mouth before a second customer began arguing back. That customer was joined by another and another, all decrying the unfairness of denying them the bun alteration with which I had clearly been provided.
The “Thanks a lot, asshole!” that I got from the cashier as I tried to escape undetected out the side door was not quite the expression of gratitude I had imagined when I originally decided to ask for the discarded bun tops. I reassured myself in the car on the way back to work that even though not all men may be destined for greatness, there is still something good to be said for a man who means well. As I finished my second spit-burger in the toilet stall of the restroom at work so the madness wouldn’t spread to my coworkers, I wondered if every failed revolutionary found the same level of nobility in their exile.