Friday, September 09, 2005

Ordering a Burger is not like Taking an AIDS Test.

I stopped eating beef about three years ago now. I would like to tell you why, but I have a bad memory and I’ve forgotten the exact reason. It had something to do with a documentary and a cow with a huge, swollen udder, I think. Or perhaps a girl I was dating who was a vegetarian who I tried to meet halfway.

Really, I suppose, it's just because I never really enjoyed eating beef. Or at least never enjoyed eating beef that my mother deemed safe for consumption (and that my aversion to blood allowed me to put in my mouth). Well-done, tough, the colour of raw sienna.

Giving up beef was not a huge sacrifice. But there was one thing I missed, however, and that was hamburgers. Burgers are a staple of our culture – part of the very fabric of our society - and I felt left out at barbecues with my little, weinie hotdogs. I tried bringing special sausages –lamb or pork, of course - but the fact is you cannot fit as many toppings on a hotdog bun and diced onion is no match for the full cross-section of a bulb.

I discovered and fell in love with ostrich and bison burgers. But while they were excellent, they were not readily available. (Or cheap.) Chicken burgers felt like a cop-out: not a burger, but a chicken sandwich. If I want to eat a chicken sandwich, I’ll eat a chicken sandwich.

Veggie burgers were a whole other business. Some had deadly nuts hidden in them (I’m allergic) and others tasted like they were made of ground ass. Others, I liked just fine.

Only one vegetarian option fully encompassed the burger experience I was looking for. The Nature Burger at Lick’s Homeburgers and Ice Cream. (Slogan: You Can LICK Our Ice Cream But You Can’t BEAT Our Burgers!) It’s remarkably similar to a genuine hamburger. In some ways, it is a superior meal.

The Nature Burger is not a vegetarian substitute. It’s a vegetarian principal.

Which brings us to September 8, 2005. After spending my morning picking up my film festival accreditation and asking passers-by whether they would rather go to a Halloween party with Atom Egoyan or David Cronenberg, I decided that a Nature Burger was in order. I stopped at the Lick’s at the corner of York Mills and Lesmill near the National Post office on my way in.

Now, while I like Lick’s Nature Burger, I dislike much of rest of the experience of going to Lick’s. For one, they use their own rhyming slang to communicate to each other, so French fries becomes “blue skies” or something and onion rings are “ring-a-ding-ding.” For two, the d├ęcor makes me feel like I am drowning.

I also do not like that the Lick’s employees ask for your name when you order. I've heard they used to sing a little personalized song when you picked up your food, but they don’t anymore – at least not at my local franchise -- so I don’t see why they need your name. I feel it’s an invasion of my privacy. (Said the blogger, blogging.)

Usually when I order at Lick’s, I give a fake name. Sometimes it is just “Joe” or “Fred” -- something normal and male. Other times I conduct what I like to think are social experiments. I’ll give a female name like “Lucinda” or “Missy.” Or maybe I’ll give a name like “Mohammad” or “Shaquille.” Often I’ll just give a word like “Gong” or “Petroleum.” Judge not, I say with my eyebrows when they look at me quizzically. (Usually, they just ignore me.)

Truth is, this name game has nothing to do with privacy. I’m just an asshole sometimes.

Anyway, today I was not feeling thus. I gave my real name: Kelly. And, because this was different for me, I told the woman behind the counter. “I don’t usually give my real name,” I said like I was passing on top secret information, like this was a very special day and the stars had aligned.

“Well,” she said. “A lot of people don’t. That’s all right.

"Sometimes I give really silly names," I continued to confess. "It's a bit jerky."

"Do you ever forget what name you gave?”

“Yeah.”

“That can make it awkward when you they call you.”

“Yeah. It looks like I don’t know my own name.”

“Yep.”

She had interesting teeth. I opened up further.

“I don’t know why I do it,” I said. “I just feel, I don’t know, like… Like I’m on my lunch break. I’m away from my desk and getting some fresh air. Why does my name have to come into it, you know?”

“People worry about privacy these days.”

“Yeah.”

“They want to be anonymous.”

“Yeah.”

“But it’s just so we know which order is whose.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s not like it’s an AIDS test.”

Food for thought, indeed. Teethy was right. Ordering a burger is not like getting an AIDS test.

Sometimes I get almost as stressed out as when I'm waiting for results at the doctor's office, though. How ridiculous is that? Has lunch always been so complicated? Was there a time, decades or centuries ago, when scanning a lunch menu was pleasant? Was there ever a time when choosing from a list of options felt like an act of selection instead of an act of rejection?

“Kelly?”

It was the woman down at the toppings end of the Lick’s counter. She knew my name because it was written on the bill.

I instructed: Guk! (Lick’s special mayonnaise-based sauce), lots of relish, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, a few hot peppers, pickles on the side.

“Here you go, Kelly,” she said putting the brown paper bag with my lunch in it on the counter. (Why does the sound of my own name from the toppings woman make me feel gross? Why do I feel it cheapens my name, my identity?)

I turned to leave, but then remembered… “Oh, can I get some mayonnaise for my fries?”

“That’s an extra 85 cents.”

WHAAAT!?!? “Excuse me?”

“Guk! on the side is 85 cents.”

WHAAAT!?!? “All I want is some mayonnaise, not Guk!, I just…”

“We don’t have any mayonnaise, just Guk. It’s not just mayonnaise, it...”

“Who doesn’t have mayonnaise? Mayonnaise is a normal condiment where I come from.” (Where I come from? What does that mean?)

“I’m sorry, but…”

“You should get normal mayonnaise for fries. That’s a normal thing. Are you the person who would be in charge or such a thing?”

Silence.

“Oh, never mind.”

This is how I left Lick’s. Unsatisfied. Why wouldn’t they have plain mayonnaise? Why wouldn’t they give me Guk for free? Eight-five cents! What ever happened to customer satisfaction?

Maybe I am an asshole.

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