Don’t look at me like that. I see how you’re looking at me. I know you read the headlines, or at least the tweets. You think me monstrous. How can such an abomination exist? Some sort of ground-beef-and-bacon Quasimodo unfit for human contact. A beast assembled from other beasts. A meaty chimera!
I try not to think about it too much, what happens here. We’re all just doing our jobs. Lovingly packed together and stacked, grilled to the excitement of the wide-eyed and novelty-starved. Everyone just trying to get by in this economy, this we know. The nurses and cooks with families at home and student loans to pay off and who knows what else. They’ve gotta eat too, and it may not be what they’re serving. My grillmate told me, before getting practically swallowed whole by a hungry tourist and washed down with a syringe of bourbon, that sometimes the feeling was one of being fetishized, objectified, the literal “food porn.” It made me wonder how the people around us must feel, the “sexy nurses,” with kids at home, or law school to pay off, or a grandmother in the hospital, or a prayer this never comes up when she runs for Senate, watching us with that same hunger that people direct at us. We’re all just trying to get through the night and get the job done. It’s a sad operation, isn’t it? But it sells. We are the forbidden fruit, truly, shining with bacon fat in the backdrop of our neon Eden. And then there are the days where someone ends up with too much of a good thing and has to get wheeled out by actual medical professionals, not just the costumed type. Those days are just impossible to ignore.
The thing is though, most days, I love the work. I promise I do. I love the sweet sizzle and sear of the grill, the enticing bubbling of the grease, the delicacy with which each slice of bacon is laid upon my visage. I, as the kids say, “live for this shit.” I’d been waiting for this moment ever since I’d been butchered. But the cognitive dissonance weighs heavy like a pile of fresh-cut fries being held up by a napkin. It reminds me of that one Bond villain, the one that crushes men to death with her legs during sex. I’m like a flame-broiled Famke Janssen. There are some nights I lie awake and think, ‘’If only I had been a Carl’s Jr. Burger. I could have been on television! With Padma Lakshmi!” I wonder if the average pack of Virginia Slims goes through this much mental anguish.
There’s some truth in advertising, you know. The notion that your food actually enjoys—nay, aspires—to be consumed. Look at how happy those little Goldfish crackers seem as they swim, grins stretched across their fishy faces, straight for the mouth of some eager kid at snack time.
Sorry to dump all of this on you. I’m kind of in a really weird headspace right now. Or a really weird bun-space, I guess. Did you know food has existential crises? It does. It’s all very Shakespearean. “With cheese or not with cheese, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler with the fries, to suffer the ketchup and mustard of outrageous condiments, or to take noms against a crowd of diners.”
They set me up with a sponsor to call when the guilt makes me go mad (mad cow, even). The first KFC Double Down (now old and with special sauce gone dry) who operates from HQ in Corbin, is still something of a big shot in my line of work. DD sometimes gets real gruff though, goes on a tirade about not being the top-dog impulse feast anymore. DD isn’t lonely; he’ll go downtown and have drinks with Land, Sea and Air Burger. LSA, for brevity’s sake, has shared with me those same feelings of monstrosity, of being the chimera, the freak. Hence the place on the “secret menu,” only the clandestine refuge of the most daring. Who orders a Filet-O-Fish anyway?
It’s evening in Vegas, but then again when isn’t it? Fremont Street is a galaxy of lights. The neon cowboy tips his hat to passersby; the Experience can be seen from outer space, probably. In just a few minutes, they’ll start piling in, here on a dare or to bite into layers of meat and cheese to celebrate a victory or an impulse wedding or an impulse divorce or to dull the pain of having just seen their next mortgage payment sail across the roulette table, far away, back in the arms of the dealer, or just because they want to, goddamnit, life is brutish and short either way, right?
The breeze sends the burger aroma out cavorting into the streets with every time the door opens. The people are hungry, and we will feed them not judge them, because that is not our job, not tonight. I prepare for my plating, and as the cold spatula looms over, I remember the scenes with the stretcher, the ambulance, and even on the average night, the anticipation, the hungry eyes like the song, the ogling of the women who plated me and that same stare the diners make looking at me, how they were the ones who were full and I am left with bite marks in my sides and a far, far greater emptiness.