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30 October 2006

all i wanted was a strawberry shake.

he is furious. absolutely fuming. it's been at least five minutes without so much as apologetic eye contact from the brown-toothed girl behind the counter and she seems shockingly unconcerned with his growing urgency. to consume his hamburger sometime this month. he turns to look behind him, grasping for any human contact to validate his rage. i avoid eye contact.

i can stare at anyone, see every little thing they do, catch every facial expression, and never make eye contact. i learned it on the subway.

"do you know how to work this thing?" he asks her. he is going to ask for a refund. to make a statement. he certainly hasn't stopped wanting that hamburger. she only smiles and cocks her head. i begin to wonder if i can tackle him if he tries to leap the counter and strangle her. also i wonder if she is retarded.

finally his food comes and he stomps out of the burger king. i bet he'll be back.

my turn. "i'll have a whopper with cheese, a small fr..." i trail off. because she has walked away. to stare at the hamburgers behind her. a minute goes by. maybe a little more, maybe a little less.

"one second," she says, half over her shoulder. the man behind us in line with his two fat kids ("i'm going to get a quad-stacker," the little one keeps repeating) starts to look like he's losing his nerve. "are you guys sure you don't want to go to mcdonalds?" he asks them. mcdonalds is, of course, less than a block away. boy are these kids fat. i bet they're nice though. as long as you aren't between them and their quad-stackers.

she's back. i wonder if i should start over or just keep going. "...one small strawberry shake and one small chocolate shake..."

"no chocolate. no strawberry. only vanilla."

the only reason i even came in here (besides to pee in the toilet that didn't flush automatically like it's supposed to and didn't even have a handle for manual override) was for a strawberry shake. "ok. two small vanilla shakes. and a small chicken nuggets."

a man with a thick mustache fading into a few days of growth everywhere else stumbles into the restaurant. he is about six feet, about two hundred pounds, wearing a flannel shirt and a vest and dirty work pants and the kind of trucker's hat that only real truckers wear. he is bawling his eyes out. "i'm sorry..." he blubbers to his companion (who can be described in exactly the same way, only with lighter hair and no mustache). they don't get in line. they just set up opposite each other in a booth and they hold hands over the table and they weep. i put my hands in my pockets and wait for her to ask me for my money. it takes a while.

"you were always there for me..." i hear from the increasingly tear-dampened booth behind me. i can't shake the urge to guess their story. one is drunk. he is crying more than the other and he can barely walk.

i take our tray to the ketchup station. i can act normal no matter what is going on around me. i learned how on the subway.

this isn't a vanilla shake. this is vanilla soft serve in a cup. it is really fucking hard to suck soft serve ice cream through a straw when there are grown men sobbing like children behind you and ketchup and mayonnaise all over your hands from the sloppiest whopper ever made.

the first crying man stumbles towards the men's room, and after fumbling with the handle, he disappears behind the door. i remember how slippery the floor was in there and i remember why and i hope he doesn't fall down because that would make his night even worse. this whopper has a lot of onions on it. i need a napkin.

we manage to talk about it without looking. we can hear them but they can't hear us. we know how to do this from riding the subway.

and then he comes out and they leave. and then we do. and my hands continue to smell like ketchup for hours.

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