It was a typical Fatty Burger.
The tables were painted white with black spots, simulating the hides of the noble cows who had given their lives to feed scores of portly Americans, each more hungry for bovine flesh than the last.
Sure, there was a salad bar but it was more of an olive branch to the first lady, a noted anti-fat activist. The rare customer who bothered with it would find a few fresh greens and a vat of three-day-old salad dressing if he was lucky.
Towards the back of the fast food joint, there was a kids’ play area, complete with a pit filled with red balls that had never once been washed in the history of the franchise. A bacterial scan of any one of the balls would have revealed untold amounts of germs from several generations of bratty children.
Customers slowly killed themselves, stuffing their ugly faces with previously frozen, reheated burgers that had been sitting under heat lamps for hours, followed by fries diced not from fresh potatoes but rather, from some kind of artificially cloned vegetable matter the Fatty Burger corporation only referred to publicly as “potato substitute number eleven.”
And of course, what artery clogging, high calorie, low nutritional meal wouldn’t be complete without an eighty-nine ounce sugar enriched, caffeine infused soda?
Behind the counter, minimum wage slaves dressed in cow themed white and black spotted shirts and caps milled about. They weren’t exactly enthused about their labors, to put it mildly.
“Order number seven is up,” came the depressed, monotone voice of a pimply faced teenage boy from behind the grill as he slid a greasy bag across the surface of his workstation.
“Thank you,” replied the equally monotone, even more depressed voice of a teenage girl with even more pimples than the boy.
That girl took the bag, handed it over to a portly customer, then pressed a button on her headset.
Yes. She actually said the word, “sigh.”
“Sigh,” the girl said between gum chews. “Welcome to Fatty Burger. Home of the Super Fat Fatty Gutbuster. Can I interest you in the diabetes special with extra gout?”
The garbled voice of a chubby man in the drive-through lane replied in the girl’s ear.
“No…I’ll have the ‘I want to get so fat that I’ll never get laid without paying for it ever again combo.’”
“One ‘I want to get so fat that I’ll never get laid without paying for it ever again combo,’” the girl repeated.
“But,” came the voice of the man in the drive-thru lane through the girl’s head-set. “Don’t put any lettuce on that…”
“Hold the lettuce,” the girl repeated.
“And no pickles,” the man said.
“Hold the pickles,” the girl repeated.
“But extra mayo and extra cheese,” the man said.
“Extra mayo, extra cheese,” the girl repeated.
“And then, if you could,” the man said. “Put exactly three dabs of horseradish sauce on the bottom bun and on the top of the bun, sprinkle some salt, but no more than two shakes. But put a lot of pepper. At least three shakes. Do four if you want but no more than five, tops.”
The girl frowned. “Three dabs of pepper and…”
“Oh,” the man said. “And I don’t want too many sesame seeds on my bun. Try to get me a bun with less than forty-five seeds in total.”
The girl’s eyes widened with frustration. “Will that be all?”
“And throw in an extra-large order of curly fries,” the man said.
“Curly fries,” the girl repeated. “Got it.”
“Only, I don’t want them too curly,” the man said. “The straighter the better.”
“Umm,” the girl replied. “So you just want regular fries?”
A brief pause.
“Jesus Christ,” the man said. “And you people want fifteen bucks an hour?”
The girl ripped off her head said and loudly declared, “Eff it! I’m just going to throw some shit in a bag and maybe this guy will get lucky!”
Customers getting fatter with each bite. Perplexing orders. Confused teenager employees. Disgusting food, or rather, food-esque substances.
Yes. It was a very typical Fatty Burger except for one deviation.
The cashier was an enormous, muscular, hulk of a man in his late thirties. His poorly stitched uniform barely contained his bulging biceps, his impressive physique, and his washboard abs.
Jack Mackenzie was his name, though as his name tag indicated, he simply went by, “Mack.”
Mack sported a short buzzcut and stood at six-foot-five, towering over the little old lady he was currently serving. She had a blue, beehive hairdo and wore a purple sweater emblazoned with the words, “Cats are People Too.”
“One ‘As Long as I Can Still Squeeze My Big Ass into Sweat Pants I’ll Keep Eating this Shit’ Meal with extra bacon, custom made to your specifications, ma’am,” Mack said as he handed the old lady her tray.
“I’ll see about that,” the old bitty said as she studied her food. “I’ve been coming here for years and you people haven’t gotten it right yet.”
“Take all the time you need, ma’am,” Mack said as he folded his tree trunk arms across his chest. “Its your god given right as a patriotic consumer.”
“You remember my ketchup packets?” the old gal asked.
“Of course,” Mack said as he pointed them out.
“Where are my onion rigs?” the old lady asked.
“Right here,” Mack said as he pointed to them. “Extra crispy as you requested.”
“Yeah,” the old lady scoffed as she pulled the paper off of her straw. “I bet you got me a regular cola.”
“You’d bet wrong, ma’am,” Mack said.
“Bullshit,” the old lady said. “I always specifically order a diet cola because I need to watch my figure and I enjoy the smooth taste of aspartame as it pickles my brain and yet you imbeciles always give me a regular cola without fail.”
Mack smiled. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, ma’am.”
The old lady popped her straw into her cup and sipped. “What in the name of Angela Lansbury’s taint?”
“Is that a burgeoning aspartame fueled grin I see, ma’am?” Mack asked.
The old lady belched, picked up her tray, and walked away. “Stick around, new guy. I like your moxie.”
The depressed teenage girl approached the cashier.
“You know whenever that old bitch gives me shit I just give her the stink eye until she backs off.”
“I can’t do that, Brenda,” Mack said. “For I have entered into an employment contract with the good people of Fatty Burger to serve customers to the best of my ability in exchange for just compensation determined by the value placed upon said service by the free market. To do anything less would be to spit in the face of capitalism.”
“Are you for real?” Brenda asked.
“Yes,” Mack answered.
“Whatever,” Brenda said as stepped out from behind the counter. “I’m taking my break.”
There was no rest for Mack as he quickly found himself staring down at a wealthy young housewife clad in a white pantsuit, her sunglasses perched on her fore head. With one hand, she clutched the hand of her wildly out of control son. With the other hand, she held a cell phone up to her ear and spoke into it non-stop.
“And so I said, ‘Regina, darling, the Hamptons at this time of year? You must be absolutely mad!’”
Mack stood behind the counter, patiently waiting for his existence to be recognized.
“Mommy,” the boy said as he tugged on his mother’s coat.
“Honestly, Margot, I have no idea why I even volunteered to throw a fundraiser for the Upper Echelon Ladies’ Guild,” the woman said into her phone. “Marisol will be cooking for days, leaving me to watch Lawrence all by myself. I swear, he drains me so…”
“Mommy!” the boy cried.
“Ugh,” the woman said. “Hold on, Margot.”
The well-to-do lady looked at her son. “What? What is it?”
The boy pointed at a clear plastic display case on the counter. Inside, there were four action figures, each a different version of the popular children’s cartoon character, Willy Wombat.
There was Surfer Willy. That wombat wore a pair of swim trunks and had a yellow surfboard attached to his feet. Then there was Fireman Willy, a wombat in full firefighter gear with hose at the ready.
After that, there was Space Willy, complete with his own astronaut suit and helmet. Last but not least, Cowboy Willy wore a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of leather chaps.
“I want that one,” the boy said as he pointed to Space Willy.
Mack cleared his throat. “May I help you, ma’am?”
“Oh dear,” the lady said as she put her phone back up to her ear. “Margot, you’ll never believe the horrible dive Lawrence has dragged me to. I’ll call you back shortly.”
The mother hanged up her phone, popped it into her designer handbag, then squinted at the menu.
“My son will have the ‘Train the Little Shits to Become Fatties Early and They’ll Be Hooked for Life’ meal.”
“One ‘Train the Little Shits to Become Fatties Early and They’ll Be Hooked for Life’ meal,” Mack repeated as he punched the order into his register.
“Mommy!” the boy shouted as he stomped his foot on the floor.
The mother closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. “What is it, Lawrence?”
Lawrence pointed to Space Willy. “I want that one.”
The mother stared at the tiny little creature in the case, then looked up at Mack. “He’ll have that one.”
“What?” the mother asked.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Mack said. “There’s no bigger believer in the saying, ‘the customer is always right’ than me, but we only have the Surfer Willy toy to pass out this week.”
“No!” Lawrence shrieked. “I don’t want Surfer Willy!”
“He does not want Surfer Willy,” the mother repeated.
Lawrence began to cry. “I want Space Willy!”
“He wants Space Willy!” the mother repeated.
“I don’t have a Space Willy, ma’am,” Mack said.
Lawrence wrapped himself around his mother’s leg and sobbed away.
The mother gritted her perfectly white teeth and pointed a finger at Mack. “I don’t care about the details. Get me a Space Willy.”
Mack sighed. “Ma’am, if it were up to me, your son would be knee deep in Space Willies. But you see, the problem is that corporate only sends us down one batch of Willies per week while Fatty Burger is doing a cross promotion with Wombat World and right now, the only toy I have to give away is Surfer Willy.”
The mother stroked her son’s hair. “I’m sorry, Lawrence.”
“I could probably bend the rules a smidge and give him two Surfer Willies,” Mack said.
“Did you hear that?” the mother said to Lawrence. “Two Surfer Willies, dear.”
Lawrence’s face turned red as the little guy exploded with rage. He threw himself to the floor and caused a scene as he start kicked and screamed, flailing his limbs to and fro as he shouted, “No, no, no, no, no!”
The mother was displeased. “Oh for the love of…and this on the week I swore I’d quit Xanax.”
Mack stood there quietly.
“This is unacceptable,” the mother said as she pointed at the case. “This display fools children into thinking they are able to choose which toy they want.”
“I agree, ma’am,” Mack said. “We’ve had a few similar incidents with unhappy children this week. I was thinking about suggesting to my supervisor that we change it but I just started and I don’t want to rock the boat too early.”
Lawrence continued his protest. “Arrrrrrrrghhhhhh! I want a Space Willy! I want a Space Willy!”
The mother leaned down, grabbed Lawrence by the armpits and attempted to lift him up.
“Noooooooo!” the boy screeched at an ear splitting volume as he slapped his mother away. “This is the worst day of my life!”
Lawrence’s mother flashed Mack the look of a defeated woman.
“Ma’am,” Mack said as he stepped out from behind the counter. “I have some experience in talking people through rough situations. If I may…”
“You couldn’t do any worse I suppose,” the mother replied.
The lumbering hulk got down on one knee and poked the boy’s shoulder.
“No,” the boy said.
“I’d like to talk to you for a minute,” Mack said.
“I want a Space Willy,” the boy said.
“I understand,” Mack said. “Life is all about wanting what we can’t have and having what we don’t want, isn’t it?”
“Space Willy,” the boy said.
“Did I hear you right just now when you said that today is the worst day of your life?” Mack asked.
“Yes,” the boy said into his hands as he remained lying face down on the floor.
“Wow,” Mack said. “All because you didn’t get the toy you wanted?”
“Yes,” the boy said. “I want a Space Willy.”
“I got it,” Mack said.
The big man and the little boy were silent for awhile as the mother stood back and searched her handbag for the right mood altering medication that would make this all go away in her mind.
“Can I tell you about the worst day of my life?” Mack asked.
“No,” the boy replied.
“Well,” Mack said as patted the boy’s shoulder. “I’m going to tell you anyway.”
Mack sat down and leaned his back against the counter. The line of customers started to grow larger.
“Hey buddy!” an obese customer yelled from the back of the line. “Can we get some service here?”
“One moment, sir,” Mack said. “I failed this young man here and I’m trying to talk him through it.”
Mack scratched his head and briefly lost himself in thought.
“The worst day of my life was in 2009,” Mack said. “In Anbar province. Oh, that’s in Afghanistan, kid, an ungovernable shit hole far, far away from here. They don’t have any Fatty Burger joints there, and which Willy Wombat figure you get is the least of the worries the kids who live there have, let me tell you.”
Lawrence’s mother unscrewed her bottle of Xanax. “Come to mama.”
“My unit and I were under orders to take down a terrorist compound,” Mack said. “Real sons of bitches that would gut you like a trout as soon as look at you. When we were a mile away from the place, the smell of death wafted up our nostrils and when we got there we found out why…”
The boy sat up and wiped away his tears.
“Look who’s come back to join us,” Mack said as he tussled the kid’s hair. “Where was I? Oh right. The stench of death. You see, the compound smelled like that because right in the middle of it there was an enormous pile of human heads, all stacked up on top of each other, frightened looks on their faces, their eyes staring out blankly, their mouths agape with flies buzzing in and out of them. I’m not sure how many there were but if I had to guess, probably over a hundred.”
“I’m not sure this is appropriate,” the mother said.
“It’s ok, ma’am,” Mack said. “I’ve got this. Now son, the thing you have to understand is all of these heads belonged to people the terrorists didn’t like. They belonged to people who criticized the terrorists, fought against them, spied on them for Uncle Sam or what have you. One of them even belonged to a little girl who just wandered into the compound by mistake while she was searching for her lost cat.”
“FYI, they chopped of the cat’s head,” Mack said. “Anyway, my fellow soldiers and I fanned out and searched the perimeter in standard two by two formation. That’s when you pair up with a buddy and you watch his back while he watches yours. You really want to be sure to pick someone you trust when you’re doing this or else chances are the whole thing will turn into one giant fubar fiasco.”
“Fubar?” Lawrence asked.
“I’ll let you do a web search for that when you’re older,” Mack said. “So the whole place is quiet. No one around. At first we assumed we must have scared these pricks off. They saw us coming and ran like bitches.”
“Did they?” Lawrence asked.
“Not by a long shot,” Mack said. “See, it turns out that an informant we were working with was a double agent. That means he gave us information about the bad guys and we paid him, then he turned around and gave information about us to the bad guys and they paid him and the duplicitous bastard got a double pay day. Theres got to be a special place in the bowels of hell for people like that. Anyway. Since they’d been warned by the turncoat that were coming for them, these terrorists had their buddies bury them under a layer of dirt that was deep enough to avoid detection but not so deep that they weren’t able to suck air into their lungs through straws.”
“Then what happened?” Lawrence asked.
“I’d rather he didn’t know what happened,” the mother said as she tugged on her son’s arm. “Come, Lawrence, let’s find a restaurant with competent employees.”
Lawrence pulled his arm back. “I gotta know what happened!”
Mack looked up at Lawrence’s mother. “He’s got to know what happened.”
“I got to know when I can get my ninety-nine cent bucket of jalapeño poppers,” an ogre of a man called out from the line of customers. “I’m starving here!”
“Check it out, Lawrence,” Mack said, ignoring his detractors. “These terrorists spring out of the ground. They’ve got us surrounded. They’re shooting. We’re shooting. I’m knee deep in my own spent shell casings. I’m telling you kid, this whole thing was like the ending of Scarface.”
“Scarface?” Lawrence asked.
“Al Pacino in an eighties flick about one drug lord’s rise to power over the Miami cocaine racket,” Mack said. “Michelle Pfeiffer as his…hey…you know what? Do a web search for this when you’re older too. Remember when I said we were in a two by two formation?”
“Yeah,” Lawrence said.
“My buddy was Dennis Hunsacker,” Mack said. “Good guy. His wife back home had just given birth to two retarded twin daughters. Wait, I’m sorry, that’s not the appropriate term. She gave birth to two mentally challenged twin daughters and Dennis was just one day from retirement with a full pension. In fact, once this mission was over, he was planning to fly home to Arizona and take care of his wife and his mentally challenged daughters. Did I mention Dennis’s wife was in a wheelchair?”
“No,” Lawrence said.
“Oh yeah,” Mack said. “She got hit by a truck on the worst day of her life but she didn’t let it get her down. Of course, she never had to go through the horrific experience of a fast food restaurant not being able to accommodate her Willy Wombat toy preference but that’s neither here nor there.”
Customers started to get out of line and walk away. “Let’s go to Tubby Burger across the street,” one of the customers said. “They’ve got the new deep fried s’mores battered shrimp bites for a buck ninety-nine.”
“Time to bring this story home,” Mack said. “Dennis gets shot. Multiple times. One in the shoulder. One in the neck. Three in the chest. One in his stomach. One in his hand. Four in his balls. How that happened I don’t even know. One in his shin. One in his knee and one that actually went into his left cheek and popped out his right cheek. Made the poor guy whistle when he whispered his last words to me.”
Lawrence’s eyes grew wide. “What were they?”
“‘Use me as a human shield, Mack.’”
“I don’t like where this is going,” Lawrence’s mother said.
“A human what?” Lawrence asked.
“Meat shield,” Mack said. “You see kid, I popped at least seventy of those jerk offs myself and side note – I still see every one of their faces before I fall asleep every night. Only a true psychopath doesn’t feel bad when he kills someone, Lawrence. Never trust a man if he doesn’t feel bad after he kills someone. Again, something to do a web search on when you get older.”
“Is there someone else that can take my order?” a customer shouted. “I’ve only got ten minutes until my weight loss club meeting and I need my ‘I Use Food as a Substitute for Everything I Wanted Out of Life but Never Got’ combo.”
“I didn’t want to do it,” Mack said to Lawrence. “Dennis had been my wing man for so long, after all. But it made sense. Once Dennis let out one last futile gasp for breath and his spent carcass fell prostrate in my arms, his eyes bugged out, his tongue sticking out of his mouth, I realized that I’d be insulting the man if I didn’t avenge his death by using his body to protect me from an onslaught of bullets as I used my machete to hack the men who killed him to pieces.”
Dennis sat there on the floor, perfectly quiet.
“Oh, I forgot to mention that I’d run out of bullets so I used my machete to summarily execute thirty more men. Arms, limbs, heads, blood and guts flying everywhere. It was like a Quentin Tarantino film on acid…another subject to do a web search on in the future. And then, that’s it. I killed everyone and saved the rest of the unit. After that, I used my satellite phone to call Dennis’s wife and break the bad news to her and she informed me that because Dennis was her only source of income, she’d have no choice but to put the mentally challenged twins that she loved so much up for adoption and sell her body to unsavory characters with a handicap fetish. Don’t do a web search for that even when you are older.”
“And that was the worst day of you life?” Lawrence asked.
Mack blew a raspberry. “Pbbbht. Hell no, son. I used to do shit like that every day and twice on Sunday. No, the worst day of my life was two days after that, when I went to the commissary on the base my unit was stationed out of. It’s lunchtime, I’m as hungry as a bear, I get served a heaping helping of the most delicious, mouthwatering chicken fingers ever. I mean, I know its commissary food but they had a chef that did chicken fingers right, with the little bread crumbs, a little seasoning, the whole nine yards. So I get them and then the guy at the counter tells me they’re out of every single last kind of dipping sauce.”
Lawrence looked puzzled.
“No barbecue, no honey mustard, no ranch, they didn’t even have any ketchup,” Mack said. “I mean, I’m out there in the hot ass desert, busting my hump for freedom, and the goddamn mess sergeant can’t even be bothered to make sure America’s fighting men and women aren’t loaded to the gills with dipping sauces for their chicken fingers. That was when I realized America didn’t care about me as much as I did about it and that was the worst day of my life.”
“Really?” Lawrence asked.
“Of course,” Mack said. “Have you ever eaten a dry chicken finger? It’s completely pointless. It’s like reading a Playboy for the articles. It’s like going to a nudey bar with a blind fold on. It’s like…”
Mack stopped himself and looked up at Lawrence’s mother. By the look on her face, she was clearly not amused.
“I want to speak to your supervisor.”
“Of course you do,” Mack said.