I wrote this as a prompt for class at Johns Hopkins. Simple instructions. Pick a random object and write about it.
I can see it there. I can always see it there. That little sliver of bright red, sticking out like some fresh, fleshy new moon. It’s always hanging half out of the sandwich, even on the days when Burger King has zero other customers and there’s no real reason—other than the damn timer corporate uses to determine how “effective” their burger crafting workforce it—for them to rush the job. There’s always a tomato, half rosy pulp and half gooey, seed-infested slime, hanging off the sandwich, clinging to the burger as if the tomato itself might slip into a some odd, McDonald’s-only infested netherworld if contact is sundered.
I don’t even like the damn things. Well, thinly sliced with oil, salt, pepper, and some minced onion. I’ll take that. I love that. Ever since that wrestling trip to Poland. But on a burger? Nope. I prefer my Whopper with cheese, no tomato. And a small coke. No fries. As I stare at the tomato, faced with the choice to either rip it off like a sloppy band-aid or shove it back onto the patty where it belongs, it occurs to me that that tomato is a compromise.
On no planet is a Whopper considered health food. At forty-two, I’m probably long past the point when the damn things should have been cut from my diet entirely. But there’s something about that burger. I suppose you could call it comfort food.
It’s almost impossible, even with the windows up and the air flow through the car on recirc not to smell Burger King before you see it. That damn grilling smell, all char-grilled meaty (sort of) and oniony, wafts through the air, snagging up unsuspecting folks like me who grew up eating Whoppers after every wrestling tournament. That stupid smell drags you in, like the Sirens, intent on bringing you in close so that the food can wreck your arteries (and blood pressure and stomach and intestines and, probably, several other organs).
The Whopper was invented in 1957 by James McLamore and sold, back then, for just thirty-seven cents (just shy of four bucks in today’s money). Now the stupid things cost nearly eight bucks and, like the sheep that I am, I still get one occasionally, though not without some serious inner dialogue.
When I was a kid, I’d wolf down two of the things without much thought. I mean, when you’re eight or nine, who cares? You’re gonna live forever, right? When you’re forty-two, you don’t quite believe that. At that age, the nutrition label glares at you. Forty-seven grams of fat (seventy-two percent of your Daily Value). One hundred and fifteen grams of cholesterol (probably all of it the bad kind). Over thirteen hundred milligrams of sodium (fifty-six percent of your Daily Value—you’d get less sticking your tongue on the salt lick you put out for the deer yesterday).
You rationalize it. I’ll eat this Whopper. Then, I’ll go (insert activity here). But you never go do whatever activity you inserted because that Whopper goes to work on you. Within thirty minutes, after that eater’s high has worn off, you feel like crap. No way in hell are you getting on the treadmill like this. And a rowing machine? Hell no.
So, knowing you won’t work out after devouring several hundred calories of cheesy, burgery goodness (or badness), you compromise. You leave the damn tomato on the burger and tell yourself that that is some sort of healthy choice.