Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scraping By...

There are 14,000 McDonald's restaurants in the United States today. The conglomerate controls 49.5% of the country's considerable fast-food hamburger market. In fact, yesterday was officially National Hiring Day at the burger giant, when the company planned on taking aboard 50,000 new employees all across the fruited plain. To some seers, this event indicated an economy on the upswing, but to others it imparted a rather sad story, particularly when factoring in the vast numbers of people applying for these mostly minimum-wage jobs.

For what it's worth, I offer up this parable, or perhaps just some scattershot memories of a McDonald's experience from yesteryear. Once upon time I worked in a mom-and-pop shop called Pet Nosh, which sold a variety of pet foods and supplies, including premium brands long before it was fashionable. Located on Northern Boulevard in the Little Neck section of Queens some three decades ago, the staff totaled no more than a handful of people on any given day. Come lunchtime, though, the two, three, or four of us would confer and chew over the various meal options at our disposal. There were multiple alternatives on that busy thoroughfare, even back then, but not nearly as many as there are now, including pizza from nearby Sal’s and sandwiches from a deli on the next block that we very cleverly nicknamed “Siphon’s” because its owner very cleverly called straws “siphon hoses” when we purchased sodas, lemonades, and iced teas from him. Occasionally, too, we considered patronizing the area’s McDonald’s.

Looking back, I’d have to say that McDonald's was sort of our nuclear option. If memory serves, not one of us could stomach the toppings en masse on McDonald’s hamburgers, which included pickles, lettuce, and way, way, way too many micro-chopped onions that had an uncanny and disgusting knack of burrowing into their ketchupy soggy buns. We merely wanted plain burgers, with maybe a little ketchup on the side, but encountered oodles and oodles of problems when ordering them in their virgin states.

It seemed this multinational operation never had an uncontaminated hamburger patty on the premises—quite unlike competitor Burger King, which was running commercials on how special orders didn’t upset their apple carts in the least. Pet Nosh boss man Rich C. would nonetheless pose this question every once in a while: “Are you up for a scraping?” In other words, we’d order lunch from McDonald’s and not bother requesting plain hamburgers that typically threw a wrench into the franchise’s well-oiled machine. Special orders not only took forever, if you will, but, in the final analysis, were rarely if ever special.

So, we’d just bring their regular burgers back to the shop and painstakingly scrape away the pickles, lettuce, and onions ourselves. Actually, in supplying us with plain burgers a time or two, the McDonald’s staff had done both an amateurish and unappetizing version of scrapings, so we were better off decontaminating our own burgers. Of course, all of this was before Chicken McNuggets came along, which would have at least solved my McDonald’s scraping dilemma. In retrospect, I’m surprised I signed on to to this peculiar lunch ritual at all. Removing literal pickles from the scene of the crime does not, ever, remove their calling cards—a loathsome taste. The moral of this parable as I see it: If a hamburger joint can't prepare a hamburger with nothing on it—there's nothing more to say.

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