Saturday, August 13, 2005


It was toward the end of a long day off, and I was hungry. I’d had a good, productive workout in the mini-gym my apartment complex features, followed by a vigorous swim in the pool. I had paid my utilities, breaking myself until payday in the process. I had, this is to say, earned myself a Hardee’s Thickburger. I checked my wallet: two dollars. I scrounged up 47 cents in change, and then found one of the coupon sheets that my mail is bombarded with daily, carefully tearing out the “1/3 pound Thickburger, $1.99” selection. Since one of those babies probably has about 1,500 or so calories and 100 grams of fat, I figured that and an ice water ought to just about do it for the evening.

I walked along the grass beside the ditch (there is no sidewalk, as Wilmington is not, as I have mentioned before, particularly pedestrian-friendly) looking forward to my rare ground beef indulgence. I could probably give beef up altogether, were it not my down-to-the-DNA, uncontrollable urge to occasionally have a very bloody NY strip or rib eye. I just can’t help it; I love steak. But today a ground angus Thickburger was sounding just fine.

As I reached the door on the drive-through side and pulled, I was rather surprised and dismayed to find it locked. As I walked to the door on the other side and got the same story, my surprise and dismay flooded into my temples in a rush, transforming itself into anger with deft alacrity. It wasn’t even ten o’clock. How on earth could a place that sells food 24 hours a day have a dining room that closed before ten?

Hardee’s dining room, like White Castle’s before it, used to be open round the clock. That they both stopped doing so is to me one of the most disgustingly irresponsible business practices in current use. I can see so more effective way to put thousands of people under the influence of alcohol and marijuana on the road than to cater directly to the late-night munchies inherent to each drug, and then tell them that you’ll only sell food to people in cars, all so a company can save six nightly hours of minimum wage by staffing one fewer cashier.

I’ve been feeling rather serene of late, and this incident had made me lose my temper for the first time in several days. As I started to walk down to Taco Bell, I could feel my thought process swirl and muddy, my face grow hot and my blood pressure escalate. How dare they refuse me my…Thickburger?

I was getting all fired up over something called a Thickburger.

I stopped suddenly, and took several long, deep breaths. I wasn’t bothered over drunk driving and bad business practices. I was upset because I was exhausted and hot and hungry, and had to walk a few extra blocks to get something to eat. My mind had, as it so often does, read a few physical indicators like skin temperature, blood sugar level, and food content, and concluded that I was righteously indignant over the wicked commercial habits of a 24-hour fast food chain. Funny how the mind does that, and how so often we don’t realize that we’re angry about something when actually it's just a convenient substitute for something much simpler.

A Thickburger. People go through life paralyzed, blind, severely retarded, maimed by war, horribly burned in house fires, living with cancer, victimized by rape and sexual abuse, and maintain daringly positive attitudes while I’m busy getting hot under the collar over a hamburger, and one with a ridiculous name at that. I thought of myself looking back at my earthly existence from the hereafter, and bookmarking this very instant as being a profound and revealing testament to why I wasn’t any happier.

I breathed for a little bit longer, feeling the dizziness of my anger and excitement begin to melt away. I laughed briefly at myself, something I’m finally learning to do after far too many years of taking myself seriously as a judge, and went to foist my two-plus dollars worth of business on the still-open Taco Bell. The food tasted good and the staff were nice. There was nothing really wrong after all, no problem but the one created in my imagination.

On my way home, I saw a beat-down, 1980s Ford Thunderbird with tinted windows and the bass banging away, followed closely by a Wilmington Police cruiser. I put two and two together and immediately concluded what was about to happen. As the Thunderbird pulled into the right turn lane (never do that when a cop car is riding your tail; it’s guilty-looking and asking them to throw the lights on), the cops followed them and promptly threw the lights on. Since they weren't speeding, I suspected that the cops had run the plate and got back something of note when they did. I further suspected that the population at the New Hanover County Correctional Facility was about to go up by one or two.

Now those guys have a problem, I thought.


Blogger Nightcrawler said...

Great post, EJ, a lesson we would all do well to remember. It's funny the things we let ourselves get upset about. As I was watching my former couch, loveseat, washer and dryer and computer being hauled away, I smiled and said, "I still have a home!"

Sat Aug 13, 01:19:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Hamel said...

Wonderful message. Few have the gift of being able to, in the moment, adjust their worldview. You clearly have it.

Maybe you could send a Thickburger to the fellows who are likely eating much less appetizing food?

Sat Aug 13, 12:53:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous little sister said...

Mmmmmmm, a Thickburger.

Sat Aug 13, 07:32:00 PM EDT  

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