Blame it On Ketchup
I once went to a McDonald’s and stopped everyone’s conversation when I asked for a ‘medium rare’ burger, with no ketchup. There was almost consternation in the silent crowd of late night bums and fix-income elders. The only one laughing was my 5-year old son.
It became a symbol of my inadequacy as an American dad, an outsider amid outsiders. Not so much as a rebel, who dares not to fit, and chooses to courageously break the rules, but as a prick, whose insufferable pretentiousness only got me singled out as a bore.
Off course, it was their loss, I reasoned with myself. They mistook my ignorance about the assumed routines and conventions of a highway rest stop for a stupid pose. As if I was in need of making a statement of my ‘difference’ to oblivious strangers. After that, I never stepped into a McDonald’s again.
Then again, they did catch a poseur in the act, I later admitted. At that time of the night, in the middle of nowhere, with plenty of road still to go, why on earth would a dad be so foolish to take his hungry son to a fast food joint and promptly upstage the kid’s hunger with a piece of vintage asshole-ism?
That he managed to halt for a sec all the talk about the day’s scores, or the latest police shooting of a black youth, without so much as getting punched in the noise, may have taken some skill to accomplish. But while the stares and downright disgust were acutely obvious, his misplaced self importance was not.
The great American failure of a dad finally got a hold of himself and tried to sneak a glimpse around, but didn’t go too far: the first eye contact with the crusty, battered man sitting next (more)
* Ketchup With That?
* Not Food
* I Was Loving In
to all his earthly possessions, was enough to kick his aim away to the dirty floor. And to the guy who was ready to take his order.
The reason I detest McDonald’s has nothing to do with the American ‘imperialism,’ of my long gone youth criticism, or hatred for the mistreatment of animals, which became more painfully flagrant as I grew older, or even the fact that they’re pre-made and probably will remain unchanged during a nuclear winter.
It is the ketchup. Inexplicable, I know. Worst, kind of pretentious, really. In fact, I have many friends who think that, as anyone who’s cut to love sweets as I am, I should be crazy about it, and they are so wrong in that aspect about me that I often wonder whether one really knows anything about anybody else, after all.
I’ve seen people adding it to everything, sweet and sour, bitter and salty, and they all seem so satisfied with the results. I’ve heard of so many monumental arguments, and all-out vicious brawls, in restaurant parking lots across the land, probably over some act of gluttony or lack of proper etiquette handling the stuff.
Yes, there was that time when even Ronald Reagan stuck his greasy spoon in the conversation, about whether ketchup is a ‘vegetable,’ and we all know how did that worked out. Maybe, deep down, he was just showing solidarity with that other Ronald. And, surely, with his corporate sponsors. It doesn’t matter.
There’s something in its consistency, in the various angles one’s supposed to tap a bottle to extract the cheap stuff from its inner corners, and how it’s now a glorified remnant of the golden age of Americana, along Coca-Cola, and popcorn, and ice cream, and a number of things that this infidel here actually likes.
Elvis Presley loved it. And so did Andy Warhol, who painted it. And there’s no depiction of the 1950s, worth its garish recollection of a fictional all-white paradise of roller-skates and McCarthy-less politics, without a bottle of ketchup gracing every available flat surface. Many a home-made Super 8 used it for blood too.
And there are songs and literature and movies and plays about the tangy paste. Even the name, considered generic in many parts of the U.S., is not so in others, where the term ‘catsup’ is more common. Recipes have varied through at least three centuries since humans decided to add the condiment to their diets.
Tomatoes, and the red that is so intrinsically linked to it, were both optional up to the beginning of 20th century, when the viscose concoction outpaced the fruit in popularity. Now, under the most famous brand available, they sell hundreds of million of bottles around the world. Probably as many as McDonald’s.
Clearly, a world I don’t recognize as mine. More like a universe where I’m some kind of virus, a planet where I play a killer asteroid. The more I think about it, the more I feel sympathy for that arrogant dad sticking out like a chained tiger in a roadside gas station: a cursed beast kept to dwarf everyone else’s misery.
There would be other slip ups I’d endure in front of my now half-grown son. But it’s unlikely that he’ll forget even the soiled tiles and the food scraps on the floor of that place. I certainly won’t, even as I quit long ago my grotesque taste for rare meat squeezed within buns, just so not to step on slippery blotches of ketchup.
Another unwinnable battle, I know, among many I’ve waged. By now, some of you can’t wait for that last blast to blow out. But like many a fake hero worth his phony tales, I’d rather join in the receding platoon; we all know we’ll be shot before reaching home but medals belong to the front lines, not our deflated bosoms.
As for the son, it’s all now mostly irrelevant to what’s rocking within, and out there, ready to pounce. Childhood chuckles fade as baby fat, and memories of that night trip may vanish too. The medium and the rare of my tastes have turned trivial, and ketchup has now more corn syrup than tomatoes.
The other day, I was about to try a veggie burger in one of these vegan places that are popping up all over, when I took a moment to observe the people, deep into eating and talking. I thought, what kind of gaffe would interrupt this kind of crowd, when I noticed the tables: each one had a bottle of ketchup. I’ve walked away.