I was on my way to the shrink in a funk and feeling parched when I passed a McDonalds. I stopped and went in to get myself a Diet Coke even though I'm peripherally aware of how artificial sweeteners can screw up your system but are probably less bad than too much sugar which I know can kill you because my uncle had diabetes and had to have one of his legs cut off before he died. "Too young," my aunt claimed, "but he never took care of himself." She did take care of herself but she died too, a couple of years after him, in a bed in Bellevue, shriveled up like a voodoo doll.
McDonalds isn't usually my first choice when it comes to food or drink but sometimes it comes in handy because you know what you're going to get. They serve the same shite whether you're at a freeway exit in Illinois, a street corner in Manhattan, or strolling along the Champs Élysées. And you can be sure your gut will react similarly everywhere too, despite the variations in condiments. All the tables were taken but I didn't care -- I wasn't planning to hang around. I was depressed enough already.
When I got in line the guy in front of me turned around and said, "I haven't seen Henry in 42 years and I still miss him." His right hand was twitching, his belt was hanging off his pants, and his voice was loud. "He'd be 108 if he was still alive. I don't think many people live to 108." He stared at me. I guessed he was looking for a sign of some sort, so I nodded my head in agreement. It worked. He turned back towards the counter and muttered, "It doesn't matter anyways. Don't worry about Henry." Everybody else in line tried to pretend he didn't exist.
Over in the corner a couple of teenagers sitting in a booth snickered and next to them a white-haired lady wearing pink sweat pants and a FDNY windbreaker let out a snort. At that, the guy in front of me turned to her and said, "Hello Miriam. And how are you today?" She mouthed a dirty word and scowled at him. They must've both been regulars. The security guard slouched near the toilets watched them without moving a muscle.
When it came his turn to order, the guy asked for one cheeseburger and counted out the amount in coins. The girl at the register waited patiently. He also asked for ten packets of extra ketchup. It reminded me of the time I was sitting at a lunch counter over on Third Avenue eating a burger and fries. I had put a lot of ketchup on my plate and some ridiculous busybody sitting next to me made a frightful face and said, "You know there are more calories in ketchup than in ice-cream? It's no good for you." I told the biddy to bug off. When you can only afford one cheeseburger you need all the ketchup you can get. Besides, back then the FDA had classified it a vegetable.
I finally got my Diet Coke. Predictably it tasted like chemicals. A seat had opened up, so I decided to stay and have a few sips before heading on my way to the shrink. It cheered me up to think that I wasn't I wasn't as screwy as some of the nuts walking around the city.