Egg Casserole and Simulated Water: A Big Venerable Menu by Matt Rowan
I’ve had a sort of obsession with Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s corporation, for a huge part of my life. Maybe this has been going on since I was old enough to be obsessed with McDonald’s as a restaurant chain, and certainly ever since my dad first told me Kroc’s idea of a good sandwich for Catholics abstaining from meat consumption on Fridays was the Hula Burger. This turned into a wholesale obsession with the phenomenon of fast food and one of its foundational principles: sameness, repetition in its signs and symbols (a la the Baudrillardian notion of simulacra), and how that sameness has changed the American landscape irrevocably (it seems).
In college, in a conversation with a friend of mine while we waited for food at Checkers (remember when Illinois had a lot of Checkers?) we imagined “Ripped Burgers” together, a fast food restaurant that “couldn’t compete” with better, more organized restaurant chains. A lot of what that led to is included in my short story of the same name and reflected in the following menu items:
“Ripped Burgers” — Torn burger on stale bun. Meat undercooked. Band-aid in there somewhere. Spilled off-brand cola drink. Harried manager apologizing profusely while extolling the virtues of McDonald’s and encouraging you to go there instead, where you might get a decent meal for once in all your miserable life. The manager says this about your life because his life is miserable and he assumes that must be the baseline feeling for just about everyone. He can understand no other reality.
Ever walked past a mystery restaurant? I have. It used to be on Armitage Ave. in Chicago. I forget its actual name, but it had a small dining area (maybe four tables that were visible from the street through its obscured windows) and seemed not to need the hoi polloi’s business. Then again, it’s gone now, so maybe it did. In “1208,” Scott Meirion decides he wants food, and he gets a whole lot more than candy from 7/11 than he bargained for.
“1208” – Meal is a mystery. What is it? You don’t know. There’s no way of knowing what’s in there, except that it smells good. You are allowed to know that much. There’s an alluring aroma emanating from whatever is beneath the chrome platter cover. It is probably fancy, given the platter cover. It is more than likely a really fancy meal.
Also a Pop Tart or two. And Zingers, always Zingers.
There was a time in my life when I thought extensively about how unprepared I was for fatherhood. I like to think of “Infant Flight” as the culmination of those erstwhile feelings (conversely, I think I’d be a pretty good dad nowadays, “no booze until you’re old enough to be so hungover you’re sure you’re about to die (age approx 30),” “keep your nose clean, literally and figuratively,” and other such expressions now a considerable part of my everyday speech.)
“Infant Flight” – Egg casserole served in a church basement. Plenty of awkward conversation and existential uncertainty here, as well.
Speaking of kids, what if you inadvertently willed to life your own family of bread offspring because of electricity and the fact that you possess magical blood? Ever thought about that? I guess I can say I have, if works of fiction are any kind of reflection of the things that we think. And they are, aren’t they?
“The Baker’s Family” – Scones and coffee. And no fewer than ten donuts all in one sitting, but most likely much more than that. At least a dozen. Maybe even more than a dozen of those.
True fact, and not that “Big Venerable” serves as any kind of facsimile for such redoubtable institutions as Sam’s Club or Costco., but I used to work for a Costco.
Rather than donate our day-old cakes and other baked goods, they were instead fed into the trash compactor each night — pulverized to oblivion in there, I assume. We were told this was done because management didn’t want to run the risk of a donated cake or the like making someone sick, thus risking a lawsuit. Employees weren’t allowed to take the food home with us because it was believed we’d purposely tamper with food just to have it for free. It was a bleak view of human nature playing on repeat there, each and every night. They did eventually begin composting the fruit and vegetables that had gone unsold at their sell-by date.
“Big Venerable” — Meal consists of delicious slices of pizza from the Big Venerable food court, with an accompanying fountain drink for you along with fresh lobster tails and an industrial sized vat of margarine to be melted and poured over whichever of these items you prefer. For dessert, day-old cake and cookies.
Soft tyranny, the kind that hides behind the banner of free market capitalism and compassionate concern for one’s colleagues and subordinates but has become its own form of Orwell-prophesied groupthink, is fascinating to me. The importance of appearances, of artifice, of things looking a certain way no matter the unsightliness swept under the rug and ignored, consciously or not, is something of a cancer on contemporary society in my view. And while I hate to write with some explicit ideological purpose, I find most writers, whether consciously or not, can’t help but imbue their aesthetic interests with most every part of themselves, and often this means some aspect of belief factors into their work, as well. “The Bureau of Everything Fitting Into Its Rightful Place” more or less encapsulates all sorts of beliefs, and how they’re at the mercy of a system whose one salient purpose is monetary gain, and willingness to co-opt or discard any viewpoint that’s helpful or harmful to that end.
“The Bureau of Everything Fitting Into Its Rightful Place” — Cauliflower and street steak, gritty with gravel and many days baking in the exhaust of a van idling on the street.
I’m looking forward to our future, whatever it may be. In terms of food, I imagine there will be lots of things to eat and with any luck, some of them will provide nutritional value of some kind, just as they do today. Perhaps the things we consume will be even more clear on their packaging (or whatever they’re contained within) about whether there is nutrition to be found within or simply a pile of genetically modified to oblivion emptiness. Of course my real hope is that we get away from the kinds of expedients that make mass production of food (and other products) operate at maximum efficiency. That’s the outcome I’ll be putting most of my energy into. In “So Many Old Rickety Bridges” that outcome has failed, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean life has to be so bad. Having a good attitude about such changes is crucial. What more can anyone do?
“So Many Old Rickety Bridges” — Artificial goat and simulated water. The water is purple because purple is a cooler color than the color of regular water, which is not generally purple unless it’s been dyed or has something seriously wrong with it in terms of the introduction of noxious chemicals.
Matt Rowan lives in Chicago, IL, with a talented female writer and two talented chihuahuas. He co-edits Untoward Magazine and serves as fiction editor of ACM: Another Chicago Magazine. Along with Big Venerable, he’s author of the story collection Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013). More at literaryequations.blogspot.com
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