Mina orders it and a half gallon of liquid helium runs down my spine as if they've just announced nuclear war over the Muzak. Not to be outdone by her sister, Bina follows suit.
"I'll have one of those, too," she says as if it's a meaningless gesture.
Charlene has gone to the east coast for a week and Dina is away at camp. I'm left to supervise Mina and Bina, the 16 and 14-year old. They suggested we go out for dinner, and I figured it would be a nice father-daughter bonding experience. I should have realized they would get me into a life-threatening literary situation within 12 hours of Charlene's departure. There are ulterior motives for everything, apparently.
I'm cornered by my diabolical waifs.
The counter kid pushes a button on a cash register. Yes, they actually have a cash register button for those.
The kid's dressed in her happy McDonald's uniform, unaware. I say, "Do you have a button there for suitcase nuke, too? I mean, people can just come in here and order THOSE THINGS?"
"Sir, we have other flavors. Heath bar."
Mina and Bina stare at me as if I've turned to margarine in front of them.
Mina whines, "Daaaad," and scans the joint to make sure nobody who can recount the story in front of a high-school locker is present to see her father's epistemological meltdown.
"Can't we just get burgers?" I say, stuttering. "I mean, they're not supposed to STILL have these here. It's McDonalds. They have something for, like, a month, and then they admit to forging the game pieces and it stops. Like those Happy Meal things you kids used to live on before we realized a two-year old with cholesterol levels around 500 might be unhealthy--risking your health all just to get the plastic cheepo toy that winds up under the driver's seat and we don't find it till the car gets washed. They can't still have them." I turn to the counter kid. "Tell us you don't have them."
"Oh yes sir," she says, deciding between forcing a smile and calling the police. She decides to smile. "The prize is a Lilo and Stitch action figure."
"We love Lilo and Stitch," Mina says.
I say, "Great. Action figures. You kids like to try to shove those up your noses, right? How about you kids cancel those orders and get the happy meal? It'll be like the old days. Bina, you can sit in the car seat on the way home." I slap my hand on the counter. "Done. Two happy meals, a big mac, and a couple zocor."
There is a conspiracy of kids in the world. They have different names for this depending on the era. Generation gap. Generation X. Dude, where's my car?.
It must have existed when I was young, but I was too much of a nerd to be part of it. Or maybe it's just between teenaged girls. They're trying to take over the world by driving the older folk crazy with non sequitur eclecticisms. One minute it's a Disney-backed boy band. The next minute it's Blink 182 and screaming-fuck-tape-loops. One minute it's Britney Spears moaning sex with her isn't a crime anymore, the next it's Josh Hartnett, the next movie killing machine.
One moment it's the Lilo and Stitch action figure, the next minute it's a subversive dessert confection. Are these my little girls who are doing homework, watching Nickelodeon, and cuddling stuffed zebras, or are they being trained by the government to perform political assassinations?
The cashier is part of the club. She ignores me and looks down under the counter. I'm sure her compensated and silenced low-velocity .45 auto is under there.
She decides against killing me.
"Ten thirty five," she says.
I fork over my hard-earned lucre and within seconds the food substances are turned over. Bina grabs me by the arm and drags me to a table and chair combination that for incomprehensible reasons has been bolted to the floor in a configuration that requires a grown man to compress his internal organs to slide in.
Eyeing the treacherous mucous-like desserts, I open my Big Mac wrapper to see the same sandwich I was served thirty years ago. Each sesame seed is in the same place. The secret sauce dribbles onto the wrapper the same way. How do they do it? We must be living in a cartoon.
This isn't food. It's special effects.
"How do you like your partially-hydrogenated whipped soy-bean oil and pulverized candy bar?" I say, hoping my wit will inspire them to more healthy fare next time.
"I can't believe Dad can even have a problem with ice cream. Is there ANYTHING that doesn't bother you?" says Mina. She's sixteen and so understands enough of the world to comprehend its tendency toward the absurd. Only she hasn't fallen for it yet.
Maybe that's the difference between adults and children. We adults know the world is insane and have stopped resisting. Kids still think they can fight it.
"Shut up or he won't bring us here again," Bina says, and now I know that I've indulged them in a rare vice. Charlene mustn't allow McDonald's. So now, not only will I have a mental breakdown confronting my teleological nemesis, but my wife will be pissed for raising my children's fat content.
I look at my progeny. "Do either of you ever say things like--say ho?"
They look at each other with furrowed brows.
I say, "I mean, if someone were to say, "EZ, say 'HO', would you know what it meant? Does it mean anything? It does mean something--doesn't it?"
Bina nibbles a fry. She squints at me as if trying to see how easy it would be to subdue me and leave me in the meatlocker.
I've obviously tapped into the motherlode. Maybe I can get to the bottom of this whole dessert thing once and for all.
She holds out an oddly shaped plastic spoon. It seems to be a medical implement. It's thick and square and has a strange clip on the end that would send Fox Mulder into conspiracy theory orgasms. I've seen these in first aid squad crash kits. You shove them down people's throats when they're having seisures. Obviously, McDonald's is preparing for a dessert disaster.
"Here, try some," she says.
Innocently, I allow her to scoop some of the sugar-laden cholesterol into my mouth.
I must be cool now. Now I'm one on them.
I hold my fist up in a rebellious salute.
"So um, HO," I say, smiling, knowing I'm totally cool.
"You're insane. You're completely insane," Mina says. "Now take us to Nordstrom's or we'll tell mom you made us eat McDonald's."