When I hear bad Christmas music in a fast food restaurant, I tend to pause for a moment and go back in time. 20 years ago I was working as a weekend cook/kitchen guy in a KFC during Christmas break. I was one of many who was earning some extra money while home from school.

Christmas eve at that sort of place was, and I expect still is a bit surreal. Tired, listless teenagers on one side of the counters, Sad, disheveled grown ups, usually senior citizens, on the other. Why are they even here? Some of us asked, aloud. Probably not loud enough for them to hear, but still.

The answer was simple of course. They had no other place to be, no family to be with and no one who expected them. We sorta laughed about it, even though it wasn't funny.

Who would laugh at such loneliness, such isolation? What was funny about people who felt more comfortable with a plastic plate and fried food than their own house, their own apartment and their own company?

The truth was we weren't heartless or cruel, just bored. We didn't give the personal lives of our customers much thought either way. It was just one of many things we joked about while we waited for the end of the shift. On holidays close came early, usually by 9 and then we cleaned up the place as fast as we could. After wards, in the abandoned parking lot we drank a couple beers in someone's car until we got too cold or too tired to stick around anymore.

Years later now, when I hear that music inside one of those places it is hard not to recall that experience. Harder still not to wonder if some day soon I will be the guy in the old flannel coat and the bad teeth ordering his dinner on Christmas eve from a bored teenage girl in red polyester.