Not long ago, on a cold and windswept evening, I staggered into a fast food outlet in a haze of inebriation. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; most times I find myself in this sort of establishment, I’m impaired in some fashion or another. They go hand in hand together, really, fast food and being smashed. A marriage of lust; hunger pangs often cravings to the point of madness. A lust for 99 cent breakfast sandwiches can’t fill itself, you know. On this evening, I found myself in a state of euphoria, brought on by the combination by both a heater blowing at full bore and the aroma of greasy foodstuffs being cooked.
As I stood at the counter pondering the rainbow of possibilities, I was overcome with a sensory overload; there was definitely too much good stuff going on. Did I want the promotional over-the-top burger special? A greasy breakfast concoction? Some sort of sourdough delicacy? I couldn’t decide.
Eventually, I settled on about four burgers and a mountain of French fries with several cups of buffalo sauce on the side. As I greedily wolfed down the contents of my nocturnal feast, I wondered why I didn’t do this more often. It was so ridiculously good. After consuming the last of my scrumptious morsels, I managed to wander back home with a gut satisfaction about me, visions of similar encounters dancing through my head.
This was the start of a beautiful thing.
The next day, after braving a stormy morning hangover, I went back to the site of the previous evening’s spread. A meal that awesome last night, I thought, would do the same trick today as well. I wandered in and ordered a double bacon cheeseburger that looked impeccable in its picture behind the counter. My number called, I retreated to a corner booth to scarf this grub down. This was going to be great.
No. It wasn’t. The whole event was a letdown. The bacon cheeseburger was greasy and sloppy, one of the patties even had a green twinge about it, and the fries tasted as if the batter were composed of 95 percent pure salt. I left the place as dejected as I’d been excited before. I guess I should just be stoned on something all the time.
In many ways, the whole narrative about a fast food experience is analogous to something seemingly unrelated: ill-fated relationships. On the surface, these topics seem totally estranged from one another, polar opposites. But digging a little deeper, the two are closer than one might first think.
Because it seems that bad relationships between people are as ubiquitous as fast food eateries in any civilized society. And like fast food, some relationships are best enjoyed whilst being totally and utterly fucked up.
We all know one. We may have even been in them ourselves; they’re everywhere after all. Studies show that over half of all marriages end in divorce. Let’s face it; fast food–style relationships are more American than obese, paranoid Jesus Freak gun nuts.
Certainly I’m not immune from this phenomenon. I once found myself totally engrossed in a girl whose common interest was chasing dragons. And it was fun for a while. But it also was corrosive. I withdrew from my obligations and did things I normally wouldn’t have done. My partner in crime was no better off, and became increasingly dependent on the Pamiri delicacy, in the process becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable. I would wake up some nights with her, wild-eyed and topless, lording over me clutching a Bedouin dagger in one hand, staring into my soul like a Great White Shark. I was a bit freaked out, I admit, but it felt so good.
Of course, if you’d looked at us from outside our cocoon and dug a little under the surface, you’d have seen how utterly depraved everything was in actuality. It was a bad deal, but when you’re flying, you don’t think that. All you think about is the next high, whatever it may be, and the sweet goodness you are wolfing down in the midst of it. Very similar, I might add, to a fast food outlet while under the influence.
Fast food, like lusty Eskimo goddesses with a proclivity for painkillers, possesses its own set of perils. For one, you’re never quite sure where the food comes from. So God knows where that burger you’re about to chow down originated from. That’s a higher class item, too; what about staples like chicken nuggets? No doubt rejects from the Chicken Head factory. Not to mention all the vermin and bugs that have taken residence in the annals of the eatery you’re in, and the galaxy of chemicals, hormones, and other gnarly items that they load your meal up with during production to ensure maximum profits.
But when you’re riding high and swaggering into one of the many outlets that dot the landscape, you’re not thinking about that. You’re thinking about how great that Sausage Biscuit looks. Or how insatiable that double burger with secret sauce appears. Or how those nachos are calling out to you, like a personal message from Allah, Shiva, Yahweh, God, or whatever other deity you worship. No matter how bad for you the foodstuffs are, no matter how nasty the conditions of the place you’re eating them in are, no matter how filthy the production of the food is, none of that matters. All that matters is satisfying the undying lust in your inebriated state that opines for this toxic elixir.
So no matter the toxicity, you carry on, health and sanity be damned, because you’re hooked. You love it. You lust for it. You crave it. And if someone else is telling you it’s bad for you, well, fuck them. They’re just jealous of the righteous wave you’re carving down right now.
And it’s not until something bad happens that you call your motives and situation into question. Maybe it’s catching e. coli from too many late night fast food runs. It could be sitting and listening to your significant other ramble incoherently about a conspiracy that ties together Captain Crunch, a couple of obscure bagmen from Overtown, and the Iranian Quds Force. Perhaps your arteries have become clogged and hard, or you’ve started growing female breasts. It could be waking up with your stereo system gone, stolen, sold in the smuggler’s bazaar of the dope world.
In any case, something traumatic almost has to happen before you realize that it’s time to change your ways. Maybe you won’t; there’s certainly a sizeable subset of the population that continues to chase fast food and bad relationships even though they are bombarded with problems, either out of just not caring or acceptance. But if it’s unhealthy now, chances are, it’ll be unhealthy going forward.
M.D. Harkins is a noted authority on small hand tools and Nuristani mating rituals. He has lived in such far-flung locales as Beirut, Lebanon, and Billings, Montana. He maintains the Enlightened Despot blog and has written one novel, Feast. He currently resides in a fortified compound near Isla Vista.