Dollar Menu

A 7 year old station wagon rolls into the parking lot of a national burger chain on a Friday night. A family of four gets out of the car and goes into the brightly lit store. In the Mom’s arms is a little boy, about two years old, and a little girl, probably a first grader, is holding Dad’s hand.

The Dad takes the toddler from the mother’s arms and goes over near the condiment table where he takes one of the high chairs stacked up in the corner. He slides the child into the seat, buckles up the safety straps, and scoots the giggling boy in the chair over to a nearby table. He looks over at his wife and little girl standing in line waiting to order. Coming here on a Friday night, at least once every couple of weeks, has become their routine. They both work, and after picking up the boy from day care, and their daughter from her after school program, the idea of throwing together dinner at the last minute sometimes just seems like … too much … after a long long work week.

His daughter is looking at a display of toys. Each week a different toy comes with The Kid’s Meal … one of the characters from the latest kid’s movie. The Dad thinks ruefully to himself that this week she’ll have the whole set … and they haven’t even seen the movie yet. And they won’t until the DVD comes out. The last time they went to a movie, the budget was completely blown. The babysitter was $20, tickets for two adults and a child came to over $30, and a medium popcorn with a couple of small cokes was almost $15. It’s hard to justify laying out $65 just to see a movie when you’re counting the pennies.

And they have to count every single penny. He and his wife have talked about it, and talked about it, until they can’t talk about it any more. The constant dread eats at them. Even though they’re both working … they’re both doing everything they can … they know they’re just treading water … and anything could sink them. So they try to push past The Dread. Take each day as it comes because they can’t bear to look farther down the road.

The woman and little girl step up to the cashier to order. The menu is spread out over the entire back wall with multiple combinations of different sandwiches, beverage sizes, and fries or onion rings. But The Mom is only looking at the far right side of the wall. That’s where “The Dollar Menu” is. For as long as they’ve been coming here … that’s all they’ve ever ordered from … except for The Kid’s Meal of course. They’ve never ordered a double or triple anything. No extra bacon or cheese … no fish fillets or grilled chicken … no salads or special buns … just whatever’s on The Dollar Menu. And truth be told … they really can’t afford that. She knows she’s only going to spend 15 dollars or so tonight, but they come here a couple of times a month … sometimes three … and that 45 dollars would be better spent on buying staples for cooking at home.

The cashier rings up the order and hands over the numbered receipt. The little girl and her mom pick up napkins, ketchups, a couple of plastic knives, and take them over to their table.

Soon, the cashier calls out, “Number 47 … your order is ready.” The Dad goes up to the counter, brings the tray to their table, and starts to distribute the burgers and fries … after handing the Kid’s Meal Box over to his daughter. His wife begins cutting up a cheeseburger into quarters for her little boy as the toddler digs into the fries. She gives him the burger wedges and as she picks up her own sandwich, she and her husband look at each other and have one of those moments where nothing is said but everything is understood.

Of course the food is crap and the toy is crap and we shouldn’t even be doing this … but the kids enjoy coming here and if we didn’t come here … we wouldn’t even go out at all.

The flash of “Marital ESP” passes at the same moment the little boy grabs for his Dad’s coke.

As the family of four eats their dinner, one of the wealthiest men in the country steps out of his chauffeured limousine, and walks into the city’s finest restaurant. The Maître d’ instantly recognizes him and ushers him to their best table. The Rich Man says he wishes the chef to surprise him … and the Sommelier has free reign to pick out the choicest wines that will best compliment each course.

Two hours later The Rich Man has finished a magnificent meal and is savoring a 180 year old cognac. He removes a Cohiba from his cigar case, trims the end, but declines a light offered by the Maître d’ who has almost magically appeared at the table. You have to light a Cohiba just so …

The Maître d’ inquires if he desires anything else … and as The Rich Man shakes his head … no … the bill is discreetly placed upon the fine linen tablecloth.

The Rich Man glances at the bill. He has no way of knowing that his dinner cost fifty times that of the family of four’s meal, and tells The Maître d’ he’ll be putting tonight’s bill on the tab … as usual. The Maître d’ happily agrees.

The Rich Man takes out his gold and ebony Mont Blanc fountain pen, and after adding a generous tip for the restaurant’s staff … signs the name of the family of four. They’ll be picking up his tab tonight.

March 21, 2011

Listen to this segment from The Mike Malloy Show here: http://www.voicesinourheads.com/2011/03/21/the-dollar-menu/

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