People asked me what it was like going to a "Catholic law school." This symbolizes my experience--and why I wanted to bag it.
I dream that I am standing in line at a McDonald's, hungry, ready for a good hearty lunch. I look around. I see the smiling personnel in Mickey Dee's uniforms. I see the posters of smiling Ronald McDonald on the wall. I see the yellow Golden Arches sign out front. I have my ten dollar bill out.
So I get to the front of the line. I pay my ten dollars. Being Friday, I order Fish Filet Sandwich, Coke and Fries, and a Hot Apple Pie for after. They take my money, give me a handful of coins for change. Then they give me my lunch.
But wait. The lunch. It's not what I ordered. It has the McDonald's wrapping for a fish filet, but it's actually a Whopper. The Coke tastes funny: it's been replaced by a Pepsi, and the french fries are now a Wendy's baked potato. As for the Hot Apple Pie, it's not there at all.
"Uh, excuse me. I ordered a fish sandwich, a Coke, an apple pie, and french fries. What is this?"
"This is what we offer," the smiling face behind the counter replies.
"But it's not what I ordered!"
"Yes it is. You just didn't know it was what you ordered."
I go to the manager. "What is this nonsense? I thought this was a McDonald's. Where's my Fish? Where's my Classic Coke? What happened to my french fries and pie?"
"Well, you see," the manager says. "Institutions evolve. We've come a long way since we were founded. In the last two decades, we've diversified our menu. Not everybody likes McDonald's. Some people like Wendy's. Some people like Burger King. Some people like Pepsi. And hardly anybody eats Hot Apple Pie anymore."
"But every other fast food restaurant in town sells this same stuff. There's already a Wendy's down the street. There's already a Burger King over there. Pepsi is freely available. But this is the only McDonald's around."
"Exactly. If people didn't want Burger King, they wouldn't ask for it."
"Okay. Fine. So you've diversified. So you offer a wide selection. I don't care. This is still McDonald's. I want my Fish Filet Sandwich. I want a Coke, not a Pepsi. I want a hot apple pie. This is a McDonald's, and I want the McDonald's food I ordered."
"Well, we're a McDonald's. Yes. It's our institution's heritage. It's our background. It's where we come from. We're proud of our history. We honor the best McDonald's tradition by offering the best food available, regardless of the source."
"But this is a McDonald's Restaurant. You call yourself a McDonald's. You are obligated to serve McDonald's food if you are a McDonald's restaurant."
"Well, why don't you go to another McDonald's then?" says the smiling manager.
"In case you haven't noticed, this is the only McDonald's in this entire city. If I wanted to swallow a Whopper, I would have gone to the Burger King on New Jersey Avenue. There are seven fast food restaurants in this burg, but none of them even pretends to be a McDonald's. Except this one."
"So sit down and shut up and eat your meal," the manager says.
"No thank you."
I turn to the customers. I wave my arms at them to get their attention. "Hello! Anybody here? Anybody awake? They're lying about this being a McDonald's! It only looks like a McDonald's! You won't get anything that's really McDonald's here!"
"Shhhh!!!!" hissses the staff behind the counter, no longer smiling, chanting in unison. "Be quiet! Do You Want to Raise a Ruckus? Do You Want to Cause a Controversy? It'll Hurt Our Image! It'll Lower the Value of a Meal from This Institution! It'll Threaten Our Accreditation with The Salad Bar Association!"
"I don't care. This is McDonald's. I paid good money for a McDonald's meal. I want a McDonald's Fish Filet, dripping with Special Sauce. I want a Coca-Cola, a large Coca- Cola, with just enough ice to make it cold. I want a Hot Apple Pie that would melt a hole through the floor. I want a little baggie with fried potatoes in it and enough salt to make Lot's wife turn green with envy. I ordered it, I paid for it, and I want it now."
Now the staff is hostile. "I don't like your tone!" "You'll alienate all the whopper-eaters and Wendy's fans." "You fanatic! You want to take us back to the old days when we only served McDonald's food!"
The manager stares at me. "It's obvious that you're intolerant of Wendy's and Burger King! You're an enemy of Diversity! What are you, some kind of fast-food fascist? I'll bet you have a secret agenda to turn this institution into a White Castle!"
I throw up my hands. "Just tell me one thing. If we're not a McDonald's, why do we pretend it's still a McDonald's?"
An grin from the guy behind the counter.
"We're working on that."
And with that, I get thrown out of the restaurant.
This article first appeared in EUTOPIA #4, Fall 1997. I'm still waiting for my fish.