The other day I was on my way to my day job, for a closing shift in the paint department of a hardware store. That involves a lot of hazmat, cleaning, polishing, and dealing with ungrateful customers with the occasional appreciable contractor or do-it-yourselfer scattered between them. (When someone asks me about what I really do, I often joke that I dress up in black and fight crime for a living, but have had to take up a second job robbing museums to support it.) I stopped into a McDonald’s to pick up something that would stand in for my traditionally more elegant dinner, and ordered a number four sandwich, to go.
The man behind the counter was not entirely into his job. He was in his twenties, well dressed, had a few decent looking tattoos and jewellery, and a look to him suggestive of wanting to be somewhere else, probably somewhere specific. I waited around five minutes to receive my order, picked it up, and left for the hardware store just down the block.
I did not receive a number four. It was a simple sandwich, though this one was significantly simpler. It did not have a number. It was so off-key, it was unique in and of itself; no burger will ever taste quite like that one again. It made me stop in my tracks, in brief contemplation.
Some of you would have taken offence to this, walked back in, and demanded either a refund or the proper sandwich. I understand this, but for me, this screwed up burger was like a pat on the back from a guardian angel. The only way someone could possibly have screwed up a simple burger, which, let’s admit, amounts to very little in the grand scheme of things, was if they understood me; if the man that forged that burger in the McFurnaces felt the same way about their job as I do about mine. I have a degree in physics and neuroscience, I have worked as a software engineer many times, and I got the second highest score on the Putnam Mathematics Exam in my entire school during my freshman year, beaten only by a senior mathematics major. I work part-time at a paint department at a hardware store that has been reasonably good to me, because I ran out of luck in my twenties. This guy was exactly the same as me, just a bit younger.
I bit into that extraordinarily improper burger and savoured it, knowing that I was not alone. He may have been pursuing a degree in something more erudite than making burgers, or worse yet had one. Maybe he just needed the side job to pay rent. Maybe he was a writer or musician, dealing with some hard times. I did not complain about his work, I comprehended it. I meditated on it. I celebrated it.
I even ate it (or at least, most of it). That brother at the fast food joint, on the other end of the burger? I salute him. I would follow that guy to hell and back.