12:35 p.m. I walk past the receptionist and say, “I’ll be back in 30.” He doesn’t respond because he doesn’t care. He still calls me by the wrong name but I don’t bother to correct him because I am just a temp and I’ll be gone soon enough.
12:36 p.m. I begin my four-block trek to Chicago’s world-famous Rock N Roll McDonald’s. With a maximum occupancy of 300 patrons, it is one of the largest and saddest exhibits of American culture in the Windy City.
12:42 p.m. I walk through the automatic doors of the Golden Arches. A husband and wife whisper insults at each other on their way out. If you stay too long, this restaurant will destroy your marriage.
12:43 p.m. I approach the cashier and she asks me what I want. I order a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese and ketchup only — yes, the meal — and wait patiently for the cashier to repeat my order back to me for confirmation. She doesn’t bother, and I don’t care to ask. I’ll eat it anyway.
12:44 p.m. I open my wallet and ask to split the payment. Half on card, half with coins. I’m on a tight budget after my other credit card was declined last week. $10 a day. The total rings in at $8.79. Perfect. A little treat for me.
12:44 p.m. McDonald’s rewards my loyal patronage with a ‘buy one, get two free’ sausage McMuffin coupon on my receipt. Valid only for the next seven days. That won’t be a problem — I’ll probably be back tomorrow.
12:46 p.m. I take my tray up the escalator to the second floor and sit at a booth by myself. Next to me is a homeless man painting on the table with ketchup and a homeless woman asleep on the booth bench.
12:47 p.m. I unwrap the Double Quarter Pounder. She got the order wrong. It has everything on it. I consider going downstairs and asking her to correct the mistake. I glance at my watch. I don’t have time.
12:50 p.m. Bite after bite, I slowly and dejectedly devour the cheeseburger. Washing it down with an acidic soda that bubbles in my stomach. I can feel the chemicals eating away at my intestines — rotting me from the inside out. Awaking the cancers inside me. I don’t care. I continue to eat. I can’t afford to stop. I’ve already spent $8.79 — almost an hour’s worth of work.
12:51 p.m. A group of 12 to 15 autistic young adults and their handlers get off the escalator and head to the Mickey D’s Lounge directly in front of me. Shouting and laughing, they begin to disturb the solemn restaurant area adjacent to it.
I make eye contact with the trans-woman in a cheerleader’s outfit unwrapping a Filet-o-Fish across the way. We nod in agreement that this is too much to handle right now. But what can we do? It would be wrong to tell them to settle down. This Rock N Roll McDonald’s is as much theirs as it is ours.
The homeless man continues his ketchup mural. I take another bite of the Double Quarter Pounder and my body aches.
12:54 p.m. I get up to leave and throw away my garbage. I accidentally throw away the receipt with the coupon on it. Fuck. I fish my hand into the trash to retrieve it. I walk over to the escalators to leave. The one designated to return me to ground level is shut off.
I look down the treacherous stairs. I am trapped. I consider waiting up here until I pass away. I check my email. My boss wants me in her office as soon as I get back. She has another project for me. I walk to the elevator across the way and start my journey back to the office.
12:58 p.m. Two blocks in, my body begins to cramp up. It was not prepared for such grueling work today. I push forward. I feel small drops of sweat atop my forehead. It is 66 degrees and rainy.
1:03 p.m. I open the front door of the office. I tell the receptionist I am back from lunch and he responds by telling me he didn’t even know I was gone. I walk back to my cubicle and begin to work..