Friday, 2 December 2016


The Company Man

Mid-November was dreary, uninspiring. I couldn’t drum up a full quorum of the Tuesday Night Beer Club. So it was just Stats Guy and me who crossed the river and headed downtown to Beer Revolution. We settled in at a round table in a corner and ordered pints of Penny lager because the Tuesday brew special is peach flavoured and if you like peaches, eat one, listen to the Allman Brothers album or the Stranglers’ single.

Our server returned once we’d finished our catch up chat and had gotten around to perusing the stiff oversized menu. “What’s an ‘American’ pizza?” Stats Guy asked her. “It tastes just like a Big Mac,” she replied. “It tastes just like a Big Mac?” Stats Guy repeated. “It tastes just like a Big Mac,” she said again. “With the special sauce and everything?” asked Stats Guy. She said, “It tastes just like a Big Mac.” I watched a sports highlight on the television; Stats Guy asks a lot of questions sometimes. Finally, he decided, “Okay, I’ll have one of those.”

As our server walked away I said to Stats Guy, “Why’d you order that? If you want a Big Mac, have a Big Mac. I love dill pickles. I like potato chips. I would not eat a dill pickle flavoured potato chip.” He said, “I have to know; Big Macs taste good.” They do and once in a while, you really want a Big Mac, even an ersatz one, apparently.

Michael James ‘Jim’ Delligatti who invented the Big Mac in 1967 died this week. According to USA Today the middle club sandwich-like bun was crucial to keeping the big burger together. ‘Big Mc’ didn’t sound right. The rest, as they say, is obesity. Delligatti, a franchisee who owned almost 50 stores, never received a penny from the corporation in exchange for his sandwich, its condiment and its name though it ultimately came to define McDonald’s. Once the Big Mac became a standard menu item in 1968, its creator ate one a week for the rest of his life. Delligatti lived to be 98.

Around the time Terry Jacks left the Poppy Family for a solo career, there was just my mother and me left in the Montreal house I grew up in. Dad had accepted a Bell Telephone transfer to Ottawa and was camping in a bedsit on O’Conner Street. My brother had moved to Edmonton to begin his career as a metallurgical engineer. My sister was living in an apartment in the west end, on Walkley near Loyola and was working on her pre-med degree in pharmacology; she took Wesley the grey and white family cat. The happy miracle of my parents’ divorce was that the Catholic Church automatically excommunicated my mother: no more attending mass on Sundays!

There were broken pieces to examine even if they could never be reassembled. My Nana said to me, “Your mother wanted Ruby Foo’s and your father (her son) could never afford it.” Ruby Foo’s was a motel and restaurant on Decarie Boulevard, at one time trumpeted as ‘The Las Vegas Strip of Montreal!’ I remember it as a sunken expressway lined with car dealerships and places adults went if they weren’t going downtown because the buzzing and winking neon signs were no brighter there. On our newly minted pagan Sundays my mother would ineptly tootle us to Decarie in our maroon Beaumont for a carhop brunch at the A&W, a tray of foil pouches hanging from a partially rolled down driver’s side door window, a Whistle Dog for her, a Teen Burger for me and fries or onion rings to share. A baby root beer and a manly mug of orangeade. But something was happening across the traffic trench beside the racetrack.

I was still too unsophisticated to listen to stoned, giggling FM disc jockeys or appreciate ‘Interstellar Overdrive.’ Heck, I still hadn’t figured out that I could utilize ‘fuck’ in my speech as a verb, noun, adjective or gerund. On Top 40 format CKGM between ‘Boogie Down’ by Eddie Kendricks and the Jacques Brel abomination that was Terry Jacks there was a constant commercial. A truck driver in what I took to be a tough New York accent lectured a big rig rookie ride-along, something like: “When ya’s hungry, kid, ya gotta look for dem golden arches.” A McDonald’s had risen on Decarie beside where they ran the sulkies. It was a long bike ride away for a kid saddled with a newish red ten-speed from Eaton’s, a store brand, not a Raleigh, not a Schwinn.

How was I to know that that instantly served box of magic was an edible Model T Ford, an avatar and a harbinger? It tasted good and it was exotic. How was I to know the Big Mac would homogenize the plant, be the advent of global branding? How was I to know that places like the Do Drop In in my neighbourhood where Eddie manned the grill and Phyllis waitressed and rang up the tabs would go out of business? How was I to know that I’d grow up to accept garbage on my plate in a restaurant because at least it was better than McDonald’s? God bless and god speed Jim Delligatti; I love your burger, even more so when it’s hot and the bun doesn’t taste like the packaging. Or a pizza.

No comments:

Post a Comment