#79: Only McLonely

October 29th, 2012

It was that day, that horrible day when you finally know it’s done.

I tried to get drunk a few weeks after the phone call that ended two years. Tried and failed, the beer poured down my throat doing no more than spreading an ache to my head and stomach.

I made my goodbyes early that Sunday, leaving my friends at the bar where the most prophetic drunk of them all had months earlier predicted the girl was “going to find out who you are.”

I got caught in the August rain and decided I couldn’t yet drive to the bleary, weary suburbs that had helped make me so breakupable sad.

So I went to McDonald’s.

A McDonald’s is a horrible place where plastic trays and plastic seats both hold sad lumps of I-don’t-give-a-shit. It’s a place made on purpose to be placeless, where they don’t trust you with chairs not bolted down. It’s empty by design.

We were all there alone, table with bolted chair after table with bolted chair of men and women eating a paper-covered Sunday dinner for one. There were a few laughing families, of course, but there were mostly solitary diners and individually wrapped meals.

There was a girl there, beautiful. Pale, young and lovely, made perfect by a grotesque ziggurat of a nose. A sad, poetic hipster, the type you could take to bed if you let her talk about her blog.

A thought makes your stomach seize harder than any McDouble ever had: You could. You could take the girl to bed.

She might have other thoughts on the matter, of course, but you could try. There is nothing and no one stopping you from remembering which smile is rakish and which is creepy, recalling how high the eyebrows can go before crossing from confident to arrogant, sidling up the the ziggurat girl with the charm you once could muster, asking about blogs and doing your damnedest to take the girl to bed. You could try now because you, my dear friend, are a single, single man.

And the gray hamburger glistens and the room swirls and the Latino children laugh and Only the Fucking Lonely comes on the goddamn muzak.

“Oh whoa whoa whoa-ho-ho-ha, only the lonely,” Roy Orbison echoed off plastic. “Only the lonely.”

How cruel. How cruel to play that song at a McDonald’s on a Sunday night during dinner, to a room of men and women eating alone.

It’s cruel to have that song on the restaurant playlist or, if it was coming from the radio, to put it on the radio at all, just on the off chance someone could hear “Only the Lonely” overhead while buying gray meat for one at a McDonald’s.

Some radio DJ or McDonald’s muzak-chooser-in-chief had let that song slink through, made it the soundtrack to a miscolored hamburger and solitude on a blattering August night where the rain smelled like fish and the Fillet O didn’t. It never does.

Worse than cruel, playing that song at that moment was trite. It was trite in a way that showed me how trite I was being, sitting there feeling sad for myself in a room full of bolted plastic chairs as if my misery, my loneliness were somehow unique. Instead, I was one more plastic seat, one more plastic tray, one more burger, one more thing of fries, a number two with cheese, billions and billions served.

I didn’t talk to the ziggurat girl. I choked down the damp hamburger and left, sober enough now to drive to the only emptier place I knew.

A McDonald’s is a wonderful place to realize how empty your life has gotten. I started filling mine up again after that night. I started writing again and doing strange pranks with friends. I’m wonderful and odd and tedious but not boring. I’m not a sad lump of I-don’t-give-a-shit and never will be again.

Written in December 2011

Comment on this story

This last week has been dark, man. How about some fun stories?

The one about the frat boys on a train

The one about the 100 Robert Goulets

The one about the Puppet Bike

The one with the Don Henley joke

The one with Lobular Dan

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You are currently reading #79: Only McLonely by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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