At Mick Donald’s: Arm Tatts, Beardy McTankTop, the Pretenders, and me

Today, at Oregon, Ill. McDonald’s Restaurant, 9:04 a.m., I sat down with a coffee and wrote stuff down, including:

The old white man I held the door for got out his change purse to get the two extra cents — it was “24,” not “22,” the clerk corrected his earlier pile of bills and change. A gray-haired lady at nearby table has butterfly tattoo on her upper left arm. Rod Stewart’s “if you want my body” plays on the overhead speaker. At another table, a dude with two kids has forearm tattoos, and also words tattooed on his neck.

Where I’m sitting, I get to see the drive-thru drivers [“Rocket man, burning through the tree tops, everyone” (maybe?)] post-food reception, as they’re throwing out garbage and/or peeling straws. [“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids.”]

“The older I get, the better I was!!” [2 exclamation points included] states the back of a t-shirt worn by an adult (40-ish?) woman. Sleeves have been severed from the gray shirt, and lettering’s in red.

“I’m free this afternoon,” said one older lady to Butterfly Tatt, who’s just leaving a table of women drinking coffee. “Well, call if you go out for coffee,” said B.Tat., who was throwing out her current coffee cup.

Arm-Tatts has tattooes on his left calf and on both forearms, crossed Texas flags, it looks like, on left forearm. And now I’m nervous he’ll read this writing. [“Sweet dreams are made of these” is done, onto “ch-ch-ch-changes” from speaker broadcasting a local oldies station.] Arm Tatts points out, “there’s a dog! In the car” to his kids. I see what could be a Golden-doodle in the back seat of a lime green new-Beetle convertible.

“C’mon, baby, sit right,” Arm Tatts says to his little (3-year-old?) girl. They’re done eating but still sitting — waiting for someone to arrive?

A woman’s voice: “It’s nice to see the water-table level come up, but now it can stop? [her vocal inflection indicated interrogation, and she laughed.] Have a nice day, honey,” said cashier McKaren to a white dude in a Pioneer Seeds-logo golf-shirt. I’ve heard her called “Karen,” and since she works here, I shall append the “Mc” prefix to her name.

To some other customer, McKaren says, “Nothing, zero, zip. I didn’t move off the sofa. … ‘Top Chef.’ … I watched that … [I] didn’t budge. … pulled 10 weeds. No, no, no, no, I did not come to town.” [There were more words in that speech, but I put ellipses for the words I didn’t catch.]

Later, I think I heard Arm Tatts say to one of the kids, “Mommy’s coming.”

Now there’s a white-haired dude with a fixed-handle knife (bone- or antler-handle?) in his belt loop, in a sheath, but still, I’d probably not be able to react in time if he decided to stab me. That’s a fairly paranoid thought.

“You don’t like him? Oh, I love him,” said one of the coffee ladies. Another lady said “he ruined” something.

Arms, to his boy in high chair, “Eat!”

I guess I hadn’t realized before that there was a garbage can after the drive-thru. I don’t normally think about making space after getting food, though I can imagine the process that leads to that. Just as I wrote that sentence, a woman stopped at the can to throw away a straw wrapper crumpled in a napkin.

“…why he gives me a hard time …,” says one of the coffee ladies. Meanwhile, a ragged burrito hits the floor beneath baby-seat boy. “Minachur pinchur,” I hear from one of the coffee ladies. It sounded like that, but I’m assuming she’d prefer I’d spell it (if she knew I was transcribing it) as “miniature pinscher.” Then, two more of the ladies’ snippets come to my mind: “…it’s why they say don’t take a bath…” and “…people DO, but …”

Almost every one of the 30 or so times I’ve been to this McDonald’s in the last 4 years, I’ve seen a dude who consistently sports a beard and wears a tank-top, and I’ve named him Beardy McTanktop in my notes. (I mostly come here in the summer; I’m not sure if Beardy layers the tank-tops in cooler months.) I’ve told my wife about this guy, and she’s seen him — she can verify he exists — and she lately told me I should ask him just how often he eats McDonald’s. But this would perhaps be mocking him, and it would perhaps humanize him to me. He’s better as a character, a part of what we like to refer to as “Local Color.”

Anyway, I now note that Beardy was here when I got here, talking to some dudes in the parking lot, but now he is gone. And Mr. Bone Knife is leaving and I seem unstabbed.

McKaren told one of the coffee ladies that she dropped her phone, and Arms gets up and gets it for her (I think — I didn’t see the end of the interaction).

“Good seeing you again,” said Phone-Dropper lady. “You, too, you, too,” responded Tight Curls, whose permed hair seems her most descriptive characteristic. A lady with short, straight hair is still at the table, talking to Tight Curls.

A dude driving thru drive-thru had his head out his car window as he was leaning to his left, to put his wallet into his back-right pocket, maybe?

[Bob Seger: “Hollywood nights.” Sam and Dave: “Hold on. I’m comin.'”]

For a moment, the only ones here are the two remaining coffee ladies, Arm Tatts, and me, at our three nearby tables. I couldn’t tell if any customers were in the booths back by the restrooms. I start to wonder if this sitting at McD and writing, which seems so normal to me, isn’t kinda a strange thing to do — but before I can recall why it seems strange, I forget the reasoning I had just thought of.

[“If I was the king of the world, I tell you what I’d do … joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea.”]

Now there are two more people, plus McKaren’s taking her break at a table behind Arm Tatts. McKaren gets up at 4 a.m., she said.

[“A little ditty ’bout Jack and di-AH-ann” — I wrote most of that in anticipation, before the words were sung — “suckin’ on chilly dog, outside Taste-FREE-ease” — but I modified the “Diane” to three syllables after hearing how it’s sung.]

McKaren has her glasses on and her book open. Some white lady is talking to Karen about how hot it is. Karen still had her book open, but didn’t seem to mind the conversation.

“Oh! She hasn’t been home yet,” says T.C. (Tight Curls) into phone, as Straight Hair lady shakes a tilted cup, as if to get a piece of ice to chew. “Alright, honey, well, we’ll talk to you later, thanks. Buy,” said T.C. Perhaps “buy” was “bye” or “by”? We’ll never know.

“Where you wanna go? Wait, mommy’s coming. Where you wanna go, where?” says Arms to Lil’ Girl, who’s speaking so high-pitched, it’s like a whiny song, not unpleasant, like a sung note, or a wind-whine, almost.

Across the Route 2 road from Mick-Dee, a dude — white hat, belly, cuffed jeans — is carrying baskets of laundry from his car to a Laundromat . Again, THAT’s happening, it’s real, it exists.

[“Hold the line.” Guitar: whah-NAH-nah-NAH. “Love isn’t always on time.”]

A dude at a table to the west of us all has a yellow pad of paper on which he’s writing.

Arm Tatts is patient.

“…lunch time and we’re still here, talkin’ ’bout it,” T.C. said. “…Gary likes watchin’…,” I hear, but gauge that the context is NASCAR.

[“Make you, make you notice me,” sing Pretenders.]

Karen uses a clothes pin in her book, pinning some pages together. That reminds me of the summer, 20 years ago now, I worked at a different small-town McDonald’s, and I’d bring Thomas More’s “Utopia” to read on my breaks, but I never read much of it, and partly I was being pretentious, or amusing myself by incongruously bringing lit(erature) to my McJob (nobody uses that term as much these days as I recall it being used in the ’90s.).

[“Baby, hold on to me. Whatever will be, will be. The future is ours to see. Baby, hold on to me.”]

Arms to little girl: “SIT DOWN. SIT DOWN.” [Cap letters there represent the gritting of the teeth I heard.] Now, girl is pushing around the little boy in his high chair. Arms: “Want me to hit you?” He swats her playfully with a rolled-up piece of paper. Then, “nah-TAHN-ya” is the name I think I hear him yell as the girl goes barefoot toward the bathrooms. Arms to boy: “Don’t start.” To a woman who has just entered: “Jeez, you’ve been gone two hours. Did you find someone?”

[Instrumental: “T.S.O.P.”]

“I guess it’s time to go back to work,” said McKaren to some old white guy with a cane. Karen took off her glasses. She has three books with her? I don’t think I was aware, 20 years ago, that it was ironic to be reading “Utopia” at a McD, either because [a wasp lands on the outside of the window frame] McD isn’t a perfect place, or more literally — “utopia” as “no-place” — McD is no place. On the other hand, it’s easy to mock McD, and I don’t know that I’d now see the irony there. It’s irony based only on a subjective interpretation — but maybe all irony requires a perspective to be from?

A dude in a “Duck Dynasty” t-shirt comes in — “hey,” said t-shirt on its front. “Hey,” said the man himself to somebody else, “how ya doin’?”

And now it’s 10:30 a.m. — end of breakfast season at McDonald’s.

What I’m writing doesn’t have to have much to do with what’s before me — but I’m not lying. But, OK, I’m just telling what I see. But maybe it’s weird also that I’m just making a text — I mean, it seems normal to me. Others look at me a little, now and then. They may suspect I’m writing about them, but I’m polite enough not to stare, and also not to narrate real life (which narrating of things as they happen gets weird, not to mention socially straining).

Now the wasp’s inside — my comment from earlier has become foreshadowing! But I see a wasp outside still, too. [“I’d like to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade”]

And how my life outside doesn’t change much from doing this writing. I’m not gonna go sell it and become famous. (Though I could post some of it, as an editing experience.) Karen, to someone: “Yep, you’re good, you don’t have to worry.”

And to the same, or a different, customer, McKaren says, “Me neither — I don’t move without air conditioning.”

One response to “At Mick Donald’s: Arm Tatts, Beardy McTankTop, the Pretenders, and me

  1. This is an amusing piece. I enjoyed the Mick Donald’s and the Mc prefacing and the fact that seemingly you weren’t stabbed. And real people’s lives — and conversations — are messy. We forget that sometimes after watching movies or tv. Those conversations rarely start and falter and start and fade away or are frustrating in their ambiguity. Refreshing. Thanks for sharing.

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