At a Burger King in the JFK airport, two days after Christmas, I asked:
“Could I please have: pancakes, a large order of hash browns, and a croissant with egg-product on it? And just egg-product: no cheese-product or meat-product. Thank you.”
The woman behind the counter pushed the corresponding buttons on the register and, dutifully, spoke my order aloud: “Pancakes, egg-on-croissant, large hash brown. $6.24 please.”
From my wallet, I removed and then handed to her: one fifty dollar bill and one quarter totaling $50.25 in American currency.
She handed me, in return, $4.01.
I considered her offering, for a moment, and then decided that $4.01 would buy me less pre-packaged airport-vegan fare (were I to discover any on my journey) than $44.01 would and, because of this, I reminded the kind woman, dutifully, that I had handed her a fifty dollar bill. Not a ten, despite their similarities.
She nodded, slightly embarrassed, removed the fifty dollar bill from the inner recesses of her bra and returned it to the register, which she promptly closed, locked, and then glared at suspiciously. The register said nothing in response though I imagine its retort would have been shocking.
One minute passed.
“Give me back the $4.01,” she said, “I have to do it all over again.”
I placed the $4.01 on the table while she swiped her ID card, rung up the pancakes, croissant, and large hash brown a second time and then tendered $50.00 received. The register displayed change owed to me as $43.76.
“Give me back a dollar,” she pointed to the $4.01 I had placed on the counter, “I’ll give you $0.76.”
I covered the money with my hand and leaned in close, lest my hubris were to embarrass her in front of the multitudes behind me:
“I gave you $50.25 — you owe me $44.01. We have $4.01 here, another $40.00 and we’ll be fine.”
“Oh,” she said. She stared at the two twenty dollar bills in her hand, then at the register display, then back at the two twenties, and then finally removed the quarter from the inner recesses of her bra and placed it in the register. I took the $4.01 off the counter and she handed me the remaining balance of our transaction.
Not three steps further and I was presented with a little man who took my receipt and read my order aloud:
“Egg-on-croissant, pancakes, and a medium hash brown — pancakes will be just a minute.”
He grabbed a medium hash brown container and began to fill it with deep-fried potato-product. I put my elbows on the counter, assumed a relaxed-but-in-control position, and said: “Sir, I ordered a large hash brown — not a medium.” I showed him my receipt, which said:
1 – LGE HASH BROWN, $1.49
He paused a moment to look at the receipt a second time, then returned to stuffing the container with greasy Idaho-loveliness, and said, over his shoulder: “It’s a medium. You paid for a medium. Large is actually King-Sized.”
I pointed to the breakfast menu above his head: “But it says large on the menu. There is no King-Sized. How could I have asked for a King Sized? I asked for a large, my receipt says large, the sign says large. How does medium play into any of this?”
He handed me a medium hash brown.
“You paid for medium. The cashier is new; when you said large, she should have known to select King-Size.”
“So,” I continued, undeterred, hash browns in hand, “the sign says: large; I ask for a: large; the cashier selects the button that says: large; the receipt prints: large; and you are telling me that this series of events results in me receiving a medium?”
“Here are your pancakes.”
As I sat down with my medium hash brown, egg-product on croissant, and silver dollar pancakes (which were as easy to cut as actual silver dollars), I read the following on the back of my Burger King bag:
SMELLS LIKE A WINNER: You always hear sports announcers talking about the “sweet smell of success.” But none of them ever really explains what that smells like. We’d like to propose it’s the scent wafting from this very bag. Of course, we could be wrong. But we don’t think so.
What I would like to propose is that maybe it’s the smell of absurdity. Maybe it’s the smell of abject uselessness and utter incompetence. Maybe it’s the smell of too much money being spent on clever advertising and not enough being spent on employees being trained in basic arithmetic and the creation of signage and policy that results in customers being served not only what they asked for, but also what is advertised in the menu, input by the cashier, and printed on the receipt. Maybe it’s the smell of foolishness.
Of course, I could be wrong. But I don’t think so.
Anyhow: the point is: a medium hash brown is more than enough. I didn’t finish it all anyway.