Complications in Writing, Part IV: You Want Fries with That?

Fast-food restaurants gleefully boil

Most of their food in buttery oil.

The vats are risky, please understand,

For they claim the occasional hand.

Perhaps one of the worst handicaps to a writer’s ability is the temporary loss of one’s dominant hand.

fast foodAs a teenager, I desperately wanted to take a part-time job.  Though my parents initially questioned whether or not I was ready, they allowed me to secure employment at that bastion of the artery-clogging fast-food industry, McDonald’s.  I soon proved adept at the job, and gained a great many valuable job and life skills.  On the whole, I loved that job.  For a teenager, earning five dollars an hour was true wealth, and I found many of the work tasks to be fun.  One night, however, the fun turned into something befitting the talents of Alfred Hitchcock or Stephen King . . .

One night, as I diligently worked to get the restaurant clean in preparation for closing, I happened to notice the deplorable state of the fry vat.  A thick pile of grease lay on the side, and it occurred to me that someone might easily hurt themselves while cleaning it.  Concerned for the welfare of my coworkers, I decided to clean it myself.  This is what is known as “asking for trouble.”

I worked and worked at it, but the grease seemed permanently stuck.  In a moment of un-brilliance, I opted to put more oomph into my scrubbing.  To my joy, the grease gave way . . . and my right hand went straight into the vat of 350° oil (McDonald’s prefers to call it shortening).  I shrieked and pulled my poor deep-fried hand out, customers who witnessed it shrieked, my manager and coworkers shrieked . . . there was a lot of shrieking in the moments proceeding the incident.  My manager immediately herded me into her car and drove at breakneck speed to the nearest ER.

The highlight of the ER visit was when the triage nurse inquired “Did this happen today?”  Unable to resist, I replied, “Nah, I did it last week and just now got around to coming in.”  The nurse didn’t seem to appreciate my humor.  I then assured her that the incident had, indeed, just happened.  She looked bored, and wrote on her chart.

ER decided that the kid with the runny nose was much more of an emergency than my cooked hand, so they left me in the waiting room for just over forty minutes (I actually timed it).  After half an hour, they offered me an ice pack.  When they finally took me back to a room, the doctor leisurely arrived about twenty minutes later.  I love how prompt ERs are at responding to serious injuries.

The burn and the story were spectacular enough that the doctor brought in some fellow doctors to share the experience of seeing my hand.  All were impressed.  They shared some reminiscences from medical school of similar burns they had seen in films, slide shows, and textbooks, while a nurse gave me a hefty and greatly appreciated dose of strong pain meds.  The world soon became a happy place . . . until my heart-rate plummeted in reaction to the overdose of drugs.  The nurse, who apparently had not listened when this was covered in nursing school, abandoned me in his quest for help.  My mother, an older and much wiser nurse, calmly tilted my head down and put my feet in the air.  Soon, I was better.

The hospital put me on some marvelous pain medication that gave me fun little hallucinations and made the world lovely, fuzzy, and frequently spinny.  Typing with only my unburned left hand, I composed marvelous poetry that positively thrilled me with its depth, and its vision of the human experience.  For once in my life, I was writing at a level superior to Shakespeare.

Then, a few weeks later, I no longer needed the pain medication.  Eager to bask again in my own brilliance, I grabbed the folder of my newly printed work one day and sat down to reread the Grand Landmarks in American Poetry that I had earlier composed, certain that one day the President himself may quote my work:

Brown bag

Huddling in the corner

Where geese pass by

Ignoring the time

And meeting none

Oh yes, and there was that brilliant social commentary:

Atrophied ears

Can they hear?

The opiates of the masses

Sing their squalid songs,

Entrenched within their classes

Bury them all, Time

And dig them up, these lame

Always the same:

A generation ahead,

And still dead

Oh, they pain me, they burn me!  I cringe just retyping these atrocities!  Poem by poem, I read, each slightly worse than the one before.  The final poems were illiterate gibberish, feeble offspring from a mind coated in medicinal blankness.  Horrified by my creations, I contemplated burning them and then settled upon running most of them through the paper shredder (I couldn’t use my right hand, so tearing them up manually was too arduous a task).  A few survived the purge, as I felt that rereading them frequently may keep me humble.  Very, very humble.

Although drugs may have worked marvelously for writers such as Lewis Carroll (it’s believed that he used opium), I believe my own work proves that those writers were anomalies.  The Bard retains his title; I am forever humbled.

EPILOGUE:  When I decided to work at McDonald’s again during one summer when I was home from college, I had to go through training again (company policy).  At my training session, the lady training us related the story of how one unfortunate crew member had gotten her hand in the fry vat and severely burned herself.  You can imagine her surprise when I informed here that the girl in question was me!


2 thoughts on “Complications in Writing, Part IV: You Want Fries with That?

  1. Are you thinking of Coleridge, by chance? I never heard of any connection of opium and Lewis Carroll. Coleridge, on the other hand, did get addicted to Opium when it was foolishly administered to him as a pain killer in hospital, and was allegedly high on it when he wrote “Kubla Khan.” Supposedly his trance was interrupted by a knock at the door. By the time he had got rid of the traveling salesman, the mood was broken, which is supposedly why that poem just stops instead of ending with any kind of denoument.

    Some have dared to doubt this story on the grounds that all known poems written under the influence of drugs sound suspiciously like yours, and Coleridge was constitutionally incapable of finishing anything anyway. (As for the juvenilia in some of my early posts here, I personally have no excuse!). That STC did wrestle with Opium addiction is a historical fact, though.

    1. One of the books I read about opium (research for a paper, honest!) accused Carroll of being an opium user, as well as several other writers. The book itself was well-researched, which is why I’m tempted to believe it, although the writer did not offer a lengthy explanation when he mentioned writers who used opium (they weren’t really his main focus, to be fair). So, that’s why I said “believed” instead of taking a firmer stand on that topic. It may be true; it might not.

      That’s interesting about Coleridge; I think I vaguely recall hearing something about him and opium once.

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