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.
As 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:
Huddling in the corner
Where geese pass by
Ignoring the time
And meeting none
Oh yes, and there was that brilliant social commentary:
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!