Fighting Back Feels Good

To this day, I'm still reasonably sure that my elementary school principal and teachers gave my parents some really bad advice when they told them that if I'd just hit bullies back once, they'd leave me alone. They either didn't understand the bully mentality, or they were trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility. Honestly, hitting back wouldn't have worked, because I was smaller, weaker, and outnumbered. And most bullies are looking for any excuse to justify their actions, and blame the victim. So for a long time I believed flinching or showing the whites of my eyes were legitimate reasons to punch me in the stomach as hard as possible. I brought it on myself. I'm not absolving myself of responsibility entirely here; there were plenty of times I fought back verbally, and no one wants to hear sarcasm from some high pitched little nerd.

So, if fighting back only led to escalation, was a pacifistic approach the only solution? In the world arena, on a larger scale, hitting back historically seems to be the answer, provided you hit back so hard that you subdue and incapacitate your enemy. And since I was both physically and emotionally incapable of inflicting such pain on my enemies, I had no choice but to turn the other cheek. Morally and philosophically, I still believe in that approach, in doing to others as I would have them do unto me. In an ideal world, we'd all feel that way, and peace would reign supreme. In this world, it seemed like the more I turned the other cheek, the worse I got ****ed.

With such a foundation in my childhood, I have a great appreciation for even the smallest of victories, for any rare deviation from my norm. Take my local Burger King, for example. A more wretched den of sloth and incompetence you will not find, and yet it is a family ritual for me to stop there after going to 5 PM mass on Saturday and pick up dinner. “Have it Your Way” translates into something entirely different there, but I'm determined to beat the odds. I now automatically add “just the sandwich” after ordering a sandwich, because they always look at me like I have two heads and ask, “You mean the meal? The #8?” There are certain specifics that throw them for a loop as well, despite their marketing. My dad usually gets a vegetable burger or a grilled chicken sandwich, in either instance plain with only lettuce. Countless times we've gotten home to find mayonnaise or some other ingredient he can't eat. On many occasions, we've gotten home to find items missing entirely, and just let it go because it's too much of a hassle to drive back for one sandwich. But, for some reason, we keep going back.

On Saturday, I was pleased to find the usual dim bulb cashier was distracted meddling in the affairs of the woman working the drive through window, and the manager stepped up to help. I placed my order, he kept up with every word, and when I checked my receipt everything matched. I watched him hover over the cooking staff, and bag the food, and I was out of there in record time. They're notoriously slow, and on occasions when I use the drive through I've been told to pull up so they can turn off their timer and not get in trouble. They'd rather walk outside and hand me the food than have one vehicle sit by the window for too long. Seriously, I don't know why we keep going back.

I thought I looked in the bag and counted the right amount of items, but when we got home, my dad's sandwich was missing. “That's all right,” he said as sincerely as possible, but with a slightly heartbreaking air of disappointment. Fat b@stard that I am, I usually get two sandwiches, and offered him my cheeseburger. But he's not supposed to eat cheese either. Something snapped. I'd had enough. If it was my sandwich, I'd probably let it go. I have no qualms about taking hits; my shell is 35+ years thick. But when people close to me get hit, I feel it. I was like a passenger in my own body, as it grabbed the receipt and stormed out the door, fueled with determination. I had to get back there while I was still fresh in the minds of the staff, so they didn't think I was trying to pull a fast one. More importantly, I wanted to get back home to finish my own dinner before it got cold.

”We're Not Gonna Take It” blared from the ‘80s metal compilation CD I've been playing to death lately, keeping my fire burning. When I stormed into the place, it was no longer busy. There was no sign of the manager. No one was working the register, in fact. I stood there, clenching my receipt and the yellow carbon copy as backup, drumming my fingers on the counter. The drive through lady noticed me, and said something to someone in the back. Seconds later, the dim bulb cashier emerged. Undeterred, I told my story, how I'd been there fifteen minutes earlier, and discovered my father's chicken sandwich was not in the bag when I got home. Dim Bulb turned and asked the staff, “Did any of ya have a chicken? Chicken sandwich?” as if they'd remember. They all stared and blinked. “Ya went in the drive in?” she asked me. I explained that no, I'd been inside, and the guy in the sweater helped me, the manager. “Ohh,” she chortled, “Yeah, he's the general manager. That's why.” I'm not sure how that explained the 15 or 20 times she herself had screwed up one of my orders in the past, but I wasn't going to bring it up. Not only am I a nice guy to a fault, but I'm never sarcastic to anyone in a position to spit in my food. Okay, I've been sarcastic to my parents, but I can trust them not to do that. I think. I hope.

In any case, the cashier not only told the staff to make the sandwich they'd missed, but did something surprising. “What else do ya want? Just the sandwich? Ya wanna free meal?” I didn't know how to respond. I wasn't expecting that, and my gut response was to say “No thanks,” that it was enough to get the rest of my original order. “Are ya sure? Ya came alls the way back heres.” She made a good point, so I ordered a second regular chicken sandwich for myself, since the one sitting on a dish at home was getting colder by the minute. And so, I walked out of there with not just what I paid for, but a little something extra. The journey would have been worth it just to feed my father, but in some strange karmic way it seemed like I'd been rewarded for taking a stand and not accepting my fate. I took control, and things worked out abnormally well. It was a good feeling. I don't know if there will be any consequences, if anyone in the restaurant will get in trouble. And, though I was keeping a close eye on them, I probably can't be positive that they didn't spit in either of the sandwiches. But, for now, the outcome was positive. Will I be more assertive in other areas of my life? Will I stop accepting things the way they are? With my personality and experience, it would take quite a few fires to get me moving, for me to become the all-new, all-different, take-no-crap, spit-on-fate MCF. But every fire starts with a spark....

And I really should consider not going to that Burger King any more.


Blogger Lorna said...

I hope somebody at Burger King Inc trolls the net for mention of their odious franchises. And The King is the scariest spokesguy imaginable.

11/11/2009 3:27 AM  

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