AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: Popcorn for Lunch DATE: 11/16/2004 01:43:00 PM ----- BODY:
My car is at the doctor's. I've been a bad mommy, and now it needs to take me all the way to New Jersey on Friday, so I decided to be responsible for once and take it to the shop to make sure everything is ship-shape so I don't end up stranded by the side of the Jersey Turnpike with only Yankees fans to plead with for help. Well, turns out it needs an oil change (which I knew), the transmission fluid flushed (didn't those frauds at the dealership just have to fix my transmission line like, a month ago? Oh, that was six months ago? Oh. Okay.), and both brake shoes in the back are apparently filed to the nubs and need to be replaced. All of which I can afford and obviously need to have done regardless, but there's just one problem: with no car, I have no way to set out in search of lunch. And so it was that luncthime turned into (cue medeival trumpet fanfare) Vending Machine Time. There really is nothing like a vending machine, is there? Its contents are usually just light enough to leave you still hungry, but just heavy enough to make you feel like a bloated wreck of a human being. Being that I work at a company full of workaholics, the vending machine here is a bit more elaborate than at previous places I've worked; on one side of the "food" machine (as opposed to the "Cola" machine) is a freezer case with any number of microwaveable delicacies, including Hot Pockets, shrink-wrapped cheeseburgers, something called a "Red Hot Flaming Burrito," which I don't really care to contemplate, and, if you're lucky...Chicken Pucks. Yes, Chicken Pucks. We meet again, O Great Puck of the Chicken. Those of you who know me may recall my sordid history with these globular slabs of chicken-like pork product. One incident at UMass, where Chicken Pucks were the only edible fare provided at the dining commons, was immortalized (sort of) in an editorial column I wrote for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian (it has disappeared, as far as I can tell, from their online archives, which is a total shame). Chicken Pucks--those tender morsels of gristle, with their Brillo-pad aftertaste--are consistently marketed as breaded chicken, but we Puck aficionados know better. In fact, it's dubious whether they came from any actual animal, and if they did, you probably don't want to know which parts. But it would not surprise me in the slightest to find out that the pucks are actually formed from slaughterhouse offal, reconstituted tinfoil and seaweed. But, man, put enough ketchup on them! Heaven. So I broke the first rule of vending machine usage, which is never to decide on a selection before actually viewing the machine's contents. Of course after I had skipped down the stairs, mouth watering for a freshly microwaved chicken puck sandwich slathered in ketchup, I arrived to discover its little slot empty inside the vending machine. Of course. There was one rather suspicious-looking cheeseburger remaining. Shrugging, I attempted to select it instead. In scrolling, green block letters, the machine told me to M A K E A N O T H E R S E L E C T I O N. What?!?!? What does that mean? M A K E A N O T H E R S E L E C T I O N. What if I don't want to make another selection, you commie bastard?!?? M A K E A N O T H E R S E L E C T I O N. Okay. We'll try that French Bread pizza, even though it'll probably give me flashbacks to the elementary school cafeteria and heartburn that could bring down Man O' War. M A K E A N O T H E R S E L E C T I O N. What the... So, my approximate-food options exhausted, I turned my lonely eyes to the other side of the vending machine, the room-temperature side. The pseudo-food side. Hm. What should I have for lunch? Chee-tos? Reduced-fat Cape Cod potato chips in a snack-sized bag (Guaranteed to Have at Least ONE CHIP Inside!!)? Ooh, how about some Hostess Cupcakes? If we're feeling lucky, perhaps we could "think outside the box" and go with some Lifesavers. Hey, it's glucose, right? Isn't that the basic building block of food? Isn't that just like raw fuel? Perhaps I could crush up the Lifesavers, dissolve them in water, and take them intravenously. That could work. And finally, there it is. My only remaining option for anything remotely approximating nutrition today: a 75-cent bag of Act II heavily-buttered ("Butter Lovers'") popcorn. Well, it's a pyrrhic victory in a way. Though I have been denied a chicken puck, I will still be given the opportunity to place foodstuffs in the microwave and heat them up before consuming them. I can go through the motions with this popcorn, even if my heart is with the Puck. And that's just what I did. So now I have acid indigestion and terrible yellow Artificial Coloring (tm) all over my keyboard. If my body was a kid, and I were its mother, DSS would have been called in a loooong time ago. But really, if I may be self-pitying for a moment, should it really be so hard to sustain oneself in the current global marketplace? Isn't there some other option for civilized on-the-go eating? Why can't they have a Cup O Soup in that vending machine, or, in the refrigerated side, a ham sandwich or a salad? Why is MacDonald's and its ilk the only drive-thru fare available? Hasn't anyone ever thought of creating some kind of healthy drive-thru option? I'd kill not to have to walk in and stand in line behind some hemming, hawing soccer mom at Einstein's Bagels to get a decent sandwich. Why can't I drive up to a shop like Panera? Why is my only drive thru option--and don't tell me there aren't times where it is literally the only option--food that, every time I eat it, I feel like a tiny part of my soul has died? Ever see that commercial where the guy is in a meeting and says, "I'm sorry. This is a good time to have my tires rotated." And everyone smiles brightly and says, "Sure, we'll continue this tomorrow." Yeah, well, for me, replace "have my tires rotated" with "eat something decent for once." I guess what all this means is that it will be wonderful to have a couple days off starting Friday. It will be great to get on the open road and just drive, far, far, FAR away from vending machines and brake shoes and transmission systems and computers and price quotes and cubicles and bad coffee and drive-thrus. To do that, I need my car in top condition. So I guess the Act II gourmet luncheon is worth it. Okay, maybe not, but whatever gets me through the day, right?