I have to learn to stop leaving my house.
After spending a leisurely afternoon at home, reading and rearranging as one is wont to do, my mother asked me if I'd like to go out to dinner with one of our mutual co-workers and my sister? And of course, ignoring all of the misheggas that usually befalls be when I leave the "friendly confines" of my bed on a Sunday night, I thought "what's the worst that can happen?"
And we ended up, like all weary souls, at that glorious haven of The Golden Arches: McDonald's. All walks of life enter this fine establishment, and there is no better example than our local Mickey D's. Policemen, Prostitutes, and men who resemble Shrek all reside within those hallowed halls, to soak their woes in secret sauce and McFlurries. A woman came in who looked like a reject from an SNL skit and another man who had the biggest rack I've ever seen lumped in and out of the bathroom without buying anything. I never knew our local McDonald's was a regular truck stop?
Our quartet enters, expecting a calm dinner with all the decadent cuisine this four-star eatery has to offer, when we immediately feel that something is off. Standing in line, we all notice a man at the head of the line, haggling with the bedraggled worker over the price of a child's ice cream cone. Turning around, I immediately see why the employee's face was white as a sheet. His face was drawn, his eyelids sagging with an unhealthy pink hue, with the posture of a human being that is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He was shaking slightly, his pallor pale and his eyes fixated on the fact that he was still alive. He was a sorry sight to behold, indeed.
He shuffled away after dumping his coins without waiting for a confirmation from the employee, despite the fact that he was a few cents short. My mother gave the bewildered fast food vendor the six cents he owed, reveling in her kind deed for the day. Little did we know that she was paying it forward to a derelict of society.
Now, I must pause here to issue a disclaimer: I am, nor have I ever been, a person who makes fun of those in the throes of addiction. I understand it's a life-long struggle filled with pain, but I also believe that from the moment you take that first hit, you sign the contract to possibly become an addict. I believe the same thing with people who have unprotected sex: If a child is conceived, you can't raise your hands to the Gods and curse your misfortune. Those who try drugs know what lies at the end of the road. That being said, I tend to diffuse the rather shocking events in my life with humor, so please bear with me and check your political correctness at the door.
Now, back to the sideshow!
Sitting down, we noticed that he had a whole swath of seats in the back of the restaurant, near the bathrooms. Littered on the seats were duffel bags filled with God knows what, at least five or six.
As we tucked into our food, he proceeded to pace back and forth across the restaurant, over and over. He would go over to the pop machine and fill the tiny ketchup cups with sweet tea. Somehow, and I have no idea why, this behavior eluded the swift workers, despite the fact that the soda machine was clearly visible from the cash registers.
I only had one personal interaction with the creature in question, as he was playing Food Order Police and barking out the numbers and grilling each customer as to what their number was. We all tried to ignore him in extreme discomfort, and it seemed to do the trick. My little heart was pitter-pattering like a drum.
He would retire to the water closet every now and then and, sadly, his actions in there will forever be a mystery. Maybe he was "checking the plumbing"? Stepping outside, he made the acquaintance of a friendly African-American woman who proceeded to high-tail it back inside, leaving the man in question to puff on a cigarette absentmindedly and scratch his head.
Everyone in the restaurant was twitching and itching with subtle horror as this man, who was obviously flying high in the ether-realm, paraded around the restaurant, stumbling and bumbling. At one point he asked one of the disabused workers for several packets of barbecue sauce, despite the fact that he ordered an ice cream cone. Who knows, BBQ ice cream might be all the rage? (Ben and Jerry's - call me!)
The aura in the room was an overwhelming wave of pity. Here was a young man, no older than 35, who was now totally biologically dependent on a substance that was slowly but surely tying a noose around his neck. His eyes were plagued with fear, his entire being screaming "help me!" There's a popular saying that I found online: "Drugs kill the pain . . . and the joy, hope, body, brain, and finally, the soul." As I watched this man, I saw his soul shattered in tiny, dust-like pieces. Who knows his history? Who knows how he got this way? What will become of him? Sadly, I thought death would be the only merciful end for this tortured man.
Finally, the uncomfortable aura of the restaurant became too much for one of my table members and they approached the manager, asking him to please call the police. Everyone in the area nodded their heads in agreement, a silent pact being sealed with wide-eyed horror. The manager, who looked like he needed a wee nip and a nap, nodded his head and phoned "our boys in blue."
In what seemed like a cross between a millisecond and a millennium, the police barreled in and forced everyone to the rear of the restaurant, away from the bathroom where The Creature from the "White" Lagoon had retired. One police officer, his shirt nearly bursting at the seams with authority and donut grease, yelled at the African-American woman who had spent those few solitary seconds outside with the perpetrator.
"Get your kids outta here, lady!" he said with a gruff, no-nonsense wheeze.
"Get my kids out? Sheeeeeeeet, I'm just goin' by urrbody else," she silently chucked. "Tell me to get my kids out, sheeeeeet."
We were all huddled like refugees, waiting for the police to retrieve him from his porcelain office, before we were all rudely told to go outside, even the people who had paid. No apology, no "stay calm and please file out"; it was an order. We were shoved off into the cold, as car after car pulled in and left after they saw the calamity that was unfolding.
Sadly, that's where my facts end, as we left at the behest of the police guarding the lot. From what we could tell, the police handcuffed the man and proceeded to sit him down in one of the booths and interrogate him. Another searched his bags, trying to find his stash, and continually coming up empty (despite the fact that he had enough bags to sink The Titanic...oops...too soon?)
As I sat in the backseat of our car, looking at the final glimpse of this scene, I was taken to reflecting on what had just happened. Here was a man that, like us all, was born a clean slate. Along the way, he got into some bad shit, maybe even inherited the elephant on his back from his parents. But here he was now, in handcuffs, living hand to mouth and drinking sweet tea from a fast food ketchup container and shaking like a leaf.
There are people out there with cancer and disease that have tragedy thrust into their arms, and then there are men like these who wander in the void between eliciting pity and revilement.
Take this as a lesson, folks: live your lives to the fullest and never even dabble in serious recreational drugs. I know I sound like an aged D.A.R.E. instructor, but the best solution is prevention. I have seen thousands of lives torn apart by addiction and tonight's example was textbook.
I knew I should never have gotten my ass off the couch.
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