Suburban Soliloquy


Weighty Matters

The rain was pouring down in such quantities that the streets flooded and you could not see the painted lines that delineated the lanes. Cars were wandering outside of their lanes as I was trying to pass them en route to work. My shift at AT&T started at midnight. That night I was driving a routine thirty-five mile trip that carried me out of Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River, and deep into New Jersey, and I was driving to work hungry and feeling a chill to my bones.

We had dinner earlier at MacDonald's, "we" being Ms Keogh, my more significant other, Mr Beckles, our grandson, and me. We ate out because the kitchen was a mess, disorganized and unusable. The stove was covered with layers of - well, things, such things as are not always associated with cooking. There could be found reading matter, toys, a crock-pot filled with Italian cookies too old to eat, misplaced money (which I have since given a home), several small pots of African violets, and our missing checkbook.

I don't like the burgers at MacDonald's. The only thing at MacDonald's I genuinely like are their French fries, but the fish sandwiches are tolerable, so I had a fish sandwich for my dinner. Still, on such a cold, wet night as that, a small fish sandwich was not enough to make me feel warm, let alone satisfy my hunger. I remained hungry through the rest of the evening. It became distracting. Rather than think about things I ought to be thinking about, such as listening to the book on CD that I was playing while driving to work, I was thinking about foods I liked.

Half way through my commute I pass a Wendy's, one of MacDonald's fast-food competitors. As with most fast food eateries, it is a brick blockhouse with plate glass windows on three sides. This one was situated in the far corner of a parking lot for a strip mall. The dining area inside the windows, plastic seats on iron frames placed next to Formica tables, was closed, but Wendy's drive-thru window was opened until one o'clock. I happen to like their burgers. Indeed, I like nearly all their products and many a night my dinner is to stop at their drive-thru window and eat a quick meal without ever leaving my car. I park in the deserted parking lot listening to a book on CD, or on this occasion I might have just listened to the rain.

Except, on this particular night, while approaching Wendy's, I tried to will myself into demonstrating some restraint. I should not be stopping and eating a second dinner. A mild schizophrenia kicked in with one part of my mind proposing seemingly reasonable arguments for stopping to the other part, an unconvinced would-be ascetic. I argued I would just have a single patty burger instead of my usual double. It was tormenting indecision and the truth needed to be confronted; I was not "exactly" hungry, not in the sense that my stomach ached with emptiness. After all, while eating one meager fish sandwich at MacDonald's earlier, I had filled myself on their fries - a point I probably should have admitted to earlier in this essay. All the hunger was in my mouth, in my taste buds longing for fulfillment. I was also not exactly cold due to the lack of beef; the coffee Ms Keogh made for me, which I drank while we played Five Hundred Rummy before I left for work, was sufficient to warm me. Still, I really wanted that burger.

As I approached the exit off U.S. Route One that would have delivered me to Wendy's, I was yet vigorously debating with myself, "lying" to myself, that it would be the last time and how I would start being good immediately afterward. The recorded book in the car's CD player had been reeling off a history of the Cold War all this time and I couldn't recall at what point I had stopped listening. So I told myself that I needed to give in to this burger if only to stop obsessing and get on with my reading.

At that point, I turned off the book to give undistracted attention to resolving my dilemma. Wendy's was getting very near and I had less than a minute to decide before I passed the exit. Can any of this seem familiar to you my reader? If you are unaffected by the temptations of taste, if you don't have an eating problem, yet there must be some other passion in your life that throws you into a similar quandary?

A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with Ms Keogh in which I put forth the idea that we are hardwired into certain behaviors, condemned to continue in our habits, our routines, because we cannot but respond automatically to our environment. In order to effect change in our behavior, we must first effect change in our environment, but if we're lucky, circumstances would change our environment first and despite ourselves, thus bringing about a change in our behavior. It was unlikely that Wendy's would be burnt to the ground on such a rainy night. In my society, temptations are constant. Wendy's was staying opened late specifically to catch me as I drove by.

Remembering the discussion about the irresistible influence of environment, I recognized that I had been in the exact same situation many times before, and every time it ended with me deciding in favor of stopping for the food. In fact, I often gave in on the simple acceptance that that is what I was going to do anyway, it being what I have always done. Why fight it? Get it done and over with! Does any of this sound familiar to you, reader? Again I ask, is there nothing you don't reason out the same way in your head?

The aforementioned line of thinking concluded with the realization that the argument and its specious solution has never worked in the past and would not work then. I was not going to stop at the Wendy's. I turned on the CD player loaded with a book and commenced with my reading. I came upon the exit that would have taken me to Wendy's and ignored it. Nothing was different in my experience except I decided on the contrary approach. Perhaps what made matters different was my being older and fatter, I had reached a threshold at which I could no longer tolerate my fatness.

Wouldn't it be great if my story ended here after a good resolution and successful behavior adjustment, but it doesn't. I still wanted a salad, a healthy way of satisfying my appetite. Here is where I went wrong.

Just before my office is a Wawa, an all night convenience store. I stopped in this Wawa where my senses were flooded with temptations. I grabbed orange juice, so as to not be tempted to drink soda, and picked a salad, which actually looked pretty good. Then tragedy struck when I sought a dressing. They didn't have Italian. They also didn't have my second choice, Olive Oil Vinaigrette. None of the other dressings appealed to me. I put the salad back. I bought the all-beef hotdog. And what I hated most about this is that I found the hotdog to be spectacularly delicious.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"