I work less than a mile from the Wendy’s I used to eat at almost every day when I was an overweight high schooler. Several of my chunkiest friends and I would sit inside and eat together. We chose to eat at the restaurant instead of getting it to go so we could easily place a second order if we weren’t full after the first run. I have many fond memories of pushing beef and chocolate sludge into my face there. Somehow I remember those times more vividly than so much of the rest of my time in high school, even if all of my time in every Wendy’s ever seems to blend together, kind of like how I think of god.
Now Wendy’s has this new thing called the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger, where they’ve gone and replaced their old bun with what you’re supposed to understand as pretzel dough. Fast food places love to come up with these gimmick items that make ex-fatasses go electric with memories of eating lard treasures, the same way athletes from high school might look back on prom. I’ve been very careful with my diet for years now, and so I rarely let myself indulge as well as I should, but inevitably there comes the time and time and time again that you decide you don’t give a fuck and you are ready to become bigger.
The second I make the decision that this shit is going to happen, Cult Ritual’s “Holiday” comes up on my iPod Shuffle, which opens with what sounds like knife blades being sharpened, then launches into feedback, banging, and shouting. I pull up at the drive-thru and order one single patty Pretzel Burger, to which the attendant responds, “That’s it?” Then she reports my total as $4.66 for a single. This seems insane. I realize I don’t usually pay attention to what I’m charged at fast food places because, like someone about to be stabbed in the dark, I don’t want to know. Around the corner at the second window, as the lady takes my card and reaches through the window with the bag that holds my sandwich, my iPod Shuffle transitions (I shit you not) into The Smiths “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” as well it should. I take my bag and lay it on my lap and drive away mumbling to myself about Joan of Arc.
The burger comes in a sturdy red box with Wendy’s face stamped on it, her open-mouthed smile all made out of a single line. The box reads: “QUALITY IS OUR RECIPE,” which makes me imagine a chubby American burger chef holding up a recipe book with a picture of my burger on one page and “Ingredients: Quality” written in big font on the page beside it. I open the box and look at the baby nestled inside, waiting all alone, the weird cross-shaped X on top designed to create the illusion that the bun was freshly baked.
The food item itself smells different every time you sniff it. First, I remember walking on the beach, during those same years when I was fat and wore a big shirt because I didn’t want anyone to see my chub. If you sniff the center of the cross on top of the bun it kind of smells like the warm free bread they bring you in a basket at corporate chain restaurants like O’Charley’s or something, which is usually only good if you smash enough butter into it to make it not be bread anymore. Sniffing near the cheese reminds me of baseball for some reason; and the bacon, of course, smells like dead meat.
The bread is pretty nice, though on the underside of the top bun it kind of looks like a mushroom head. I kind of want to punch it. The “salad parts” of the burger are, of course, way more desiccated and sorry-looking than in any ad Wendy’s would ever let you see. The lettuce is spinach—at least I think it’s spinach—and has several leaves arranged into what is about the size of a playing card. I don’t know where they get a tomato that produces slices as small as this tomato; it doesn’t seem to have any seeds in it. Where do you get tomatoes without seeds? There are like three so-thin strips of onion kind of tossed on top, and those things definitely have some stink, small as they are, but not good-onion-stink—it reminds me more of when you held an action figure in your fist for too long as a kid and it’s all sweaty and weird with your hand.
Under the vegetables there’s this extra sauce that is as yellow as the cheese. According to the description, it’s supposed to be honey mustard sauce—not that you’ll be able to tell. Oddly, where the sauce touches the cheese, the cheese has kind of turned to liquid, like it got its face melted off. That seems weird. Whoever put the cheese on didn’t aim very well and so most of the slice of cheese is hanging off the edge of the burger and sticking to the cardboard box like it’s trying to clasp onto a life preserver in the ocean to keep from drowning. The bacon ladled onto the cheese/sauce washout is kind of incredibly red. I don’t think I remember seeing bacon this red ever. Looking at it too long, I start to think of Freddy Kreuger’s face. But it’s bacon, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like.
The bottom part of the bun is kind of insanely greasy, so much so that when you try to pick it up it seems to slide away from you. Unlike the liquidated cheese on the top side of the burger, the extra slice of cheese on its butt-area has solidified into some kind of glue that literally won’t let me remove the bottom bun unless I’m willing to rip the bread up into a kind of clumpy white shit. If you pry the edge of the bun up right, you can see the edges where the cheese has turned a strangely darker yellow than normal, clinging to both the patty and the bun like gel.
The first thing I find myself thinking as I bite into the side of the burger with the cheese all sloshing out is, oddly, barbecue sauce, even though there isn’t any barbecue sauce on it. I have to go wash my hands immediately after touching the thing before starting typing unless I’m ready to give my keyboard a grease massage. The collision of things that come into your mouth when you bite in is really a jumble. The bacon is really crunchy, which is good, and stays crunchy while you chew, causing a kind of doggy chorus inside your brain over the whole thing. The bread holds up with the O’Charley’s reference I made earlier. It’s kind of nicely chewy, too. The spinach is in there—again, if it is spinach. I’m still unsure, even after having tasted it. I like the leaves mottling around with the beef, which really just tastes like any Wendy’s burger you’ve ever had. They have good beef; it tastes fresh off the grill and kind of crumbles in the way that ground beef does sometimes. I would call the sauce more of a lurker, as it only shows up as an accent underneath the other stuff; I guess that is what sauce is supposed to do, though sometimes it’s cool when you get a mouthful of sauce.
The second bite is somehow wetter. Why wetter? It kind of makes a sound with my mouth like when you squeeze something Jell-O-y out of a mold. It tastes a little different than the first time. There’s a little less cheese in this bite and I can taste more of the grease kind of working against the bread’s body while I turn it into mush in my mouth. I’m trying to hold the bite in my mouth for a while so I can type and think at the same time. I don’t recommend doing that with this burger; it doesn’t seem to hold up very long. I imagine they named fast food “fast” because you’re supposed to get it fast after you order, but also you should probably eat it fast, because the longer it has to think about itself and cool down to temperatures at which you can taste the thing, the worse off you’ll be.
Same goes for the smell factor. Now that I’ve been sitting here with the burger for around ten minutes the stink of it is really beginning to change. It reminds me more of trash now, but maybe trash someone left out in a nice garden. There are little clumps of either the beef or the bacon in my teeth and gums that appear while I’m kind of sucking my mouth to feel the generally garbage-y feeling that begins to accompany the stink. The word “grout” occurs to me, as does “waterslide after some big boys.” I can already feel the burger reforming in my gut—like there is a definite shift in how I felt sitting in this chair before and after having taken three or four bites of the “sandwich.” My belly seems bulgy and like it wants to be placed on stage with a microphone in a shitty bar somewhere. I don’t want to touch my chest or stomach. My shirt feels different, like I borrowed it from someone. I google the caloric value of the sandwich and find it is 680 calories, providing an odd sort of relief. Six-hundred-and-eighty, in the realm of shit we’re playing around with, is just cute, like a nipple on a giant.
Really now, the smell is all up in my breath. My whole office smells like a locker room full of fat teen versions of me right after having been forced to work out. It feels hard to breathe without thinking about the red of Wendy’s hair, how her blood is red, and what I imagine her flesh to look like. Her freckles seem like a pox now. As much as I have always loved Wendy’s, it’s hard to remember why when you are done. I can feel the grease kind of coating me on the inside, and on my face some, even more so than the smell. And while I’m kind of thankful I can remember the taste of the first bites as a thing I wanted and enjoyed for a moment, I am not thankful for how I will forget in no time at all how it feels after, how I will go back to Wendy’s at the first given opportunity I can allow myself without feeling like a lardboy with the same original pleasure holes inside me waiting to be filled again, having completely obliterated the memory that this food does not belong.
Before I throw this thing away—because at this point I’ve let it get so cold and my brain so emotionally apart from it, it just looks like a weird flat sandwich-shaped man’s head that’s been chopped open—I take one little last bite and get almost all lettuce, slathered in a remainder of the sauce that, having cooled now and gelled up by itself, just makes me think of Lego blocks turned into cream. Grease is all over everything. I don’t feel anything but heavier than I should be, older, closer to death, which I guess is why anybody ever eats anything but lettuce, and now I’m ready to lie down.