That was the summer the Beanie Babies descended on our town.
McDonald’s announced that their Happy Meals would be accompanied by a different Beanie Baby stuffed animal each week. With religious fervor, adults across our suburban community laid waste to the restaurants like so many pudgy Mongols. According to the 6 o’clock news, these stuffed animals were limited edition “collector’s items”, endowed with the power to transubstantiate thousands of housewives, firemen, secretaries, retirees, church pastors and exotic dancers into a newly homogenized crowd of “Collectors”.
Our next door neighbor had bought dozens of every model. Her husband had to move his tools into a shed out back—the Beanie Babies had annexed the garage and appeared to have designs on the den. When someone obsesses this way over old newspapers or toenail clippings, they’re called a “hoarder” and ushered into a reality TV show on their way to the rehab clinic. When they do it with McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, they’re a Collector.
The curious thing about it all was, very few kids were getting these Happy Meals. This horde of diversion-starved adults was stampeding towards the McDonald’s with reckless abandon, ravenous with Collector’s greed but indifferent towards actual food.
Most of the childless customers shamelessly ordered seven Happy Meals anyway with an attitude of entitlement; a few of them made a half-hearted effort to create the illusion of progeny by leaving an empty car seat in their sedan. As for the customers who had managed to reproduce before ingesting weeks of carcinogenic food, however, their children learned a valuable lesson that summer—it is, indeed, possible to get sick of McDonald’s.
Our family was no exception. For weeks, mom corralled us into the station wagon every day and drove us across town for a nutritionally vapid lunch. Against of our better wishes. We begged for carrots, for fresh lettuce, for fresh tomatoes… “That would go great on your hamburger, sweetie,” mom replied. “We’ll see if we have time to stop by the supermarket on our way home from McDonald’s.”
After a fortnight of these rations, I could perpetually taste the oil from the French fries inside my mouth, even after multiple brushings. I queued with mom and my siblings one Friday afternoon, licking the grime from my teeth and staring at the drive-thru next to us; a line of glistening minivans emitted a cloud of heat waves. As we stood there, sweating industrial
…a herd of avarice-driven adults runs across a parched desert plain, arms stretched out towards the Beanie Babies, kicking up a cloud of dust that nearly blots out the sun. A small child stands in their way, nonchalantly licking an ice cream cone—one middle aged
I awoke from my reverie to find that the line had barely moved. We were finally standing in the shade of the restaurant’s patio cover, however, and were inches away from the air-conditioned inner sanctum where the grown-ups’ Holy Grails awaited.
While standing in line, other customers were sharing tips with each other on how to use the congealed leftovers. “Yeah, we save the fries in the freezer. Then if you heat up oil in a pan and cook them, they taste almost fresh.”
A short-haired, bleach-blond woman stood behind us, dragging four children by the wrists towards Ronald’s lair. “But I don’t wanna, mom—I’m tired of Happy Meals!” My first reaction was to admire her—the mother was able to smoke a cigarette, drink from a can of Diet Coke, and hold four infantile wrists at the same time.
The woman smiled at mom with a toothy, amphetaminic grin. “You’re here for the Beanies too, right? Aren’t they great! I just give the meals to my kids, they’re fine with it.”
The line inched towards the door.
“I try to make ‘em healthy, though,” the blond continued. “I don’t let ‘em get soda, I make ‘em get melk with their Happy Meals. That way it’s healthy, you know?”
The door finally, opened, and we were met with a refreshing blast of frigid air. Inside, at last. The anxious chatter of Collectors filled the dining area; children chafed at their parents’ grips, groaning as if in the pangs of childbirth.
The mother of four made it inside the door and joined us. “This way I don’t have to go to the store and buy melk for my kids, see, ‘cause I get it here when I’m getting my Beanie Baby.” She exchanged gossip with mom about which Beanies had yet to be released. I fixed my vapid gaze on the ceiling vent directly above me. Registers clicked, loose change clinked, bags ruffled around me.
Once we neared the register, mom prepared to say her goodbyes to our line companion. The fellow Collector left mom with one final bit of parting advice. “Well I really suggest you stock up on melk. You can put it on your kids’ breakfast cereal, too. I’m getting fifteen Happy Meals today, because this toy’s only around for one more day.” She wished us the best, and bent to tie her son’s shoe.
And in the midst of this commercialistic frenzy, this orgy of overspending, the hordes of French fries and reams of stuffed animals and millions of empty calories invading every suburbanite’s garage and freezer and fridge, all I could think was…
Who the hell pronounces it “melk”?