The other day, my wife and I took my grand kids to McDonalds. We clearly understand this is not the best place to take them for lunch but it is nearly impossible to tell them different. We sat in our normal corner booth with my wife organizing the chaos while I went up to the counter to get them their favorite ‘Happy Meals’.
On my way back to the booth I noticed an elderly gentleman sitting at the next booth by himself. He had no food or drink in front of him and for some odd reason he brought a story into my mind. He was very old or at least he appeared to have survived too many decades. His skin was the color of over-cooked chicken and hung from what was probably a strong, structured face.
The skin on his face was freckled with the type of marks that had nothing to do with cute. He had large, dark bags under each eye that were permanently placed there from years of worry and concern about everything he once found important. He also wore eyeglasses that hung on the end of his pocked nose. These glasses had nothing to do with anything modern because they were large and, like his skin,were gray.
My grandkids were deeply involved in their ‘Happy meals’ and were playing with their ‘Happy Toy’. My wife was enjoying her ice coffee making sure neither of them swallowed one of their ‘Happy Toys’. Sneaking a peak over the side of the booth I noticed the old man wore a blue flannel shirt and bright greenish yellow shorts. I then assumed he wasn’t married because no wife would allow this combination to see the light of day.
Working on my own quarter pounder I was shocked to notice that this person seemed to have fallen asleep. His hands were crossed as though he was praying to his God. His head was dipped deep into his chest and I feared that he might fall over. Looking down at his hands I noticed a newspaper. Before he fell asleep I remembered he never turned the pages. He just used it as a pedestal to relax his hands on.
After a few moments, he shook his head gingerly in order to make sure he hurt nothing in his neck and started to stare into his hands that were held by the newspaper. At first I was afraid he would see me observing him, so I looked down into my sandwich and basically forgot I was eating. I looked up again and saw that his eyes were opened but he was seeing nothing.
My mind raced into wondering who this man was. Did he once have a loving wife and family? Did he make the mistake of living a bit too long? Was he once a successful man who enjoyed his life and never imagined he would end up in a booth, by himself, at a McDonalds Restaurant. I wonder how many children he had and why the hell weren’t they taking care of him.
A large family then arrived at the restaurant and enveloped the table that was diagonal to our booth. They were excited about where they were because that is what you had to be at this particular restaurant. The man then slowly turned his head to grab a glimpse and then immediately turned his gaze back to his hand that still covered the newspaper. I think I thought his hands start to shake.
By this time my crew had finished their meals and requested that we go to the nearest ice-cream parlor. At first my wife had to prod me back to reality and asked if something was wrong? I just shook my head and started to retrieve the empty boxes, wrappers, and left-over food in order to throw it away. Before I stood up I thought it necessary to grab another glimpse of this old man.
I was terrified because the old man was staring back at me. I wanted to apologize for invading his privacy and promise to never do it again. I didn’t have the time or courage because he simply dropped his head to his chest in order to stare at his folded hands that rested on the newspaper.
Walking out of the restaurant, I wanted to turn around to ask this old man why he wanted to get this old? The answer was quickly answered in my sigh that expressed the reality that no-one does.
By Jim Fabiano, a writer and a retired teacher living in York, Maine