My friend and editor, Stephanie, suggested I start this column off by introducing myself and explaining the scope of this bi-weekly humor column, but I’ll just have to get back to that. Right now, I find myself stuck in the swamp of a moral dilemma, and I want to yak about that.
It’s the typical dilemma that appears whenever my traditional Appalachian upbringing collides with my New Age aging-hippy sensibilities. I’m sitting in McDonalds, which is something I rarely do anymore since my wife talked me into joining her in following a vegan diet. The “plant-based” diet is supposed to help me live longer, or, at the very least, provide me with the self-righteous smugness that comes from thinking I’m going to live longer. Ah, what could be more fun than eventually living long enough to see all my contemporaries die off from eating poorly? Or even better, having my family and friends relish the irony of how low my cholesterol was when I was fatally struck by lightning or flattened by a bus.
So, living primarily off grains and greens, I guess you might say I’m a vegan hillbilly. My imaginary uncle, Woody Herb, would say that a “vegan hillbilly” is anyone who has sworn off roadkill, and that as much as anything I reckon, sums up my lifestyle and the source of this particular dilemma. The problem is this: it’s harder for me to give up being cheap than it is for me to forgo meat and cheese.
I’m sitting in McDonalds because I offered to get new tires put on my wife’s car, and the tire place didn’t have wifi in their waiting room. My wife’s front tire has had a slow leak and for the past three months, we’ve been routinely plunking quarters into gas station air machines to keep the car on the road. There’s just something horribly wrong with society when we’ve reached the stage in civilization where I’ve paid for the tires, but somehow, I need to keep renting the air inside of them. Remember when gas stations used to give air away? There was a time in America when we used to call them “service stations,” and now, they only “service” us in the same sense of the word as the Internal Revenue Service uses the word — which, frankly, is a pretty abusive use of the word in my humble opinion. Anyway, I digress.
So, because of the way I was raised, I am uncomfortable with sitting in a business establishment (even one as profitable as Mickey Dees) without spending any money while I suck up their free bandwidth. Anyway, in the spirit of full disclosure, I ordered an iced coffee and a couple of hash browns. Neither the iced coffee or the hash browns are actually permitted on the “heart-healthy” diet, because the potatoes have spent too much time wallowing in the luxury of hot grease and the coffee comes with milk in it. Of my two purchases, the iced coffee is probably the more flagrant of the dietary violations because it was excreted by a living animal, but in my defense, McDonald’s iced coffee is pretty delicious, and I’m not made of stone.
Okay, so here’s where Fate decided to play its little reindeer game with me because I brazenly sauntered between the Golden Arches this morning; the Big McDs is once again attaching tiny peel-off squares that allows people to collect them for prizes and win free food. Between my iced coffee and my two hash browns, I received six such tiny cardboard squares reminiscent of that board game that shall go unmentioned because my family will no longer play with me because I make vicious threats when they cut side deals that I think should be outside the sphere of acceptable game play (“I’ll trade you Marvin Gardens for New York Avenue if you’ll wash my car sometime next week.”)
So naturally I pull the trading pieces from the back of the food packages, and there it is, boom, a free quarter pounder. Now there was a time in my life when a free cheeseburger would have been cause for a minor dance party in the parking lot, but those days have gone the way of dinosaurs, disco, and blacksmiths; the world has moved on, and I’m struggling to keep up with my convictions. Unfortunately, my reputation for cheapness has some basis of truth in it; my children claim I’m able to squeeze a nickle until Jefferson squeals. And now I find myself in one of those old Warner Brothers cartoons where a tiny devil sits on one shoulder while a tiny angel offers counsel on the other. What do I do with the coupon for the free quarter pounder?
Yeah, I know. I could throw it away, and let it go. But that’s wasteful, and my inner hillbilly says it’s a sin to waste food. Can you see how real this cheeseburger is to me? I know that in reality McD’s is not going to have an extra quarter pounder that they don’t know what to do with, but that magical piece of cardboard could produce an actual sandwich so it’s real enough to me. I could give the coupon to someone else, but isn’t that like enabling someone else’s poor diet? What kind of human being would I be to encourage a behavior I’m abstaining from? Thus, the little hick devil on my shoulder says its better that I eat the burger than to darken my karma with someone else’s clogged arteries. What makes this so hard is that it’s not just a quarter pounder, it’s a prize. My Appalachian upbringing has taught me that people who don’t respect prizes are doomed never to win anything again. Life comes with precious few freebies; “Take’em if you can get’em,” wails the ghosts of my pot-licking ancestry.
So here’s where I am. I’m sticking the confounded coupon in my wallet where all small pieces of paper go to die. And if sometime in the next few weeks, I find myself destitute and suicidal, I’ll cash it in. Otherwise, I’ll just hope the coupon expires before I do.
Don Dudding is a retired public school teacher who has a Ph.D in English and who has recently taken up cartooning. You can read his daily webcomic “Pencilzania” at dudding.net.