I was lying on the pavement of the drive-thru lane of an abandoned White Castle on the wrong side of Nashville. I think it was a Wednesday and I didn’t have a shirt on.
The ground was hot and stained by eons of oil drips from cars that had gone through to get those awful hamburgers. I hate onions so in turn I hate White Castle. They cook the onions right into the meat. I turned my head toward the girl that was lying there on the pavement with me, and I asked her, “Can you get a White Castle burger without the onions?”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “That’s just what they do, and they don’t make any exceptions.” Her name was London, like the city, and she sort of looked like a beat down Geena Davis who’s been sleeping under a bridge.
“Well,” I began. “Maybe if they did make exceptions to the stupid onion rule, this here White Castle wouldn’t be shut down. People deserve to make a choice.”
London propped herself up on one dirty elbow in the oily asphalt and scrunched her face at me. “It’s their business model. Plenty of people like the onions in the meat. Those who don’t like the onions are free to choose to go eat somewhere else.”
I scratched at my stubbled head. My skin was dirty. My blue jeans were dirty. My tattoos were dirty. I was hungry. “I suppose you’re right,” I said. “But McDonald’s puts those damn little onions on their burgers, you know, the ones that look like pieces of rice, and you can tell them not to and they won’t.”
London shook her head at me like I was dumb. “But they get pissed off about it. I saw some guy get so mad once that he started screaming and threw a hamburger against a wall.”
“They really get pissed off like that?”
“I would. If there is a specific plan in place, a procedure, on how to make a hamburger step-by-step, and then some a-hole who doesn’t like onions comes along and wants me to make a hamburger special just for him, yeah, it throws the whole system off. I’d want to kill him.”
“You’d really want to kill someone over onions?”
“If I was having a really bad day, yes, probably.”
“But I thought special orders didn’t upset them.”
“I think that’s somewhere else, and besides, that’s all public relations bullshit,” she said. “Don’t you know that nothing is ever like it’s portrayed in the commercials? Life just isn’t like that. Reality is a whole different animal.”
“You’re really smart,” I told her, and I wanted to lean over and kiss her, but we weren’t really like that yet, and besides, her face was kind of dirty, so I didn’t. I suppose street wanderers like us really don’t have much of a sex life anyways so love like that shouldn’t be expected. And I guess that’s okay because we are mostly concerned with eating, sleeping and where to go to the bathroom. Those thoughts are constant when you don’t have money or a home with a bathroom.
“If I was so smart,” she said, in a way that made her sound smart. “Why the hell am I lying in the drive-thru lane of an abandoned White Castle on the wrong side of Nashville with a creature such as yourself?”
I laughed out loud toward the clouds. “You called me a creature.”
“You are a creature.” Then she started to get up.
“Where you going?” I asked her, looking up and blocking the dazzling sunlight with a hand. “Are you leaving?”
“This is ridiculous. What do you think all those people driving by are saying about us?”
She pointed with an open palm, and I turned my head the other way, toward the street clogged with lines of traffic in the heat of the afternoon. “I suppose they’re all wondering why we’re lying on the ground in the drive-thru lane of an abandoned White Castle.”
“That’s right. It’s embarrassing, and I don’t want to be doing it any longer. I’m going to find someplace sensible. Like a park with some trees that are casting down clouds of shade. You should come with me.”
“I don’t think I want to. I’m going to stay here and let people talk about me as they drive by. I don’t care because they don’t care. Do you think any one of those thousands of cars is going to stop to take a moment out of their precious day to come over here and see if I’m okay? To see if I need food or medical care or maybe a cheap room?”
London shrugged her shoulders. “Hardly anyone does that, so if that’s what you’re truly hoping for, maybe an abandoned White Castle isn’t the place to be. But then again, some idiot could think it’s open and come over. I don’t know.” She released a deep sigh. “We must take care of ourselves because society would rather drop bombs and make money and twiddle with their tech toys. That’s why I’m going to the park. Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?”
“I’m sure. I hope to prove you and myself wrong. I will do it for my people. Surely someone will come and help me. It will give us all hope for a better future.”
London laughed out loud. “Yeah, maybe a cop will come by, and he’ll help you right to jail for loitering or some other horrible law they’ve proposed to keep us down rather than lifting us up. People are awful. Remember that. I gotta go.”
I watched London for a long while as she slowly meandered her way through the clog of streets and cars and buildings and people running to and from all their meaningless tasks. Someone blared a car horn. She nearly got hit because people like us our merely litter. We’re the Styrofoam cup slow dancing with the wind in the roadway that for some reason is so fun to gun for and run over. The whole god damn world cares about the wrong things. I’ve always felt that way.
But I wasn’t about to give up. I just knew that someone out there on this hot as Nashville chicken in Nashville day would feel their heart thumping inside their very own soul and they would come rescue me from my woes. Surely someone from the church across the way would care enough, I thought.
I laid back down in the dirty drive-thru of that abandoned White Castle and I waited as the world recklessly went by on the chaotic street. And I waited and I waited, and I waited. And even after the big moon cracked open its own guts in the night and filled the sky with a bright, white light, I kept on waiting.
I’m still there, the scent of onions forever etched in the air.