It’s not often I find myself in McDonald’s, but (or perhaps because) every time I do, I am subjected to something bizarre, disgusting, or otherwise out-of-the-ordinary (though if this is the norm, one could argue… )
Anyway, believe it or not, my recent trip to Miami notwithstanding, me and mine are usually not the cause of these McDonaldland mishaps (though admittedly, when we are, it is always… memorable.) In this case, the fault lay entirely with Cummerbund Bandersnatch and The Girl With the Wet Spot.
Penny and I had been up late the night before watching the second series of the BBC’s Sherlock, which led to meandering, maudlin conversations, mispronunciations, and copious consumption of cocktails into the wee small hours. So when the sunlight struck me, and my head (feeling anything but small or wee) reeled, and my stomach cried out for greasy, sloppy sustenance, there was only one possible solution — that of the golden-arched variety. Now, I don’t know what people did before the Egg McMuffin, but nothing soaks up too much vodka like the breakfast fit, not for a king, but rather for his floppy-shoe-wearing court jester Ronald.
McBreakfast was not a hard sell on Penny, and even though I lost the rock-paper-scissors battle for who would retrieve our repast, the lovely and merciful Countess agreed to come with me, I suspect more out of pity than duty, but one cannot judge or complain if the result is the same.
I must have nodded off on the drive there, because when Penny poked me to tell me that we had arrived, I sat up, startled, and blurted the words Cummerbund Bandersnatch! I then proceeded to surreptitiously wipe an undignified stream of drool from the corner of my mouth.
“Not that again,” Penny smirked. But more on that later. Explanations would have to wait — everything would have to wait — as everything else suddenly became superfluous to the immediate moment, which required all of our attention and inner fortitude to come through intact.
It would have been nice to be given a warning; to have a moment to prepare, but just then, we were trying to process what we were seeing, and at the same time, trying to maintain a certain degree of composure so as to not give away that we thought that anything was amiss. It was like turning a corner and walking into a brick wall, or like opening a door on a sex crime involving a beloved relative. My initial internalized response was revulsion, with a touch of incredulity, with perhaps a pinch of confusion, which then led to a dangerous and unfulfillable curiosity. My inner monologue went something like this:
Oh my god, that’s disgusting! Did she honestly…I mean, there’s no way that is what I think it is, is there? Although, I suppose it… how old is she? She’s not… that is, she’s not wearing a helmet — oh, jeez, Helena, that’s cruel. But what other explanation could there be? She’s acting like there’s nothing out of the ordinary, and here she is, a girl — nay, a young woman (she’s at least Penny’s age), and she’s quite obviously peed her pants.
In retrospect, now that I’ve had some time to consider it, and I have a touch more mental clarity about me, our encounter with The Girl With the Wet Spot (as it has come to be known) only lasted for about four minutes — about the length of time it took Penny and I to order our McMuffin meals, pay the cashier, and step aside to allow people behind us (who were also doing their very best not to look even remotely in the direction of The Girl With the Wet Spot) to order their breakfast. However, when one is trying not to stare at a young girl’s crotch for fear of being publicly shamed, four minutes can seem like a very long time. Especially since every instinct in my body screamed out for me to stare, to solve the mystery, and my internal curiosity kept involuntarily drawing my eyes toward the wet patch that darkened her skin tight sweatpants right at the V where her legs came together. If I was to avoid jail time, (or at the very least a sea of unwanted raised eyebrows), I had to remain vigilant, and keep my eyes moving anywhere but in the vicinity of The Girl With the Wet Spot, even if my overcompensated eye and head movement seemed unnatural. Then there was the matter of protocol and etiquette — what to do in this situation? Should I say something? Perhaps she wasn’t even aware…
Fortunately, I was spared more speculation by Penelope, the wise and quick-thinking Countess of Arcadia, who, sensing that I was likely about to do something embarrassing, grabbed me by the crook of my arm, and dragged my hungover posterior back to the car.
“And just what the hell was that?” Penny snapped, when we got back in the car, though at first I took it as mutual shock and commiseration, until I took a second look at her face.
“I know, I know,” I said, shaking my head, “how crazy was that, right? Was I staring? Oh, god, I was staring, wasn’t I?”
“Well, of course you were staring,” Penny declared, “you were meant to be staring! Everyone in there was meant to be staring. And when you weren’t staring, you were doing your best to be obviously not staring, which was her plan all along.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, rubbing my throbbing temples, then reaching into the brown paper bag for my McMuffin of glory, “you lost me.”
“Precisely,” Penny said with a confident smile. “Misdirection, Helena. Misdirection.”
“I doan forro oo,” I said with a mouthful of McMuffin, then swallowed and repeated myself.
“Well, see if you can follow me around the room, Helena. And do try to keep up, you know I hate repeating myself.”
“Who are you?” I asked, stunned to the point of mild awe.
Without missing a beat, the Countess Penelope of Arcadia, late of Baker Street, continued.
“Behind us and to the left, the unhappy mother who snuck out of the house after getting her baby back to sleep in the crook of her lazy husband’s arm, nursing her flavourless coffee as if it’s the finest espresso on the planet. By the size of the bags under her eyes, I’d say it’s been two, no, three weeks since she’s had more than four hours sleep a night. She’s come to McDonald’s in the clothes she slept in, for indeed, she fell asleep in them, and still has some regurgitated baby formula on her right shoulder that she doesn’t even know is there.
“And then behind us in line, on their way to the breakfast of shame, the couple that, by their silence, and by their complete and utter lack of physical contact, even accidental, tells me that they likely don’t even know each others’ last names. They’re also both wearing wristbands, the kind they give you at clubs for re-entry, and this screams one night stand.
“And then there’s little Suzy on the Playland slide, monopolizing the…”
“Just leave little Suzy out of this,” I interrupted, “and tell me what this has to do with The Girl With the Wet Spot.”
“I’m getting there,” Penny conceded, “I just want to make sure that you were paying attention, and that you didn’t miss the obvious.”
“Which is?” I asked, as it was obviously not obvious to me.
“There was something missing,” Penny began. “Something that, if what you and everyone in the establishment presumed had occurred, should have been there, but was not, in fact, present.”
“And that is?”
“Urine,” Penny stated firmly. “Piss. Pee. Golden Arches.”
“I don’t actually think that last one…” I started, trying not to laugh.
“Fine,” Penny said, disappointed that her attempt at neologism fell flat, “withdrawn.”
“And besides,” I said, thinking that my argument was pretty cut and dried, “there kinda was pee, Penelope.”
“Then where was the smell?” Penny asked, and I knew she had me there. “If that girl peed herself, then I will eat your Deerstalker.”
“But I don’t even own a…”
“TUT-TUT!” Penny cried, putting a finger to my lips. “Let’s see what else you remember. Do you remember what The Girl With the Wet Spot ordered?”
I thought for a moment. Did she order at all? I didn’t think so, and I told Penny so.
“And her friend,” Penny continued, “did you see what she ordered?”
“What friend?” I asked. “The girl standing in front of her? Were they together? I didn’t even notice…”
“You weren’t supposed to,” Penny said, making an impatient let’s go, carry on motion with her hand, and then asked: “And what did she order?”
“A bagel sandwich.” I said, without really thinking too much about it. “And the significance of this is?”
“And what was on her bagel sandwich, Helena? Please, details are important.”
“I dunno, Penny, I’m not exactly my best this morning, can you just tell me what you’re driving at?”
“She had a bacon and egg breakfast bagel, Helena. And where do bagels come from?”
“I don’t know, Penny. New York?”
“Oh Helena,” the Countess of Arcadia sighed in her trademark aristo fashion, “how difficult must it be to be so ignorant.”
“Hey! Now listen, here, you…”
“Poland, Helena. And what do we know about the Poles?”
“Ah, Vaclav Havel is Czech, Helena, but thanks for playing. You also missed it entirely — Poland has a large Jewish population, and in fact, it was a Jewish baker who, in the 1600s, invented the…”
“… Jammie Dodger!” I said, winding her up.
“The Bagel, Helena, and you know it’s the bagel.”
“So you’re saying that you think this girl is Jewish? Because she’s ordering a bagel? I like bagels. So what’s your point?”
“I know, Helena, I do not think. For I have deduced it. It’s quite obvious, actually.”
“It is?” This was news to me. I was lost at sea by this point.
“Yes, of course,” Penny stated with an air of smarty-pants-iness (yes, this is a word now). “I have it all figured out. One need only look at the details. Not only is she Jewish, but she is a Jewess with a secret. You saw her, Helena, tell me what you remember.”
“Oh, never mind. You remember nothing. Our girl (not The Girl With the Wet Spot, the other one) has a secret bacon addiction, and as addicts are wont to do, she has drawn her poor friend into being her confederate in culinary conspiracy.”
“Nice.” I said. Hey, credit where credit is due, I always say.
“Thank you, Helena. Now, it is commonly known that the secret bacon consumer often has to cook their bacon away from the public eye, and, due to the potent smell, will sometimes keep a change of clothes handy. Bacon users will have little bacon hovels where they go to ‘fry-up’ to use the vernacular of the bacon crowd, and then there’s usually a ‘clean room’ where they go and wash up, change their clothes, spray on something aromatic, and come down from their bacon high. But this girl — this girl has gotten sloppy, though she thinks that she’s been so clever, all the while sneakingly sucking traces of bacon grease from her fingers. Did you see the drops of grease on her jumper from the splash-back of the frying pan?”
“That could be from anything,” I said dismissively.
“It could be,” Penny admitted, “if you didn’t notice the bits of white powder under her fingernails that one might attribute to habitual cocaine use, but not this girl, no, her addiction is much more… carnal. That white power is baking soda from putting out the occasional grease fires that happen when the bacon abuser is an a state of euphoria and leaves the frying pan unattended.”
“So why wasn’t she at one of these notorious bacon dens?” I challenged. “Why was she at McDonald’s when she could be tripping the fat fantastic elsewhere?”
Penny sighed and shook a finger in my face matter-of-factly. “The reason they were at McDonald’s is because they ruined their morning batch of bacon, of course, as someone had blown the whistle on their little bacon frying operation, and the girl’s rabbi was on to them. When they got the knock on the door and saw it was her rabbi, come to extol upon them the virtues of kosher living, they’d had to quickly abandon the frying bacon and hastily dump the frying pan, bacon and all, into a sink of soapy water and flee the house through the back door with the rabbi hot on their trail. McDonald’s was just the most convenient place.”
“So you think that when they threw the frying pan in the water, the soapy water splashed the other girl, and she just didn’t have time change before running away?” I ventured.
“You’d like it if it were just that simple, wouldn’t you Helena? No, there’s something more devious afoot.”
“Did you just use the word afoot?” I asked the Countess.
“Yes,” she replied, unfazed. “Get over it.”
“Whatever,” I waved her off, and took a large and unladylike bite of my McMuffin.
Ignoring me, she continued, scratching her head with her straw. “There was something deliberate about that wet spot. It kept the eyes of bystanders occupied. While you were busy trying not to look at the wet patch, your eyes went everywhere else in an effort to hide your discomfort — which is exactly what The Girl With the Wet Patch wanted — what our obviously unorthodox bacon fiend brought her for. Misdirection.”
“You mean the girl with the wet bandersnatch, don’t you?”
“You’re not going to let that go, are you?” Penny sighed.
“Never,” I agreed.
The previous evening, while watching Sherlock, Penny confessed her undying love for the actor who portrays Sherlock Holmes, a man with the incredibly unfortunate and ultimately unintelligible name of Benedict Cumberbatch. Only she had consumed her limit of three vodka and cranberries by that point and Penny (who I assure you is of legal drinking age but who is, I also assure you, a lightweight) insisted that his name was Cummerbund Bandersnatch, which I said sounded like a dirty euphemism for something bad involving female genitalia, as in, ‘She should have been wearing a cummerbund to, you know, cover her bandersnatch’.
Or perhaps it was some sort of mystical beast as thought up by Lewis Carroll:
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The Cummerbund Bandersnatch.
And at two o’clock in the morning, when talk turns to Lewis Carroll, and then devolves into half-remembered snippets of nonsensical verse or shouts of O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! It is decidedly time to turn in before the re-enactments begin.
“So you think she did it on purpose?” I asked, accepting for the time being Penelope’s premise on The Girl With the Wet Spot.
“Oh, without a doubt,” Penny replied without a doubt. “Brilliant, really. Made the other girl — our illustrious bacon fiend — nigh invisible.”
“Well, you don’t want an angry rabbi catching you with a mouth full of bacon, I’ll bet,” I speculated, having no idea what I was talking about, to be honest.
“Nope,” Penny agreed, finally settling into her McMuffin.
“The true measure of a friend, and all that,” I said vaguely.
We sat quietly for a moment, contemplating the absurdity of it. Finally, Penny asked:
“Would you do that for me? Would you pour a drink in your lap as a distraction for me?”
“Darling,” I said without hesitation, “I would pee my pants for real for you.”
Penny looked at me lovingly and then replied, “You’re disgusting.”