I stopped by a local 7-11 on an emergency caffeine run this afternoon. It’s been a while since I’ve visited my neighborhood purveyors of overprocessed sundries, but when I walked in the door, it was as though I’d never left. The shelves and freezers were stocked the same way they were months ago. The same bored clerks sat behind the registers, with their buttons claiming ‘DEDICATED TO SERVICE‘ and their expressions screaming ‘SOMEONE PLEASE KILL ME NOW‘. And, of course, there were the ubiquitous mystery meat ‘hot dogs’ spinning on rollers behind a plastic shield, like slow-roasted petrified turds on a conveyor belt.
(No, that’s not a particularly useful analogy, unless maybe you’ve worked in a slow-roasted petrified turd factory. And the turd plants around here closed up shop years ago. Maybe if they’d formed a turd workers union it would have turned out better.
I’ll just stop now. Back to the convenience store. I’m so sorry.)
“Somehow I doubt the DoD has a ‘mutant Polish sausage’ contingency plan. We’d be overrun in no time, and enslaved to work in the mustard mines. I wouldn’t relish that, let me tell you.”
A lot of people focus on how scary the hot dog wieners are in these places. And they are. Don’t get me wrong — they are. Some of those weenies have been there since the Eisenhower administration; there are a couple at my local 7-11 that appear to be sprouting fins, and possibly a tail. Lord help us all if they ever work out a way to escape their plastic heated prisons. Somehow I doubt the DoD has a ‘mutant Polish sausage’ contingency plan. We’d be overrun in no time, and enslaved to work in the mustard mines. I wouldn’t relish that, let me tell you.
The scary (hot) dog meats are nothing, however, compared to the willie-inducing little machine humming away ominously beside them. Over beside the buns and ketchup packets is a device with several greasy brownish stains and a friendly message in large yellow font proclaiming:
Just below this reassuring advertisement are two bright red buttons, with labels reading:
PUSH FOR FREE CHEESE!
PUSH FOR FREE CHILI!
There are corresponding photographs portraying bowls of shimmery melted cheese and hearty chili that are, by all appearances, genuinely delicious. As promised.
My father always told me, ‘son, there’s no such thing as a free lunch‘. I may be extrapolating here, but I take that sentiment to also apply to pre-cooked heated condiments. Do I trust the mustard packets in a place like that? Probably. Do I trust the little bowl of soggy diced onions with the filthy spork? Somewhat less so. And do I trust the FREE and purportedly DELICIOUS cheese and chili, dispensed from a machine that was probably last cleaned back when I was in diapers. Not on your life. My daddy didn’t raise no botulism victim.
Still, I was curious. So when no one was looking — and without a hot dog in hand to provide a cover story — I approached the scary machine for a closer inspection. Looking both ways to ensure the clerks were still sleeping at their registers, I gingerly poked at the ‘FREE CHEESE!‘ button.
What emerged looked nothing at all like the tasty cheese in the picture. The appetizing vibrant yellows of the photo gave way to a disturbing, too-bright orange. It was the sort of color that Mother Nature uses on poisonous snakes and stinging insects to warn innocent animals to steer clear. And if the product in the picture could be described as ‘thick’ and ‘creamy’, the real thing was… what’s a word that means ‘somewhere between the consistency of half-set Jell-O and extra-pulpy orange juice’? It was that. Only ‘congealedier’.
Quickly — before I could be caught wasting ‘food’ or think too hard about what I’d just witnessed — I pressed the ‘FREE CHILI!‘ button. A brown, steaming, lumpy mess spat from the nozzle and collected on the wire rack below. It reminded me less of any chili I’d ever eaten, and more of the contents of the oil pan from my dad’s old Chevy Impala the time he waited too long before an oil change. Forget about putting it on a hot dog; I was scared some of it would splash up and touch my exposed arm. Just a drop would likely take years off your life.
I had seen enough. Haunted and jumpy, I grabbed the first soda bottle in reach, shoved a couple of bucks at the zombie working the register, and hightailed it out of the store. The caffeine was tasty, but my experience with the chili ‘n’ cheese doomsday device will haunt my dreams for weeks. From now on, I think I’ll be getting my sodas from the grocery store. The only free food in that place is the tray of cocktail weenie samples near the meat freezer. I wouldn’t eat those, either, but they’re fun to chuck at other shoppers. Much better.Permalink | 1 Comment