Building a Better McDonalds



             I was surprised one morning to see a McDonalds I bike past everyday leveled to the ground.  Not only was it demolished, but in its place was a sizable pit.  Large earth-digging machines were moving dirt from one pile to another.  The McDonalds sign read: Next McDonalds 1.5 miles.


            Looks like we're getting a better McDonalds.  A better McDonalds?  Two questions: what makes it better, and why do we need an improvement?  The old one seemed perfectly fine.  If the Big Macs contained the special sauce and the fries were greasily voted the best around, why tear down to build the same thing?  Maybe the new plastic ball section will contain 15,000 balls instead of 10,000.  That's 50% more plastic balls in which your child can frolic, the pesky ankle biter.   


            So it got me thinking about the lost art of contentment.  I buy a couple Big Macs a year and whenever I do, wherever I am, it's not about the McDonalds.  All I need is the Simpsons-esque, pimply-faced, skinny teenager to correctly assemble the grease bomb, box it in paperboard, stash it under the heat lamp, and eventually it will get to me.  I'm happy.  I get two days of saturated fat in one blow.  Pure satisfaction.  So who is the force behind this superfluous  building trick?  “Sir, we have you surrounded.  Just put down the McDonalds and come out with your hands up.  Leave the McDonalds alone sir, and no one will get hurt.”


            Of course the penchant to upgrade and improve is not new, and not all bad.  As a homebrewer I'm always trying to make a better batch.  I strive for a more complete fermentation, a stronger hop aroma, and a cleaner beer.  Weren't my early batches good enough?  Sure.  They were very good.  But why not try to make them better?  So I can appreciate the tension between wanting to improve and being content with good enough.


            The state of contentment exists, and we can get there.  No, you don't turn left at Idaho.  It's about priorities.  If our priority is to be in an exceptionally clean, preferably newer, McDonalds, if we want the biggest plastic-ball playpen and the snazziest Ronald décor, then indeed we want to tear down the old and build the new.  But if our priority is, say, the relationship we have with the person with whom we are sharing this manna from heaven, then we won't notice the worn floor. 


            Maybe I'm all wet, all covered in honey mustard dipping sauce (mmm.... honey mustard dipping sauce...) but when thinking about contentment and and the drive to improve, related ideas come to mind.  Call me old-timey (no, really), but growing up in Small Town Wisconsin, population 2,404, engrained into me a fondness for a simpler life.  For me, a large part of contentment is focusing on the small and simple things I enjoy.  When I take time to do these things, I am not only content for the time being, but it helps cultivate a state of mind that more easily allows contentment to exist.  But life near University Avenue in St. Paul is at times hectic, and often the simple things get put up on the shelf for later use.


            “Hey Mr. Smarty Pants, how do you propose one lives the simple life in the big city.  Huh?  Well?”  I don’t know man, take it easy.  For me, the battle is to rage against the busy.  Everything is busy.  Drive here, get this item, go home, go pick up that.  Drive to the movie, go out to eat, drive over to that friend’s house, go to this homebrew meeting, install this software, edit this .wav file.  And I don’t even have kids!  I have to think about priorities, like I said before.  What is important to me?  What am I forgetting to do amidst the chaos?  What is falling to the bottom of the pile under all the chaotic clutter?  I need to slow down and make those things happen whenever I can.


This week I stopped the busy.  Usually I’m working on something right up until bedtime, but last Wednesday was different.  I had been reading about Radiohead and particularly about how esteemed The Bends has become over time.  I’ve enjoyed that record for years and thought I should get it out while reading this biography.  So I dug through my cd’s, found it, put it on the stereo.  And turned it up.  And then I turned it up some more.  When the reading was done, I just laid on the couch listening to the music, a rare occurrence of sitting still and focusing on something I love.  I rocked (“Bones”), I hemmed (“Sulk”), I reminisced (“Fake Plastic Trees,” “High and Dry”), and I nearly cried (“Black Star.”)  In “Black Star” when he sings “the troubled words of a troubled mind I try to understand what is eating you,” I had never noticed that guitar line before, the one that kind of sets the melancholy mood even more.  Having the volume up louder than usual helped me notice it I guess.  And when the cd was done I said to Jamie (probably more than once) that I really enjoyed that.  That is a great record.  And now it is days later and I am still thinking about it.  And I just wrote a whole bloody paragraph about it.  It was something I had loved doing in the past, and realized I still do.  I stopped the busy and for a few minutes remembered to live my life. 


Good luck fighting the battle. 


We can do it.