The other day on the plane a woman sat down next to me and began eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I don’t know how
many years it has been since I had one of those; at least 25? But at the mere
scent of it, I could picture the translucent rice-sized onion pieces scattered
across the red-stained bun, feel the texture of the plasticky American cheese
slice on the roof of my mouth. Saliva flooded my cheeks to meet the saltiness of the patty
and I recalled perfectly the way it first resisted my teeth and then broke
apart all of a sudden, yielding to the pressure. I remembered precisely how the
bun felt soft and warm against my lips as I bit down, the slight sweetness of
the ketchup and the bite of the yellow mustard. The feel of the yellow wrapper
folded back and brushing against the tip of my nose was visceral, as if I were
eating the cheeseburger myself and not the woman next to me. As if there were
no greater reward in life than to tuck into a fast food icon like the
hockey-puck-size McDonald’s cheeseburger. As if it wouldn’t send my stomach
into spasms and my immune system into red alert, fully guaranteeing my
near-permanent residence atop a toilet seat for most of the next 72 hours. I am
certain I ate my share of these little beauties as a kid and I know full well
how toxic they are to me as an adult. And yet, this remains one of the single
most volatile and crystal-clear food memories I have. One that requires only a
scant whiff of it as a stranger on an airplane unwraps it to send my mind and
body reeling into a vortex of pleasant sensations.