Our family of six stopped by the drive-thru window of a local fast food restaurant because no one wanted to cook. Our oldest son, Arman, who is six, had recently taken a liking to the Smiley Meal. He didn’t really like the food, but he really liked the toy, which is why, I suppose, it’s there in the first place.
We pulled up to the little speaker. “Hello, welcome to Fast Food, may I take your order?”. I’m guessing that’s what she said. You know how those drive-thru speakers can be sometimes – pretty crackly. “Yes, I’ll have a blah, two blahs, one blah, and one Smiley Meal.” “May I repeat your order, sir? That’s one blah, two blahs, a blah, and one Smiley Eel.”
Hmmmmm. I’m pretty sure I said “Smiley Meal” and she probably heard “Smiley Meal” and she may have even meant to say “Smiley Meal”, and it may have just been the speaker crackling, but I’m sure she said “Smiley Eel.” Here on the tropical island of Saipan, it would be quite possible to get a Smiley Eel at the local Fast Food place.
The scene flashes across my mind: Arman gets the Smiley Meal box. Everyone is opening their food. He sticks his hand into the box without looking and this smiling slithering sopping wet three feet long eel latches onto his wrist with two hundred tiny razor teeth. He screams! Everyone screams. Food flies! The eel won’t let go! Arman is flailing his arm and the eel is swinging like a fat whip, smacking the other kids as they try to duck. Blood is spurting from Arman’s wrist, splattering the inside of the windows. This is the scene that I imagine, in that split second. Parents are programmed to imagine worst-case scenarios in an instant, as part of an evolutionary mechanism to ensure the survival of the species while simultaneously keeping parents on the edge of insanity. I stare at the speaker and hear. “Sir, will that be all?”
I’m weighing my options. I mean, I really don’t want to end up with a Smiley Eel instead of a Smiley Meal. I’d better clarify things, don’t you think? Well, I break with long-standing character flaws and put my trust in the forces of the universe. “Yes, that will be all.” “Thank-you, next window please.” I pull up with a sense of doom.
She passes the food though the window. The kids are eager. I (while still completely trusting in the forces of the universe, mind you), peek inside the Smiley Meal box. No eel. Whadya know. Silly me.
I pass everything back, shaking my head and chuckling at myself for my ridiculous imaginings. Arman gets his meal, thrusts his hand inside the box, pulls it out screaming! Food flies. Everyone is screaming. It’s minivan pandemonium! “What in Ray Kroc is going on?!,” I wonder, “I checked the box. I swear I did!”
Tears are running down Arman’s face as he clutches something in his small hand. “This isn’t a toy!,” he screams. “Look at this! This isn’t a toy!” (Okay. This here is a little note for Arman’s future college application reviewer or employer or fiancé or whoever decides to google Arman and comes across this column. I’m exaggerating, okay? Arman would never ever respond like this in real life. He’s a great guy and emotionally solid. I’m using artistic license here. Plus, he’s only six.)
I stare at the toy, as do all my other kids, and we agree with Arman’s sentiments: What in the H-E-double-toothpicks is THAT? It’s a sort of demented looking Sponge Bob pin-cushion thing-a-ma-bob. Not much you can do with it, except look at it (which isn’t easy) and throw it away.
Which brings me to my point (yes, there is one). What are they thinking up there at worldwide Fast Food corporate headquarters? These toys last 30 seconds, fill the dump with unnecessary mass, end up in the ocean, or worse, my sock drawer, and have little redeeming value beyond the sale. A toy like this just isn’t very satisfying.
Here is what I propose (and I speak on behalf of all parents). Instead of adding these cheap little toys to the meal, throw in something that will last. Something that will bring joy. Something that will love you back. Throw in a puppy. A cute warm, fuzzy, adorable puppy. (Or even, say, a live chicken.) Now that would be something to cheer about; something to live with and grow with; a pet! And here on Saipan, it would help address both the solid waste problem (by eliminating the disposable 30 second toy) and the stray dog (and chicken) issue. Run a joint promotion with PAWS. Include a Boonie Dog with every Fast Food meal. “Would you like a mangy Wiener dog with your Big Deal Fish Meal, Ma’am?” Now we’re talkin’! “Sir, can we Super-Size that to a Boonie-with-a-Tumor for you?” Yeah, buddy!
Sure, it’ll take a little extra training to figure out how to safely pass the critters through the take-out-window, across the gap, and into the car window (probably tail-first), but it’ll be worth it. We face a multiplicity of serious issues on our islands, and this is one solution that can definitively address several of our mounting problems simultaneously. The landfill wins, the stray dogs (and chickens) win, the children win, the whole island wins! This is a real solution to a real problem. Let’s generate some discussion on this. Do you think a Boonie Dog offer with every Fast Food Meal with help eradicate the CNMI’s stray dog problem, while simultaneously decreasing solid waste? Click on “Comments” and fire away.