Commentary 28 Jun 2012 09:59 am
The human mind cannot accept a negative.
This is why when somebody says, “Do not think of the color red,” the first image that comes to mind is crimson. Or when a friend posts a picture on Facebook of two Star Trek characters, a chicken and the warning, “Do not look at this chicken,” your brain cries foul — or fowl.
That’s fun for parlor tricks, but more seriously, it’s also the reason why people who go through life saying that they will not be like their parents end up exactly like them, because their minds ignore the “not” and instead reinforce whatever negative traits they are trying to avoid. Fait accompli.
All of which explains my ongoing struggles to avoid cheese on my hamburgers.
See, for decades I’ve waged a War on Cheese comparable to the federal government’s War on Drugs, and with about the same results. No matter how often or how clearly I say, “No cheese,” the fast-food jockeys on the other end of the drive-thru microphone or the other side of the counter never hear the “no,” which leaves me with a gooey mass of yellow phlegm melted to patty and bun.
If I’ve ordered at the drive-thru, I have at least two choices: let the rest of my order get cold while I go back and explain to the vacant-eyed, polyester-wearing employee (Welcome to Bob’s Burger Barn, my name is Ken) that some people really, really don’t like cheese; or scrape the offending slice off the bun at home, which leaves a residue and a bitter aftertaste, like bad Chinese carryout or a chubby ballerina’s unfulfilled dreams.
If I’m dining in the restaurant, I must get back in line behind the little kid who’s digging for boogers the way a prospector mines for gold while his mom — the kid’s, not the prospector’s — patiently waits for him to decide on the fruit cup or the applesauce. When I finally return to my seat, everybody else in my party has finished, so I must wolf down my cheeseless entrée while they fiddle with cellphones or flick plastic silverware into empty french fry containers.
But my cheese dilemma isn’t confined only to fast-food emporiums. It also affects meals in upper-scale restaurants. Because I order hamburgers anytime, anywhere, even passing over hoity-toity choices like cognac shrimp with beurre blanc sauce or petit fois for the sublime taste sensation of a good old greasy burger, I must also occasionally fight with snotty head waiters over my right to live a cheese-free existence. Our conversations go something like this:
Me: Excuse me, good sir, but I would like your very finest hamburger, harvested at the peak of patty perfection from a USDA-approved hamburger orchard where all trees are fertilized with mushrooms and ketchup.
Maître d: Vous say vous wants zee haimburgair?
Me: Oui. And please, sir, NO CHEESE.
Maître d: Ah, monsieur likes zee cheese, eh?
Me: No, no, no cheese.
Maître d: Ah! Yes, yes, yes to zee cheese!
Me: No cheese. Negatory cheese. Ixnay on the eesechay.
Maître d: Ah, then monsieur no longer wants zee haimburgair.
Me: No, monsieur wants, monsieur wants. What monsieur does NOT want is the cheese.
Maître d: Voila … zee cheeseburgair, eh?
Last month, I bit into a Combo No. 1 from Wendy’s when I detected the yellow intruder bubbling up on top of the patty the way cartoon fungi invade toenails in athlete’s foot commercials. I didn’t want to slog back to the counter and complain, so I ate it.
It wasn’t exactly a Sam I Am epiphany — Say, I do, I do so like green eggs and ham! — but it didn’t suck either. So maybe from now on I’ll just grin and eat it.
But thinking back to how the mind cannot accept a negative, I’m wondering what would happen if I asked counter jockeys or waiters NOT to imagine a plain burger. Maybe that’s exactly what I’d get, which would be a darn sight better than seeing red over cheese.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published in The Alliance Review on June 28, 2012