“An Orthodox Jew Walks into a McDonald’s…”



39 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003

Neighborhood: Union Square

I am not expecting it to be so pink. The floor is tiled light mauve-ish, though it’s having a brown sort of day, what with the rain and the customers tracking in the muck from outside. The counters and tables are a marbleized pink and the occasional wall panel is deep purple. I had been expecting a lot more bright reds, yellows and oranges. The closest I get are the maroon shirts the counter employees are wearing. And I guess the trademark golden arches and red lettering fall into the bright red-orange-yellow category, but the McDonald’s corporate logo shouldn’t really count.

I’m not quite sure how many times I have been inside a McDonald’s but it’s got to be under ten, including this most recent outing. As an Orthodox Jew, the only acceptable reason to enter a McDonald’s is to use the restroom and only after you have searched high and low for at least a half hour in all directions. If you have to take this unfortunate step, you also have to make sure the area is clear of any other Orthodox Jews; lest one see you enter and think, “Hey! I know that girl and she is a good law-abiding frum Jew so if she’s going into McDonald’s, it must be alright to eat there.” (Some entrepreneurial Jew should market signs that say stuff like, “I’m using the restroom” or “I only want a Coke.” You could hold the appropriate one up each time you enter a treif restaurant. There’s definitely money to be made in that.)

I don’t look both ways before I go in, but I’m not at all worried. It’s pouring outside so everyone, Orthodox Jew or otherwise, walks past with their heads down and huddled underneath their umbrellas. Also, it’s been six years since I graduated from high school and trashed my long black pleated uniform skirt. Clad in a pair of jeans and Pumas, I look like your average college student.

The first thing that hits me when I enter, even before the pinkness, is the smell of fries. It’s salty and oily and completely overwhelming. I definitely want some. I’m also craving ketchup. Instead, I sit down at a counter (also pink) against the wall and near a potted plant and look at the menu, large enough and bright enough to be read from twenty feet. Everything on the menu looks pretty good, even the cheeseburger, but it is the large picture of the iced coffee with the gigantic ice cubes floating in a sea of milky brown that keeps catching my eye. It’s one of the few things I can order in this establishment.

But I don’t. I’m not ready to stand in line with the others. I don’t want my iced coffee anywhere near their cheeseburgers, bacon or even their fries.

From my counter perch, I spy on the eaters. Behind me, there’s a rather large girl wearing a striped pink shirt enjoying lunch with a skinny friend. I notice her right away because of the shirt. I want to go over and advise her against wearing horizontal stripes in the future, but I pause for a few minutes and when I turn back around she and that skinny one are gone. They’ve been replaced by a guy in a backwards baseball cap and a white tee shirt. A few minutes later, he’s gone, too. His seat has been filled by a teenage boy in a horizontally striped shirt. It’s a little better on him, but only marginally so. Horizontal stripes flatter no one.

I turn to my left so I can better see what people are eating. The cheeseburger that had looked so good on the menu looks puny and pathetic sitting in front my table neighbor. The melted cheese is incredibly orange and plastic looking. Not to mention that cheese melting on meat is just gross and unnatural. The Asian woman to my left eats an egg sandwich cheese and I can’t find any religious objections to her choice except the color–the eggs are practically fluorescent and the cheese, it’s just as orange as it is on the cheeseburgers.

Then there’s the matter of the buns. Where have all the fluffy buns gone? Instead, the ones I see are flat and greasy looking. I realize this has something to do with the way the patrons are chowing down. They squeeze the buns between their fingers before they unhinge their jaws. The sandwiches fit in easily and they finish entire burgers in three or four bites and then wash down the meal with fries and coke. Which reminds me, I should probably check to see if the guy in the horizontal stripes is still sitting behind me. Nope, he’s still there. He must be a careful chewer.

My stomach starts growling. It wants those fries or at least something better than the Tasti D Lite it got for lunch. I contemplate some packets of ketchup. Hanging over the condiment and plasticware section is a photo of the New York City skyline, pre-9/11. I guess if you’re going to hang a photo of the Twin Towers, the condiment station is as good a place as any. A couple of wall panels to the right of the Twin Towers, there’s some artwork, pastel tissue paper cut to resemble Stars of David and mezuzot. They blend in nicely with the color scheme but are as out of place in a McDonald’s as I feel.

I refrain from checking out the restrooms. Starbucks is next door and the baristas never hassle you if you use the bathroom without ordering a latte. But I probably will. I’m hungry and Starbucks’ coffee is kept far, far away from the cheeseburgers.

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