Ronald McDonald, a ramblin’ man………

I was born at Grant Hospital in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. Yep, I am from the Big Windy, The City Of Big Shoulders, Al Capone, St. Valentines Day Massacre and Mayor Richard Daley, both of them. I spent the early years ( K thru 3) occupying various corners on Clark St. First at Clark and Belden, two blocks from the actual  garage that the St. Valentines Day Massacre took place. I remember walking down to the garage with the little crew of hood rats that I hung out with and looking into the filthy, cracked window panes that were on the garage doors. Someone had painted the names on the wall of the guys who were gunned down in that stinkhole on that cold, snowy February morning. I remember us saying that, “those names were written in blood”. It was at that point that we would all run back north to Belden Ave. screaming like the ghosts of Bootlegging Irish Gangsters were chasing us. We moved down the street to Wrightwood Ave and I was actually about a half a block off of Clark St, but right down from Wrightwood on Clark was a Bowling Alley. Palladium Bowl. I remember going in there a few times but never bowling there. Downstairs was a pool hall where, what I was later told, had hosted some of the roughest pool sharks in tha country at one time or another. I was able to sneak in there a few times but each time, I was run out of there in the first five minutes by this fat guy who always had a dirty cigar stump hanging out of his mouth. In those days, Clark St. was a lot more colorful. There were no Yuppie millionaires buying up all of the properties while Mexicans spit shine their Volvos, BMWs and Mercedes Benzes. It was definitely skid row and like today, back then, Clark St. around Diversey was the hub of Chicago’s gay community. They used to call Clark and Diversey, Clark and Perversity.

Chicago has some serious winters and most kids spent winters walking to and from school and then Snuggling up in front of the radiator while watching shows like Bozos Circus, Garfield Goose, Ray Rayner and all of the other kids programming on WGN in the early days. I remember watching television and seeing McDonald’s commercials all the time, just like you do today. The only difference is that when a new McDonald’s opened up, it was like a party. All the McDonald’s in the city would celebrate with a sale and Ronald McDonald was guaranteed to be at the new McDonald’s grand opening. Back then McDonald’s were opening in Chicago at the rate of like two a month. Ray Kroc would be dancing if he only were alive to see it now.

Well, when the springtime of third grade came around I ventured out of the house only to see the Palladium Bowl under the wrecking ball. In the old days (60s & 70s) things seemed to get done much faster and the next time I saw the Palladium Bowl, it was on a post card cause that baby along with the pool hall was long gone and they had a fence and scaffolding at street level with a sign that said, “Future Home Of McDonald’s”. Finally, I would get to meet Ronald McDonald, and be a part of the often televised Mardi Gras atmosphere that was a McDonald’s grand opening in the old days. Every day I checked on the progress of the construction. Every day I watched television, waiting for the grand opening commercial and every day my anticipation grew. Finally, a sign on the fence appears, grand opening on Labor day! A holiday, and not a minute too soon. I was going to be able to spend the whole day there. I could see myself just kinda talking to Ronald McDonald between hamburgers and french fries and free pops! Balloons, hats, confetti, Hot Apple Pies and Candy. I was going to be there as soon as they opened!

After waiting all summer. After freezing in my tracks to watch every  single McDonald’s commercial that came on the television. I was primed and ready, nearly jumping out of my PF Flyers waiting for the Grand Opening, then, it was finally upon us, the big day and man was I ready! I remember it like it was yesterday.

The night before, I could barely sleep, It was like Christmas Eve and Easter all rolled into one. Anticipation is like waterboarding, it is torture and it just ain’t right for a company to get a little kid all worked up like that, there ought to be a law. I arrived at 9 am. It was too early by one hour but it appeared that I was the only one in line and that makes me first! I saw all manner of people coming in and out of the front door. People in McDonald’s uniforms, people in suits, people in regular clothes, still putting the finishing touches on the celebration. One lady in front of a big cylinder turning little red, limp pieces of rubber into big shiny red balloons that fought to get out of her hand every time she inflated one. People in uniform hanging dangly shiny things and taping ribbons and what have you to the walls and ceiling. I just couldn’t wait to see the man, the virtual legend in the clowning industry, Ronald McDonald, I had been having visions of him and I just hanging out. Going places together and making all of my friends jealous. I just knew he would know my name the minute our eyes met, good ol Ronnie Mac, passing me burger after burger, fries and pies. And the large souvenir cup filled to the top with ice-cold pop! A kid could not ask for more. Life is good when you’re a kid.

As I stood there like an orphan, I see a guy in a suit through the window. He is saying something to everyone in the place. They all rise and people from the back start coming out and everyone inside gathers around the guy in the suit. Everyone has a somber look on their face, then smiling all at once, then clapping, cheering and hugging. I am about to piss all over myself at this point and then the magic happens…… The suit opens the door to my McPlayground and in I went. The first thing I remember about going in that McDonald’s on that day was the air conditioner. For some reason, that sticks in my mind but the next thing I remember is the sweet smell of sizzling lard! Man, I love that smell. Sizzling lard, the sweet smell of fat asses world-wide, even today, I smell it and I salivate.

As I entered McDonald’s on that Labor Day so long ago, my tiny bladder so full of anticipation and pee pee, I am assaulted by a fat lady with orange hair. She grabbed me by my collar and asked where my “mommy” is. If I knew what I know now, I would have said she was at home sleeping it off but I just said she was at home and I needed to use the bathroom. She looked around and took my arm and walked me to the mens room and said she would be right outside the door waiting for me. I was sure that she was going to be my “party hostess” so I hurried up and forced my pee pee out so hard that it burned. I zipped up and walked out of the bathroom and she asked me if I had washed my hands? I told her I had, and she caught me in that lie by pointing out my filthy hands which by the way I had not washed in probably three or four days, during my last bath. She then made me turn around and go back in to wash my hands. As I walked out, she was talking to another person and I saw that there were probably 20 people in there now and I just fell into line to get the first round of party food. McDonald’s is awesome, with so much to read on the walls and behind the counter, so much activity and unfamiliar noises, I have got to say, I was a bit overwhelmed but no sign of my main man Ronnie Mac. Upon further review, I think I had a man crush on Ronald McDonald in the days leading up to the Grand Opening. I was such a beat off when I was a kid I swear man, I mean I was a huge douche bag. I finally got to the counter at the same time that the fat lady who called me a liar noticed me. She came right up to me and asked what she could do for me? Well, in my most rehearsed voice I told her just what I wanted. I said, “I’ll have a hamburger, order of french fries, an apple pie and a pop, a large one please”. She looked at the man behind the counter and gave him a nod and he looked at me and asked me what kind of “pop” I wanted? I smiled and said “I want Coke-a-Cola please”. He walked away from the counter and I looked at the fat lady and asked her where Ronald McDonald was at? I will never forget her answer, she said, “oh, he should be ramblin in here any moment” ! What does that mean? Well I was getting ready to ask her and the man who took my order looked over the counter at me and said, “that’s going to be $1.15”! What? Money? I needed money? I thought food at the grand opening was free! At that very moment I heard someone yell “Welcome everybody! Welcome to the Grand Opening of McDonald’s at 2635 Clark St. in Lincoln Park”! When I looked up, there he was, Ronald McDonald! But it wasnt Ronald McDonald! It was an imposter. Some guy dressed up to look like Ronnie Mac. Same hair, same clothes, same shoes but it was obvious that this guy was an amateur. His make up was all wrong and it just was not the Ronald McDonald that I know, the one from television…….. then the fat lady grabbed my arm and shook me. I snapped out of my McStupor at the same time the man behind the counter said, “$1.15 sonny boy”. Fat lady is saying something about my mom and the man behind the counter is asking for money and Ronald McDonald walked over to me with this huge phony grin and handed me a big red balloon and It was all so confusing, the fat lady shaking my arm, the man at the counter saying YOUNG MAN blah blah money and then faux Ronald McDonald says, “whats the matter kid, aint you got no money? You know, this stuff aint free”! Then, “POP”!!!! The balloon gives its life for the sake of McDonald’s. I was so sick to my stomach over this whole fiasco that I started crying. Yep, bawling like a little boy who just had his whole world shattered. I swung around and jerked my arm back from the fat lady and I started to run out of there and as I turned and took my first step, I tripped over Ronald McDonald’s shoe and fell into a lady’s legs who was carrying a tray full of pops and coffees. The whole tray went over splashing on the floor and the feet and legs of everyone in line but guess who got it the most? Yep, Faux Ronald who lets out a huge “SON OF A BITCH THAT’S HOT” and starts hopping backwards from the hot coffee shower and then he hops right into the fat lady, stumbles and lands right square on his ass. The whole McRestraunt got completely silent and I am at this very moment terrified. Apparently, I had not completely drained my bladder because I let loose with about a quart of pee pee right into my pants. I knew I was going pee pee because, even though I felt like I was in a dream, I could feel the wet steam building in my pants. Then a man in the line said, “hey, that kids pissing everywhere” and everyone in the place started laughing. I got up and this time tripped over nothing as I ran from the nightmare that was McDonald’s. I flew out of the door and ran out onto Clark St. and without looking took off across the street. Now I knew better than to cross the street without looking, especially the busy streets but I did not care. I made it without incident and did not stop until I got home.

As usual, I had no key so I had to ring the bell in the foyer and as usual, my mom was sleeping and I had to sit in front of my house till she woke up but it gave me time to dry my eyes and let my shorts dry out. Two things happened to me that day that changed my life forever. First, I hate clowns! Cannot stand em. And guys who are part-time clowns, you know, those creeps who dress like clowns for “special occasions”. I always knock the hell out of them, I mean no mercy, just pummel them because a guy who likes to do that just aint right in the head. And second, I learned to never believe it unless I see it with my own two eyes, because there is really very little truth in advertizing. Sometimes children learn the hard lessons in all the wrong ways but any lesson learned is a lesson learned. Well, I gotta go now, I think I will just ramble over to Burger King. I heard it was gonna be free french fries day….

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