The 1976 film “Network,” featured the unforgettable scene in which Howard Beale, a veteran TV newscaster portrayed by Peter Finch, urges his viewers to go to their windows, open them and shout “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Cut to the present. It was a quiet Sunday evening and my bride announced she was not fixing anything for supper. I could have offered to cook, but didn’t figure she was up for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or cold cereal, so we headed out to eat.
We wound up at a local burger and ice cream establishment, and after receiving my marching orders, I fell into line behind a couple of other guys standing at the restaurant’s counter.
The restaurant was swamped, with employees running here and there, filling orders, serving up cones, manning the drive-up window, mopping the floors and stocking the shelves.
The lone girl working the cash register was busy filling orders and dumping French fries into the cooker.
So I waited, and waited, and waited. In the meantime, people began to line up just to my right. There were several of them in the queue, but I wasn’t concerned. I was there first, I would be next. This is America, that’s the way things work around here.
Pretty soon, the young lady working the counter came back, stepped to her left and said, “How can I help you?” to the fellow standing immediately to my right.
In my younger days, before I got old and cranky, I would have meekly accepted this injustice and waited some more. I would have stewed and fumed internally, but I would have kept my mouth shut.
But no longer. I decided that, in the best tradition of Howard Beale, I was “mad as hell” and wasn’t going to take it anymore.
“Excuse me,” I said, stepping in front of the clerk, and the lengthening line of patrons, “I’m next, I’ve been standing here for 10 minutes, so you can take my order first.”
She shot me a look that would have burned a dozen burgers and melted a couple of tubs of ice cream, then listened as I curtly spouted my order, basking in the glow of righteous indignation.
The young lady turned away, and I half-turned to the fellow behind me and said, “I’m sorry, but I have been standing here for 10 minutes,” when in truth it was probably closer to five.
“I saw you there,” said the man, “but I thought you were waiting for an order.” Then the girl said, “You were in the wrong place, this where we take orders, that’s where we fill them.”
I took my change, receipt and unbridled enmity back to the table where my bride was waiting. I spouted and sputtered while relating to her the tale of my solitary battle against the marshaled forces of injustice and tyranny.
I decided to fire off an angry email to the chain’s headquarters, laying bare their callous treatment of the innocent and emotionally fragile Mr. All-American Consumer, me.
My bride was properly supportive, though I don’t think she quite believed my tale of holding off the angry mob with a plastic fork and a packet of ketchup.
“She had the audacity to tell me I was standing in the wrong place,” I said. “Imagine that, standing in the wrong place. Of all the gall.”
I was about to demand to speak to the manager when my order number was called over the restaurant’s loudspeaker.
I smugly rose and marched up to claim my food when I happened to look above the restaurant’s counter, right at the sign that says, “Order food here,” and the other one that reads “Pick up orders here.”
I had been, it turned out, planted firmly under the “Pick up orders here,” sign. I was, indeed, standing in the wrong place. My righteous anger drained from me like air from a pin-pricked toy balloon.
I clutched the tray and tried to become invisible as I slunk back to my seat.
I hate it when I’m thoroughly and completely convinced I’m right and I turn out to be thoroughly and completely wrong. Of course, having been a newspaper columnist for 37 years and a husband for 38, I should be used to it by now.
My apologies to all involved in Sunday evening’s fast food ugliness.
I will return to the restaurant in question, someday, when the statute of limitation on stupid runs out, and when I find a proper disguise.
Mullin is senior writer of the Enid News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com