When I was very young, my dad had the coolest job on the planet.
He worked for McDonald’s.
Imagine it! Surrounded by those fantastic fries and hamburgers! I figured he knew Ronald McDonald personally. He was a font of insight into all the McDonaldland denizens: Mayor McCheese, the Hamburgler and Grimace. I was pretty sure, as an insider, he knew intimate details of their lives, like their birthdates and their favorite colors.
While other kids might boast their dad was a lawyer or an accountant, if pressed, they had no clue what being an “Accountant” meant. These kids might know the word, but, that did not translate into actual insight into what their parent actually did all day. Not me. I could report with confidence. My dad made hamburgers and French fries. Every kid knew what a McDonald’s employee did.
I went to exactly one birthday party at a McDonald’s during this time; in point of fact, it was the only one I ever attended. It was not at the McDonald’s that my dad worked. It was a bigger, shinier McDonald’s. The kid whose birthday it was, is a child about whom I have no recollection, not even trivial things like the tyke’s sex or name. I do remember that the child was blithely smug about his or her own importance having a McDonald’s birthday demanded we display the appropriate reverence for his or her own lofty status.
I was unimpressed. Ronald McDonald was a personal acquaintance of my father. This child may have been able to temporarily buy usage of Ronald’s business, but she (or he) did not have the cash enough to get him to appear, whereas my dad was probably having lunch with him as we played on the freakish plastic representations of McDonald’s icons.
The party was disappointing. I had secretly held out hope that my dad might actually appear as a surprise, bringing Ronald with him to the party. Maybe it was his day to drive the clown around and Ronald had heard that his loyal employee’s child was a guest at McDonald’s birthday and he *had* to meet the irresistibly cute kid. Seriously, I was adorable.
I remember that I was thoroughly uninterested in any of the other children, they seemed unworthy of a child whose father was on a first name basis with Ronald. They were clearly not the important ones in attendance, even if one of them was celebrating a natal day. I played by myself, with only half my attention on the colorful diversions, the bulk of my attention was for a glimpse of my dad and that clown, who, at any moment, would walk in the door, walk past the celebrant and straight toward the most important four-year-old in the restaurant, if not the world.
He did not come.
This was probably my first inkling that my father did not know Ronald McDonald. I don’t remember the moment I knew for sure, but, I know that it was more devastating than learning about Santa. If I was a more melodramatic sort of person, I might even claim that was the moment my childhood ended, crumpled in a bag of McDonaldland cookies, but, I’m not that sort of person. Instead, I’m the sort that tells you she was a pretty arrogant four-year-old. But, you probably already knew that.