No Country for Old Dogs

“You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.”

—- Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

I am so tired when I come home from work – it’s a struggle to do anything other than fall asleep.

So I try to do something on the way home – anything remotely useful, fun, or interesting. Today I stopped off at a tea place, Kung Fu Tea, to get some milk tea and write a bit on my netbook.

Everything worked out, except I couldn’t think of more than a few interesting words – and once my tea was gone I packed up and went home. I sat on the couch to decompress and turned on the great mind-eater… the television.

Flicking deftly and expertly through a long-learned series of channels I ended up watching the last twenty minutes of “No Country for Old Men.” I love that movie.

First, I’m a big, big fan of Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read pretty much all of his books. I put “No Country for Old Men” in the middle of the pack… but middle of the pack for McCarthy is still better than pretty much anything else in the world.

I’m even a fan of the screenplay he wrote, “The Counselor.” Everybody else hated that movie. You see, the average moviegoer saw the previews and thought they were in for a drug deal-fueled thriller. And that isn’t what it is. It’s a Cormac McCarthy movie. The plot is merely a distraction, a feint that the magician waves in front of the audience to distract the suckers from what is really going on – you have to pay attention to the long bits of boring dialog – that’s where the real story lies.

Oh, and as for “The Counselor” – it doesn’t help that it has two scenes – one violent, one sexual – that are so far over the top that ordinary moviegoers are appalled to the point that there is no way they can enjoy the film. Again, that’s McCarthy. Read his masterpiece, “Blood Meridian,” if you want over the top. I read that the proposed Russell Crowe / James Franco movie version has been shitcanned. Probably just as well – “Blood Meridian” is unfilmable… as the best books must be.

Back to “No Country for Old Men.” I’m sure a lot of moviegoers thought that film also was a drug deal-fueled thriller… even after they had seen it. It isn’t. The movie is about the Tommy Lee Jones character and his inability to soldier on in the face of overwhelming modern evil. The rest of the plot is, again, a distraction… or more accurately a colorful backdrop against and armature holding up the story of the aging sheriff – the last of his line – as it plays out.

The movie ends with the defeated and retired Tommy Lee Jones telling of his haunting dreams. To end this way – it must also start this way or the whole thing is unfair. On my television, right after one showing ended, another began. So I stayed for a few more minutes. Sure enough, the movie starts with a five minute monologue voice-over spoken by the sheriff while scenes of beautiful West Texas desolation slide across the screen.

That voice-over, ignored and forgotten by most viewers, tells the whole story… before anything actually happens.

Our old dog, Rusty, slept on the couch through all this… as he does for pretty much everything. He has to get his solid twenty-three hours a day of sleep in or he isn’t happy. Right in the middle was a commercial for Burger King. Apparently, they have decided to take all the guts of a Whopper and wrap it in a tortilla. They call it a Whopperito.

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.

I couldn’t help but look at the sleeping dog and think about how happy he would be if he could ever get his paws on a Whopperito.

It would be the best day of his life.

PS – If you really want to see the two horrific scenes from “The Counselor” – and I hesitate to do this – you can watch them… here and here. But please don’t blame me – you were forewarned.

The Return Of the Yumbo And Existential Malaise

The Yumbo

The Yumbo

In all its glory.

When I look back on the past, In some ways I feel like the same person I was when I was seven years old. In other ways, I feel like my memories are those of an alien that used to occupy my body.

For example, for the first few years after I graduated from school, I used to eat fast food all the time. I used to love Burger King. What was I thinking?

I guess in one sense I was living in a place and time without a lot of choices. I did attempt to cook at home as much as I could – but it’s not easy to vittleate for one and cheaper to simply eat out. I was traveling a lot – and always liked getting a quick break from work at lunch. That adds up to fast food. At that time there simply weren’t the healthy and local diversity of dining options that there is today. There was no smartphone internet to search for the closest Pho place or the best Big Salad on the West side.

Those times have thankfully passed and I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in over twenty years. I’m sure the last were traveling with the kids and lured into places with a big indoor Playland – my kids were connoisseurs of ballpits and plastic slides.

The other week I came across an internet article criticizing Burger King – calling it The Saddest Chain in Fast Food – documenting its precipitous slide into the lowest depths of inadequate mediocrity.

And human beings in general are calibrated in such a way that they can inherently pick up on the sort of existential malaise your typical BK is now spewing into the atmosphere.

Until I read this article I hadn’t even thought about Burger King for decades – the thousands I’ve driven past have been invisible smears of red and yellow in my peripheral vision.

Then I heard a radio ad the other day. After that I came across another version on television.

The Yumbo had returned.

A Yumbo is a bilious concoction that resembles a ham and cheese sandwich. These were popular items in the early 1970’s – I remember them and can’t believe that it was that long ago.

Actually, I never ate one back in the day (I was out of the country in the Yumbo’s heyday). What made an impression on me, something I remember vividly until today, was a magazine piece I read at the time. I’ve had to dig around the internets to find out what it was:

It was from May 1977, from the magazine The Atlantic. A short Essay by Andrew Ward called, “Yumbo.”

I have not been able to find a current copy – but that’s not important. I remember it well.

The story is a simple one. A distinguished, intellectual older man walks into a Burger King and orders a ham and cheese sandwich.
“Do you mean a Yumbo?” asks the woman behind the counter.
“A ham and cheese sandwich, please,” is his reply.
“You mean a Yumbo?” she repeats.

And they are at a standoff. She will not sell him a sandwich until he utters or confirms the word, “Yumbo.” He refuses to do so – out of some desire to retain the small amount of dignity the modern world might allow him to posses.

The man leaves the establishment hamandcheese-less as well as Yumbo-less… hungry. It is a sad tale of the coarseness of modern life and the helplessness of trying to defend against the onslaught of the uncivilized horde.

So now, after somewhere around forty years, the Yumbo is back. I had to give it a shot.

So as I was driving home through the desolate stretches of some north Texas upscale suburb I asked the little woman inside my phone for the nearest Burger King. She offered me a choice of destinations and I selected one that I had no idea actually existed until the little pin showed up on that map spread across that tiny screen.

I confidently walked in, breathed deep the thick miasma of existential malaise and ordered, “A ham and cheese meal, please.”

The manager simply said, “What size?”

He didn’t make me say “Yumbo.”

I was disappointed.

A Yumbo meal spewing existential malaise into the atmosphere

A Yumbo meal spewing existential malaise into the atmosphere