Nothing fills me with the perfect, incongruous blend of soul-crushing apathy and molten hatred more than a stack of ungraded essays. As I type this, they sit there, mocking me, tangible evidence of my procrastination and laziness. Even if I try to shove them down into the depths of my work bag with the balled up tissues and dried-out markers (possibly some anglerfish as well) I know they are there.
The transparent specter of them drifts into my awareness as I try to enjoy that gray, liminal space that exists between procrastination and grudging acquiescence to my responsibilities. I’m the real life version of this pretend man who who remembers all of his responsibilities just as he is about to enjoy himself.
Of course, last week I mentioned the predominant reason I dread grading: some essays are so dishearteningly unreadable I would have more luck deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs than trying to slog through such bastardizations of the English language. But the other, less demoralizing reason I approach grading with complete mental lethargy is that most of the time it’s just. So. Boring. I mean really, REALLY boring. Sometimes, before I’ve even finished the first sentence of an essay, I’m already weeping figurative tears over the monotony of repeatedly swallowing so much watery tripe. It’s like trying to listen to Top 40’s radio dreck – everything sounds the same, it all sounds terrible and people keep insisting on rhyming the word ‘life’ with ‘strife’ or ‘minute’ with…wait for it… ‘MINUTE’ (I’m looking at you, Beyonce).
It begins with a dull title:
– Essay 1
– Argument Essay
– Global Warming
– Essay Final Draft
It continues with an even more lackluster opening sentence:
– In today’s society, global warming is a big issue.
– Since the dawn of time, people have been eating.
– What is education? Education is. . .
– Pictures can tell us many different things.
– Nowadays, technology is everywhere.
– Dictionary.com defines marriage as. . .
– In this essay, I’m going to talk about. . .
At this point, I will stop and channel my inner Lucille Bluth as I comment aloud This does not bode well.
It culminates in the ubiquitous closing phrase, “In conclusion.”
Multiply this by 80 essays at around 2,000 words each, and by the time I am finished my brain is trying to escape through my ears so that it can swan-dive into an empty swimming pool.
So at the end of the day after the essays have attached themselves to my soul and sucked out my remaining life force like an army of parasitic lampreys, I become a hollow shell of a person. I can’t think. I can’t move. So what do I do? I mentally gorge myself on terrible TV shows – my version of cramming three McDonald’s Big-Mac combos down my gullet.
In his stand-up special Mr. Universe, comedian Jim Gaffigan proclaims, “I’m tired of people acting like they’re better than McDonald’s. You may have never set foot in a McDonald’s, but you have your own McDonald’s. You know, maybe instead of eating a Big Mac you read US Weekly. Hey, that’s still McDonald’s. It’s just served up a little different.” Gaffigan is alluding to the shame-fueled, back-alley, love-hate relationship America has with McDonald’s, which serves up billions of burgers to patrons each day but is promptly vilified as the incarnation of American excess and gluttony – the Whole Foods anti-Christ. Gaffigan compares our remorseful, clandestine love for Mickey D’s with our covert love of celebrity gossip: “Scarlet Johansson got a haircut? Why do I give shit? Because it’s McDonald’s. And it feels good going down.”
If you haven’t watched this yet, stop reading right now and watch it. Seriously. Why are you still reading this? He’s way funnier than I am, guys, trust me.
America’s dirty little McDonald’s secret is evidence of the universal need for a guilty pleasure – something that we know is bad for us but that “feels good going down.” It’s our McDonald’s, served up in a variety of media.
Possibly we are self-sabotaging, subconsciously punishing ourselves for falling into the lives we always derided when we were idealistic, college-bound, know-it-alls. In the end we chide ourselves with reminders that these guilty pleasures are not the life choices we should be making, but in a way I think they might be.
After all, guilty pleasures have helped me survive being an adjunct. After a stressful day at work, my brain feels like over-cooked risotto or a slice of bread left to bloat in dingy dishwater. After a hellishly long day, all I want to do is forget that it ever happened, and to do that, I need blissful Elysium, sweetest respite – my McDonald’s. For me, this happens to be bad television – crime shows with clever quips, unrealistically-advanced technology and masterful ‘pensively-removing-of-or-putting-on-the-sunglasses’ action;
reality shows about pushy, pudgy, stage parents shellacking their children with pounds of makeup;
shows about ancient Alien astronauts coming to Earth and building Stone Henge, whispering tips in Hitler’s ear.
While Faust lies unread on my nightstand, I lie in a puddle on my couch and allow my McDonald’s to wash over me like a polluted wave filled with Wal-Mart bags and diapers, sweeping me out to sea.
My husband once asked me, a look of confusion and possibly horror on his face, “Why are you watching that?” With a sleepy, crooked grin and half-lidded eyes I told him, “It makes my brain feel like cheese whiz – so smooth and gooey.”
I like that feeling. Most of the day I feel like one giant, dry, blood-shot eyeball. For a couple of hours in the evening I savor my McDonalds, and looking forward to it gets me through the day. It helps me to grit my teeth politely while a student asks me why I didn’t ‘give’ him/her an A. It’s the comforting light at the end of a tunnel lined with poorly written essays about how marijuana should be legalized because “it cures cancer!” It allows me to briefly forget about the cavity I can’t afford to have filled because my paltry income and lack of insurance won’t cover it. It softens the sharp edges of my frazzled nerves, like a salty, fatty, cardboard sleeve of McDonald’s fries might subdue the gnawing bite of physical hunger.
Do I regret it afterward? Usually. I experience a momentary panic as I think of all the tasks I could have completed in that same amount of time (grading, planning, reading something musty and challenging). The mountain of responsibilities seems to loom even larger once I’ve crumpled up the wrappers and walked across the sticky, linoleum floors of my escape back out into the sunlight. So why do I do it? Because some days are like running the last mile of a marathon, uphill, while Lakitu the Mario cloud-turtle
whips spiky koopas or batteries at me and Gilbert Godfried drives beside me on a golf-cart while narrating the Twilight novels through a megaphone. After such days, I need somewhere soft and cushy to land where I don’t have to talk, move or think.
(Apparently this ^ kind of exists. Dear God why?!?)
Of course, I like to partake of my McDonald’s in moderation – not all day, every day. Most of the time I exist on a healthy diet of esteemed literature and productivity (ha). After all, if McDonald’s becomes your only source of nourishment. . . well, I guess you might make a documentary about it and call it Supersize Me.
But also, it won’t be good for you. At all. You’ll probably die or go on Maury where they will have to knock down a wall of your house to remove your sizable girth.
So I watch bad television sometimes, when I need it. It makes me feel sunny. It breeds tolerance and patience.
Chances are, you indulge in your McDonald’s too. Maybe it’s bad television. Maybe it’s popping bubble-wrap for hours on end. Maybe it’s licking and sealing a stack of empty envelopes. Maybe it’s looking at pictures of puppies in pajamas on the internet.
Maybe it’s listening to Miley Cyrus or being a self-proclaimed Belieber. Find it. Savor it. Deny that you’re lovin’ it. Lather, rinse, repeat.