I HAVE JUST returned from McDonald's and a professional taste test of the new McLean burger, which was only McFair.
The McProblem was . . . whew, excuse me. Didn't mean to get caught up in that McDonald's corporate lingo. The PROBLEM was not the new 91 percent fat-free burger, but what I had to go through to get it, as this journal of the whole terrifying ordeal will attest:
12:10 p.m. -- Arrive at McDonald's. Parking lot is packed. Suddenly the chilling realization that it's Saturday dawns on me. Crowds are streaming into the place like it's Woodstock. Oh, God. We're all doomed.
12:13 -- Somehow shoehorn my way into store. Lines at counter stretch into next area code. Babies are wailing, kids are screaming and lunging at each other, grown men and women are snarling and jostling for position. It's an ugly scene. Could double for a butcher shop in Moscow when the last meat delivery of the month arrives.
12:19 -- Still waiting in line. Fellow in front of me says pleasantly: "They must be giving something away." I say: "Hell, you can't blame people for being excited. I've never seen Madonna live in concert either." He eyes me uneasily and edges several steps away.
12:22 -- Still waiting in line. Here's something I could never figure out. People will stand in line at McDonald's for 10 minutes. Then when it's finally their turn to order, they look up at menu board as if seeing it for first time and stammer: "Um, lemme see . . ." Plus, it's not like menu at McDonald's changes every couple of days. Unless a piano dropped on your head recently, how hard can it be to remember Big Mac, fries, Coke?
12:25 -- Huh? Oh, sorry . . . must have dozed off there for a minute. Nervous-looking Metalica disciple behind counter is shaking me now and mumbling: "Can I help you, sir?" I order large fries, chocolate shake and apple pie. Oh, and McLean Deluxe burger, too. "Watching my weight," I tell kid. Kid doesn't crack a smile. Shows you the terrible effects of a lifelong glue habit.
12:26 -- Kid places tray in front of me, stares off into space, finally asks: "Uh, did you order the McLean?" Whew. Scary part is, kid could be climbing into the cockpit of a Boeing 747 in a few years.
12:27 -- My order is ready. I take tray and survey the chaos behind me, quickly calculate the odds of finding a vacant table at 20,000-to-1. Miraculously, a man leaves small table just as I approach. Table is appealingly situated next to what appears to be a mop closet, but I elbow 85-year-old grandmother out of the way and squeeze in anyhow.
12:31 -- Dangerous-looking woman in Bart Simpson sweat shirt stops and asks: "Hey, hon, is that that new MAC-LEEN?" I nod and quickly scramble under table, expecting gunshots to ring out at any moment. Instead, woman shouts to her equally dangerous-looking companion in line: "Hey, hon, gimme one of them MAC-LEEN'S!" Am tempted to dial 911 and report sighting of two prison escapees, but quick check of pockets reveals no change for phone.
12:35 -- Is it me? Am I wearing a huge sign on my back that says: INFORMATION? Another woman -- this one built along the lines of a refrigerator -- asks if I'm eating new McLean burger. "Sweetheart," I think, "don't be afraid to mix in a salad every once in a while."
12:37 -- The taste test is about to begin. I unwrap McLean burger. Now to take a bite . . .
12:38 -- Suddenly guy at next table sings out: ''Is that the new McLean?'' My paranoia kicks into overdrive. Am I being followed? Do these people work for the CIA? No wonder deranged individuals explode in all these fast-food joints -- it's from constantly being interrupted while eating. At least this time I got burger to within two inches of my mouth.
12:39 -- Hallelujah! Finally bit into McLean. It's . . . OK. Not quite as tasty as your basic Big Mac, it says here. Anyway, after what I've been through, I need a double martini, not a burger.
12:48 -- Polish off last of apple pie. Drain last of chocolate shake. Pregnant woman with two kids walks by holding tray and forlornly looking for a table. For a moment, her eyes lock onto mine. "Listen, sister," I think. "If I wouldn't let granny back there sit down, you have no shot, either." Finally decide if I don't let her have table, I'll rot in hell forever and ever.
Although hell might be a step up right now.