Friday, May 6, 2011

Field Rations

Last week for lunch three days in a row I ate a McDonald’s hamburger. Yep, just the standard single patty kind-- a coarse, dry burger smashed deep within a cottony bun. You gnaw your way through, hoping with this bite maybe just maybe you’ll experience a brief surprise, like a taste of condiment or the tart snap of a pickle.

I hate fast food burgers. About the only time I eat them is when I break down and have a couple White Castle double cheeseburgers. But that’s soon followed by deep, self-loathing remorse. White Castles are what you eat at 3 a.m. when the bars are closed and you’ve been on a whiskey binge. When you wake the next day, you see an empty fifth and an empty White Castle bag. You’re in an apartment you’ve never seen before. You’re naked in bed next to a sleeping naked person you’ve never seen before. And you say to yourself, “Oh my God! I can’t believe I ate at White Castle!”

But I ate three McDonald’s hamburgers because these are tough times and tough times require extraordinary sacrifices. I was on a national action with ADAPT, which means about 400 people, most of us in wheelchairs, gather in D.C. and try to harass the hell out of policymakers who are trying to screw us over. And a single burger with a cold clump of fries is our ADAPT field ration. We’re blocking an intersection or blocking the doors of a building or blocking the gates of the White House and our comrades, whose job it is to find the closest McDonald’s and order 400 burgers, come around carrying brown boxes on their shoulders. Lunchtime.

Plain burgers. Don’t ask for no stinkin’ cheeseburger or foo foo shamrock shake. This is grassroots cuisine. That’s how ADAPT is. You can tell us by our signs. I was headed for one of our Chicago protests once when I saw there was already a group marching at the protest site. But their signs were professionally printed, so I knew it wasn’t us. We use poster boards and markers. And some of our signs are worn and battered because, sadly, they don’t go out of date. STOP THE BUDGET CUTS is a classic sign that’s as useful today as it was 20 years ago. I’D RATHER GO TO JAIL THAN DIE IN A NURSING HOME is another sign that can be used over and over and over again.

Our main target this time was Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. He’s the one pushing the republican budget plan that guts the living crap out of Medicaid. Nearly every cripple in America has needed or will need some assistance or equipment paid for by Medicaid. Ryan’s kind wants to return America to the heavenly 1950s, when grass was green and birdies sang and cripples were invisible. There’s a 1950s theme restaurant, Ed Debevic’s, in Chicago and when I went there they had the ‘50s motif down to the last detail. There was a big flight of stairs at the front entrance and I had to enter through the kitchen.

So for a chance to give a guy like Ryan an elbow to the chops I’ll roll over hot coals and eat McDonald’s hamburgers. On Monday, we crowded in the center of the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, where there is a glorious echo. We chanted for Ryan to come out and face the potential carnage, until 91 of us were arrested. On Tuesday we occupied his office and overflowed down the hall, until 10 more arrested.

Confronting the bad guys is a fine way to relieve stress and anxiety. And it’s a helluva lot cheaper and more fun than seeing a shrink.

Ryan may not like us much. But as Harry Truman said, if you can’t stand the heat, don’t paint a bull’s-eye on your butt.

And we don’t need Ryan's love and affection. The guy who owns the Capitol Hill McDonald’s loves us to death.