The Secret Ingredient

“… two Big Macs, Barnaby, two Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, a chocolate milkshake and maybe, sometimes, fries,” Cecil concludes with an addendum. “At one time, Barnaby! A single order for one person!”

We’re, Cecil and I, indulging in our regular morning meal, ascetic and meagre by comparison, although, as I’ve previously pointed out, Cecil’s breakfast bowls tend more toward extravagance than mine, damn near Baroque today, in fact, while he reads to me from some internet site that Cecil oftentimes finds himself at through no particularly deliberate intent, the purported McDonald’s order placed by a former President of the United States.

“How is the man still alive?” Cecil demands to know, reasonably. “I’m the best eater that’s ever occupied the White House,” he then spits out in a not-bad impersonation. “No president’s ever eaten like I do. The greatest eater ever. Calorie numbers through the roof!”

I ask where he’s getting the information. For even such a cartoonish figure, that kind of diet is, well, off-the-charts cartoonish. It’s the voracious, all-you-can-eat buffet of a 17 year-old boy in the midst of yet another growth spurt. A nutritional regime that, if maintained into adulthood, should kill a man before the age of 50. If he’s lucky.

Cecil hands me his tablet and goes back to his breakfast, breakfast in quotes.

I give it a quick glance. A creditable journalist1, not some gossip columnist or social media influencer, in what seems to my untrained eye, a respectable online publication. So ‘Fake News’, as the subject of the article would say. An interesting premise. If you are what you eat, what does that say about the reign of the 45th president? Not all Happy Meals and McMuffins, to be sure. Dyspepsia with a side of the choleric, yellow bile oranged over.

“I’m imagining him eating, Barnaby,” Cecil says. “Do you think he rams it in as fast as he can without taking a breath? Like some Tasmanian Devil. In the back seat as the secret service van pulls out of the drive-thru. Or does he make it all posh like, order Ubered to the West Wing and eats it with a knife and fork on the Presidential chinaware? I also read somewhere that he’s a plate thrower.”

A what?

Cecil’s slight redirection pulls me from my musing, Donald Trump on a tear through a mountain of fast food, a hyena on a carcass, a frenzy as if it could be the last thing he ever gets to eat.

Plate thrower?

“Yeah,” Cecil confirms in a manner that suggests he’d witnessed it firsthand. “Gets angry and just throws a plate against the wall in a fit. Read somewhere about ketchup on the White House walls. Like blood. But ketchup.”

Like blood. But ketchup.

I remember hearing or reading somewhere about another ill-mannered White House occupant, LBJ, who would take in-person meetings while perched on the presidential throne, emptying his bowels. As a form of comeuppance or to show just who the boss was. Unpleasant and imperious, to be sure but, message delivered with added emphasis. Not just some petulant temper tantrum because the fries were cold.

“I realize for a lot of people, Barnaby,” Cecil continues, “too many people probably, McDonald’s and all that other fast food is the only way they can afford to eat regularly. I mean, you can get a full meal for the price of an organic head of lettuce, can’t you?”

I was unsure of the exact figures but fast food does seem to be inordinately inexpensive, relatively speaking.

“But the guy’s loaded, he keeps telling us,” Cecil says. “He was the president of the United States. He could be eating caviar and foie gras, for heaven’s sake. What on earth’s with the Big Mac and Kentucky Fried Chicken?”

Compulsion? Addiction? A man on the move, go, Go, GO! A mover-and-shaker doesn’t have time to be sitting around indulging in the wine-sniffing ambience of fine dining establishments.

“Imagine what it would be like, Cecil,” I’m imagining out loud, “to live having no limitations, no boundaries, no repercussions to your actions. Ever. Eat what you want. Say what you want. Do whatever you want. At no personal cost. Pure Id unchecked. Can you imagine it?”

“Not really, Barnaby.”


Cecil tries, coffee mug held up, midair, between the table and his partially open mouth, imagining.

“Big Macs without the hardening arteries,” I try freeing up Cecil’s mind, loosening the reins of entrenched thinking. “Blurting out the first thing that comes to mind at a dinner party.”

“Yelling ‘FIRE!’ at a movie theatre,” Cecil says, trying to get into the spirit of things.

“Sure. Loudly passing wind in line at a Starbucks.”

Cecil looks down a little sheepishly. I may have inadvertently exposed a dark secret. We are, both of us, getting older, internal operations sometimes beyond our absolute control.

“Beholden to no one except yourself.”

“Looking out for number one!” Cecil says, in the headspace.

There’s a scatological joke to be inserted here but it would derail this particular train of thought.

“I don’t know, Barnaby,” Cecil says, staring for a moment or two into what looks to be his nearly empty coffee mug before proceeding. “It goes against everything most of us were taught growing up, doesn’t it? Do unto others. Kindness is its own reward. What goes around comes around. Cheaters never prosper.”

“And yet, here we are, Cecil,” I pronounce, finishing off my coffee. “Here we are. None of the above apply.”

Cecil retreats into the remainder of his meal, his worldview, our worldview, all topsy turvy. Through the looking glass, the Queen of Hearts, ‘a blind fury’, the hero of the story. Embraced because of his lifetime of transgressions not despite them. A folk hero to those who’d never get away with such indiscretions and contraventions of social, political, legal norms. Never could. Never have. Never would. One or two, maybe. Here and there. Beat a traffic ticket. Cheat on a spouse. Cheat on your taxes. But eventually one of them trips you up. Lands you in court. Empty bank account. Your house foreclosed on. The truck repossessed.

So the guy who never pays, who never is forced to bow down and accept responsibility or consequences, he becomes a super hero, larger than life, the defiant one. The figurehead for the disgruntled and renounced. A beacon to those who feel they’ve been conned and done wrong to, forced to play nicely with others and got nothing in return for their efforts.

If he can eat nothing but Big Macs and Kentucky Fried Chicken and suffer no ill-effects, the whole premise of so-called ‘healthy eating’ and ‘clean living’ is obviously a scam. And if it’s a scam, what isn’t?

“You know what, Barnaby?” Cecil asks, springing back into the conversation, the healthy glucose of his breakfast, the berries, seeds, honey, igniting his brain circuitry. “What if that special sauce, the secret ingredient, you know, they talk about in Big Macs and the Colonel’s secret ingredient, right?”


“The secret ingredient that makes all sorts of fast food so addictive, is what I’m talking about. What if that ingredient’s spite?” He smiles over at me. “With a pinch of superciliousness. Is that the word I’m looking for here, Barnaby? Supercilious?”

It works, sure. Maybe a little highbrow in this particular case. Supercilious.

As a spice, what would it taste like, superciliousness and spite? Cardamom? Marjoram? Wild garlic?

Leaning over the table toward me, Cecil nods.

“You know what, Barnaby?” he asks in a whisper. “I think we broke the code. Uncovered a long-held industrial secret.”

He leans back, and chuckles at his joke, relishing it, I want to say, but it’s hardly a pun worth pursuing.


1 Kirk Swearingen, Did Trump’s Love of McDonald’s Help Fry Democracy?


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