My local Mcdonalds is the scariest place on the block.
There's always lots of men in front of it wearing baggy jeans and walking around in circles. They swing one arm down in front of them, really low, like monkies. I don't know what they're all doing-hanging out there, but it looks dodgy. I don't pay $RIDCULOUS a month to deal with that nonsense in my hood, so I just scurry faster when walking past.
However, motherhood will make you take risks you never thought possible. So when The Teenager wants a Mcdonalds hot fudge ice cream sundae to distract her from the abject misery of missing The Boy-I have to brave it. Rather me than her.
Outside The Golden Arches is scary…inside it's Baghdad. I run in and order six sundaes on the basis that the rest can go in the freezer and I won't have to come back again. I wrestle considerably with the fact this means the fudge sauce won't be hot anymore.
Next to me at the counter is a skinny homeless guy with no teeth questioning the Mcdonald's girl
"How much a Quarterpounder?"
"How much a Quarterpounder with tax?"
"How much... fries?"
"How much fries with tax?"
"How much a…hamburger?"
"How much a hamburger…with tax?"
"Hmm…" he says ponderously, in response to her robotic answers and eye rolling. He scrambles in his pocket for change and starts counting through it. I can see a palm full of brown coins. I think I notice him because he is neither scary or aggressive, he seems quite...happy.
He smiles at the Mcdonalds lady and then mooches over to some girls next to me. They dive straight in:
"Maaaaan, don't you come near me, don't you be asking me for no money. Back up Mr. Back up!"
"Hey, I don't want your money" he says calmy "I'm just trying to buy some food."
Oh God. Here I am watching my six ice cream sundaes get made, looking like a greedy cow and this man just wants some dinner. OK-I'm going to buy him a meal, I'll even supersize it. I go into my purse and there is no more cash in there and I've left my cards at home. Shit. Shit. Ok, I could just give him an ice cream sundae? It's not the most nutritious of dinners, but it's better that eating out of a bin? And he has no teeth, so ice cream might be a good choice?
But by this point the manager, who looks about 15, has begun the process of throwing him out. I'm not quite sure on what basis and clearly neither does he as he laughs protesting:
''I'm a daaaamn customer!"
To be fair, he was only getting the prices. The exact prices. New York sales tax is a bastard.
Oh crap. Do I still offer him the sundae now? Is that even more humiliating than being thrown out of a Mcdonalds? What I really want to do is offer him the ice cream and flee, cos I don't want to converse with him.
I turn around and he is half way out of the door and the woman serving me is only just bagging up my sundaes. I grab them and run out onto the street to find him. He's talking to himself and staggering down the block lighting a cigarette.
"Money for fags but no money for food! " I can hear my Mother say.
I ignore her imaginary nag and follow him down the block holding a single hot fudge sundae aloft.
"Come back!" I shout, but I realise I am still having an internal dialogue, so the words don't come out.
He is moving pretty fast for a man who unlikely has anywhere to be. I break into a run. And then I stop myself. I am running after a homeless man with a hot fudge sundae.
I come to a stop on the street and people whizz by me on the pavement. Standing still is the worse thing you can do in Manhattan. You get pushed and shoved and tutted at loudly. The Empire state blinks green like a gremlin in the distance-which strikes me as a funny colour. The man disappears into the crowd and my moment is gone.
My ice cream is starting to melt.