By Jack Keillor
The Whopper is one of the longest-running hamburgers of all time and for a reason; it’s fantastic. Created in 1957, Burger King was the first to succeed in making a “bigger hamburger” and other fast food chains would take years to follow suit. First, it was McDonalds with their “Big Mac” in 1967 (a full ten years after the Whopper was debuted), Wendy’s with their “Big Classic” in 1986 and of course Sloppy Sally’s “The Slopper” in 1991. These names simply didn’t have the zazz of “The Whopper” and as we fast foodies know; 74% of the taste is in the name. The Whopper rose to such popularity that Burger King started using the slogan, “Home of the Whopper.” Later, the Catholic church would begin nicknaming their buildings “The House of God” in an attempt to similarly cash in on their most popular creation.
Now, I’m sure at this point just about everyone out there that would have any interest in reading this blog has already tried a Whopper. However, my question to you is; have you ever REALLY tasted a Whopper? I mean, completely, body and soul? Have you taken the time to think about that flame grilled quarter-pound patty? Or the onions? Those perfectly sliced tomatoes that make you wonder if it’s really your old college roommate Jeff working the slicer or if Jehovah’s back there in that kitchen making sure they come out just right. The pickles that are just that sharp kick you need but not overwhelmingly so. The ketchup, the sesame seed bun, that mayonnaise that reminds you of the pasty white skin of your first wife, Linda. She was a great gal. At least right up until the end, not that I was blameless. I had checked out mentally months before, but sometimes that’s just how relationships go. You start to drift apart. We can’t all have the lasting appeal of the Whopper in another person’s life.
I can still remember the first time I had a Whopper. Linda and I were newly wed and we were having a baby. I had just gotten hired onto the force and was finally making good money and she was looking to get a promotion at the bowling alley she worked at. Well, you know how pregnant women get, so one day she tells me she wants the biggest burger I can find and sure enough ol’ BK had me covered. I got her two just in case but the one was plenty. I had the other myself. Boy oh boy, I was in heaven that day. That night, however, Linda had her first miscarriage.
The relationship survived it. We loafed around awhile, avoiding each other’s eyes, never quite sure what to say. Do we bring it up? Do we ignore it? We’d already told all our friends. All those horrible conversations we had to have with everyone, the pity, God. The pity was the worst part. I mean, I get it, you have to be a monster not to show some sympathy but it was a hard time for both of us. We were strong, though, so we powered through it, and after the hurt had died down a little we tried again. After we lost the second child is when things really took a turn.
Burger King would later introduce the “Whopper Jr.” in 1993 when they started using their own value menu after Wendy’s began making a splash with theirs. At the time, I thought a Whopper Jr. seemed silly given that the Whopper’s entire identity was that of a larger burger. After being in production now for over twenty years I have to admit that I was wrong. Just like I was wrong to resent Linda for not being able to carry a child to term. I knew it wasn’t fair, I knew she was hurting too, probably even worse, she wanted children as much as I did, but I couldn’t help how I felt and she could read me like a Dean Koontz novel; quickly, passionlessly and without taking anything significant away from it.
We grew apart. At first we just gave each other space, it seemed like the thing to do, but that space just grew. It grew and nobody seemed to have any desire to do anything about it, like sesame seeds falling off the bun, the space between each one growing bite after bite. After about a year of passively existing together I came to a realization; It was time to either fix this thing or end it. I decided to fix it. So one day I left work early to come surprise her at home. I swung by Burger King on my way and got us both a Whopper to remind her of the good times, before all the horribleness, before we were both too dead inside to love anything. When I got home I found her having sex with my older brother, Peter. To be honest, I was kind of glad for a reason to get out. I wasn’t mad at her, I understood (and, hey, more Whopper for me). Peter, on the other hand, I haven’t seen since. I never will.
Peter had been taking things from me my whole life. Money, baseball cards, G.I. Joe’s, and now my wife’s anal virginity. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe it was partially my fault, I did enable him my entire life by being weak and cowardly. I had hoped that my being a police officer now would force him to show me a little respect but if fucking my wife in my own bed is respectful then you can keep it. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to kill him right then and there. I went to the dresser, took my gun out and forced them to both sit there while I ate both Whoppers in front of them. Linda was crying, Peter seemed confused, he had never had a Whopper. I let him have a small bite just to know what he was missing. In the end we were all crying, but only one of us was full.
Then Peter got sick. I didn’t take it too seriously at first, I guess. None of us really did, he was so young, but when things started to take a turn for the worse I gave him a call, told him I was gonna come visit. I went down to the hospital with a sack full of Whoppers, planning to forgive him and share one hell of a last meal. I ended up spending two and a half hours pacing back and forth in front of the reception desk before ultimately chickening out and eating the Whoppers in my car on the ride home. They tasted like ashes in my mouth, emotionally at least, to be honest they were still pretty delicious. Tomorrow, I told myself, tomorrow I would be able to do it. I just wasn’t ready, not to forgive him or to say goodbye. That night he passed. That’s when I knew with absolute certainty that I was a weak person. A strong person would have been able to forgive him.
I’ll always regret not going into that room, not saying goodbye, not being able to bury my resentments, look him in the eye one last time and tell him that I loved him, that I’ve always loved him, even through all of this. Not a day has gone by since that I didn’t regret it, but what I’ll never regret is spending $3.49 on one of the largest fast food hamburgers around.