“The Whatever Virus”— A Mort Laitner Short Story

The Whatever Virus

 By Mort Laitner


As I left my office, headed out for lunch, I thought about the novel virus sweeping across the nation. The virus was aptly named, the “Whatever Virus.” After many dormant years the WEV had returned (somewhere between Nirvana’s Teen Spirit and the valley girls in Clueless).

I first observed the virus when my son returned from college. When I asked him a question, he usually replied, “Whatever.” I knew his answer was safe, indecisive and totally lacking in commitment. Within days my wife was infected. Then I started to hear the “W” word at work, on TV and even in the movie theaters. This slacker term was totally annoying. Some twenty-year-olds contracted a variant of the disease called the “Like Whatever.”

I feared I would be the disease’s next victim as I strolled into my local McCafe, AKA McDonald’s. I knew a vaccine had to be invented to stop the spread of this disease before the country’s economy collapsed from inertia.

My thought shifted to an Iced Mocha, my made-to-order drink laced with chocolate sauce. When the hostess asked, “Would you like whipped cream with that?”

I said, “Of course,” realizing that the “whatever” virus had not yet infected me. Relief rushed over my virus-free body as I continued, “and an Angus mushroom Swiss burger, please.”

I observed the new carved out coffee niche, with its clean pinewood finish and chrome bars. The walls were papered in sepia with photos of metallic scoops filled with dark ground beans and surrounded with black Arabica beans. I was reminded that the espressos were freshly ground and the lattes were frothed. Before my glazed eyes appeared a Seattle coffee shop, a touch of Starbucks class, the smell of intoxicating ground bean aroma served by red-capped baristas wearing spiffy McDonald’s uniforms.

After tortured years of downing Big Macs and watching the kids eat Happy Meals, I had had enough. Once my youngest son reached puberty I swore to never return. NOW I WAS BACK! What had happened?

I think back to my younger days, knowing my kids weren’t burger and fries addicts. Their addiction was toys. Their young minds knew how to manipulate their parents. They were commercially brainwashed between the favorite cartoon programs to understanding that if you voiced the name of the fast food joint often enough their parents would cave.

I remember asking my elementary school-aged children, “Where do you want to go out to eat?”

Without hesitation they screamed, “MCDONALD’S.”

“Whatever” was not part of their vocabulary.

I had returned. I broke my word. I swore I would not return to this eatery – a promise I kept for more than a decade. Then McDonald’s changed.

McFounder, Ray Kroc’s fifty year old mantra: Fast food (burgers, fries and a coke), served quickly in a clean establishment at a cheap price was gone. Corporate headquarters went with expensive lattes and gourmet burgers served a little less quickly.

I remembered the original hamburger credos:

  1. Brainwashed kids control their parents and their parents’ pocketbooks.
  2. Clowns with toys attract young customers.
  3. Clean restrooms, floors and staff promote return visits.

The corporate Ronalds didn’t say, “Whatever” to the changing economy. They were not apathetic. They remembered their founder’s words, “If you’re not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of business.”

They realized the cheese had moved, and they had to expand their credo. The baby boomers treated the double arches as if it were serving the plague. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks raked in the caffeine addict’s dough while McDonald’s sold good cheap cups of java.

McDonald’s wasn’t going to follow in the footsteps of bankrupt dinosaurs like General Motors. Kroc often queried, “Are you green and growing or ripe and rotting?” They were staying green.

McDonald’s represented the best of America, leading the national cheer, “Change is Good.” I pictured McDonald’s executives lacing up their sneakers with their get-up-and-go attitude. They jogged into the McCafe singing, “There is business to be done. Fear is for losers.” They pasted bumper stickers to their automobiles which read: “Risk Takers Do It Better” or “To Hell With Whatever.”

As the hostess passed the tray across the counter, I snapped back to reality. Thoughts of the burger juices, melted cheese and grilled mushrooms danced in my head; I struggled to remember what I was thinking about before.

The smell of the Iced Mocha, the rich chocolaty coffee goodness drifted off the tray and up to my nose. The hostess asked, “Would you like extra ketchup with that Angus burger?” Quickly my brain succumbed to the pull of my stomach and before I knew it, I muttered, “Whatever.”


Editors note: Neither the editors nor the author have received any remuneration from the McDonald’s Corporation for this story.











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