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  • Sugar wasn’t allowed in our house; it was almost as bad as white bread. Dad would always say that white bread would stick to your insides for seven years. “Just like wallpaper paste”, he said.

    Seven years was how long I had been alive.

    For a seven year old, I had a lot of secrets, like the time my vegetarian dad and I went to Burger King, White Castle, and McDonald’s all in one night.

    A few months before I learned about my soon to be new step-dad, the ‘Dr. Pepper man’, my real dad and I went to a basketball game in Minneapolis, just the two of us. Dad parked our Toronado at the top of a very full parking garage. We walked toward the stadium and joined the ticket line. Dad tiptoed like Zacheus, trying to see into the stadium around all the people.

    He loved basketball and football more than anything, except God. Every March, he would leave for a week—go to a hotel that had a TV, and just watch sports. We didn’t have a television set. I’d never even watched one.

    In line at the stadium, there were twenty-five people in front of us, about six lines across. People murmured, “Sold out. No more tickets.”
    Dad whined, “Aw well. I guess we struck out on this one.”

    I looked up at him nervously, hoping his temper wouldn’t flare. His head was down; he looked sad. He put his hand on the middle of my back and steered me toward the top of the garage.

    As we trudged uphill, he toward me and said, “Well, kiddo, what next?”

    I shrugged. We didn’t go anywhere much, just to church and high school and college football and basketball games.

    In the car, Dad cranked his window so he could rest his arm out the side. His temple twitched like it always did and then his cheek twitched with the same rhythm. We were driving, aimlessly.
    Suddenly, I almost fell over in the front seat as he pulled the steering wheel hard and led us into a bright orange, brightly lit Burger King parking lot. I had never been to a Burger King—or a drive-thru.

    We only went to one restaurant ever—it was in a mall. And it was called The Good Earth. There was a waterfall inside. Usually we only went there when my grandma and grandpa visited because they would pay. I’d never seen TV or movies. And now I was in a drive-thru. My brown eyes were huge. My mouth was open.

    He steered our big boat around and leaned toward the black microphone box, didn’t even look at the menu, and stammered, “Uh, yeah, I’d like two Whoppers with cheese, a Whopper Junior with cheese, two orders of onion rings, a chocolate malt, and a water.”

    He looked over at me with his eyebrows up and his mouth kind. My mouth must’ve been hanging wide open. He shrugged, put his hand on top of my knee and said, “We’ve got a few hours to kill before Mom expects us back. And it’s still our fun night.”

    Dad pulled the car to the second window where we waited a few minutes and these teenager hands reached into the car with two bright white bags and then two tall drinks, all shouting, BURGER KING.

    He put the bags on the seat space between us, reached to his left and lowered the drinks into the plastic portable cup holder that hugged the hump of the floorboard.

    A pimply kid in the Burger King hat was framed in the window like a puppet. He locked eyes with me and asked, “Crown?”

    Before I could answer, my dad waved his hand at the kid and said, “Nah. We’ve got too many of those taking up space at home.”

    I squinted and looked down flipping this new word over and over in my head: Crown, crown, crown, crown. Maybe I heard it wrong. Crayon. He asked me if I wanted a crayon. It’s true we did have some crayons at home. But I didn’t think we had so many. I put the inside of my cheek between my teeth, looked at him and mumbled, “Thanks, anyway.”

    Dad lifted the straw to his mouth, put the car in Drive and we rolled to a parking space in the Burger King parking lot. He cut the engine, reached into the bag closest to him and began unwrapping one of the burgers.

    The white wrapping was around the bottom half of the sandwich like it was wearing a diaper. I had never eaten meat before. I stared hard at my dad, watching him chew and chew, his temple twitching. Between bites he motioned with his chin toward the bag and said at me, “Go ahead. The little one in there is for you.”
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