The American Way

by : Wesley Martin

Jeffrey and Tammy poured out of the minivan, jumping and hollering across the parking lot, before Lillian had even unbuckled her seat-belt.

“Hey! How many times have I told you two not to run off!” Their mom yelled at the kids as she shouldered her purse. “Lillian, get off your phone.”

Lillian groaned and twerped something about how family outings are the worst. She followed her parents to the building, passing under the shadow of the gigantic redwhiteandblue A sign towering over the restaurant. Again, she checked how many dotes her twerps had gotten recently. Still mostly just James, who wanted to ask her out but was too shy and probably knew she’d say no. None of her friends were paying attention to her boring normal summer.

Tammy and Jeffrey waited impatiently by the door. A poster for the food chain’s latest monstrosity, the Cheesy Shake, #truthordairy, covered the entrance.

“Oh, maybe I’ll try the gouda,” her mom said.

Lillian audibly gagged.

“You know, you used to love this place,” her dad said.

“Yeah, before I learned what real food was.”

“Come on now,” her dad replied. “I read an article that said their food was almost eighty percent real.”

Her mom held the door open for them all. Lillian entered twerping about never getting to go anywhere nice.

Inside was overly air conditioned and twangy country music piped through the speakers. “Welcome to America Trough, the non-stop trough spot!” the collage-age dork behind the counter greeted.

“Hello,” her mom said cheerfully, then snapped at the kids who were about to bolt to the wallow pit. “Jeffrey, Tammy, wait till after we order.”

The family stared at the menu while an obese couple ahead of them paid the cashier. Lillian wondered if they ever stared at the menu or if they had it memorized by now.

“Do we want to share a family trough, or does everybody want their own thing?” her dad asked.

“I want a toy!” Jeffrey said. “They’ve got Patriasoars,” referring to the plastic figures from the cartoon perpetually haunting their living room TV.

“Me too!” Tammy said. “I want a Tripartisiantops.”

“Fine. We’ll get you both kiddie chutes,” her dad said. “Lillian, what about you?”

“Just a veggie bucket.”

“That’s all?” her mom asked. “You gotta have some protein in your diet.”

“You know how they treat their animals, right?” Lillian scoffed. “They immobilize them and keep them in tiny boxes for most of their lives, intravenously pumping in nutrients and steroids, all while talk radio is blared through their prisons.”

“Talk radio? Please?” her mom said. “They couldn’t be so delicious if that were true.”

“I only want a veggie bucket, OK?” Lillian said, then sent a twerp about the ignorance of older generations.

“Alright. What do you want to drink?”

“Diet Syrup,” Lillian said.

“Can we go play now?” Tammy asked.

“Yes, fine. Lillian, watch your siblings,” her mom said.

Lillian found a pen where she could watch the wallow pit. She scrolled through her friends trenches. Sandy was still raving about the DJ Platitude concert she went to last week. Pamela had posted another photo dump from her trip to Merch Fest. They’d been getting lots of dotes. It seemed like Lillian was the only one who didn’t get to do something fun this summer.

The obese couple, seated across the aisle, gossiped over the one of the woman’s coworker’s sad attempt at pulling off skinny jeans. The man’s monotone chuckle punctuated the woman’s sentences as she berated her coworker. An employee, wearing a rubber apron, hauled over two large pails to the couple and dumped them into their trough. The squishy sloppy sound of the food piling out made Lillian ill.

“Could we get some extra napkins, please?” The obese man asked, and then the couple scrarfed and snorted the contents of their trough.

Lillian stuffed her headphones in and played some technogrundgepop to drown out the obscenity across the aisle. She looked to the wallow pit, Tammy and Jeffrey were already covered head-to-toe in mud. Thankfully, they had remembered to take off their sneakers and store them in the plastic cubby.

A few moments later Lillian’s parents joined her in the pen and passed her drink. Both her parents sucked on their Cheesy Shakes while her mom searched the new releases on Drooloo for something to watch tonight. Her dad shook his head at every suggestion. She couldn’t hear the conversation but Lillian knew her dad was pointing out something wrong with all the actors from the titles her mom was interested in. After four or five discarded movie suggestions the employee in the apron brought their food pails over. He sloshed the family order into their trough and tiny flecks of meat splattered in all directions. He handed her mom the Patriasoar toys and placed the veggie bucket in front of Lillian.

Bits of lettuce and carrot shavings floated on the surface of the thick milky dressing. Lillian picked up a lettuce leaf and watched the dressing drizzle back down into the bucket.

Her dad nudged her and gestured to remove the headphones. She rolled her eyes as she did so.

“Hey, glad you’re going to be a part of the family while we eat,” he told her.

“Yeah, how could I resist that?” Lillian said and dropped the lettuce leaf back into the bucket.

Her parents got on the knees and bent over the trough. They happily munched away, and Lillian only swirled the veggies around in the bucket. She checked her trench again. James doted her last two twerps.

“You know, honey, you’re more than welcome to our trough if you want to save your salad,” her mom said with food smothered across her lips and chin.

Lillian hated herself for admitting it, but the cheesysaltymeaty aroma arising from the trough was appealing. She double checked the restaurant to make sure no one from school was around. Just strangers who couldn’t care less how they looked publicly gorging themselves. All clear. With partial relief and partial abhorrence she bent down next to her parents and dug into the American Trough.