Canada's National Post and the AP note a photograph, posted to link-sharing website Reddit, of failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney visiting a McDonald's sometime yesterday. "Mitt Romney loves his McDonald's and has said so on many occasions," the article reads.
And then there is this curious aside: "In fact, he often used a card his father got for helping out the McDonald's founders to get free hamburgers for life."
Reacting — as you no doubt are as we speak — on an instinctive, lizard-brain level, we clicked through to to the linked story. This was apparently a frequently-told story from his stump speech, and yet, we'd never heard it before. As is so often the case, the foreign media had reported this curious factoid with a great deal of depth and nuance:
Speaking to an audience in Chicago, Romney said as a young boy he looked through his father's dresser drawers. There he found that his dad, former Michigan governor George Romney, had a card entitling him to free McDonald's hamburgers for life.
"I found a little paper card, a little pink card, and it said this entitles George W. Romney to a lifetime of a hamburger, a shake and french fries at McDonald's," Romney said. "It was signed by the hand of [McDonald's executive] Ray Kroc. My dad had done a little training lesson or whatever for McDonald's when there was just a handful of restaurants, and I saw this thing and was like, ‘This is a gold mine, dad! What are you doing?'"
Romney said his father went to McDonald's almost every day for a hamburger or a filet-o-fish sandwich. "He would present this little card and, of course, the person behind the counter would look and say, well, what is that?,'" Romney said. "They'd never seen something like that, but he said it was never turned down. They always honoured it."
How might we encounter the knowledge that George Romney was in possession of such an object? How do we process and deal with Romney's possession of a artifact on the order of Excalibur, or perhaps more accurately, the Horn of Plenty, broken from the skull of Ray Kroc by a youthful George?
We must first stipulate that the Free McDonald's for Life card cannot be reckoned with as one might reckon with a fact, or a "news story." It is an object, and a story, that exists in the realm of myth, and must therefore be engaged in the language of myth: that is, poetry. What follows, then, is an attempt to reach, through mytho-poetical discourse, an understanding of the Free McDonald's for Life Card.
1. Later, alone, in the kitchen, Mitt stares at his father. He is agitated, waving the card. "A gold mine. A gold mine, dad! And you won't cash it in." George shakes his head sadly, unable to make eye contact. Mitt wipes his mouth. "Why are you wasting your time with cars? And... politics?" He catches himself, and lowers his voice: Lenore is asleep, above them. "You're a fool, dad," he says, tossing the card to the floor and walking out. George Romney stoops to pick up the card, eyes red.
It is heavier than he remembered
2. Few people know this, but Community Chest is real; there are real cards, drawn in secret by the powerful and the occult — in darkened living rooms in penthouse apartments — in small clearings near running water — behind certain colonial buildings in the coastal northeast — cards whose instructions and gifts are printed in blood and considered mystical bonds.
3. George strode into the Oval Office, purposefully, but with a slight limp that he thought might never go away. There, the president stood, grinning, hand out; George could only shrug and lift his bandaged, sling-held arm. The president laughed nervously: "Sorry, George," and offered him a seat.
"Listen — George — we owe you a lot of thanks for, well, for what you just did."
George frowned modestly. "It was just a top-secret mission into the heart of Russia for my country, Mr. President. I need no thanks."
"Even so, George, given that you can never tell anyone about what you've just done, I hope you can nonetheless accept this small token of our appreciation." The president reached into his pocket, and George caught a small flash of pink.
4. It is late September in Manchester, New York. In the dark, a young farmer is digging into a hill. He feels his shovel seize, scrapes away dirt; there, hidden in the hill, is a book of golden plates, a breastplate, and stone-set spectacles. And a small piece of paper, no larger than the palm of his hand, with text in English, but not a dialect he understands. Even so, he can feel its importance, its power. He exhales, and watches his breath fog. Joseph Smith reads the card once more, places it in his pocket, and walks away, electric with anticipation.
5. George and Mitt are driving through Grosse Pointe in an AMC Gremlin when Mitt finds his father's wallet in the glove compartment. While his father sings along to the radio, Mitt rifles: a license; a credit card; and several, small, creased bits of card paper: "THE BEARER OF THIS CARD NEVER HAS TO WAIT IN LINE AT SPACE MOUNTAIN," followed by a looping signature he can't make out. "TO THE CARD-BEARER: YOU DON'T HAVE TO WATCH COMMERCIALS WHEN YOU WATCH TV," says another. "ONE OF EVERY VIDEO GAME SYSTEM AND THE GAME TOO." There is a fourth one — pink — but before he can read it, George snatches the wallet from Mitt's hands. "Now, now, kid," says George. "You're not ready."
6. In the hotel suite, Mitt clutches Ann's hands, but his eyes aren't on the TV. Ann watches CNN call Pennsylvania, but Mitt's eyes are on a table drawer. When the station breaks for commercial, he stands and strolls over to it, pulling something small out, tracing the embossed text with his fingers. "ONE FREE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WIN," it reads. Do I dare? he wonders. Do I...?
7. Later you try to describe the man to your friends but you find you can't: tall, good-looking, middle-aged, but... what did he look like? He was wearing a trench coat with collar up, and sunglasses when he strolled in and yelled "Burgers for everyone! On the house!" And he showed something to the cashier — but what was it? The scene feels increasingly like a dream, and all you can remember is the deep brown of his eyes as they briefly locked yours. But he was on his way out the door then, the McDonald's chaotic with celebration, and you were the only one to watch him slip out.
[image by Jim Cooke]