"Bob Levey speaking."
"Hi, Bob. I'm a reader of yours who lives up near the Cathedral. Have you got five minutes?"
"Well, ma'am, I never like to make foolhardy predictions, but, yes, I'll probably survive at least that long."
"Glad to hear it. Anyway, what I want to talk about is fast food restaurants."
"The bane of my existence! A blot upon the Washington landscape! Repositories of everything that's bad for you and nothing that's good! The home of overflowing trash cans, ill-mannered kids, cholesterol-soaked food and tables that are always smeared with ketchup! Anything else you need to know?"
"Well, at least I know where you stand. What happened? Did Roy Rogers overcharge you?"
"Nothing that simple, ma'am. It's just that I consider every visit to a fast food restaurant a surrender, not a pleasure. The way the straws squeak when you shove them through the holes in those plastic lids. The way the hamburger buns are always overbuttered. The way the counter people say 'May I help you?' as if they're robots, not people. The whole scene drives me nuts."
"It drives me nuts, too, but for a different reason."
"Which is that fast food is about to destroy our family. I mean, I can't even believe this myself, but my 24-year-old daughter is about to get married. We gave her everything -- Tanglewood in the summer, private schools in Montgomery County, tutoring in French -- and you know what she wants?"
"To have Ronald McDonald perform the ceremony?"
"Almost that bad. She wants to have the reception at a Pizza Hut. I said absolutely not, so she said, 'Okay, we can have it at the church. But I want Pizza Hut pizza to be served, not finger sandwiches or anything like that.' "
"What about the wedding cake? Don't tell me she wants Colonel Sanders to fry one up for her that tastes like the original-recipe chicken."
"Worse than that. Instead of cake, she wants those little apple-pie turnover thingies that they sell at McDonald's."
"Ma'am, has it occurred to you that your daughter might be putting you on?"
"I only wish. She tells me I'm hopelessly old-fashioned. She says it's her wedding and she'll do what she pleases. And then when I try to talk sense to her, she says to me, 'Mother, do you know that McDonald's hamburgers are served as hot lunches at public schools in 17 states?' "
"I hate to tell you this, ma'am, but I think she's right."
"She is right. I looked into it, and I still don't believe it."
"Well, you sure are facing a toughie. Maybe someone else can talk some sense into your daughter. Maybe your minister?"
"Nice try, Bob. He eats lunch every day at Wendy's."
"All right. What about the groom's parents?"
"They're absolutely impossible. I don't know who's worse, them or their son. I mean, do you know what the mother said to me? She said, 'I don't see what's so bad about Pizza Hut pizza. At least you know they'll eat it.' What is this, Bob? A wedding reception for finicky five-year-olds, or a dignified occasion for adults?"
"I think I know the answer to that question, ma'am, and I don't think you're going to like it."
"(Sigh) I know the answer, too, Bob. It's just that . . . . well, like every parent, I'm sitting around wondering where I went wrong. Maybe if I'd fed her more vegetables when she was younger, or refused to buy Coke at the grocery store. Maybe if I'd taken her to Italy when she was younger, so she could see what real pizza tasted like, instead of this awful stuff at Pizza Hut."
"Don't blame yourself, ma'am. No parent should ever do that."
"All right, then, I won't. But what do I do, Bob? The wedding is in one month!"
"You trick her."
"Trick her? I'd like my daughter to speak to me sometime in the next 20 years!"
"No risk of that. You agree to the pizza demand. Just cave. Say to her, 'Okay, you want pizza? You'll have pizza.' Then you buy one large pie at Pizza Hut. Pepperoni, sausage, any kind you like. You have them deliver it to the reception. You cut it into about 250 pieces. You hire waiters from Ridgewell's, or one of those places. They serve it on fine china. That way, she wins, and you do, too."
"I like it, Bob!"
"Shucks, ma'am. 'Tweren't nuthin'."
"There's just one more thing."
"They don't want an orchestra, or even a string quartet. They want the tapes of Willie Nelson that they play at the 7-Eleven up on Wisconsin Avenue."
"(Deep sigh) That one, ma'am, is out of my league."