It had been almost 8 years when the call came.
In 2012 Grimace vanished from the public eye, appearing only in Malaysian Happy Meal toys. And Grimace knew that no one even noticed. Mayor McCheese had told him that he looked like he had needed a break, with the usual dry tone that made it impossible to tell if he was implying something more derogatory. Grimace was, after all, an unknown blob. The gods of the McDonald’s Twitter account had referred to him twice in history, thus altering his ontological composition with a simple stroke of the key.
One tweet called him a taste bud, while another one referred to him as the embodiment of a milkshake. These are two very different things.
The tweets had arrived right at the beginning of Grimace’s long sabbatical in 2012, and perhaps it was these very words which prompted his existential wandering. If even his creators didn’t know what he was, how should he know? And was there a way to find out?
After all, he had thought a decade ago while purchasing the cheapest flight to South America he could find, how could he possibly be both? A milkshake is something tasted, and a taste bud is what does the tasting. This was one of the earliest recorded philosophical pontifications, Grimace happened to recall from an intro to philosophy class Socrates’ Law of Noncontradiction. A thing cannot be two contradictory things at once.
Now it was 2020, and his phone was ringing. The screen simply read “Unknown,” but Grimace knew it was probably the Hamburglar. He liked to cloak his calls, thinking it made him seem more mysterious. In the past though, these calls were just asking what time Grimace would be arriving to the filming for the promotional VHS, or asking Grimace how he should reply to a text from his latest fling. How should Grimace know? He’s just a milkshake taste bud.
“Hello?” Grimace spoke mournfully into the bottom of the iPhone.
“Grimace, it’s me,” said Hamburglar.
Grimace’s little brain gave itself a high five.
“Grimace, Macy’s is coming up and they want us back in it.”
“Did Mayor approve this? Did he tell you to call me?”
Just then a bang echoed over the valley where Grimace was sitting and eating his lunch. He was high on a hillside overlooking Antigua, Guatemala, and the volcano El Fuego had just erupted, as it does every dozen minutes or so. Still, the booming echo caused the little hair follicles all over Grimace’s body, or, bud, to perk up. Hamburglar had been saying something, but Grimace missed it all. He came back in on,
“…stoked! Get your flights booked. Or Amy can do it for you….. Hello?”
“I’m here,” said Grimace, still watching the smoke roll upwards out of the volcano.”
“Did you hear that? They want us back in the parade! You gonna make it?”
“Not sure yet,” Grimace said without even realizing he was talking.
Hamburglar said more into the phone, but Grimace was experiencing a sort of sensory overload and he slid his phone back into his purse without even hanging up the call. The volcano booming, the minuscule amount of progress he had made on his existential exploration, Socratic laws. It was all too much for his little cranial folds.
In the daytime, the lava is only visible for a second as it rolls down the side of the volcano. Moreso on cloudy days, but mostly at night. At night the orange glow roars up and out of the mountain and seems to stay lit for minutes as it rushes down the hill. Grimace liked it at night because the glowing lava reminded him of glow-in-the-dark toys he used to be sold with inside Happy Meals. He and whichever glowing object would wait inside the cardboard housing, letting the anticipation build until the moment a child would part the heavens and then squeal with delight upon seeing their delicious food and their new toy inside the brightly painted box.
Grimace had allowed himself to wander backwards in time through a daydream. He remembered thousands of boxes being opened, almost every single one met with a smiling boy or girl. They’d pull him out and play with him atop the restaurant tables and chairs. He was the prize of their life; the center of their attention.
In 2012, everyone forgot.
Not only did they forget, they didn’t even know what he was anymore.
There had been a time in Grimace’s life, the adolescence of his existence, when no one, including Grimace, questioned what he was. It didn’t seem to matter. Adults and children alike were happy to see a dancing purple blob and enjoy his presence. After all, isn’t that what all existence revolves around? Connection? Delighting in one another? Shared presence and association?
It used to be so simple. Grimace never knew how much he didn’t know, until he did.
Am I merely a specter, a phantom, haunting the mental background of a sole generation? he often thought. A generation that all work in tech now and don’t care about promotional fast food characters.
He had spent the entire first year—most of 2012 into 2013—in Brasil. He meandered along the coast that connects São Paulo to Rio. He especially liked Paraty and Ubatuba (mainly he just liked saying Ubatuba).
People still smiled when they saw him. Half recognized him; half simply liked the way he jiggled as he moved. Even when he lay out on the sand beneath a perfect equatorial sun, his body seemed to still be jiggling.
It was on the bay in Paraty that Grimace had the thought, I can’t be a milkshake. I’d melt.
This realization neglected the fact that he was always in a box beside piping hot fries and a fresh hamburger, but it took laying in the Brazilian sun for him to connect the dots.
Over seven years he had made his way all over the continent. He went down through Buenos Aires and over to Chile, where he had the thought, This country is so long, straight, and thin. Has anyone eve just walked right up the middle of it, bottom to top? Straight up?
He criss-crossed the land more than once, taking buses up to the tiny nations of Suriname and French Guiana, but found little to do there. A voice nagged him any time he had these thoughts, That’s the point, Grimace! We need to escape from it all–whatever ‘it all’ is–and figure out who WE are!
He circled South America a handful more times in a dizzying scribble across the map before making his way up to Colombia, wanting to see Central America. He thought it would be simple to make his way to the top of Colombia and go right on up through Panama, but he encountered the Darien Gap. A local in the north of Colombia told him it’s the most dangerous jungle in the world; possibly the most dangerous place in the world.
For a moment, Grimace had teetered on the words the man spoke. Should he just cut through anyway? If he made it to the other side he would be a hero; he would finally have a story to tell. He might not know what he was, but he would know the kind of balls he had. And if he didn’t make it out…maybe that wouldn’t have been the worst conclusion either.
But the local man had persuaded him onto a fishing boat which skipped over the Darien Gap entirely and introduced him to Panama. Now, it had been nearly a full year he had been making his way up through Central America, skipping mostly over Costa Rica because it was too touristy. It’ll distract me from my thinking.
Now he was in Guatemala, and faced with a decision: Go back to the States, which now felt more like a foreign country to him, or continue on his pilgrimage? He was nearly fluent in Spanish now, but still couldn’t roll his R’s. His tongue was too fat and blubbery so he mostly ended up spitting at people.
The smoke from the last eruption had mostly dissipated into the sunsetting sky. Grimace had watched it without seeing it. The thoughts of his little mind were elsewhere. He wasn’t necessarily low on funds–the royalties from his promotional VHS tapes continued to roll into his bank account somehow. Who was still buying VHS tapes from the 90’s? He had asked himself one day in Peru.
But he still felt like a part of him needed to get back to work. He left his work to try to find himself, but seemed to stumble upon more questions than answers. Perhaps he would discover more about himself this time by returning to work. Maybe, like Karl Marx said, labor is freedom from one’s chains. Maybe identity mattered less than production (something else he had inhaled from Marx).
He picked up his phone and scrolled through his contacts until he found “Dongle McWrongald.” He giggled to himself. Hit the call button, then after a few seconds said into his iPhone, “Hey boss. I hear Macy needs me.”