Malcolm blows his stimulus check on fast food

What a country!

We're spending roughly $500,000 a minute spreading democracy like a thick coat of margarine across the toasty Iraqi desert. Meanwhile, my home that in 2007 would have sold for $250,000 is today worth about $27,000 less. It costs more than $100 just to fill up my Hummer's gas tank, and the price of rice (rice!) has nearly doubled in the past three months.

But what, me worry? Not a chance. I just got my stimulus check.

That's right, if you're feeling glum because you've lost a year's salary in the housing market, or if you've got the blues because each trip to the gas station now includes a side trip to donate plasma, then clearly you haven't received that sweet 600 large from Uncle Sam.

Sure, it's costing the government a hefty $168 billion to raise our spirits, but it's our money to begin with, right? And anyhow we drop that sort of coin in Iraq for breakfast. Now, what's for lunch?

Nothing brings people together like a possible recession. Our shared plight gives us a shared sense of mission. If we bind together, the thinking goes, we shall overcome.

How sweet it is, then, for Wal-Mart to offer free stimulus-check cashing for its customers who, no doubt, choose not to have a bank account of their own. (And hey, if those customers choose to stimulate the whole shebang at Wal-Mart, it's win-win, right?)

That's mighty nice of Wal-Mart, but it's nothing compared to the downright neighborly concern of shops like Sears and Kroger. Those two shops — there are many others — are offering stimulus-check gift cards, sweetening the pot by tacking on a 10 percent bonus. E.g., if you buy a Sears gift card with your $600 stimulus check — presto, change-o! — you'll be able to stimulate the economy with $660 in Craftsman gardening equipment. (Before tax, that is.)

Restaurants are catching the stimulus spirit as well. Soaring food costs be damned, Domino's Pizza, that avatar of economic patriotism, is offering a "recession-busting" three pizzas for $12, and chains like Wendy's and Burger King are offering top-shelf sandwiches like the double cheeseburger on their "dollar menus."

Always ahead of the curve, McDonald's took it one step further on May 15, offering, for one day only, a free Southern Style Chicken Sandwich to anyone with enough pocket change to buy a medium drink.

Comprising a moist white bun, three slices of pickle and a D cup-size chicken breast, the Southern Style Chicken Sandwich is recession cuisine at its finest. Unlike, say, the gluttonous Big Mac, with its two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun, the Southern Style keeps it humble. It disdains condiments, expecting, I expect, potential consumers to relish a sandwich whose simplicity allows each flavor to burst forth unsullied by the madding notes of ketchup or mayo.

The thing is: Have you ever tried to eat a McDonald's product ingredient by ingredient? Eaten alone, the discrete ingredients of, say, a Big Mac have almost no flavor, and yet through some alchemy, when eaten together the sum becomes greater than its parts. (Either that, or the special sauce is working overtime.)

Well, eating a Southern Style Chicken Sandwich is sort of like eating a dissected Big Mac: It doesn't taste bad — it tastes like nothing at all.

So much so, in fact, that by the time you've finished the sandwich, you'll be ready to drop some real money on a real burger.

And that, friends, is precisely the sort of stimulus we need.

Seen a foodstuff you're too timid to try? Malcolm will eat it! E-mail particulars to keepitdown@mac.com.

 
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