The Hamburger Conspiracy

Andres Romero is a life-long resident of Santa Fe. He retired after twenty-six years and eight months with the State of New Mexico on December 31, 1998. Since then he has devoted much of his time and energy to working with seven nonprofits. His hobbies include history, oral history and photography.  Andres is currently working on four video documentaries, including an oral history of Word War II, the Low Riders, and the youth mariachi movement.

As I was growing up, my best friends were two boys who lived next door. Of the two, I was closest to the younger. This was probably because he was the one very near to my age. He was about three weeks older than I. He was born on February 19th and I was born on March 8th.

The older brother was eighteen months older than both my friend and I. In those days, experience-wise, that was equivalent to a five-to-seven-year span in age difference today. To his younger brother and me, he was in another world.

I remember quite vividly that for most of my childhood, pre-teen and early teenage years, their mother would always have a birthday party for the younger brother on the Friday following his birthday.

His birthday fell right in the middle of the Lenten season. All the little boys in the neighborhood would be invited to his birthday party and we all knew that everybody would be served hamburgers. There were always ten to fourteen boys at the birthday party. Everyone would have hamburgers.

That is everybody, except me. Being a Catholic, and out of respect for my devout and religious parents, his mother would fix me a fried egg sandwich. Everybody would be chomping away on his mouth-watering, juicy hamburgers with (or without) cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and pickles. Some would be generously lavished with mustard, catsup, or maybe even mayonnaise. Boy, how I would crave a hamburger. The sight of a hamburger with all the trimmings would cause me to salivate.
I did not know it then, but I began practicing a very rudimentary form of visualization. I would fall into a kind of a trance and dream of biting into a warm meat patty with cheese. As it slowly melted in my mouth, my palate would simultaneously taste the semi-tart mixture of mustard and catsup. Awakened to reality, I had to force myself to eat a plain old egg sandwich.
God, there is only so much one can do with a fried egg sandwich, and besides, what else can one put on it, except salt and pepper? For a sandwich, an egg can only be fried three ways; sunny-side up, medium or thoroughly cooked.
After my friend’s birthday parties I would come home and go to bed disappointed, frustrated and mistrustful of the justice in the universe, and then dream of hamburgers tumbling over a fence.

My earliest ambition at this very young age was to someday own a hamburger establishment. This was eons before the advent of hamburger franchise chains.

Weeks before the birthday party I would try to think of ways of solving my birthday party dilemma. One time, I even thought of fibbing to my friend’s mother by telling her that I had a special dispensation from the Vatican to eat meat on Fridays.
It was only my strong altar boy background and my exemplary Cub Scout training that prevented me from doing so. It’s not that I didn’t try other approaches, because for weeks before the party, I would tax my imagination by trying to come up with a plausible explanation as to why I should be allowed to partake in this hamburger feast that, by now, I considered a special delicacy. Try as I might, I could never really figure out how to circumvent this seemingly insurmountable obstacle that lay between me and a delicious hamburger. One time, the boy sitting next to me at one of the birthday parties, seeing my anguish, offered me a bite out of his hamburger. Boy, was I ever tempted! For a second there, all the religious instruction and Cub Scout training came close to flying out the window. I almost succumbed to temptation.

Suspecting that the devil was behind this, I quickly weighed the consequences of this temporal pleasure as opposed to eternal damnation in the fires of hell, in the company of Lucifer and his gang. So I resisted. I didn’t take a bite. Besides, I told myself, I have this severe aversion to heat and, temperature-wise, that hell place didn’t sound too inviting.
Another time I really thought that I would solve this dilemma by becoming a Protestant—a Presbyterian or Episcopalian or even a Baptist, for a week. I thought that perhaps I could get a week’s leave of absence from Catholicism and thereby not have to abide by the canons of the Church.

One birthday gave way to another and the years passed, and before I knew it we were out of grade school, out of junior high and out of high school. Years later, sometime after my stint in the military, and while in college, I read in some newspaper that the Vatican had changed the rules governing the eating of meat on Fridays. Imagine how shocked and disappointed I was, when I read that any Catholic could now eat meat, including hamburgers, on any Friday during the year, except on Good Friday during Holy Week.

Now, every time I have a hamburger, I remember my friend’s birthday parties and all the hamburgers that I couldn’t have and all the fried eggs sandwiches I had to force myself to eat.

To this day I still crave and thoroughly enjoy a good old fashioned hamburger with all the trimmings. Someday, when I approach the autumn of my life, I know that I will pray that reincarnation doesn’t exist, because if it does, I would really hate it if I came back to this earth as a chicken or an egg. Or is it an egg or a chicken? Oh, well . . .