I need to get ready for bikini season. For some people, that's June-August. For me, it was 1992-1996. Still, losing a few pounds before swimming season is a springtime tradition, and that's why I'm particularly grateful for Wendy's recent addition to their value menu: the severed finger.
Nothing spells portion control like a severed finger in your fresh chili. I can't have been the only one following the tale of customer Anna Ayala, who claimed this past March to have been literally given the finger while dining at a Wendy's in San Jose.
Forget about American Idol, this was my favorite, gripping "reality" show. Refusing to speak to reporters, but willingly accepting an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America", Ayala told television audiences "Just knowing that there was a human remain in my mouth ... it is disgusting. It is tearing me apart inside." (True story: I read about it on www.thestreet.com, who also featured a story on the same page about another restaurant executive retiring. The headline: "Outback CEO throws up hands in disgust".)
Yes, Ayala claimed to have found a 1 1/2" human finger in her chili. Probably a woman's finger, judging by the well-manicured nail. How do you get an object that size from your chili to your mouth on one of those little flimsy plastic spoons without noticing?
But the more important question seemed to be: who lost the finger? Poor Wendy's. They had to search through their entire restaurant and supply chain, doing an inventory count on employee fingertips. How do you proceed with finding the match for a found fingertip? Thank heavens for modern forensics, otherwise it could have degenerated into some freakish version of Cinderella, with the police visiting the houses of all the four-fingered maidens in the land, trying to find which hand fit the severed finger.
We should also be grateful Ayala wasn't eating at my old high school cafeteria, because our shop teacher was missing two or three fingers. I can only imagine that interrogation.
FBI: "So, you're trying to tell me that you've been missing two fingers for years?"
Shop teacher: "Yes. NO! Three fingers! I've been missing all three of these since..."
FBI, shining light in teacher's eyes: "Which is it?!? Two or three!?"
Shop teacher: "I want my lawyer!"
Inventorying fingers on a high school campus would also have been far more disgusting, given how many of them would have to be pulled from the noses of freshman and sophomore boys.
So it's good that the finger was found in a fast food restaurant. And good, specifically, that it was a Wendy's. Wendy's is strong. They will survive this uproar. If it had been, say, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the chain would have been absolutely done for. KFC has just been associated too long with the phrase, "Finger lickin' good." As it is, I'm thinking "Chicken Fingers" are going to disappear from everybody's menu for a while.
But back to the drama. If nobody at Wendy's was missing a finger (or any grossly long, well-manicured toes) then who was? Wendy's offered a $50,000 reward to find out where the finger came from. The San Jose restaurant manager was rumored to have lost his senses, wandering about mumbling, "When I find him, I will go up to the four-fingered man and say, 'Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my restaurant. Prepare to die.'"
Then on May 13th, nearly two months after her ill-fated chili, they found the true owner of the "Finger that Launched a Thousand Lunches". It wasn't Helen of Troy, it was a co-worker of Ayala's husband.
The facts are finally starting to add up (though not to ten). Ayala has been arrested. Fingered for the blame, as it were. It remains to be seen whether or not the guy gave his finger to Ayala's husband for criminal purposes, though I can't imagine any other reason. ("Dude, we've been buds for a long time now, and, well... I just wanted you to have this.")
Wendy's is understandably thrilled to have been proven innocent. In a public statement they said that although they lost millions of dollars and business is down 70% in some places, they are grateful to the indiscriminate eaters who kept on coming to their restaurant anyway.
As for me, I've been awfully busy lately, so I plan on heading down to Wendy's for lunch myself. I could use an extra hand around the house.
Comments and extra digits to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the May 22, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.