Ronald McDonald trudged slowly along the side of the road. There were no footpaths along this stretch of roadway. Just long-grass verges and open drains. He was perspiring in the hot sun, drops of sweat turning his greasepaint into rivulets of yellow and red.

His big red boots clumped loudly on the tarseal as he plodded past a roadside stall advertising fresh vegetables. He glared at the cucumbers, apples, tomatoes and crisp cauliflowers piled in large wooden bins. The owners would be vegetarians who grew organic vegetables in highly composted paddocks.

They’d probably never tasted a juicy chicken burger in their lives.

In the distance he could see the hills behind the village of Havelock North. He wondered which was
the fabled Tomato Peak he’d heard about. They even name their damn hills after fresh food, he muttered
to himself.

The sun beat mercilessly down on him. His frizzy red wig made his bald head itchy. As he started to scratch it the wig fell to the ground, lying there like a matted clump of road kill. An approaching black Lexus 4WD wagon swerved, two youngsters in the back pointing at his bald sweatsoaked scalp, their eyes wide and mouths gaping. He swore and jammed the wig back on.

A bridge was just up ahead. An elderly woman sitting on a bench on the bank of the stream looked up and waved. He ignored her. Under his contract he was obliged to be cheerful only to children between the ages of 4 and 12, between 10am and 6pm weekdays and 8am to 5pm at weekends.

Across the bridge was a roundabout and on the far side an old rundown house on the corner. He checked his map. That was where the long-awaited Havelock North McDonald’s outlet would go.

The site was perfect, he thought. Those stuck-up hill dwellers in their BMWs and Audis would have to run the gauntlet past the golden arches that would soon frame the entrance to their precious village. Their bags of fresh fruit and vegetables, locally produced virgin olive oil, camembert cheese and thick ciabatta loaves would be no match for the seductive smell of French fries, beef burgers and chicken McNuggets.

Their kids would ensure they never made it past the drive-in entrance.

Ronald kept on walking. He was weary and desperately needed to pee. The toilet cubicles behind the Information Centre were all occupied. He sat down near a statue of a blacksmith and looked across the street. There was a bakery and several coffee shops. The tables outside were occupied by women wearing expensive
black skirts and knee-length boots. They all seemed to have blonde hair. Several were smoking. Ronald instinctively felt for the cigarettes and lighter in his clown suit but hesitated. He had been warned before by McDonald bosses after someone saw him smoking outside a bar in Hamilton.

He was also feeling hungry. The pie shop over the street had won awards for its pies. Pastry poofs, thought Ronald. Kids wanted burgers now, the bigger the better. Then he noticed some strange pods lying on the large roundabout in the centre of the village. He guessed they held the mummified remains of the village’s most famous forbears.

His bladder ached and his stomach rumbled. Havelock North, the home of pee, pie and pod, he mused. But not for long. Once those golden arches went up, he would become the village’s Pied Piper, drawing those skinny cricket and hockey playing pupils from their private-school playing fields into a calorie-fest of fries, McNuggets and litres of Coke.

A toilet cubicle became free. He pushed past an elderly man on a walking frame and locked himself inside. Desperately jiggling, Ronald had to strip off his entire suit because silly old Willard Scott, who designed his image in the early 1960s, had not included a fly. As he balanced on one striped leg, his big boot got trapped in one leg and he toppled backward, his backside hitting a button. The door slid open.

There was a scream of horror from a group of uniformed young schoolgirls standing outside.

As he turned to face them, his suit around his knees, coffee-drinkers froze. So did Ronald’s trademark
big red grin.

It took a wad of free Happy Meal vouchers to get the community constable to let him go with a warning.

As he trudged out of the village, Ronald was more concerned with his fallen arches than his
golden arches. Maybe it was time to retire, he thought. Nearly fifty years as the Hamburger Harlequin was enough for anyone and he was fed up being blamed for child obesity, diabetes and sweatshop wages. Havelock North looked a nice place to retire. He could live in the retirement home down by the stream, across the roundabout from the golden arches.

He spotted a stone-clad Irish pub up ahead. He pulled out his fags, lit one and began puffing on it greedily. Time for a pint of Guinness and a big plate of hot chips, he thought. Now that was his idea of a happy combo.

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