This Little Piggy

Anna AyalaNewsworthy stories rarely come out of San Jose, California, but the ones that do are sure humdingers.

I say this facetiously. Despite its rich cultural heritage — San Jose, the original capital of California, is home to several missions and the first public university in the state — the city itself is painfully dull. I speak with authority on this subject; I grew up in San Jose.

Now in self-imposed exile from the rolling hills and soul-crushing real estate prices of the Bay Area, I know any article I see datelined San Jose will be an interesting ride. It’s precisely because the city is so dull that story managing to escape its borders will undoubtedly be sensational, like a journalistic train wreck.

Remember Andrew Burnett? He was the pantload that put the city on the map in 2000 when he did what many of us wish we had the nerve to do — he flung a bichon frise into traffic during a moment of pure rage (the kind of rage that brews within us all upon seeing a dog tucked in a purse). This non-issue exploded into national and international news; case prosecutor Troy Benson actually said that “the entire nation and the world were so outraged by this [incident].”

Is that true? There’s just something about a bichon frise that engenders a lack of compassion on my part. The fact remains, however, that stupid, irrelevant news has now found a nesting ground in San Jose. And just when the city thought it could go back to being the heart of Silicon Valley, it was served a finger in a fast food chili bowl. Is it an elaborate hoax? Will the press upgrade this story to the three-ring circus? Is the pope Catholic?

Personally, I think the story is legitimate — and I’m keeping my fingers (all present and accounted for) crossed that it is.

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Anna Ayala is the woman who discovered the mystery finger in a bowl of Wendy’s chili last month. A resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, she’s facing extradition charges to California because San Jose police believe she planted the digit in her own food. Ayala will not contest the extradition, and attorneys on both sides of the aisle agree conviction rests on the admission of evidence that she’s a habitual fraud (she’s sued people in the past).

Meanwhile, while the city, prosecutors and the Wendy’s food chain are trying to determine the origin of the finger, nobody is asking the most important question — namely, why was she eating a bowl of fast-food chili in the first place?

I’m no great lover of fast food, but it doesn’t take a refined palette like mine to know that the crap that comes from outlets like Wendy’s and McDonald’s is barely digestible, let alone nutritious. If Ayala is indeed charged with grand theft — a charge so levied because the incident has cost Wendy’s millions in lost business — we should consider giving her a medal. Preventing even one bloated, out-of-shape American from ordering fries and a Biggie Shake isn’t an easy task, and documentaries such as Super Size Me show that while fast food has deleterious effects on the human body, McDonald’s bottom line has barely budged because of it.

Why would it take someone finding a finger in a greasy, evil vat of chili to dissuade people starved for Wendy’s from eating at that restaurant? I remember back in elementary school when a friend’s mom found a deep-fried chicken beak in her 6-pack of McNuggets, and while that killed my desire to sup at the Golden Arches, no one else seems to think twice when I tell them about it. Patrons might even rationalize the odds that another finger surfacing in a meal are now non-existent; after all, they can’t even find out where the first one came from!

This “scandal” gives a bunch of dummies the chance to rethink their horrible eating habits for about a month. Worry not, Wendy’s, the downtrodden will beat a path to your door once again. Once the fervor dies down, expect to see your faithful flocks congregate near your cashiers, eagerly awaiting their weekly communion with saturated fats. After all, Jack in the Box had some of the worst health-code violations I’ve ever heard of and they emerged victorious just by bringing back an old mascot. Only peer pressure is keeping your coffers empty.

What I find funniest about this situation, however, is that people immediately believed Ayala. And why shouldn’t they? My horror story aside, I’m sure everyone has a friend-of-a-friend tale where someone found an extraneous and disgusting “surprise” in their pre-processed food. As vile as it is to think that a human appendage can make it past the “strenuous” quality controls of whatever massive vat is churning together that sickening chili-like broth, it’s not surprising. We as a society have come to expect repulsive little shocks like this.

Why is this news? Is it because of the human factor of the finger? I doubt it — ever since that man thought he found a penis in his bottle of juice, it’s hard to top the human interest angle in these kinds of stories.

A story is believed because of its plausibility. So what if it’s merely a tall tale? It reveals a greater truth, right?

I hope the story is true because then at the very least some of the media attention would be warranted. Fast food is a dangerous addiction in this country; any awareness of how bad it is for our health is a good thing. (However, if you want to eat that crap daily, I won’t stop you. I just won’t help pay for your angioplasty.) If it is indeed a sham, I hope they track down the origin of the finger, and then I hope no mention is ever made of this again. It’s one thing to go overboard reporting a factual news item ad nauseum, it’s another to waste precious print space and air time debunking a trumped up urban legend.

Our government is about to invade Iran, the president is trying to gut Social Security to help keep Wall Street from imploding, our potential U.N. ambassador openly hates the United Nations and the Abu Ghraib guards got a free pass from the military. Report on those stories with the diligence shown to this one bowel-churning meal, and you’ll get a “thumbs up” from me.