On a cross-country drive with nothing to occupy my time but fuzzy AM radio and a pocket cassette recorder, I came up with the following questions: (1) In McDonald’s commercials, I can figure out that Mayor McCheese is a cheeseburger and Hamburglar is a hamburger. But what the hell is Grimace? (2) What organs can you live without, if you really had to? How much could I sell them for? –Nep Smith, Los Angeles

Nep, you are such a wacky guy! But let’s be careful about this. The Teeming Millions may get the wrong idea, and the evidence all around us suggests a lot of them are missing important parts of their bodies already. That said, onward:

(1) According to McDonald’s spokesperson Jane Hulbert, Grimace is a “big fuzzy purple fellow.” You figured this out for yourself, you say. What you want is detail. Too bad. Here’s the complete McDonald’s personnel file on the guy: “Grimace personifies the child in everyone…. He is Ronald [McDonald]’s special pal. Everyone loves Grimace because of his innocent loving nature. He occasionally causes trouble in McDonaldland because he is clumsy, but his friends overlook this because he is so happy.”

You are gagging, I expect. I am gagging, but, master diplomat that I am, I am not going to admit it in public. Jane Hulbert … well, Jane is doing her best to be professional about this, but it’s a struggle. Here’s more: Hamburglar is a “fun-loving prankster.” The Happy Meal Guys are the “fun-loving personification of the hamburger, soft drink, and fries that compose the Happy Meal.” CosMc is a “wacky fun-loving alien who came to McDonaldland from outer space” and is “part vehicle and part creature.” (“I can’t believe they pay me to read this,” Jane muttered at this point, but we promised we wouldn’t tell the Kroc family.) You can imagine the deliberations in the McDonald’s promotion department: “Jeez, we went a little overboard on the fun-loving bit. I know–let’s make our next character a nasty ill-tempered malcontent! We’ll call him Grimace! We’ll make him purple!” No doubt the higher-ups nixed the negatory personality, but the name stuck. At least that’s my theory. Prove it wrong. One more thing: stop sniggering. Grimace may be a little weird, but Ronald is a good guy who visits sick kids and generally makes the world a better place. More than most people, myself excepted, ever do.

(2) OK, back to selling unneeded parts of your body. Cecil has a book addressing precisely this possibility called Sell Yourself to Science, published a while back by Loompanics, the same folks who brought you 101 Sucker Punches and The Complete Book of International Smuggling. Author Jim Hogshire regretfully informs us that it’s against the law in the U.S. and most other countries to pay money for spare body parts. But he claims there’s an overseas black market for used organs, and in India the organ trade apparently is perfectly legal, according to the wire-service (meaning not totally flaky) clippings the Loompanics folks sent me. According to Hogshire, in addition to renewable resources such as blood, milk, sperm, etc, the stuff you can spare that somebody else theoretically could use includes kidneys, bone marrow, liver slices, the odd bit of lung, and corneas. But he’s stretching matters a bit. While live-donor kidney and bone-marrow transplants are common, live-donor liver transplants are still experimental and live-donor lung transplants are pretty much unheard of. As for live-donor corneal transplants–come on, would you go blind for a buck? Hogshire claims folks in India do, for $4,000 per cornea, but one suspects an element of urban legendry here. The rate in Madras for kidneys is more reliably reported as $500 to $1,000 per. (Hogshire cites kidney rates of $10,000 and up, but that’s the all-in price paid by the transplantee, not what the donor gets.) Not much for a highly useful, custom-built pound of flesh. Hogshire tacitly admits as much; he spends a bigger chunk of the book telling you how to become a paid human guinea pig for medical researchers. If that’s no go, he notes, you can always avail yourself of the grim but perfectly legal practice of leasing your body in toto to a large corporation on a per-hour basis. Translation: get a job.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

Cecil Adams

Cecil Adams is the world’s most intelligent human being. We know this because: (1) he knows everything, and (2) he is never wrong. For more, see The Straight Dope website and FAQ.