A few months ago, as most people experienced weight gain purportedly due to the pandemic, the same circumstances made it initially easy for me to eat healthier. For no reason, I started eating healthier on Feb. 1st. I made it through April without too much difficulty. More surprisingly, I was optimistic about continuing the process for months to come. I have my list of excuses, not the least of which was doing more work in less time at work, making my back, shoulder, and ultimately my foot hurt more. Also, the stress of the pandemic impacted me more than I realized. More importantly, another kind of stress crept into my life out of left field. It’s the kind of stress resulting from peeking into corners you don’t dust or illuminate; it bears a resemblance to hope, no matter how contradictory that sounds. Knowing I haven’t paid the price to be who I should be affects me. The chasm between knowing it and taking action to get there is positively scary. I see others trapped in a holding pattern similar to mine. We’re all going to climb out of these holes. Some of us have a greater distance to get there, but the vitality of the commitment to do differently and experience different lives will get us there.
Not that it’s a negative, but when the pandemic started, my in-laws thankfully moved to town after years of living in BFE. We created an informal tradition of meeting on Saturday evening for communal supper. Those occasions are not filled with healthy choices. Having an unhealthy meal ahead of me mentally derailed me and gave me the excuse to eat with abandon since I would jump into the fat puddle on Saturday evening anyway. It’s a poor excuse, but one I know affects me.
Sitting on the fringe is also the knowledge that I’m less a fan of meat still. I eat it because of convenience or because others do. It’s hard to get back to eating very little meat when the world around me spins a different way. Meat consumption triggers me to eat other unhealthy things. I’m oversimplifying – but it is a certainty that I’ve long recognized: eating very little meat always coincides with much healthier eating, and my weight drops alongside the change. I’d go so far as to say that it becomes easy to drop weight without meat. Finding a way to overcome the demands of those around me to consume it is a challenge. I do most of the cooking, so taking a different route requires more time and energy and tends to come across as selfish behavior.
When my brother died, I recognized that I had the chance to use it as a marker and reminder. I would recall it frequently for a while; that recollection could be a mental rubber band for me. Likely, other people’s brains don’t work quite that way.
In a way, the comments about eating meat align with those about my brother. “I don’t really eat meat,” running through my head reminds me that I don’t feel happy doing the other things either. Because of my brother’s long decline, I relearned many lessons that should serve me going forward. All of them involve recognizing risk and choosing people and lives that make satisfaction in life an attainable goal.
Because I didn’t want to get on the scale and weigh myself, I did so immediately instead of dreading it. It was worse than I expected: 225. Ouch.
I’ve written about the fact before that our tendency to conceal our weight is a bit of folly. A good eye can accurately guess our weight anyway, especially if we’ve added a spare tire or our shirts look like they were dried on extremely high heat for an hour.
Rather than focus on weight, I started giving myself a grade each day. Yes, it is subjective. Though, I “know” how my healthy eating for the day went. If someone buys a bag of pretzel sticks and I participate in their consumption in the evening, it’s a worse grade. Or, if there’s pizza with a thick crust and real cheese.
It’s amusing to me that I love vegetables. It’s hard to get this overweight eating vegetables.
It’s folly to commit to healthier eating with the long slog of the holiday months approaching. I guess I’m wired for folly. The yo-yo of my stupidity is supremely stupid.
Meanwhile, another friend I once knew well chose surgery to help her weight loss. She dropped an incredible amount of weight. She’s almost unrecognizable. The smile on her face is one of radiant satisfaction. Whether she needed surgical help or not, she committed to the choice of making it happen.
I can’t see over the horizon. But I know that I have a lot of upheaval coming – and not just because that’s the way life is. I suspect that every pound I keep needlessly will throw a right hook if I don’t drop it. I’m looking more and more to a different future and see the path to get there. In none of those futures of hope do I weigh more than 180. I think of how I felt when I was last that weight, and though it is still ‘heavy’ by actuarial measures, I felt genuinely light.
Every pound is a result of my choices, no matter what preceded them. It’s analogous to the choices or laziness that’s lead me to this point.
Writing this sort of thing down is a motivator for me. Not because someone can use my bravado against me. I can pivot back to these days and remember when I looked ahead to a different way and a ‘me’ living the life the way I should.
As we learned in “Like Water For Chocolate,” the emotions experienced while preparing food can significantly affect the culinary experience. (If you haven’t read this book or seen the movie, I will wait while you do so. You can read it in English if you need to.) The book on which the movie was based is separated into twelve sections, much like the months of the year. Each era is associated with particular foods that define the protagonist’s life.
It was important for her to unexpectedly inflict a bit of terror (or at least a sense of dread or apprehension) in someone in her vicinity while cooking. In part, it would explain the tendency for someone to wail, cry, or whimper while we ate supper. You might presume we were whimpering from the flavor otherwise. In mom’s defense, she didn’t need to concern herself with food. We were trained to eat anything without an audible complaint. In my case, I loved macaroni and any vegetable, even if coming directly from a can. Because I trusted my Grandma, I’d eat anything she offered. While there were times I didn’t like something she made, I never questioned whether it SHOULD be eaten. With my mom, this definitely wasn’t the case. There were exceptions. Because of my youth’s craziness, people often overlook the exceptions that were not characterized by the lesser human emotions I experienced growing up.
While it may not come across as funny, dad often did have a humorous way of driving mom bonkers about food. “What’s cooking,” he might shout. Or, “What in f$$$ is that smell?” Mom sometimes would scream back at him – and sometimes be funny in her response. It’s hard to explain how shouting and annoyance are funny, but it was. “Whatever the g####mned f### I want to make is what you’re eating,” she might scream. It probably sounded like WWII from outside. While they were often angry about it when their ability to tease back and forth emerged, it was obscenely sublime.
More than once growing up, we’d wake to the horrid smell of a burned cast iron skillet. A couple of times, mom did it. But it was usually dad who left the skillet on the stove. He’d arrive home drunk and cook a chunk of meat or fried bologna on the stove. There were a dozen times he’d try to cook frozen meat – and eat it anyway. It wasn’t unusual to pass through the kitchen and see an array of meat, grease, and a mess left there. Because mom usually got up insanely early, we knew dad left her a mess because mom would be in the kitchen cursing and banging every metal surface possible with pans, metal spoons, or by slamming the stove repeatedly. I’d generally not recommend this behavior if you have someone with both anger issues and a hangover in the house. By the way, a scorched cast iron skillet leaves a stench in the house for DAYS.
Much of the drama could have been sidestepped if someone had just asked us what we wanted. They could have fed me incredibly cheaply and often without the need for any actual cooking – and no ritual sacrifice of animals. In my world, kids were not asked what they wanted. Such a thought was heretical nonsense to people such as my parents. They didn’t need to tell us about starving kids in other countries; we knew that they wouldn’t be bothered with such an explanation when a good backhand said a thousand words. Note for those who don’t know: a backhand can be rendered at twice the speed as a forward-motion slap. Mom certainly could have handed me a can of tomatoes, corn, or green beans and sent me outside to eat in peace. Sitting at the table brought unseen battles to the front. By the 4th grade, I could expertly tip an opened can and eat the contents without utensils. Or without cutting myself.
We were lucky mom didn’t poison us, even if her target was my dad. Like most women in her class, she had no choice but to work full-time and perform all the other menial but necessary tasks of living for the household. Obviously, a lot of mom’s cooking stress was anger and resentment at being married to a lout. Mom didn’t have ‘signature dishes.’ I don’t remember her being romantic about cooking or the subtle art of gastronomy. To her, cooking was limited to the practical necessity of getting it done. It was a bizarre sight to witness her in the same kitchen with other people cooking. It might as well have been alien races sharing cooking space.
On another note, mom could have easily taught us to make one or two meals each. We would have willingly learned and helped had we been shown the attention—anything to avoid potential stress and drama of a ‘family’ meal. I know I couldn’t have been trusted to prepare any meal with meat. My recipe would have consisted only of tossing the meat carcass directly out the door and into the jaws of our succession of German Shepherd dogs named Duke.
Looking back, I’m still surprised that so many supper meals blur together into one indistinguishable mass in my memory. Few at-home suppers were devoid of distrust, dread, or unease. More importantly, I have no memories of meals wherein we gathered to eat where we shared our day, laughter, or happy moments. This was not part of our DNA. I like to think it must have happened accidentally. If it did, my treasonous brain has erased most of these memories. Exceptions tended to happen if dad arrived home drinking without his surliness or if extraordinary circumstances were at play. Watching sitcom families verbally teasing and laughing during dinner were Twilight Zone episodes for me.
On a typical day, mom had to read the tea leaves and decide when or if dad might come home. She was obligated to prepare some horrid slab of meat, partially cooked on the stove in a frying pan if he did. Dad was one of those absurd men who proudly pretended that the meat he consumed could indeed be eaten half-alive. “How in the hell can anyone eat that smell?” was a thought I often had. Along with the immutable truth that you don’t want to see sausage being made, the other is that no one should witness my dad eating meat. He was proof that our ancestors once jumped on wild walruses and ripped their ears off with their bare hands.
As you would guess, I generally wanted no part in the meat process. Given a choice between the meat prepared and eating live crickets culled from the underside of the trailer, you could find me with a mouthful of insect legs protruding from my mouth. Note: crickets thrive under trailers if you happen to be in the market for a truckload of crickets. If a vegetable were offered, I fought to eat an excessive portion of that and be happy. Truth be told, many of my supper experiences revolved around trying to be small and avoid my dad’s gaze. Though I’ve mentioned it before, his barbaric streak often led him to force me to eat things that should never pass the lips of a human being. If he noted I didn’t want meat, I often found myself chewing the fat off a bloody half-cooked ‘steak’ or the dark meat near the bone of an unidentifiable piece of chicken. (I shudder.) Or worse, the skin of a piece of chicken. I ate chicken skin quite often when I was very young and without dad around. It didn’t occur to me to think of how horrible it was. Later, though, I ate a mile of poorly-cooked or unappetizing skin that ruined me for the rest of my life.
It happened so often that I still have no desire to eat such meat. People underestimate how true this experience was. I was the youngest child; as such, dad felt offended by the lack of overt masculinity. He spent much of his life committed to ensuring that I consumed an array of inedible pieces of animals. His alcoholism is probably the single biggest factor that helped me escape his scrutiny. Unless mom was at his throat, dad’s drinking made him magnanimous at times, and his insistence on forcing me to eat things I didn’t like vanished. Some of the Terry family cooked very well and with love, so I didn’t understand how dad could be so barbaric in his approach, and other members of his family could prepare a wide selection of both meat and vegetables. My Uncle Buck cooked a few things extremely well. He also enjoyed cooking and preparing dishes. Especially gumbo and fish.
While I noted I disliked an increasing number of poorly and inexpertly cooked animal carcasses, it did at least drive home the idea that who and how something is cooked can often be 75% of whether you’ll like something you are about to eat. I felt like a medieval court taster who was anxiously waiting to feel his throat constricting against whatever poison had been inserted into the king’s food.
Despite all the instability in our house, mom spent a sizeable chunk of her money from her SW Bell operator’s paycheck going to the meat shops. It seemed strange to me that her dedication to doing this was so pronounced. Dad often could not discern the difference between a decent cut of meat and something found in the dumpster and fried in a pan for 30 seconds. Dad’s nutrition plan included chunks of meat, cigarettes, whiskey, Dentyne gum, and Brach’s peppermint candy. If I accompanied mom to the meat shop, I stood in amazement that there were more than 2 cuts of meat or 3 types of sandwich meat. It seemed odd that anyone needed something except bologna, salt pork, or bacon for a boy who loved mustard sandwiches. Mom was an impatient customer at such shops. It’s hard to believe that smoking was permitted inside them. And smoke she did, tapping her feet as she moved from one foot to the other, expecting her choice to be hurled toward her in less than 3 seconds. It seems strange that the building that currently holds the Las Margaritas Mexican restaurant in Springdale once was mom’s ‘go-to’ meat shop. I doubted my memory so strongly that I once searched for proof in the old phone books at the library and then matched the addresses against old maps.
Between errands, it seemed like mom was always buying cigarettes and alcohol. Much of my Springdale geography command resulted from the infinite trips to liquor stores and places to buy cigarettes. I could walk from Uncle Buck’s house to the liquor store that once stood at the intersection of Gutensohn and Highway 68/412, but wasn’t sure about the route to one of the grocery stores.
My access to the larger world and food expanded only because of my cousin Jimmy and infrequent visits to other people’s houses. Everything seemed exotic to me. Things like bbq sauce, olives, flavored pickles, and lemon pepper ignited my imagination. At home, we didn’t have these things. If such a store existed, my mom would have gladly shopped at “Bare Minimum Essentials.”
This impacted my brother Mike much more than me. He enjoyed eating meat. He also was a bigger boy, more athletic when we were younger, and had an expansive appetite. This annoyed the hell out of my dad. Unlike me, Mike loved grabbing a handful of dad’s prized sliced deli ham and stuffing it into his mouth as a snack. It was a perilous day to hear my dad holler, “Who ate all the g$$$amned ham!?” In turn, it annoyed Mike that I loved mustard sandwiches and was happy to eat basic food. If I annoyed him, he sometimes would take a piece of ham, roll it menacingly into a ball, and stuff it into my mouth, laughing at my cries of torture. I detested ham so much that I might as well be Jewish. Don’t get me wrong; I’d eat it sometimes but never with any enthusiasm and certainly not as a first choice. Having been in my brother’s ham hock of a hand, I liked it even less.
When the grocery store opened across from Johnson Road, my cousin Jimmy went to get Ron Calcagni’s autograph. Mom later went to the store and scoffed at the incredible selections, after listening to my Aunt Ardith list its array of food. I was mesmerized by the dozen types of bread and the endless row of assorted pasta. I wanted to live inside that store and stuff myself with gallons of marinara and spaghetti. Other kids could be seen getting politely or angrily admonished by their moms as they begged for treats from the candy aisle, special cereals, or ice cream. So dedicated was my mom’s brutality regarding asking, this simply didn’t happen with me. I didn’t touch – and never asked. It was a sin akin to peeing on someone’s head while riding the bus. There were a couple of memorable times I forgot myself and vocalized my desire to have something. Because I was a little strange. one of those times was when I saw Mexicorn, the kernel corn in a can with peppers. I didn’t want sweets or chips. I wanted that exotic can of corn. Not only did mom swat me with the wrath of Khan, but she waited to ensure that dad could put his 5-knuckles-worth into the equation. By the way, I had my first can of Mexicorn at my cousin Jimmy’s. Aunt Ardith bought several cans. She watched in amazement and then horror as I ate all of them, at once. When she put butter in them and stirred it, I felt as if Heaven had descended upon me and wrapped its arms around me. While I don’t know for sure that Aunt Ardith treated me to endless Mexicorn because of how my mom behaved, it seems likely. She smiled at me like Christmas while I ate. “You’re going to be sick,” she kept repeating, her voice growing more amazed as I emptied the cans one by one.
It was sometime in the summer of 1st or 2nd grade that I discovered that canned corn and green beans were delicious. Heating them was a needless step for me. Being able to skip steps to eat was a revelation for me. Soon enough, I learned how to make macaroni and spaghetti. Though I’d seen it made one thousand times, I was stupidly surprised by the fact that cooking it only required boiling water and waiting long enough for it to soften. A monster was born, one that still resides within me. While I could eat noodles plain, if tomatoes or tomato sauce were available, I would dump it into the water and noodles. We didn’t use strainers; we had to risk burns over the sink using the pot’s lid to drain spaghetti. I think the lack of good strainers is one characteristic that most poor kids share in common. Skipping all those steps was a benefit. Regardless of the size of the package of pasta, I cooked it all. And then ate it. Wasting it wasn’t a consideration.
All of which brings me to the Golden Macaroni Era at City View trailer park. Infrequently, mom would recover from the cyclical violence with dad. She’d violently clean the trailer and then later that evening make a pot of macaroni soup. Instead of simply making macaroni and adding tomatoes or sauce, she would cut up potatoes, onions, and a few other things and boil it into submission. Mom and I would sit at the table and eat. She would watch me eat a gallon of it in one sitting. Though it was simple, it was delicious beyond measure. While she made this after City View a couple of times, I’ll never forget the period at City View when she often did it. Usually, only she and I would eat this soup. She must’ve realized from Grandma that this was one of my favorite things in the world. Over one summer, my Grandma made a version of this for me at least every other day. Weirdly, I didn’t mind that mom had magically used at least 2 large onions in the soup. I count these nights eating macaroni soup as one of the few ways and times that mom tried to have a selfless connection with me, even if only through food. One of the other memorable times was her return from alcohol rehab in Fort Smith after I graduated high school. She made a mammoth pot of macaroni soup, and we ate the entire pot. I can’t see this moment as accidental. Mom returned from rehab, a completely different person.
When our trailer burned at City View and we moved to Tontitown’s fringe, this tradition died. My “cousin” Leta, who owned the house in Tontitown, where we moved, worked at the Venesian Inn. Because she could bring home endless food, it was from there I discovered my love of Italian dressing. Even as dad and family and friends had endless drunken cookouts, I found that salads with huge cut-up tomatoes and a bottle of Viva Italian salad dressing were available. I consumed truck loads of rolls and salad.
In closing, I’ll finish with mom’s secret Mashed Potatoes recipe. This recipe has been sought after for years, so share it only with trusted friends and family.
You’ll need whatever kind of potatoes are on sale, a bit of milk (canned if you have it), a bit of pepper and salt, and access to non-menthol cigarettes. You’ll need to smoke constantly while boiling, mashing, and mixing the potatoes. Also, don’t knock the ashes from the cigarette as you cook. Allow them to fall freely into the potatoes. If you’re adventurous, coarsely cut a large onion into preposterously large pieces and throw them in the mashed potatoes. If the potatoes are lumpy, don’t notice. Hungry people don’t notice, much less comment, that the potatoes are lumpy. If you get a particularly large chunk of onion, spit it into your hand and keep eating. If anyone notices something that looks like ashes in the potatoes, tell them it’s pepper. Fun fact: it is almost impossible to taste cigarette ashes in mashed potatoes, no matter how much is present if you add pepper and onions to them. It’s for that reason that I mentioned that you shouldn’t smoke menthols – which are easily detectable.
Note: I was pleasantly surprised to learn that no one else puts onions in mashed potatoes. In 2017, I wrote about “Newport Potatoes.” Many people thought I made it up, even after citing the episode of “Master Of None.”
Many people don’t know that the apostrophe in the Fazloli’s brand name is actually meant to represent a tiny bit of flatulence and regret. I’ll probably get an angry letter from corporate when they read this. Their CEO is busy though, studying for his GED. By the way, I’m one of those weirdos who l-i-k-e-d Fazoli’s. I’m glad that the federal government opted to not require us to wear a special hat as a warning to others.
A friend recently hilariously recapped her working experience at Fazoli’s when she was young, shorter than a table lamp, and evidently 47% invisible. Working anywhere tends to force you to realize that some things are better off unknown. In my case, working at a dairy and seeing clumpy black milk being put into the holding tank ruined me for milk, not that that I was huge fan prior to that. I couldn’t look at milk, knowing that it contained filtered cow manure, urine, and things best left unmentioned.
At its high point, Fazoli’s made it to 400 locations. Northwest Arkansas had several. While I don’t trust my memory, it seems like our franchises went under due to personal financial issues with the owner. If I’m wrong, I apologize. It was a sad day for gourmands like me when they shuttered their butter-infused doors for the last time. During one visit to the location in Fayetteville, I overheard someone tell the manager that “Fazoli’s is the People of Walmart of fast food.” I laughed then and it still amuses me.
I’ll be the first to admit that Fazoli’s was the bologna sandwich of Italian food. Given that my primary requirement for pasta is “quantity over quality,” I loved Fazoli’s. Just to be clear, I didn’t care if the pasta was made from reconstituted paper products: I loved it. After discovering they had an off-menu “all you care to eat” option, I combined this fact with my unnatural and demonic love of their Italian dressing packets.
I almost always ordered plain pasta as well as packets of the Italian dressing. This caused a lot of confusion. No matter how many times I’d tell the cashier, “I want 2 (or 15, let’s be honest) packets, and please charge me for each,” most of them would confusedly stutter and stammer. Most had to turn to a manager who would stop running and sweating long enough to explain to them that there was a single packet charge. More amusingly, watching them math out the complexities of 25 cents X a number often took several tries. As you can guess based on my previous stories, I would sometimes tell them, “I want 20 packets of dressing.” They would turn to no one in particular and holler, “CAN I sell 20 packets?” It was an infinite series of amusements. It was a sight to behold, watching as multiple people asked me to repeat myself: “Do you really want 25? We’re going to have to charge you? How much is that? OMG, that’s too many!”
Later, they increased the price per packet, undoubtedly in retaliation for idiots like me. It was common for them to forget to give me the packets, even after I paid for them. No one enjoyed returning to the counter and waiting impatiently while our congealed food products sat on the lonely table behind us. That is part of what surprised me about them offering an all-you-can-eat option. There were a few customers who made them regret that offer.
If you’re wondering if I used all those packets? Yes. If I had any left, I would take them home. While in the restaurant, though, I’d also use the dressing as a dipping sauce for the breadsticks.
I continued this tradition at the other dubious chain The Olive Garden. The dressing was always my favorite. To this day, it is one of the few go-to dressings we buy. Sometimes we buy the light version. It contains 50% less of the industrial additives and petroleum as its full-bodied counterpart. If I don’t request an extra bit of dressing on the side while ‘dining’ at Olive Garden, I barbarically dip the end of my breadstick into the bottom of the translucent salad bowl to find a drip of the Italian dressing there. If I don’t have in my bowl, I sneak over to the next table, distract the people eating there, and quickly dip my breadstick in their bowl.
I love all sorts of things on pasta and macaroni. Salad dressing, Louisiana hot sauce, A-1, raisins, wing sauce, soup, sliced tomatoes, fried goat eyeballs (just kidding on that one, I think), and various other things. Let’s be honest: you can take a look at my physique and easily determine the likelihood that my youth filled itself with truckloads of pasta.
I heard rumors that the Fazoli’s breadsticks had enough butter on them to grease the chassis of a 1968 Ford Thunderbird. Because I was born in Arkansas, my immortality convinced me to be unconcerned with such trivial details. I tend to joke that pepperoni will be listed as my official cause of death. They might add in “Fazoli’s butter” as a secondary cause. I imagine a bit of it is still stuck inside my venous system, ready to cause a grease fire once my cremation starts. I apologize to the Berna family if that happens. Crematoriums are expensive.
As for being the bologna sandwich of Italian food, most of us will admit that bologna sometimes is exactly what we need. Even though it is made of the innards of animals too unlucky to avoid being combined into a giant industrial blender and then pressure-heated into cylindrical tubes, we enjoy it. It’s best not to note what is in it. Having worked in meat plants, I can confirm that most packaged meats are made in a process that will immediately remind you of explosive diarrhea, except at these plants, the result is cooked rapidly.
Regarding the garlic overload, I buy minced, powdered, and various forms of garlic by the bucket. It’s a good thing that garlic pills are used anecdotally to treat high blood pressure. There are times when I return home from being gone and am stunned by the wall of garlic and onion aroma that greets me upon my return. I think my cat is growing a Luigi mustache from breathing so many garlic fumes.
While I loved the cheap offerings of Fazoli’s, I can see why people had issues with it. Restaurants employing younger people invariably run into similar issues with consistency, cleanliness, and risk to one’s health and sanity. As the old joke points out, you get to pick 2 out of 3: quick, good, or cheap – but never all 3.
When you factor in that their food was somewhere on the “microwave meal” range, it’s no surprise. While it might preclude me from getting a security clearance to admit I loved their pasta drowned in packets of Italian dressing, I did.
Unlike all the other fast food places I liked, Fazoli’s never made me sick. Not that I know of. That’s saying something. I’m assuming that they irradiated all their food.
I love reading clever reviews of cheap fast food. If I owned a fast-food chain, I’d print such reviews on my own products to be snarky.
As for the picture, it’s to gratefully acknowledge that Fazoli’s was both good and not good simultaneously, an attribute shared by every single fast-food chain in the United States.
P.S. The title of this post suggests another story I’ve not confessed to!
Noted Conway author and chef Beth “Beets” Goodrich finally agreed to share her secret pumpkin fudge recipe after two decades of silence. It’s true in the 90s that she may have inadvertently poisoned a few people. We all need a chance to learn from our mistakes, though. Other than a slight twitch when she’s talking, you might not know how hard she worked to get past her initial failings as a cook. Six boys survived her cooking so it is presumably safe to say she’s ironed out the kinks and emergency room visits.
While we all know Beth through her writing, I’d like to take a moment and explain that her nickname “Beets” arose from the insistence of her well-meaning friends and family that beets taste anything like other than a mouthful of dirt. She can quote numerous scientific studies that prove that beets taste like a mound of desiccated spiders that’s been mixed with Appalachian dirt and powdered. Much like really large white guys were often called “Tiny,” so too did Beth get crowned as “Beets.”
Pumpkin fudge is a ‘real’ thing, even though it may at first seem to one small part of a complex and elaborate prank, one devised by San Francisco hipsters. You’ve probably heard it mentioned in whispers at a church social or in the open cafeteria lines of your state penitentiary. Most fans of pumpkin fudge tend to be easily excited and often have concealed carry permits. If you’re one of the few people who don’t like pumpkin fudge, refrain from mentioning it out loud unless you are in a Siberian cave that’s been sealed close by a nuclear explosion.
While observing college boys using pumpkins as catapult fodder, she realized that pumpkins were not only for insanely dry pumpkin bread that no one really likes or for jack o’ lanterns on Halloween.
After 37 failed tries and one oven that had to be discarded (not to mention burned hair), Beth arrived at her final recipe.
Most of the ingredients are what most of us refer to as “old folks” ingredients such as evaporated milk, corn syrup, and marshmallow creme.
While I hate to be helpful in food posts, I’d like to explain to you what the differences are between evaporated and condensed milk. Both are made from milk with 60% of the water removed. Evaporated milk, however, is not sweetened, unlike its condensed milk counterpart. You’d be surprised how many cooks can’t explain that difference to you.
You should always keep a can of each in your larder. (I’ll explain what in tarnation a ‘larder’ is later after you’ve been put in a coma by reading about cooking.) You never know when a posse of old-timers might come to your house. In such a scenario, you’re going to need some condensed or evaporated milk.
Again, though I loathe being helpful, it is surprising that people don’t know you can add condensed milk to as much water and use it like regular milk in recipes. This can be helpful if you live somewhere without electricity or an icebox. If you hear banjos on most afternoons, you definitely need some condensed milk in your pantry, larder, or cellar. Due to the size of evaporated milk cans, they can also be used as hand grenades in a close fight.
For Beth’s recipe, you’ll need a candy thermometer. I’ll tell you where to stick it later. Beth recommends the combination food thermometer/protractor, in case complex calculations arise. Paradoxically, her Panasonic oven only indicates Celsius, which resulted in some strange issues with her in-laws helping her cook. If you don’t own a candy thermometer, you’re with 65% of the country.
(Related note: biscuits will cook in 2 minutes if you accidentally set the oven to 375 Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. If you don’t catch the error in 15 minutes, your local firefighters will drop by your house unexpectedly to remind you.)
Without boring you with the details of the recipe, I can tell you that even if you don’t like pumpkin, you’ll probably like pumpkin fudge. As in the case with carrot cake, you don’t actually put chunks of carrots in carrot cake unless you’re a sadist, or live in Little Rock.
If you’ve never had pumpkin fudge, call Beth in Conway. She’ll undoubtedly make a batch for you, at no cost, with something like a smile on her face. You can also find her on Instagram by searching for #whoiscookingdinnertonightatthegoodrichhouse.
I know you think I misled you by promising to share Beth’s recipe. I didn’t say I’d share it. I said that she shared it with me. The recipe on MyRecipes is fairly close to what she uses.
Since you’re already voluntarily putting pumpkin in food, you can’t really hurt this recipe, regardless of how you modify it.
P.S. I put bacon in the picture because it’s a known fact that bacon subconsciously obliterates one’s ability to think critically. The fact that you’ve read this far proves it to be true.
In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” Douglas Adams described the alien Vogon spacecraft this way: “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”
While the description is metaphorical nonsense, it makes perfect sense. This is the sort of whimsical logic that appeals to me. While most observers would think it isn’t reflective of who I am, they are mistaken.
I recently tried another food which is nothing like the name would suggest. Somehow though, it eclipses the source inspiration for texture and flavor. In addition to a flavor that is plant-based, you don’t have to idly wonder how close to the pig’s anus the skin you’re eating might have been prior to being a pig carcass. When it’s fresh, it definitely fulfills one’s texture-based cravings.
On my last trip to my favorite cabin, I was shopping using the ‘anything goes’ method, one which is characterized by pure whimsy. On one of the aisles, I saw Beanfield’s Vegan Cracklins. The grocery stores in Eureka Springs and Holiday Island offer selections that are often unique, right alongside the expected staples of a smaller town grocery.
I’ve tried Beanfield’s bean chips. I loved the Pico de Gallo flavor. They aren’t available in my customary stores. I’ve been banned from Whole Foods ever since the incident on April 24th of 2019. Okay, that isn’t true either. But I like to think I made you wonder, just for a second, what I did to get banned from Whole Foods.
It sounds like a prank, doesn’t it? While I like putting fried pigskin in my mouth as much as the next guy, something about the packaging appealed to me. I picked the “Spicy Nacho” flavor under the mistaken notion that it would be the one my wife would enjoy the most. I usually choose based on whatever is the most outlandish.
Available in Chile Limon, Spicy Nacho, Ranch, Korean BBQ, and Frozen Bat’s Testicles flavors, there’s a flavor most will like. That last one? It isn’t real. They do, however, also have one labeled as “Aged White.” I can only ASSUME it is aged white cheese flavor, instead of some older gentleman named Archibald, Harold, or Bernard. Popular fads aside, most people don’t want products that are made from, or smell like, actual people. The people that do want to buy such products are not ones you should invite over for a game of poker unless you’re prone to self-loathing. Take note, Bachelor fans.
I didn’t buy them because they are vegan, gluten-free, rich in protein, or high in fiber. I bought them because it sounded weird to me.
My wife decidedly disliked the Spicy Nacho flavor, allegedly because it was ‘hot.’ Being of Irish, Scottish, and English descent, even white bread is a bit on the spicy side for her.
The texture is ridiculously crisp and the flavor pervades each cracklin.
For conservatives out there, eating this will not turn you into a liberal. You’ll experience a mild urge to tax and spend, so keep that in mind as you try them.
As with all bean products, over-consumption allegedly will give you Trombone Pants Syndrome. It’s not fatal, no matter how much your family groans and writhes as you all cluster together in the living room watching Netflix.
Since people kept saying, “What does a GOOD near-drowning story sound like?” I thought I should tell one which amuses me. It also highlights a few anecdotes about my Dad. I have some terrible stories about drowning, but this is the furthest thing from that.
My Dad had a propensity for outlandish humor. He wasn’t safe about it, either. I have a library of pranks my Dad was involved in, some of which border on pathological. For example, one year during one of the excursions to the “Deer Woods,” he and his drinking companions tied one of the other hunters to the top of a large stump and set it on fire. I’m not sure they had a contingency plan if he failed to be freed in time, although I wouldn’t put it past them to announce that he was part of the BBQ and break out the sauce. More than once, some fool would throw a box of ammunition in the fireplace or in the campfire. When we lived in Tontitown on old 68, Dad threw a box of ammunition in the fireplace inside the house. It went as you would imagine.
Although this is a tangent, when I was very young, I couldn’t figure out which state the “Deer Woods” was in, or why so much alcohol had to be taken for the trip. It perplexed me to think that a handful of grown men needed 30 cases of beer and a dozen bottles of whiskey.
Even if bears wanted a drink, a lot would get wasted, no pun intended.
Dad was mercurial, a word often used to disguise the fact that someone is a moody, temperamental asshole. Other days, the fog would lift from his brain and he’d decide to enjoy life, or at least be carefree. Had he had more of those days, life would have been markedly different for him – and for all of us. On one such day, Dad insisted that I go with him fishing. Inviting me to fish was akin to bringing a framed picture of Satan to your first prayer meeting.
While I had hoped for a trip to Lake Elmdale on a smaller boat, instead, I found out we were going with Uncle Buck and their friend Jerry, who I’ve written about in another story, the one in which Dad sneaked into his house and poured a pitcher of water down his rear while he was bent over and washing his hair. Going to “the” lake, Beaver Lake, meant we’d likely take Uncle Buck’s bass boat. I wasn’t a boat aficionado. It wasn’t simply because I couldn’t swim well. It required me to be in close proximity to my Dad. Such circumstances often yielded the opposite of whatever a child experiences during a visit to Disneyland.
I wasn’t a good fisherman, but I did well. That annoyed my Dad. I loved watching the water and the complex machinations of those who enjoyed fishing. Most of it seemed to be entirely arbitrary. Watching Saturday afternoon fishing shows proved this to me. It amused me to think that grown men would ridicule their wives for watching soap operas, but would sit in front of a TV and watch other people fish. Additionally, like my Uncle Buck, a lot of men I knew bought fishing magazines. I used to joke I was going to do a fishing show and magazine. The magazine would just be a picture of a man casting a line into the water, followed by a page that said both “Reel in” and “Repeat.” Shockingly, no one in my family appreciated my well-aimed commentary at their expense.
If I felt really funny, I’d mock them for feeling proud that they could spend thousands of dollars just to outsmart a bunch of fish. Uncle Buck tolerated my quips. With Dad, I had to guess his mood before any such contemplation.
We went to Uncle Buck’s house. He lived in one of the first bigger subdivisions in Springdale on Ann Street. I jumped into the bed of the truck hauling the boat. It had a camper on it. Dad, Jerry, and Uncle Buck sat in front. Despite Dad’s morning sullen demeanor, he was beginning to pick at both of the other occupants of the truck. How Dad had done it is beyond me, but when Uncle Buck pulled away from the side of the house, the truck bounced crazily. When Uncle Buck exited the cab of his truck, he discovered Dad had put holding blocks a few feet from the rear wheels. “Damnit, Bobby Dean!” This would be the first of many “Damnit Bobby Dean!” utterances for the day. If Uncle Buck were particularly chagrined, he’d invoke the name of God with the phrase for special emphasis. While Dad pranked Uncle Buck less often than other people, he’d been known to lift up the rear axle a few inches off the ground, put an ignition firecracker on his truck (these things actually existed and Dad LOVED them, or do a variety of clever and interesting things to amuse himself.
Though it’s not relevant to the story, it was around that year that Uncle Buck had been pulled over in Springdale. “How’s your day, officer?” He asked the policeman who pulled him over. Uncle Buck was generally good-natured and loved to ‘jaw.’ “Did I leave an arm hanging out of my camper again?” The officer said, “No sir, but can you explain your license plate? Can I see the slip for your truck?” Uncle Buck dug the paper out of the glove box. In such matters, he was meticulous. At times he was so meticulous that I doubted he and my Dad could actually be related. The officer asked Uncle Buck to come around back. In place of his license plate, there was an antique plate from another state, one that looked to be fifty years old and shot with a .22. Uncle Buck knew immediately that my Dad had switched his plates. By the time he got to Dad, he realized that it was funny and couldn’t stay mad. He’d been driving for over a week with the old plates. For quite a while, Uncle Buck made a point to see if anything was amiss on his vehicles.
As we were leaving, I heard Dad ask Jerry, “Do you think it will work?” Jerry, who momentarily lost his sense of reason, said, “What, Bobby Dean?” Dad cackled, ready to fire off one of his favorite punchlines: “Windshield wipers on a duck’s ass.” Dad’s glee at being able to repeat this joke more than once on the same person was legendary.
We stopped at the bait shop near the old bridge by Beaver Lake, before the road was improved. Dad had a couple of containers of worms as he walked out. He wasn’t drinking, so I knew this would be a great day. My goal was to not annoy him. Because he had an audience, he walked up to the boat where Uncle Buck was talking to Jerry and someone Jerry knew. Dad took the top off the container and fished out a worm. He popped it into his mouth and swallowed it. I knew his secret: swallowing it quickly resulted in almost no taste. Before you ask, yes, I did have to eat a couple of worms in my life. I had to eat a whole lot of disgusting things growing up. None of them resulted in “making me a man,” as Dad hoped.
Dad held the white plastic container out for Jerry’s friend. “Want one?” The other man made a terrible face. Dad responded with one of his favorites Southern sayings: “Boy, you sure don’t know what’s good!” (You can still hear this today in the South. It’s the classic point made after someone declines to eat something, usually with an unreasonable amount of mayonnaise in it.) My Mom often said this, even if she eating something that smelled like it had been discovered in an abandoned fridge under a bridge.
Jerry was usually a good sport. While I don’t remember who else was present when he did it all those years ago, Dad grabbed Jerry’s face and kissed him on the mouth to flabbergast him. (Dad was drinking heavily.) “Could you put on some lipstick or something,” he asked him when he pulled away. “And I don’t like my women to have mustaches.” It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed. Technically, it was assault. But yes, still funny.
As they got back in the truck, Jerry got in the middle. He started to yawn for some reason and Dad ‘yawn raped’ him. While there are other names for sticking your fingers into the open mouth of another person as a surprise, ‘yawn rape’ best describes the enthusiasm with which Dad would do it. He would almost choke you at times. Though you might not agree with it, sticking one’s fingers in an open mouth is almost a right in most Southern states, especially for dads. In this particular instance, you should remember that Dad’s fingers had just been in the worm bucket. Jerry just nodded his head. This was one of the ways he’d let you know you had drawn his attention.
Note: it’s never a good idea to draw the attention of someone who loves those 80s Charles Bronson revenge movies. Like Charles Bronson, Jerry was often silent. I grew to appreciate his ability to think about ways to strangle you while smiling.
We arrived at the lake and Uncle Buck swiveled the truck to back in toward the boat ramp. Dad made me help get the boat into the water. I was more likely to contribute to the boat sinking, truth be told. I was wearing cutoff shorts and no shoes, so I didn’t care how wet I got in the process. Dad was wearing his plain work boots, which in reality were just simple cowboy boots of some type. I never understood going to fish in boots. What did I know, though? Like the trick with Charlie Brown, Dad loved signaling to Uncle Buck that the boat was loose. As soon as Uncle Buck gassed it, Dad would yell “Ho! Wait.” He could do this repeatedly and not tire of it. It amused me, too. Uncle Buck was the perfect straight man in a comedy routine. When Dad was in a great mood, he would offer to pay me to help him pull a prank on Uncle Buck. We often succeeded. While he didn’t say, “Et tu, Brute” to me after finding out I was involved, Uncle Buck did enjoy picking on me when I helped his brother torment him.
Uncle Buck parked the boat while Dad bothered with the boat. It gave him the chance to disconnect the spark plug wire from the outboard motor. We used the trolling motor to pull away from the bank. Jerry took a moment to carefully check the cooler for the fish. On more than one occasion, Dad had packed the cooler with a snake so that the first person to open it would be greeted by a snake looking back at him. Dad was also not above grabbing a snake out of the water or the trees and throwing it in the boot at someone’s feet, either. If Dad had been drinking, you’d have to be a fool or filming a documentary about the lives of crazy people to get into a boat with him.
Dad had thrown snakes into a person’s lap before, too, as they sat in their car or truck. Often, just to alarm them more, he’d say, “You mean to tell that some snakes are poisonous? I had no idea!”
Uncle Buck repeatedly tried starting the engine of the boat. “I’ll take a look.” Dad leaned over the motor housing and connected whatever he had disconnected. “Look here, I found it,” he said, in a serious tone of voice. As Jerry and Uncle Buck looked, Dad raised his hand away from the motor. He was giving them the bird. He laughed. When Dad was in a humorous spirit, his laugh was infectious. I can’t imagine what life would have been like for him if that laugh had been his predominant characteristic.
As we sat in a cove, the three adults fished. I made it my mission to be silent and watch the treeline and water. Out of the blue, Dad asked, “Do you want to take a swim?” He was talking to me. I calculated how best to respond. Jerry intervened on my behalf. “No one wants to swim here. There’s probably snakes everywhere, Bobby Dean.” Dad thought about it. “How else is he going to make friends?” He laughed. I realized I had been holding my breath. For a second, I really considered hurling myself into the water just to be done with it. Waiting for a madman to decide one’s fate is worse than voluntarily jumping off the mountain.
If you don’t understand the above logic, congratulations; you’re normal.
Later, we pulled in another nearby cove. Jerry took over the boat because he knew the cove very well. Uncle Buck could trust him, whereas letting Dad drive the boat ran the risk of answering the question, “Can someone actually jump a boat over land like they did in that Burt Reynolds movie?” Jerry eased in closer to the overhanging trees, though still quite a safe distance away. He was a genius with anything mechanical and was the best fisherman of the group.
Dad started singing one of his favorite songs, one which he usually performed while drinking: “Lord, It’s Hard To Be Humble,” by Mac Davis. It’s no accident that Dad looked a lot like Mac in his prime. “You’re going to scare the fish,” Uncle Buck told him for no apparent reason. Jerry piped in. “You’re going to scare ME with that voice. You should be singing, “Lord, It’s Hard Not To Stumble,” Bobby Dean.”
One of my best fishing observations happened one day I was out on the boat with Dad. “When the fishing isn’t going well, silence is mandatory. When the fishing is going well, most of the adult men chatter like startled magpies – and no one complains.” Fish magically knew which scenario was occurring in the boat above them.
Jerry slowly turned the boat away from the trees.
As Dad sang, he stood up in the boat and went to one side. When Dad got his fishing pole in both hands to cast it near the trees, it happened.
In a perfect alignment of opportunity, vengeance, and humor, Jerry gunned the powerful boat. The front end rose as the boat lurched. Dad surprisingly did not see it coming, which made it much more comical.
He went off the side as he fell, while holding his fishing pole. Jerry gunned the boat more. Despite the engine, I could hear Dad’s indistinguishable yell of surprise. He hit the water and went under. Those cowboys boots were probably less than ideal at this point.
Jerry let off the throttle and began howling with laughter and pride. It was a rarity to catch Dad that far off guard. He was sputtering water, trying to stay above water while holding his pole. Despite his bravado, he didn’t look like he could stay afloat.
“I think he might need a hand, Jerry,” Uncle Buck said calmly. His voice was surprisingly calm. I think he could have said, “I see a shark” with the same calm. “Seriously.”
Jerry eased the boat around and throttled it momentarily. The boat eased into the cove near Dad. Dad was still spitting water and struggling. He put a hand on the side of the boat and reached a tie-off on the side.
Jerry knew better than to attempt to help Dad get out of the water. Uncle Buck tried to help hoist him in. The water made him much heavier. I took his fishing pole.
Finally, Jerry came over the side. Instead of reaching out to help Dad into the boat, he jumped into the lake. The look of surprise on Uncle Buck’s face was complete shock. How was he going to get two fools back into the boat? And did he really want them in the boat anyway?
As Jerry came up, he said what I was thinking. “I might as well jump in. Bobby Dean won’t be satisfied until either I’m in the water or the boat is on fire.”
Dad managed to get onto the boat. Jerry swam a bit and reached up for the boat. Uncle Buck and Dad grabbed him to help. Just as Jerry started to say, “Don’t let go, you asshole,” Dad let go and Jerry went back into the water.
Finally, we ended up back in the boat. They were all laughing, even Uncle Buck, who said, “I’m not jumping in.” At the risk of being proven wrong, I said, “Me either.”
I don’t remember what kind of fishing was done that day. I didn’t care, either. As long as it was rolled in cornmeal and fried like Uncle Buck fried it, I didn’t care if they caught a used pair of leather gloves. I tended to observe the fishing process with disinterest.
Fishing, after all, could easily be ‘drowning adjacent.’
Given the choice between hush puppies or fish, I’d opt to skip the drownings on the lake and sit at home and fry up a bucket of hush puppies. Fishing was a lot of work for no greater enjoyment in eating.
That day, though… It was golden-fried, too. I see that now.
Those days help mask the others, the ones hidden in shadows.
Last night, Dawn still felt unwell. Out of the blue, she said, “I’d really like a piece of one of the fruitcakes I got you for Xmas.” Assuming she had temporarily lost her mind, I ignored her request. We had just used the air fryer for the first time and consumed at least 343 potatoes. She asked again. I’d never known her to appreciate the culture and taste of fruitcake, so I was a bit surprised and reluctant to offer her any.
Unlike most people in the world, I love fruitcakes, both the food and people with odd dispositions. There’s a vast disparity in quality, of course. Many people make the stubborn assumption that if you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all -as if crème brûlée (a dessert made from the hopes and dreams of fairies) from a gas station is the same as crème brûlée from a fine restaurant. Many fruitcakes should be used only as anvils, military projectiles, and doorstops.
I retrieved the three fruitcakes Dawn bought me and carefully opened one, peeling back the protective layer of secret paper used to seal them away from the jealous stares of those unlucky enough to have their own fruitcake. I presented her with a modest slice of the delicious treat. She forked her slice and put a piece in her mouth. Immediately, her face curled into a mass of displeasure and disgust, as if she had just bit into a rather sizeable live cricket, one who struggled to get free from the confines of her mouth, even as it burst open.
“What is this SUPPOSED to taste like?!” she moaned as she used her tongue to force out the morsels of fruitcake that stuck to her mouth. “WHAT are those green things!” I almost cried as I watched one of the best foods in the world go partially to waste. Meanwhile, Dawn was spitting bits of fruitcake as if she were a major league pitcher standing on the mound, ready to pitch a fastball.
On the other hand, I laughed like a man with his head caught in an elevator as I watched the chameleonesque metamorphosis of her facial expressions.
The picture with this post is several seconds later. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the initial horror pictured on Dawn’s face. This picture isn’t the first picture; instead, it is just a pale tribute to the horror written large on her face.
I’m submitting Dawn’s picture to the National Fruitcake Alliance for their next marketing campaign: “Don’t Get Revenge – Get Fruitcake.” I’ll let you know.
I hope Dawn feels better this morning. The magic of a fruitcake rarely surprises me.
I love Subway. More accurately, I have a love/hate relationship with the eatery. For every great experience or store (such as is usually the case in Eureka Springs), I have a terrible one. Despite it seeming like an exaggeration, I’ve eaten at Subway somewhere around 500 times in my life.
It’s no secret that prices have been inching up in the last few years, mainly after they got rid of $5 footlong promotion. The company has closed a huge number of stores since 2015. Many factors are contributing to its demise, ones not tied to cost. The margins are low, so franchises tend to short-change their employees, both in wages and training. Most keep labor painfully short. We’ve noticed.
Visit any local Subway location and you’ll note a revolving door of faces.
Recently, I noted that some Subways had added a “Tip” selection to their payment kiosks. I have mixed feelings about this.
If Subway were new and tips were on the payment options, I might not stop to consider it carefully. Because I’ve eaten at Subways since they first opened in NWA, it is problematic for it to be an option suddenly. Especially so since I’m standing face-to-face with the employee as I opt-in or out. The sandwich artists are not providing any new value; in fact, I’d say in general that I have to be more careful and repetitive than ever to get my favorite sandwich done the way I like.
That’s not the employee’s fault – that responsibility falls directly on management and the owners.
Whether places like Subway should tip or not is a separate conversation. I’ll agree that’s it not a simple issue.
Most of the time, I get a vegetable sandwich with lettuce, double tomatoes, and Subway spice. That’s it. It is easy to make and cost-effective for the eatery, too.
Generalizing a bit, I’d say that the labor margins have also resulted in less clean stores, longer waits, and dirtier bathrooms. (And a sometimes a comical shortage of napkins.)
Given the uptick in prices, most people realize that they can easily eat a full dine-in meal at another restaurant for about the same price as Subway charges for a combo sandwich meal. In places with many restaurant choices, Subway can’t compete on location, selection, or cost. That didn’t use to be the case.
As an otherwise good tipper, I can see that adding a tip option to the payment isn’t going to go over well for the average Subway customer. I’ve asked several people about it. Most feel a twinge because while they wish to tip when it’s appropriate, they also feel trapped by management’s choice to underwrite the same wages with an upcharge disguised as a tip.
There’s nothing quite like the realization that you might not have any pants to wear. No one wanted to see me prancing around sans pants twenty years ago; the situation hasn’t improved any, especially as pizza became my closest friend. The only time being pantsless is a benefit is when door-to-door salesmen make the mistake of ignoring my “No Soliciting” sign. The neighbors haven’t complained about screaming people fleeing my house. Since I don’t answer the door, I wouldn’t know if they did. It’s a win-win.
As a minimalist, I have the least amount of clothing of any other adult that I know. I tend to keep only a bit more than I need. After my last long-term successful weight loss, I dropped my guard and discarded the pants that looked like MC Hammer had designed my wardrobe. I’m generally relentless about getting rid of clothes I can’t or won’t wear.
Like all idiots, once I lose weight, I assume that I will somehow defy years of forgetting my promise not to get too large again.
I name this tendency/disease Pizzaheimer’s.
Over the last few months, I’ve adopted a more care-free diet, one characterized by total surrender to the joys of excessive stuffing. I tend to wear work pants instead of blue jeans. No matter how bad you think I might look in blue jeans, it’s worse. Imagine Danny DeVito wearing jeans and roller skating.
Because I have to wear slacks at work and my job being very physical, I wear both the relaxed fit and stretchy version of my preferred pants. (Note: I’m not too fond of using the word ‘slacks’ in reference to pants.) These give me the ability to kneel or bend without accidentally hitting a high note – and from splitting my the seat of my pants in an impromptu show of agility and exposed anatomy. The undesirable consequence of this is that I can put on 20 lbs without needing to get a size bigger pants. George brand pants do indeed stretch without complaint. So do I.
Because I may have to dress above my normal sloth-like appearance in a few days, it occurred to me that I might need to try on my normal dress wear pants. As you might expect, none of them fit. Either a magical seamstress has reduced them in my closet, or my battle with fat has been an unnoticed defeat. I’m going with the latter.
As a result, after work today, I had to buy more clothes, ones that don’t expose me to the risk of public nudity if I bend over. The numbers are getting a little large, too. As a general rule, if walking the distance displayed on your pants would wear you out, it’s probably not a good waist size, either.
It’s not my fault, though. I suffer from Pizzaheimer’s.
As I was about to finish work, I thought I’d go to Subway to eat lunch. I couldn’t get the image of a double-tomato sub out of my mind. My wife was off in another part of the state so I could choose to eat anywhere. Just to stay in practice, I pretended to have the “I don’t care where we go to eat” argument with myself.
I left work and automatically drove toward Springdale instead of choosing one of the 946 places in Fayetteville. The traffic in Springdale got the better of me. One driver, in particular, seemed to be using a random speed generator to determine her speed. I was fantasizing about participating in an impromptu demolition derby and missed my turn for Subway. Naturally, I ended up at one of the breakfast diners which are coming back in popularity, a place I never choose.
Since I’ve put back on some weight, it didn’t trigger any warning bells as it should have. Let’s be honest, as comforting as the food at these places might be, there should be a heart on the sign by the highway. With an arrow through it.
I parked and as I entered, I waved at a large elderly man sitting on the bench near the main entrance. He was still there, immobile, when I left.
I sat at the counter until my ‘salesperson’ asked what I might like. (They aren’t waitstaff at this diner.) As I started to answer, she mentioned their special peach waffles. I never eat waffles, so of course, I ordered it. As for the rest, I told her to surprise me. She surprised me by bringing a plate-sized but thin waffle covered in peach syrup, eggs, hashbrowns, four pieces of toast, and two pieces of sausage. In the background, I could clearly hear the high-pitched mechanical scream of a bathroom scale. To balance it out, I chose the preferred drink of people who are fooling themselves: Diet Coke.
It was strange to eat at the counter of the diner in part because the entire end of the diner was filled with Latinos animatedly talking. Being a long-time citizen of Springdale, such a detail is not something that passes without me noticing. I tried not to eavesdrop – but I will say that they didn’t consider that I could understand what they were saying. I could write an entire season of “Desperate Housewives” from their conversations. Also, if your name is Pedro and you live near the Supercenter, you should leave town for a few days. (One of those women I overheard is probably going to eviscerate you Friday night after you get off work.)
When the salesperson asked me about the peach waffles, I logically concluded that the peach waffles would be adorned with sliced peaches. Instead, my waffle was slathered with an engine oil-like syrup that somehow simultaneously was sweeter than an entire bag of pure cane sugar and made me think of an insulin syringe inserted directly into my eyeball. I tried to calculate the total caloric value of the lunch I’d been served but the online tracker kept crashing due to insufficient digits available.
Despite knowing better, I ate most of my lunch. A feeling I can only describe as a malaise came over me, one characterized by an inability to think clearly. I recognized it immediately because for the shortest of moments I had the urge to watch Fox News. I tipped the salesperson/waitress exorbitantly in hopes that she might use a bit of the money to eat somewhere else when she finished working.
I waved ‘bye’ to the old man seated on the bench. Much to my surprise, a cardiologist didn’t jump from the bushes and tackle me.
Life is a series of choices. I learned again that I should ignore my instincts – and any buildings with an excessive quantity of yellow paint on the outside.