Category Archives: Food

Spices and Altercations for $1000, Alex

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I made a quick trip to the store. As always, things go awry. In this case, though, the maelstrom didn’t involve me. I was just a witless witness.

I stood near the spices, admiring the universe of flavorful options. Not only was my mouth watering, but also so were my eyeballs. (Though the detail adds nothing to this story, I highly recommend both the chipotle bacon and garlic jalapeño seasoning.) I can eat cardboard with the right spices or sauces. My wife would testify that I, in fact, often do, given my irreverence for what constitutes ‘food.’

Voices rose, obviously in dissent, and probably emanating from a nearby and unseen aisle. In a few moments, an employee of the dubious retailer walked into my peripheral vision, taking small steps backward, yet still barking at someone I couldn’t yet see. As he stopped, an older woman approached from the other side of the endcap of the aisle. Her finger stabbed the air in irritation as she spoke. She was adamantly demanding that the employee go self-procreate and accompanied by his terrible attitude, even though her recommendation was couched in both vernacular and anatomically specific language.

It should have been awkward to witness, given the venom in the air. It wasn’t, though. It was more like Live TV and comparable to the scene which ensues when the three guys attempting to put the alligator in the SUV suddenly find themselves being violently schooled by an uncooperative lizard.

I laughed. Both the woman and the employee took a moment to throw quick glances of scorn my way and then turned on one another again.

Since neither of them had swords, daggers, nor jousting sticks, I assumed the scene was safe. At least for me.

Exactly .5 seconds later, a man wearing an industrial uniform approached and stepped in front of the woman. She stopped her malevolent incantations. His arms were hanging directly down, probably to signal a benign intervention.

He spoke to the retail employee. “Sir, did you bring a mop with you?”

“What? Why do I need a mop?” the employee asked. “No one told me there was a spill.”

“If you keep talking to people the way you were just talking to this lady, I’m going to mop the floor with you.” He didn’t even wait for the employee to reply. He turned to the woman and said, “I’m so sorry. I think I fixed your problem.” He walked away, perhaps to right another wrong. If he wore a cape, it was well concealed.

The employee continued to stand at the opposite end of the aisle. His face was becoming increasingly redder. It seemed like his head was expanding as it did so and I feared his glasses might burst from his face like shrapnel if it persisted.

When I went to check out, I could see the employee near the end of the register area, animatedly telling his story to another obviously disinterested co-worker. His arms waved and moved like a broken windmill as he spoke. I’m not sure what version of the truth he was telling but I was certain his eyes were keeping watch for the mysterious man in uniform as he did so.

The Most Beautiful Bird…

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Imagine the most exotic and beautiful bird your mind can conjure. You can picture its plumage, adorned with a prismatic array of colors, each a mystery to your curious eyes. As it moves, its feathers separate like a cloud of butterflies, producing a melodic and calming rustle. Its eyes shine with the brilliance of the promising universe which surrounds it.

That same bird now soars in the air and slowly descends upon on one of the outstretched limbs of a towering tree, it leaves a vivid green and the bulbous fruit hanging from the limbs make your mouth water with imagined anticipation and savor.

The bird stretches its elegant neck and takes one of the fruits and eats it, causing the scent of immense sweetness to burst into the air in a rainbow arc.

Now, imagine that fruit turning to what it inevitably must, passing through this beautiful bird and falling from its behind.

That’s what this peanut butter spread tastes like.

Because crap is crap.

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P.S. I wish you could have witnessed the look on my wife’s face when the flavor of this malevolent food touched her taste buds. She sat at the table, hunched over and smiling. Her face registered the hope of delight and the doubt of trying something new as the spoon touched her tongue. As the horrific flavor of this food invaded her taste buds, I could envision a dark sky filled with the corpses of plummeting angels, all decimated in flight from the unadulterated evil contained in the jar within Dawn’s reach.
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S-Hook, Lime and Sinker

Just off  I-40 in Clarksville, Arkansas, there’s a Tex-Mex restaurant adjacent to the interstate. We’ve eaten there a couple of times. It’s inexpensive and we usually find ourselves pleasantly surprised by the speed, quality, and cost of the meal. Typically, we compensate by over-tipping by a wide margin. This is in no way related to the fact that the workers invariably point a machine gun at us as we pay. I’m just kidding about that last line. I just wanted to ensure that you’re reading closely. The pico de gallo, which all Tex-Mex eateries should be judged by, is delicious.

As we went to the front counter to pay, I heard the older gentleman who seemed to wear several hats of responsibility at the restaurant ask in Spanish, “How’d THIS get here?” I turned to see him holding the ‘S’ hook, inquiring toward our waitress and another waitress from the other half of the restaurant. As we exited the table, I had placed the hot hook on the edge of the large salsa dispenser at the edge of our table so that it wouldn’t be missed.

Toward the end of our meal, my wife had picked it up out of the bowels of the chip basket, not realizing how hot it had become in the warmer. We weren’t disgusted by the discovery of the thick metal hook, just intensely curious. I imagined that it had fallen from something at some point, but couldn’t place what the mysterious piece of machinery or structure might be. Such an ‘S’ hook typically is used to support two chains. Unless you’re at Applebee’s, one wouldn’t expect such random pieces of metal to be in one’s food.

So strange was the look on the older Latino man’s face that I felt compelled to walk the few steps back to our table and explain. In Spanish, I told them it was indeed inside the basket of chips as we ate, that we weren’t upset by its presence, and to have a great day.

“I’ve been looking for this darned hook since yesterday!” the older gentleman told me. “How did it get in the chips?” He wondered aloud.

“Suicidio,” I joked in Spanish and he took a moment to stare at me as if I had just sprouted a large tree from my forehead.

The other two waitresses looked at me quizzically, still confused by the large metal hook and the fact that I was suddenly speaking coherent Spanish to them. I think that the waitress for my table suspected that I spoke a few words in Spanish but it dawned on her that I had probably understood all their shouted conversations during my visit. (Yes, I heard their conversation about North Carolina. I wouldn’t move there, either.)

Mistakes happen and my wife and I weren’t bothered by the metal hook being in the basket of chips. At another restaurant, one staffed by less personable employees, it might have escalated into a full-fledged verbal duel-to-the-cash-register situation.

As it is, though, I find myself still wondering how the hook fell from whatever it was attached to and into the chips. I’ll bet that the older Latino man is wondering, too.

 

Celery Is The Cure For Happiness – An Autobiographical Anecdote

 

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The beet chip story from a few days ago forces my hand toward another story. It’s not one which ends with a grand moral observation, though, unless it’s a reminder for everyone to avoid being ‘food stupid,’ as I call it.

To assist you to better understand my youth, you can observe through the picture that while food scarcity was sometimes a problem for me, starvation was the least of my worries. It wasn’t until the end of my 9th grade year that I managed to break away from my intense infatuation with food. I probably should say ‘temporarily breakup’ given my adulthood. That’s my mom with her arms over my shoulders. She’d been drinking when my Aunt Ardith snapped this picture.

I wish I had been drinking heavily, especially if I had known I’d be writing about the herpes of the vegetable world: raw celery.

I mean no disrespect toward the current food waste programs. Teachers do difficult jobs and those involved in USDA-related food programs emphasize giving students control and also encourage eating what’s taken and taking only what one plans to eat. I went to elementary school 40 years ago, about the time that fire was discovered. What’s true now was definitely not true then.

Today, I listened to a story about food waste in schools. Most of the arguments were well reasoned and supported. They were so proud of the food waste reduction and that kids were now squirreling away leftover food instead of throwing it away at school. I knew immediately that at least one school kid was going to get his revenge on these well-intentioned people as they patted themselves on the back for reducing food waste. We not only don’t learn from history, but we also tend to amplify our egregiousness with even greater folly. I laughed as I imagined that imaginary and gleeful child puking all over the high heels of his well-intentioned teacher.

Thanks to my grandma, I was spoiled by food. Even though her type of cuisine leaned toward the basic, there was nothing as delicious in my mind as elbow macaroni soup, collard and mustard greens, green beans, corn in any form, tomatoes, okra, or potatoes. Unlike my parents, my grandparents were compassionate about food, even though they were children of the Great Depression. Both money and food were always held in high esteem. In my case, they didn’t care what I put on my plate as long as I ate it all. Wasting food was simply not something one could do. On the other hand, they didn’t threaten me for disliking food or force me to eat something for my own good. They weren’t “food stupid” as so many modern people are. They asked me to try everything before deciding whether I liked it or not. And I did, even things such as sardines and salt pork. I never rejected a food without trying it. My grandma knew that overall I was going to get much more than I needed, especially since I was known to eat more vegetables than any other 5 kids combined. I don’t know how harsh grandma was to other grandkids (because I was her favorite) but I do know that she would never have forced me to eat something I clearly indicated I didn’t like. In my defense, it would have never occurred to me to lie to her about it, either. I found out at a young age that I didn’t like beets, which puzzled my grandma.

At home, my parents were tyrants about food. I ate some of the worst, most ill-prepared foods known to man, many times under the guise of not being wasteful. This particular line of logic confused me, given that dollar for dollar, most of their money was spent on alcohol, cigarettes, or replacing broken furniture each time they decided to practice their ever-widening domestic violence reactions. Wherever we lived, most evenings threatened to turn into WWE nights, without referee or ropes. Never mind that because mom chain-smoked her entire life I had never eaten potatoes at home that didn’t look peppered already. Mom also put onions in everything. I mean that literally. I kept expecting to find several peeled onions in her bathwater. Because of dad, mom would often prepare the nastiest meats; large slabs of beef nonsense, barely cooked, smelling of old paper and blood. When she could, mom would buy large volumes of sliced ham, the kind that reminded of what a toilet smells like when seldom flushed. It’s one of the reasons to do this day that I dislike ham, and more so when it is sliced into slivers of hell like deli meat. Mom also made me eat potted meat and Vienna sausages, which as we learned from Karl in “Sling Blade”, is nothing more than brains and beef peckers.

I was content with noodles, soup, or vegetables. I was a simple kid and easily satisfied. Give me a soda, basic food, a book – and stop beating on me, and I could make a good day out it. As I’ve written about before, I also acquired an intense LIKE for over-cooked and burned food.

Even though it seems unlikely, it was because of my parents that I went years without eating much meat voluntarily. I wasn’t sure that meat could be prepared in an appetizing manner, so I’d eat salads, bread, and vegetables – or the tablecloth if it kept me from getting ill or having to force down food better suited to be thrown from a moving car at one’s enemies. Forays to other people’s houses showed me that the food at home versus out in the world were wildly different animals and that I was trapped in a culinary hell from which there would be no escape. It should be noted that no green leafy vegetables, much less lettuce, were kept at my house growing up. It was when I was older and had access to an unlimited amount of salad from a popular eatery in Tontitown and from a distant cousin we lived with that I found a love for lettuce.

Since I grew up in small-town Arkansas, I heard the phrase, “Boy, you don’t know what’s good” with such regularity that it lost all meaning. This phrase was considered to be the height of culinary comparative arguments. On one occasion, my Uncle Harold was chiding me for not wanting to eat any of whatever dead carcass flesh was being offered and proudly yelled, “Boy, you don’t what’s good!” Uncle Harold was one of the good guys, too. My grandma laughed and said, “Harold, why are you sitting there picking on the boy when you know darn well you wouldn’t eat a lot of things growing up?”

As for retaliation, for each gesture of love and kindness from my grandma, my dad would be capable of the most brutal reprisals for not wanting to eat whatever he wanted me to. I took beatings night and day. If I told him I didn’t want fried chicken or a slab of whatever animal carcass of the day he had, I would get hit by a fist, belt, spatula, or item he found nearby. He was like the Wile E. Coyote of food beatings. His creativity toward brutality was endless. To him, eating, especially meat eating was a characteristic of all real men. It incensed him that I had no desire whatsoever to eat what he dictated. Deer, frog legs, snake, gizzards, cow livers, boiled beef tongue, rabbit, and squirrel: all of these were required eating. I hated them all and don’t eat them willingly today. His cruelty expanded to other areas, too. Once, he forced me to try raw forest-gathered mushrooms at my Uncle Buck’s house. They tasted like a deer’s anus. When I started to throw up, he punched me. He then forced more of them into my mouth. Crying, I forced what I could down. He made me agree that I loved them. As soon as possible, I went outside and threw it all up on the next-door neighbor’s side of the house. This same scenario was re-enacted many times in my youth. (I often think I could have painted the house with vomit with sufficient time to do so.)

It is strange looking back, because despite having been in prison and falsely claiming he could eat anything, the truth is that my dad hated a lot of food, especially the healthy stuff. I’m not sure why food granted him such an expansive outlook on cruelty towards me. He never missed a chance, though, and I got it much, much worse than my siblings did. I often daydreamed of sautéing him a skillet full of wild mushrooms and steak – and then bashing him over the head with it.

In school, I learned that people would willingly barter with me, and happily, for my dessert or milk in exchange for whatever concoction of vegetables the school was inflicting on us that day. One of the most common was peas or one of the ten varieties of mixed vegetables that generally got boiled in huge cauldrons on the industrial stoves. Countless times, I would press my tray against that of a schoolmate and swap for something better. At home, I would eat green beans, corn, and tomatoes directly from the can – something I often do even now. While I looked like I traded for desserts, the opposite was usually true.

One day during elementary school, our teacher proudly explained that we would be graded on what we ate. “What fresh hell was this?” I asked myself. I figured there was some kind of error or that all the teachers had lost their minds. Unlike my fellow classmates, my world viewpoint didn’t preclude adults acting as if they had lost their minds at any given moment. At that school, we didn’t choose what we wanted. The school workers plopped, flung and threw whatever the next item was more or less into the segregated concavities of our food trays. There were things I simply couldn’t eat. Make no mistake, unlike most of my schoolmates; I overall REALLY enjoyed school lunches. They simply were miles above the consistency and content of what I could expect at home. Just like at home, I couldn’t always determine what the food was supposed to be. Unlike home, however, I could be reasonably certain it wasn’t poisonous, given the likelihood of dead children all over the concrete block cafeteria if things went terribly awry.

In those days, it was almost impossible to explain to your teachers that you were accustomed to being tortured by your dad if you said you didn’t like something. They didn’t know that if I wet the bed, I’d have stripes across my back and legs for a week if my dad had a hangover or was simply bored. I knew that with time, the school’s ill-advised plan to judge what I chose to eat or didn’t eat would cause a problem.

It was the same week that the food grading system started that I met my lifelong nemesis: Raw Celery. On a dozen previous occasions, I had attempted to eat this abomination without throwing up. I was scoreless against the impulse. It was puzzling, given my love of all things vegetable. If given a choice between licking the under-rim of a bus station bathroom toilet and eating celery, I would unflinchingly opt for the toilet, even if someone was sitting on it at the time. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I will demonstrate this if ever given the choice between death and celery. If foreign terrorists ever capture me, all they’ll need to do is force me to eat celery in order to get a confession from me.

I don’t remember a lot about the lunch grading starting, honestly, other than dreading it. When I went up to put my tray on the conveyor, the teacher told me to eat my celery or get a reduced grade. As I was fearful of almost all teachers when controversy arose, I told her that I was fine with that. She got mad at me and reversed course. She insisted that I eat it – a reduced grade was no longer at stake. A paddle was in my future. I told her that I would get sick if I tried to eat the celery. She forced me to take a bite anyway and I spit it back out immediately. She let me go, through a clenched jaw. I knew the battle lines were drawn and that just like at home I had no artillery with which to fight back.

A few days later, celery once again made its disgusting appearance on the menu. They must have purchased a truckload of it from the local Satanic Distributor. I traded my celery and dessert for another boy’s mixed vegetables. He ate the celery with glee, as I did his vegetables. Soon enough, the Gestapo teacher doing lunch duty came over and told us we were forbidden to trade food. Therefore, I got another reduced grade, even though I had eaten more vegetables by trading for a serving of mixed vegetables compared to a slice of celery stalk.

How much later it was, I’m not sure, but the day came when celery was once again served. Except another horrific layer was added: they put peanut butter on the stalk. While I was okay with peanut butter, the only thing worse than a celery stalk with peanut butter on it would be if a large diseased bird pooped on it first. The teacher didn’t even wait for my reaction this time. She insisted I eat it, that everyone liked peanut butter and celery. Having forgotten the exact words, I’m sure she ranted off a list of reasons why I was being a little jerk for not wanting to eat the celery. Since I wasn’t getting out alive, she also insisted that I drink my carton of milk, something that I often didn’t touch. However, I held my nose and drank the milk quickly.

“Now eat the celery. You and I both know you are pretending you don’t like it.” The teacher glared at me. Having been shamed and beaten by experts way beyond her level of cruelty, I didn’t really care about getting a paddling. A paddling from someone at school was comparable to a pat on the back from Attila the Hun at home. The teacher, seeing my reluctance, came around next to me, picked up the celery stalk, and put it in my hand, then dragging my hand holding the celery toward my face. I unwillingly took a bite, immediately feeling the urge to vomit. “Keep going. You’ll see it won’t kill you.” The teacher stepped away at the end of the table. I took another bite – and that’s when the universe shifted.

The mix of peanut butter and raw celery triggered something in my mind. It might have been the last time my dad held my face into my plate and forced me to get a mouthful of whatever man-making garbage he wanted me to eat. Whatever it was, it was powerful. From my nose and mouth came a simultaneous torrent of milk and lunch remnants. It went across the table and onto the floor, splashing across to the table on the next aisle of seating. I flooded my plate with it, knocking over my milk carton. I heaved and expelled everything I had eaten for the last 10 meals, or so it seemed. Moreover, I then put my head down into the mess, feeling a massive wave of nausea and dizziness. Keeping my head up wasn’t an option.

This story would be much better if I remembered what sort of shocked reaction the teacher had on her face after seeing me projectile vomit. However, I don’t know. I was too sick.

Another teacher came and helped me to the restroom to clean up. I enjoyed several exceptional teachers. Like so many others growing up, I also had a few who somehow seemed to know that I was an easy victim. My secret shame from my tortured home life must have registered in some instinctive corner of their brains.

We didn’t do lunch grading for very long. I don’t remember why that it ended but I do know that my fantasy is that the teacher who was so intent on being totalitarian in regard to what I ate or didn’t eat was so sickened by my volcanic eruption of vomit that she insisted that the program be abandoned. While I don’t remember exactly which teacher was the mean one, I could figure it out, if I really wanted to. I won’t though because I might be tempted to go to her house with an array or reprehensible food and force her to eat them all, one by one until vomit ejects from her ear canals. I’ll start with beet chips and celery filled with tripe and livers.

She did me one favor, though: unlike so many other foods I grew to like or at least tolerate, raw celery to me is no better than raw sewage – and I’d drink a cup of the latter before I’d ever eat a stalk of celery.

 

If I every develop super-villain powers just spray me down with raw celery.

Good Thins (The Beet One): Proof of Diabolical Culinary Forces

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Product Review #13 Nabisco Good Thins Beet Crackers:

I originally posted this review more than a year ago. The trauma of my initial taste test had faded in my memory sufficiently for me to convince myself that a subsequent retry was in order. I’ve now added this mistaken idea of my list of most monumental errors in life.

I saw ads for this item and despite my natural aversion to beets, for some reason, this sounded divine to me. I enjoy weirdly-flavored crackers; it’s like a sadistic eccentricity of mine, like my love of licking 9V batteries, eating burned food, and the smell of tar and creosote. Truthfully, I thought I was going to fall in love with this incarnation of Nabisco’s The Good Thins line.

Many people don’t know that beets are actually goat livers which have been buried secretly by elves. They are second only to raw celery as ‘the food most likely to taste like death.’ Given my overall love of vegetables, it pains me to say that beets are the culinary equivalent of phlegm stuck in the back of one’s throat after a prolonged cold. How I thought Nabisco was capable of disguising the hideousness of beets remains a mystery to me.

I tried a sample of these crackers. After a couple of seconds, I regretted every bad thing I had done in my life – there was no doubt that this product was created with the singular aim of making me repent for my sins. As the product sample lady awaited my reaction with anticipation, I weighed my options: spit the vile concoction onto the floor or wait until projectile vomit pushed it from my mouth. Had a cliff been nearby, I would have thrown myself off of it, if only to rid myself forever of the aftertaste of these beet crackers. I managed to swallow the cracker and was certain that I had just eaten the edible equivalent of an exorcism. After eating this cracker, I fully expected a little Sigourney Weaver alien baby to burst forth from my abdomen.

When I got home, I researched this item on Nabisco’s website. It turns out that Nabisco digs up the goat livers (aka beets) and feeds them to miscreant cows. Once the cow naturally converts them into manure, that is then desiccated and sliced into micro-thin wedges and cooked by the evilest chef in North America. (Probably someone who ‘trained’ at the Culinary Institute of Applebee’s.) Then, they season the dried wedges with the tears of repentant teenagers.

Several reviews on Amazon suggest that this item is either a test product program whose aim is to gauge limits of self-imposed suffering or an attempt to punish vegetarians for their holier-than-thou ways.

Paradoxically, I give this product 5 out of 5 stars, if only to hoodwink you into stupidly attempting to eat this product, too. Please eat a box and let me know whether you need chemo afterward.

P.S. The other flavors of Good Thins are some of best chips/crackers that exist. Other flavors include spinach and herb, sea salt, potato, rice, white cheddar, sweet potato, chipotle tomato, among others. Nutritionally, the other flavors and textures are delicious.

 

I’m still perplexed that the same company which makes the other flavors is capable of the sadism required to continue manufacturing these beet chips.

The Great Tortilla Chip Famine of April 26th

 

My wife Dawn & I have a ritual of eating Mexican food on Thursday, when possible. Since we are eating considerably healthier than what used to be the case, there are times when it feels as if we are at risk of starvation by the time we reach the magical doors of the selected Mexican eatery. Today was such a day. Dawn has lost a lot of weight in the last weeks and I had to make another hole in my belt earlier this week. To say that we were anticipating our trip of culinary indulgence would be an insult to the word “exaggeration.” I was salivating so much on the way to the restaurant that I thought I might need to hang my head out the car window as I drove, much like a large and enthusiastic dog might. I had my extra bottle of Tajin seasoning next to me. (If you don’t know what Tajin is, please accept my words of pity and condolences for you.)

My stomach was not only growling but also filling out complaint cards of protest. A few things to note… We tip exceptionally well. I have tipped over 100% at some Mexican restaurants. If the staff plans just a little, they only need to visit our table once. (When it’s just us two, we never want a refill, for example.) Also, my favorite food in the world is pico de gallo, eaten in bulk and by using the food shovel of a chip to consume it. I constantly tell staff to feel free to charge me for an order of chips and salsa as most of the time the entrees aren’t interesting to me. I’ll order one for appearances but my heart belongs to pico de gallo and chips and salsa.

We’ll forgive any recipe disaster, including eyeballs in our rice or long dark hairs in our cheese sauce, as long as there are sufficient chips and salsa. I’ve been known to keep the wrong food if it’s brought to me or pay the bill even if I’ve been over-charged. Mexican food is that important to my mental well-being.

Today, we went to our ‘go-to’ eatery. In a bizarre twist, it wasn’t busy. It started out great but deteriorated from there. In a nod to those suffering First World Problems, we only had one less-than-full basket of chips. Given the volume of pico de gallo I requested, I hadn’t anticipated such a dramatic turn of events. The precise math necessary to calculate chip-to-pico enjoyment is difficult but it can be best summed up by the words “always over-estimate.”

We hit the bottom of our chip basket well ahead of schedule. Dawn and I exchanged horrified looks, as we had missed our opportunity to beg for a refill when the waitress walked away. As far as I know, she may well now be featured on a milk carton, so quick was her exit and noticeable her subsequent absence. Given the lack of chips, I had no choice except to eat from my actual entree. This is an unconscionable abomination. So disinterested am I in the entree selection that I’ve started almost ordering randomly.

For my selection today, my plate included a ‘chicken enchilada.’ Like the expectation of a loud scream or being startled by some unseen animal or person at the beginning of a horror movie, it did indeed contain that most vile concoction of shredded chicken, the kind that always smells like putrid chicken-in-a-can and looks like what a buzzard might regurgitate to its young. It is a rare thing to find shredded chicken anywhere that I can’t almost see the smell-waves emanating from it. Shredded chicken is too chickeny, in other words.

As we finished our available selection of edible portions on our plates, I noticed that it seemed as if our table must have an invisible solar eclipse above it. No one would look our direction. I stacked our plates on the outer edge of the table, an invitation to the perplexing “let me make room for you” offer that staff inevitably makes, even though the plates are never in fact in our way. No one succumbed to this universal call for retrieval. The plates and utensils remained there, stacked and immobile, adjacent to the forlorn and long-empty chip basket.

“We might as well go. We’re like people wearing Trump hats in here,” I told Dawn.

We both managed to avoid breaking out in tears. Our mouths watered with the mirage of further tortilla chips and salsa.

We drove home in silence, both of our faces locked in somber reflections of the meal that almost was.

Just kidding about that last part. We speculated about every possible scenario for the ‘why’ of The Great Tortilla Chip Famine of April 26th. My best guess is that on a sufficiently long enough timeline, you’ll not only be cheated out of enough chips and salsa, but also have to endure the presence of that vile ‘food’ known as shredded chicken.

P.S. I took my shredded chicken home in a folded napkin as an experiment. I threw it to a pack of wild dogs near the edge of Sonora. The dogs became so enraged at me for putting it anywhere near them that they almost tore my left arm before I could run and dive back into the relative safety of my wife’s Honda. As I drove away, I watched the dogs paw at the ground and bury the remains of that monstrosity known as shredded chicken.

Walmart Neighborhood Market Is The Cable TV of Groceries

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(This is a long one. Don’t attempt to casually read this if you have an actual life. 🙂  )

After work on March 9th, I stopped at the local Neighborhood Market to find a manager. I breathed, “Be nice, be nice” to myself before going in. The managers have a history of inattention to complaints or requests, no matter how professionally presented. I would be unable to manage one of these stores. The Neighborhood Market does a lot right, I’ll be the first to admit. Their worst issue is that they do much to complain about too, and when we come forward, the eye-rolling or stonewalling is epic. I ‘want’ to love Walmart Market.

My wife Dawn had a terrible experience earlier in the day. It was so bad that my phone translated her entire text message to read: “$%#&% $$$%%$ !” She’s very patient and kind in general but after her experience, I thought that Walmart had probably misjudged her building wrath. I decided to go in and see what the manager might say before Dawn opted to recreate a battle scene from The Avengers. Being a patient voice is not a role I often assume. There are times, however, when I approach an issue like I would a hobby just to see how bad it can go awry, even when I’m being polite and patient. (Dawn will tell you that most of these interactions culminate in a resemblance to any major Civil War battle scene.)

During Dawn’s earlier visit there were no checkers up front unless they had recently purchased invisibility cloaks. When Dawn asked for assistance, the girl she asked literally shrugged, said “I dunno,” and went back to ignoring her. Dawn’s cart had $200 of groceries in it. She wanted to just abandon it after piling it on the conveyor belt at the self-checkout, but she’s not wired that way. The person allegedly responsible for keeping an eye on the self-checkout of course magically materialized and intermittently was as minimally helpful as possible but did not do Dawn’s checking for her, as is supposed to happen. It was his job at that point to step up and use the self-checkout lane to cashier and handle the checkout for Dawn. (The managers have told me this more than once – before anyone asks or questions this. If this policy has changed, management needs to tell both the employees and the customers.) Dawn had to unload, scan, bag and reload the massive pile of stuff herself, while the gentleman who was monitoring jumped in and interfered instead of helping. Dawn had to run home to work, as her store trip had morphed into an epic misadventure. What should have taken 30 minutes dragged on to almost an hour.

Had I been there, you can be sure that the entire scenario would have played out differently. I’m sure it would have been entertaining to watch on replay through the security cameras as I creatively made my point. There’s a reason my driver’s license has a picture of a jackass on it.

This store recently upgraded to include many more self-check stations, as well as aligning the store to be an “order ahead” hub. The manager told me that they had asked corporate to put in fewer self-checkouts but were rebuffed, as they were out of touch with their customers and their own stores. (Her words, not mine.) Dawn’s had issues with this store before. The issues affecting it have only worsened. I’ve written about a few of them before, as some of the stories seem unlikely. Human behavior in impersonal organizations is staggeringly strange.

I went to the store and politely asked for a manager. The customer service person wasn’t thrilled with my minimalist request to wait to speak to a manager to voice my concerns. I waited several minutes. Finally, a woman with shoulder-length black hair came out and introduced herself as the manager-on-duty.

The purported manager I spoke with listened to me and I listened to her. She was less than pleased about hearing of the employee who had blown Dawn off, and about the gentleman watching the self-check who didn’t step in to assist. I told her that social media had been brutal to the store in question lately, and not only because of the remodel. She wasn’t as receptive to my criticism of the reliance on self-check, even as I acknowledged that I knew corporate was the villain in that equation. She was also dismissive of people’s complaints on social media. But I did my best to imperfectly express to her how bad the experience my wife had was. She did at least listen to me, regardless of whatever mental gymnastics might have been going on behind her eyes.

The woman I spoke with had trouble getting around the idea that there we no checkers, because “There always is at least one.” She was very adamant about this, despite our observations to the contrary. I told her that if the store advertised that it was ‘cashier-less,’ the negative reaction would be lesser, as we would either adjust or choose the competition. The purported manager also insisted that we should be very aggressive in demanding customer service and about demanding someone to speak with if things weren’t handled correctly. It’s a common expectation for businesses to hope that customers will somehow overcome the natural tendency to just ‘let it go,’ even as the employees of that business become belligerent or fail to do what they are supposed to. I was standing in the store that afternoon talking to her, precisely because the other methods of direct and indirect communication weren’t working.

I’m not “anti-self-checkout,” by the way, not at all. I know the demographics of preferences regarding technology and access. Self-checkout has its place but only as a component, not as a replacement. I love having the option. If Walmart stupidly wants to trust me to scan my groceries, woe unto them.

Of all criticisms regarding my interaction with the manager, I would have to say it might be the blindness toward the level of frustration and bad experiences people collectively have. This manager would have had no idea about how angry my wife was about her experience had I not walked in and waited. It takes a massive and ongoing problem for Dawn to get flustered. Managers focus on issues, day in and day out, but most of the problems that we have as customers never reach their eyes or ears. Part of the problem is that it is too difficult to talk to someone – and if we do, our words tend to slide through ears or onto forgotten paperwork. Everyone is busy and corporations have wrongly reduced labor by taking away people’s available time to engage with other human beings.

One critical issue which businesses seem to share as they grow is that they somehow begin to agree that customers bear most of the responsibility to come forward with complaints or criticism. Most don’t, however, because most of us don’t really want to complain. If we have the chance, we communicate with our feet and find a new way to do business. It’s exceedingly more expensive to find a new customer than it is to retain an old one, yet most businesses fall into the ‘more’ trap, failing to the see the pyramid scheme of available customers as the bottom falls away.

Walmart’s size and prices are responsible for people not walking away forever; they are the cable TV of groceries.

I sent out emails and tweets to Walmart and some of its tentacles, hoping to engage with someone high enough in the byzantine corporate structure to listen to me. They make it easy to ‘shout’ at them, but it is a miracle to find a connection who will respond with interest or in a timely manner. Our irritation is built into their cost of business. Walmart holds us mostly captive within its market share.

Before bed, I noticed that a social media friend had posted about this very topic, except the story she shared was one pushing us all to refuse to use the self-checkout whenever possible. It’s strange how small the world is. I hadn’t realized that so many people agreed with this sentiment. Some of their arguments are powerful and they are experimenting with several creative ways to force businesses like Walmart to take their concerns seriously. I’m curious about the details and can see that I’ll be doing a lot of further reading about it.

On this side of town, we have a Harp’s grocery, one which we wish were at the quality level of the Harp’s on Gutensohn but still has some endearing qualities. They don’t use self-checkout. We’ve had problems with this store too, but someone has always intervened and addressed them. They feel approachable. It’s their most marketable quality, even if they don’t use it appropriately in their marketing. We want to love it and we try. By the way, Harp’s bags your groceries and puts them in the cart. If you ask, they will always find someone to help you to your car and put the groceries in it for you.

Walmart says Harp’s has no self-checkout because they can’t afford to. The manager I spoke with told me this as if it had been repeated as truth. I know that to be untrue, though. Harp’s has a different focus on the customer and it’s a focus that might destabilize Walmart as it tries to compete with the likes of Amazon.

The manager also didn’t know how to address my point of Walmart needing cashiers to assist the disabled, especially those without a visible disability. How does an elderly or disabled person shop unless an employee is present to do their job? Walmart owes it to their customers to advertise the store so that those needing assistance will not go there.

I don’t need to wish any ill will on Walmart because from my point of view, it is its own worst enemy as the economy changes around it. Size creates deafness.

The fact that I stopped to talk to the manager helped diffuse Dawn’s frustration. I pity the fool, however, who ignores Dawn should she choose to give the Neighborhood Market another try.

P.S. I followed up on the twitter and emailed inquiries, but gave up after realizing that the people or bots I was dealing with had no interest in real communication. Anyone who knows me also knows that I enjoy this sort of tedious exchange, so it is a fact that the corporate side of customer interaction is built to protect the hierarchy rather than engage the customer.

P.P.S. For those who wonder, “What good does this sort of thing do?” I would respond by saying that you should imagine if I write this many words to get something out of my head, imagine what I do behind the scenes to get my point across. Saying nothing will guarantee that no one listens. It also tends to invalidate my right to expect change if I don’t ‘waste my time,’ even at ridiculous windmills like this one. I could be watching “The Bachelor,” instead.

Choward’s Violet Delights

 

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For those who want to dip their toes in the Tide Pod culinary waters, Choward’s Violet Mints are for you.

Most people agree that they have a strange soap flavor. It’s hard to believe that everyone isn’t clamoring for more violet-flavored candies in their diets. If ice cream were violet-flavored, most children would stop begging for it as the ice cream truck drives by. And probably hurl themselves under the nearest bed, just to be sure.

I ordered mine from Amazon, 3 packs of alien candies.

Strangely, I couldn’t resist sniffing the package, much like a German Shepherd trained to detect drugs at an airport.

I’m confident that most people would be repulsed by these, just like they might be if they bite into a boiled egg only to find that it has been filled with grape jelly and iguana blood.

These candies were once popular.

I speculate that they might be part of the reason that people once died so young.

I’m glad I tried them, though. I keep impulsively eating them, much like the compulsion to pick at a scab as it hardens.

I can’t decide if I actually like them, or if they somehow fulfill an unstated desire to punish myself for some unidentified crime.

I’m going to eat all 3 packs of mine, though. My breath will smell better than a fresh load of laundry, too.

Skinny Pasta Experience

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I received an email from Weight Watchers. I had long assumed that they were indeed “watching” me, probably in anticipatory amusement, so I wasn’t surprised. Since all emails are opportunities to earn money and learn important things about both finances and anatomy, I paid close attention when a heretofore unknown product called “skinny pasta” was mentioned. I had never seen the word “skinny” in such close proximity to my own name, at least not in the last 30 years.

Dawn ordered a box of 6 packages of it from Amazon. It’s a little pricey, but not terribly so. Compared to the bill for getting one’s arteries cleared of obstructions, it becomes very affordable.

We were both excited to try it, as the pasta itself basically has zero fat and almost no calories. The Amazon brand also was “no odor,” which leads me to believe that there must be some Konjac pasta which smells like blended skunk livers out there on the market. By the way, you should search for “Konjac,” if for no other reason than to get the idea of liquefied skunk livers far away from your mind.

This pasta was ridiculously easy to prepare and almost impossible to screw up, both qualities which scream my name. I made a healthy marinara sauce for it and offered a bowl to Dawn. I forgot to mention that a relatively small pouch of this pasta contains almost 40% of the daily recommended fiber, too. I suspect it would be ideal to feed to one’s unsavory inlaws, especially if any of them were about to embark on a transatlantic flight – or engage in a dance marathon. If anyone you know has recently bought a new leather couch, this product might also be ideal for him or her.

After a few bites, Dawn said, “This reminds me of eating worms. I stepped on a worm this morning and this is exactly like that.” She made a face so contorted and unnatural that I imagined I heard an ominous bell ring somewhere in the distance, one signaling the end of all that is good and holy in the world. I expected her to then make the sign of the cross and throw her fork across the room. If you are wondering, her face was frozen in horror for 5 days as a result of her taste buds deciding that she was eating worms instead of pasta made from an exotic plant. Please note that it wasn’t the flavor she objected to; rather, it was the strange and unfamiliar texture of the pasta noodles. It might as well have been a plate of human hair, in her opinion.

I, of course, found it to be exceedingly delicious, in part because with the right sauce and/or seasoning, even thin cardboard can be exotically tasty. Anyone who has ever eaten at Buffalo Wild Wings, KFC, or Taco Bell should have no problem eating worms. Legal disclaimer: I doubt any of these chains add worms to their ingredients; my point is that their food is comparable to a mouthful of partially-cooked and gelatinous worms, topped with dirt and dead pigeons. I made the point about cardboard because I’ve discovered that the cardboard packaging at most fast-food restaurants is just as flavorful as the contents.

With the votes tallied, our votes zeroed one another. I, however, love this stuff. The texture is exotic. It reminds me a little bit of spongy surgical sutures as it rolls around in my mouth.

Given that we now live in a society which allows an archaic electoral college to override the majority or the will of the people, it is my pleasure to announce that my ecstatic and overwhelmingly positive review of this product declares that Skinny Pasta is delicious.

I recommend that everyone should try it once and decide if they agree that it is well worth the effort. It won’t make you run 3 miles a day, but in combination with a better diet, you will no longer need to.

P.S. If you order this, don’t eat the packaging. If you’re married, don’t attempt to use my logic at home. If you own Buffalo Wild Wings, KFC, or Taco Bell, please don’t add any flavorings to the food packaging – it’s already delicious and high in fiber.

 

Grilled Fingers

Before going to my favorite cabin last weekend, I acquired both a gas grill basket and glove. I’ve mocked both of these tools in the past. I’ve watched as grown men oohed and ahhed over the accessories for cooking – and laughed. While I prefer charcoal to gas, the world has conspired against me, especially in my neighborhood, as the pyros continue to hold their impromptu “Burn The Village” competition at least twice a year. You’ll know when there has been another round because invariably some fool has burned a black outline around several surrounding houses. I have an inexpensive charcoal grill at home and keep hoping that it will be stolen.

Grilling corn on the cob is incredibly better when I don’t burn my fingers like they are roman candles on the 4th of July. I love the taste of burned food and always have but my wife complains when I burn myself and it smells like someone’s arm has been held over a stove until the hair melts.

I’m a terrible cook and have learned most of my tricks by doing everything wrong, repeatedly. Think “Groundhog Day,” the movie, except in the kitchen, and starring Joe Pesci instead of Bill Murray.

I finally used the grill basket and found it to be a great tool. The problem in my case is that I somehow forgot how to use the clasp to hold the top part of the basket in place, mostly to avoid slinging all the expensive and delicious food to be grilled down into the gulley below the cabin. Good for the critters and bad for me.

I told Dawn, “I know this is stupidly easy, but I can’t figure it out!” I studied the handle of the basket like it contained the recipe for free beer. I almost opted to cook like a savage, over an open flame. I simply couldn’t figure it out, so I improvised and used the grill and oven glove each time I flipped the basket, which also was astonishingly great to use. I knew I was going to later laugh at my inability to use simple gadgets.

When we came home, Dawn pulled the grill basket from the supply box and said, “Look, it goes on like this.” She then easily moved the wooden portion of the handle down and away from the clasp, thus immediately being able to lock the basket closed in either direction. The light bulb went off above my head as the flash of obvious and “Duh!!” struck me in the face.

I would take a picture of the grill basket in question, but I’m not sure my reputation would survive the incredulity of anyone seeing it. It is the equivalent of the warning on the bottom of a Coke bottle which reads, “Open other end.”

In my defense, I thought it was odd that a basket constructed of hardened metal would have a wooden handle insert. It literally never crossed my mind that the insert could be moved.

I think I’m going to send my picture to the grill basket company, to let them know that their engineers obviously can’t make everything foolproof. They can use my photo to identify their new target audience and user, the fool they didn’t plan for.

P.S. I am credited with the warning on all grills manufactured in the U.S. which reads, “Heated surfaces may be hot.”

You’re welcome.