Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, August 29, 2016

THE LONESOME DEATH OF WILLY WONKA


Gene Wilder, né Jerome Silberman (1933-2016). Barukh Dayan Emet.

Poor Wonka’s dead
Poor Willy Wonka’s dead
All gather round his coffin now and cry
He had tickets made of gold
And he wasn’t all that old
Oh, why did such a feller have to die?

Poor Wonka’s dead
Poor Willy Wonka’s dead
About to face the awesome, mighty Judge (mighty Judge)
Like a choc’late - in a box
He will sleep ’midst dirt and rocks
But in Heaven he can eat his fill of fudge.

(Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein)

Another thread of our pop culture tapestry has come unravelled: Variety reports that actor Gene Wilder passed away today at the age of 83 from complications related to Alzhemer’s disease.

Wilder was a comic genius, with movies such as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Stir Crazy to his credit. What stands out in three of these four films is that Wilder is more of a co-star than star, with Zero Mostel, Cleavon Little, and Richard Pryor seemingly taking up most of the screen time... yet without Wilder, those films would have fallen flat. In the fourth - the outstanding Young Frankenstein - Wilder is truly the star, burning with manic energy.

For me - and I suspect, many of my Esteemed Readers as well - Gene Wilder’s defining role was that of Willy Wonka, the mysterious, eponymous candy-producing entrepreneur of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Mischievous, impish, sweet, and at times sadistic and even scary, Wilder’s version of Wonka defined the role so thoroughly that even the talents of Johnny Depp couldn’t make a dent in it. I still get a lump in my throat at the end of that movie, despite having seen it at least a dozen times.

Perhaps in the next world he will be reunited with one-time wife Gilda Radner, whom he loved deeply. Together, they could make the firmament ring with laughter. But here on Earth, we must shed our tears.

Ave atque vale, Gene! You will be missed.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

R.I.P. FRED


Fred. Requiescat in pace.

I was saddened to hear that Fred, one of the resident kitties at Eric’s fabled Compound, has gone on to his forever home on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.

We’ve known Fred for ten years, during which time he has quietly terrorized the local Small Animals and Birds and kept us entertained at Eric’s annual bloggy birthday bashes. We’ve watched him sun himself on the back porch, cuddle with us in the Garage and Billiard Room, and act companionable with fellow kitties Ginger and, later, Bob.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to our feline friends. They stay with us long enough for us to love them, short enough to break our hearts when they take their inevitable leave.

Ave atque vale, Fred! May you find good hunting on the other side of the Bridge. Perhaps you will meet Ginger, Hakuna, Matata, Neighbor, and Bernadette there, and you can entertain them with fanciful stories... punctuated, no doubt, with plenty of ellipses.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

ON THE HALF-SOUR PICKLE AS A SOURCE OF CREATIVE INSPIRATION


Half-sour pickles. Image: Pickle Licious.

Today I was breakfasting at the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium (as is my occasional practice) with Dee and the Mistress of Sarcasm (a less occasional practice, but much more delightful).

As the servitor took our order, I asked her, “Does that come with a pickle?” She assured me that it did, and I asked her, in turn, to deliver unto me a nice, crisp, bright green half-sour pickle.

For I am a fan of the half-sour pickle. If you are fortunate, you may live in an area where this style of pickle is available - sometimes in jars, sometimes in vats, always refrigerated. The ideal half-sour pickle is bright green, with a pronounced crunch. As half-sours age, their green becomes dull as they soften into the garlicky kosher sour pickles many folks love. But I likes ’em young and crisp.

But this post was not intended to be a disquisition on the half-sour pickle. It’s more an observation on my twisted mind...

...because no sooner had the servitor walked away than I suddenly had an image in my head, a picture of Ebenezer Scrooge from the conclusion of A Christmas Carol, the scene where our repentant and newly Christmas-observant protagonist looks out the window and, seeing a boy on the street below, promptly sends him on an errand to procure an enormous prize-winning turkey, the which to send to miserable, humble Bob Cratchit as an unexpected Christmas gift. Only in my head, it was no turkey. It was an enormous half-sour pickle.

I related this vision to Dee and my daughter, who - almost simultaneously - began to hum the familiar strains to “Entrance of the Gladiators,” a bit of music that you may know as “that dopey circus music you usually hear played on a steam calliope when the clowns rush in.”

Yeah, I know. I’m more than just a little nutty sometimes. (OK, most times.) The Mistress said it best several months ago. During an earlier visit this year, as the three of us were taking a lengthy walk along one of the thoroughfares near the neighborhood, I asked Dee to pose in front of the T-Mobile store.

“Why do you want a picture of me in front of the T-Mobile store?” she asked... a perfectly reasonable question.

“Because I want to caption it “La Donna è T-Mobile.”

Of course Dee refused, but when the Mistress overheard this little exchange, her comment was, “What’s it like in there?” She was referring, of course, to my noggin.

Well, now we know what it looks like in there... but it’s still a bit hard to explain what’s going on in there.

As for that Christmas Carol story - the very thought of which so bemused my wife and daughter - I am happy to present it below. I call it...

A Shabbes Carol

“What’s to-day?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in school clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“To-day?” replied the boy. “Why, Friday.”

“It’s Friday - Erev Shabbes!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Dybbuks have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”

“Hallo!” returned the boy.

“Do you know the Delicatessen, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the huge half-sour pickle that was in the barrel there - Not those little dill pickles: the big crisp green half-sour?”

“What, the one as big as a certain part of Ron Jeremy?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck.”

“It’s floating there now,” replied the boy.

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”

“Gevalt!” exclaimed the boy.

“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell them to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with that great green warty bastard, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with it in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown.”

The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.

“I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s!” whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. “He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim...”

Monday, August 22, 2016

A PECUNIARY NIGHTMARE

Nowadays, as chip cards become more commonplace, we find ourselves having to shove our money cards into the readers rather than performing the more familiar swiping of the magnetic strip. To help keep things straight, I propose the two alternatives be labeled “stick it” (for the chip cards) or “flick it” for non-chip-enabled cards and/or readers. Stick it or flick it!

And because I am a helpful soul, I have composed this catchy little piece of doggerel to help you remember... 

In stores, when you pay with your Credit Card,
How do you do it? It’s not too hard –
If you have a chip, then you must stick it
If you don’t have a chip, then you must flick it
Stick it or flick it – the choice ain’t hard
That’s how you handle your Credit Card!

CHORUS
Stick it or flick it – the choice ain’t hard
That’s how you handle your Credit Card!

[Apologies to Isaac Bromley, Noah Brooks, W. C. Wyckoff, Moses W. Handy, and (more familiarly) Mark Twain (“A Literary Nightmare,” q.v.), and the Punch Brothers.]

YOGI BARE-CHINMOY: A 100-WORD MEDITATION

Practitioners of yoga are familiar with shavasana, also known as the corpse pose. It is a posture that involves 20-30 minutes of relaxation in supine position, arms splayed at a 45° angle.

Guru Yogi Bare-Chinmoy takes it one step further with his unique burmashavasana, a pose in which the practitioner lies supine and gets a nice smooth shave while releasing all muscular tension. His school has become extremely popular in part due to word-of-mouth publicity, but also because of his unique advertisements posted on local highways:

The Downward Dog
Is one cool move
But yogis like
Their faces smooth
Burma-Shavasana

[inspired by a comment on Facebook]

ANOTHER McSWEENEY’S REJECTION, ALAS

Just because McSweeney’s didn’t go for it doesn’t mean I can’t make you suffer, Esteemed Readers. And thus, herewith I present my latest Lists Column rejection...

WORDS THAT GO TOGETHER WELL, IN APPROXIMATE SERIATIM RANKING.

1. Horse. Feathers.
2. Cannon. Ball.
3. Peanut. Butter.
4. Buffalo. Wings.
5. Bubble. Bath.
6. Ma. Michelle.
7. Bung. Hole.
8. Scary. Clown.
9. Elmer. Fudd.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

THE SCHOLARLY SWINE: A 100-WORD ABSTRACT


[Photo courtesy of Jerry Wiley.]

Back when I was a student at a certain university in central New Jersey, one of my colleagues in the Chemical Engineering department kept a pet pig.

We had known that pigs had a reputation for being smart beasts, but this one was exceptional. His owner Neil taught him to use a specially modified keyboard, and after only one semester he was actually able to ace problem sets in thermo and quantum mechanics. I thought it was funny… until the damned pig got better grades in high-energy physics than me. Asshole.

What did we call him? Neil’s Boar, of course.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

DAY OF MOURNING

Happy Tisha b’Av!
A completely inappropriate holiday greeting. [Of course this is not a real sign - it was made with the help of the infamous Church Sign Generator.]

O day of mourning, Tisha b’Av
It’s not a holiday we love

For nine days we’ve refrained from meat
Today, no leather on our feet
We do not drink; we do not eat
(A beefsteak would be indiscreet)

O day of mourning, Tisha b’Av
It’s not a holiday we love

We think of death and of the grave
We do not wash ourselves or shave
If one is a religious Jew
One will not try to cop a screw

We sit upon the floor at night
Chant elegies by candlelight
Recalling tragedies of yore
(That’s why we’re sitting on the floor)

A grunt or nod, but no “Good Day”
When next we trudge to shul to pray
That mankind’s hatred disappear
(A prayer that falls upon deaf ear)

O day of mourning, Tisha b’Av
It’s not a holiday we love

[Reposted from Tisha b’Av 2014. This most solemn day of Jewish observance marks the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It begins at sundown August 13 and is marked by the reading of the Book of Lamentations and with a 25-hour fast.] 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

BINGO NIGHT

Be pleasant to the Elderly
And do not call them names,
Like “Silverback,“ or “Stinky Pee,”
Or, likewise, “Grandpa James,”
Or “Toothless Grin,” or “Q-Tip Dude,”
Or, “Old Replacèd Knees”:
The Elderly are sensitive to epithets like these.

There’s nobody will more repay
A treatment kind and fair:
At least, so lonely people say
Who know Old Folks, and, by the way
They are extremely rare.

[apologies to Hilaire Belloc]

Yesterday evening Dee and I repaired to one of the local Independent Living places to help one of our friends run the Monday Evening Bingo game.

“Friend” is really too mild a word for Chelo, who is the mother of a dear friend of ours. She’s more like an adoptive Mom, for which reason we call her “Mamacita.” A sweeter lady is hard to find, and her disposition, general attitude, and earthy sense of humor are not necessarily what you’d expect from someone who has made Piano Keys.

Going to the Independent Living environment is entertaining in and of itself. This is a self-contained place with nowhere near the immensity and geographical footprint of, say, The Villages, but it is nevertheless possible to venture a few social observations. For example: There are two types of people that predominate in any large gathering of Senior Citizens - the sweet and the cranky. It tends, always, toward a bimodal distribution with nobody in between. You’re either one or the other.

Another observation: People retain their ability to surprise. Octogenarians - like the lady with whom we shared our dinner table - will do things like jump out of airplanes. Nonagenarians will kick your ass at Scrabble.

Bingo never fails to please. The last time Dee and I helped run a Bingo game was over twenty-five years ago at our synagogue in Connecticut, where people took the game extremely seriously. I’m talking about people who would come decked out with an array of stamps, lucky tokens, statuettes, you name it. This place was sedate by comparison.

We would pull the numbers out of an air-stirred tank of ping-pong balls and Chelo would announce them, one by one, until someone hit their BINGO! Then we would check off the card and pay the winner(s). Not exactly World Series of Poker-levels of suspense, but it was a room full of people enjoying the evening together... and we were glad to be a part of it.

And especially with Chelo... our Mamacita, mi quérida.

OASIS: A 100-WORD STORY



Abdullah was parched.

Hardly surprising, that. The endless dunes of the Hizaj were among the most arid places on Earth. Careful rationing had stretched Abdullah’s thin supplies... but his camels were a considerable additional water burden.

“In the name of Allah, most merciful!” he intoned thankfully when he saw the oasis in the far distance. But his joy turned to horror on arriving: Not one drop of water was to be found there.

“We got Coke, Dr Pepper, Seven-Up, Cheerwine, Moxie, and Doctor Brown’s Celray Tonic!” advised the counterman.

“What hellish place is this?” croaked Abdullah.

“Welcome to Sody Arabia.”

Saturday, August 6, 2016

NIETZSCHE? PEACHY

A bit of sage philosophy
That, like as not, is true:
When you stare into the dark abyss
It stares right back at you

And if you piss in that abyss
You'd better watch out, Mac
’Cause sure as death and taxes
It’ll piss on you right back

S’CHUG, or
PUTTING THE “SHOCK” IN SHAKSHUKA

Many of my Esteemed Readers will be unfamiliar with shakshuka, a Middle Eastern egg dish that is nevertheless growing in popularity here in the States. It’s a staple in Israel, where it has become a ubiquitous offering at hotel breakfasts (because eggs!) as well as a beloved evening meal.

Relatively easy to make, shakshuka consists simply of eggs poached in a simmering sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onion. There are variations aplenty, depending on what else you might throw into the pan: cheese, beans, you name it. The dish is usually served right out of the deep skillet in which it is prepared.

My experience with shakshuka is mostly limited to the visit we made to Israel four years ago... and that’s strange, because it’s really damned tasty. I may have to whip up a batch at home...

...especially because I just made a pile of the perfect condiment to accompany it: s’chug.

WTF is s’chug? you ask. Variously spelled סחוג, schüg, skhug, shoug, or zhug, it’s a Yemenite concoction of chili peppers, parsley, cilantro, garlic, and spices that goes really well with shakshuka and other Middle Eastern goodies like hummus. You can find it in some Middle Eastern groceries - Sabra (the hummus guys) make a really good one that is available in both both red and green versions. Think of it as the Yemenite version of Morocco’s harissa.

I’ve had a little trouble sourcing my s’chug lately, since the nearby Persian grocery that used to stock it no longer carries it. But that’s no problem, since it’s easy and economical to make my own... especially since one of the Minyan Ladies gifted me with a whole sackful of fresh home-grown jalapeños from her garden. (Fresno or Serrano peppers would also work just fine.)


Homemade s’chug: the perfect way to use a whole lotta jalapeños. This stuff will grow hair on your chest... and possibly your tongue.

Here’s the recipe I used - it’s from Michael Solomonov’s brilliant cookbook Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.

20 Serrano (or Fresno or jalapeño) peppers, stems removed
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
Juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
1 cup vegetable oil (I used about half that amount)

Take the peppers, parsley, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, coriander, and cardamom and pulse in a food processor until you get a coarse paste. Scrape into a bowl and drizzle in the oil. Keeps for up to one month tightly sealed and refrigerated.

[Another recipe - from Saveur magazine - is here. ]

Is this stuff piquant?

Aw, hells, yes. It’s ridiculously spicy, and yet it doesn’t overwhelm. Packed with flavor, s’chug will put the shock in your shakshuka.

I’m going to try it out with an omelet. Pray for me, dear readers... and for my kishkes.

Postscriptum: Hot as a bastard, but delicious with that omelet. Next up: hummus!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

ROAD GAMES


Rhymes with Orange, July 24, 2016. ©2016 King Features Syndicate.

The above cartoon by Hilary B. Price reminded me of the numerous times Dee and I - and the girls, back when we were younger - would play the License Plate Game whenever we went on long road trips.

It’s pretty simple, really. All you do is keep track of the various license plates you see during your journey. The only rule is that the vehicle must be a passenger vehicle: plates spotted on trucks are not eligible. Once you complete your trip, you can start all over again. My only gripe? Getting that Hawaii plate is a solid-gold bitch.

There are other Vehicular Amusements too. Another favorite is the Alphabet Game, which is nothing more than spotting signs that contain words beginning with the letters of the alphabet - in sequence. Once you get to the end of the alphabet, you simply start over.

The rules are uncomplicated for this game, too. Signs cannot be affixed to a vehicle, and the words cannot be acronyms or abbreviations. Good eyesight is a sine qua non for playing this game well.

Just as Hawaii license plates are thin on the ground here in the continental United States, so are signs bearing words beginning with the letter “X.” When we lived in Connecticut, we could always rely on a prominent sign in Bridgeport that identified one of the Xerox Corporation’s major outposts, but most places, you’re pretty much out of luck finding that X. You therefore must be willing to put up with a modest degree of frustration when you are a serious Alphabet Game player.

Another Roady Amusement is Green Room, a game that has the distinct disadvantage that it can only be played when there are people present who have never played Green Room before. This is because the sole point is to figure out how to get into the Green Room: Once you do, the game is over - for you, anyway. And despite its not being complicated, even adults can take a maddeningly long time to get it, depending on how their brains are wired. (You want to know how to play? Drop me a comment or an e-mail and I’ll give you a few clues.)

What dopey Road Games do you like? And do you still play ’em? We do!

Monday, August 1, 2016

A FAMILY HEIRLOOM GETS A NEW LIFE

Once upon a time, Dee had a widowed grandmother who lived in a modest little house in Foat Wuth, Texas. It was a house built by the work of her hands, paid for with the income from her lifelong work as a seamstress. What it may have lacked in size it made up for in years of family memories.

Nanny lived in that house until a dramatic decline in her health around Thanksgiving of 1987, when she was rendered insensate by the double whammy of a simultaneous heart attack and stroke. We wouldn’t have given odds on her surviving the week, but Nanny was a tough old bird who managed to hang on for over four years, even outliving my own mother.

Among the furnishings she left behind was a 1946 Chambers B-Model gas stove. We arranged to have it shipped to our home in Houston, and eventually it found its way to Atlanta with us, where it has resided ingloriously in our basement for the past eighteen years.

A few days ago, Dee had a decorating brainstorm. We had just converted our sunroom into a casual dining room, and there was an empty space near the eastern windows that cried out to be filled. What about the old Chambers stove? she suggested.

Her idea put me in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, the old stove would be perfect for the place she had in mind for it, and with a little elbow grease and cleanser it would look good as (almost) new. Not bad for a seventy-year-old appliance. But on the other hand, I knew that it would be a serious job of work to schlep that massive stove up from the basement. We were talking about a massive chunk of cast iron and porcelain weighing something on the order of four hundred pounds.

And we did it.

Aside from Dee, credit goes to Gym Jim, my personal trainer, and to Home Depot - the former for extra muscles to supplement mine, the latter for the strap dolly we used to horse the damned thing up our front steps. (We dodged the need to go up the basement stairs by rolling it outside at ground level, across the side yard and out to the street.)

Once we got that big boy settled in its spot, we had to partially dismantle it to replace the old wiring for the lamps on either side of the backsplash: The old wiring’s insulation had literally crumbled with age. As soon as the everything was reassembled and new bulbs installed, we plugged it in. Success!


The Family Heirloom: a 1946 Chambers B-Model gas stove. The canisters were handed down from Dee’s great-grandmother and sat atop that selfsame stove back when it belonged to her Nanny.

No, we have no plans to hook this baby up to the gas supply. But it would be a formidable appliance were we to do so. It has three surface burners plus a deep well burner for slow-cooking soups, sauces, and stews; it also has a built-in griddle. And man, is it solid. They really don’t make household appliances this substantial any more.

I’m not entirely sure that this was a coincidence, but the day after we put the Chambers stove in its new upstairs home was the forty-first Yahrzeit of Dee’s sister. After remembering Polly at morning Minyan, we and a group of good friends came back to our house for a special breakfast - a breakfast in the presence of Nanny’s old stove. Polly had known that stove well - it was the source of so many of Nanny’s family dinners all those decades ago. I like to think that she was looking down upon us from her residence in the World to Come and getting a little bit of nostalgic joy from seeing it again - a Family Heirloom sculpted in cast iron and porcelain.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

CLAPPTRAPP

D’oh - a word that Homer says
Ray - a blind musician guy
Me - A T and you’ve got meat
Fa - some European soap
So - another word for “thus”
La - a part of “tra-la-la”
Tee - a little wooden peg
That will bring us back to D’oh...

[apologies, albeit insincere, to Rodgers and Hammerstein]

Monday, July 25, 2016

A PEEK UNDER THE HOOD

A few weeks ago, I made note of my having had my head examined - specifically, an MRI imaging of the Elissonian Noggin, in order to uncover the source of certain mysterious, ahh, discomfort that I call The Bear. (Discomfort being a nice way of describing the sensation of suddenly having a hot ice pick shoved into your jaw.)

Well, there’s always a Good News/Bad News aspect of this sort of Voyage of Discovery. The good news is that my problem is not structural - no weird malformations, no tumors, nothing that isn’t where it’s supposed to be. The bad news is, it’s almost certainly a condition that I will have to live with, since it’s One Of Those Things That Never Fucking Goes Away Permanently. But there is more good news, and that is that there are medications to treat it that usually work. Hooray for me!

Looking at your Skull-Innards, though... that’s an experience that encapsulates both good news and bad news all within itself. On the one hand, it’s nice to know that there actually is a brain stuffed into my often seemingly empty noggin: I always envision the neurologist shining a penlight into one ear and having the beam pass right through to the other. On the other hand, there’s something weirdly recursive about looking at your own Thinky-Meat. It’s like seeing your True Essence in a mirror, a view most of us are not quite prepared for.

An MRI, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is an imaging technology that allows you to look at thin sections of your body without the inconvenience and discomfort of strapping you to a deli meat slicer. As we looked at the computer screen in the neurologist’s office - look, there’s the base of your spinal cord! - there’s your cerebellum! - I wondered whether I had lived down South long enough to have grown an antebellum. And I was pleased to hear the doctor say, “Your brain looks really good for someone your age.” That is, of course, a left-handed compliment, yet I was happy to hear it despite thinking, “It may look good, but it works like a chunk of Emmenthal’s finest.” Her comment reminded me of an old cartoon I had seen years ago, from the Princeton Tiger, our campus humor magazine:

So for those who can stand to look, I present below the Brainpan d’Elisson for your delectation... a peek under the hood, if you will.

Why, it’s either Elisson’s brain or a Rorschach ink-blot card!
The resemblance between this image and a slice of headcheese is more than just a little disconcerting, innit?

Friday, July 8, 2016

THE ENEMY


Pogo. ©1971 Walt Kelly.

This strip was Walt Kelly’s famous salute to Earth Day on its first anniversary. It seems to be more appropriate than ever in these fractious times.

Monday, July 4, 2016

BARREL O’ CRACKERS

I speak, of course, of Cracker Barrel Restaurant, a chain that has grown into a roadside standby from its humble origins in Lebanon, Tennessee back in 1969. There are over six hundred of them now, scattered across forty-two states; but in our little corner of the world they are especially thick on the ground.

I always call it “Crapper Barrel.” Or sometimes “Cracker Beebish,” for no discernible reason except to amuse myself. Fact is, we will inevitably stop there at least once on any given Road Trip... for while we never eat at any of its numerous local outlets, we find it to be a pleasant enough alternative to the typical roadside fast-food selections. 

Several weeks ago, as we worked our way northward to visit the Mistress of Sarcasm in her new digs, we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel near Roanoke, Virginia. 

A quick inspection of the dining room revealed why “Cracker Barrel” is such a well selected name for the place: The clientele could very well be described as a Barrel o’ Crackers. Elderly white folks were thick on the ground... many of them thick in the middle as well. It put me in mind of a cafeteria dining room at The Villages, packed with hungry Q-Tips.

As with all CB’s the walls were festooned with miscellaneous memorabilia. Old Timey Shit. Cracked, stained photographs of people long dead, washboards, superannuated advertising posters shilling for defunct products. I had a passing vision of the Cracker Barrel of the Future, decorated with old X-Boxes, iPad cases, framed photos of Steve Jobs and Bono, and microwave oven doors. Hello Kitty could even make an appearance, right alongside Darth Vader. 

With difficulty, I resisted the temptation to play with the dopey Golf Tee game while we waited for our luncheon selection to arrive. You know the one I’m talking about: you start out with fourteen golf tees arranged in a triangular pattern in a block with fifteen holes. By jumping one tee over the other (it must have an empty hole to land in) and removing the tee you jumped over, the skilled player (“Sweet Genius”) can finish with but a single tee remaining. I usually end up with a forest of tees still standing, which puts me somewhere between “Shit-for-Brains” and “Spent Too Much Time Chewing on the Stupid Loaf.”


Chicken fried chicken, a somewhat redundantly named menu offering.

Our entrées arrived, and I salted mine with a flourish. Mmmmm... chicken livers, dipped in batter and fried until they are the consistency of bluestone gravel. Dee, meanwhile, had ordered the pepper trout - always a good choice - and she munched merrily away.

On the way out, we ignored the massive display of knick-knacks and Semi-Obsolete Confections as I paid. The tariff was reasonable as usual, a little north of what you’d pay at a fast-food outlet but not excessive given the table service. Appetites comfortably sated, we eased ourselves into the car to continue our trek.