I just devoured the best bowl of cheese grits and fried eggs that you could possibly hope to shake an ever-lovin' stick at, as they might say in certain parts of Tennessee. My little, scheming dog looked at me with that “I-would-like-some-peanut-butter-as-long-as-you-are-up-there-in-that-cabinet” look as I messed about with preparing the grits in question, and I realized that indeed, while not everyone loves grits, it is almost assuredly the case that everyone loves peanut butter. OK, maybe not everyone, but it is awfully well received. I have taken it everywhere with me – please reference my short tale about getting sick in the Paris Metro. Anyhow, it is well-loved, at least in these United States, and I think I am going to go and share a little dab of peanut butter with my far-too-intelligent Australian Shepherd who is looking at me right now, successfully employing the Shepherd version of the Jedi Mind Trick on me. “You don't want to sit and type.” I don't want to sit and type. “You want to give me some peanut butter.” I want to give you some peanut butter. Damn.
Mike Stencil pulled his rusty Datsun up to the concrete parking bumper. THE concrete parking bumper – it was the only one in the lot, it appeared, and he decided to use it. The diner sitting in front of him was mostly glass and metal, it appeared, standing very starkly against the kudzu-covered trees and the kudzu-covered out-buildings of what had once been a kudzu-covered farm. He half expected to see some kudzu-covered people walk out of the diner, but it didn't happen. Tennessee is full of surprises. Mike walked inside and sat down in a booth.
“Y'all cain't be here if'n it gits bizzy,” said the waitress with the neon-radiant lipstick and chewing gum.
“No fleck of shiny spittle in the corner of this bird's mouth, thank God,” thought Mike. The words that actually came out were “I beg your pardon?”
If it gits real bizzy you cain't be a single n' sit here. You'd gotta' go to the caiounter.” (that last word is an approximation of the waitress' pronunciation of 'counter', for those who have not traveled south of the Mason-Dixon line. Go figure.)
“I would just like an order of something to go, please,” said Mike, “maybe some chicken? You have chicken?”
“'Course we got chicken. Whadday'all want?” The waitress looked as though she was getting impatient.
“Just some chicken. Maybe like a half-of-a-chicken...is there a special deal or something for chicken like that? Maybe with some fries and...or..and a, a Coke? Or do you have something...some chicken... like that?”
“Shore.” The waitress eyed Mike suspiciously as she scribbled on her pad and walked back to the kitchen. He heard her shout something that sounded like chicken to the cook. The rest of it could have been a foreign language.
“This reminds me of Korea,” thought Mike. He slumped down in the booth, picked up the newspaper that was scattered on the table, and absentmindedly made his way through the stories of local interest. The story of the recent catfish-eating contest caught his eye. He didn't think there would be that many people in one place who actually liked catfish. Back home it was considered a “garbage fish,” and only certain people ate it – the people that the elderly Polish men would laugh about in their worst moments.
After the appointed chicken-frying time had passed, the waitress returned with a a sweaty paper cup and a large, white paper bag decorated with fresh grease spots. Mike tucked the newspaper under his arm, paid up and gathered his car keys and a handful of paper napkins. As he turned to head back to his car he thought a second time and tossed the folded newspaper back onto the table. As he headed out the door the paper flopped open to the bottom of the inside page, to a story Mike had not yet read before his order came.
“Repeated Health Violations Close Local Livestock Producer.”
Just as well. It might have caused Mike to re-think that chicken. And explaining that to the waitress might have been more than Mike could have faced before lunch.