Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Kabobs of Death; Alien Food on the Frontier
Today, I drove down past the lower ninth ward with my friend, Willow. We were on a mission to get supplies for the renovations at Skull Club, and the Lowes & Home Despot in Chalmette have it all, being recently built & stocked. The people working there are also nicer than in urban New Orleans, and there's little traffic hold up. In fact, in many places along the way, there's very little at all. Rebuilding St Bernard Parish is an ongoing task that would make Hercules sweat bullets... But I digress... One of the things that seems to happen when one is totally absorbed in a project, is the forgetting of the day to day things of life that keep us going strong, like making (shopping for) groceries. I hadn't done it in days, and the slowly blackening pair of limes were obviously tired of standing guard over the empty mayonnaise jar that shared my refrigerator with them. Still, I soldiered on. As we headed for The Parish, I became aware that last night's tortilla and side salad were not going to hold out for long. And this was certainly not the time to divert to make a grocery run. Hunger began to gnaw mercilessly, and we weren't even to the store yet. I'm not a fan of fast food, largely because it's not really food, but an experiment in how bad something can be for you, taste barely edible and still make you want it. In the past, having managed to put myself in this same predicament, I'd stopped at the Brothers Gas Station on Elysian Fields & Claiborne (for gas, mind you) and found an absolutely delicious empanada stuffed with chorizo & scrambled eggs, nearly as tasty as real street food found in the Caribbean and Northern Mexico. Another friend, Dan the Man (of NOOMOON fame) swears that the Brothers Station at Elysian Fields & the 610 has the best fried chicken in town. So. As we pass through Arabi, headed down St Claude Highway, I see a Brothers Gas Station and scoot right in. The smell of hot peanut oil awaits. I went inside, hoping that my lovely empanadas were in there, too. And they were. But these were the deformed and angry cousins of my delicious treats, sagging with yellowed oil and smelling greasy from out here, on the other side of the glass. No fucking way. Then, on the menu behind the 'sneeze guard' glass, I see: "Kabobs - $1.99". Now, having spent a reasonable amount of time in the Third World, I'm a big fan of indigenous meat on a stick. You can also see them cook your food at street carts, where as in any restaurant, you're clueless 'til it's in you. And I've done way too much restaurant work to trust such flimsy truths. The Kabob it is then. It gets boxed and bagged and handed over to me, exactly as I hand over the 2 bucks & change. For some reason, certain cultures insist on touching the money before they release the food, like I'm going to jump in my super villain helicopter and escape James Bond by flying it under water all in the name of stealing a fucking kabob. I guess I could have, but the under water chopper is still in the shop until they figure out the warranty on the photon torpedo launcher. Okay. Fine. Outside, I get in the truck and my stomach growls. Like a hooker who can smell money, it wants what it wants and it wants it NOW. So I open the box and there it is. A roll of fried dough that would gag Elvis, looking like a cross between a baby's arm and a corn dog from hell. To my limited knowledge, a Kabob is meat and maybe some veggies on a stick. This huge coating of breaded godlessness was a surprise to me. And that's the most positive description I can offer. Great. Whatever the fuck it was, it was also now mine. Money had been touched and boxes handed off. Sometimes, there's just no going back. "Fuck it" says Mister Stomach. Paul Neuman's character in 'Hud' was made fun of by the white folks because he said he ate dog. Until they were starving and begged him for some... So I closed my eyes and figured, "How bad can it be, they're still open." You have no idea. Until now.... The first thing I noticed was a sharp pain in the back of the roof of my mouth, and something hard clacking between my teeth. Pulling 'the thing' out of my mouth, it's innards were revealed. It was, indeed a kabob. Of sorts. It certainly was meat on a stick. Two sticks, in fact. They were shoved through the meat side by side, so that a sharp point poked out either end, as though a thorough trapper wanted to make sure his kill would not easily escape. One of these had scraped against the back of my mouth as I gingerly took a bite of this strange and deadly object. They had both been there, through the middle of this beast, when I bit down, making my teeth jar against the wooden sticks. I wondered if some demented cook had laughed aloud during the impaling. As I looked into the maw of this strange device, I saw layers of filling on the sticks. Chunks of cheap smoked sausage alternated with little rolled up pieces of some sort of fabricated lunch meat, creating a textural & taste cornucopia of disgust. It began to seep. I like to think of myself as a guy who's been around a bit, not squeamish or faint hearted, able to do what it takes to get through whatever must be got through. What Carlos Castaneda would call a 'Warrior'. Still, this seeping roll of thick, fried dough, complete with Pun-gee Sticks of Death called for more than rising to an occasion. It called out a challenge like a duel, a fight to the death, a final curtain for somebody. And it wasn't going to be me. Rolling my eyes up into my head, I drew upon every mind and body control teaching I had ever learned. It also kept me from looking at the damned thing. I yanked out it's sticks like I was ripping bones from a mortal enemy, and stuffed one end of the seeping log of doom in to my mouth, biting down quickly, as if my reflexes expected it to try to squirm away. As I chewed and snorted my way towards the other end, I noticed that Willow had turned away, looking out the window, like he was dreaming of escape by jumping from the car as I rolled along, hideous demon in my mouth, strange orange fluid on my chin and the wheel held by my trembling knees. Somehow, I got it down. I may have blacked out. Willow isn't talking and I can't remember. I know we'll never speak of it again. Ever. I know, I know, I should have gone back, complained, whatever. But what good would it do, except to perhaps teach me where, exactly THEY GET THAT MEAT. And I have no interest in winding up in some miniature Vlad Kabob Experiment, out there in the Parish. Out there where no one can hear you scream. All they hear is the growl of your stomach, and they plaster on a nearly human smile, easy to mistake for the pleasure of service and sharing of interesting cuisine. Don't be fooled, my friends. Even the Jackal seems to smile as it eats it's still living prey. And somewhere, deep in the Ninth, strange creatures scream into the night, not as they are being impaled for these hideous creations. Oh, no. They scream as they find out they must eat one. So you've been warned. And I won't warn you again. Because even as I write this, I can feel it's twisting, turning, nauseating presence as it grows inside me. Perhaps it is, right this very minute, hatching it's young.