Known For Our Pork!

Diatribe by Mort Poisson

Goddamn it, I was hungry. Your humble gourmand-without-end-amen had been fasting since 9 pm the previous evening in preparation for a poking,prodding, probing and puncturing at the doctor's office at 8:15 in the morning. Not even a cocktail could pass my lips for fear of tainting my precious bodily fluids. No, dear reader, the clinic visit was not at all a reaction to any physical malady I, Poisson, had been experiencing, just one of those regularly scheduled check ups that become more frequent with advancing age. I swear, the glee with which medical professionals greet the anticipation of the body's decay is positively perverse. For the life of me I cannot understand the joyful vigor with which some people sort through the blood and pee (or jab fingers up the bunghole) of another human. Perhaps visions of Medicare fraud are dancing through these sadists' heads. In any event, let me assure you, worried reader, your beloved Poisson is not suffering from gout, irritable bowel, enlarged liver, or clap. In fact, it has been decades since I've dealt with a pus-filled pecker.

After the ordeal, I was left weak and muddle headed from starvation, lack of caffeine (one of my many addictions, you know) and the "going over" I had just received at the hands of god-like egotists in white coats (Such as Yours Truly!--Dr. M). But there was one small problem. I was in enemy territory without a clue where to find a decent meal. Since my doctor's office had moved to Puriland, that legs-open red light district of chain restaurants (with their cryo-packed microwave menus), strip malls, un-navigatable streets and Wal-Martized cathedrals of plastic Chinese crap, sweatshop subsidization and consumer genuflection, I had become a stranger in a strange land. What is one with such a keenly atuned palate to do when confronted with a gastronomical wasteland? "Well, hell..." I thought. "Let's make this an adventure!"

I won't exactly call my attitude one of slumming, since I am reminded time and again by the "good" people of Rockford that the slum is where I live. No, I decided to treat this escapade with the same giddy excitement that whitebread East side Rockfordites feel when they check their "Go!" section and, for a fleeting moment, entertain the thought of attending a Kwaanza celebration. "You know...this could be fun, Shirley!"

My modus operandi then became to seek out the most ridiculous appearing chain restaurant I could find. Maybe there is the adult equivalant to the giant rat at Chuck E. Cheese in my future, or a cook-it-yourself eggery. Those notions had barely left my mind when I was met with my answer. There,surrounded by farm implements, pristine John Deere tractors and giant ears of corn carved from tree trunks, was the massive feedbag known as the Illinois Machine Shed. "This is it!" I thought. Not a chance in hell this won't be a goofy experience! Of course, I'd been aware of the Machine Shed's existence since it opened 15 years or so ago. I even remember their sales pitch: "We're known for our pork!" Would that I could make the same boast!

I gamely entered the establishment, already awestruck by the lengths to which the proprietors had gone to create such a Disneyfied rural ambience. What else could I expect? The scent of cow manure piped in through the ventilation ducts? Mooing and braying on the restaurant sound system? Animatronic flies buzzing my plate as I tried to eat? There was some twisted genius at work here, and I was thoroughly unsettled before I was even inside.

Upon entering I was met with the now unsurprising sight of capitalism in full swing. Plastic novelties
with the John Deere imprimatur filled shelves; country-style pre-fab folk art pieces with price tags hung everywhere; and an entire wall was stacked with scented candles and potpourri.(All the loving result of old fashioned labor in the rural Shenxiang Autnomous Collective in the People's Republic of China, no doubt--Honorable Mality) It was impossible to tell I was even in a restaurant. I was greeted by a jolly looking gentleman, escorted to an enormous wooden booth and given a menu to peruse. Now those familiar with my previous writings will know that I am thoroughly flummoxed by the layout and design of most corporate-think menus. This menu, while not nearly as eye-tormenting as the diarrhea producing one at Denny's, was pretty much no exception.

My dining experience should not be hampered by the "ain't I clever" obfuscations of corporate sales theory. All I require of a menu is a clear and concise description of what I am about to eat. Thus entries like "The Haybaler Special" or "Our World Famous Sheep Dip Appetizer" have no effect other than turning me into a complete dyslexic. Likewise, the menu should be laid out in a straightforward and easy to scan manner. Despite what Denny's thinks, gaudy images of NASCAR stars leaning against giant carafes of orange juice do nothing to stimulate my appetite, and while the elegaic photos of tow-headed children slopping pigs in the Machine Shed menu may have the ring of authenticity to some, they take my mind away from the business at hand, namely ordering the fucking meal.

My waitress arrives, a pleasant and attractive girl of some stature whose appealing qualities are completely undermined by being forced to dress like Junior Samples from "Hee Haw." As I looked around I noticed that all of the waitresses shared two qualities: they were all of amazon-like height and they were all draped in saggy bibbed overalls and topped with DeKalb seed corn caps (propriety prevented me from checking for pig shit on their shoes).

Which brings me to what may be my most hated aspect of the modern American corporate thought process. Why-oh-why do employers feel that a workers' sweat and tenacity are not ample enough claim to a paycheck; that a healthy dose of humiliation is also required, usually by wrapping the employee in foolish looking garb?

The most egregious example of this diseased practice is Kerasotes, the theatre chain that monopolized Rockford movie screensdecades ago. Trust me, you omnipotent movie impresarios, I can tell who works at your theatre just by observing on which side of the popcorn counter they are standing. I don't need to be embarased FOR your employees by witnessing them squirm in humiliation under ridiculously oversized and floppy scarlet polyester berets. Who the fuck designs these uniforms, Leopold & Loeb? Rip Taylor? What's next, forcing your employees to engage in perverted sex acts while writhing in tubs of excrement?(That sounds like it's more up Road Ranger's alley--Doc) Would that sell more Goobers and Twizzlers? Granted, I rarely go to the movies anymore. Since there hasn't been an even passable film made in America since 1986 there is no reason to. But if I do choose to spend money in your establishment, I would rather not be met in the lobby with a living, breathing tableau of humiliation on par with the photos from Abu Ghraib prison. These are human beings you are damaging with your depraved polyester-fuelled fantasies.

Glad I got that off my chest. Now back to breakfast...

My waitress pours me a steaming, fresh cup of coffee while I struggle with my menu. As she attends to other patrons, I decide on a skillet breakfast, though which name it is disguised under, I can't remember. I'll just point at the one that says "ham, onions, green peppers." In the meantime, I take in the surroundings, which is highlighted by a surfeit of seemingly real farm items stuck to the walls as decorations. My eyes land on a build-your-own-electric-fence kit, complete with 5,000 volt generator. Hmmm...I wonder where they display the slaughterhouse kill hammer and pig castrator. My curiosity is overcome by a strange, calm sense of something like surprise, when I realize I am sipping my coffee and it is actually...good!

My waitress returns. Good. I am nearing collapse from sinking blood sugar. I point to my selection and she scurries off with my order, though I find it a bit odd she doesn't inquire about my choice of toast. As I wait patiently,my mind toys with the bitter irony of it all. The land upon which this pre-fabrication of rural life sits was once real farmland, levelled to line the pockets of developers the likes of the aforementioned Puri. The unique local flavor of this community, and others all over America, is rapidly being replaced by paved and plasticized, soulless consumer cattle pens with names like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Applebee's. Once upon a time, somewhere close by, there probably was a truck stop or cafe, run by people who lived in the area, serving recipes that had been handed down in homemade cook books and on note cards written in real handwriting. All that has been bulldozed, leaving only a plastic facsimile in its place.

I become wracked with guilt for even thinking of setting foot in this place. The terrible thing was my guilt is overshadowed by my very real hunger and between the two I start to feel vaguely ill. Then I overhear my waitress addressing a couple at another table. "I'm sorry, but I dropped your breakfast on the floor, so it'll be a few minutes." I picture my Haybaler or Peapicker or Muleslapper or whatever the fuck it's called also strewn across the kitchen and something like real depression sets in. I turn my Mason jar- yes, Mason jar...don't you know all farm-folk drank from Mason jars? -upright and ask for water. The waitress kindly points to a large wooden box on my table marked "Pig Food" which holds salt and pepper and condiments and a metal pitcher of water. "Pig Food." Well, there you have it folks. This is how corporate America and all it's pimping Sunil Puris view you, right there for all to see. We are just hogs to be slopped, sheep to be sheared. My breakfast arrives.

My waitress slides an enormous platter of food in front of me, a great pile of potatoes topped with melted cheese and not one, not two, but FOUR fried eggs. Before I could get my mind around it, another huge plate presented self, spread to the edge with bicuits and sausage gravy. "This is unreal", I thought. The biscuits must have arrived in lieu of toast. I was gazing full on at a "code red" cardiac emergency. Who the fuck needs FOUR EGGS? Do they expect I'm headed out to dig onions all day? Dumbfounded, I remember my gnawingly empty stomach and dig in. I will play my role as "Pig" in this grand opera of massive consumption, and to further confound my sense of moral disorientation I must say in all honesty that the food was pretty damned good, not at all like the boardroom designed meal I was expecting. This tasted quite a bit like real food.

Yes, dear reader, your intrepid reporter relented to the assault by an evil corporate food shoveller. As I ate it crossed my mind: "Maybe this meal really will kill me."

At least then nobody will jab their finger up my bunghole again.