“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
In all its glory.
When I look back on the past, In some ways I feel like the same person I was when I was seven years old. In other ways, I feel like my memories are those of an alien that used to occupy my body.
For example, for the first few years after I graduated from school, I used to eat fast food all the time. I used to love Burger King. What was I thinking?
I guess in one sense I was living in a place and time without a lot of choices. I did attempt to cook at home as much as I could – but it’s not easy to vittleate for one and cheaper to simply eat out. I was traveling a lot – and always liked getting a quick break from work at lunch. That adds up to fast food. At that time there simply weren’t the healthy and local diversity of dining options that there is today. There was no smartphone internet to search for the closest Pho place or the best Big Salad on the West side.
Those times have thankfully passed and I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in over twenty years. I’m sure the last were traveling with the kids and lured into places with a big indoor Playland – my kids were connoisseurs of ballpits and plastic slides.
The other week I came across an internet article criticizing Burger King – calling it The Saddest Chain in Fast Food – documenting its precipitous slide into the lowest depths of inadequate mediocrity.
And human beings in general are calibrated in such a way that they can inherently pick up on the sort of existential malaise your typical BK is now spewing into the atmosphere.
Until I read this article I hadn’t even thought about Burger King for decades – the thousands I’ve driven past have been invisible smears of red and yellow in my peripheral vision.
Then I heard a radio ad the other day. After that I came across another version on television.
The Yumbo had returned.
A Yumbo is a bilious concoction that resembles a ham and cheese sandwich. These were popular items in the early 1970’s – I remember them and can’t believe that it was that long ago.
Actually, I never ate one back in the day (I was out of the country in the Yumbo’s heyday). What made an impression on me, something I remember vividly until today, was a magazine piece I read at the time. I’ve had to dig around the internets to find out what it was:
It was from May 1977, from the magazine The Atlantic. A short Essay by Andrew Ward called, “Yumbo.”
I have not been able to find a current copy – but that’s not important. I remember it well.
The story is a simple one. A distinguished, intellectual older man walks into a Burger King and orders a ham and cheese sandwich.
“Do you mean a Yumbo?” asks the woman behind the counter.
“A ham and cheese sandwich, please,” is his reply.
“You mean a Yumbo?” she repeats.
And they are at a standoff. She will not sell him a sandwich until he utters or confirms the word, “Yumbo.” He refuses to do so – out of some desire to retain the small amount of dignity the modern world might allow him to posses.
The man leaves the establishment hamandcheese-less as well as Yumbo-less… hungry. It is a sad tale of the coarseness of modern life and the helplessness of trying to defend against the onslaught of the uncivilized horde.
So now, after somewhere around forty years, the Yumbo is back. I had to give it a shot.
So as I was driving home through the desolate stretches of some north Texas upscale suburb I asked the little woman inside my phone for the nearest Burger King. She offered me a choice of destinations and I selected one that I had no idea actually existed until the little pin showed up on that map spread across that tiny screen.
I confidently walked in, breathed deep the thick miasma of existential malaise and ordered, “A ham and cheese meal, please.”
The manager simply said, “What size?”
He didn’t make me say “Yumbo.”
I was disappointed.
“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
― Charles Bukowski, Factotum
“Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee affords.”
― Richard Brautigan
Everyone I talk to about New Orleans says they went to Cafe du Monde for chicory coffee and beignets. That’s fine if you want to do the touristy thing, I suppose – but there is better coffee and there are much better beignets.
My favorite is the New Orleans Coffee and Beignet Company, in Uptown, off St. Charles, about halfway to Tulane. You’ll never eat beignets on Decatur again.
Take the streetcar.
I see so many cars parked around a big corporate fast food place – so many queued up at the window, waiting for their flavorless extruded hunk of scientifically engineered food-like substance. So much substance with so little sustenance. Offset printed plastic focus-group tested graphics, tied in with billion-dollar commercial campaigns carefully crafted to make you jump at the sight of their logo like baby birds at a squirming worm.
Meanwhile so many family owned greasy spoons go wanting with their hand-painted cracked stucco signs. The food might not be better, it might even be greasier, but at least it is real.
ABD AL-RAHMAN III was an emir and caliph of Córdoba in 10th-century Spain. He was an absolute ruler who lived in complete luxury. Here’s how he assessed his life:
“I have now reigned above 50 years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity.”
Fame, riches and pleasure beyond imagination. Sound great? He went on to write:
“I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: They amount to 14.”
Here’s an interesting article about a little movie that I always thought was great. I didn’t realize it had reached cult status and was so hard to find – I’ve seen it on cable several times.
I’ver written about elotes before. I don’t eat them very often – they must be about the most unhealthy thing in the world. They start with corn… which isn’t all that great – but then they add every thing that tastes good but is bad for you.
Then I get to add a bunch of hot sauce.