Big Tad Goes to Court

“Mr. Isberg, now that you’ve taken the oath, you can be seated.

“I remind you the purpose of this Grand Jury is to determine whether enough evidence exists to pass a case to the district attorney for prosecution. Do you understand that nothing said in this Grand Jury hearing can be made available to the press and public?”

“I do, your honor. I’ll try my best.”

“Please tell the jurors your name and your occupation.”

“My name is Karl Isberg, though folks in Las Vegas know me as Theodore Wembley III, Tad for short. I am a writer by trade, a whip-wielding word jockey, if you will. I’ve also spent endless hours in front of an easel.”

“Counsel for the state can proceed with questioning.”

“Thank you, your honor. Mr. Isberg, please tell us what kind of writing you do.”

“I describe it as ‘peppy.'”

“Could you be more specific?”

“Yes. Peppy, kicky, upbeat with a stout measure of wow and pizzazz.”

“Mr. Isberg. Do you write about food?”


“Food, Mr. Isberg. Do you write about food?”

“Uh, well … sometimes the subject creeps into my work.”

“Isn’t it true, Mr. Isberg …”

“Please, call me Tad.”

“Isn’t it true nearly everything you write includes some mention of food? Wouldn’t it be correct to call you a ‘food writer’? And, since you make money doing this, are you not a ‘professional food writer?’”

“Well, I certainly do like food; I like to cook and eat and I think about food all the time. It is pretty important, you know; I can’t imagine any topic that wouldn’t require some consideration of food and eating. But, I prefer to think I include food in my work as a necessary part of a wide-ranging meditation on the absurdity of our species, of our doings. And, yes, occasionally I am paid.”

“So, we’ve established you write about food, and do so in return for money. Do you know why we convened this Grand Jury?”

“No. But I gotta tell you: 8 a.m. on a Monday morning is an uncivilized time to do anything important. I need coffee. Does anyone have some coffee? Guatemalan in origin, if possible.”

“Mr. Isberg, you know very well we are investigating the use of performance enhancing substances by food writers. You know, further, we are particularly interested in writers — pretentious, small town hacks, like yourself — who offer up recipes and accounts of food experiences to the naive reader. We believe if these substances are in use in the minor leagues, as it were, then it is a foregone conclusion they are used at the highest levels of the trade.”

“You gotta be kidding! Performance enhancing substances, here in Siberia with a View? How on earth can you associate Viagra and Cialis with writing about food? I mean, yes, I get incredibly excited when I go to the grocery store or to a fine restaurant but, well, wouldn’t it be more than a little embarrassing if …”

“Mr. Isberg …”


“All right, Tad: one warning is all you’ll get. We will not allow diversions in your testimony. You know we are referring to the use of exotic and difficult-to-obtain substances used to alter a writer’s consciousness, to give him or her an unfair advantage over those writers who labor to produce church cookbooks, who compile recipes for a civic club collection. The playing field has been tilted to the extreme and it is impossible for most people to compete unless they, too, indulge these substances.”

“By ‘exotic substances’ do you mean things like Velveeta? Hamburger Helper?”

“Very clever, Mr. Isberg, but we are not amused.”


“Is it true, Tad, you and your companions recently downed two bottles of Chateau Pavie 2000 St. Emilion at a restaurant in Las Vegas?”

“How did you …who told you about …?”

“Your youngest daughter, Ivy. She was there. She said the wine was embarrassingly young for the price, and, in the process of her interrogation, she willingly gave us the information in return for immunity. She is now part of our witness protection program and is surfing in Costa Rica. Her new name is Bernice.”

“Why, that little asshole. I knew I couldn’t trust Bernice.”

“And the Gaja 1998 Langhe Nebbiolo Costa Russi?”

“Ah, from The Piedmont. Talk about body, depth.”

“So, you admit to using it? When others are forced to drink Reunite and wine coolers?”

“Well, not exactly. I’ve read about people who indulged and …”

“Are you acquainted with Jamon Iberico?”

“I met him once or twice, at a health club in La Jolla. We played racquetball, doubles if I remember, with two of his cousins. Delightful youngsters, the cousins — Jaime and Theresa. Twins, each with a wicked backhand. But I never purchased anything from Jamon. As far as I know, he is an upright Mexican citizen, trading in mescal futures.”

“Jamon Iberico is a remarkable Spanish ham.”

“Oh, yeah. It’s kind of a toss up with me: that or high-grade prosciutto. But I don’t know anything about them. Can’t even spell ’em.”

“Does foie gras moulard ring a bell?”

“I hear those words, I hear something ring — like an alarm bell on my checking account.”

“You once ordered an entire lobe, didn’t you? We have witnesses. And you ate a large portion of it, didn’t you?”

“I … ah, I …”

“And while we’re at it, how about caviar?”

“Hey, I’m squeaky clean on that one: When I learned the Southern Caspian stuff was harvested by Iranians, I swore I would never eat it. The thought of some flea-bitten, reactionary mullah who wants to destroy Israel cashing in on my indulgence was more than I could bear. They forced me to eat it. Those agents of the caviar cabal are louts, thugs, brutal and erratic characters. We need to alert the Office of Homeland Security and tell them about these guys. The blini were quite good, though.”

“Are you acquainted with truffles?”

“No, not at all. White or black? You know, there’s a guy in Denver who can get the fresh black from The Perigord for less than a C note an ounce.”

“Mr. Isberg …”


“All right. Tad, please respond to each word I say with the first thought that comes to your mind.”

“Oooh, I love free association and all that psychological mumbo jumbo. If I could take a Ritalin and snorf up a teensy line of flake, my performance would improve, but press on, let’s see where we go.”


“Fleur de Sel. Fluffy. And, of course, my Mom.”


“Monster-grade extra-virgin olive oil. And Mom.”

“White truffle oil.”

“Etruria. Mommy.”

“Gold seal.”

“Balsamic. And I simultaneously think of Mom.”



“Don’t fool with us, Mr. Isberg, or you’ll be held in contempt. How about manchego?”

“Ahhh, salty sheepy. And, of course, my mother.”

“Point de Bique?”

“Mmmm. Smooth and goaty. Great with roasted beets. Mom loved it.”

“Tete de Moine?”

“Stinky. Gotta store it in the garage, but buttery, cowey. If you’ve got some, I have access to one of those special rotary tete shavers. Plus, for some reason, I think of …”

“So, you’ve consumed these substances?”

“Oh, gosh no. But I have so-called friends who’ve told me about them. Despicable people, really. I need to delete them from my phone and e-mail directories. If I ate or drank any of this stuff, I didn’t know I was doing it. I have ADD, you know; I can’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. If I had known, I would have stopped immediately. It’s so very wrong.”

“Mr. Isberg.”


“Do you know it’s patently unfair to indulge your excesses when there are decent, honest people laboring far into the night to write down their versions of a recipe for tuna noodle casserole, hoping it will appear in the next Methodist newsletter?

“Well …”

“Do you believe you and your ilk are playing by the rules, Mr. Isberg? Put yourself in the apron of someone decidedly less puffed up and arrogant than you. What about the youngsters, the kids in junior high who dream of growing up to be food writers? What do you think happens went they read something you or one of your kind writes? How can you live with yourself, knowing a youngster is wondering where he or she can come up with performance enhancing substances so he or she can compete? Where, may I ask, is little Johnny in Ames, Iowa …”

“Tad. Little Tad in Ames, Iowa.”

“Where is Little Tad in Ames, Iowa, going to find foie gras moulard? The whole lobe?”

“He could stuff his own bird full of grain as part of a 4-H project, cram the bird five times daily, fatten it up, destroy its liver, wring its neck and …”

“And where will he find tete de moine, answer me that? Where?”

“In a garage somewhere, I suppose.”


“I wouldn’t recommend it, with the mullahs and all. But, the little rascal could milk something he pulled out of a local stream. It’s slippery work, but not impossible. I wouldn’t recommend catfish.”

“Mr. Isberg …”

“Tad. Big Tad.”

“I think we’ve heard enough. Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: I believe it’s obvious there is sufficient reason to provide the district attorney with the evidence we’ve uncovered in our proceedings. The fact that a simp like Mr. Isberg, a two-bit phrase biter from a town out in the middle of nowhere …”

“I like to call it ‘Siberia With a View.’”

“Mr. Isberg, we are addressing the court …”

“Big Tad.”

“The fact a schlockmeister like Big Tad can gloat on a regular basis about a special recipe or ingredient not available, sometimes not even known by the ordinary Joe — by someone laboring to get the amounts precise in an Apple Brown Betty recipe so it can be entered in a contest at the county fair — should be enough to allow us to accurately speculate concerning the kinds of abuses occurring at the highest levels of the food writing racket. It’s hard to imagine what goes on in the business when writers actually know what they’re writing about — when, unlike Big Tad, they never use words like ‘smidge,’ ‘wad’ or ‘clump’ in a recipe. Your honor, I recommend we adjourn and pass our findings on to the district attorney.”

“So we shall, Mr. Prosecutor. Members of the jury, thank you for your patience and your efforts in what I know has been a trying proceeding. You are excused. Mr. Isberg.”

“That’s Big Tad, your honor. T.W. III, if you will. May I ask a question?”

“You may.”

“Whaddya havin’ for lunch? And what about the members of the jury? What are you guys doin’ for lunch?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, I thought, just to prove I’m a regular guy, not under the influence of these so-called performance enhancing substances, I’ll whip up something over at my place. A typical lunch here in Siberia With a View. Something that shows you I’m a normal fella.”

“And that would be?”

“Oh, I thought I’d pry open a can or two of tomato soup and cook some little elbow macaroni and dump them in, maybe splash in a touch of milk, serve the soup in coffee cups. Mmmmm. And maybe whip up a grilled cheese sandwich, with margarine-slathered white bread and processed cheese — the super-yellow stuff that gets all gooey as it’s heated then sets up like an automotive finish when it cools. I could have everything ready in less than an hour, using my neighbor’s new George Foreman grill.”

“Well, that sounds quite nice, Mr. Isberg. Perhaps we’ve judged you wrongly. Is there anything we can bring?”

“You know, now that you mention it, yes: a beverage. Are you acquainted with Niebaum-Coppola’s Rubicon? Kinda pricey, kinda not, but, hey, we just got out of court! We need to splurge a bit and it’s a snazzy and manageable domestic red; goes well with the tomato soup. Oh, and see if you can manage some black truffle. Can you imagine the magic when a teensy smidge is tucked into one of those grilled cheese sandwiches? If you need a source, I’ve got a phone number.

“See you at my place, noonish. Someone bring a duck.”


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3 Responses to Big Tad Goes to Court

  1. Alan Bowen says:

    I needed that!

  2. bill Musson says:

    even though i know nothing of the wines you mentioned or most of the food (except velveta and tomato soup), as i nurse my chillable red from the box, really enjoyed the story!

  3. judyrobbinsart says:

    I, too, have wondered how you managed to scavenge some of your ingredients from the local food purveyor. Which makes me wonder if you were fantasizing about those ingredients and their results all along.

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