I’m old, cruising into the home stretch. I don’t have a lot of time left. I couldn’t care less about most of the crap I deemed important years ago. I’ve dumped a lot of luggage at the roadside during this last leg of my trip.
I don’t require much now, so I take a spin as a temporary Man of the People. Or “Pepple,” as my friend Johnny says.
I’m in the MoP mode for a month.
As a Man of the Pepple, I concern myself with immediate gratification (cocktails and other intoxicants, the occasional blackout), avoidance of debt, family joys and pains, alarming and fraudulent internet posts, maintaining tribal connections, and gearing up for spectacular bowel movements. I watch four Broncos games on TV. They lose, so I am not their Man. They are not my Pepple.
Who is, you ask?
On occasion – actually, quite often – I visit the “homemade” category on several popular internet porn sites. I find my pepple.
As I watch the plebes cavort, clumsy but earnest, I realize it’s a disgrace that so many American motel rooms have not been remodeled for forty years or more. These, after all, are the accommodations favored by my pepple when they travel, or make humiliating porn videos.
I have a dream about the sheets on a rumpsprung bed in a room at the Motel 6 in Gillette,Wyoming. The sheets are stiff: when touched, they crackle, when hit with the open hand, they give off dandruff-like debris. I demand an ultraviolet scan; management refuses to give me a refund. When I object, the owner threatens to turn his drooling Fila Brasiliera loose on me. I speed off toward Cheyenne.
Then, there’s the staff at the local landfill transfer station. My pepple. They understand the need to exercise restraint as you near the finish line.
I chat with the guys after I unload a bunch of ratty canvas stretcher bars and a couple boxes filled with 8mm quarter booth reels Big Phil Padilla gave me in 1978, when I was known in certain circles in the Mile High City of Denver as Alvin “Call me Al” DeTerio.” There is no sense keeping the reels since it is impossible to find a bulb for an old Bell and Howell.
I mention to the guys at the dump that I have been reviewing my values and standards now that I am in my dotage, and have concluded that there are times when I must abandon frivolous concerns, discard multisyllabic utterances, cease with references to German and Austrian philosophers, and set aside difficult hardback books (OK, books of any kind, any size type). At this point, I need to fall back on the basics. My situation requires the clarity only basic crap and concerns can provide. An old man has a limited amount of energy to squander on nonsense and worry, or complexity of any kind. One must be selective.
The guys agree. Though they are younger, we vibrate at the same frequency.
We consider basic efforts in the kitchen, at the stove.
While it’s true, I note, that it’s fun to whip up a load of coq au vin, to spend a couple hours readying then grilling Japanese mackerel, or to leave the bed twice during the night to change the water on a load of salt cod in order to produce brandade the next day, a vacation from these and similar pursuits is necessary. As you age, there is cause to regularly back away from pretentious occupations, for the sake of a soul soon due the shroud. It’s the pseudo-intellectual’s equivalent of going on a retreat, off to meditate in a monastery – to a Zen-like, cleansing experience. We’re all mortal, and we need to empty our minds now and then!
The guys at the landfill agree.
Once the topic is breached, Jack mentions his fondness for the poet, Basho, recites A Snowy Morning, stings a pinhead from California $30 for a pickup load of uncovered trash, pockets ten bucks, then lauds the virtues of Fritos and bean dip cool from the can, or warmed in the microwave. Jack reminds me that I need to put the bean dip in a glass bowl before firing up the wave, metal cans presenting a problem in that high-tech environment. Nothing thwarts meditation like sparkly chaos in the box.
Manny takes a break from compacting cardboard boxes at the recycling bins, champions Chef Boyardee beef ravioli, cold from the container or warmed in the microwave, (same advice regarding metal cans), then reckons aloud the chances the high school soccer team will have a triumphant season. His son, Raphael, is on the team, so Manny is thinking a state championship for the Pirates and an NCAA I ride for Raphael are likely, barring an injury to the kid. One of the Raphael’s legs is shorter than the other and he veers erratically whenever he runs. I remain silent, so Manny can find refuge in his fantasies. Who among us doesn’t relish a dose of positive illusion as darkness closes in?
The boys assure me the fire that threatened to consume the dump the week before has been thoroughly doused. Perhaps.
Dump fires, Jack notes slyly, are like the politics of the Deep State: you can’t detect what’s taking place below the surface. There’s a lot of shit happening just out of sight, he says, levers are pulled, and no one is aware of it. Jack cites Sean Hannity as an authority, and what MoP is going to argue with that?
I have had many of my levers pulled over the years. By whom, at times, I do not know. If I watch Fox News, perhaps I’ll find out.
We bond tightly when I let the guys know that, the week before, I purchase a single slab of corned beef, the factory product, not the real thing, as in brisket done with respect. I order it from the hairnet-wearing attendant at the supermarket deli counter – the woman with the badly rendered tattoo of a dove on her forearm. The charmer who seems as if she’s about to scream, or rip out your Adam’s apple.
She is not happy.
Jack and Manny are familiar with the woman: they deal with her when they visit the deli counter to purchase highly-processed treats and mass-produced entrees. Slabs of corned beef-like material impress the guys; the woman at the counter worries them, as she does me.
This woman – Bev, according to her name tag – has never been pleasant, but who would be, given her circumstances? Rumor has it Bev deals with three feral kids, (one with ADHD, another with an eye lost to a second cousin who got a BB gun as a birthday present), a husband in stir at the county jail on a felony warrant, an uncooperative bail bondsman, and an oldest daughter who stole the family minivan and ran off with a meth cook, her last known whereabouts being a storage unit in Belen.
Bev snarls like a big cat treed by a pack of hounds when I request a single piece of corned beef, exactly three-quarters of an inch thick. I repeat the word “exactly.”
As she growls, I try to imagine Bev, had her life taken different turns: as a young debutante, perhaps, descending the staircase at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, violins playing in the background, her delicate hand resting lightly on the forearm of a future commercial real estate developer. My attempt fails.
Burdened by her weighty dissatisfaction with life, and responding with scorn when confronted with the task of producing the slab of highly processed industroflesh, Bev neglects to measure the first piece she cuts on the slicer. She is preoccupied with thoughts of Barry, her Jack-saturated neighbor: he meets her near the front of her battered doublewide, tells her she looks like Brittney Spears, and asks her to join him for a rousing bout of anal intercourse. It’s not that the prospect of a ride on the Ass-a-Whirl is out of the question, but Barry reeks of wet dog and, worse yet, he’s missing his right arm. That’s a deal breaker in Bev’s book.
The first slab of corned beef Bev provides is less than a half-inch thick. I am an MoP, but I refuse to accept it. I demand she perform to the desired standard, despite her mood disorder.
I remind Bev: the customer is always right. I am that customer. I am pepple.
In an attempt to temper the situation, I inform Bev that Ketamine treatments work wonders for people in her condition. Many similar wretches, trapped in the doldrums, once primed with massive doses of Special K, go on to successful careers at call centers, or to create profitable REI schemes.
It takes Bev three more tries at the slicer. She wastes a half pound of product. Her supervisor will notice, and chastise her — probably in the presence of fellow wage slaves – then demand she stay late to “sanitize the stations.” More trash added to her trove. She will stop at the liquor store after work and purchase several airline bottles of Captain Morgan rum. Bev will think about Barry. If only he had that arm.
I cross paths with the Queen of the Blade in the store parking lot the next day. She hisses at me as she sucks at her vape pen, then exhales a cloud. I consider telling her about the latest studies linking vaping to lung disease. She hisses again. I opt out. It’s better for all concerned that she dies young.
The reason for the precision regarding the corned beef?
I prepare a classic MoP meal: corned beef hash, perfect any time of the day.
Meat thickness is critical.When the corned beef slab is divided into hefty cubes, each with a surface area conducive to crispy goodness, the interior of the chunk remains moist. The meat is combined on the griddle (my new stove has a center burner designed for a griddle) with chunks of par-cooked red potato, each chunk, like the meat, presenting a crispable surface area, and with sliced white onion. If a fancy dinner party is the order of the day, a bit of shredded cabbage is added.
When the mix is griddled to perfection, a mound of it is plopped at the center of a plate, and two eggs, fried sunny side up, are set on the mound. The mass is slathered with ketchup and a substantial amount of Cholula. The egg yolks are broken and the amalgam of flowing yolk, ketchup, and Cholula is sauce for the gods. A cheap Pillsbury biscuit from a tube or buttered white toast completes the array.
The hash (from the French haché ) serves to cement me in the MAGA mainstream, where I belong: Everyman, alert and searching for the next lie told by a member of what Rush Limbaugh calls the “drive-by media.”
To pursue the association with esoteric doings at a monastery: the corned beef is part of the hash, the hash is a sacrament, the sacrament pries open the door to enlightenment.
I mention this to Jack and Manny, framing it as a tried-and-true hypothetical syllogism: If A then B, if B then C, therefore if A then C.
The assembly of the hash is satisfying, as the logical construction portends, an example of the calming effect of work well done. A meditation in itself.
The hash is not as great as it could be, had genuine corned beef been available, the hash sauced with a classic Espagnole, but it serves its purpose, illuminating a path that leads to the ultimate pepple treat.
The hot dog and pork and bean sandwich.
Ah, the hot dog, corned beef’s poor cousin – the high school dropout who lives in a shack with no indoor plumbing and a nest of rabid raccoons in the crawlspace, the demented beasts shredding the insulation between the floor joists and reproducing at a frightening rate.
While cheap imitation corned beef is exemplary, the dog and beans are Ground Zero for the MoP sandwich experience. The ultimate sacrament. The Hyperlink.
I’ve been thinking about a dog and bean sandwich since I took my trip down Corned Beef Boulevard.
I restrain myself, however: I do not tell the guys at the landfill that I’m pondering a production highlighting the best of the dogs available in Siberia With a View – the Hebrew National. I don’t want to excite any dormant prejudice, and I surely don’t wish to ignite a fevered debate about “Mericun vs. Furrin” tube steaks that could extend for hours. I know what happens when you mention hot dogs to the guys at a landfill: it’s like tossing a crippled rabbit into a cage crowded with ravenous wolverines, like introducing a new equation to a bunch of math nerds at MIT.
When I return home, I fire off an e-mail to Wanda, my personal physician and advisor concerning all things physical and metaphysical.
“Wanda, I am ready to create the ultimate Man of The People Sandwich (‘pepple,’ as we regular folk say): a slice of Wonder Bread on which are placed two butterflied and grilled hot dogs and a mat of Campbell’s Pork and Beans, the legumes, pork bits, and sugar reduced to a sludge over medium-high heat. The beans are finished by adding a handful of cubes of Velveeta, the universally beloved cheese blend melted into the bean goo as a stabilizer. A second slice of Wonder Bread is liberally coated with Miracle Whip and used to close the creation. I’ll amp up my doses of Omprezole and Allupurinol, but should I double my blood pressure meds as well? Would you like to partake? I’ll have enough dogs and sludge for two sandwiches. There’s a bottle of Cyprus Cuvee Cotes du Rhone on hand, an excellent but affordable red that should cut the grease in fine fashion.”
She answers. “Please don’t contact me again this week. I’m competing in a triathlon Saturday, and I’m in training. I don’t want to be distracted. Do what you want. You never take my advice anyway, so what does it matter?”
I respond, via e-mail. “I recommend you eat at least a pound of Beyond Beef burger at dinner the night before the event, and chase it with a slurry consisting of two bottles of oxygenated spring water and a quarter-pound mix of wheat chaff and barley husks. If you don’t have the chaff and husks on hand, I have plenty to spare. Let me know if you need it. This intake should make for a successful evacuation in the early A.M. and give you the advantage you need. You can trust me on this. I once played defense on a fairly successful hockey team.”
Wanda responds: “This race means a lot to me. For once, try to relate, and leave me alone until next week.”
Wanda is an ectomorph. Whenever an ectomorph’s body fat falls below 12 percent, they get testy.
I relate. I forgive. I’m an MoP.
I interpret Wanda’s reaction as unqualified support for my sandwich project.
Dogs and beans it is.
I hustle to the store, where I find my pal Steve, the store manager, straightening items in the frozen foods section.
It is Sunday and Steve, a dedicated fan of the Kansas City Chiefs football team, is peeved because he is at work instead of comfy at home, wearing his official Chiefs jersey, watching his heroes do battle as he kicks back on his Barcalounger in front of the 60-inch Samsung, a load of overly salty snacks and a cold Sprite close at hand.
I tell Steve I’ve been watching the game, and I’ve hurried to the store during halftime to purchase Wonder Bread, Velveeta, a pack of primo hot dogs, and a can of Campbell’s Pork and Beans.
Steve asks me how the game is going, how his beloved Chiefs are doing against the Vikings.
I look him in the eye, muster a funereal tone of voice and my most alarming yet compassionate facial expression, and inform him that the Chiefs’ star quarterback had his neck snapped by a vicious, HGH-swollen middle linebacker. Just before the two-minute warning. Though the blow merited only a fifteen yard penalty, I assure Steve the collision was clearly illegal, and should be subject to league review. As should the linebacker’s obvious violation of the league’s drug policy.
“They strapped the kid to a gurney and carted him off,” I say. “Everyone in the stands stood and applauded, while blood poured from the kid’s ears. Why is it people applaud when an athlete is nearly killed? I don’t recall that people stop and applaud when a car crash victim is stuffed in the back of an ambulance.”
Steve is too stricken to deal with my question. A store brand “Family Size” bag of dark cherries falls from his hand. He gasps for breath, he stammers: “I…I…but…oh, no…I…”
“Control yourself man,” I say, grabbing his thin arm and squeezing for emphasis. “It’s a violent game, in a violent world. In a culture in decline, we hunger for injury to others, yearn to engage in a bit of schadenfreude, encourage catharsis. I mean, just look at you.”
“Oh, no,” he says. “I better call my wife. She’s a huge fan, and I’m sure Sherry saw it happen. She has to be in shock. What are we gonna do?”
“For god’s sake, Steve,” I say, “get a grip, the staff looks to you for guidance. Gina and Candy over in the flesh section can’t see you like this, now can they? And what about Kenny, the monitor at the self checkout? It took him a year to learn to tie his shoes, so how is he going to cope with your panic? These are terribly fragile people, Steve. As a leader, you owe them better. And, anyway, there are more important things to deal with: as in, where can I find the Hebrew Nationals?”
I purchase the ingredients, and flee the scene.
On my way home I work up an excuse to offer Steve the next time I see him, since I concocted the story about the damaged athlete to toy with the man. There are few things more entertaining than harassing a sports fan. As an ardent Broncos supporter (when they win) there’s no way I would watch a Kansas City game. I have no idea who the Chief’s quarterback is, but I’m pretty sure, despite the certainty he’ll suffer ten or more serious concussions during his career, and face a future clouded by dementia and arthritic agony, he’s going to be just fine.
I’ll tell Steve I suffered a transient ischemic event and not only hallucinated a hideous sport injury, but also a torrid three-day sexual interlude with Kelleyanne Conway at a Motel 6 in Gillette, Wyoming (see sheets, above). The horror provoked by this revelation will dissolve Steve’s rage, which will be replaced by an outpouring of sympathy that lasts long enough for me to escape the store. Steve is a very conservative fellow from the Midwest, but even he will be revolted by the thought of a carnal collision with the Con at a rundown motel located on the desolate plains of Wyoming – or anywhere, for that matter.
I take the dogs, beans, Velveeta, and bread home, and prepare the Make America Great Again masterpiece.
As I fire up a burner on the stove and heat a pan, I am reminded that we humans are smart (however smart that might be), because we cook. The dogs leak a bizarre, orange fat when they hit the pan’s surface.
If we didn’t transform foods with heat, we would spend nearly all our waking hours foraging for and devouring the raw vegetation needed to provide enough energy to fuel less powerful and productive brains than those we now possess. Any time left in the day would, of course, be spent fighting and fucking. We would have stronger jaws and teeth, but use few tools other than rocks and sticks. Our population would be small since, as idiots, we would be easy prey for carnivorous predators.
The use of fire allowed our very distant ancestors to prepare foods in a way that altered the standard primate nutrition picture, gave the clods the opportunity to walk upright and develop brains with far more neurons, in particular in the cerebral cortex, and provided them the energy necessary to employ that gray matter in useful ways.
It is fire that makes us what we are.
Of course, as the Nationals sizzle and continue to ooze, I realize that fire is also driving our species, and most others on Earth, to extinction.
As our numbers swell, our need for heat increases, for fire in all its forms: in more primitive settings, we once torched wood and combustibles like yak dung; now, in technologically advanced societies, we burn coal and petroleum products to produce the ever-greater amount of energy needed to maintain systems and societies. We deliberately destroy rainforests with fire to allow for development. We propel vehicles with fire, power our industries with fire. Our use of fire accelerates changes in global climate that have taken a huge toll to date, with every indication the damage has just begun.
There seems to be no way to stem the need for all things fire, and no way to switch resources in time to both satisfy that need and avert global disaster. We are ceding the planet to indestructible viruses, and to cockroaches.
But, hey, let’s hear it for cooking! Dammit, if we’re going down, let’s crank up the stove, the grill, and the oven, and let’s eat well. No sense being the Dead Man Walking, absent a great last meal.
For a Dead Man of the Pepple Walking, the treat du jour is the hot dog and bean sandwich! I make it, I enjoy it, I take a long nap. My gout flares, but I can’t contact Wanda and beg for morphine.
The day after The Sandwich, I sit on the deck sipping cocktails with my friend Roberto, and I mention my MoP interlude.
Roberto is unimpressed. A white guy raised in rich fashion, blessed with privilege, pimping a satirical MAGA pose, does not interest him.
That’s why I like Roberto.
We chat about dead people, characters who made Siberia With a View a colorful place 30 years ago – all of them replaced by anglo interlopers, assholes toting cash who are rapidly transforming the place into an upper-middle class version of Aspen. They have money, but not enough money to reside year round in Aspen, Telluride, or Vail. So, Siberia With a View will have to do. They are relentless.
I distinguish myself from this horde of geeks by playing my “fourth-generation Coloradan” card, and noting my relatives arrived when only the indigenous tribespeople hated them. Roberto permits the move, and allows me to put one foot on common ground.
Roberto is true Pepple.
Roberto was a mechanic in a local auto repair shop for a quarter century before he inherited Espinosa Towing, his uncle Joseph’s business. Joseph abandoned the enterprise to dedicate himself to ornamental welding, gave Roberto the title and keys to the truck, moved to Farmington, took welding classes at the Vo-Tech, and is now renowned in Kirtland and Shiprock for his screaming eagles and decorative Kokopellis, all fashioned with salvaged engine parts.
Roberto hauls cars. When the newcomer’s Mercedes breaks, someone has to cart it off. For sure the owner can’t do it.
I mix a couple fresh vodka tonics.
“Newcomers pretend to be nice when they’re desperate, and need a tow” says Roberto. “Any other time, they think a lot of themselves, get all important, and stick to their own kind.”
“Other assholes,” I add. “Definitely not Pepple.”
Roberto sips, and nods.
I mention that I am pretty sure most of the assholes rarely, if ever, enjoy a hot dog and bean sandwich, even if includes low sodium hot dogs and gluten-free “bread.”
“Me,” he says, “I like to take a couple roasted green chiles and a fried hot dog, put ‘em in a fresh, warm flour tortilla, sprinkle ‘em with salt, roll everything up, and eat it. With a beer. Or two.”
“Sounds fine to me,” I respond, “though I might add a dusting of grated Asadero.”
“Or,” he says, closing his eyes and approaching revery liftoff, “if I got some leftover posole, I grill quesadillas on that old comal I got from Aunt Lucy, heat up the posole in the microwave…”
I interrupt. “Making sure you don’t put it in a metal bowl.”
“Yep,” he says, “and no foil neither. Then I dip the quesadilla in the posole, take a bite, dip it, take a bite, dip it, take a bite, have a beer. Or two.”
“Capital fucking idea,” I say. “You know, your wife and sisters cooked the best posole I ever ate, for Trisha’s graduation party. How much did they make, five or six gallons?”
“Probably that much, plus the red for the enchiladas, and the green for our relatives from El Rito.”
“I poured the green on a hamburger. Had two helpings of the enchiladas”
“Goes real good with a beer. Or two.”
“Yep. I make a formidable green, if I don’t say so myself. Learned to cook it in Denver, refined it over the decades. My wife once entered the county fair chile cookoff with my recipe and won the damned thing. I’m tempted to take a pot to the annual contest at Town Park, but I’m afraid of being accused of cultural appropriation.”
“Yeah, I know. I worry about telling the wrong people that I like that Jewish music, whatever you call it. With the crazy clarinet stuff.”
“Klezmer, and don’t tell the guys at the landfill about it. Seems we’re all on a leaky boat in this PC world of ours, and there’s no life jackets available. But, there might be a chance you descend from Conversos. Plenty of them immigrated to this part of the world. Who in his right mind wouldn’t say he’ll convert rather than have molten lead funneled into his orifices? Of course he says he’ll convert. He makes the sign of the cross, learns to tolerate the smell of incense, mumbles a couple prayers, confesses something or other every week or two, then leaves town. He can locate a synagogue, make a comeback with the Kol Nidrei, bail himself out, return to the tribe absolved. All’s well, for him and you, ten generations later.”
“Yeah, maybe so. That clarinet gets me right in the heart, man. Just like the accordion, when Flaco plays it.”
“Well, hell, they don’t get better than that. How ‘bout another cocktail?”
As we sit, sip, and chat about Conversos, declarations of absolution, clarinets, Flaco Jimenez, fools, and food, I realize it’s time to remove my MoP mask. I sense the need to use some big words in the near future, and to mention Rudolf Carnap in order to get a leg up in casual conversations.
“You ever hear of pancetta?” I ask Roberto.
“Hell yes, man. You think I’m just a small-town car jockey? Yvonne got herself a subscription to Food and Wine. I read it all the time. Those fuckers put pancetta in everything, and they use them lardons.” He pronounces the word “lard-ons.” I took seven years of French, failing every semester but one, but I do not correct him. He’s pepple.
“I think they have pancetta at the deli counter at the supermarket,” I say. “I’m going to get a piece cut exactly an inch thick, then slice it into batons and make a whopping load of Carbonara. I’m done with the MAGA diet for a while. I read somewhere that Richard von Mises ate carbonara at least once each week.”
“Good idea,” says Roberto. “Nothing beats, egg, cheese, spaghetti, and bacon. Cause that’s all that pancetta is: just fancy bacon, with no fucking smoke to it. Maybe toss in some roasted chiles, bring that Italian shit up a notch. Some chopped Hatch’ll go real good with that creamy sauce and that bacon.”
“Excellent idea,” I say.
“Just don’t ask that woman with the hairnet to cut the meat for you. She’s nuthin’ but trouble.”