Thursday, May 19, 2011

For the time being – or forever – I have left Shanghai. Now I am visiting Oklahoma – Norman, Oklahoma to be exact. Midway Grocery and Market is a Norman institution as it were. My personal opinion is that Midway makes the best sandwiches on the planet. Many local celebrities agree so I feel as if I am in good company and I have every right to have that opinion because said celebrities have had as many or more sandwiches in other locales as me.

Say it loud! Say it Proud! Midway makes the planet’s best sandwiches!

Along those lines, I will be writing about the goings on at Midway while I am here since Midway has that old time Hooterville ethic with owner Bob Thompson playing his part as Sam Drucker, his tongue planted firmly in cheek.

How many wheelbarrows does it take to change a light bulb?

At the moment, a new door is being put in that leads out to the side deck. This involves tearing out the three layers of brick on the new addition of the Midway. The new addition, as many of you know, was added in 1926.

When the first two layers were removed, the bones of the building became evident. Yes, the building is three layers thick but it is put together like a Rauschenberg painting. “Bed” is the piece that comes to mind offhand. At the same time though, this new addition of the building has been standing for nearly a hundred years which is a testament to it’s stability.

“Somebody’s name’s going to get taken off,” Jimmy said about the place where the door is to be as the door demolition banging drowns out the music inside the building. Bob, owner and master of ceremonies at Midway, encourages patrons to sign the walls with Sharpie markers but then that is not really important now. Kent walked in covered with the building’s history, history disguised as dust and disintegrating mortar.

“If we don’t change the music,” Kent announced, “I’m going home.”
“What’s your pleasure?” Bob asked in his best sweetly sarcastic voice.
“Something beside Captain and Tennille.”
“B picked this station for you.”
“Huh?” B surprised that she has been inadvertently dragged into the radio station discussion while she had been putting out the freshly baked cookies. (editors note: White Chocolate Cranberry are the yummiest cookies that you will ever have. Trust me.)
“Martini in the morning,” Bob answered as if that was enough.
“Huh?” B responded, still baffled.
“You know that’s what Kent has with his Geritol?”
“What’s Geritol?” B asked.
Bob turned the station to a blues station. B made a face and quickly changed the station. The banging on the wall once again commenced.
“That’s probably going to give me a headache after a couple of hours,’ B said about the constant pounding that was drowning out the mellow strains of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell.’

“Do you have a wheelbarrow Bob?” Kent asked as he walks back in. Bob gives him an icy stare. “Well, I guess I will have to go buy one.”

A wheelbarrow, an innocuous object, hauls goods, removes the mortar from the immediate vicinity, yes, a wheelbarrow, harmless. A wheelbarrow has decades of usefulness. In an old one, you can plant flowers, create a birdbath, use as a tub to bathe a baby, ice down beer. Yes, many uses for the wheelbarrow. Nevertheless, there is a story, a wheelbarrow story. How many wheelbarrows does it take to change a light bulb?

No, that is not the story. This story involves a skilled craftsman who we will refer to as Kent though his name is absolutely not Kent. His name does start with a ‘K’ and ends with a ‘t’ but his name is absolutely, unequivocally not Kent though there is an ‘e’ and an ‘n’ in there in the name somewhere. Nevertheless his name is absolutely not Kent but we will just refer to him as Kent for the purpose of this story. That will make all of this much easier though his name is really not Kent. Absolutely not! That would be downright mean to use his real name which is not Kent. Kent is not his name.

Previously, Kent, or the skilled craftsman, wood-worksman, gigolo (kidding!...not really) whose name is not really Kent, borrowed the wheelbarrow on a previous job, the wheelbarrow that Bob keeps behind the air compressor on the side of the building where the door is to be. Incidentally, Kent is also Bob’s best friend.

“Like a twelve year old…or more like a fifteen year old, a teenager,” Bob corrected himself, “Kent did not put my wheelbarrow back after he was finished with it. He left it behind the dumpster.”

This of course seemed like a safe place for the wheelbarrow at the time. It was hidden from view. No thieves would have really spotted it. Of course, putting it back where he had found it would have probably been the best thing to do, but then how often do we choose the best thing when the next best thing is easier? – the next best thing being to put the wheelbarrow behind the dumpster.

As luck has it, the next morning was trash day. Fortunately, during the night no thieves absconded off with the wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow was safe, safe as a baby. That is until the trash truck came to empty the dumpster which involved mechanically picking up the dumpster to dump it. Unfortunately when the trash truck set the dumpster back down, the dumpster was sat right smack on the wheelbarrow which of course mangled it.

Thus when the new wheelbarrow reclined teasingly tauntingly in the bed of Kent’s truck, Bob immediately saw his chance with said wheelbarrow. Overcome, Bob could not help himself. Armed and ready, Bob walked to the truck like an outlaw knowing his mission. Do or die! Do or die man! Just desserts were the order of the day! (Editor’s note: Chocolate Cake – You must have the chocolate cake at Midway.)

‘Property of Midway’ wrote Bob on the silky wooden unsoiled arms of the wheelbarrow. The crowd cheered.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

loose ends and goose shins

the movie kept moving as planned

Yes, I am back in the land of heart attacks and hamburgers. I went to the hamburger garage twice within two days. My flight back involved 4 planes over the course of 24 hours. Since I have left China for good or maybe for only the time being, I have loved telling people I'm homeless when they ask where I live. When I told Jackie from HSN and Aging Backwards, she laughed and said 'Me Too!'. Moments later, she boarded the plane with the other first class passengers. I didn't. More on that later maybe. the movie kept moving as planned...

In Thailand, during my month holiday, I met several people who seemed to be professional travelers with no detectable employment. A man who once worked for a global cosmetics company told me that he had just planned to visit Thailand but had stayed. He was a Brit. An American told me an identical story and I asked him what he did for employment. 'This and that,' was his answer. A Frenchman I met on the night train from Chiang Mai had become a professional traveler. Sometimes he scouts out locations for documentaries. A German on a bus told of travels in India where he traveled for two months and felt it was not nearly long enough.

The Shan came into my life in more ways than one during my visit to Thailand. Sadness and brutality have marked them.
The Shan whom I met were sweet people who have been exploited by everyone. They are Burmese natives who have been abused by the militaristic Burmese government. Entire families raped and butchered by the Burmese army. Atrocities continue. No one notices really. What I learned by being around them is that the Shan have beautiful souls. How can we help them? Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest because of her continued involvement with helping the Shan.

The Shan emigrate to Thailand where they are given jobs that no one else will do. The Thais don't like them because 300 years ago the Thai and the Shan warred. Thus the Thai do not embrace them and are less than cordial to them.

This is maybe a general assessment. Obviously every Thai is not prejudice against the Shan. However, the general climate from my perspective seems to be cat and dog.

In my hometown, the place that I have eaten since I was able to eat solid adult food has seemed to decline in quality. The recipe is different or has been altered on the restaurant's most heralded dish. The quality of the meat is no longer top quality. Yes, there is a sadness to this. But, can I really be so shallow as to lament the end of a classic dish at a family restaurant when across the globe and around the globe there is butchering on a wholesale scale? Perspective. Give me my hamburger. Let them eat goose shins.

At the same time, I am not a political writer and I am not really an activist but I did witness something or found out about something disturbing that should have attention drawn to it. Or perhaps the sand is getting crowded because of all of the other heads that are buried in it.

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