I Bought a Beeper at a Roadside Fruit Stand

Out to Lunch, 1998

One alarming by-product of the burgeoning lottery industry is thatout to lunch everyone seems to be selling the dream of easy money.

Entrepreneurs of all stripes are jostling to get in on the action. If you had the notion, you could buy lottery tickets at Joe’s Pool Hall & Discount Carpet Emporium.

You can buy Quick Pix at the window tinting place down the street, Powerball 7s at the Piggly Wiggly, and run-of-the-mill Lotto tickets from that guy selling watches out of his trench coat by the side of the road.

This is, if you notice, the same marketing strategy that has caught on in other industries, to wit, personal communications. I must be the only human being left alive who is neither using nor selling a beeper.

By the way, on a metaphysical note, if everyone has a beeper, what use is it to anyone? Similarly, when everyone in the world has a cellular phone, is there any advantage to having one?

Anyhoo, I was down at the court house the other day, negotiating over a pending lawsuit when my worthy adversary interrupted the proceedings and said “By the way, I’ve got beepers in deco colors if you’re interested, and who wouldn’t be interested, right?”

I decided, instead, to purchase my beeper from some guy selling winter squash on the roadside. there are advantages to buying a piece of electronic equipment at the same place that you buy rutabagas, namely, that it makes for good column material.

I filled in the wrong year on my check to Pee Wee’s Fruit Stand (for the beeper). Usually, during the first couple of months during a new year, I fill in the last year when dating things.

To throw myself off track this year, so far my mistake has been to write in the year 1988. Perhaps this is some indication that my subconscious secretly desires a return to a Republican administration, which is no real secret, but what my inner child finds so appealing about my third year of college I’ll never know.

Maybe it was the romantic appeal of always being broke, having to eat cafeteria food, and getting turned down for dates to frat parties. But then, how would that be any different from last week?

Speaking of last week, I finally got my Christmas tree out of the house. The thing was so big, officials at the Department of the Interior accused me of pirating my tree from the Sequoia National Forest. For those of you just now waking up from New Year’s Eve celebrations, that’s where the trees get really big.

The tree was much easier to bring into the house, because it was wearing one of those tree girdles, and could probably have fit in a Size 7. Without the girdle, though, we’re talking Size 42.

Squirrel Frolic Leads to Downed Satellite

Out to Lunch, 1998

Not too long ago, I bought a beeper at a roadside fruit stand. Little out to lunchdid I know what wort of technological mess I had gotten myself into.

The other day I came home from work to find several squirrels frolicking in my front yard. The connection between beepers bought at a produce market and gaily romping squirrels may not be readily apparent, but bear with me, and after reading the entire article you might still be unclear.

If there’s one thing a squirrel is not permitted to do on my property, it’s frolic. They are keenly aware of my No Frolicking Squirrel rule, and when they saw me coming, promptly climbed the side of my house and started chewing on the eaves. In an ex parte ruling based upon my executive fiat power, I immediately decided that eave-chewing is the same as frolicking, and took appropriate action to enforce the rules.

Some may consider this arbitrary judicial activism. Although the law is king, in the Faircloth Compound, I am the law. And no eave-chewing squirrel given to unsupervised and unauthorized frolic is above the law.

The condemned squirrels got a technical reprieve when the sights on my high-powered rifle malfunctioned. The only things I managed to kill that day were my air conditioner and a sub-station power transformer.

I was somewhat concerned, however, when a shot ricocheted off the hard shell of an interloping armadillo and careened straight into the sky, but I thought no more about it once I remembered that Jeopardy! was on.

Halfway through Double Jeopardy I received the following message on my roadside fruit stand beeper:

Igor, Boris wants meeting at Kremlin. Bring Spice Girls record. Victor.

I was a little puzzled, to say the least. I thought surely that Boris Yeltsin would be a Sinatra fan.

Later, during a nutritious meal of sliced pickles and Cheesy Poofs, I received another disturbing message on the aforementioned roadside fruit stand beeper:

Al, the Prime Minister needs more classified military technology. India and Pakistan have the Bomb, and Lithuania has one mean water balloon launcher. Tell Bill to deliver the goods, or we revoke his lifetime supply of kung pao chicken. Call us: 555-NUKE.

It was at this point that I realized I was receiving pages that were not my own. As I usually do when faced with serious technological crises, I turned on X-Files reruns and helped myself to another helping of Cheesy Poofs.

But to my dismay all normal programming had been pre-empted by coverage of that day’s big news: a communication satellite had broken down and was falling out of orbit toward the earth.

I immediately realized that I had pulled a hat trick with my sharpshooting: air condition, power transformer, and, thanks to a crusty varmint, a major satellite.

The satellite’s owner attempted emergency repairs, but it turns out that the AAA, on a technicality, only supplies Emergency Satellite Assistance to a maximum of 10-mile orbits, and the Space Shuttle was busy putting out fires at the MIR Space Station.

Communications, therefore, would be disrupted for quite some time.

I kept my roadside fruit stand beeper on just to see what I would get.

CIA, bullet found in satellite. Tests reveal high-powered rifle slug covered with armadillo blood. Suspect likely in rural Alabama. FBI.”

Er, gotta go…

How to Observe an Inconvenient Tortilla

Happy belated Tortilla Day to you!

February 24, it appears, is national Tortilla Chip day. Given the limited availability of days in relation to the limit-less interests to promote on them, it is also national Inconvenience Yourself day. Explanations for the latter make it seem as thought it might be better deemed “Random Act of Kindness Day,” but truth in advertising militates for inconvenience for its own sake.out to lunch

Because there is no indication about how to properly apportion the day between chips and inconvenience, it seems best to combine them and observe both by inconveniencing yourself about tortilla chips.

Tortilla chip convenience would be picking up a bag from the gas station or market on the way home. To observe Inconvenient Tortilla day, then, one might instead make tortilla chips at home, from scratch, using non-GMO and free-range corn, or individually wrap each tortilla in plastic bags, then scatter them throughout the house for later, inconvenient, consumption.


Drawing the Line at Drooping Socks

Out to Lunch, 1997

Occasionally, I just take a little time to gripe. out to lunch

A college roommate always said I was most amusing when I was complaining about something. Then again, he also claimed that have been abducted by space aliens resembling Michael Jackson, but that’s another story.

Socks are bewildering.

It’s true that something happens in the laundry that makes socks disappear. And it is never both socks of a pair, so that you eventually end up with a drawer full of single, mismatched socks. I’ve taken to buying only one style and color of sock to avoid this problem, but the dryer is somehow able to put someone else’s socks in my laundry just to confuse me.

Scientists speculate that black holes suck matter from one part of the universe and spit it back out somewhere else, perhaps in another, parallel universe.

I can tell you, without hesitation or speculation, that there is a black hole connecting my drier and the parallel world of the Lost & Found bin at Socks ‘R’ Us.

But that’s not my complaint today. What upsets me at the moment is that I never know when I purchase socks if they have a good adhesion factor, that is, whether by the time I finish lacing up both shoes they will have fallen down around my ankles.

Nothing is more aggravating than a pair of socks that won’t stay up, unless it’s biting into a stale Reese’s Cup.

And that’s not to mention how silly it must seem when I cross my legs and everyone around me can see lily white ankles between crumpled socks and the cuff of my dress pants.

To remedy buyer’s remorse for socks, stores should allow “test wears,” much like dealerships allow automobile test drives. I don’t know precisely how they would do this, because there would be the temptation for customers to literally walk off with, and in, the merchandise.

Perhaps they could provide a “sock escort” while you tried them out. Or maybe, like pets, an electronic fence could zap you with electrical current if you walked too close to the exit.

Sock packaging would need to be changed. Currently, dress socks come coupled with a metal band, stuck together with that plastic thing that hurts your teeth when you bite it, with labels affixed all over, and with tissue paper inside. That must change.

Personally, I would like to know how they manage to insert tissue paper in the sock without crumpling it, and what possible purpose it serves, anyway.

I suppose that someone might suggest sock suspenders. But, I’d rather get a couple of Gold Toes tattooed on my legs.

My next complaint, unrelated to low-adhesion socks, is that bathrooms containing hand lotion should not have doors with knobs.

I made the mistake of washing my hands and applying lotion before I had turned the door knob to get out, and was thus trapped in the bathroom for several hours a I waited for absorption to return some measure of grip to my hands.

Hand lotion should be placed outside the bathroom door. Of course, then someone would inevitably complain that he wet his pants because his hands were too slick to turn the knob.

But, that’s a problem to gripe about in someone else’s column.

Stale Reese’s Cups & Confectionary Heartache

Out to Lunch, 2011

Growing up with depression-era grandparents was a downer for my out to lunchsweet tooth.

Their idea of sweets was a fresh bowl of figs, one that I had to pick myself. Not being a big fig fan (not even Fig Newtons), most often I had to settle for a spoonful of sugar surreptitiously stolen from the pantry while the grandparents caught the latest Lawrence Welk show and ate oat bran.

This itself proved problematic when I mistakenly picked up the salt container instead of the sugar. Can you say, “dry as a chip”?

So I had to turn to the black market for candy. Not really, but I did have to sneak out for it. My favorite was the Reese’s Cup, and there was nothing better than sitting under the house with a sack full of Cups, nibbling the edges first, gobbling the middle next, licking any wayward chocolate off the fingers last.

I say “under the house” not in reference to a finished basement. The large, spacious crawl space proved to be a great hideout for a boy with contraband candy, though it was also popular with the spiders, both the black widow and brown recluse varieties.

But there was nothing worse in candy land than getting stale Reese’s.

And it’s still the worst. You know what I mean: the package has been on the shelf too long, or has gotten too hot, or too cold, or too dry. There is no difference in texture between the chocolate and peanut butter. Flaky peanut butter. Chalky chocolate.

But, there is hope. You can avoid the trauma of biting into a stale Cup. Let me explain.

“Normal” Reese’s are always available in drug stores, gas stations, and checkout-line displays everywhere. But at certain times of the year, Reese’s makes special Cups to go along with a particular occasion. For instance, for Valentine’s Day, there are Reese’s hearts. For Easter, there are Reese’s eggs.

I know: how can a bunny lay a peanut butter and chocolate egg?

There are Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees. You get the picture.

I’m still waiting for the St. Patrick’s day leprechauns, Independence Day firecrackers, and Thanksgiving turkeys.

Even without those additions to the Reese’s schedule, special peanut butter cups are so regular that we don’t need calendars any longer: we simply walk into the nearest Wal-Mart and observe which type of Reese’s are on sale.

So, you Reese’s Cup aficionados: two great tastes taste great together only when they’re fresh.

Sweet Tea is a Mark of the True South

Out to Lunch Archives

In Montgomery, Alabama, a restaurant prides itself in serving out to lunch“Southern cuisine,” as though a word originating in France, the land of quiche, souffle, and Inspector Clouseau should be used to describe black-eyed peas and cornbread.

Cuisine begs to be preceded by haute or Lean and used in the same sentences as symphony and low fat, respectively, none of which seems suitable to a diet with more grease than a politician’s palm.

This particular eatery serves all the customary dishes: collards, fried okra, and cornbread muffins that leave oil slicks that would have Greenpeace burning effigies of the Exxon Valdez outside. The menus have stains, and you can probably find some of yesterday’s special on the flatware. And man, is it good. (The fresh food is even better).

The first time I ate there, my anticipation mounted exponentially as I smelled each sweet potato, country fried steak, and banana pudding. My culinary bubble burst, however, as soon as I asked for sweet tea.

Tea is one of the many things that distinguish South from North, among them goobers, the appropriate use of “y’all”, and politicians (the only real difference being that the accent allow Northern politicians to prevaricate faster).

Additionally, some of our tastes and habits seem peculiar to the Northerner unfamiliar with our ways.

For instance, when Coca-Cola came in nothing but glass bottles, well before the New Coke fiasco gave marketing geeks more than they could ruminate over, we would put salted peanuts in the bottle and imbibe the soda-nut concoction (ambrosia, some would say) with appropriate amounts of lip smacking and references to the oppressive heat.

This practice puzzles, offends, and sometimes nauseates Northerners, achieving almost the same response as a description of scrambled eggs served with pig brains.

I once treated myself, without issuing proper warnings, to this Southern delight (peanuts, not brains) in the presence of a friend from somewhere in Connecticut. I say “somewhere” because that far North, precise location becomes irrelevant. No sooner had she seen the peanuts in my Coke than she began ranting hysterically about some mishap at the bottler, thumbing through the yellow pages for a good plaintiff’s attorney, no doubt hoping I was suffering fiscally compensable mental anguish and emotional distress.

But, I digress.

Without question, the one true test of Southern eating is the tea and how it is served. The rule for proper tea presentation is really quite simple: it should be sweet, plenteous, and with the viscosity to form a pile when poured on the table. I was in my teens before I learned that tea didn’t grow with sugar already in it. I was weaned on sweet tea, and during college exams, could be seen in the library surrounded by books, ingesting Milo’s famous iced tea (a Birmingham institution) via intravenous hookup.

The very fact that one must now request sweet tea specifically is itself an indication of the failing standards of decorum. In the South, “sweet tea” is unnecessary verbiage, a redundancy on par with “red-blooded” and “confiscatory tax.”

When I ordered sweet tea that fateful day in Montgomery, the waitress looked at me and uttered awful words, in slow motion and with cavernous echo effects: We. Only. Have. Unsweet. Tea.

Adding insult to injury, she proclaimed this while gesturing to the artificial sweetener on the table.

I was shocked, astonished, dumbfounded, as if someone had questioned the Holy Trinity, the Constitution, and the Infield Fly Rule.

Frantically I looked back at the menu to see if what I suspected could possibly be true. To my continued amazement, it was. Not only had this restaurant committed the unpardonable beverage sin, it transgressed while serving fried chicken livers.

That someone could serve the cooked innards of a grounded bird, but not sweet tea, is almost unthinkable. Are they trying to be healthy?

And nothing is more insulting to a sweet tea connoisseur than for someone to suggest that artificial sweetener can be substituted for good ol’ granulated sugar (or, in protected markets, corn syrup derivatives).

Everybody knows that you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube, and you can’t sweeten cold tea.


The Computer has Spoken about your Root Beer

Out to Lunch, 1997

One drawback to getting ideas for columns is that inspiration out to lunchusually hits at the most inopportune times. For me, that’s usually while I’m driving somewhere.

Inspiration hits miles from the site of intellectual provocation and I find myself steering with one knee, controlling the gas with the other foot, trying to scribble notes on a chocolate-stained napkin with a pen I salvaged from the legion of biscuit crumbs and bottle caps that seem to always find their way underneath the seats, balancing a Gargantuan Gulp in my lap and attempting to hold a Reese’s cup between my teeth without it melting and drooping onto my shirt.

I look and feel every bit like a piece of modern art, and my notes resemble the incoherent tracks of a beetle suffering muscle spasms after walking through an ink vat.

Not too long ago, I stopped in at one of those icons of immediate gratification, the Qwiki Mart. Aside from selling everything from milk to motor oil at healthy prices, convenience stores certainly throw a wrench into the good intentions of anyone attempting to spell in English.

Having said that, I should confess that certain local establishments have dedicated entire aisles to me in honor of my frequent business there.

I had been craving IBC Root Beer, and somewhere close to the Georgia line decided to stop in for some on the way home. It would have been more fun to cover myself in chicken fat and slap the nearest pit bull on the nose.

There was only one pack of root beer remaining in the cooler, and one of the bottles had been removed. It is, after all, the era of immediate gratification, and the perpetrator likely drank the root beer before making it past the pickled egg jar.

Not to be outdone, I took the pack to the cashier and asked if there were any more in back.


“Well, can you deduct the price of one bottle from the price of the six-pack?


“So, I have to pay the six-pack price for a “five-pack,” so to speak?


“Why can’t you charge me for only five?

The computer won’t allow it. Besides, you’re already paying $4.29 for that “courtesy” cup of ice.

After recovering from the unexpected flood of conversation and thinly veiled ridicule so deftly delivered by the attendant, I realized I had inadvertently hit upon the cause of so much post-modern angst prevalent in society.

The. Computer. Won’t. Allow. It.

What has been heralded as a great time-saving device was wreaked havoc upon the ability of typical people to improvise, to accommodate, to make allowances.

Standing in the Kwiki Mart that day, debating petit economics, discovering the practical limits of modern mathematics education, holding four dollars’ worth of ice and hoping I wouldn’t lose three dollars’ worth to “global warming” before reaching the car, I realized that I was a symbol, a type, a representative of all sentient life forms unfamiliar with silicon chips, modems, bytes, bits, RAM, ROM, and not requiring alternating current to exist.

I now live in defiance of Computer, and sit around the house with my abacus, grey matter, pencil and paper, doing in hours what those Online can do in seconds.

Besides, has anyone else stopped to think that labels such as “Internet” and “World Wide Web” all refer to bondage?