September 29, 2014

Food Fight
by Bernie Pilarski (short, PG-13)
Cover image.
Image credit: Sand Pilarski. More info.

Here's some food for thought: does sex have any nutritional value?

~~~

"What is that?" Frank asked as he looked at the plate across the table.

"Scrapple," answered Sam.

"That gives it a name, but doesn't tell me what it is, now does it?"

"It's scrapple. It's something you have for breakfast."

"Yes, but what's in it?"

"I don't know."

"Then why are you eating it?"

"Oh," Sam said. "This from a man who eats Spam."

"I like Spam."

"What's in it, do you know?"

"No, but it's reputable."

"Reputable what?"

"I don't know what. Meat, probably. But you can walk into almost any store in the known world, and you can find a can of Spam."

Why, Sam wondered, did mass production equate to legitimacy? Wasn't that simply another expression of the moral dilemma of jumping off a cliff if everybody else did? Wasn't that the atmosphere of the early days of the Third Reich, that allowed Hitler to insinuate himself into respectable German society? Or something like that.

"You can walk into this restaurant almost any time of the day, and you can find scrapple on the menu."

"That's hardly the same, is it?"

"It is as if availability is a measure of credibility."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Ubiquity is not a measure of quality," Sam said lifting a forkful of scrapple dripping with maple syrup.

"Ubiquity? What does that mean?"

"Being everywhere."

"Like mini-marts?"

"Sure. Mini-marts. If that works for you, good." Sam was trying to remember the conversation in the bar before they had headed off for the motel -- had Frank been the only option? Had there been any kind of conversation beforehand that would have given some indication that this would end with Spam and mini-marts?

The whole bar scene was getting old. There could be no denying that there had been some good laughs, some intriguing trysts, but Sam found she was becoming more aware of her age. The thought had crossed her mind of late that it was time to settle down; it was time to become familiar with familiarity.

"'If it works for you,'" Frank quoted. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"If mini-marts are what help you conceptualize ubiquity, great. Certainly you can see that just because they are everywhere is no assurance that there is anything good there."

"I love their hot dogs."

Sam rolled her eyes.

"What now?"

"The hot dogs you get at a mini-mart are not good."

"Yeah, they are."

"No, they're not. You have no idea how long they've been sitting there, and at a buck a piece, I doubt they are even meat."

"Is there meat in scrapple?"

"No," snapped Sam. "Yes. I don't really know."

"Then why are you eating it?"

"Because it tastes good with maple syrup," she said and stuffed a large piece of scrapple into her mouth.

"I don't know how you can be so casual about what you put in your body."

Sam stopped chewing. "You're kidding me, right?"

"What?" Frank threw his hands out to the side in an exaggerated gesture of perplexity, placing the hand that held the fork, onto the tines of which a piece of eggy spam had been skewered, into the path of an older woman walking past the table. Her arm struck the fork, and the spam was knocked off the fork and onto the shoulder bag that she carried. "Hey," Frank said. "Watch where you're going."

Sam hung her head and hid her eyes with her hand. Perhaps she had become too casual; Frank was not only right, he provided his own proof.

"Look," said Frank. "All I'm saying to you is that Spam is a com-mod-dee-tay," he grinned and raised his eyebrows as if to indicate that Sam should be impressed with his command of French, "which is available in large quantities and in several flavors most everywhere in the world you'd care to be, and lipso facto," he grinned and raised his eyebrows as if to indicate that Sam should be impressed with his command of Latin, "it must be good for you. Otherwise some of the billions of people that have eaten it would have complained."

"What do you do for a living, Frank? Did we cover that in any of the conversation we had last night?"

"I'm a personal trainer."

"You associated with any particular gym?"

"I freelance. I have a gym in the basement of my parents' house."

"Did you tell me any of this last night?"

"I didn't get the impression you were interested."

"And just out of curiosity, how old are you?"

"Twenty-four."

"Oh my God," Sam said, dropping her fork onto her plate and leaning back against her chair. "You were in ninth grade when I graduated from college."

"Eighth, probably. I repeated sixth grade. The first time the teacher really sucked."

Sam looked at her plate of food -- scrapple fried in bacon fat and drenched in maple syrup, eggs over easy, toast and butter -- and become nauseatingly aware of the carbs and calories clinging to it. There was enough fat to grease a pig and enough sugar to down a diabetic, and while she could neither see nor count them, the accumulated dead brain cells still floating in pools of alcohol in her brain made their presence painfully known.

"I'm a good cook," Sam said matter-of-factly. She felt the need to establish some credibility.

"Really? Like what, for instance?"

"Like pasta, for instance."

"Do you use whole wheat flour?"

"Eww, no. I can't stand the taste of whole wheat."

"That's a shame. The whole wheat offers at least a little fiber to offset the carbs, but if you want a really healthy choice, you ought to try almond flour. It has virtually the same fiber content as whole wheat, but only a quarter of the carbs."

"And you know this how?"

"I provide some nutritional guidance to my clients as part of their customized training. For you, for instance, we could look at a low carb diet as part of a weight management program, and a little body shaping and toning with weights and cardio."

"Wait, wait, wait. Are you saying I'm fat?"

"No, not really."

"Not really?"

"Women your age just need to become more aware of their health, and fitness and nutrition are key to that."

"But I am a little fat?"

"Well, there is a little cushioning here and there. It's not entirely a bad thing," Frank said and grinned at bit at some memory. "In fact, it's one of the pleasures of older women."

"So, what, I'm like your fat fetish?"

"Honey, I'm simply saying that watching what you eat is important all your life."

Frank ate his Spam, and Sam stared at her scrapple.

"Do you want kids?" Frank asked.

"Maybe for lunch," Sam said sarcastically. "What the hell kind of question is that?"

"Just conversation. I thought maybe we were trying to get to know each other a little better, you know? You asked me what I did for a living, and I asked if you wanted kids?"

"Do you?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Everybody has some, you know."

"I'm sure they're okay, but not just now."

"I thought maybe you'd like some little friends."

"You don't have many friends, do you?"

"Have you ever been checked for ADHD?"

"Yeah, actually. My sixth grade teacher, the one that was a jerk, convinced the school nurse that I had issues, and the nurse, also a jerk, told my mother that I should see a doctor. Why do you ask?"

"It's just that conversation with you is like playing Whack-a-Mole."

"Oh, God, I loved that game. They have that at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and the last time I was there, I accidentally hit my sister with the hammer. You might like her. She's the serious corporate type, some regional manager of something or other. She might like you -- she's a lesbian, but she maintains a very healthy diet."

Sam let her head fall back, and she stared at the ceiling. Breakfasts after a night like last night were usually more somber affairs. Both parties were generally hung over, and sober conversation was a little less animated. If it had been a particularly good night, there might be compliments exchanged, but usually there was simply some idle chitchat about the weather or the bar scene, and Sam would make it a point to talk about how busy her day was going to be meeting people who were expecting her. She had this same conversation every time, even if she had no plans for the day; it was always better to discourage guys from trying to overstay their welcome.

She had had a taste of familiarity last summer. She had taken a seven day cruise to Cabo San Lucas, and she had spent four of those days with a really nice guy she met who said he was from Utah. During breakfast on the last day of the cruise, he had let Sam know that he was married, but he promised to keep in touch with her. He never did, of course. Still, there is an a kind of rapid intimacy that comes from being confined on a ship several hundred miles out to sea where it is possible to spend all day opening up to someone else, and Sam had felt as though she really had gotten to know the guy, even if apparently he had lied to her, less in what he had said than in what he had failed to say.

"I don't know how much longer I want to do this," she said.

"If you're full, can I have your toast?"

"I'm not full, I'm tired."

"Eating better could help that. A proper diet and a good exercise raise the energy level a lot."

"No, it doesn't. I did one of those diet programs where they send you all those frozen foods. All it did was turned me into a food whore. I went home with a guy one night because he said he would make pasta."

"I went home with a girl one time who claimed she had a complete home gym, but it turned out she had like a set of cheap dumbbells and an exercise ball."

"So, why do people do that?"

"What? Buy cheap exercise equipment?"

"No. why do people lie like that?"

"I don't know, but I get it all the time. I set up a good diet plan for someone, and they come back and I can just see they're not following it -- they're still all puffy and pasty looking -- and I ask them about it, and they're like 'oh, yeah, I'm eating just like you told me to,' and I'm thinking to myself no way, I can see they're not."

"So tell me the truth then, why do you eat Spam?"

"My nana used to make Spam for me when I was a kid. It's not the healthiest thing to eat, but every once in a while I treat myself to a memory."

"Did you know her well?"

"She pretty much raised me. My parents always worked and never had much time for me, but Nana was always there."

Sam smiled and reached across the table with her hand to gently stroke Frank's cheek.

"What's that?"

"A memory, I hope. I think that's why I am tired. The men that I'm with, I have no memories of them. I don't know what they were like six months or a year ago. They might be sweet and all, but I don't know what they are made of. "

"Two years ago," Frank said, "I weighed 270 pounds."

"No way."

"True."

"No way, you can't weigh more than, like 170 pounds."

"One sixty-five, actually."

"That's a hundred and five pounds."

"Yeah. I just got sick and tired of being the fat kid, and so I decided to eat nothing but raw vegetables."

"And it worked?"

"Sort of. I lost forty pounds the first month, but ended up in the hospital when I passed out in the fountain court at the mall."

"Oh my God."

"But it was all good. I had a start on the weight loss, and the doctors hooked me up with a really good dietician, and I learned a heck of a lot about how to eat right. That's when I got into the whole gym thing too."

"Well, I can attest to the fact that the hard work has paid off."

"Listen," Frank said. He had stopped eating and was looking down at his plate. "I guess I need to be up front with you."

"About what?"

"My age. I'm twenty-one, not twenty-four. In fact, yesterday was my birthday. That was the first time I had ever been to that bar. It's kind of funny, because I don't even drink. A couple of my friends invited me there, but I was only drinking diet sodas, so they left, which was okay by me since I had already seen you, and that was pretty much all I could think about."

"Oh ... my ... God," Sam said. "You're two years younger than my baby brother." They sat in silence for a long moment.

"I guess maybe I should go, huh?" Frank said. Sam shook her head yes, then no, then yes, then no, never taking her eyes off of Frank, and never changing her quizzical expression. After another long moment with no other response from Sam, Frank pushed his unfinished plate of spam forward and then rose from his chair.

"I had a really good time," he said. "I'm sorry if I have disappointed you somehow." He turned to walk away.

"Hey."

"What?" Frank stopped and looked back to Sam.

"My roommate -- she is going away this weekend, so I have the apartment to myself. You don't have to if you don't want to, but maybe you could stop by for dinner."

"Really?"

"Oh God, I must be nuts. Yes."

"I'll cook. Please let me cook. I can show you a few tricks on how to take stuff you always eat and make it healthier."

"You cook. But take it easy on the tricks -- I want to live long enough to see what you're like when you grow up."

Scrapple is a mixture of cornmeal and pork, and the pork can be anything from organ meats like liver and kidneys to pork shoulder and ham hocks, it just depends on who does the cooking. Sam never knew and never questioned the source of her scrapple. With enough maple syrup, it didn't really matter. There were probably better dietary choices for breakfast, but the combination of savory and sweet, and the delectable mouthfeel of crispy and soft when a slice of scrapple is properly fried were enough for Sam to order it every time she could.

It was good, and it wasn't illegal. It must be all right.

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Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.


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