Drop #168: Crumbs

cappuccinoJohn is having lunch with Sandra. ‘You have some crumbs on your shoulder,’ she says, pointing, then staring at them till he brushes them off.

Two minutes later she stops mid sentence to tell him he has something in his teeth. ‘What is that, basil? Here, I have a toothpick.’ He accepts it, removes the culprit, then returns his attention to her so she can finish her story.

A few minutes later she interrupts him to ask what that stuff is in his hair. ‘Those pesky crumbs again. How did you manage that?’ She leans in and picks them out, one by one. ‘There. All better.’

Sandra goes to the bathroom to pee. When she comes out of the stall, a woman putting on makeup looks up at her reflection.

‘Woah!’ the woman says. ‘Bull’s-eye.’

‘What?’ Sandra says, then checks the mirror. She immediately sees it: a massive bird poop above her right ear at the hairline, blobbed thick and wide in white and greenish brown, seeping a full inch down her face in three gooey strands. ‘Oh my God!’ she says, grabbing at the paper towel.

Back in the dining room the cappuccinos have come, each served with two biscotti. John eats his and quickly helps himself to Sandra’s before she gets back. He gobbles them up, spilling crumbs down his face and onto his lap. His first sip leaves a foam mustache on his lip, and the cutest smudge of powdered chocolate on the tip of his nose.

By EM Vireo

Drop #166: Date

This post is not suitable for children – you have been warned

icecream bearThey stepped out of the movie theater into the warm night, hand in hand. It was only a first date but it seemed to be going well, and he hoped it would progress to something delicious quite soon.

‘So, what do you want to do now?’ he asked.

‘What do I want to do? I want to fuck – that’s what I want to do. I want to fuck you. I want you to fuck me. I want to suck your dick. I want it between my tits and in my ass. I want to lie you down on the floor and destroy your face with my meticulously waxed pussy. I want to do it for hours on the couch and the bed and the kitchen table, rest for half an hour while we drink champagne and do lines, then go again even longer. That’s what I want to do now – right now. I want it bad.’

‘Yeah, that sounds good. Also – and I’m just throwing this out ­there – there’s this new ice cream place that opened just up around the corner I’ve been meaning to try. It’s an organic creamery with like 56 flavors, all made in-house, and a million toppings to choose from, and they mix it all together on frozen marble slabs right in front of you. Anyway, that’s another option – I’m easy, either way.’

By EM Vireo

Drop #160: Love

burrata and heirloom tomatoJen had a dinner meeting so Hal decided to treat himself to his favorite meal at Tony’s. He was the first customer and the staff greeted him warmly. ‘No missus today? It’s OK. We feed you good.’

Though eating alone, he ordered a full meal, starting with the burrata over heirloom tomatoes, and following with the wild boar ragu pappardelle. It was what they always ordered. He drank two glasses of Chianti as he finished every last morsel with gusto, sopping up all the sauce with bread, and even had space for panna cotta. Most satisfied, he asked for the check just as his phone rang.

‘Hi, honey,’ Jen said. ‘Good news: my meeting was cancelled so I’m all yours tonight.’

‘Great!’

‘Listen, I’m starving and I can’t think of anything better in this life than meeting you at Tony’s for wild boar pappardelle right now.’

‘Oh yeah? Right now?’

‘Yeah. I’m so in the mood. Let’s get a bottle of that delicious Chianti and have a really nice big meal together. I already left. Think you can be there in twenty?’

‘Pretty sure I can.’

‘You didn’t eat yet, did you?’

‘What? No. No.’

‘Great, I’m excited. Can’t wait to see you. You make me so happy.’

‘Well, that makes me happy too.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop #156: Robot

kitchen robot‘No need to weigh it separately,’ the woman in the apron says, pouring sugar rocks. ‘The bowl already acts as a scale—see.’

I’m standing next to the only man in the room. He’s handsome.

‘Once you reach the needed weight just press the home button again and read the next step on the panel here.’

One man, ten women, excluding the presenter.

‘One blade does it all. Whipping, mixing, and in this case grinding. This might be a little noisy.’ She pushes a button and though she warned us, the grating noise startles me. But it only lasts five seconds.

Dee-doo-dee: the machine let’s us know it is done. It sounds like the chimes before an airport announcement.

Almost half the women ooh as we are shown how the rocks have been ground effortlessly into fine powder. Almost half the others aah.

‘Your wife couldn’t make it?’ I ask the man softly, taking advantage of the pause in the presentation.

‘Excuse me? Oh, no, she’s busy.’

‘Nice of you to come in her place, use your Saturday and all.’

‘Now all we have to do is add the washed and halved lemons,’ the presenter carries on. ‘No need to peel them.’

‘You do any cooking too?’ I ask.

‘Sure,’ the man tells me.

‘Lucky wife you have. I’m the only cook in the family.’

At the touch of a button the machine jumps abruptly into action again, but with a softer sound, and for about ten seconds this time. The chimes again tells us it is done. Though identical, they now sound more like that off-key, somewhat disturbing arrangement from times past, when people still had land lines: Doo-da–dee: We’re sorry, there appears to be a receiver off the hook.

‘Lucky woman,’ I push on. ‘Are you going to buy her one?’

‘A kitchen robot? I don’t think so.’

The presenter pours lemonade into paper cups for us women and my male friend to try. ‘Of course this machine also cooks entire meals. It practically replaces your kitchen!’ She laughs, and I wonder if she always laughs that same way at this exact point in the script. ‘I’ll soon show you how to cook a main course, sauce and all, but let’s move straight to the best part: ice cream!’ Two-thirds of the women mumble in acknowledgement.

‘Bet she’d love it!’ I tell the man, after finishing my lemonade. ‘Make her life a whole lot easier.’

‘Wouldn’t in the slightest.’

‘Really? Machine like this? Haven’t you been watching? It prepares and cooks anything you can think of. Bakes bread and even makes cocktails. It’s incredible.’

‘Maybe, but I don’t like it. I was curious but it’s too impersonal. It removes the connection with food, it—’

The machine starts up again, zapping frozen fruit into a pulp. Dee-doo-daa.

‘It takes the fun out of cooking,’ he finishes. ‘I’d never put a soulless thing like that in the kitchen.’

‘But maybe she’d want one. Buy it for her.’

‘I couldn’t.’

‘Of course you could.’

‘No, I literally couldn’t. I have no income. I mean, since I’m entirely in charge of the cooking, I could ask her to buy it for me, but as I said, I prefer my knives, pots and pans. In fact, I think I’ve seen enough. I should get going if I’m to prepare a proper dinner before she gets back from her business trip. Soufflés don’t make themselves, you know, and a proper Bourguignon takes several hours on a low heat.’

By EM Vireo

Drop #152: Brunch

sesame balls‘Oh my goodness,’ he said, scratching his beard, ‘it was incredible! They had all different kinds of potatoes, even blue ones, done all different kinds of ways! Roasted, mashed, fried with truffle salt, and even turned into pancakes with sour cream, salmon and caviar on top—caviar! Why thank you comrade! Then there was two wooden boards big as a submarines with cheeses from all over the world—I’m talking French, Dutch, English. There was one, I forget the name, from some special region in the Italian Alps, and another that was kept in a cave for more than a year like some prisoner of war. There was goat and sheep cheese, blue and flavored cheese, and some kind of cheese that oozed out onto the board like demon semen—I’m telling ya! And they had must have been twenty kinds of breads and rolls and loaves. And international! Let me tell you: there was an Italian station where you could choose your noodles and sauce to be cooked right in front of you any way you wanted, a Chinese one with endless dim sums in bamboo steamers and served on fancy porcelain spoons, a Japanese station with sushis and whatnot, and an Indian station with who knows how many kinds of curries, and flatbreads cooked in clay ovens. There was a full carvery with ham and brisket and beef–and oh my lord, you should have seen the seafood—what they called the raw bar. I’m talking crab claws the size of human arms, and ruby red prawns, and rainbow colored crawfish staring up at you, and all different shapes and sizes of shrimp and mussels and clams and oysters, all on ice and ripe for the plucking! They even had lobster already cooked and cracked open so alls you had to do was scoop out the sweet as syrup flesh and guzzle it up! Just phenomenal, and with all the French Champagne you could drink too, mind you, and thank you very much! And oh my word, I haven’t even mentioned the best thing! They had a fountain made of—get this!–chocolate! Liquid chocolate, just like Wally Wonka himself had in his factory. Almost stripped to my boxers and took a dip myself is what I almost did.’

‘Swell,’ she said, getting up. ‘Be right back. I just have to get something from the kitchen.’

Gary was sitting at the kitchen table. ‘Hey there, Jane,’ he said, smiling the way he does: all squint, no lip.

‘Hey. So, last night with visitors, right?’

‘Yup. They’re off in the morning.’

‘Good brunch?’

‘Eh. Nothing too special. Same as any decent hotel on any Sunday anywhere in the city.’

‘I hear you.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop 145: Have a Nice Day

wonton noodle soupSam called the Chinese take out place.

‘Yeah, two #7s, one #12, a 16, a 19 a 22, and a 24. Oh and two Cokes. How long? Cool. Extra chili sauce please. Thanks.’

He hung the menu back on the fridge and went to wake his roommate, Jack.

‘What did you order?’ Jack asked sleepily, as he plopped onto the couch in dirty sweats a few minutes later. ‘I’m friggin starved.’

‘Two scallion pancakes–’

‘Aw, yeah. Those are the truth.’

‘Hot and sour soup, barbecued pork, soy sauce noodles with duck, shrimp fried rice, and morning glory with salted fish.’

‘You know what you’re doing, son. All my favorites.’

‘Mine too. We’re about to feast. Should be here any minute.’

The guy arrived with a big paper-in-plastic bag. Sam tipped him well, then carefully unpacked each little container onto the table before starting to open them up.

‘What’s that one then?’ Jack asked squinting at the first.

‘What the hell?’ Sam said, when half of them were bared; then he opened the rest. ‘I can’t believe this.’

He called back: ‘Listen, our order is totally wrong. Not one item is correct. You gave us two orders of chicken feet, some kind of fish head curry full of bones, an intestine stew of some sort, a tofu dish that smells just awful, a cold purple pudding with weird floating beans, and I don’t even know what the last dish is. The gray wobbly thingy. What we ordered was scallion pancakes, hot and—’

‘You order number 7, 12, 16, 19, 22 and 24, right?’ the man said.

‘Yes, but–’

‘I give you 7, 12, 16, 19, 22 and 24.’

‘But we didn’t order any of these dishes.’

‘Yes, you order them. We change menu. New numbers. Different item.’

‘Yeah, but–’

‘You know next time. You try other dish. Stinky tofu. Very tasty. Jelly fish salad. Very fresh. Pig stomach in brown sauce. Good for blood. You enjoy.’

‘But.’

‘You enjoy. Thank you for business. Have a nice day.’

By EM Vireo

Drop #144: Boucherie

pig headI picked Frank up at the station early Sunday morning. I hadn’t seen him in years. He’d emailed Friday out of the blue saying he’d be in town for a day. First time in New Orleans.

As the local I’d immediately felt pressure to show him a good time, and arrange the type of stuff you can’t do anywhere else. He’d said not to put myself out planning anything and had suggested a couple of restaurants he’d read about but I’d never heard of. Said they were popular joints but that we might still get a table at if we booked that day. As if that was going to happen! What kind of host lets the guest pick the restaurant?

How you been? We shared an awkward hug. Two pats on the back. Good, and you? Then we drove off, heading for the highway.

‘Such a short visit!’ I said, stepping on the gas.

‘Yeah, just a layover. Leaving early tomorrow  – but we have the whole day.’

‘Just as well. There’s something special going down and I managed to get us invited. Only got confirmation last night. Had to pull a few strings and I owe Big Lou a favor but it’ll be well worth it.’

‘When, later today?’

‘Right now, buddy. We’re already on our way.’

‘OK.’

‘It’s a ways out of town, and starting soon, so no time to stop off to shower or change. Hope you don’t mind.’

‘Not at all. But now I’m curious. Where are we going?’

‘Ever heard of a boucherie?’

‘Can’t say I have.’

‘Oh boy, it’s something else! An iconic Cajun ritual, but really quite uncommon nowadays – usually only happens around Mardi Gras. Man, your timing really is immaculate!’

‘Cool. Tell me more.’

Well,’ I said excitedly, ‘it’s got everything to do with a pig.’

‘Hmm.’

‘It’s a community thing. So, what happens is: neighborhood families and friends get together on someone’s property, out in their back yard, and butcher a pig – I’m talking an entire hog – then cook the hell out every last bit of it.’

‘Hence the name boucherie, I guess,’ Frank said. ‘So, I guess the reservation at Bella’s didn’t pan out then.’

‘What? Oh, that restaurant you mentioned?’ I laughed. ‘Nah. Not with a boucherie down the road!’

The moment I received his email a dozen possibilities had popped into my head for lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks. I could have taken him to Dooky Chase or la Petite Grocery or gone casual at Katie’s. I could have hit any number of food trucks, or crawfish boils, or hit my go-to po’ boy destination. But come on! La boucherie trumps all.

‘Man, you’re gonna love it,’ I carried on, glancing at my wristwatch. ‘I’m so excited – I mean, I live here and I’ve only ever been to one, and they had the pig killed and cleaned already. Today’s is proper old school. They’re going to bring it in squealing and shoot it on site, immediately slit its throat and collect the blood for boudin, then butcher it right away! That never happens anymore; in fact, I’d given up on experiencing the event in such a pure, complete form. This is a damn rare thing, a real privilege! That’s why we have to hurry. Killing’s at 10 sharp.’

‘Hmm.’

‘Hmm? Hmm! Is that all you have to say?’

‘Well – ’

‘So, after they expertly singe, scrape, gut, and cut it up using hacksaw, knife, cleaver and even ax, everyone sits at long wooden tables and goes to work on their portion, preparing ponce, andouille, ham, organ soup, hogshead cheese, backbone stew, cracklins, boudin and lots more. Every scrap of the animal is used: brains, blood, ears, hocks, feet, marrow, skin, snout, heart, and tail. We cook all day, eat and drink and get loud all day, and we feast at night. We do it all together, and you and I are going to be a part of it! We’re going to be right in the bloody middle of it all!’

‘Fascinating,’ Frank said.

‘You betcha!’

‘There’s only one small problem.’

‘What’s that?’

‘I’m vegan. Have been for years. I won’t touch swine with a ten foot pole.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop 143: Pressure

‘What’s it going to be?’ the man in white asked again.

‘Just a second,’ she said, postponing once more.

‘Please.’ He took a menacing half step forward, metal implement at the ready in his hand. ‘People are waiting.’

‘Just a second!’ she barked, shaking her head. ‘I can’t think.’

The room had grown more crowded and louder, and she felt flushed and dizzy. What if she chose wrong? What if she messed it up? She looked across at all the citizens waiting for her to act. The pressure was immense.

‘Seriously,’ the man implored, ‘you’re almost done. Just make your final choice.’

His voice was distant through the thickening claustrophobia. She could feel them all watching her, whispering, commenting. She felt she might be sick.

‘Jesus, lady. I haven’t got all day!’

‘OK, OK,’ she said, fighting off the panic. ‘Just give me beets.’

‘Beets. You got it.’ The deli man expertly plucked some from one of the many colorful metal trays in front of him with his tongs, and added them to the romaine leaves, sprouts, feta, broccoli and cherry tomatoes in the mixing bowl. ‘That’s your six choices for the salad lunch special.’

Phew. She felt the weight soar from her shoulders, even managing an odd smile. The long line she’d been holding up at the counter seemed to sigh in relief too.

‘Now you just need to choose a dressing. We got balsamic, honey-Dijon, soy-ginger, French, Italian and ranch. What’s it going to be?’

By EM Vireo

Drop 141: Lost

lizard kingLate afternoon, 32 hours in, and John had begun to lose hope. He was hungry and thirsty and tired beyond words. He didn’t know if he could survive another night.

The dust storm had come out of nowhere dropping visibility to zero and sending the Cessna into a spiral. He tried to radio for help but that was down too. He barely had time to grab his chute and jump before the plane dove. Through sand and swirling wind, it was a miracle he made it to ground, landing rough in a patch of thorny shrubs. The storm had moved on and it was eerily still on terra firma, with good visibility. Beige sand, rock and cactus stretched as far as the eye could see. He was somewhere in the Mexico’s central Chihuahuan Desert. This land was vast and desolate.

He was scuffed up and he’d bruised a shoulder, but he was otherwise physically fine. There was real concern, however, about making it out alive with no phone or supplies, knowing no one would miss him for days. He’d need water and food and mainly he’d need luck. He was no Bear Grylls. He didn’t know the first thing about surviving in the wild, about getting moisture from cacti or eating wild berries. Odds were against him, which made slogging though the desert, with no known destination, that much harder.

He made a tactical decision to head west, based on a dubious mental picture gleaned from glances at flight maps, of an area he’d never been to. Seven hours later it hadn’t worked out and he was in real trouble. Maybe every plan would have produced the same result. It was that remote here, and not in any way pleasant. It was hot and dry with little shade and except for a few insects, lizards and that one hare, he hadn’t seen signs of any life, let alone humans. In all the time he’d been walking the landscape had barely changed, and soon night would fall.

The temperature dropped considerably after dark, and the wildlife came out. He tried to sleep on the sand, then on a flattish rock but was kept up by the cold, the scorpions and the clouds of biting gnats. Daybreak brought massive relief, but it was short lived. He hadn’t had water in almost a day, food in longer and the cloudless sky framed a cruel sun. Without hat or sleeves his skin grew red and blistered. Exhausted, he pushed on, striving towards a fictional target, towards an invented savior, hoping against hope to find a person, road or stream. But this was a far-off corner of hell few others would think to visit. He took breaks beside boulders, tried to dig for water in the dust, catch lizards to eat raw, but this only tired him further and made his fingers bleed. He struggled on.

32 hours in, and John had begun to lose hope. He was feeling dizzy and had started to shiver. His feet were cut up and every step sent searing pain up his leg and through his back. He could not swallow, could barely see, and night would soon be upon him again. He knew that it would take him this time. That if he lay down on its endless sandy bed, under its callous, cold and silent darkness, it would take him from this world. He was so tired, so very tired and sore, but he kept walking, staving off an inevitable night. Maybe exhaustion would ease his passing. Perhaps delirium would cushion his journey from this realm. Perhaps insanity would—

‘Oi, mate. What you doin here?’ A hoarse chuckle. ‘Figured I was the only bloke crazy enough to venture to these parts!’ More laughter.

When John looked up the man was right in front of him: a big man with a round belly and full red beard dressed in khaki shorts, a pink polo, and a felt bush hat. John thought he must already have slipped some way into madness as it looked like the man held a pair of tongs in one hand, a beer in the other. ‘You lost or something?’ the impossible vision asked, stepping closer, and then laughing again. As John also stepped forward he saw more that he struggled to make sense of: tables and chairs; pots, pans, and cooler boxes; a large fire with a barbecue grill set up over it; several other people carrying cameras and microphones; and further away, a helicopter.

‘Welcome to the set of Bazza Barnes: Remote Kitchen,’ the big man said. ‘A beauty, isn’t it? And that makes me Bazza,’ he added, having reached John and sticking out a hand. John took it. It was like a bear paw. ‘You can call me Bazz, Bazzmaster or Badman B if you want,’ Bazza said, still shaking, and following with his customary laugh, which sounded much louder and deeper up close.

‘Remote Kitchen?’ John managed through his desiccated throat.

‘Yeah, yeah. You got it. It’s a cooking show. They fly me to some of the remotest places on earth and I set up a kitchen and cook one hell of a bloody tasty feast, if i say so myself, right there and then. I’m quite famous in Australia, but I guess you’ve never seen the show or you’d be acting more impressed.’ More laughter. It had begun to be deeply soothing. ‘Isn’t this place is crackers though,’ he said, looking around. ‘Brutal spot. Just brutal—but I guess I don’t have to tell you that by the look of things.’ He contented himself with huge squint-eyed smile this time. ‘How’d you get heres anyways?’

‘Plane crash. Sorry, please, I need water.’

‘Of course, of course,’ with a great wallop on the back. ‘You want sparkling or still? Cold or room temperature? Probably hungry too, aren’t ya?’ Bazza put an arm around him. ‘Let’s walk you over to camp and get you fed. Got a whole menu on the go: mini lamb burgers with tzaziki and crispy onions, grilled chicken with Sriracha mayo and crunchy apple beet slaw, a beef bourguignon that’s been on the low coals for hours, and a huge chocolate marble sheet cake. Oh, and I’ve got ice cold beer on draught. A corker of an amber ale. Figure it’ll hit the spot in this climate and I reckon it’ll taste better than sex to someone in your position—but of course, we’ll get you a few sips of water first, get hydration goin. That’s only reasonable.’ There came the inevitable laughter. ‘Then we’ll sit you down, feed you for hours and keep the beers coming. Oh boy, I’m glad you dropped in! Tonight is going to be aces. And hell, mate, looks like you going to be on Aussie TV too!’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop 138: CAB

steak knifeC  

Witnessed a bizarre and disturbing scene today while having a bite at my local joint. Two guys at the table next door were just eating and talking quietly and suddenly the taller one grabs his knife and stabs the other straight through the hand. There was no buildup, no apparent reasoning. Dude was pinned to the table, screaming like crazy while blood flowed freely from the wound. It was insane. Just bonkers.

A

‘Hey, can you do me a huge favor?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Can I borrow your van this morning and for some of the afternoon? Have to make a few pick ups for the show.’

‘Guess you’ll also need me to drive it, yeah?’

‘Yeah. Haven’t renewed my license yet.’

‘Typical. And you’ll probably need help carrying shit too, right?’

‘That would be awesome.’

‘OK, but on one condition: we don’t skip lunch.’

‘Course not. Sure.’

‘I’ve been craving a buffalo burger all week and today’s the day. Going to JJ’s for the full combo and I don’t want to be rushed.’

‘Fine.’

‘I mean it. I want to sit and enjoy.’

‘No problem. You got it.’

They make the first pick up at 10.30, the second an hour later. After the next, they bring it all to the theater and unload. It’s almost one when they get to JJ’s. Tim orders the double buffalo cheeseburger special with fries, onion rings and slaw, and a pint of Bass. Larry gets a grilled cheese and a soda. It comes first and he finishes quickly. He taps his fingers on the table for a second, looks at Tim, who is savoring his second bite, and says: ‘Hey buddy. You think you could speed it up a bit? I still have two spots to hit before three.’

By EM Vireo