Friday, September 04, 2009

Little shop of Larry's: A Wally Crankset Tale

"Yes, dear." Sometimes it's the very best thing a man can say, despite his forebodings. Say, "Yes, dear" and shut your trap, cutting off all those other things you'd like to say. It's the smart move and one that will keep you a step above the dog in the household food chain.

If Wally knew this, he never practiced it, and that lead to divisions within the local female population. Some of them adored him for his "honesty, integrity, and determination to speak his mind." None of that group spent much time around him, of course. Those who had were divided into two camps. They all saw him as an unprincipled, womanizing rogue. The truly amazing part was that one faction adored him for those very traits. When various ex-wives and former girlfriends were tossed into the mix, you had a heady brew of warring factions, Balkanized camps with enough animosity to spark another world war.

I will never understand women. For that matter, I'll never understand Wally, either. But if it's true that every man needs a graveyard in which to bury the faults of his friends, I'll start shoveling because it's going to be a big graveyard.

We were sitting on our regular bar stools in the back at Larry's Cafe. Wally and I occupied them so often that they'd pretty well conformed to our backsides. When the bar wasn't busy, Larry leaned on the other side and we talked politics, high school football, and hunting or fishing depending on the season and the usual ebb and flow of conversation. Every now and then, Larry's wife Arlene would pop out of the kitchen with 'goodies' for us to try. These invariably consisted of some form of zucchini. Arlene put 48 zucchini plants in her garden last spring, and the place was being overrun by the things. Several neighborhood cats had wandered in among the plants never to be seen again. We were not about to go in there looking for them, either. It strongly resembled the Little Shop of Horrors, except with zucchinis.

When Arlene came through the door with a plate of fried green something-or-others, Larry's face went gray. He ate zucchini with every meal, and believe me, it's something you don't want to face at breakfast. Wally slid off the barstool somehow and sauntered as casually as possible toward the men's room. Arlene's laser-beam glare bored holes in his back. Then she turned the lasers on me.

"Do you want to try some of these?" she asked. Well, no, I didn't really want to try them because I remembered that unfortunate incident at the Broken Elbow County Fair last month. It seems that Arlene entered her secret “Jalapeno Surprise Salsa” in one of the contests. The three judges gave her a second place ribbon and all seemed well until about 20 minutes later when those jalapenos hit bottom, so to speak, and the judges ran off toward the porta-potties. Surprise!

Broken Elbow is a sleepy country town most of the year, but it absolutely lights up during the state fair. Arlene's salsa was popular with the crowd, and it lit most of them up too. Very shortly we saw a stampede toward the porta-potties. As the salsa worked it's magic on the crowd, fistfights broke out over the remaining supplies of toilet paper until some started grabbing tracts right out of the hands of those visiting Jehovah's Witnesses from over in Clark County. They were overjoyed, thinking that their missionary work was meeting some fine ends, which was true in a way.

All that went through my mind in an instant as Arlene held out that tray. She was terribly embarrassed by the jalapeno debacle and she was a bit sensitive at the moment. If I turned down the zucchini, Arlene's feelings would be hurt as I'd be criticizing her culinary skills, however mildly. That hurt would be telegraphed through Broken Elbow's female population very rapidly. Chances are, the message would reach home and She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed before I did. My hand refused to approach the tray. I summoned as much will power as possible, scraped it into a big pile, and ordered that reluctant hand into action.

"Why, thank you, Arlene. I'd like that." Larry's eyes looked whiter than usual in contrast to his graying face, but his lips remained firmly closed. Choking noises came from the men's room where Wally cowered. My hand found its way to the tray and returned with something green. At least it wasn't wriggling. In Larry's it's always a good idea to see if your food is moving.

You had to be careful because the regulars delighted in playing the same practical joke over and over. On the first weekend of trout season a couple of years ago, some nimrod from out of town walked in and ordered a caramel-latte-macchiato-skinny-and-no-foam. Larry just looked at him over the tops of his glasses. The cafe went silent as all present turned to stare at the newcomer.

"We don't do those frou-frou drinks around here", Larry said.

Nimrod Boy gulped, then realizing his predicament, ordered a large coffee instead. People went back to their conversations and Wally sidled down the bar to sit next to the guy. They talked fishing for a while, swapping plausible lies. The new guy had almost finished his coffee when he jumped to his feet, his bar stool clattering to the floor. "There's a worm in that cup!" he yelled.

Wally picked up the cup and peered into it. "By god, there is!" He reached into the cup with two fingers and retrieved the plastic worm. "And it's still alive!" By slightly rolling the worm between his fingertips, he made it look lifelike. "But I'll take it if you don't want it. They're tasty." And with that he tossed the worm into his mouth and swallowed it whole.

Nimrod Boy's hands flew to his lips and he ran to the men's room.

It was the beginning of a tradition. We all thought it was hilarious, an endlessly amusing joke that we pulled on the unwary - including each other - whenever possible. Larry did a brisk business selling realistic nightcrawlers in various flavors.

So I looked very carefully at that green something-or-other as my hand traveled across the void from Arlene's tray. It didn't move. I chewed it thoughtfully. No sudden burst of fiery jalapeno. No gag reflex. "That's really good!" I announced, much to my surprise. Of it's own volition, my hand went back to the tray for more. I rapidly ate four or five pieces as Larry's eyes grew even bigger.

Arlene nattered about cheese, spices, and olive oil, talking about central Oklahoma cuisine in a way that would make Julia Child spin in her grave rapidly enough to power a small city. I wasn't really paying attention because the food was so good. Then Arlene said, "Well, I hope you like them, because I ran into your wife this afternoon and gave her a big bag of zucchini along with some recipes!"

Larry smiled a cat-got-the-canary smile as I imagined my diet over the next couple of weeks. The rest of the married guys in the bar were making mental notes to keep their wives as far as possible from Arlene.

Then she turned to Larry and said, "You can have some too. I know they're your favorite!"

"Yes, dear," he replied.

I smiled too.



Blogger bother yam said...

Garrison Keillor has a line about people locking their cars up in his small town to keep folks from putting zucchini in them...

9:45 AM  
Blogger Ed W said...

There's a nub of truth in that story. I lived across the street from a Zucchini Woman whose husband finally rebelled when she served it at breakfast. I'd pick up my paper from his news stand every morning - with a couple of zukes wrapped inside. "Don't tell her!" he whispered.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Steve A said...

My mom did that one summer. Zucchini Chocolate Cake was the last straw and I recoil at the stuff to this day. GREAT post!

1:48 PM  

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