As I Lay Yelping
Reviews by William F.
Fernway Craft Meats
A smell, less than a smell, perhaps, just a hint, the faintest remembering of woodsmoke on the brisk morning, and here along the paved road the line the line the line moves not forward with the ticking of the pocketwatch but backward, pushing me further from the brisket Pa had told me of so many years before, he in his cups, languid, dreary eyes, speaking of the slow smoke, of the dripping fat, but here the line persists, a conflagration of be-hatted dandies, their foppish vests and unshaven faces repellent to my very being. I look to my watch, and in the hazy morning light the second hands fidgets but does not advance, and I am again in Pa’s hunting camp, again tending the pot as he and the others returned from the day’s hunt, their boots tracking mud across the floor, and when the stew was done, the line they formed to slop their bowls and break from the loaves of bread for sopping had seemed to never move, though my stomach asserted its needs regularly. Now, at the head of this line, in this moment, a moment that has lingered and tarried longer than its happening, a man steps from the metal trailer, from the home of the smell. He wipes hands on apron, looks at the wretched lot before him, shouts, “We’re sold out for today. We open tomorrow at 10.” The whiff of woodsmoke promised satiation the establishment could not or would not deliver.
Wood-paneled walls provide the contradictory pleasures of confinement and warmth, calling to mind the cabins of one’s youth wherein the hearth’s fire both abated the coldness of the exterior world while also bearing grimly down on its inhabitants. Upon these walls Punchy himself appears, aged, ragged photographs of a younger man in athletic attire, firsts at the ready. A Golden Glove champion at 18, Punchy tells me as he ushers me to the cafeteria-style line, harsh stainless steel adornments clashing riotously with the wood. The field peas sat soaking in their liquid, bits of bacon nudging against the peas, and in time I would sup on them, would taste their savory pleasures. The pasta, small noodles curved in the macaroni style and coated in a profusion of cheeses the likes of which I’d not before seen, had been baked, I believe. Though the noodles were soft, I ate of my bowl and sopped the cheeses with white bread, sliced, it appeared, by mechanical device and not by a blade held by a man in fists accustomed to slicing, accustomed to the work done by his forebears, not hereditary but spiritual, the bakers and cooks of a thousand’s thousand generations who since rock could be chiseled to point had done the minute task of cutting the bread themselves. Punchy had shredded the pork, pulled he would say, though shredding seems more accurate for pulling is another action altogether, and he’d sauced it well. The meal was beyond satisfactory, its flavors mingling on my plate in a way that called to mind the pains of abandoned youth, the brutality of a fallen punch. I’d have rated the experience with additional stars but for the fact, brutal and clear, that they’d mayonnaised the chicken.
A coupling is a needed thing. Key fits to lock and hat fits to head and a boy’s loathsome manhood fits to girl. In all things this twining produces a satisfactory relief, an insistence that into a world of upheaval and the vilest stench of chaos can come an ordering, that upon a time chaos itself can be formed into the order, that disparate parts can meet their compliment and can no longer stand upon the sad, verdant earth as lone beings but can be adhered with purpose and necessity to the unexpected other. Ezell couples barbecue and spaghetti and in the coupling there is meaning and there is life and the holy memory of all earth’s rotations can find itself fulfilled.
Basil Punch Trattoria
The awning spread out over the sidewalk jutting like the edge of a ship on the asphalt sea, chairs skewed wildly in the lurching afternoon sunlight, the patrons swaying in tiny tremors round their tables with tall thin glasses of bubbled water and twists of greenery and wedges of lemon yellow murky in the ice and the hostess sat us near the television set although there was ample seating further away.
Ambiance of crushed greenery and toasted peppers and rising dough and mild disinfectant. The seconds rolled by and the endless choices began to swim on the chalkboard mirage and it was hot and then cold and then hot again and suddenly a moist breath at the nape of my neck and I looked down and the plate was just a porcelain wasteland strewn with the bones of a sandwich neither delicious nor atrocious just lunchlike in its simplicity and in my hand was a tightly gripped spoon scraping desperately at the sticky remnants of an unnamed orzo pudding, the granules buzzing loudly in my head like the pulsating larvae of some verdant and edible fly and then the check arrived with a handful of moist towelettes for the sauce caking my chin and I tipped exactly 17%.
Darcy always wanted to see the city she said Take me to the city one day and so I did and when we arrived we arrived on the train downtown, the blue smoke invisible in the choking canyons of the city buildings, smell of garbage and new clothing and exhaust fumes and then when I thought she might grow so terrified that she’d bolt and run away forever Darcy saw this bistro and ducked inside playfully and I followed anxiously and we sat at the bar (it was one of those old-timey nickel-plated affairs with a taffrail and matching footrail and overstuffed round barstools that swiveled back and forth and back and forth and with a big zinc mirror hanging behind the barkeep) and he asked our order and I said Whisky please and he looked at me quizzically and poured Darcy a milkshake with tiny round black berries in it and asked me again and I said coffee and he said some words that didn’t make sense to me and so he pointed at a shiny white square on the wall with things written in marker and I still could not make head nor tail of it so I just said Yes that one please and gestured vaguely and that was good enough for him and so thirteen minutes later he arrived with a platter and a giant iced glass with brown sticky sweet ice cream in it and a side plate of some kind of cereal and he smiled and I smiled and Darcy smiled and started eating the cereal and there was a fishbowl sitting on the counter only the fish were mechanical but she tried feeding some cereal to the fish anyway and then the owner came out and said we had to leave but he called us an Uber anyway and I thought that was mighty polite.
Staten Island, N.Y.
There was no pretense to the grimy walls adorned with shoddy knockoff Americana. Exposed lighting and dust in the corners and an army of slovenly staff lurking in comical poses all part of the veneer. The entire garish carapace of a building but a mockery of a home for the misunderstood tenant performing sheer alchemy in its kitchen daily, churning out fare worthy of royalty, or whatever could pass for royalty in such a place, building intricate symphonies of presentation, weaving the complex threads of flavor among each other like the upturned roots of a cypress tree trailing in the black brackish waters of the unsophisticated palates of this cheap clientele. A common clamor unbefitting such a meticulously arranged delight. Of Angus and bleu cheese where Buffalo meets the Far East. Unheard-of food origins all squandered weakly upon this mindless rabble drooling in the shadows of flickering sporting events, forgotten and cold corner of the drab and soulless city, beacon in the night.
Away from it all. Two orders of ribs. Three. The lights grow dimmer. Then a fourth. Another cookie milkshake in which to dip the steaming platter of cheese fries. It is cold now. Garlic bread arriving in steaming baskets. The fifth rack of ribs. Outside the city is screaming. Inside it is so warm. Salty. Another soda. Make it diet. Release is near. The apple pie with ice cream, soul of a nation. Eyes close slowly and sweetly, the noise dims into a warm and soothing buzz, and in the background the doors to the kitchen swing wide open one final time.