Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tex-Mex in England

The above is about half t of an essay I turned in for Ranting in Literature. One day, I was walking through the School of English building, trying to find a professor’s office, and I saw the essay printed out and displayed on a corkboard with comments like: “This kid is nuts!” and “Ha ha!” scrawled all over it. I do not expect to get a good mark in the class.
The next day, around five, our group met at one of the bars on campus for a meal before going to Bonfire Night. By this time, each of us was feeling a bit homesick and we decided to go to the bar that featured Tex-Mex cuisine—a tribute to the cheap Mexican restaurants sprinkled around the entire United States.
On the way, I asked The Student what he was doing the other day that had him disappear from the pub in such a rush. He shrugged and said, “Oh, you know, nothing important. I just had to, ah, take care of something.”
“Liar,” I said. “Your pants are aflame.”
“Fine. I had a date.”
I punched The Drunkard in his back, to which he responded by putting me in a headlock and said, “Do not do that again.”
Quickly turning purple—it appeared that The Drunkard had a terrifying natural strength—I choked out, “Okay.”
He released me and said, “Okay, what’s up?”
I wheezed, tried to respond, and coughed. I pointed to The Student and doubled over for a second. “Date,” I managed.
“You got a date?” asked The Traveler.
“Yeah,” said The Student, blushing a little.
“Hey, good for you, man. Didn’t we tell you the Law of Averages would work in your favor?”
“That’s not the best way to express congratulations,” said The Student, “but I’ll take it.”
“Next time,” said The Stalker, “don’t order red wine with a pasta dish.” He didn’t look back while talking. “It makes you look pedestrian.”
“You were following us?”
“No,” said The Stalker. “I was… in a good position.”
The Student and I looked at each other. It was one of those moments that bespoke a vast well of sympathy between comrades.
Without much more conversation, we stepped into the bar. (To be fair, it was an incredibly short distance from Dickens to the bar, and we’d already hit the entrance to the place by the time The Stalker, yet again, weirded all of us out.)
We hadn’t been in the place before, and so we expected a dimly-lit place with soft mariachi music playing in the background, a TV showing Mexican dramas over the bar, and a few murals of men in fields and women carrying baskets of God-Knows-What. It would have been an added bonus if Poncho Villa were featured on the walls somewhere, but we weren’t getting our hopes up. When we walked in, we were dismayed to see that it was a typical campus bar with the default beers (I’d worked up a craving for Negra Modelo, so this was a very strong blow) and little hint of joyful Mexican hospitality. The walls were colored in purple, green, and a strange off-dull-yellow color that I don’t believe I’d be able to see in nature.
The Student let out one of what I considered his trademarked sighs (they possessed a unique, heavy, thoroughly disappointed quality) and said, “Bienvenidos, muchachos. For table six?” in a faux-Mexican accent.
I patted him on the back and said, “There, there, Juan. There, there.”
The Traveler, unfazed by the dearth of Mexicanness, walked to a table, glanced at the menu and went to the bar. The rest of us dragged another table to the one he chose, and glared at the menu. “I bet this shit comes with black pudding,” said The Drunkard.
“Black pudding doesn’t exist,” said The Writer.
“Yes,” responded The Writer. “It’s a cultural misconception. Really, Drunkard, I thought you would have been smart enough to realize that, England being a civilized country, they wouldn’t eat fried blood.”
“Actually,” said the Student, “black pudding’s still around.”
I glanced at The Stalker, expecting to see him licking his lips at the mention of fried blood, but he merely watched the proceedings with his hands in his hoodie and an eyebrow raised.
“Lies,” responded The Writer.
The Student shook his head. “Go down to Wetherspoon’s. On their breakfast menu, you’ll see that you get a serving of black pudding with the English Breakfast. Just because a country has modern buildings and—well, semi-modern roads doesn’t mean they’re above tradition, Writer.”
“Yeah,” said the Drunkard. “You might want to lay off being a wiseass from time to time. Might be tempted to toss you in the fire tonight.”
The Writer snorted. “Oh, yes, I’m truly afraid.”
The Drunkard leaned forward and said, just above a whisper, “Crackle, crackle goes the fire, motherfucker.” He hung his jacket up on the back of his chair and went to place his order at the bar.
The Writer turned towards me, “Narrator, he wouldn’t toss me in the fire, would he?”
I shrugged.
“Damn you,” he said, “give me an answer. Shrugging isn’t an answer, shrugging is putting off an answer. It’s a ‘maybe!’ I hate maybes!”
The Stalker said, “I just might help him,” and walked to the bar.
“Et tu, Student? Will you throw me in the fire?”
“You keep on referencing Shakespeare in common conversation, I just might.” He put his jacket on the back of his chair, shook his head, said, “Utter schmuck,” and went to the bar to order.
The Writer turned back to me. “And you?”
“I’m Switzerland,” I said. Now, it was my turn to go to the bar.
I ordered a chile con carne enchilada and a Mexican-style beer called Sol. I got the beer and realized something was missing. As the rest of my group went to the table, I stood at the bar, looking confused until someone came back to me. He was a tall, built guy with his hair gelled up to the very odd hairstyle prevalent in this country that I can only describe as the crest of an exotic bird; he wore his Union polo with the collar popped, and I blame these two things for the occurrences that followed. “Hey mate, you all right?”
“Welcome back,” sang a voice in my head. “You thought it was your ticket out.” I shook it off. “Um, yeah. There’s no lime in here.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Welcome back,” sang the voice again. “There should be a lime.”
“No mate, there shouldn’t be one.”
“It’s a Mexican beer,” I reasoned, “there should be a lime.”
“Which one of us is behind the bar? I think I should know a little more than you about beer.”
“Ba-ba-ba, Bar-bar-Barino,” John Travolta sang in my head. Suddenly, I felt my head snap back. I was back in Brooklyn. Horshack was there. Epstein was there. More importantly, all sense of social decorum, kindness, love for my fellow man, and tact imploded. “Look here, motherfucker,” I said, virtually shouting for no reason. “You keep pulling this superior shit on me, and I will leap the fuck over this bar and smash your Goddamn head in, capiche?”
The man had the audacity to snort. “Mate, a guy like you, I’d be surprised if he could leap over a stick.”
Well, I had to prove him wrong. I leapt over the bar, put him in a headlock, and said, “Listen: You know anyone workin at K-Bar? Motherfucker in a neck brace?”
The man gurgled.
“Answer me, asswipe.”
“Yes,” he choked.
“That was me. I put him in that neck brace. Now, I don’t know your English customs over here, so maybe I’m out of line. Maybe you should treat your customers like shit, thinking you can handle it all cause you got some fuckin namby pamby accent. But, brother, you think your shit don’t stink? I will take that bottle of Sol, stick it up your ass, and prove to you, once and for all, that your shit stinks.
“So here’s what you’re gonna do: I’m gonna let you go, and you’re gonna write a letter. A missal, if you will. And you’ll address it to your manager, detailing what a gigantic prick you are and requesting that you get some lessons in Goddamn courtesy. After this, you’re gonna go get me a nice, sliced lime to put in my drink so I don’t get the dry fuckin heaves every time I take a sip of Mexican piss beer. You get me, pal?”
The man nodded.
I let him go, walked around to the front of the bar, cleared my throat, and said, “Thank you.”
He took out some paper and penned the most impressive confession of arrogance I had ever seen. After I read through it, I nodded, saw that he put it up on the corkboard near the back, and got a slice of lime for my beer. “Now listen,” I said, coming out of the Brooklyn accent a little bit. “I’m gonna come back later tonight, and if I don’t see that letter still up there, then we’re gonna have trouble. Understand me?”
The man nodded.
I looked around and saw that most of the bar was staring at me. I gave them a wave and what I considered a winning smile. I took the receipt for my food and beer, walked back to the table, and sat down.
The group stared at me. “What?” I asked.
“You ever consider therapy?” asked The Traveler. “That’s not the display of a sane and well-balanced man.”
“The last well-balanced man in my family,” I responded, “was run over by a horse-and-carriage three months after arriving in this country. As a rule, we try be as unbalanced and mad as humanly possible—all in an attempt to stave off death, mind you.”
“That,” said The Student, “may be the dumbest thing I have ever heard.”
“I never made any claim in regards to my intelligence.”
The food arrived much sooner than I had hoped it would—for seeing your food arrive after five minutes is always a sign that it has been sitting in a refrigerator, waiting for someone’s order to set it free. Still, the food looked fine, with one exception: They had Englished up the Tex-Mex.
Now, chances are that my readers will know what I mean by ‘Tex-Mex.’ There is the main part of the dish—enchiladas, for example—followed by some sort of side, usually rice or beans. In the case of my current whereabouts, I assumed that beans were something the British could get a handle on. (Beans for breakfast were seen as a normal thing in this country.) However, they put chips near the enchiladas. Chips, that thoroughly British food staple, that cuisine to which they clung as if it were more important than their monarch. This may seem like over exaggeration, but I issue a challenge to those doubting readers: Go to a British-supremacy website—anything run by the British National Party will do—and view the absurd amount of comments decrying the “Chinky” or the “Paki” and instead hoisting up the “good British chippy.” For example, there was one comment that read, “Sometimes, my mates want to go down to the Chinky for food. I tell them, ‘No thanks, lads. Just drop me off at the chippy.”
Anyway, they tossed chips in with the Tex-Mex. I stared, gaping-mouthed, glaring at the bizarre and eldritch concoction which lay before me. I looked around, saw that my companions were munching away on their burgers, tacos, and quesadillas without showing any signs that the chips also residing on their plates were alien. The Drunkard looked up, saw me and said, “What’s up?”
“There are chips on my Tex-Mex.”
“Yeah,” he said. He took a swig from his Sol. He had no lime.
He had no lime. I jumped up from my chair, pointed at him and said, “You’re Hellenizing! You’re assimilating! Have you no pride? Have you forgotten where you come from? You have no lime in your Sol and you are happily eating chips with your God-damned Tex-Mex! Dear Lord, Drunkard, I be—”
The Traveler stood up and pushed me down by my shoulders. “You need to shut up,” he said. “This is just Tex-Mex. It’s not a big deal. Look, take a bite.”
I did so.
“It’s not even good Tex-Mex, is it?”
I shook my head. The food was bland. The cheese was different, more—I don’t know, plasticky. The beef, while definitely beef and possessing the typical properties that beef was supposed to have, was lackluster. It was bland. It was… English. “No,” I said. “It’s not.”
“Okay,” said The Traveler. “What is it then? It’s English. This is English Tex-Mex. They’re five thousand miles away from good Tex-Mex; you can’t expect them to get it right. What you need to do is calm down, enjoy yourself, and eat.” He returned to his plate. “And get laid. You’re way too tense, man.”
I ate, but didn’t really enjoy it. The Traveler was right, though. I was tense. I was bored. The little schoolwork I had—consisting of reading a book a week for my Ranting in Literature course, and thinking in general for my Philosophy of Life course—was not exactly fulfilling. I needed something else to occupy my time. Right then, I figured it would either be a job or… well, something else. But that was for another time. Right now, I had the bland Tex-Mex in front of me.

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