A Sunday afternoon at High Park, a time usually taken up by a Panthers game, or, if they are on, Matt’s beloved Vikings. If indeed the beloved Vikings are on the tube the statistical one abandons the island and sits at the bar directly in front of whichever television has the game on. He is a pretty animated fan and fun to watch.
This particular day Mike was in his usual chair, Tim was busy making a rare Sunday appearance, and the chair to my left, typically occupied by the Viking, was taken by Slash the Peripheral. Slash had gained an amount of fame lately by being the organizer and promoter of what he was trying to build into a tradition: the Friday lunch at the Carolina Barbecue. Carolina Barbecue was on Highway 70 in Garner, on the right if you were heading east.
“A good landmark is the pizza place and a sign extolling the virtues of a pawn shop, one of those portable signs on the side of the road,” Slash had told me. This conversation had been back in the infancy of the “tradition” movement when Slash was just trying to get it going.
“Ya know, traditions are a wonderful thing,” he had told me on the Tuesday of the week of the first lunch. I soon found out that Slash was kind of a stickler for orderliness, like his insistence on meeting there at “high noon” on Friday. I remember that after a time Slash suggested that I invite Matt to the lunch, mentioning that I should make sure and tell him that it would happen at “high noon.” I am not sure what to make of this strictness about time; one theory is Slash is a “Gary Cooper-phile”. I do know that he likes westerns and I am pretty sure I heard him humming “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin’” one day. He has also been known to speak glowingly of Tex Ritter. I recall that the first time that Matt had been asked to join us Slash and I were sitting on the block wall outside of the place and at precisely 11:59 Matt pulled his Honda Accord Sport sort of into a parking spot. I use that verbiage because that was the day that it kind of looked like he nicked the bumper of a new-looking pickup in his approach, but it was hard to tell; it was close enough that Slash and I gave each other a look. The truth came out a bit later when we were seated inside and a guy walked up and asked if one of us were the owner of a black Honda Accord; credit where credit is due, ol’ Matt owned up and went outside with the guy and when returning said “guess I nicked his bumper; could barely see anything.” Then Matt told us that the fellow was going to get his body guy to look at it and give him a price and he would give Matt a call. Bottom line is Matt had to shell out $300; don’t ya love a happy ending.
So the Friday lunch became a kind of a thing and we would invite other people to come; most never agreed to, but Tim has signed up for every Friday noon ad infinitum once he retires the end of May.
This particular day Slash had brought up the lunch idea; he is always on the recruiting trail. “Mike, why don’t ya come down to lunch with us next Friday,” he proposed. Mike situated his long hair and replied “now where is it that you all go?” Slash went through the directions and Mike assured him that he might come.
“Let me see if Andrea has got anything goin’ on,” he said, and Slash abandoned the project and moved on to me. “Shady, you will be present, correct,” he asked. “Hear they got pig knuckles on special this week,” he said, laughing. I offered a fake gag in reply. What he was talking about was some time back when I found a pretty good-sized bone in my barbecue down there.
“It was the size of a knuckle,” I had proclaimed, and the story was born.
Ed the Pilot, a peripheral who was knocking on the door of being a total regular at the island, was the latest to come to the Friday barbecue fete. I guess you could say that Ed was an islander in good standing, because that is what he did when he came in; he would stand at the end of the island and have his drinks. He would be interrupted more than occasionally by phone calls and go out and have a conference call from his car, of course pretending to be in his spacious corner office having just pored over the Wall Street Journal. He sold commercial real estate.
Matt sort of liked to engage in “chain pulling” so he piped up with “maybe we can move the lunch to the K&W out at Beacon Hill.” Of course we knew where he was going with this; he was using the change of venue idea to allow him to repeat his famous “name your meat” story. He told it well.
“When I was programming for Carolina Builders, which became Stock Supply, which became something else, a group of us used to go to K&W quite a bit due to its proximity to the office,” he told us. “As one walked down the serving line the servers would yell out at you; for example, ‘name your salad, name your vegetable,’ etc. As I was progressing down the queue I answered to the salad and vegetable inquiries and then inspiration came to me. As we approached the entre pans a young black man yelled out ‘name your meat,” I tell you it was a bolt from the blue; I yelled out ‘THE CRIPPLER,’ and the desired effect occurred; my friends, and myself, fell all over our selves hee-hawing, but no one was laughing as hard as the server who asked the fateful question.”
It is a very funny story and we never get tired of hearing it, even though we hear it at least once every two weeks.
We looked behind us as we heard the distinctive clop of cowboy boots; it was Dennis, aka the Curmudgeon. The Curmudgeon prided himself on being a rather snazzy dresser and he was not a disappointment today; He was sporting new jeans pulled down over his Tecovas and a western shirt. He had topped things off with a new cowboy hat that had become his millinery favorite of late. (I am aware that a milliner makes women’s hats but it is such a superior word to hatter.) The Curmudgeon was pretty much bald but still paid Slash’s personal barber twenty dollars a week to clip his little fringe. The Curmudgeon fancied himself somewhat of an expert on all things tonsorial, even while in his virtually bald state. He lived to rag me every time I got a haircut; whenever I came into the bar freshly shorn Curmudgeon went into a state of high alert, pouncing with comments like “my God, that looks like a fourth grader cut it,” or “you really paid somebody to do that to you?” But the Curmudgeon’s claim to fame is his attitude, so duly noted by Slash’s well-deserved sobriquet for him; for example, one day someone came into the bar with some Oreo cookies and was offering them around. When the pack came to Dennis he looked down at them with a sneer and with a droll and disdainful voice said “don’t like ‘em, ain’t gonna eat ‘em.” This statement was not meant for humor; the Curmudgeon was as they say “serious as a heart attack.” Another day someone was drinking a Dr. Pepper; the Curmudgeon took one look at it, shook his head, and bellowed “hate it, ain’t gonna drink it.” I try to seize opportunity when it comes along so of course his next birthday I presented him with a pack of Oreos and a Dr. Pepper. The Curmudgeon took it well; Slash ate the Oreos and took the Dr. Pepper home to his wife, Wanda. The Curmudgeon and his antics have become so well known that I think it is safe to say that he has achieved “eponym” status, the mention of Dennis and Curmudgeon having become synonymous and anyone displaying any of his characteristics immediately labeled “Curmudgeon.”
Speaking of Slash’s wife, Wanda is a pert little woman from JOCO, what people around here call someone from Johnston County. She worked as a flight attendant for decades but has retired to become an entertainer; trust me, all ya gotta do is be around her a while. All meant in a laudatory way. For example, she claims dirt poor beginnings, her most famous story of poverty being how she and her four sisters “had to sleep sideways on one bed” because of no money. She is also a great storyteller; she tells one of how she and Slash were in a bar in Maggie Vallie, which is close by an Indian reservation. At the time she was sporting a deep tan; one of the drinkers approached her and said “I know there are a lot of Indians around here and wondered if you were one and if so what tribe.” Without missing a beat she replied “Sioux, Wanda Sue,” and immediately launched into a war whoop, patting her open palm on her mouth.
Another of her tales is about when they were in the same bar and some mountain boys were talking ‘bout how a park ranger had pulled them over and asked the driver if he had any I.D. The driver replied “idee ‘bout what?” One of her most outstanding talents is the exaggerated walk she puts on when heading to the bathroom after she has had a few. Gotta see it. Or as someone once said “I’ll see it when I believe it.”
Teasing is a mainstay at the island and no one is excepted. Lately I had become a target for my insatiable desire for saltines. It was first noticed when I ordered a bowl, not a cup, of oyster stew out at Carolina Barbecue. Admittedly oyster stew is one of my favorite items of all time and I came to find out that Carolina Barbecue did a great job with it. When I ordered it I always ordered the bowl, which is more than generous, approaching cauldron size. I load it up with saltines and top it off with black pepper and the game is on. I have even been known to smuggle in my own cheddar cheese. There was only one slight mar on the Carolina Babecue oyster stew record, albeit a small one. That was the day that I did not think it was quite hot enough and asked if it could be put in the microwave for a bit. Seems they don’t have a microwave so to be accommodating I just ate it the way it was; it went down fine. But of course the sharp eyes of the other attendees did not miss any of this and this episode of cracker binging, combined with my ordering crackers and butter to be brought to the island, has made me a bit of a target among these gourmands. I have noticed that the mock derision has not affected the respective appetites of Tim and Ed the Pilot for the delicacies. The waiting staff has assured me that they are glad to get rid of the crackers; it seems they typically hang around so long that they go stale.
Recently Slash had gotten into this habit of trying to decide what he would have on Friday when we would meet at the Carolina Barbecue; odd thing about is that he would start talking about it way early, like on Monday. Then he will ask other people what they are thinking about having when Friday rolls around; if I am asked I typically respond with “a knuckle sandwich” or “crackers with a tablespoon of oyster stew.
As the afternoon drew to a close the crowd thinned, Matt having left with a fresh Viking win to savor. Slash sidled up to where I was and said “hey, the next time you see Matt tell him I am either going to order barbecue or fried chicken, but I am not going to commit until he orders.”