Drek Said; Slag Said
This was not, however, the time for memory. I arrived at my destination none the worse for wear and parked, bringing a close to my Exxonic musings. My dashboard was drenched in the garish light of our place of meeting, our Rubicon- the Taco Bell.
Ah, Taco Bell, how have I ever done without you in grad school? As a boy your bright adobe-esque walls and disgruntled staff offered the promise of late-night hanging out, and endless servings of Mountain Dew, pouring forth like sugary, caffeinated bat piss until one became powerless to sit still, though whether that was due to the caffeine or an urgent need to urinate was never quite clear. Yes, Taco Bell, home of meat so low in quality that it has become a staple of computer nerds nationwide, whose poor sense of taste is matched only by their poor social skills, combining to mark the entire population as an evolutionary dead end. Indeed, I had not arrived in the parking lot of a low-grade fast food restaurant whose seemingly-international cuisine soothes the psyche of a xenophobic America that cannot tolerate the truly different- I had come home.
After climbing down from my vehicle, a process that very nearly required a ladder of some kind, I was greeted by the sight of a tall, skinny man approaching from across the parking lot. He was dressed in jeans, a white shirt, and a black checked flannel to protect him from the slight evening chill. His chin was adorned by a short beard, resembling nothing so much as a blond Brillo pad. His hair was neatly, and closely, cropped. The very image of a modern metrosexual. Slag had arrived.
“Hey,” Slag called.
“It’s good to see you,” I replied, shaking his hand.
We crossed the parking lot and entered the Taco Bell through doors marked with tape to show the height of the patrons as they crossed the threshold. No doubt a precaution taken by a listless corporation to infinitesimally raise the chances of apprehending those who regularly preyed on this establishment in the wee hours of the morning. As if the police did not have more pressing matters than to pursue fools who steal a bag of spicy chicken gorditas. As if anyone knows what the fuck a gordita is to begin with. Inside we were confronted by the menu- a vast and terrible menu- that seemed to contain all the secrets of life and death, or at least all of the secrets that could be had for under three dollars, plus sales tax. A friend of mine had once developed a set of choices for Taco Bell that, with sales tax, worked out to a total bill of three, six, or nine dollars, depending on which option you selected. Of course, anyone actually consuming nine dollars of Taco Bell food was obviously in the market for a tapeworm, but this friend was characterized more by his obsessiveness than his good sense. I could relate.
“So what’s good here?” Slag asked, pondering the backlit Taconomicon suspended over the sleepy cashiers.
Nothing, I thought instantly, but replied instead: “I’m not sure I remember; it’s been so long since we were here. That meat, bean, and potato burrito looks interesting.”
Yes, interesting. A polite euphemism for terrifying, yet fascinating. The brightly lit photo of the burrito, situated to entice the viewer like an underwear model rendered in saturated fat, depicted a tortilla wrapped around lettuce, beans, cheese, and nondescript furry cubes. The cubes could only be the potato, and the fur was most likely a fried outer layer.
“Yeah, it does. I think I’ll try it. Maybe with some cinnamon twists,” Slag responded uncertainly.
I chuckled, “You’ll have to let me know how it is.”
When it was time, Slag ordered his burrito and cinnamon twists. I ordered three Taco Supremes and a drink. Calling those tacos “supreme” is to assume competition of a very poor quality but, like sanity and George W. Bush, truth and advertising rarely mix.
While we waited for our food to be prepared by apathetic laborers earning minimum wage, surely a recipe for gastronomic joy, we discussed the tragedy in the pacific. Tsunamis, earth quakes, flooding, starvation, and disease. Charming dinner talk for any occasion, but particularly appropriate in the Taco Bell. Especially the part about cholera.
Once we collected our food, grease already soaking through the thin waxpaper wrappings, we found a table near the back door, away from our fellow diners. We had long since learned that this was the best approach, both for our protection and for theirs. Conversation paused for a few moments as paper crinkled and we set upon our food. My own taco supremes resembled Mexican food in much the same way that the subtleties of Italian cooking are captured by a plate of Chef Boyardi beef-a-roni. Slag unpeeled his tortilla, drizzling taco sauce into the dark nether regions of his dinner, and then sealed it back up. With his characteristic optimism he lifted the mass of meat, cheese, and maybe-potato and took a bite. Then another bite.
“How is it?” I asked.
He chewed for a moment and swallowed before responding, “About like you’d expect.”
Slag sighed, “Imagine a Taco Bell burrito with french fries mixed in.”
“Ah.” I answered, “So, I should feel comfortable with my meal selection?”
I returned to my bland repast. Slag began paying quite a bit more attention to his cinnamon twists. The burrito would eventually complete its journey into Slag, and presumably from thence out of Slag in a manner of its own choosing, but my dining companion did not rush the process. Some might say he wished to savor his food, but I think that “steel himself for” might be more accurate than “savor.”
Our conversation turned to our respective vacations. Both were going well, though I had to confess to being affected by a cold. Slag, in turn, was laboring under a professional deadline, forced to deny himself the pleasures of family in order to complete his labors. Given the nearness of the ASA submission deadline, looming like a papery sword of Damocles above my head, I could sympathize.
The talk turned to our personal lives- the lingering effects of Slag’s break from a woman who could be fairly described as “evil,” his following relationship with a woman who, apparently, was incapable of dialing a phone, and his current relationship with a hot Belgian woman. He seemed particularly proud of that last story, and his eyes lit with a pleased glow when he spoke of her. Then again, that might have been the neon accents of a tricked out pickup arriving in the parking lot.
I related my own stories from grad school- teaching classes, writing papers, and suffering under the burden of a dissertation project. I relayed my own romantic adventures.
“So, I’ve been seeing this girl, but she’s either the shyest person I know, or the most boring person I’ve ever met. I’m gradually starting to think it’s the latter, and not the former,” I explained.
“Why did you go out with her then?” Slag asked, laughing into his soda.
I shrugged before answering, “She’s really nice, I wanted to give her a chance. But there’s just… nothing.”
Slag just laughed.
Behind him one of the three gang-bangers who had arrived amidst the neon lights of Slag’s rapture was carrying a platter of twenty tacos to his fellows. Perhaps Taco Bell is to gangers what Ramen is to grad students.
Talk turned to mutual friends, their impending marriages, divorces, promotions, and pregnancies. Slag observed that quite a few marriages had grown out of his infrequent multi-day film festivals. In turn, I expressed a certain amount of gratitude that I had never attended such a festival, as the last thing the world needs is fruit from my loins. Thus far my loins have not been terribly fruitful, and I have not had need of them for some number of months, so their sudden productivity would be quite a change from the status quo.
Pulling out an old, frayed spiral notebook, Slag turned conversation towards the blog. For as long as I have known him, he has been a diligent note-taker. I fully believe that in some corner of his apartment Slag keeps notebooks of every sexual technique he learns, quite possibly with crudely drawn illustrations. I, on the other hand, prefer powerpoint.
I noticed his hands were shaking, though if this was from excitement about the blog, some unknown drug addiction, an alien parasite, or some other unimaginable cause perhaps related to the dark incomprehensibility of Cthulu, I cannot say.
“What was your vision when you started the blog? What did you want it to be? What was the purpose?” Slag asked.
Vision? I thought, Purpose? A blogger needs not these things!
“Mostly I just wanted a place to hash out ideas. It’s cathartic- now I can yell at stupid things online instead of in my living room.”
“It just sort of evolved into whatever it is now. I write about whatever strikes my fancy, and I love it when people argue with me. Discussion is a good thing.”
Well, maybe I don’t write about everything that strikes my fancy- that might be dangerous in ways I cannot easily describe- but most things.
We talked about ideas for posts, for theme weeks, for bizarre amusements that would keep us interested in the blog and, like good avant garde artists, we did so without any concern for the audience. It’s a blog- if we descend into pointless existentialist navel-gazing, well, then they can just suck it up. Or go hang out somewhere else for a while.
Conversation and laughter continued, touching on our professional successes and failures, Slag’s musings about moving to a new city, and politics. Slag ended up purchasing a taco supreme to chase the potato burrito, I followed suit with an order of cinnamon twists- the faux-Churro of the whitebread world.
“Hey, maybe we should blog about this conversation,” Slag suggested at one point.
“You mean a ‘Drek Said; Slag Said’ sort of thing?”
He nodded, “Sure. That’d be really funny.”
“Well, it’d be interesting.”
“You want to?”
“Sure,” I replied, “Although I’ll be tempted to just make shit up. Then again, what else is new?”
Slag laughed, and wrote in his notebook in a neat clean script, Slag Said; Drek Said.
Soon, however, our night drew to an end. We said our goodbyes with the clean, brief, awkwardness of men. Do we hug? Do we not hug? Okay, we’ll just wave. That works. Waving is good. See? I’m waving, that means I like you. But not too much.
Slag walked to his borrowed car, and I to mine. I climbed back to the command deck of the mechanized behemoth, remembering to request a tugboat from the harbormaster to guide me out of my parking space. I led the way from the parking lot, the sparks of our headlights diverging quickly- Slag heading for Orange Blossom Trail and, doubtless, for its disreputable Southern end where sex comes with a bargain-bin pricetag. “Hot Belgian” indeed. I, in turn, steamed behind a strip mall and east on Sandlake, setting course for my family home. I had visited with Slag, eaten at Taco Bell, and lived to tell the tale.
It was a good night to have gone out. A clear night, a warm night, in every way a typical Central Florida night. A night of fear and loathing in the Taco Bell.