Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tears In The Syrup

Me: .....chickens....?
Waitress: (pitiful look) Okay...

Where I went to university I lived above a greasy spoon for my first year. The guy who owned it was named Wayne. Every now and again he'd clearly seen the bedraggled, mischievous faces of us lot who lived upstairs and would wander up with fry-ups spilling over big, heavy plates. If I'm honest I don't really remember anything other than the lake of baked beans on there. Although I'm also certain there was a doorstop wedge of fried bread involved as well. After I moved out of that place I infrequently would pop over to another greasy spoon closer to the beach. In which you could only order a Number One of a Number Two. Without any sense of irony a Number Two swapped out the sausage and potato for an enormous black pudding that looked an awful lot like a number two. That was the extent of choice.

A pervert's wet dream

I distinctly remember going to an American diner for the first time in Lewiston, NY. Actually I remember an awful lot of first times when I came over more than fifteen years ago now. I remember being offered frozen custard and turning it down because all I could envisage was my Nan gleefully picking the skin off a bowl of cake and custard. Gah. I remember being brutally cold and trying to order a hot chocolate in a Tim Horton's in Niagara Falls and the girl behind the counter not being able to decipher what I was asking for at all. Which frankly is a pet peeve of mine. You might have an accent. But when all you sell are donuts, coffee and hot chocolate (let's not count the sandwiches in there - a cardinal rule is if it's sold in a donut shop it really isn't a sandwich) it really can't be that hard to figure out what two-word drink someone is ordering when it's cacking it down with snow outside and the first word they say is "hot." I then also recall her figuring it out and telling me I sound like James Bond. At the time Pierce Brosnan was James Bond. And he's Irish. And I - despite that one time I shaved my head and looked suspiciously like the last potato in Galway - am not Irish in any way.

An authentic Irishman
I remember arriving in Buffalo, NY and the bunch of people I met up with said we needed to go buy some milk. Then we went outside, got in a car and started driving down the thruway. We were still driving five minutes later. And all I kept thinking was, "wait.....are we going to a farm?" Which is a long way from popping around the corner to the Spar and passing your mate coming out holding a pint of milk, a newspaper and a single roll of toilet paper and it being very clear they need a cup of tea and a poo. I remember driving down a suburban street with friends and seeing that someone had put one of those massive twenty gallon drums the kind that football players seem to dump over their head coach during every game. Unless you're a Bills fan obviously. There's been no reason to celebrate anything at all that involved pouring ice and water over some twat in a visor-capin Buffalo for decades. Actually an idea I had was for a Gremlins movie-franchise relaunch where a man somehow has been infected with the Gremlin gene, lives his whole life as a crossbred mogwai/human until that dreaded day when he has a massive drum of ice water dumped on at a televised football game and then goes on to go batshit nuts and eat everyone.

Anyway - I remember seeing that drum and the car stopping suddenly and two people jumped out and stuck it in the back. And I was absolutely certain I had just been present for perhaps the most feeble, whitest middle-class robberies ever committed. Had no concept of garbage picking at all until then. And still didn't really believe it for years afterwards. Especially considering I had a relative who kept "finding" things that he claimed were frm garbage picking that nobody in their right mind would be chucking out. Like a canoe that someone clearly had just left out on their front lawn.

I remember being taken to Sullivan's in Niagara Falls for a hot dog and being bewildered that a) there could possibly be twenty different types of hot dog, and b) that people actually were queuing up to buy a hot dog. And then I ordered a chili-dog because that's what people ate in TV shows I'd seen and thinking that it tasted an awful lot like someone had accidentally spilled chilli on a hot dog. And I remember going into a grocery store for the first time to buy cereal and practically breaking down after realizing there was an entire thirty foot aisle of choice. All of which I'd never heard of - bar your corn flakes and rice krispies. And they had two prices marked on them for some reason. And then - after genuinely feeling like I might crack picking out a box of Life and getting to the cashier who then told me a price that was not only different from the two prices it had listed under it on the shelf - but perplexing higher (sales tax and whatnot).

American grocery stores are dangerous places.

But that diner. First of all - there was a lot of flannel and trucker hats going on in there. And no - not college kids and hipsters. Big, haggard men who's every fiber screamed that they'd been a farmer their entire life. And the waitress was nice. Sincerely so as well. She seemed to actually give a shit that I'd gone in there. I could tell because every time she inexplicably kept giving me coffee even though I hadn't paid for it she would stop for a chat and ask me stuff. I remember knowing I didn't want pancakes or waffles - I was very much in the understanding stages then that because Gavin eats things with flour in that's actually why Gavin then spends enormous periods of time afterwards feeling like total shit. So I figured I'd play it safe and order sausage and eggs. What followed next was a series of questions that would have Oedipus Rex baffled. First of all she asked me if I want links or patties. I was fairly certain that my order only involved two things - some sausage and an egg. Quite what links or "paddies" had to do with them was a mystery. So she offered an olive branch and let me know she was talking about sausage. After I twigged what she was on about I distinctly remember answering by making a hand signal that was supposed to mean links, but could only have looked like I was miming masturbating delicately with my index finger and thumb. 

Most breakfast food looks like a wound in The Walking Dead
She then asked me what kind of eggs I want. Which I thought about really hard (eyebrow furrowed, lip bitten) and replied, "....umm.....chickens...?" It turned out she meant what shape I want them in. Eggs in America is a bit like Cadbury's chocolate back home - about fifty different shapes of something that for all intensive purposes tastes identical to all the other shapes. So I let her run through the thirty eight different types and picked the first one she said - sunny side up. I'm sure she really appreciated that. Then lastly - the pièce de résistance - she asked me what kind of toast I wanted. I wasn't prepared to learn about seventeen kinds of toast I'd never been exposed to and decided against any. And then - after getting my coffee refilled umpteen times in a few minutes - they brought my breakfast out. And the monsters had done something my innocent little foreign mind just could not compute. Something that still now turns my stomach. They had poured a puddle of maple syrup over my sausage (unfortunately not a euphemism). I was confused and horrified. And not anywhere near as aroused as the notion of pouring sticky things all over my sausage should make me. Needless to say as a newly-arrived Englishman in America I grudgingly ate them so as not offend the really nice waitress. A few weeks later I ended up in an iHop (surprisingly not a prosthetic leg made by Apple) staring down at a plate of sausages that some barbarian had covered in powdered sugar.

Of course all these years later I'm an expert at breakfast. I'm quite capable of confidently telling the waitress that no I don't want all the free toast, biscuits and pancakes thank you. And no syrup anywhere near anything I'm eating please. I'm sorry Canada - I love you dearly. And I would move to Quebec City or Toronto in a heartbeat. But outside of Stephen Harper, Celine Dion and Bryan Adams (Worst. Threesome. Ever.) I can think of very little that makes me gag more than maple syrup. And keep that rancid pish you call bacon off my plate. This is really the key to the entire restaurant that I'm foreign. The four cultural cornerstones of America after all are way over the top holidays (balls to all of you that think Halloween and Christmas is over done - it's amazing), not being able to pronounce the letter T properly, high school massacres and bacon. And lets all be clear that the worst atrocity there is the last one by far. 

The fact that pumpkin-spice bacon exists is the clincher there.

No comments:

Post a Comment