Monday, October 4, 2010
The Bubble Bath, Part 14
Editor’s Note: We have just arrived at Pat’s King of Steaks in South Philly, where apparently magical things can happen…
But they’re not happening just yet. First we have to get out of the car and successfully make it to the sidewalk without being mowed down by waves of cars filled to the brim with hungry citizens. These people are fixated. They WILL make it to the next available parking space, even if several strangers have to lose important limbs and/or their loved ones. They don’t play.
Once on the sidewalk, my initial estimation of the crowd size proves to have been a little on the conservative side. There are people everywhere, running about all crazy-eyed and knocking things over. As mentioned previously, I really don’t like people. They get on my nerves. I especially don’t like immense AMOUNTS of people who seem determined to get on my nerves. Yet I am constantly finding myself in situations where this very thing is happening. It’s my personal karma. I really must have been a bastard in a previous life.
And I’m really not hungry. I’m just along for the ride, because Bubbles feels that we need to experience the Nirvana of Pat’s. I fully intend to quietly purchase whatever I’m supposed to get here, and then tuck it away for possible ingestion at a later time. If the other two want to eat, that’s fine. I’ll just stand off to the side and look bored, because I’m really good at that. And talking about people behind their back. Those are my two finest skills.
I survey my surroundings, hoping to glean something of value so I can better understand exactly what is going on here. The rabid citizens seem to be involved in three types of activities. One involves standing in a line along one side of the building, where there are several windows and lots of people yelling things at one another. Why do they have to be so loud? And what language are they speaking? It seems I keep hearing the phrase “we zit” being bandied about profusely. We zit? That doesn’t make any sense, further adding to my confusion and dismay.
Another group of people are huddled around what appears to be a majorly-serious condiment station. They are snatching and grabbing bits of this and that as if they don’t move fast enough the ground will simply open up and swallow them whole. And it seems perfectly fine if someone shoves someone else out of the way. If you get knocked aside, then you just dive back in, like a herd of piglets fighting to get at some sow’s teat.
Finally, there are people sitting at the various tables placed about. The barnyard analogies continue, as these people are all making noises I haven’t heard since I used to help Peepaw gather eggs back on the farm as a budding young gay boy. No one at these tables is talking. They are just shoving things in their mouths and smacking. And belching. Really serious belching. As in explosive and ear-ringing. What has gotten into these people?
I glance at Bubbles to confirm that she really wants to do this. She’s all smiles. Of course she does. Trust me, this is one of the finer things in life. But there’s a process to this, and we must follow protocol and there could be unsavory complications.
She points to a large sign on one of the walls. It was entitled something like “How To Order” and listed eight or so rules that detailed your expected behavior. It was a lot of information to process. Apparently, a very important discussion point was whether you wanted onions (“wit”) or did not (“witout”). There was more commentary on selecting one of 500 different kinds of cheese toppings. Oh, and the mushroom factor. But the commandment that captured most of my attention? The one at the bottom that said “if you mess up, you have to go to the end of the line and start over”.
What the hell?
This was too much pressure. I turned to Bubbles again in abject fear. I’m not doing this. You have to order for all of us. I’m just going to follow along behind you, mutely, pretending that there was an unfortunate incident with my vocal cords many years ago at Velma’s Wee Wonders Vegetarian Bible Camp. (Maybe I was proudly listing the apostles while standing on a prune crate when, suddenly, a blade flew off a nearby combine and sliced my tender strings, but saved my life, because The Lord had plans for me to eventually be in a strange city where I could eat hot meat that was drenched in Cheez Whiz. Yeah, that sounds plausible.)
Terry nodded as well at Bubbles. Girl, this is all you.
Bubbles sighed, then began quizzing us about what we wanted on our cheesesteak sandwiches. Of course, all three of us wanted something different, which might lead to Bubbles supreme humiliation in a public setting, but that was fine as long as it wasn’t me. We joined the line to face our doom. (Well, Bubbles’ doom. If anything untoward happened, I fully intended to run through the night until I found a cab and eventually the airport.)
The line moved surprisingly fast despite, or because of, the intricate procedural rules. It seemed like only seconds later and Bubbles was at the first steamy window. Bubbles announced our order. Showing complete disappointment in our failure, the ordering guy barked at her to clarify some business with the onions. When Bubbles hesitated for a fraction of a second, he barked again. (This was war, people.) Rattled, Bubbles provided the further intel, but she tripped up a bit on her own sandwich. I did not say a word. My sandwich was fine.
Two seconds later, three piping-hot sandwiches were shoved at us. Seriously, two seconds. Bubbles paid. We moved to the second window, where you can get fries, and we partook of that. We avoided the final window, where you apparently could receive beverages, assuming you gave the right coded commands. We had bottled water in the car. Besides, if we spent any more time in the nerve-wracking line, we were going to crack, and I was really too tired for all the physical effort required to ensure a satisfactory and entertaining mental breakdown.
We moved to the condiment station, jostling among the piglets for squirts and sprays of various dressings and flavor enhancers. I just wanted a bit of ketchup for my fries and then I was done. Whilst Terry and Bubbles perused the options, I suddenly realized that the warm meat in my hands smelled really good. Damn good. Perhaps I would have just a bite or two before tucking it away for the intended late-night snack. That’s all. Just a taste.
I thought we would then head to the car, but a table happened to clear and Bubbles led us to it. As we settled in, she did have some cautionary advice. “These’ll make you burp.” I really didn’t pay much attention to her, because I didn’t plan to eat very much. You can’t get gas from a bite or two, right? I adjusted my sandwich wrapper and took a tentative nibble.
Jesus appeared before me, blessing me with his work-calloused hands, while several stunning angels wearing the latest heavenly fashions frolicked behind him in a beautiful meadow where everything was clean and pretty and war didn’t happen.
The vision cleared. I looked at Terry. “Holy cow.”
He could only nod, grease dripping off his chin as he lunged for a second bite. He waved his hand. We could talk about it some other time, he was very busy right now. (Bubbles giggled with delight and satisfaction as we slightly lost our minds.)
I took another bite, and produced my first belch. Wow, this stuff acted fast. What the hell were they putting in these things that made them so divine and yet so gaseous?
It didn’t matter. I had to have more. All thoughts of saving anything for later flew out the window, and I let loose with another belch as I basically slammed my head face down into my sandwich.
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