When the Washington Post dubbed their town "The Armpit of America," the town council of Battle Mountain, Nevada, decided to roll with the punch. Raking the bottom of the cash drawer in the town treasurer's office, they managed to scrape together enough spare change to buy ad space on a handful of billboards scattered over several hundred miles along Interstate 80, which swings low like a sweet chariot along the town's southern outskirt. The billboards begin with the Post's quote, then they urge travelers to "Make Us Your PIT Stop!"
Other slogans they have used include: "Battle Mountain-- Halfway to Everywhere," which is the logical positive-spin way of saying "about as far as you can get from Somewhere," and "Battle Mountain-- Base Camp for Nevada's Outback."
That last one is probably the most descriptive. The town lies indolent and insolent in the middle of a sprawling, flat valley whose far-flung fringes are rippled with gray mountains half-buried in the horizon. It is a town that sometimes seems to have fallen through a hole in time. Oh, you never quite forget you're in the twenty-first century, of course, but you are easily reminded of the Old West... or the Great Depression.
Naturally, there is a truckstop there. If there wasn't one, well, I probably wouldn't be telling you about the place. I might mention the billboards... but that'd be about it.
The truckstop is still where it was in those bygone days when U.S. 40 was called U.S. 40 and it was the major highway through these parts. Now the super-slab roars past the edge of town, forgotten 40 wears some innocuous state highway number utterly lacking in character, and the truckstop --dusty and spare, like the rest of the town-- sits tucked a long half-mile from the Interstate, across the street from the Union Pacific main line and in the shadow of a grungy old marble-maze-looking industrial plant of some kind.
Inside the truckstop is a sandwich shop. It's open twenty-four hours. That isn't germane to the story, but that's okay: Nothing I've said so far is.
The woman behind the counter smiled and said, "Hi. What can I get ya?"
"Hi," I said and smiled. It wasn't that smile that any number of women have called That Smile, but it was still a pretty good one. "Umm," I said, and frowned at the menu in apparent indecision. I didn't really need to look at the menu. I already knew exactly what I wanted. I have found, however, that knowing exactly what you want makes other people ill at ease. My hesitation was an attempt to be disarming. Finally I said, "Uh, could I have a foot-long, ham, salami and cheese, on white, please?"
"Sure," she said, moving to the bread rack. "On what kind of bread?"
"White," I said. I tried to say it distinctly without seeming to.
She pulled out a white sandwich loaf. "Six inch or foot-long?" she asked.
In my head, I played back the mental tape of me ordering. I didn't do it to make sure I'd actually said, "foot-long," but rather to see if I could figure out how in the world she'd missed my saying, "foot-long." I didn't come up with anything.
Outwardly, I occupied myself with trying very hard to appear as if I hadn't even considered the question until just that moment. Then, as if just reaching a decision, I said, "Let's make that a foot-long."
She set the loaf on the counter and cut it open. Then she walked over to the big, glass-doored refrigerator where the meats and cheeses were kept. "Ham, salami and cheese?" she asked.
"What kind of cheese?"
"American," I said proudly, because that's what I am: A red-blooded, red-neck'd, red-state-raised, red-meat-eating American who, therefore, has no taste in cheese.
She grabbed a big ol' hunk of ham and took it over to the slicer, shaved off a big-boy portion (because that's what I am), put the hunk away and arranged the shavings onto the bread. She repeated the process with the salami, albeit in a smaller portion. Then she grabbed a block of Swiss cheese and sliced off two fairly thick chunks.
They were about six inches away from my sandwich when she asked, "You did say 'Swiss', right?"
A voice inside my head said: No, I did not say 'Swiss'.
Another voice --also inside my head but in a slightly lower timbre-- said: Just say yes; we're in a hurry. Don't make a big deal out of it; you can eat Swiss.
Out loud I said to the woman, "Yes. Yes I did." I smiled and nodded.
I'm not making a big deal out of it, the first voice said. I'm just saying I asked for American. More importantly, I'm wondering just what the hell is wrong with this woman.
You do realize you're talking to yourself right now, don't you?
Yes, I do, the first voice answered. If I didn't realize I was talking to myself, that would be something to worry about.
You do realize that if you didn't realize--
Shut up. We're being asked another question.
"Uh, just lettuce and mayonnaise," I answered out loud. I watched her slather some mayo onto the face of the top bun, sprinkle a wad of chopped lettuce into the crevice, then reach for the pepper shaker.
"Pepper?" she asked. "Salt?"
"No," I said. I probably said it a little more emphatically than necessary, but not much.
She paused with the pepper shaker held over my sandwich, tilted at a slight angle. She looked down at it, as if contemplating the spiritual meaning of a ham and cheese sandwich with or without pepper. She seemed to be fighting the urge to put pepper on it anyway, despite my objection.
I-swear-to-god, I thought, if she puts pepper on there, I'm gonna demand she makes me a whole new sandwich.
My other voice said: Grow up. What's the big deal? So there'll be pepper on your sandwich. You don't mind pepper that much. Let's just get the sandwich, get out of here and back on the road.
This whole situation is emblematic of a larger problem in our society, you know. I mean: Here I am, the only customer in the place, and she, quite frankly, doesn't have anything better to do right now than to make my damned sandwich any damned way I want it, but she either can't... or won't. It really says something, don't you think?
You're a bit of a hypocrite, you know.
I know, but so is everybody else. At least I'm aware of it, and try not to be. There's only so much a man can do.
You gonna write about this on One F's blog?
Naw... nobody likes these kinds of stories.
It was a relatively small fast-food place, somewhere in the Sierras. There were three large TVs hanging from the ceiling, hulking over the room like 'roided-up vultures. When I walked in the door, Paula Zahn was on all of them, running one of her hard-hitting, cutting-edge reports on the latest fly-by-night, disposable fashion statements made by the most recent awards-show parade of superficial celebrities.
I'd like to think I could have ignored it. Yes, I'd like to think that as I took my place in line I could have remained disdainful and disinterested and just a little bit smug, had the woman doing the voice-over not said: "Skin, skin, skin, skin, celebrity skin, skin!" Or, um, words to that effect.
I am, after all, a red-blooded American boy. So I looked. Even though the reasonable and rational part of my brain told me I wouldn't see those areas of skin that the Christian Right --and their lapdog, the Federal Communications Commission-- says I can't handle seeing on basic cable, I looked. Even though I have proven to myself time and again that I am simply not capable of actually undressing a recorded image of an attractive woman through sheer mental energy, I looked.
Jennifer Aniston walked onto the screen and stopped, and a lightning storm of paparazzi flashbulbs started their staccato strobe. She was wearing --trust me, this will shock the hell out of you, so if you aren't already sitting down, you'd better-- she was wearing something low-cut. I shuffled forward in line and then leaned against a handy column, all the while focusing hard on that narrow tease of a slit that plunged down to her... um, well, it, uh, it plunged down to somewhere, I'm sure-- somewhere below the smooth, graceful, globe-like curves it was designed to showcase.
I stared in concentration. I knew it wouldn't work, but I stared hard and concentrated anyway. I tried to reach out with my mind and grasp and pull the edges of that peek-a-boo slit just a little farther apart, just for the hell of it. I do the same sort of thing at home with the TV remote. I put the remote on the coffee table and then, when I want to change the channel, I spend about fifteen seconds with my arm outstretched, trying to "call" the device to my hand. Hey, let's face it: If I'm ever going to move anything by telekinesis, it will probably be a remote control.
I don't know how long I'd been doing that when I suddenly realized someone was trying to get my attention. I looked at the woman behind the counter. She was grinning at me.
"A number eleven," I said.
That's right, I said a number eleven. I don't mind ordering my food by the numbers. I don't mind it one damned bit. In fact, I rather like it. Think whatever you want.
"Do you want the regular size, or...?" she asked.
"Just the regular size," I nodded. I stepped forward. She punched some buttons on the register and told me the price, with tax. I pulled out my wallet. As I dug out the money, I overheard the TV switch from covering all the beautiful women at the awards show to covering all the beautiful men at the awards show.
I started to hand over the appropriate number of bills, but now it was her turn to stare at the TV. The beautiful men, you know. Quietly, I folded my wallet and put the money down on the counter. I didn't want to disturb her concentration by watching her watch TV --who knows? She might have been close to a breakthrough-- so I spent the next several moments glancing around at nothing in particular.
After a short while, she kind of shook herself and looked at me. She grinned and apologized. I shrugged and said it was alright. She took the money and put it in the register, counted out the change and dropped it into the palm of my outstretched hand. As she did she said, "Trouble is, none of those men are real." Her eyes flicked up to my face and she frowned slightly. "You know what I mean?"
I grinned and nodded. "As a matter of fact, I know exactly what you mean."
Seldom do I agree, you see, with much or many of the top five or ten so-called sexiest women that the movie industry and the fashion industry and the entertainment media are always telling us is our collective ideal of beauty. Maybe nobody does. Or maybe they do, but only because they are weak-minded.
The check is in the mail.
The male asks the female for a snatch of life by the tail.
And oh, what tales she could tell 'im
about all the sails she's had to till-- um,
that is to say, she has for sale.
A whale of a good time, girl?
The wail of a good-time girl.
You've probably heard that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's daughter, Alexandra, has gone and made a documentary film about Christian evangelicals.
I heard a clip featuring that frocking, defrocked hypocrite Ted "How Is It That Nobody Could Tell Just By Looking At This Creepy Little Elf That His Loafers Were Light" Haggard, in which he said that evangelicals actually have better sex lives than anybody else. (Or words to that effect. Sorry, but I can't remember word-for-word the latest line of buy-bull shinola being perpetrated by this mass of snake-oil salesmen-- mostly because I'm trying so very hard not to hear them at all.)
As proof, he turned to a group of fellow churchgoers --all men-- and asked how often they had sex with their wives. They all replied, "Everyday. Sometimes more than once." Haggard then asked what percentage of the time their wives achieved climax. The men --and again, I stress: All men. The modern church probably does allow women to speak, but I'm sure it's frowned upon because it would distract them from their baking-- the men all said, "Every time."
Good for them, I guess, but I fail to see how it proves anything. I mean, speaking as a man, I can assure you that every sex partner I have ever been with climaxed every time, too. So how, I ask you, how does that make a Christian evangelical's sex life better than mine?
Dick "Chancellor Palpatine" Cheney is on the prowl. He has granted three interviews to name-recognized media outlets in the past month. In one of them, he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the U.S. has done many great things in Iraq and that he expects many great things in the future.
Translation: "Well, my cronies in the business and industrial sectors --particularly the ones with big government contracts-- have reported several good quarters in a row, now, and in some cases, there's even talk of a stock split at the end of the fiscal year. What more do you want?"
P.S... Get ready to grab your ankles and brace yourselves, Baseball fans, because Bud Selig has that gleam in his eyes again. There are very loud rumors afoot that the Commissioner's latest idea for grinding the Grande Olde Game into the biblical dust and ashes from which Alexander Cartwright so painstakingly legislated it is close to completion.
I'd say more --and probably will, at some point-- but right now I have a day job to get to...