When I was 23, I moved from my home town of Chicago to Tucson, Arizona for various reasons, not the least of which was that I didn’t want to experience another Chicagoland winter. Well, that worked out well. It was 122º F here yesterday. Yeah, that’s way better than having to wear a scarf when you go outside. For those of you having a hard time comprehending that temperature because you’re unfamiliar with the Fahrenheit scale, imagine room temperature inside your home. Now imagine that you live inside your oven, the oven is turned on, and your house is on fire. That would’ve been a welcome break from the heat down here because 122º is fucking balls hot. I took the kids swimming at night, and even though it was pitch black out, it was still 109º. I read today how Seattle had this brutal heat wave going on, with temperatures as high as 92º, and everyone was crying in their heroin because of it. Yeah, well our low temperature was 100º, so you can cram it with espresso, Seattle. That is weak sauce, and you fucking know it.
Ahem. Sorry, this heat has everyone on edge down here. People are beginning to protest the law that makes it a misdemeanor to bludgeon to death anyone who says, “Hot enough for ya’?” and I fully agree with them. That shit should be a civil fine at most, and the city should be responsible for the cost of picking up and disposing of the corpse of my mailman who tried the “hot enough” line on me last Friday. He’s starting to smell, and since he’s right outside the front door, the kids have to step over him on their way out in the morning. This requires me to tell little white lies about the situation so as not to scar my children. “The mailman tried to come in and cut your heads off last night, so I caved his skull in with a nine iron. … Hey, who wants ice cream?”
Anyway, where I had meant to go with this post was that one of the things I miss most about Chicago is the food. Chicago, being a major international city (unlike those fucking posers in St. Louis) has a wide variety of cuisine to choose from. If you feel like having Chinese food, there’s bound to be excellent Chinese food nearby. Have a hankering for authentic Italian? Right around the corner you’ll find Italian food so authentic that your waitress will have authentic neck hair. Polish cuisine, Venezuelan food, Mexican appetizers, Japanese teppanyaki, you name it, Chicago has it. (Well, they don’t have French restaurants because, let’s face it, a single guy named Fritz walks through the door and the entire staff will flee for their lives, throwing soup tureens in the air as they flee via the back door, crying like little girls. Within a week, the restaurant will be serving schnitzel and playing David Hasslehoff CD’s.)
By contrast, down here in Arizona, here’s what passes for haute cuisine:
- TGI Friday’s
- Any other pseudo-wacky name that a faceless corporation believes will make you believe that it’s a “fun” place to eat, like TGI McFelcher’s.
I hope you like chicken fingers and a whole bunch of crazy shit on the walls! (Although to be honest, the crazy shit on the walls is something I like. Instead of taking things to Good Will, I just walk on in to TGI Salmonella’s and nail it to the wall. Nobody even looks twice when you do that, and it’s good for a laugh when you go back a week later and there’s a family of five eating below a wall-mounted Fleshlight.)
Also, some of the foods that I was used to buying at the grocery store are just plain unavailable in Arizona. Like pickled hard boiled eggs. Go into any authentic Chicago bar, and there is a huge jar of pickled eggs present because after two dozen drafts of Old Style, you’ll eat fucking anything, including a pickled egg that dates back to the Eisenhower administration, fished out of a large jar of salt-water by a bartender with open sores on his arms. That’s good eatin’!
But apparently not good eatin’ down here in Arizona because it was damn near impossible to find them.
Grocery Store Guy: Hi, sir, can I help you find anything?
Me: Yes, actually, can you tell me where the pickled eggs are?
Grocery Store Guy: The… The what?
Me: Pickled eggs.
Grocery Store Guy: Pickled eggs? Like, chicken eggs?
Me: No, human eggs, Einstein. My last name is Dahmer, and I’m trying to round up a light brunch. Yes, chicken eggs! Hard boiled, then pickled.
Grocery Store Guy: Gross! Why would you eat that?
Me: Because I hate my body and I’m trying to take it down from within. You gonna help me, or what?
I finally did find a store that sells pickled eggs, and they are absolutely fucking expensive like you cannot believe. I don’t remember them being that expensive in Chicago, although I pretty much only ate them in bars and never really paid attention to the price. They could have cost $10,000 an egg for all I know, which now that I think about it, would explain some of my more disastrous bar tabs.
Another thing you can’t get in the stores is a gyro kit. This is a prepackaged meal containing pita bread, gyro meat, cucumber sauce, and a little tray of lettuce leaves, tomato slices, and chopped onion. It’s like taking a little slice of Greece home with you, minus the crippling debt and sodomy. You can’t get that at all down here.
Grocery Store Guy: Hello, sir, can I help you find anything?
Me: Yes, can you tell me where I would find the stuff to make gyros with?
Grocery Store Guy: To make what with?
Grocery Store Guy: The fuck is that?
Me: You know, it’s that greek sandwich. Pita bread, those funky strips of meat, cucumber sauce…
Grocery Store Guy: …
Grocery Store Guy: We have baloney.
Me: You have ten seconds to get out of my sight before I beat you to death with a canned ham, motherfucker.
Worse yet, it’s hard to even find a gyro joint down here. And if you ask around, some asshole will invariably say, “Oh, you mean a place that serves J-EYE-ROHS!” which really makes me want to drop the fucker right then and there, although to simplify disposal I suppose I’d take him home and put him next to the mailman. For the record, it is pronounced YEAR-oh, YIH-roh, or if you’re swarthy enough to pass for Greek, ZHI-roh will suffice as well. Pronounce it J-EYE-ROH, and I automatically assume that you’re on your way home to your trailer to watch NASCAR, beat your wife, and make a fresh batch of meth to enjoy with your fluffernutter and pork rind sandwich you white-trash piece of shit.
Ahem. Again, the heat. I’m sorry.
I did find a good, authentic gyro joint, happily, and not too far away from my home. You can tell it’s authentic because they’ve got that giant cylinder of “meat” spinning around that they cut the strips of gyro meat off of. That’s supposed to be lamb, but let me tell you something, that doesn’t look like any lamb I’ve ever seen. To judge by its cylindrical shape and size, I’d say it’s more likely to be Emperor Penguin, which is a-ok with me as far as I’m concerned. It’s delicious, and the important thing is that something died so that I could have lunch.
Haha, just kidding! I like to drop anti-animal sayings like that into a post every now and again because it usually results in some fun, PETA-style moral outrage. Once, (and this is something that really happened) I announced a plan to picket a PETA protest wearing a cow costume while holding a large sign reading, “Eat Me!” I had to abort this plan when an honest-to-God PETA member kindly informed me that there were a lot of PETA members who would throw themselves in front of a bus to save a raccoon, but wouldn’t think twice about beating a dude in a cow suit to death in front of a McDonald’s. Although the thought of someone being beaten to death with a “Meat Is Murder!” sign has a sort of twisted appeal, I didn’t feel like playing the starring role and chose to stay home drinking beer by the gallon instead.
The local gyro joint is also recognizable as a source of authentic Greek cuisine because of the people in the kitchen. They’re short, hairy, and aggressively friendly as only Greeks can be, and once one of them told me his last name, and it was something like Poppadoppamoppalous. Say what you want about the Greeks, but they don’t skimp on names. Tombstone engraver must be a highly desired job in Greece, assuming they charge by the letter.
They also hire smoking hot cashiers, and then hang all over them. It’s a mom and pop-style restaurant, so I’m never quite sure if they’re related and watching her protectively, or just waiting for me to turn my head so they can go back to pinching her ass, or for all I know of Greek culture, a little bit of both. (Ok, I’ve offended the French, PETA members, and now the Greeks. Stay with me and I’ll really fucking stick it to those Zoroastrians next.)
(Yet another aside: I once attended Greek-fest in Tucson, which was sponsored by the local Greek Orthodox church. I promptly got shithouse wasted on Greek beer and Ouzo then cornered one of the Greek priests. “Hey, so you’re Greek Orthodox, right? Why do you have to include the word ‘Orthodox’? Is there a Greek Unorthodox church, and what do they do on Sunday? Like, play frisbee in the nude or something?” That this was not promptly met with a hail of rocks and stones says the world about how seriously that priest took the whole “turn the other cheek” concept.)
The lack of what I consider to be suitable food down here makes me really freak out when I do go home to Chicago. Are you ethnic? Do you have some sort of meat for sale? Is it sold out of a clean eating establishment, or failing that a filth-encrusted sidewalk cart? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, GIMME! GIMME! GIMME! When I go back to Chicago, the four basic food groups are sausage, beer, steak, and more sausage. I have no goddamn control.
Waiter: Good evening sir, are you enjoying your meal?
Me: God, yes! What did I just eat? It was amazing!
Waiter: I believe that was a leather wallet the previous diners left behind.
Me: Well, my compliments to the chef. It could’ve used a little more seasoning, but I’m not complaining.
Waiter: Excellent, sir. Would you like to see a menu, or would you rather I slaughter random livestock and fling their bloody carcasses on your table a là carte?
Me: I know you’re being sarcastic, but can you really fling me some lamb and baby cows? Because that would be fucking awesome.
And you know what? That would be fucking awesome. Instead, I’m stuck living in a part of the country where bland sliders and boneless Buffalo wings are as good as it gets, although to be fair we do have one culinary advantage down here. With the temps in the 120’s, food not only doesn’t get cold on you, it gets hotter.