BY FRANK THOMPSON
Well, it’s been about a month since I last posted, but with all the plasma “donating”, yard sales, scratch-off lottery investments, negotiations over day-old pastries, fighting winos for discarded garments, and other activities related to being Broke In Columbia, I’ve been rather busy. If memory serves, we left off with the first half of the “Cricket/Thicket Whoop-De-Doo” having just finished, and The Girl and I were headed for our next stop…
The ubiquitous Lizard’s Thicket, that gustatory temple to all that is fried, cooked with bacon grease, and/or slathered with butter, beckoned with its promise of down-home goodness and mouth-puckeringly sweet tea. Its desserts, each gooey and carrying a truckload of calories, awaited us, as did the warm, buttery corn muffins reminiscent of those grandma used to make (if your grandma made better cornbread than mine did). As heart-stoppingly tasty as the food is, what really drew us to the Ticket was the potential for theatre verite. If one is inclined to people-watch, the Thicket offers a cultural and societal cross-section which can provide hours of free entertainment. But first, the food…
If one is vegan, overly health-conscious, or simply not into southern/soul food, there are salad options, but the pickings are admittedly slim. For those of us who have long adopted the “to hell with it, something’s gonna kill us all eventually” mentality toward eating, however, the cornucopia of choices is bounteous, indeed. The Girl went with what I like to call the “gravy plate”. Country fried steak with gravy, mashed potatoes with gravy, and some other vegetable I can’t recall, largely because it was either gravy-colored or hidden beneath the gravy. She was kind enough to share, allowing me to reinforce my long-held belief that (all together now) BROWN FOOD TASTES GOOD. You could put Lizard’s Thicket gravy on an old tire and it would taste good. Maintaining the monochromatic theme, I followed suit with fried chicken, rice & gravy, blackeyed peas and fried okra. I suppose the okra was technically green under the fried part, but that still counts as brown. Actually, it was red after I put ketchup on it. (Stop making that face. It tastes good.) The corn muffins did not disappoint, each giving off the faint scent of bacon retained from what I envision as ancient muffin tins, greased liberally before being filled with cornmeal mush and popped into the oven. (I frequently imagine the kitchen staff dancing around in cheerful Disney-inspired kitchenwear and singing musical numbers about the joys of cooking. The world in my head is a jolly place.)
I doubt this really happens
The grand total for this feast was around $20, including tip, which would be enough to qualify the Thicket for “Broke-Friendly” status, but we haven’t even started to talk about the entertainment factor. You see, EVERYBODY goes to the Thicket. Cutting across social, economic, and cultural lines, this melting pot of humanity provides almost limitless people-watching opportunities.
Of particular interest to me was the rather large woman tucking into a cheeseburger two tables over while maintaining an ongoing monologue about her (presumably) husband’s shortcomings. Referenced only as “Earl”, this poor soul is apparently unable to get ahead at work, maintain his youthful physique, communicate intelligently, sexually satisfy his wife, tie his own shoes, or “do a gottdamp thang rite” in the eyes of this woman. She was accompanied by an anorexic octogenarian whose obvious deafness gave her the ability to bear the monologue cheerfully, interjecting a vague comment of attention every few minutes.
“Well, ah’ll tellya pore ole Earl just caint. Do. Sheeut. I done tolt that man a hunnerd times if he don’t stann up ferhsself, ain’t nobody gonna. He just won’t listen. He. Will. Not. Listen. He hangs out all nite drankin with them boys from the tire plant an thennhe jus’ cain’t thank clear the next day and gits all messed up at work an’ I told him, I did, I says Earl. Earl, I says, you cain’t drank like that no more, and he just sit air n’says uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. Idee Claire, I’m ‘bout done withim…”
“Oh, that ain’t the HALF uvvit! Last weekend as soon as the race was over, I tried to get him inner ested in you know…gettin’ bizzy. He just fumbled n’ pooted around fer a minit and FELL A-DAMN-SLEEP! Now how am I s’posed to feel ‘bout a man whut I cain’t even git to stay awake? An I had on that new Snoopy nightgown I got from the Walmart an’ everthang.”
“An lemme tellya sumpin’ else. He was s’posed to get his psoriasis checked out last time he went to the doctor, and he didn’t even do that rite! I mean, he got the rangworm looked at, but didn’t say nuthin’ bout the other. I swear ‘fore gawd, Earl could screw up a one-car funeral…”
how I imagine Earl’s homelife
…and so forth. After a few minutes the novelty of hearing Earl’s shortcomings catalogued in detail grew thin and I shifted my attention to the group I called the pissed-off Cleavers. Remember the family on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER? Well, they were there, but each was angry with the other three. Mom and Dad and two sons sat in strained semi-silence. At a glance they appeared strikingly normal. Very middle class, well-dressed and polite, they could have posed for a Chamber of Commerce ad or church brochure had it not been for the stony-faced irritation that radiated from their midst. Monosyllabic responses to similarly brief questions were offered in a semi-grunt and no eye contact was made by anyone. Amazingly, given their palpable disdain for each other, they all ordered dessert after their meal, only to consume it in a presumably angry silence. Of course The Girl and I gave them a backstory including wildly unlikely infidelities, drunken brawls in the manicured front yard, and domestic violence that generally ended with gunfire.
Old people tend to enjoy visiting the Thicket, which gives rise to the inevitable Old Guys Drinking Coffee table. Usually the largest table in the room, this oasis is the opposite of that shared by Complaining Large Woman and Deaf Companion. Here merriment and jolly laughter reign supreme, as do old stories of exploits back in the day. Well-worn cardigans and snazzy driving caps are de rigeur, as is at least one medical ailment which will be discussed in great detail. I believe they get extra points or an honor of some sort for working the terms “goiter”, “the gout” and other such references into the conversation. There was a time in my life when the members of the Old Guys Drinking Coffee table seemed unspeakably ancient and decrepit. Now they just seem old. Give me a few more years and a pair of yellow sansabelt pants, and I’ll be slurping Sanka with the rest of them.
Having finished our meal and people-watching, The Girl and I passed on dessert, knowing we would be back…for we had other thrifty adventures and cost-efficient merriment to pursue. Stay tuned for more…