Tag Archives: Frank Thompson

A Night Out: Part I

By Frank Thompson

The sun was hanging low in the sky and expectations tingled with possibilities as The Girl and I arrived at the first stop on our big evening out. Having opted for what I have dubbed the “Cricket/Thicket Hoop-De-Doo”, we were to enjoy cocktails at one of Soda City’s finest emporiums of sundries and refreshments, followed by dinner at the shrine to all that’s southern, fried, and artery-clogging good…


Upon arrival at the L’il Cricket, one is immediately taken in by the delightful kitsch and pluckiness of the whole thing. The jaunty little chap in the cocked top hat, antennae raised as if in a cheery hello…the saucy non-contraction “L’il”, which always puts me in mind of a cockney newsboy or minor character in a Little Rascals short… (I must tell you all sometime about L’il Douglas, a person a couple of my friends thought they had accidentally killed under a mountain of dirt as children, only to see him emerge unscathed, still pretending to be a dog. Another story, another time).

Where was I? Oh yes, the L’il Cricket. It greets one with a promise of riches untold, assuming one’s idea of riches is a Snickers, some beef jerky, a pack of Marlboro Lights, two lottery tickets, this month’s AutoTrader, a pickled egg, a couple of fuzzy blue dice air fresheners and a Yoo-Hoo. If I just described your last year’s Christmas stocking, no offense intended.

Before feasting on the cornucopia of delights inside the Cricket, you will certainly wish to stroll the patio area, stopping to greet the locals who frequently congregate near the entrance, discussing issues of the day. Don’t let the fact that these issues often involve spare change, recently-found items of clothing and peeing in a milk jug deter you from having a listen. Many interesting things are to be learned here.

This is street theatre at its finest. Raw, unhinged at times, and generally improv-oriented, the plots are sometimes exciting, yet frequently similar. I have, myself, been told on at least six consecutive visits by a chap I call “Squeaky” (due to his low grumbling voice) that he needs only “a few more dollars” for bus fare to get to his wife and six children, who remained with the car when it broke down.


The wife and children in reference have now been waiting for over a year, through cold and heat and wind, presumably without food or water. (Given my twisted sense of humor, I always envision one large skeleton and six small ones sitting roadside, with a “Have A Nice Day” bumper sticker on the car.) Having seen Squeaky in other places around town, I am tempted to have a “Broke Down Car Tour” t-shirt printed for him, listing all the locales he’s played…L’il Cricket, BP on Gervais, Richland Mall Shell Station…he’s been on the road with this show all season.

Another favorite is Old Annie, who, for better or worse, will go religious on you in a hurry. A dollar bill gets prayers and blessings showered upon the giver, but God help (pun intended) the poor shmuck who shrugs and says “sorry”. Curses and Biblical plagues going back to Moses and beyond are invoked, along with the suggestion that hell eternal awaits those who spent money on M&Ms Peanut candies and a Bud Light Lime instead of sharing with the less fortunate.



Pale and wild-eyed, Old Annie is always in motion, swinging her stick at trees, those who dare to get in her way, passing squirrels, or sometimes just at nothing. She speaks in a bizarre dialect that sounds not unlike Gullah by way of New Jersey, mostly mumbled and peppered throughout with profanity. Her gnarled grasp is a firm one, especially when loudly thanking Jesus for the $1.19 you just handed her, and her voice is loud if not particularly soothing.

“Oh s#it! Gawdblessooo chile. De lord done sent BLESSINGS unto me, dat the truth. Dere is some good damn peoples in the WORLD, not all like that muddahfuggah what STOLE MY RAZOR!!!”

I can, of course, think of very few people over three years old and not having a seizure less qualified to own a razor, but when Old Annie told me this tale of woe, I simply nodded with grave concern and understanding.

The interior of the Cricket is intimate and cozy, with a definite sense of mood established by the overhead fluorescent lighting. Those among the patrons who recently found themselves released from prison will feel quite at home among the many security cameras and the no-nonsense demeanor of the counter clerk as well as the quality of hot food on offer.  I had to gasp and reflect for a moment on seeing Benji, Star Wars, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark in their original theatrical runs when I caught sight of the squeaky rotating hot dog carousel that I thought only existed in the movie theatres of the 70s and 80s.

Ancient dust-covered boxes of Ramen noodles share shelf space with bags of potato chips and Cheetos that barely have time to settle before being snatched up by ravenous kids or stoners with the munchies.


The occasional bruised apple, pair of bananas or random mango can be found resting on the countertop, next to the cash register. What the hell is up with that, I cannot say.  Did the clerk decide to bring the contents of his crisper drawer to work in hopes of making a couple of bucks? Is there a slightly-dinged fruit market of which I am unaware? How does the supplier make any money when so few items are kept in stock? Did he find the fruit outside and just add it to the inventory? The world may never know. (Oh, and for the Gen-Xers who got the reference, yes, they have Tootsie Pops.)

At last the cocktail hour was upon us, and The Girl and I took a few minutes to peruse the offerings from the bar. Well, it was actually more like a mid-sized walk-in cooler, but there you are.) Wines of recent vintage (Yum! April!) were to be found, alongside the standard Bud/Miller/Coors and even an import or two. Granted, they were priced at convenience store rates, which means roughly twice the grocery store price, but no matter…we had drinking to do, and this was clearly a place that could accommodate us.



Of special interest was the prominently-displayed row of “Forties”, those indelicate yet oh-so-satisfying beerlike bottles of torpedo juice that go so well with Funyuns, domestic disturbances, lost weekends in Topeka, and tattoos of indeterminate origin. I selected from among these worthies an insouciant little Olde English 800, complete with a semi-dampened brown paper bag as an accessory, while my lovely companion opted for a playful Boone’s Farm Colline des Fraises purchased in tandem with a “Little Red Solo Cup” not unlike the one of song- lyric fame.


If one is in need of pornographic videos, there are several from which to choose on a rotating rack near the back of the Cricket. While these titles appear to be somewhat beyond the mainstream, even for the nekkid movie industry, one must applaud the entrepreneurial spirit clearly embodied by the producers. While I would never suggest that Amateur Booty #14 and Here Comes The Mailman, Part 19 were shot simultaneously, with the same actors and set, such does seem to be the case. While I wish only the best for the careers of Edmund “Tripod” Jones and Dakota Juggs, they may want to sign with a more discriminating studio if they seek the kind of widespread distribution (pun most definitely intended) enjoyed by the bigger stars whose movies actually make it to the internet.


Having paid up and made our farewells, The Girl and I briefly considered investing in either a pine tree air freshener or Yosemite Sam mudflaps for future gift-giving occasions, but decided time was getting away from us, and repaired to the car for our aperitifs. Both were rather heady, but manageable when handled with care. The Olde English definitely put one in mind of something William The Normand would have swilled from an earthen grog chalice, while the Boone’s took us back to high school with all its upchucking-in-the-bushes-no-mom-I-swear-I-haven’t-been-drinking nostalgia. Tossing Old Annie a buck and a crisp salute as we drove away, we were showered with the love of the deity by way of His profane, croaking prophet of the convenience store parking lot. Next stop, dinner…

To be continued…

Ode to Broke

By Frank Thompson

It’s almost here! That day sublime
which brings the start of summer-time!
What shall we see? What will we do?
Let’s go to Europe! Whoop-de-doo!
Or perhaps we should decide
to rent a lovely house beside
the ocean blue and spend our days
in cold libations’ lovely haze.
Cross-country drive? A sailing spree?
They all sound peachy keen to me!
There’s just one problem (hear me well).
We’re stuck right here and broke as hell.
Let’s face it, friends, some can’t afford
to visit Alp, resort, or fijord.
(We’d love to mix with Eurotrash
but simply lack the piles of cash.)
Fear not, however, gentle friend!
The options truly never end
for one whose spending money springs
from selling off unwanted things,
walking house pets, selling plasma,
or trying some new drug for asthma
in laboratory tests extensive
(if they use mice it’s more expensive).
Just look around and you will see
a ton of things to do for free!
The trick to making them inviting
is changing what you find exciting.
No boring trip to France for me,
it’s off to the court house, hee hee hee!
See the people filing things!
Hear the ancient printer dings!
How could you ever have the blues
observing folks in hard-soled shoes
up to such outrageous capers
as climbing stairs and holding papers?
Next up, the grocery store is there
to entertain (and slightly scare)
with all the types of odd and neat
who share one trait – they all must eat.
Just make a lap through Kroger’s lot –
I guarantee you you will spot
all sorts of things! You won’t be sorry!
It’s like a stay-in-town safari!
Look there! A bald-topped elder-walker!
A warbling wobbling boyfriend-stalker!
A cell-phone-shouter in the wild
(who truly needs to chain her child)
bleats out her call for all to hear
on who she thinks is likely queer.
She sings of who is poor and rich,
who’s a luv and who’s a bitch,
her friends, her foes, her weekend’s plan,
and how she’s got to dump her man.
(Then watch her force a painful smile
when as she goes to turn the aisle
her cart comes bumping, almost crashing
into the person she’d been trashing.)

Onward, onward! More to do!
How’s a snack sound? Good to you?
Off to the Red Cross, where, you see,
they give you Oreos for free!
To go with that? (Oh, turn me loose!)
Some apple, grape, or orange juice
which alternate in sweet rotation.
(One pint of blood, required donation.)

The thrills don’t stop! Life’s lively tune
plays on throughout the afternoon!
Watching people stand in lines
to pay their ancient traffic fines!

Relaxing in a quiet spot
observing folks you’re glad you’re not,
like obese grandma in a thong
at Target. (Jesus, that’s just wrong.)
The world is here, with thrills to serve,
free treats to munch, sights to observe.
All this and more awaits us now,
yet reader, you may question how
one cultivates this type of thinking.
(I recommend you start with drinking.)

Being Broke (and Old) in Columbia

By Frank Thompson

Kids! You can talk and talk till your face is blue!

Kids! But they still do just what they want to do!

Why can’t they be like we were?

Perfect in every way?

What’s the matter with kids today?

–   From the musical Bye Bye Birdie

As a mid-40s Broke Columbian, I find myself creeping ever-so-slowly into grumpy old bastard-dom. We haven’t quite yet hit the “you kids get out of my yard” years, but this spring did mark my first time at planting things in the ground and expecting them to grow. (No, I’m not selling dope. That would disqualify me as broke, and completely ruin the verite of my writing here).

To be fair, the whole gardening thing was engineered by The Girl, and had more of a Rob and Laura Petrie vibe than Dennis The Menace’s Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. We’re still youngish and cute enough, and nobody needed a walker or a truss after the planting was done, but it was there for all to see…we were doing yard work on Saturday afternoon. I have since found myself outside each evening, garden hose in hand, watering the flowers. Can Sansabelt britches, a floppy sun hat that once knew life as a flower pot holder, and that old man hitching-up-the-pants-from-the-back  thing be far behind? Will the beautiful and vibrant woman at my side become a mumu-wearing, glasses-round-the-neck, garden-tools-in-the-utility-belt Dear Old Thing? Yes, but not today, and when that time comes, we’ll do our best to live up to the archetypes.

While I find the whole concept of my youth slowly eroding more than a bit unsettling, I have decided to take the optimist’s route and observe how much easier it is to be a Broke Columbian “of a certain age”.  Now get yourself a lemonade, Sunshine, and settle down with your feet up while I explain. I promise you’ll be done reading in time for Golden Girls and the Early Bird at Lizard’s Thicket. Bernice always gets there early, anyway, and she’ll hold your chair. You know Claude always runs late coming from the colon doctor, anyway…


Yes, it’s true. I used to enjoy over-consuming, as did many of my fellow moderate drinkers. We all like to posture a bit as we nurse and swirl the ice in our beverage, musing on youthful indiscretions and the wisdom of age, but let’s be honest. What led most of us kicking and screaming toward a life of sober moderation was a little thing called The Pain Index. In short, the pain of tying one on became much larger than the fun of getting tanked.  Gone are the days of making “the morning after” all better with a hot shower followed by a greasy hamburger and a large sweet tea. After about 35, the hangovers become oppressive tools of physical and psychological destruction. Your soul hurts and your head throbs, and the thought of anything stronger than flat Sprite and crackers makes you gag. This has a way of slowing one down.

Back in the day, a couple of beers constituted a warm-up, what one would have in the shower or on a friend’s couch before heading out for the night.  A couple of beers or a good strong cocktail now is the night, in terms of drinking. The good news is that you can imbibe like a grown-up. Nice, imported beer and top-shelf liquor are options when your sole ambition is no longer to get hammered as quickly as possible. A warm, fuzzy buzz is suddenly preferable to a swirly-headed “woo hoo” experience involving eighty-dollar bar tabs, broken promises, Waffle House and the local constabulary. Of course, most of your stories now begin with “we had a lovely time the other night with So-And-So” instead of “Dude, last night we did eight shots of Jager and then So-And-So shat in a phone booth.”  This is not a bad thing, nor is the fact that your “drinking math” no longer involves a Byzantine alcohol-to-dollar  formula that you must consult before deciding between the case of Natty Lite and the generic  plastic bottle simply marked VODKA and bearing a likeness of Stalin doing a keg stand on the label.


And no, I’m not talking about the Senior Special at Morrison’s, although that is something to look forward to. With age comes a certain freeing-up of one’s time and interests. When I was 22, it was all about getting out for the evening to whatever bar everyone else was hitting.  Food was usually an afterthought, generally consisting of fast food or whatever bar snacks were on offer (translation: slightly more expensive fast food served on a real plate).  Multiply that age by two, and you will find me where I now reside, usually in the grocery store, looking for some tasty ideas for dinner.  I usually cook with the radio tuned to NPR, which is not only free, but provides the sort of programming we of decrepitude find entertaining.

The economics of cooking and eating in are quite favorable to the not-quite-brand-new-anymore. After initially purchasing some basic staples (spices, rice, potatoes, some cookware that wasn’t purchased for $12 along with a coffee pot and toaster), one can enjoy restaurant-quality food (and we’re not talking restaurants involving a clown, meals that come with a Ninja Turtle figurine, or a ping-pong-ball viral cesspool of fun) for about the same as the cost of a number-whatever combo. Consider the following breakdown:

Publix Greenwise sirloin filets (2): $11.00

Head of broccoli: (1) $3.00

Potatoes (2): $1.00

With the above, we have spent $15.00, and likely have enough to save for lunch tomorrow or a midnight snack. Pop for another quarter’s worth of butter to finish the steaks, and you’ve got something pretty spectacular. Compare that with the same $15.00 spent on a couple of Styrofoam boxes of reconstituted yoga mats and soy bean patties, two large fries and two soft drinks.

Yes, it takes a little longer to prepare, and you won’t get out the door as quickly, but guess what? You’re middle-aged now, and a crowded bar (full of hipsters listening to music that isn’t ANYWHERE as good as the Oingo Boingo, R.E.M. and Sex Pistols tunes that defined our generation) isn’t likely to be your destination. And if it is, you’re probably that creeper in his 40s or 50s who still thinks 22-year-old girls want to sleep with him, so you have more problems than just eating cheaply. Think how silly Michael Douglas looks. Do you really need that in your life?

Another option is the cannot-be-screwed-up-no-matter-how-hard-you-try roasted chicken dinner. WARNING: it will make the house smell like Thanksgiving, which can sometimes bring about teary-eyed sentimentalism from even the most jaded amongst us. (Should this happen, just remember that Thanksgiving when your sister was being such a bitch, Grandma sat on her colostomy bag, and the neighbors’ deep-fried turkey fiasco involved the fire department, skin grafts, and a warning from the EPA. We’ve all had at least one of those, right?)

Roasting chicken (1): $8.00

Potatoes (2): $1.00

Frozen peas: $3.00

For twelve bucks, you can’t even get two combo meals (unless nobody supersizes and one of you is a three-year-old), yet the above makes at least two meals…three if you add a bag of salad and a little bread. Yes, it takes more time, and you have to be at home while cooking it, but that leads to my third point…


Yes, kids, it’s true. I remember a very wise man once commenting to me that at some point in my life, not going to a party would be much more fun than going to one. At the time I dismissed this as the babbling incomprehensibility of the aged, but now that I’m at about the same age myself, I see the point all too well.

Hopefully by 40 or so, one has had time to develop a sense of style beyond the beer can pyramid accented with the sunbathing bikini girl poster and/or M.C. Escher print thumbtacked to the wall. Such novelties and niceties as comfy furniture, a well-stocked bookshelf and non-pirated cable tv have generally found their way into one’s life, and the kitchen is usually stocked with more than a bottle of vodka in the freezer and an antique jar of mustard sharing refrigerator space with a half-empty box of Chinese takeout. Home is now more than the place you sleep and shower…it’s a pretty nice place to be.

You may also find yourself enjoying the idea of having friends over for more than “pre-gaming” now that you have reached the “college kids call me sir/ma’am” stage. This may cost a little more than throwing an early-20s party, as you will be providing your guests with more than a keg and a place to gather, but overall, the benefits outweigh the costs. Chances are none of your guests will break and/or throw up on anything, they will all probably bring a food item or bottle of wine to share, and there’s very little chance that bail money will be involved.

Relationships and love affairs tend to survive old people parties at a higher rate, so there’s much less psychological and emotional cost associated with this stage of life. Plus, you’re almost certain to get an invitation in return, so there’s a free meal coming your way as opposed to a “thanks, man, and sorry about your grandma’s couch.”

The moral of all this? Next time your knees hurt, things make noise when you get out of bed, you can’t remember why you walked into the room, and that little s#it from next door WON’T stay out of your  Bougainvillea, don’t sweat it.  Just rest easy in the knowledge that you’re eating, drinking, and living better than people half your age for the same amount of money. Plus, you appreciate Matlock and Murder, She Wrote in a way they can never understand, so hoist that Metamucil with pride!