12 September 2005

Life South of the M-DL*

I don’t belong here. I don’t fit it. I don’t even WANT to fit it. I’m actually am starting to feel like I did in fucking high school. Because there are a lot of similarities between me in high school and me in exile in The South.

High school was all about appearances – who had the best clothes, the best – and highest (hey, it was the 80’s) hair, the best car, the best boyfriend, on and on and fucking on. Ad. Fucking. Nauseum. Well, The South, is just like that. I can’t go to the fucking grocery store in sweat pants anymore, because no one else does and I get fucking stared at if I do. Most women here can’t go out of the house without make up on (thankfully, I’ll never cave to that one, too much fucking trouble). And they’re all so fucking polite – to my face – that it makes me ill.

OK, it’s not all bad. We have family here (his, not mine). That’s nice because it means free daycare and the occasional child-free night to ourselves. But his parents are divorced and there are politics and power struggles that I don’t get going on all the time (even though they ‘get along’), so sometimes, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

I also like the food in The South. Way too damn much, actually. I shouldn’t like it – it’s gross. I mean, everything has a pound of butter, a quart of bacon grease or four cups of sugar, or, more than likely, all three. It’s BAD for you. It’s a fucking heart attack waiting to happen. I LOVE it.

Take biscuits ‘n’ gravy, for example. Growing up in New England, I had never even heard of biscuits ‘n’ gravy before my first trip south of the M-DL. I was an instant addict. I ate it at every restaurant we came to. I can tell you the one – and only – restaurant in my home town that serves it (it’s a truck stop on the interstate, of course). I can even cook it – really well, as a matter of fact. I try not to, because you know what’s in it? Here’s the recipe: You take some sausage, which is nothing but ground up pieces-parts and fat, and you fry it. You save the grease – save it, can you believe that? – and add some flour, salt and pepper to it. You cook the flour for a minute then pour hot milk over it and cook it until it thickens (which, incidentally, is the same thing that’s going to happen to your arteries when this stuff hits ‘em). Then you split a biscuit open and slop this stuff on top and eat it. It’s fucking disgusting. I LOVE it.

The next best thing is ‘vegetables’. Vegetables below 36-degrees North include macaroni and cheese. For real. I’m not even kidding. You go into a Meat ‘n’ Three (this is a type of restaurant that serves some kind of meat and three ‘vegetables’) and they will, invariably, have mac ‘n’ cheese listed under vegetables, right along with black eyed peas, turnip greens and okra.

Other vegetables, the ones I would consider ‘actual’ vegetables, generally come in two varieties: they are either cooked all day – with bacon or a ham hock (whatever the fuck that is) – until they are unrecognizable and gray or they are breaded and deep-fried.

The all-day variety: Green beans where I come from are actually green. And crunchy. And don’t taste anything like bacon. In The South, they use a slow cooker or a crock pot and if they’re still green or you have to chew them or they taste like something other than bacon, they aren’t done.

The breaded variety: Corn on the cob. Did you know that you can deep-fry corn on the cob? I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know you could deep-fry pickles. (I also wasn’t sure that pickles were a vegetable, but I guess they are since they were cucumbers once. Whether they can still be considered a vegetable after being deep-fried is debatable.)

Exceptions: If they haven’t been cooked with bacon or deep-fried then vegetables are permitted to be served provided they are drowning in some form of sugar and butter. Like carrots. Carrots, even if you cook them all day, will still be orange. However, in The South, they manage to turn them slightly brown by coating them with a mixture of brown sugar and melted butter. (Goddammit, my mouth is watering!)

And then there are the casseroles. Broccoli rice casserole. Squash casserole – this one is made with yellow crookneck squash, not with the orange, pumpkin-like kind, and I have no idea what else they put in it. I don’t want to know, because then I’ll make it. And eat it. My all-time favorite, though, is the one they make for Thanksgiving and Christmas: sweet potato casserole. This is sweet potatoes mashed with butter and brown sugar (but if you’ve been paying attention, you already knew that). As if that weren’t sweet enough, it’s then placed in a pretty dish (which, I suppose, it what makes it a ‘casserole’) and topped with marshmallows. Marshmallows!! On a frikkin’ casserole! Who ever heard of that? But, it gets better, ‘cause you know what happens to it next? No, they don’t eat it yet. They put it into the oven – to melt and toast the marshmallows. Then they eat it. Toasted marshmallows!! And they call it a casserole!! What the fuck!! I LOVE it!

I don’t even want to get into pies, because I don’t really eat them (unless there’s chocolate involved). There’s pecan pie, of course, which would be OK if they’d pronounce it right (they stress the final syllable: [p’-CAHN], which is all wrong and just sounds fucking snobby, but they look at me funny when I say it right [PEE-can]). They also have something called ‘Chess pie’, which as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the board game and everything to do with grotesquely large amounts of Karo syrup boiled down until it sort of ‘sets’. Fucking heart attack in a pie shell...

Oh, yes, and let’s not forget tea. What would The South be without fucking sweet-tea? It’s one word, by the way. At least, according to the intonation patterns of American English, it’s a compound noun like ‘black board’ (the thing the teacher writes on, not a ‘board that is black’, which has a different tone pattern). And they drink gobs of it – not just in the summer, you can get it year round in any restaurant south of the M-DL.

Which is fucking weird, but here’s the thing that really gets me about it: I can’t take the sugar, so I drink it without, i.e., unsweetened. Now, when I go to a restaurant, I have to order ‘unsweet tea’. UN-sweet – as if they have to take the ‘sweet’ out. For fuck’s sake, people, it wasn’t sweet to begin with!!!!

*M-DL = Mason-Dixon Line

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