Sunday, August 26, 2007

searching for like-minded haters

It all started with my last post’s bonus fun fact: I ate raw pork.

It’s hard to push a fun fact like that out of one’s mind; it’s more evocative than you’d think, like accidentally sharing a dirty needle. I tried to convince myself that trichinosis isn’t necessarily a BAD thing—that soon they’ll be selling trichinosis parasites on late night cable shows as a diet aid—and I was just a little ahead of the curve, an early adopter, a trendsetter.

It’s like TrimSpa, trichinosis. Nothing to get upset about. Trichinosis: Parasite of the Stars. Coming soon to TMZ and PinkIsTheNewBlog. In fact, trichinosis is better than TrimSpa since everyone knows that a TrimSpa, Methadone, and wheat grass smoothie is actually what killed Anna Nicole Smith. And when’s the last time you heard of anyone keeling over from trichinosis?

But then I began to wonder about my theory. Maybe it’s tapeworms that’ll be the new diet aid. Or cholera. And trichinosis will still constitute a dire medical condition, contracted through unwise consumption of raw pork. Maybe trichinosis is just a little too far ahead of the curve.

I have to find out more; I have a gripping need to know. But googling for trichinosis would be stupid. Then I’d likely find noteworthy cases of the disease, lavishly illustrated and lovingly described. I need to be more strategic about my Internet research so I don’t get the wrong answer or something I don't want to hear.

What about using a query like “I ate raw pork”? That’s simple. That’d be a turn of phrase you’d put in your blog or forum post if you just so happened to eat raw pork and wanted to casually chat about the outcome, good or bad. If you wanted some peer support or good advice.

So I google for “I ate raw pork” to see what turns up.

As it turns out, a number of people report have eaten raw pork. Fourteen, counting me. Or perhaps 16 if I don’t let Google omit the results very similar to these. Who’s to say if one incidence of eating raw pork is very similar to another?

At first glance, it appears that none of these chow hounds is crying in his trotters. Or writing a blog post from his hospital bed.

I follow each link carefully. The problem is, these people are even less sensitive to the delicate sensibilities of their audience than I am. One recounts eating French dishes made from raw wild boar; I can almost hear him grunting with gustatory pleasure. Another describes eating a raw pork sandwich in a German cafe. A Russian site transforms my innocent blog post into an ersatz raw pork recipe even as it infects my PC with some type of virtual parasite. Another site debunks the widespread myth that Coca-Cola forces worms to crawl out of raw pork.

My stomach churns.

Although none of the sites—including the Russian one that twists the words from my own blog—makes me feel any better about eating raw pork, they do entertain me. And often it’s more important to be amused than it is to tame one’s raging hypochondria. In fact, didn’t Reader’s Digest run a regular column called “Laughter is the Best Medicine” in which scary medical procedures were reduced to occasions for hilarity?

Here’s one now:
The phone by my hospital bedside was driving me crazy. Every hour or so it would ring. Because I was recovering from hip surgery, I couldn't reach it. Around midnight, it started ringing again. I noticed the light was on behind one curtain in my four-bed ward. "Excuse me," I called out. "Are you ambulatory?" "No," the answer came back. "I'm Martinez."
See? Hilarious. ROTFLMAO. Couldn’t be funnier. My intestinal parasites have been expelled through the power of the anecdote. They left, offended, while I was ROTFLMAO.

Laughter truly is the best medicine. Next to, say, Vicodin. Or stuff that kills worms.

But what has really impressed me is how this search for other raw pork eaters has proven to be so much more satisfying than any of my other recent searches. To be certain, my search history reveals such pedestrian queries as:

"cone of silence"
"bell bean" "cover crop"
milli vanilli
Elvis death day 30
David Redmiles
tiny cat pants
Dick Brass

Why is it that “I ate raw pork” yields more exciting results than searching for GWAR, Teletubbies, Milli Vanilli, bell beans, or Dick Brass? Why? I think it’s because using that first person pronoun in my query puts me squarely in the middle of a veritable army of like-minded bloggers, forum participants, myspacers, and soul-searchers instead of just flooding my already-clogged short term memory with more information. And it keeps me out of Wikipedia.

Information? I got plenty of that. Facts? A surfeit. I watch The Colbert Report, after all.

I don’t need information; I need connection. And LinkedIn isn’t going to tell me who else ate raw pork.

So let’s test this theory. Here’s another one. How about:

“I love convenience stores.”

Because I do. Some years I attempt to do all of my Xmas shopping at convenience stores: Slim Jims, 5-hour Energy shots, Auto Traders, Funyuns, and windshield wiper fluid all around! That’s what’s under our tree.

On Thursday, I walked over to the 7-11 on Pear Avenue—halfway between Microsoft and Google—to buy my lunch. It had an entire display of dried noodles: Ramen noodles. Cup of Noodles. Pad Thai noodles. Korean noodles with mystery seasonings and dried vegetable packets. Noodles. Noodles. Noodles. I read all of the noodle packages. Then I bought a small carton of cottage cheese and a banana, which I could’ve got at the corporate cafeteria.

But I have a hard time curbing my enthusiasm for convenience stores.

When we lived in College Station, every day I rode my bike 11 long miles to the university and back home again. Past new housing developments shedding carpet scraps and discarded black plastic landscaping pots. Past suburban yards with crazy barking dogs straining at flimsy fences. Past a row of semis parked at the Ponderosa Motel with its new red metal roof. I’d pedal and pedal; it was hot and no matter which direction I was going, I was invariably riding against the wind.

On my way home, I always stopped at a certain Circle K, the convenience store at the corner of farm-to-market road 2818 and Longmire Street. Once I saw a truck parked at Gas Pump 3 with its bed full of chickens; the air was thick with feathers and the smell of poultry in motion. But usually at the time of day that I stopped, the mini-mart was devoid of customers and the clerks were sitting at the checkout counter, bored, but never sullen. No matter how hot it was, I bought a coffee there. The pot would’ve been cooking on the warmer since morning. No-one else seemed to drink coffee in the heat of the Texas summer.

I poured myself a big cup of scalding stale coffee and doctored it with two stomach-coating shots of non-dairy creamer.

Once one of the clerks ventured, “Have a good day, ma’am” after I paid for my thick, foul-tasting drink and was heading out the door.

And I shot back, “You have a good day too, sir!”

And then, waiting a beat, I added, “Oh! Wait! I almost forgot! It’s always a good day at the convenience store.”

This banter was too much for the Circle K clerk. He very nearly pushed that button that summons the cops. Almost. His hand was poised.

Either that, or he was going for his gun. His Glock 9mm. That might’ve been what he was doing.

Convenience stores. What’s not to love? Armed clerks protecting the till. Unsupervised use of a powerful microwave oven. All the catsup, mustard, relish, and non-dairy creamer you can eat. Little Debbie Snack Cakes. Wax lips. Twang. Miller Lite. Wholesome porn showcasing udder-sized mammaries. Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Marlboro Reds in the hard pack. Enough sunflower seeds to transform the floor of your pickup into a compost heap. In short, merchandise that’ll satisfy almost any minor vice you might have picked up along the way.

It’s easy to see why I’d want to find out who else loves convenience stores, loves them enough to say, “It’s always a good day at the Circle K.”

I’ve got to know who these people are.

If you google “I love convenience stores,” you don’t find an army of other convenience store lovers. You find 20 other convenience store lovers. Just 20. Oddly enough, one of them is a homeschooler mom responding to a 6-facts-about-you meme. As I read her blog, I muse on how our love for convenience stores and our mutual participation in a “random facts about you” meme probably cannot sustain a relationship between us.

There is no connection.

In fact, as I scan through the writings of my fellow convenience store lovers, I begin to feel a trifle alienated. I don’t think I’d even be able to go on my annual Xmas shopping trip at the local 7-11 with any of these people. Even if they were in the car with me, I’d make ‘em wait in the parking lot.

I’d throw ‘em the keys and say, “Here. You can listen to the radio.”

It turns out that there are lots of ways to love convenience stores, some of them earnest and unseemly. A full 20% (i.e. 5) of these people just love convenience stores in Japan. Their love isn’t big and encompassing; their love is small and particular. You can apparently buy iPods at convenience stores in Japan and that’s enough to warrant a loving relationship. It’s like loving your girlfriend because she drives a cherry-red Mustang convertible.

It is wrong to love convenience stores because they carry an undeservedly fetishized consumer item. Wrong. It is a Lolita kind of love, one that should not be admitted, unless one has a Nabokovian command of the language. Otherwise, it is simply banal and creepy. If you love Japanese convenience stores because it’s the best place to meet drunk and disorderly Australians, that’s okay. Or because they carry smelly daikon and burdock Oden in the winter. But not because you can get a Super Big Gulp + Big Bite hot dog + iPod combo for $404.99. That’s just wrong.

Let’s face it: what I’ve learned is that most peoples’ love for convenience stores has nothing to do with the abstraction that made the Circle K clerk reach for his Glock in reaction to my exuberance. No. It’s because people like to buy ranch dressing and nachos with their gasoline. Or hot dogs with their iPods.

But still I’m fascinated with this idea of finding fellow travelers by declaring my love for something quotidian.

Maybe hate suits this paradigm better than love.

Hmmm. What do I hate?

I hate mayonnaise.

I hate it. It’s the one condiment that’ll force me to discard the soiled half of a sandwich (usually the top half). It’s a serviceable lubricant, but surely you can find something more aesthetic. Whatever your purposes—whether it’s to skate on the kitchen floor with inverted cantaloupe rinds strapped to your feet, to increase the opacity of your jell-o mold salad, or to make your hair shine—there’s always something that’ll work better.

Into the google search box it goes: “I hate mayonnaise.”

Here’s the thing: I’m in good company here. The results peter out at 287 unique mayonnaise-haters, but that’d still be enough to populate an academic conference or the dance floor of a really hot night club (floor slick with some other lubricant). From 287 submissions, Jon and I could surely put together a special condiment-themed issue of Lunch: An International Journal of the Midday Meal.

There’s a Worldwide I Hate Mayonnaise Club. I Hate Mayonnaise discussion boards. NO MAYO bumper stickers. Other people even report googling for the phrase “I hate mayonnaise.” In My Mean Girlfriend, a blogger tells of his girlfriend Annie taunting him with a mayonnaise-smeared sandwich.

People get worked up about mayonnaise, but in a good way. A way I can respect.

I feel connected again.

I hate mayonnaise. I ate raw pork.

But maybe I feel just a little less fond of convenience stores.


Anonymous Erich Schneider said...

For the record, my brother-in-law is also a mayo-hater, so you're in good company there.

I had a chance to see GWAR in College Station; they were playing some venue in "downtown" Bryan, if you can believe that. I passed on it because the ticket price seemed like too much strain on my tiny grad student bank account. I regret this decision to this day.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Nygiant said...

woohoo love the 5-hour another great one is the 8-hour energy pills.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Erich--it's too bad you passed on GWAR in Bryan because then I could ask you if they'd complained about Los Nortenos.

Every other band that I saw there did. As they left the stage for the break between sets, they'd say, "The locals told me to go to this place Los Nortenos for dinner. I did. And I think I fell for some kind of joke." And they'd amble off the stage, looking vaguely dyspeptic and uncomfortable.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Susie said...

Concerning you fondness for convenience stores: my mom told me once that you used to buy 7-Eleven coffee in Big Gulp cups.

Fact, or maternal exaggeration? I've got to know.

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Non-dairy creamer is an amazing chemical artifact of modern society. It's got phosporic acid, feldspar, and even milk protein in there--which is why non-dairy creamer is a dairy product. The list of ingredients is unbelievable.

4:11 PM  

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