Tuesday, May 29, 2007

We Interrupt This Program...

I still have at least two more Southern Culture posts I'd like to write. (Unless everyone is sick of them?) I decided to start this series at a good time -- I don't have a lot going on right now. But that doesn't mean I don't have anything going on, either. For example:

1. I cannot stop eating hot dogs or anything orange-flavored. Maybe it's the summer weather, maybe it's the little kid in me, but all I want are ketchup, orange soda pop (OMG, diet Sunkist? The shiznit.), cheese-filled wieners and that ice cream where they mix the vanilla ice cream with orange sherbet. What is going on??? I never crave this stuff.

2. I am officially b-r-o-k-e. $40 until payday. This is not good. Note to self: DO SOMETHING!!

3. I just burned a new CD today. My favorite tracks include: "Beautiful Liar" -- Beyonce & Shakira, "Hang Me Up to Dry" -- Cold War Kids, "You Know I'm No Good" -- Amy Winehouse, "Like This" -- Kelly Rowland feat. Eve, "We Takin' Over" -- DJ Khaled (et al.) and "Hump de Bump" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, even though they totally sold out on that track. I had no business buying the tracks, but if I don't have new music every 2 months, I can feel my soul dying.

4. Not really any Hot Neighbor news. Haven't seen Hoochie McSkankerton in at least a week. This is good. I probably just jinxed myself, though. I'll probably come home to them sucking face in his driveway again. I did manage to make a complete idiot out of myself, though. (Surprised??) It's a long story, but he needed his sewer turned back on, and he didn't have time to do it since he was going to NC. Being the huge sucker that I am, I blurted out, "I'm not doing anything tomorrow. I can go down to the city offices and do it for you, if you want." The second it flew out of my mouth, I could not believe what a total jackass I was. So if you see me, please write "SUCKER" on my forehead in permanent ink, OK? He ended up doing it himself, so no, I did not run any errands for him. GAH. *bangs head against wall*

5. I didn't do diddly squat over the holiday weekend (see #2, above). Lots of naps, TV watching and hot dog eating. I was pretty much a worthless human being, aside from baking some cookies and working on my big secret project. Which I should actually be calling "Big Secret Project, The Sequel", as the original project needed to be aborted. This re-vamped version is much more...doable. (Again, if you have no idea what I'm talking about or are just plain nosy, email me and I will give you details.) It's ok. I have a 4 day weekend coming up. I can be more productive then. The good thing is, the Summer Parties and cookouts have started. It's starting to be lake time, which is always a fun weekend activity. WOOT!

6. I posted some new recipes on my cooking blog, Virginia Cooks. If you're interested.

But the true highlight of the long weekend was last night.

This is a story which I will call: "I am a Sucker for Awkwardness and Total Humiliation" or "On Realizing That I am a Masochist"


I have been spending a lot of time with the Happy Hour Girls lately, especially E, Butter and their boyfriends. If you remember, we all had a good time together the weekend of Cinco de Mayo. And if you recall, I ended up making out with Rob Thomas, who never called. And yes, I was kind of upset about that.

Well, last night I got a text message from E: "Hey, want to go to dinner with us? We are going to Flying Saucer because Rob Thomas wants to hit on some waitress who works there."

I know she didn't mean anything by it, but did I really need to have this information? To her, it's old news, but to me, it still kind of stings a little that he never called me.

"Dude, no. There's no way I'm going and watching Rob hit on some waitress in front of my face. Not when this is the first time he and I will be seeing each other. Unless you really want me to go," I replied.

She did. And Butter did, too. "Pleeeeeeeeease? I'm Butter! I need bread! You are my bread!" she pleaded. *sigh*

"It's going to be awkward the first time you and Rob see each other, anyway. Might as well get it over with," E said.

"*sigh* Ok. But I'm only going if I can have cigarettes on-demand," I said.

"Done," E said.

I drove over to meet everyone at Rob's house. (Remember, E's boyf is Rob's roommate). Rob and I were cordial, but distant. I wholly avoided eye contact with him (I know, I know. But I just wasn't ready to make nice quite yet.) and talked to everyone else instead. I asked if they liked the cookies. Earlier in the week, I had given E some cookies I made. "Dude, those cookies you made? Amazing," Rob said to me, out of nowhere.

"Really? Because I was sorta hoping you'd choke to death on them!" I wanted to say.
"Dude, your ass-kissing is total bullshit, so fuck off!" I wanted to say.
"That kissing you did? SO average," I wanted to say.

"Thank you. I'm glad you like them," I said instead.

"You wuss!" my brain said.

Soon after, we all piled into cars and drove to the restaurant.

I got MJ and KT to join us, too, and I'm so glad they came. I don't think I could have made it through the meal without having at least 4 girlfriends with me. Thank God for the knowing, understanding and sympathetic looks your girlfriends can give you, all without saying a word. "You OK?" "OMG he's being such a douchebag!" "Don't worry, let's talk about something else!" "Seriously, how dumb is this girl Rob likes?" their eyes said to me.

When I sat down at the table, the only empty seat was next to me. And Rob was the only person who hadn't sat down yet. Super. It looked like I was expecting him to sit next to me. Ugh.

Instead, and far worse, he moved aaaaaall the way to the opposite end of the table from me, and proceeded to pull up a chair. Wow. I don't think that could have been more insulting. Now, not only am I Almost Girl, I also have cooties. This is like 3rd grade all over again. I was already regretting my decision.

My feelings of self-loathing were only intensified when the waitress came over to our table. First off, she wasn't a very good waitress. This is probably because she has the same level of intelligence as a toothpick. Then again, I suppose I am biased. Since she and Rob already knew each other, she proceeds to pull up a chair next to him, where they spent half the meal talking to one another. She spent every possible minute talking to him, and he spent every possible minute trying to make her job easier: "Guys, who ordered the French dip?" "Anyone need anything?" "Are we ready for our bills?" etc.

"It's a good thing my stomach is empty right now, because otherwise, I'd be barfing all over this table," I whispered to MJ as we waited for our food.

"Stiff that stupid bimbo waitress," my brain said.

"I'm gonna stiff her," I told MJ.

I didn't stiff her.

"You wuss!" my brain said.

Anyway, the food was good. My girlfriends were wonderful. The service was below average. The humiliation was total.

Yup. Sounds pretty normal for me.

Never fear. Rob has invited all of us to go to the lake on his boat next weekend. I will get to do a whole repeat of this story, only while wearing my bikini. Because this wasn't quite humiliating enough. To be fully awful, I need to add "pale flesh" and "tummy rolls" to the mix. And if the bimbo waitress comes too? Aaaah, that will be Humiliation Extraordinaire!

It's kind of like a nightmare, only more real.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Southern Survival 101: Football

I had originally entitled this post "Sports" until I realized, um, football is pretty much the only sport down here. (Unless you're from NC or KY, in which case, basketball is the only sport!)

Remember, I'm a girl, so I'm probably going to leave out important football statistics/names/events. I'm hoping my male readers will help me out on the bits I miss. While I loooooove football, I doubt I'll ever understand it or appreciate it as well as a man. (Wait, did my Southern belle just slip out?? Oopsie. Sorry, feminists!) So feel free to add to this in the comments.

We are not big on professional sports down here. Maybe the Braves. But that's about it. Getting tickets to the Braves isn't nearly as exciting as getting tickets to the Bowden Bowl. (That's when Clemson plays Florida State. The coaches are Tommy and Bobby Bowden.) Down here, it's college sports all the time. Especially football. Holy cow. I cannot begin to explain how important football is down here. EVERYONE goes to the game or watches the game. EVERYONE can recite to you which teams we beat this year and which teams we beat last year. Football coaches are gods in the towns where they live. You see, we lost The War, and we're determined never to lose anything again. Having a winning football team does make Robert E. Lee's surrender a little easier to bear. Ok, that's just a joke.

There is a joke that if a Southern college received $10 million, everyone would rather see the money go to the football coach's salary rather than research. Only, it's not really a joke. It's kinda true.

Recruiting stories will make the front page of the paper. You can even get RSS feeds about recruiting sent to your cell phone. Everyone in town can name the first and last names of the starting offensive lineup. People attend the practices. I am not kidding. The stands are full of people, watching the team practice. Coaches have their own tv shows. They endorse products. People know things about their college football coach that they don't know about their own neighbors. Example: Spurrier, the South Carolina coach, loves to drink Sprite and play golf. His wife's name is Jerri. (See?)

My big claim to Southern football fame is that my dad played for Bear. (If you don't know who I'm talking about, then you have no business even reading this post to begin with. I'm not even linking to the Wikipedia entry because you ought to be ashamed of yourself.) When guys ask me if I like football, I bluntly inform them of my pedigree and wait for their jaws to drop. Sometimes, they grab my arm and introduce me to all the other men in the room: "Hey! Did you know her dad played for Bear??" It's far more impressive than saying "Oh, my dad was an astronaut!" or "My dad was Superman!"

There are no weddings between late August and whenever the home team's season is over. I am not making this up. People won't come to your wedding if you set the date for the third Saturday in October. Everyone knows that's when Tennessee and Alabama play each other every year. And if they do attend your wedding, they will have the little headphones in so they can listen to the radio as you recite your vows. This isn't even considered to be all that rude. Other men in the audience will be tapping the guy on the shoulder, asking for the score. It doesn't matter if they are Tennessee or Alabama fans or not. It's a Saturday in the fall. That means there's an SEC or ACC game on. And if you cannot attend it, you watch it. If you can't watch it, you listen to it. Then you read about it in the paper tomorrow. There will be 6 pages recapping the game, not including the photos.

And don't even get me started on tailgating. That's a whole different story. It's basically as important as the game itself. I have seen 40" flat-screen TVs in the middle of parking lots, mobile homes decorated like red roosters (we are the Gamecocks, you know), parking slots/season tickets willed down through generations (as in, people put it into their wills and have separate bank accounts set aside for season ticket money), bonfires and fireworks. And beer. LOTS of beer and alcohol. Tons of food. Enough to feed an army. (Surprised??) And everyone will let you grab a piece of fried chicken as you walk by. Unless you're rooting for the other team. Then people might throw empty beer cans at your face. When the game is going on, you won't see anyone walking around or driving anywhere. Because they're either at the game, or at a bar, watching the game on TV. Or they are at home, watching it on TV. Having to work while a game is on is total torture for a Southerner. I have known people to call in sick, claim a family emergency or tell their bosses they are going out of town for family reasons on fall Saturdays. Just so they can watch the game at home. When the game is on, if you want to talk to someone, just text them or wait for the commercial break to come on. Please don't interrupt. They won't answer their phone, anyway.

Did you know? They have to re-direct traffic downtown on game days. Otherwise, it would take twice as long to get in/out of the stadium. It already takes about 2 hours just to get to the stadium. There are policemen and orange cones everywhere, to direct traffic. The game traffic routes make the evening news, because people need to know which roads are going to be one-way the next day. People usually start tailgating the night before the game. Again, I am not exaggerating.

People assume you know all the big rivalries: South Carolina and Clemson, Auburn and Alabama, VMI and The Citadel, Florida and Florida State, Virginia and Virginia Tech, etc. People also assume you know which teams belong to which conference. Don't expose yourself as an outsider by asking if Texas is playing Georgia this weekend. Oh, and you need to learn the home team's fight song and accompanying hand gesture ASAP or you might not get very many party invites. At the very least, you'll feel left out when the entire stadium starts singing and you have to just stand there. While you're at it, better know the slang terms for all the mascots. You'll need to know what the following terms refer to: Tide, Hokies, Wahoos, Noles, Jackets, Heels, Canes, Terps, Pack, Keydets. You've got to know what the Golden Boot is and what the Tiger Rag is. You need to know which teams are involved in The Oldest Rivalry in the South. You need to know where The Valley of Death is. So study up if you are lost right now.

Ladies, don't forget to dress up and wear your team's jewelry when you go to the game. Little shops around town sell silver jewelry engraved with the team logo. You need to get some if you want to be official. And you don't wear sweatshirts or flip flops to football games, girls. You have tickets to the game. There's only so many games per year. It's a big event. I mean, if you're going to the Georgia-Florida game, it's even called "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." Besides, we are Southern. That means we look cute all the time. You have to do your hair and wear heels. If it's cold, you can wear a slim-fitting turtleneck, jeans and stiletto boots. If it's hot, wear a sundress and heels. Just make sure you're wearing team colors and you look pretty. Besides, every eligible bachelor in town is at the game, anyway. You want to look good. Trust me. What do you mean you don't know how football works? What do you mean you don't like to watch it? Oh dear. So much for your social life next fall. Better get on that, sugar. Just don't tell anyone you think "false start" refers to your menstrual cycle. Keep that to yourself.

If you're single, don't be surprised if someone won't date you because you're a fan of the "wrong" team. Here in Columbia, headquarters for all things Gamecock, it's one of the first questions asked on a first date. "Wait, did he go to USC or Clemson?" I have asked before being set up on dates. If anything, I want to make sure to avoid wearing the wrong color or bringing up the wrong team. It can lead to an argument at worst or an awkward silence at best. And first dates are hard enough as it is. For a Gamecock to be fixed up with a Clemson fan just wouldn't work. They are too different. I mean, how are you both supposed to go to games together? It would be a long distance relationship each fall. And for parts of basketball season. You'd be fighting over the remote all the time, because those teams aren't even in the same conference. Not to mention all the harassment from friends and family about it. It's just easier to date your own kind. Yes, I am kidding. But some people really won't do it!

Similarly, families, generation after generation, hold strong loyalties to their schools. You'll hear of people being 4th generation Bulldogs or 6th generation Gators. To go to any other school is simply unthinkable. And you can forget Mom and Dad helping you pay for it. You've committed the ultimate betrayal. It would be a tragedy in a Mississippi State family if their youngest child decided to buck tradition and attend Arkansas. Fat Dog almost transferred from VMI to Virginia Tech, and The Czarina almost fainted when he told her. "Oh, God! I will never be able to tell my friends! I'll have to tell them you've just transferred to UVA or something. Oh, God! A hokie! In my family!" -- I am quoting this. There is no exaggeration on my part, y'all. For pete's sake, my my mother was the sweetheart of the UVA Zeta house in the late '60s! For her son to go to Virginia Tech???!! Unthinkable!! You see, my parents are both UVA fans. (My dad went there before transferring to Bama. He later went back and got 2 more degrees from UVA. My mom didn't go there, I think because UVA was still all-male at the time. However, she spent almost every weekend partying at UVA. So my family is most definitely NOT a Virginia Tech family.)

Here's another good tip: if you are visiting/moving/living here in the fall, it's a good idea to realize what you wear can say a lot. Similar to gangs in south central Los Angeles, what color you wear is important, and could get you killed. Wear deep reddish orange (Clemson's color) to a South Carolina game, and drunk people might try to punch you. I am not exaggerating. So if you don't want to be hassled, wear pink. It's the only color that doesn't correspond to any teams down here. Not only is it important to know which colors to wear/not wear, it's also imperative that you know which shade is the home team's shade. There's a huge difference between Duke "Blue Devil" blue and UNC's "Carolina blue". You can't just throw on any old blue shirt and expect people to know which team you favor. And when South Carolina plays Alabama, you'd better realize that a true Carolina fan will know the difference between garnet (SC) and crimson (AL). So get it right. Because if you are wearing Tennessee "Chee-to" orange to a Clemson game, and you try to pass yourself off as a Tiger fan, someone's gonna call you out. Trust me.

And don't think you can get away with knowing only the primary team color. You should also learn the 2ndary color so you don't confuse/offend anyone.

When in doubt, tell people you're a tiger fan. That covers LSU, Jackson State, Texas Southern, Clemson, Hampden-Sydney (I guess this is only important in Virginia, actually) and Auburn. So you'd be physically safe in 6 states, if you were forced to pick a team on the spot. If not a tiger fan, tell people you're a bulldog fan. That way, you're safe in GA, MS, AL (Alabama A&M) and SC (SC State and The Citadel's mascot is the Bulldog). You could also just say you like "The Aggies" and let the other person decide if you mean Texas, Florida or North Carolina. Whatever you do, never confess to disliking football. OMG, talk about social suicide. You'd be ostracized. Possibly jumped, depending on how many beers the men have had by that point in the day. Fake it if you have to. I have known a Gamecock fan who got into a fist fight when the stranger standing next to him began singing the Clemson fight song. (Long-time readers of this blog may remember to whom I am referring.) You have no idea how seriously we take this stuff. Remember the bonfire that killed several students after the Texas-Texas A&M game a few years back? Remember the massive fist fight between fans after the Clemson-South Carolina game about 2 years ago? The goal posts were torn down, I think. It was so bad, neither team was allowed to go to bowl games that year. We are out for blood, people.

What about other sports? Basketball only exists because we need something to do until football season starts up again. And there really aren't any other sports. Unless you are talking about high school football. Which is almost as important as college football. Ever seen Varsity Blues? It's very accurate. High school (and even middle school) football is important to us, because we know we're watching future players for Mississippi State, Texas, Georgia or Virginia Tech. It's history in the making. Today's high school record pass-thrower is tomorrow's starting quarterback at Florida State.

There are rumors of hockey teams existing in the South, although we only go to the games because we are amazed that a block of ice can last that long down here, and we want to see it for ourselves. Plus, we like the fights. It reminds us of the parking lots during football tailgates. And the hockey tickets were free. Other than that....we have no idea what the hell is going on. "Wait, don't they sell beer there? Ok, I guess I'll go. If I have nothing better to do," a Southerner will say.

Some schools get into lacrosse or basketball. Some even get into baseball or golf. But truly Southern schools know there is only one sport. Everything else is just to kill time until the next pigskin matchup. Which people are counting down to on their calendars. You think I'm making this up. People record the football games off of the tv so they can watch the games over and over again throughout the year. The coach's strategy in Saturday's game is the number one topic at watercoolers all over the state on Monday mornings.

Let's see. What else. No one here knows how to ski or ice skate. No kids own sleds. Nothing like that. But most people know how to water ski. And fish. Our athletic activities are dictated by our climate. So not a lot of people even watch the winter Olympics. We just don't really "get" speed skating. Why not just watch NASCAR?

But most importantly, everyone knows you're supposed to shut the hell up during the third down, and offer to grab beers for everyone else if you get up.

And as a side note to Charming -- We will find out whose mascot kicks whose ass on September 22nd. Wait, isn't your team's color purple? That's kind of a girly color, don't you think? ;)

(Oh yes, the smack talk is starting already, folks!!!)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Southern Survival 101: Stuff I Missed

OMG this is so fun writing these!!! Because, you don't really stop to think about these things when you live it day-to-day. When you stop and look at our lifestyle as an outsider would, it is really bizarre. I'm glad y'all like reading them, too. Y'all bring up big things I keep missing, and I am so grateful. I'm wondering if we'll ever stop talking about Southern food! Examples:

Charming is correct about our love of seafood and frying it, especially in states where there is a coastline. We do, indeed, fry a lot of fish down here. I forgot to mention that. It's not unusual to have a Fish Fry as the main annual fund raiser for the Volunteer Fire Department. (In rural areas, we have volunteer fire depts. Is this true everywhere?) I also forgot about Mississippi Mud, which is a deliciously sloppy chocolate dessert. I think there are marshmallows in it, too. I dunno. It's been a while. I just remember it's very messy. And you're right, Charming, I think there are nuts in it. Thank you for correcting me on my assumption everyone in LA is Catholic. Again, I am exposing my ignorance! Y'all really are so much different than us "Eastcoasters"! I had no idea. And thanks for bringing up "parishes". That is another thing unique to LA. I didn't realize how Catholicism affects Spring Break or chain restaurant menus in LA. Thank you for bringing that up--it's very interesting!

Meghan, if I went to a party and all you had was a keg and a couple of bags of chips, I would think either A) "Oh shit, I forgot to bring something. We were all supposed to chip in!" or B) "OMG. Starve us, why don't you! How rude!" or C) "She ain't from 'roun here." Also, most of the time, if you say, "Oh, yeah, I made that low-fat!" then at least one person will say, "What'd ya do that for? It takes all the flavor out!" Oh, and it's considered "old school" to demand a glass out of which to drink your beer. Just old-fashioned ladies do that. Also, old school ladies don't walk around with a lit cigarette -- they sit down to smoke. Weird, I know. And no, I will not give you a crab dip recipe so you can make it with Miracle Whip. That is a crime down here. We just simply cannot condone such an act. Miracle Whip in your crab dip! PSH! Yankees! *rolls eyes*

As far as lingering around after church is concerned, you have to remember that back in the day, church was often the only time you went into town, so that's the only time you're going to see anyone outside of your family. We were (and still are) very rural down here. I think that's where all the socializing came from. And your friend who went from SB to Greek Orthodox? Holy cow. Not only is that one heck of a stretch, she might have been written out of the will. I'm not kidding. And I forgot to talk about how alcohol sales can vary from city to city, county to county and state to state:

In NC, the counties run all alcohol sales. There is no such thing as a private liquor store. In VA, the state runs it, and the selection BLOWS. You have one choice of everything. So. Lame. I don't even know where you can buy wine, as I don't remember seeing it for sale anywhere in VA. You can buy beer in gas stations, though. In SC, you can buy beer and wine in grocery stores, but not hard liquor. We do have privately owned liquor stores here in SC, which I have to say, is kind of unusual. But if you want to drink alcohol on a Sunday, you have to go to a restaurant or hope you've got some leftover from the night before at your house. (I'm not totally aware of alcohol sales anyplace I live, because I don't drink. So there's more to it than that.....I'm sure there's some weird law I'm forgetting.)

Glad you brought up the bugs, though. Will have to discuss that in a future post.

Kimmykins -- yes, Mrs. Fearnow's canned Brunswick Stew is an excellent substitute. And yes, sometimes we put sweet pickles on our ham biscuits, too. It's excellent. And yes, you're right about SBs -- there are many many different kinds. There is a whole spectrum. Sounds like you're one of the SBs who makes sense. :) Hope I didn't offend. The vast majority of SBs are perfectly normal and good people. Like I said, I have lots of SB friends.

Mieke -- we don't have Goodberry's custard here. I've never heard of it. Will keep my eyes peeled. Frozen custard could possibly be my all-time favorite food.

RWA -- yeah, we do eat turkeys....that was an unfair statement in retrospect. It's just that at the Belle house, the ham is the star of the show. Sometimes we don't even fool with a turkey. Especially if my brothers found/hunted some venison. Glad to hear y'all eat Brunswick stew, too. Man, it's good stuff. And thanks for clarifying about the rumor that Alabamans put mayo in their BBQ sauce. I thought that sounded funny.

Grewuprural -- Oh man, you have opened up a can of worms by bringing up scrapple! First off, it's not a Southern thing. You cannot buy it at our stores. I do believe it's a mid-Atlantic thing, because you can buy it in VA, MD and PN. WLF and The Czarina used to get into arguments about whether or not it's a Southern food. I think WLF was wrong, because no one here's ever heard of scrapple. (I have had it and I like it. Tastes like sausage.) The scraps from the pigs down here (and often, chit'lins are included in this) are eaten by poor people only. Sounds bad, I know. But the nasty piggy parts are what "po' white trash" eat. More on them later.

Christina -- yes, good idea! I should do that!!! The only problem is, I don't know how to make most of this stuff.....hard to believe, I know. But I'm sure I've got some recipes floating around somewhere. I'll let you know. The thing is, you need special equipment for a lot of the recipes: cast iron skillet for cornbread, deep fryer for hush puppies, e.g. I don't have some of the equipment, plus, it's pretty fattening stuff, so I don't normally make it at home.

Amy -- you are living in BBQ heaven, btw. Memphis is my personal favorite style. So tangy. Mmmmmmm!!! And you are totally right about peach ice cream. It's VERY popular down here. Probably because we grow so many peaches. The Czarina used to make preserves and pickle things, too. She makes a fantastic chow chow. (Goes great with beef!) But her best is probably her strawberry preserves. They kick ass. And yes, biscuits need Crisco, lard, bacon grease...something! Your meemaw is old school if she makes neckbones!!! WOW. I, too, don't think I would try that. Another thing you'd have to grow up with. I completely forgot about deep fried chicken livers!!! Czarina loooooooves them. That's another thing you'll see on a BBQ buffet. I am having a hard time seeing how you cook your ham in a skillet. You must slice it up first...because there's no way a 15 lb ham will fit in a frying pan. I have never heard of such a thing. Oh, and you are completely correct in your explanation of cleaning/caring for cast iron. I forgot some people call crawfish "mudbugs". Thanks for the reminder!

coffeesnob -- thank you. I tried to be fair, but some of it does indeed humor me!

mc-- I like that joke. It's kinda true, actually.....tee hee! Some Baptists are closet drinkers!!! And they most certainly don't have booze at their weddings. Not even at funerals. I'm talking a totally alcohol-free lifestyle here. Grape juice at church instead of wine.

MJ-- yes! I can't believe I forgot that!!! Meetings in the secular world have prayers. You'll see people blessing their food in restaurants....lots of praying here in general. It will surprise you if you're not from 'roun here. And you don't believe in Jesus??? OMG, I am friends with a heathen! *faints*

meish -- Oh, I can't believe I forgot to mention bars! Thank you! On Fridays, bars close at 2am. (This was an adjustment for me, because in IN, they never close before 3am) On Saturdays, it's 1am. You gotta get up the next morning for church, ya know. There are some bars who can get away with staying open later than that, but that is unusual and inconsistent. So yeah, you'll never hear of someone coming home from the bars at 4am. They'd have to explain where they've been for the last 2 hours. ;) I have no idea what the hours are in bars on Sundays. Going out on a Sunday night is pretty much unheard of.....I'm sure college students do it. (This is just in SC, btw. I can't speak for the rest of the South....readers??? Help!)

lowtide-- I can't believe I forgot that! Yes, the SB church is ALWAYS the biggest building (or at least the biggest church) in town. That seems to be their "thing." And yes, church suppers (dinner = lunch, supper = dinner...another weird Southernism) often have 5 types of fried chicken, 3 kinds of mac n cheese, two different sweet potato casseroles and 5 different cakes. And yeah, we always have deviled eggs. I've heard it said that you're not a True Southern Belle unless you own a deviled egg plate. (And in case you're wondering, YES, I do own one.) Oh boy. You brought up The War. That is a whole different can of worms. More about Northern Aggression later. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. ;) Can everyone just hold off on this topic for a bit? We still have to get through football and slang!

Ya know what aspect of religion I forgot to talk about, y'all? We have a higher percentage of Jehovah's Witnesses down here, I think. I know they are everywhere, but I really think we have more of them in the South. You occasionally hear about the little kids who don't have birthday parties or of people who won't accept blood transfusions. If you are scratching your head right now, read the link above. It will explain what I'm talking about. They take the Bible even more literally than the SBs. Witnesses are hard-core.

I'm not sure about this either, but I think we have a large number of open-casket funerals down here. (Readers, I need your help on this one) They kind of creep me out -- we don't do that in my family. But I know some families who only have open-casket. (Ooh, this is a good transition paragraph, as funerals are where food and church intersect!!) Now, when someone dies, everyone in town--even people you haven't seen in years and people you don't know--will bring you food. TONS of food. (I want you to imagine what "tons" of food looks like. Now double it. That's what I'm talking about.) Typical funeral food includes: casseroles, deviled eggs, potato salad, fruit salad, mac n cheese (I swear, someone always brings this!), sliced ham, fried chicken, biscuits, red velvet cake, pound cake, etc. Some people bring booze. (Maybe this is just my family??) Within hours of the passing, your kitchen will be full of food. As in, "Holy cow. Where am I going to put these baked beans??? Seriously???!!" Because people don't just bring small amounts of this stuff. They fill up those aluminum lasagna pans with food. Each person brings food for 20.

Oh, and just because someone stops by to visit for a bit and bring you food doesn't mean they are coming to the funeral. Really, just your closest family friends attend the funeral. Anyone in town can stop by with food. Your neighbors, whom you've never talked to, because they live 3 miles down the road, found out about the death while they were down at the post office, where they heard about it from your youngest son's 2nd grade teacher. Who's on her way to your house with a huge pan of cornbread., even though your youngest son just graduated college and you haven't talked to the teacher in 15 years. So don't be surprised if your neighbors show up to both introduce themselves and give you their condolences. Complete with a pan of creamed corn. (See how things work around here?)

This is why, after the funeral at church, everyone goes back to your house and helps you eat it. There's usually a lot of drinking, too. So I guess, in a way, this is much like a wake. Southerners know that food is the best thing to bring when someone dies because: grieving people don't feel like cooking, lots of people are going to be coming over and you have to feed them, plants might die on you too and it's tacky to give money. So food it is.

Speaking of food...

I forgot to mention tomato aspic. THAT is a Southern dish. Very old-school. If you don't know what it is, imagine tomato Jell-O. "Ew" is right. We also do a lot of chicken n dumplings, but I have heard they eat that out west, so I don't know if that counts as Southern. In Texas, they eat one of my favorite things: brisket. Whatever you do, never turn down brisket. The first time I had it, I think I ate a pound of it in one sitting. It's freakin awesome.

Oh! I forgot to explain "country fried steak" and "hamburger steak". You will see these items on menus in small country towns. Country fried steak is just a steak that has been deep fried like fried chicken. So it has that yummy fried chicken crust on it. It's usually topped with gravy. Hamburger steak is basically a burger in fancy clothes: served without a bun, with mashed potatoes on the side, and covered in sauteed mushrooms and mushroom gravy. It's my brother Fat Dog's meal of choice.

We also fry pickles down here. You'll see those at fairs and festivals. (We pretty much fry everything down here...)

I forgot to mention tomato pie (imagine a quiche, only very heavy on the tomatoes) and the importance of Vidalia onions. They are valued above all other onions. We have oodles of Vidalia onion recipes around here. They come from Georgia, you know.

Anything made with peaches is going to be very popular around here, especially where I live. (Trivia fact for you: Most people think Georgia grows the most peaches, but they don't. SC does.) K's mom makes the best dang peach cobbler I've ever had. I need to get that recipe....

Corn is definitely a diet staple. We've talked about grits, but there's also: corn pones (aka Johnnycake), corn fritters (delicious!), corn pudding, creamed corn, etc.

People down here eat quail. Usually they're deep fried (duh). They look like tiny, deep fried turkeys.

I forgot to mention that sometimes, we stuff our turkeys with oyster dressing, instead of sage or Stove Top or whatever. I mean, it's got breadcrumbs in it, so I guess that's not too weird. I've never had it, but I bet it's good. Again, we love our seafood down here.

I also forgot to mention the importance of Cool Whip to our desserts. Pretty much every dessert has Cool Whip in it, on it or near it! But Jell-o? Not so much. We don't eat a lot of Jell-O here. We are more likely to have some rice pudding around. With a dollop of Cool Whip on top. (Dude, when rice pudding is made correctly, it is to DIE for. Cinnamon and raisins are in it....mmmmmm) Chess pies are popular: lemon chess, chocolate chess, etc. You'll hear of vinegar pie (it's good! It's sweet, I promise!) and that is similar to custard pie or Shoo Fly Pie, which is a little more popular in VA. Peanut brittle and key lime pie are popular down here. So is bread pudding (again, don't knock it 'til you try it!). One of the more popular cakes is red velvet cake, although I have no idea why. People go crazy for it. If you're deep, deep down south, you are familiar with King Cake. We don't have it in my part of the country, though.

In the summer, we eat a lot of local watermelon, nectarines, peaches, blackberries and strawberries. Lots of sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash and coleslaw. We don't really use cabbage for anything else. And of course, it's got tons of mayo.

Now, if you want to go old school in the dessert department, you'll have benne seed candy. I personally don't care for it, but some people like it. Imagine sesame seed brittle. That's pretty regional, though -- SC and GA mostly. That's something they ate in the 1700s.

Squirrel Nut Zippers are not a rock band down here. They are little wrapped candies, kind of like Mary Janes. Only nuttier. But same idea. We also have Moon Pies and Goo Goo Clusters. You'll see them for sale in convenience stores.

We also have a tendency to put Coca-Cola in things: I've heard of Coca-Cola gravy and one of the most popular recipes in the Belle household is Coca-Cola cake. Some people make 7-Up cake, too. You'll hear of people soaking their peanuts in glasses of Coca-Cola.

Speaking of drinks, there are a lot of bourbon and whiskey drinkers down here. We especially like to use those liquors in punches. The Czarina has a recipe for Charleston Light Dragoon Punch, not to be confused with St. Cecilia's Punch. (More on St. Cecilia later...) Wine made from muscadine grapes is also popular. Oh, you'll love to know this little trivia fact: Coors beers were not available on the east coast until....hmmm. I would say the last 30 years or so. Pabst Blue Ribbon was popular, I think.

Cheerwine is a Southern soda pop. It tastes like a combination between cherry soda and Dr. Pepper. Another soda pop we have is RC Cola. It's getting hard to find, now, along with Nehi (pronounced "knee-high", because that's how tall the bottles used to be). Nehi comes in grape and orange...maybe some other flavors, too. It's very popular with children. I haven't seen it since I was a kid. SunDrop is sort of a Mountain Dew knock-off. That's hard to find, too. People who like it LOVE it, though.

Old ladies drink buttermilk sometimes. You'll see it on the menu in mom n pop restaurants in rural areas. Yeah, I don't get it either. Every restaurant in town serves crab cakes. At least, in SC they do. Oh shoot, I'm trying to hold off on restaurant stuff or else this will be too long...I guess I should at least mention that there's a Waffle House on every corner here. That's where you can have your hashbrowns smothered and covered.

Last but not least, the best recipes come from Southern Living or Paula Deen. (She is a culinary goddess down here!)

WHEW! Have I forgotten anything this time??? I promise football is next!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Southern Survival 101: Church

WOW. I did not think that post would have so much reaction. In fact, as I was driving home last night, I thought, "Uck. Such a lame-o post. Will have to be more interesting tomorrow." But my readers have surprised me, so I will continue with the series.

I am loving the comments, btw. I did indeed forget pimento cheese (WLF ate it like it was going out of style!) and strawberry shortcake (of course, MY mom makes the best version, and I will beat you silly if you disagree with me). Much thanks to Charming for educating me on how VASTLY different the Louisiana cuisine is. I thought we shared most of the same foods, but apparently I am way off. And now I want to eat my way through that state. There should be Cajun Food Bus Tours. I would totally go. Gumbo, spicy sauces, lots of shrimp and pralines? Holy cow. Sign me up.

Also, did anyone else grow up eating pickled watermelon rind? Jesusmaryandjoseph, y'all. Those things are fantastic. They are sweet and cinnamon-y. Yet they are pickle-y at the same time. I don't know if they're a Southern thing, but they are awesome. Cool texture, too. Very hard to find. They taste like bread n butter pickles.

Ok, enough about food! Today's topic: Faith in the South. And by that, I am referring to the two things Southerners pray for: Jesus' salvation and the infallibility of the football coach.

You think I am kidding. But just wait. Unless you are Southern, you have no idea how important these two things are to us. You will understand by the end of this post.

Let's start with church.

First off, unless you say otherwise, it is assumed you are Southern Baptist. If not, it's assumed you are Methodist. No? You must be Non-Denominational. If you are still shaking your head, they assume you're Lutheran or Presbyterian. Still shaking? You must be Episcopalian. If you are still saying no, you are a heathen.

Last I heard, there was a rumor that a synagogue exists somewhere in the metropolitan area. But that has yet to be confirmed. You do meet the occasional Catholic, but everyone assumes they "ain't from around here." The concepts of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, atheism or anything else don't compute in our brains. Period. At best, someone might say, "Those people don't believe in Jesus, do they?" and then proceed to shake their heads.

Down here, you go to church. Everyone goes to church. (Ok, not everyone. But most people. Especially if you are a native. Or if you are married, under the age of 10 or over the age of 60. So we are talking well over 60% of the population.) A lot of people (ie, Southern Baptists) go to church twice a week: on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. I don't know why it's Wednesdays, but there are people who can never do anything on Wednesday nights because they have church. I like to think they are extra-bad, and therefore, need more churchin' than the rest of us. But that's just a joke. I'm technically Episcopalian, so I'm not expected to go to church on Wednesdays. I could if I wanted to, but there wouldn't be many people there. (Actually, right now I would fall into the "heathen" category, as I haven't set foot in a church in about 7 months). Some people refuse to work on Sundays because they believe it's a day of rest. And the employers just say, "Ok." and have someone else (ie, a heathen) cover for them.

Before church starts on Sundays, all the kids go to Sunday School, which is where they learn about Bible stories, obviously. But that is where all the similarities to Catholicism end. Baptists completely veer off that path from this point forward. (Which is fine! I am not bashing SBs! To each their own. IMHO, we're all gonna be in heaven one day, anyway.) That is, unless you're in LA, where everyone is Catholic. (LA seems to be the exception to a lot of Southern culture, it seems....)

There's no catechism or learning about sacraments. They don't know what the hell that is down here. "Extreme Unction? Sue, isn't that what Aunt Thelma was diagnosed with the last time she went to the doctor?" they would say. You never confess anything to any preacher. I guess you just think about it, feel bad and pray silently for forgiveness. (This has been a big adjustment for me, ever since I turned Protestant. Like, how do you know it's forgiven unless you've said 8 Hail Marys??) There are no rosaries, relics or mantillas. No one talks about what St. Michael did, because saints are really not emphasized in the SB church. I don't even know if they believe in saints, come to think of it.

Ever tried to explain what a saint is to someone? "Um. It's kind of like a friend...who we think is in heaven..that you can pray to....for help with specific things....like if you lost your dog, or whatever..." and the other person is like, "You mean like Jesus? Why would you need to pray to anyone other than Jesus? That sounds wrong. Are you a heathen?" and then it all goes downhill from there.

And it doesn't matter why Mary was a virgin when she had Jesus, you just need to know that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and unless you believe that, your soul will be damned to hell, which is full of fire and brimstone, and you will be tormented for all time by Satan himself. (Can you tell I was raised Catholic?)

Anyway, as you age, your Sunday School becomes Bible Study, where you begin to memorize Bible verses. This is because many Southerners (especially Southern Baptists) take a literal approach to the Bible. It's not my thing, but hey. To each their own. I don't think it's a bad thing to know some Bible quotes. They probably come in handy in those last few seconds before you do something stupid.

On Sundays, you are not done with church until at least noon. This is because church is the main social networking institution down here. It's where you make contacts, both social and business-related. So after church is over, you go to the church hall and eat and drink coffee and chat. Make connections. Which kind of doesn't make sense, if you think about it, because as we all know, everyone in the South knows everyone else. So I guess it's more of a social thing, now that I think about it. It's just that the lines between "making a social connection" and conducting a business meeting" are blurry down here. So anyway, you eat some more. Then you go to lunch with your church friends....where you eat some more.

There's a lot of "office politics" involved in the Southern church. I have heard of preachers (yes, they are called preachers -- we don't have "priests" or anything like that) being fired simply because the congregation didn't like his sermons. And although the preacher is the one at the front of the room and the one in the pulpit, it's actually the Church Ladies who are running the show. Don't mess with the Church Ladies. Trust me on this one.

And you know how Catholic Mass (another term you'll never hear down here -- "mass") has a set order of little ceremonies? Yeah. SBs don't do that. They mainly go to church to sing songs, pass the collection plate and listen to the preacher preach stuff. Then you get some wine and bread and that's it. No one here has heard of "Benediction" or saints or anything like that. There's no incense or bell-ringing. No statues in the church, no Jesus on the cross (did you know that only Catholics put the figure of Jesus on the cross? Other Christians just have the naked cross.) Southern Baptists have baptisms, though. They just get more into it: your ass is dunked, down in the river. So remember to wear your bathing suit.

Pretty much every church down here has a choir. We are big on musical accompaniment during our services. A LOT of R&B singers got their start singing in their church choirs. It's a big deal down here. They put on quite a show. You'll see matching choir robes and lots of swaying and hand-raising. A lot of people down here don't even open their hymnals, because they know all the words to all the old hymns. (Wait, is this a Southern thing? I always assumed it was. I mean, I'm pretty sure they don't sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" up in the Yankee churches....)

Now, I'm not going to bash Southern Baptists (SBs) on here, because a lot of them do lead good, Christian lives and I have lots of Southern Baptist friends whose moral fiber I admire greatly. However. They can get kinda weird in some ways. And not just because they honestly believe Eve was literally formed from Adam's rib. The Baptists are usually behind any laws in the South against the following: gambling, drinking, tobacco usage, drugs, homosexuality, sodomy, oral sex, sex outside of marriage, living in sin, swearing, dancing, strip clubs, movies, card playing, fortune telling, "immodest" dress and things that are fun in general. Ok, I'm kidding about the fun part. But let me just put it to you this way: my babysitter's dad was a SB preacher, and he didn't allow his daughters to wear pants. So, you see what I'm saying? They get kinda weird.

We have lots of blue laws here. (I've heard they exist up north, too, but we are more known for them.) You will find dry counties down here. As in, you have to drive to another county if you want beer. You can buy it in the next county and bring it back home, you just can't purchase it in the dry county. Um, what? Yeah. I don't get it either. There's a lot of dry counties in TN and KY. That means the county is controlled by very strict SBs, because they do not condone alcohol consumption of any kind. These are the type of SBs who drink grape juice at church instead of wine. I swear to God I am not making this up. Lots of places down here have laws about when and where alcohol can be sold.

For example, here in Columbia, if you live on the west side of town, like I do, you cannot buy anything other than food and medicine/toiletries on Sunday mornings. Shoes? Nope. Cucumber? Yes. DVDs? No. Shampoo? Yes. I know, makes no friggin sense. But you see, people are supposed to be at church on Sunday mornings. And if heathens don't want to go, then goshdarnit, it's going to be a royal pain in the ass for them to do anything productive in the meantime. Here's irony for you: you cannot buy a Bible on Sunday mornings. Yeah. Chew on that for a minute. After 1:30pm on Sundays, you can buy whatever you want. Until 6pm, when everything closes. (This is why I spend the vast majority of Sundays watching movies, taking walks or cooking. It's because nothing's friggin open.)

Sundays are for church and family. Sounds corny, I know. But Sunday, after church and lunch, everyone typically goes to their mother/grandmother's house, where they spend the rest of the day. What they do, I don't know. Talk. Eat. Watch NASCAR, probably. My family is spread out all over God's creation, so I cannot really relate to this aspect of Southern culture. I am commenting as an observer on this one. You may have noticed that Chik-fil-a is never open on Sundays. This is because the founder is a SB, and he thinks Sundays are family time. Irritating for customers, yet admirable at the same time.

Irritating, yet admirable. Yes, that is a good way to explain SBs in general....

There are a few more things you should know. Billy Graham is a major celebrity down here. Lots of highways are named after him. Rick Warren comes in at a close second. Oh, and there are some teens who only listen to Christian rock bands. They even go to the concerts. I didn't even know Christian rock bands went on tour. Wow. Also, especially in small towns, you will find that the lines between church and state are blurry. Schools put up Christmas trees and sing religious Christmas carols. It's not unusual to see the Ten Commandments posted on public buildings. Or in schools. High schoolers can take Bible classes just like they can take geometry or biology. At first I thought maybe someone should say something. As someone educated in the midwest, where stuff like this would NEVER fly, it still freaks me out a little. But then one day, I realized: Everyone here is a Christian. There literally isn't anyone who has a problem with it. Which is why no one's ever said anything before.

Um. I think I have sufficiently covered church. Next up: Our other religion. Football.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Southern Survival 101: Food

Most of my readers do not live anywhere near Columbia, SC. I bet a lot of y'all have never been here, either.

Well, never fear. VB is here.

Ever since Meghan sent me a list of ways to know you are from her hometown of Pittsburgh, I have been trying to compile a similar list for Columbia. Which is easier said than done. You see, Columbia isn't all that large. We have only about 117,000 in the city limits. Living in a city that small means it's hard to separate South Carolina/Southern culture from Columbia culture. We have a lot of regional influence here. Guess I will have to start with General Southern Things. So if you want to know how to survive down here or how to make sense of our weird Southern quirks, keep reading.

Here we go. Er, wait. There is too much.

*Edit: Ok, this started to get really long. So I'm going to have to make this a series. This first part will be about food-related Southern culture. Mostly because 3/4 of our culture deals with food. The rest is football. But that's the next post.*

You probably already enjoy some Southern foods. Krispy Kreme donuts are Southern. KFC is, too. (And I ask you, "See why we are all fat????") We have tons of Waffle Houses and Bojangles here, too. Bojangles is like KFC, but better. Popeye's is another KFC competitor. And so is Church's -- obviously, we are pretty keen on fried chicken down here. Fried anything, really. At the state fair, you can get fried candy bars, fried oreos.....really, pretty much anything.

There must be a law which states, "Any gathering of four or more people, whether for business or pleasure, requires food to be served." -- It's not on the books, but it might as well be. Meeting? There's donuts. Your secretary's assistant's birthday? There's a cake. It's Friday? Someone brought chex mix. Going over to a friend's house just to see how she's doing? Yeah, she's going to feed you. Church? Tables of food spread out after service. See what I'm saying? And people wonder why SC is known for having overweight people. It's because we eat ALL THE TIME. Everyone from your mom to your neighbors to complete strangers are always trying to feed you. When I started writing this post, trying to think of Southern culture, I had a hard time thinking of non-food-related items. No joke.

If you ask for "tea", it's assumed you mean "ice tea" and it will be pre-sweetened. HEAVILY sweetened. With real sugar. Some places do not even have "unsweet" tea. You have to ask for it.

If someone asks you if you'd like a "Coke", they mean "a drink". So you have to specify. You can say "Oh, a diet Pepsi would be great!", "Miller Lite, please" or whatever. Just don't get upset if they say there is no alcohol in the house. A lot of people here are strict Baptists who don't drink. Oh, and ladies drink their beer from glasses, not bottles or cans. (Well, that's "old school", anyway.)

If I were to say "Southern Food", the first thing most of you would think of, after fried chicken, is probably BBQ. First things first. Down here, if you say, "We're having a BBQ at our house on Saturday!" and you invite your friends over, you'd better have some shredded pork laying around. Because if you're planning on serving burgers and hot dogs, you should be calling it a "cookout" or a "grill out". BBQ = piggy parts. No exceptions.

So, how does BBQ work? What all is involved in this process? First of all, never say, "Such-and-such restaurant has the best BBQ in town!" because you will inevitably get into an argument with everyone in the room. Everyone has a different favorite. Trust me, just don't go there. No one wins those arguments. Just ask where a good BBQ place is and listen to the locals. And don't get freaked out if the restaurant is full of flies or is dirty or greasy-spoon-ish. Those are usually the best ones. Trust me.

I would say that any authentic BBQ place is going to be buffet. Usually, it's all you can eat for between $6-10. And they probably don't take credit cards. I'll talk about what's on the buffet in a second. Let's talk about the star of the show first: the pig.

BBQ in the South, unless you are from Texas or Kansas, means pork. (Catfish is our other white meat, in case you're wondering.) We don't typically do beef BBQ here in the coastal states. Most places will BBQ a pig. A whole pig. Sometimes, it's smoked in a smoker. Sometimes it's cooked over a pit. It takes a long time. Several hours. Which is why there's always beer -- you drink as you wait for the pig to cook. Then, they shred most of the meat (ie, make it all stringy by ripping it apart). That's what goes on your sandwich/plate and gets doused with sauce. They also make BBQ ribs from the pig. Actually, just about every part of a pig is used up by the end, whether it's made into hash, pig's feet or whatever. More on hash in a second.

Big parties down here sometimes have what's called a "pig pickin'". When you go to a pig pickin', you will see a pig carcass. But that's good. The BBQ is super fresh and yummy. And since pig pickins feed crowds, there is going to be a lot of side dishes. Pig pickins are a good time. I would never turn down an invite to one of those.

Ok, what goes with shredded pork? First, sauce. Sauce is put into the meat after it's shredded, and before it goes on your plate. Then, you put more sauce on it before you eat it. (We are big on sauces here.) Now, there are several kinds of sauces. If you live in TN or TX, you have red sauce. This is ketchup-based. It's also what non-Southerners mean when they say "BBQ sauce". A lot of Texans don't put sauce on their beef BBQ, btw. Beef BBQ doesn't usually get sauce. It gets rubbed. But I'm not a Texan, so that's all I'm going to say about that.

If you live in NC, you have vinegar-based sauce. It is clear and colorless and often has red pepper flakes in it. It can be spicy and/or tangy. It's pretty good, too. If you live here in SC, you will see the yellow sauce. This kind is mustard-based. It's usually milder and sweeter than the others. Sometimes you'll see orange-colored sauce. I don't know what's in it, but it's good, too. I think it's a variation of the mustard sauce. In general, you can't go wrong. They all taste good.

I don't know what kind of sauce they use in GA, LA, AR, AL or MS. (Readers, help me!) I've heard Alabama uses mayo in their sauce. And LA has a lemony sauce. Don't know if that's correct, though.

Some places serve BBQ sandwiches on hamburger buns. In other places, you just get the meat directly on your plate, and you eat it with a fork. Also on the buffet, you will see: baked beans, mac n cheese, green beans, coleslaw, hush puppies (these are balls of sweet cornbread dough, deep fried. Often they have little onion bits in them. Crispy on the outside, sweet n oniony on the inside. They are friggin delicious. So delicious, that I always wrap some up in napkins and stick them in my purse to take with me.)....what else....

Sometimes you'll see collards or black eyed peas. Sometimes cornbread. Often you'll have fried chicken. Biscuits and grits make an appearance on buffets from time to time. Sometimes fried okra. Butter beans or creamed corn on occasion. I get excited when I see sweet potato casserole on the buffet. It kicks ass. As my dad would say, "Tastes just like candy!"

It is assumed that after you eat BBQ, your dessert will be banana pudding. That's just what it is. (Unless you are at a pot luck/church supper, in which case, it might be cake. In addition to banana pudding.) And it will be the best dang banana pudding you've ever had in your whole life. Man, I think they put crack in it down here....oh, sometimes you'll see peach cobbler on the buffet, too. But banana pudding is always there.

We don't have potatoes on the menus here. Well, we do, just not that often. We like mashed potatoes as much as everyone else. But our standard carbohydrate is rice. In a restaurant, if the menu says something comes with rice, you will need some clarification. White rice? Yellow rice? Red rice? Brown rice? Is it made with chicken stock? Is there gravy on it? Or hash?

Let's talk about hash for a second. Hash is found only in SC. And no, it's not like corned beef hash. It's nothing like it, actually. Basically, after you are done BBQing the pig, and you have shredded all the yummy meat off it, you chop up whatever's left over (organ meats, dark meat, mystery meat), cook it, and make it into a soupy, lumpy gravy. Then it's served over rice. Unless you know what you are doing, do not attempt to eat this junk. You have to grow up with it in order to find it appetizing. Personally, it makes me want to barf. Mostly because it looks like barf. Hash is for professionals, so don't try it at home.

Southerners eat collard greens, turnip greens or mustard greens. When uncooked, these veggies look like dark lettuce. They are boiled within an inch of their life, so they're mushy. Some people make them better than others. And when they're made right, they are really good. Kind of like how green beans are cooked with bacon pieces, and you can taste the bacon in it. Yeah. Like that. See? It's good. You should try it. Just get a good recommendation first. And if you want to make them at home, put an unshelled walnut in the pot as it's boiling or else your house will smell like greens. Ew. It's not a good smell, trust me.

We don't have goose or turkey for Christmas dinner. We have venison. If you've never had it, you should try it. It's like really lean, dark chicken meat. Very tasty. If you're from Virginia, like me, you might luck out and get a Smithfield ham for Christmas. This is not any ordinary ham, people. It is basically a block of salt, made to look like a ham. Ok, not really. It is meat. But dang, it is so freakin' salty. It is not juicy and light pink like a honey ham. It's not spiral-sliced, and there's no pineapple on it. It is dry and tough and dark red. You need a big, copper ham cooker in order to make it. It is fantastic if you slice it up and put the slices on little dinner rolls, with some mayonnaise. Mmmm! Approximately an hour after you eat it, you will feel you're dying of thirst, so you'll go to the kitchen and drink 3 gallons of water as fast as you can. Then you'll go eat more because, man, it's good stuff. The next day, your eyes will be all puffy from the salt.

Mayonnaise. Up north, it's Yankees vs. Red Sox. Down here, it's Duke's vs. Hellman's. You either come from a Hellman's family or a Duke's family. I happen to come from a Duke's family, which made it difficult when we lived in Indianapolis, as Duke's is not sold up there. Czarina had to special-order it by the case. Along with grits, which also were not sold up there.

We love us some mayo-based salads down here: potato, macaroni, crab, shrimp, egg, chicken...you name it. We make it into salad. Before eating it, people will ask you which mayo you used in it.

Down here, you have to keep your bread in the refrigerator or else it will get moldy after about 2 days. Also, you MUST hermetically seal anything sweet or else you'll get ants in your house. At times, I have kept my sugar in the fridge to avoid ant infestations.

Some Southern foods are rarely seen, but I know someone, somewhere down here is eating them, because I hear about it: squirrel, rabbit, pickled pig's feet, pork rinds, chit'lins, livermush and possum.

Some foods, like the Smithfield ham, are very localized.

For example, in SC, when you're on the coast (aka the Lowcountry), you want to try and find some Low Country Boil Down. This is made by getting a really REALLY big pot, bringing a bunch of water to a boil, and throwing in the following: red potatoes, corn on the cob, sliced kielbasa sausage, live blue crabs, shrimp and a bunch of Old Bay seasoning. Then you boil it all together, then drain out the water and go to town. It's very messy. Mmmmmm. Also on the coast you'll find oyster roasts and she-crab soup, which has a touch of sherry in it, if it's made properly.

In Virginia, peanut capital of the planet, we have peanut soup. Imagine runny, salty peanut butter. Yeah, I don't really like it. But Czarina loves it. It's hard to find.

In Louisiana, you can find lots of cajun food, which is scrumptious. They eat crawfish (aka crawdads) and gumbo. Good stuff. Also, they have pralines. OMG I dream of pralines: brown sugar, butter, pecans....*sigh* They really know food in LA. They also put chicory in their coffee, I think. It's good.

Kentucky has Mint Juleps and burgoo. I've never had burgoo, but it sounds like Brunswick Stew (see below). Mint juleps are full of bourbon, which is why my dad loved them. This is another highly sweetened, iced drink.

Only certain parts of the South (I think it's only found in VA and NC) have Brunswick Stew, a tomato-broth based stew with corn, lima beans, okra, shredded chicken, hot sauce and tomatoes in it. The Czarina has a fantastic recipe for this. It's low cal and filling. Served with cornbread. MAN. Good stuff.

Oh, I know another one. We are really big on boiled peanuts in the South. I'm not keen on them, but everyone else loves them. Very salty and mushy. Ick. Extremely popular snack.

If someone is bringing you a cake, you can assume it's a homemade pound cake. Box mix cakes are for when you're in a hurry, or if only kids are going to eat it. If someone's bringing you a pie, you can assume it's probably pecan or sweet potato, both of which are scrumptious. Peach pie is also very popular.

What else....oh yeah. If you order any of the following foods, you should assume they will be served to you fried: okra, zucchini, potatoes, chicken, green tomatoes, catfish, and shrimp. And if they're made "right", they are fried in bacon grease.

Let's talk breakfast. A typical Southern breakfast includes all or most of the following: eggs, bacon, grits, toast, biscuits, sausage, biscuits and sausage gravy, ham with red eye gravy and coffee or iced tea. Sometimes you'll see home fries or hashbrowns. If you're lucky, pancakes. Things like fruit or cereal or yogurt are not Southern.

Other foods you won't see/can't get/won't like down here include: Chinese food (ugh, we have terrible Chinese food here), decent pizza, Russian, German, Polish, Japanese, really good Italian (actually, it's just hard to find), French (unless you're in LA), Spanish, Portuguese and really, anything too exotic. So yes, Ethiopian is totally out of the question.

No one here knows what Cincinnati chili is. No one's ever heard of a pierogi. We probably have no idea what we are doing in the steak department. Cod and halibut are unheard of here. If you say "brown bread" then everyone thinks you're talking about whole wheat bread, not the molasses-based kind which is steamed and full of raisins. Few people make decent chili.

I can't speak for other Southern cities, but we have fantastic Mexican, Greek and Thai food here in Columbia. So there is hope. We're expanding, slowly. I think there's a Lebanese restaurant here somewhere.

Southern cuisine is by far my favorite, so I really enjoy that aspect of living here. But I miss frozen custard, beer and cheese soup, good pizza, Cincinnati chili, good Chinese takeout and schnitzel. I discovered all of these when I lived in Indiana. Oh well. I guess I can always find an online recipe.

Hungry? You should feel prepared to visit the South and get some decent vittles, now. Or at least know what the heck is going on.

Please add any comments about what I've said. Correct me if I'm wrong--RWA and Charming and any other Southern readers. Ask me any questions about all of this. If you want, I can try and find recipes for you, too. Next up: Football & Church.

Monday, May 21, 2007

WLF Goes to the Beach

Let's see....not the most eventful week of my life, in case you can't tell from my lack of posting.

I could tell you about having to sit next to a guy from Romania who had B.O.

Or I could tell you about seeing a great local band the other night (Villanova).

I could tell you that I saw Hoochie McSkankerton (aka Wednesday Skank) sucking face with Hot Neighbor this weekend. In his driveway. In daylight. In front of his kids. (Is it just me, or is 2 months kind of soon to be making out in front of the kiddies???)

I could tell you that Shrek the Third was decent. But perhaps you should wait for the DVD.

I could tell you that the portrayal of librarians in Party Girl and Tomcats were....interesting. And although not great movies, they did have their funny moments. Librarians are very wild girls, according to Hollywood. Woot!

I could mention that I am officially up to running 3 miles now. With a small break in-between miles 2 and 3. Go me.

Or I could tell you that I left my doggie bag behind at a restaurant this weekend and I was SO MAD, because I always do that. Which sucks even more when you are broke and were hoping to have the leftovers for dinner tonight. GAH I am still pissed at myself, just thinking about it.

I could tell you how my brother Fungus got to eat dinner with this guy recently. No, I am not kidding. A friend of the family got an extra ticket to a gala dinner where he spoke, and he gave the ticket to Fungus. So I'm sure he didn't get to meet him, just share a meal with him. Kinda. Neat, huh?

I could tell you about hanging out with all my girls this weeekend: Friday's dinner with the Happy Hour Peeps. Saturday's BBQ lunch w/MJ & KT (and MJ's brother & sis-in-law) and Sunday's dinner at a Chinese/Japanese/Sushi restaurant with the Nurses and Healthy Girl. But it was just good times, not much to report.

Really, I pretty much just summed everything up for you. This leaves me with a problem: what should I post today? Hmmm...sounds like it's time for a story! WOOT!

Have I told you about the time WLF went to the beach? No? Ok, this is a good one.

At some point in his youth, I think when he was in college, WLF (aka My Dad) went to the beach with his buddies one summer. (So this is probably somewhere in Virginia or Maryland, in the 1950s, for those of you who want a setting.)

They were there for about a week. Aside from getting up one morning (to find they were out of milk) and putting beer on his breakfast cereal --- EWWWWW --- he just had a good time partying it up on the surf and sand.

But one night was unforgettable.....

Apparently, there was some all-girl's school at this beach-front town. WLF and his buddies found out where the girls' dormitory was. It was directly across the street from the beach. Enjoying the wonderful beach breezes, the girls kept their windows open at night as they slept.

Big. Mistake.

You see, nighttime is when the crabs come out. Hundreds of little crabs, all over the beach. And you really don't want to combine that wonder of nature with a group of college-aged young men who are on vacation with not much to do. Besides drink beer.

See where this is going? Yeah.

So WLF and his buddies grab buckets and start collecting crabs. Tons of them. They completely fill the buckets with live crabs. They wait until the lights in the dormitory had been out for about a half hour. Then they climb up the fire escape to the 2nd floor, walk over to the open window...........and begin to dump the buckets. Hundreds of crabs scurry all over the hardwood floors, making for a very creepy cacophony of little crustacean legs. But the sleeping women do not notice.

At first.

Giggling, WLF and his buddies ran back down the fire escape to sit on the curb across the street from the dormitory. They each pop a can of beer......and wait.

About 5 minutes later, the screaming starts. In between shrieks, WLF and his buddies can hear the crabs freaking out and scurrying around everywhere in packs, from one side of the room to the other. Soon they can tell all the girls are up, screaming bloody murder. The crabs are making even more noise than before, sliding all over the slick, hardwood floors. Someone switched on the lights, and then they really started screaming.

Meanwhile, WLF and his friends are laughing their asses off.

That is, until they hear the police sirens. One of the girls had called the cops.

WLF and his buddies start to run away. But WLF trips and falls. The cops are right up on them at this point, his friends are long gone, and WLF knew he had to think fast if he was going to avoid trouble. A pickup truck was parked down the street. WLF opened the door (unbelievably, it was unlocked) and quickly laid down on the seat as though he were sleeping.

Not even 15 seconds later, a cop raps at the window, looking for answers.

"Oh, no, officer. I have no idea what you're talking about. I've been asleep the whole time, here in my truck. I didn't see anything," he said drowsily.

"Hmph. Ok, well, thanks anyway," the cop said suspiciously.

My dad could never believe he didn't get busted on that one. But he was pretty proud of himself at the same time for his quick thinking. He never could tell that story without laughing so hard, he had tears running down his face.

By the way, this is only one of many stories involving my father and practical jokes. You could say it was a hobby of his.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Flashes in the Love Stinks Pan

Ugh, you know I hate it when I whine. Not only do I manage to annoy my readers, I annoy myself. To boot, it makes me feel guilty. I am a very lucky person, with much to be grateful for: health, money to pay my bills (um, hopefully...), my family is safe, my car is currently running, etc.

So this post promises to be 100% WHINE-FREE. *readers cheer and applaud*

Instead of whining about how much love stinks, I'm going to list anecdotes from those moments in my dating history when something GOOD actually happened. (Single guys, you might want to take notes.)

This might take me a while. Let's see....it can't all be bad....right?

One summer in high school, I briefly dated this guy, who, despite my raging acne and teenage insecurities, thought the sun rose and set on me. (At the time and to this day, I have no idea what he was thinking. Seriously.) I would love to say that I appreciated him for seeing such wonderful things when he looked at me, but he ended up being a horrible kisser, so it didn't last long. Also, his main hobby was dropping acid in first period, which really wasn't my scene. If I remember correctly, the vast majority of my attraction to him was due to the fact that he worked at Steak n Shake and he would give me free milkshakes when I came in. Also, he had a fantastic collection of rave/techno CDs which he'd let me borrow. Gosh, I had such high standards then...but, he does stick out in my memory because of a wonderful evening. He called me one afternoon and asked me if he could pick me up at 8pm. "Sure," I replied. "What are we doing? And wait...you don't have a car."

"Don't worry, it's a surprise," he said.

My parents said it would be ok, although they didn't like him very much (he had a few too many piercings for their taste). As I started to get ready (for what, I had no idea), I realized with horror that I was breaking out in hives all over my body. (To this day, I have no idea what caused it, nor have I had hives since). In order to avoid looking like a freak, I was forced to wear jeans and a long-sleeved top to hide my itchy, red bumps. Keep in mind this is in the middle of summer, so this outfit was very out-of-season and was making me sweat buckets. Wow, sexy.

8 o'clock rolls around, and he picks me up in his friend's car: a brand-new white sports car. He had somehow gotten off of work early and talked his coworker into letting him borrow the car.

I was already impressed. And we hadn't even gone anywhere yet.

We got in the car and headed towards downtown Indianapolis. (Remember, I went to high school/college in Indiana). He refused to tell me where we were going. Once we got to the heart of downtown, he parked the car. We got out, and he grabbed my hand. "Come on!" he said excitedly.

We walked into the ground floor of one of the skyscrapers and got into the elevator. I was curious when he hit the button for the top floor. I had no idea what was going on.

The elevator doors opened, and we stood at the entrance to The Eagle's Nest. It had just opened, and I had only heard about it: the rotating restaurant on the top floor of a hotel. (You can see a pic of the view if you click on the link). We got a table by a window and ate dessert as we watched the sun set over the downtown skyline.

Now, I'm not one for romantic gestures, as the vast majority of them make me throw up a little in my mouth, but this was pretty good, I gotta say. Anytime a guy puts forth effort like that, I'm always impressed. Considering I can still remember every detail of it over ten years later, I'd say this was one of the best dates of all time. Even though he ended up locking the keys in the car and we had to wait for a locksmith to open it. Which was pretty funny, actually.

I dated a guy my sophomore year of college. He's a great guy, and we are actually still in touch. We just have nothing in common. He is a rock climber. I am not. So that pretty much sums up why things never worked out between us. After finding myself on the side of a mountain in Kentucky one weekend, I remember thinking, "Ok, I just don't know about this."

*Readers who know me in real life are staring at their computer screens right now, jaws in their laps. "VB? On a mountain??? Willingly??"*

But the reason I will never forget him, even if we lose touch, is this: he would write me love letters. Good ones. So good, in fact, that I have kept every single one of them. (Maybe I should tell him?) To date, he's one of only two guys who ever wrote me love letters. Since he lived in Indianapolis and I was away at school in Bloomington, we had a long-distance relationship. So phone calls and letters were really how we spent time together between 2ce monthly visits.

The letters were never too corny or sappy. Just very sweet, thoughtful and honest. At the time, I remember being amazed at how open he was about how he felt. Come to think of it, I still am. But one letter in particular stood above the rest. It was a card. The front was blank, except for a little red heart. The inside had something short and cute printed in the middle of the facing page. But I can't remember what the little printed greeting was. That's not why I kept the card.

I kept the card because in every possible space, crammed in teeny-tiny writing, over and over and over, it said, "I miss you." It must have taken him forever, and I would say he wrote it at least 100 times, all over the inside of the card. My eyes welled up with tears instantly. Every time I take the card out to look at it, my eyes well up again. And sitting here, typing this story, my eyes are welling up just thinking about it. I'm sure he had no idea at the time how much that card would impact me or how much I would treasure it. Whenever I think about it, to this day, it puts a smile on my face to know that at one time, someone felt that way about me.

Again, it's the effort that gets me when it comes to falling for men.

*VB leaves to go find kleenex.*

Ok, deep breaths. I'm better now. Gosh, maybe I am a little sentimental, now that I think about it. I have always said I'm not much on bubble baths and champagne, but maybe I am. I have always thought of myself as liking the same kind of romance as The Czarina: the very unromantic kind. "Fall for the guy who jumps your car," she has always told me. (Apparently, WLF scored major points with her by jumping her car one day. I gotta say, that would also score major points with me.)

There is something to be said for a guy who goes out of his way to make your life easier, even if it doesn't involve roses or chocolates. A reliable man whom you can count on is most definitely a keeper.

Which leads me to my final anecdote. While this isn't as grand a gesture as what the high school boyfriend did, and it doesn't bring tears to my eyes like the card from the college boyfriend, this gesture I'm about to share made me just as happy.

Right out of college, when I was living in Fayetteville, NC and teaching school, I dated a string of army guys. (Ft. Bragg is in Fayetteville, and so men in that town outnumber women by about 8 to 1. It was a fun year, let me tell ya. I always tell people that Fayetteville is like Disneyworld for Single Girls). Anyway. The first guy I dated was named Dan.

Soon after we started dating, Dan was getting out of the army and moving home to Oregon. Because he was in the process of getting out, he had some time off, and since he was technically no longer in the army, he needed a place to stay for about a week before his flight left to Oregon. I told him he could stay with me.

Meanwhile, I was working 12 hour days as a first year teacher. One day, I whined to him about how filthy my apartment was and how I had no time or energy to clean it. "I'm cleaning it tonight when I get home. I can't take it anymore," I said. Then I went to work.

By the time I got home that night, he had cleaned my entire apartment. Everything. He even put the clean dishes away and picked up all my clothes. He even dusted. The whole place was spic and span and smelled fresh and clean. When I realized what he had done, I began to literally squeal with delight. "Yeah, guess what I did all day?" he said, a big grin on his face. I literally jumped into his arms, showering him with kisses and then proceeded to make him dinner.

A few days later, he moved back to Oregon. He wanted to keep in touch, but I really didn't see the point. We didn't have all that much in common and we hadn't been dating very long. But he was a really sweet guy. I'm sure he's making some girl in Oregon very happy now.

Well, those are the three that stick out in my mind the most. I'm sure there are more, but I can't think of them right now. In a way, it's experiences like these that keep me going, that keep me hopeful about dating. Someone did nice things for me once, and someone will do them again. Although the relationships never worked out with these guys, I am grateful to them for showing me how there are good guys out there and that I am worth a little extra effort.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Atlanta, an Alcoholic & Almost Girl

I'm not dead! Just very busy.

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts and prayers for GP. She is doing a lot better now and should be going home at the end of the week. I appreciate your concern and sympathies. I think I'm going to make some cookies for them and mail them up there.

I was in Atlanta most of last week. I had to go to a conference. My hotel was right near here and here. So I took some time to do some window shopping in these ultra-swanky malls.

I bought a super cute purse (sorry, can't find a pic), but otherwise, it was easy to avoid temptation in a mall where prices start at $200. If I had the money, I would have bought something at this store because everything in there was SO me. But prices there started at about $350. Ouch. So purchasing stuff there will have to wait until I marry Julian McMahon.

Y'all, have you tried these new fancy beds they have in hotels now? Holy cow, they have a good thing going on with these beds. You sit on them and you're like, "Oh, wow, gosh, this is really comfzzzzzzzzzzzz............." and four hours later, you wake up. I highly recommend these beds. I am so getting one when Julian and I get married. Complete with their zillion-thread-count sheets. Then he and I can hump like rabbits in total Egyptian cotton bliss.

So....you are going to love this post. Because I have so much to share. (Shocker!!)

Let's start with Wednesday's blind date. Blonde set me up with a guy who is about 32, 33--somewhere in that range. She described him as a "cute partier", which, to my naive brain meant "fun and smoochable".

Because I had a lot of extra time to get ready, I decided to go all-out: black pencil skirt, fitted white stretchy top, metallic stilettos and smoky eye makeup. I even had time to put hot rollers in my hair, and DAMN I had a good hair day. Seriously. Top 5 hair days of all time.

Feeling very confident, I went to the bar where I was meeting up with Blonde, her boyfriend and my date. When they arrived, I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I had forgotten that Blonde's definition of "cute partier" was vastly different than mine. Apparently the "cute" part meant "not cute" and the "partier" part meant "alcoholic".

Between meeting up with me at the bar and then literally getting up to walk to our table, my date had polished off a vodka & water. I'm talking less than 5 minutes, here, peeps. He had another one immediately afterwards. So he had downed two of these in about 15 minutes. Now, it's been a long time since I've drunk alcohol, but it seems to me that vodka & water would be a rough combination, especially on an empty stomach--it was 9pm and he hadn't had any dinner. When the waitress came over to ask him if he wanted a 3rd vodka & water, I realized what was happening, and my jaw literally dropped. I thought he was still on his first drink!

I think he saw my reaction, because he switched to beer. Now, I know people get nervous on dates, especially blind dates. But this guy had alcoholic written all over him. He gave me a very hard time about the fact that I don't drink (always a sign, trust me). Every story he told involved drinking. He talks veeeeeeeerrrrrry slowly, to the point that he sounds stupid. I knew a guy like that once, in college. He was probably the biggest partier I'd ever met. So I know that his speech pattern was probably a result of years of heavy drinking and probably a lot of pot smoking, too.

You would think that his personality would improve with the alcohol consumption, but it didn't. He was boring and not funny. He just became quieter and quieter as he drank. Seriously, I could have had a V-8. It was bad. And seeing as how I dated a guy last year with questionable reactions to alcohol consumption, I'm not about to start dating another one. I am really over dating frat boys who never grew up. I am tired of the big partiers. I want a stable, mature man.

When he asked if he could take me to dinner sometime, I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from retorting, "Why? Because this is going so well?" But instead, I just replied flatly, "No. I'm sorry." He appreciated my honesty and then I excused myself and went home, all the while, wondering what in the hell Blonde was thinking by setting me up with him, and frustrated for wasting a good hair day.

As I pulled into my driveway, I realized with excitement that Hot Neighbor was pulling into his driveway at the same time. This was my big chance for him to see me looking nice for once. I got out and started walking to my door. He ran over to me. "Hey, girl. What's going on? You look great!"

Suh-weet. "This could not be better timing," I thought.

I told him about my lame date, and he sympathized. "How old was is?" he asked. "Oh, about 32 or 33. Somewhere in there," I answered.

"Gah, he's making us look bad!" he replied. And I thought, "Mmmm....no, not really....."

Looking back, I should have told him to set me up with a better 33-year-old....dang. Hate it when you think of good stuff to say only after it's too late!

Then he asked me about my super-secret project, and I told him I was basically aborting mission and thinking of an alternate route to my goal. (Sorry, I can't be more specific...) He told me he could help me by putting me in touch with the right people for an alternate plan I have considered in the past. He's going to drop off a list of names and numbers for me, hopefully soon.( Of course, he's obviously trying to figure out how he can see me again. Duh.)

We chatted some about our jobs and my dogs before parting ways.

By the time I went inside, he had told me I looked really great THREE times. He totally checked me out. Woot!!!!

Oh, and I asked him last Tuesday if he would take my trash can down to the curb on Friday, since I would be in Atlanta when the trash men came. He remembered. That scored some points with me, definitely. Gotta love a reliable guy. They are few and far between. Lord knows what I've had to deal with in the past...

Looking back, I should have asked him to get my mail for me, too, because then I would have an excuse to go knocking on his door....shoot. I'm not very good of thinking of the best thing to say at the time. It's because he makes me all nervous and jittery.

Did I mention that he knocked on my door the other day and I answered, wearing only a towel? Gosh. Hate when that happens. I had just gotten out of the shower and dried my hair. No makeup on yet, but I figured the "just a towel" factor sort of counter-acted that. He was asking me about K and if she had moved out. I told him she had. He said he would let me know if he knew anyone who would be interested in moving in with me. I realized only after it was too late that the whole time he was talking, I was, without realizing it, smiling and biting my lower lip. Yeesh. I am ridiculous.

Of course, in my head, the story kinda ends more like this: I "accidentally" drop my towel and he ends up pushing me against the wall and making me very, very late for dinner. Tee hee.

*pauses to imagine situation*

Ok, now that that's overwith....

Rob Thomas never called. Yeah. I feel pretty let down. It is kind of surprising to me, because I would have bet big bucks I had that in the bag. I totally got the whole, "Oh, we are so going to start dating now," thought in my brain. I have never been wrong with that gut feeling before. But there's a first time for everything. On Friday night I talked to his roommate, B, about it at Happy Hour.

"I think he's still hung up on his ex. They broke up last July and he was pretty devastated. She still calls him and leads him on," he explained.

"Are you kidding me???" I said in disbelief.

"Yeah. I'm sorry, VB. That's the only reason I can think of. But I think he's making a huge mistake, and I do think you two would be really good together. I could tell y'all had a good time, and he even said he had a good time. I just think that maybe he's not over his ex. He and I didn't talk about why he never called you, but that's what I think is going on," he said.

"I hate his ex-girlfriend, VB. Seriously, all his friends hate her. He's being an idiot," E chimed in. (Remember, my friend E is dating B, and they have been trying to get me hooked up with Rob Thomas for weeks.)

Soon after, as I was leaving with E, I proceeded to have a total meltdown. Feeling totally frustrated and rejected, I started crying in public. Right at the front door of the bar. Awesome. Love it when I do this. "That's it, E! I'm not dating anymore! I am so OVER this! I am done. Do you see? Do you see why I don't date? I can never catch a break. I'm always the runner-up girl. The 'almost' girl. Hot Neighbor almost asked me out once. Cute guys almost talk to me. The Magician almost called me. [Ok, I don't know if he ever considered calling me, but to my rejection-fueled brain, this made sense at the time.] Rob Thomas and I almost started dating. I am sick of it!" I bawled.

Of course, as luck would have it, B walked up right in the middle of this meltdown. I know he won't say anything to Rob, but still. I didn't want him to think I was so upset about all of this. And I wasn't -- I had been driving in Atlanta/Columbia traffic all day and had been running around like a chicken since I had gotten up that morning. I was exhausted. When I'm exhausted, I cry. To be honest, I had no business even going out on Friday. Stubbing my toe, contemplating world peace or talking about Paris Hilton's jail time would have made me cry, too. My tears were just looking for an excuse to make an appearance. B&E sat with me and calmed me down. They said a lot of things that made me feel better. (My favorite? "He's making a huge mistake."-- I love hearing that.) I took some deep breaths and got in my car and drove home.

It's nice that they are pulling for me. They were worried that I would not feel comfortable hanging out at B's house, since Rob would be there. I told them it's ok and that I would be fine. They want to have a cookout soon, and they really want me to go. I will go, but I just have to make sure I look smokin' hot and bring something totally delicious (toffee cheesecake??). I don't think it will be too awkward. I will be nice to him. But distant.

After all this, I think I may officially give up entirely on dating. When you look back on your dating history and realize that every ex-boyfriend is worse than the last, that's not good. When you are getting set up with alcoholics, I think that is a sign you might want to just throw in the towel. And sure, Hot Neighbor checked me out. But that's a long way from asking me out. (Remember, I am "almost girl"). I'm sure Wednesday Skank is still on the scene (although, I haven't seen her in a while...). And yes, it is nice that Rob and I hit it off, but it's obviously never going to happen. I am tired of dating guys who seem nice at first, only to throw me onto an emotional rollercoaster and hurt me. It's soooo much easier to just be alone. I hate being Almost Girl. I'm tired of it. It's better to be Alone Girl.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

When it Rains, It Pours

For better or for worse, this little aphorism seems to be true.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

Since you obviously cannot answer that question in real time, I will go with the good news first, since it's shorter.

I have a blind date tonight.

Blonde has a new boyfriend, and apparently he's got a friend who would be great for me. So tonight, I am meeting Blonde and her boyfriend. They are bringing my date. What do I know about him? Let's see...supposedly, he's cute. He's in medical sales. I think she said he's got blonde-ish hair. Which is good -- I like blondes.

(I keep getting "blonde" coming up as a word I need to spell-check, but dammit, that's how I learned to spell the word, and it's listed in the dictionary as an alternate spelling of "blond", so bite me, spellcheck!)

Where was I? Oh yes. He is rumored to be a big partier. As in, getting drunk every weekend. Did I mention this guy is in his early 30s? Yeah. I've dated too many guys (I will be discreet and avoid mentioning names) who were frat boys who never grew up. I am really kind of over that kind of lifestyle. Let's hope this guy is a little more mature than his reputation.

Besides, it will be tough for him to beat out Rob Thomas at this point.

Rob Thomas, who has "potential new boyfriend for VB" written all over him.

Rob Thomas, with the nice arms.

Rob Thomas, who has not called me.


But he will. Right? I mean, there was too much chemistry! We had a serious make-out session! It lasted approximately an hour and a half. That means something, right?

Alright, good news over. Time for bad news.

Do you remember the P family? Although not blood relatives, I refer to them as Aunt and Uncle P. Their kids are basically like my cousins, since we all grew up together. This family is like my other family. Their house burned down last December. They lost everything. Luckily, their insurance company is taking good care of them and they are rebuilding.

Remember the story of their daughter, GP, who basically witnessed a double homicide? Ok, this is about her. It's bad.

A few months ago, she got knocked up. Oops. Anyway, her boyfriend (who is supposedly a total JERK who is trying to distance himself from her so he won't have to be involved with it) wanted her to get an abortion, but she doesn't believe in them. Her parents want her to give it up for adoption, since she and the boyf aren't getting married. They say it will be really hard for her to be a single mom of a newborn when she's a bank teller and only 24. (I have to say, I am thinking they might be right...) But she wants to keep the baby.

Ok, hold on. I haven't gotten to the bad part yet. Oh yes, it gets worse. If you have a weak stomach, you might want to just sort of speed-read through this part.

So she went to the hospital last week because of a kidney stone. I didn't know this, but if you are pregnant, you cannot take the usual medications for that. Instead, they have to insert a tube directly into the kidney and drain out your urine that way.

Well, they put it in kinda funny, and the tube was pressing on a nerve ending, so she was in a lot of pain.

[Note: sarcasm alert] Which is a really good time for the doctors to ignore you for the next four days.

I am not kidding. The nurses asked the doctors several times to take a look at her. "She's getting worse," they kept saying. Finally, totally fed up and scared to death, Aunt P (her mom) hunted down the doctors and chewed them a new one yesterday.

The doctors go in and look at her. By this point, there is an infection that is spreading through her body. Awesome.

There are crystals in her urine (or maybe it was in her kidneys? Something was crystallizing), which I am pretty sure is not a good thing. Then they realized one of her lungs had collapsed. Why had it collapsed? Um, because her lungs are filling up with fluid as a reaction to the infection.

Because her lungs are filling up with fluid, she cannot get enough oxygen, which has put a strain on her heart. So she has heart arrhythmia, too. So she cannot breathe successfully on her own, which is why they sedated her and put her on a ventilator. She's unconscious and in intensive care.

As a person who is friends with about 4 intensive care nurses, I know what the statistics are for people who go into the intensive care unit. They are about 50/50.

Meanwhile, her body is trying to go into labor, and the baby is only at about 25 weeks.

The doctors said that at this point, they don't know if they can save the baby. They said that even if they can save it, it will probably be mentally disabled for its entire life. They also said that there are so many things wrong with GP right now, that they don't even know what kind of a prognosis they can give her. So her family doesn't even know if she's going to make it.

Y'all, this family has been through so much, you don't even know. Uncle P has lost jobs in the past, one their sons was mixed up in drugs for a while, and then he knocked up his girlfriend and went on the run from the law to avoid his jail time....I know this is personal stuff, but y'all will never meet them, so it's ok. But seriously, this family has been through more than any other family I know. So for GP to get knocked up was bad enough, after they lost their house. And now this? I seriously don't know how Uncle and Aunt P keep their sanity. I would have to be on drugs. Or drink heavily. Shit, just typing this makes me want to cry and smoke a pack of cigarettes.

It seems they just can't catch a break. And I don't know how I can help them at all. I don't have any money, and visiting them would just make me feel like a burden. They are so busy with everything, I feel intrusive calling them. I will just have to keep praying for them and sending them cards. That's all I can do, I guess.

When Czarina told me all of this this morning, she was running around the house, tying up loose ends in case Aunt P (who is more than Czarina's best friend -- seriously, the women were separated at birth) called her and wants her to drive up to DC to be with her.

Czarina hasn't emailed or called me all day, so I am hoping that is a good sign. I am going to call her tonight anyway, though. So if you can, please keep this family in your prayers. They have a lot of support in their community and from their church, famly and friends, but everyone can use more prayers, don't you think?