Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Fried Birthday

For her birthday yesterday, Meridith decided on Wings Sports Bar & Grille in Castaic. I never imagined that we'd reach the point where we'd leave our homes, after watching hours of TV, to go to an 80% restaurant, 10% takeout counter, and 10% bar, that has flat-screen TVs tableside, with remotes, and DirecTV access. But this was it.

Here's what we eventually had on our table, while ABC World News ended and "Jeopardy!" came on (Eating significantly stuffed quesadillas and watching "Jeopardy!"? Works for me!): Fried jalapeno poppers; three different kinds of wings spread between Mom, Dad and Meridith (Meridith had wings that were breaded and fried so close to the skin of actual fried chicken. It's a weird amalgamation that could only be possible at a place that bills itself as a sports bar); a small pepperoni pizza that looked like it had meat crumbles on it, too; quesadillas for me with chicken, cheese, grilled onions, and green peppers (No jalapenos); a $1.99 half-order of curly fries that looked like a full order and felt like it before I had even gotten to the quesadillas. I've never liked that the two Wing Stop locations we have here in the Santa Clarita Valley don't serve curly fries. Just fries that waver between thick steak fries and something that you can ignore in favor of wings, before finding that you don't have any more wings left and look, there's some fries. I've known that wings and curly fries should always go together since growing up in Florida and trying so many varieties of wings. It's just not done, and shouldn't be done, any other way.

After we were done, I was stuffed, and I found later, not in a good way. I don't understand how I ate all this regularly when I was way, waaaaay overweight. The fried jalapeno poppers had breading that could have dented the table if it didn't give way so easily when you bite into it. Meridith told me that for these, they use the whole jalapeno, but remove the seeds before frying them so there's no heat. It is what bowling alleys with fryers equal to what they had in that kitchen should aspire to. This is bowling alley food. And that was most certainly a pizza. In a sports bar setting like this, with drunk College of the Canyons nursing students holding court loudly at a long table at the other side of the room, you're not looking for perfect. You're just looking for pizza. And in quesadillas, there was a notable difference between these and the ones at Chronic Tacos, whereby these were loaded and the others, even with diced chicken, still seem relatively flat. But that's not a hindrance to the ones at Chronic Tacos. That's expected for Mexican food and it's still good. For a sports bar, you need quesadillas that you can eat while watching whatever game they've got on. They've got that right, along with the plastic cups of sour cream and guacamole, that demonstrated a major difference in me now in that I didn't finish off either cup. 90% of the sour cream remained, while 60% of the guacamole remained. I like not being the old me anymore.

But when we left, oh did I have gas. My body hadn't had this in so long and didn't know what the hell it was. And I vowed, and I will keep to that vow, that I will not have fried food again for at least another few years. Now I don't know how people manage to barely stay alive on this stuff. They waddle in the malls with this stuff sloshing inside them, the fried crusts, the melted cheeses, the pepperoni slices, the sour cream and guacamole. I will not judge any of that. I was one of them once. But my god, what one can put a body through and still stand upright, I'm amazed and amused and horrifed all at the same time. I'm grateful to have clawed my way out of those sugar-coated woods.

After, Dad wanted to stop at Office Depot to see if they had the pens he likes. I quickly went over to Mom and told her I wanted to stop at Best Buy. I had intended to order purple bubble wrap online for Meridith for her birthday, but a combination of forgetfulness and disinterestedness quashed that. So, even though I had bought her "Knives at Dawn" by Andrew Friedman, a full-length profile of the world's most prestigious culinary competition, I decided on the one thing that would truly surprise her: Adam Lambert's "Glam Nation Live" CD/DVD set. On Monday, the day before my birthday, she was in Wal-Mart with Dad on the way home from work and had forgotten to see if it was there and how much it was. And she was going to begin searching for it at other stores, on websites, seeing what the most reasonable price was. Why should she wait?

I was almost out of the car even before Dad got into the parking space, because I thought I was the only one going in. But he, Mom and Meridith were going in, too. So I disappeared as soon as we walked in, with a determined gait toward the music section. But on the way, I spotted "The Breakfast Club" on sale. Finally. I picked up a copy and continued on.

I found "Glam Nation Live" right away on a rack, but was surprised that the CD/DVD set was easily contained in one CD case. I shouldn't have been that surprised, because I had a few albums that were set up just like that. I picked one out and went right to the register and paid for both, and went back to Mom, Dad and Meridith, deflecting Meridith from knowing what else was in my bag besides "The Breakfast Club."

We got home, Mom dispatched Meridith to her room for a few minutes and wrapped Glamnation while I set the table for her Carvel M&Ms ice cream cake. And after everything was set up, and the cake was defrosting for a few minutes, she opened her dolphin coin bank (You put the coin in the dolphin's mouth, press a lever, and it dives to the hole on the other sidr, dropping the coin in), and "Knives at Dawn", and then "Glam Nation Live." I'm a pretty happy guy, but I can't recall the last time I was truly that happy, that overjoyed, about anything. I guess my happiness comes more as warm satisfaction throughout my body. But that was a masterpiece. I didn't think smiles could get that big. Meridith had one that could have stretched from our perch in Southern California all the way to New York City. Worth it? More than my beloved book collection, and that's a whole lot of more.

While having lunch a little while ago (Don't let the time of posting fool you. I started writing this at 12:23, but it's now 2:25, allowing time for lunch and other distractions), Mom said that the "Glam Nation" set was undoubtedly her favorite gift. Based on that display last night, I believe it.

I Found a Partial Piece

I haven't started reading the "Writing Los Angeles" anthology yet in search of something solid to take away from Los Angeles for myself. I've been reading "I'll Be Damned If I'll Die in Oakland" by Al Martinez, a great Los Angeles Times columnist who now writes weekly for the Daily News. This was from 2003, when he and his wife Cinelli traveled with their children and then without their children and then with a few of their grandchildren.

It's as warmly written as his columns, as insightful, as funny as what has criminally been reduced to a weekly offering. Towards the end, Martinez gets Los Angeles exactly right, how I could describe it if I was Al Martinez. This was when he and Cinelli had traveled to New York City with two of their granddaughters:

"There is no way to compare L.A. to the city that never sleeps. We are out here a sprawling, disconnected set of dreams that no one has ever been able to link. Manhattan is an entity, Los Angeles an idea not yet fulfilled. We have no core, no center, no focus. A few tall buildings have shot up from the gray downtown in the thirty years Cinelli and I have lived here, but they remain a kind of uneasy cluster amid the otherwise drab expanse that surrounds them. New York city is a series of surprises, L.A. an unfinished symphony."