Monday, October 3, 2011

Rosh Hashanah and Furlough Days Off - Days 4 and 5: Wienerschnitzel's Social Strata and Steinbeck at Fry's

Yesterday, after an hour and a half with Mom, Dad and Meridith at the Walmart Supercenter on Carl Boyer Drive that netted me the hardcover edition of Just After Sunset by Stephen King for the bargain price of $6.97, we drove to Canyon Country, to Wienerschnitzel, near the Edwards Canyon Country Stadium 10 movie theater.

Wienerschnitzel became our go-to hot dog place after the disappointment that was Cupid's, adjacent to Edwards Canyon Country. We knew Cupid's when we lived in the apartment in Valencia that first year (It was in the shopping center in front of our apartment complex), and Meridith went there so often, every afternoon, that one of the women who worked there (Not sure if she was the manager or fairly high up), had Meridith's order ready right when she came in from the bus stop. And the hot dogs were reliably good, right up to when there were changes in the personnel there and things went downhill, though it took a few years after we had moved to Saugus, but still went there occasionally. Eventually, it went out of business at that location.

We're not sure how long the location next to Edwards Canyon Country has been open, but not only did the prices not match the quality of the hot dogs, as in being higher than the hot dogs were worth, but they forgot my fries, which was rectified by us going to McDonald's later for dessert, which included my fries. Therefore, we decided to try Wienerschnitzel, a few blocks from the movie theater.

The first time we went presented us with a reliable place for decent food. Not always healthy, hence why we don't go very often, but well worth it each time. I don't go overboard with what I order there, but I do chuck aside any dietary concerns for the treat of eating there. Such as it was with their ultimate chili cheese fries, which is their regular cheese fries with diced onions and a generous glop of sour cream. It's enough sour cream to play along with the chili and cheese.

The first time, I had an Angus pastrami hot dog, which was very good. This time, I had a pastrami sandwich, rye bread, pickle slices, and mustard. My kind of sandwich. In the box it was placed in, it had been sliced in half and each half was wrapped in individual paper.

The first time I had the ultimate chili cheese fries, I was pleased to see the diced onion there, but whoever had made it had put in too much onion and it became annoying toward the bottom of the fries. This time, there were not as many. I know that the guy who had been behind the counter taking our order when we were there the first time was the guy taking our order this time, but would he, or anyone else working with him, have really noticed my displeasure at too much diced onion, and remembered that in case we came back a second time? It doesn't seem possible, and yet, when we were there both times, there was no one else there. And it's not because Wienerschnitzel doesn't do good business. That actually brings me to something I and Mom and Meridith noticed.

If you want an accurate view of the population of Santa Clarita, don't go to a supermarket and don't go to Walmart. Go to Wienerschnitzel. We were the only ones there. We don't put on airs. We're regular people, regular lives, just living each day. Our goals only go as far as getting to Henderson, and then we'd see from there what happens next.

But those getting food at the drive-thru, there may be a few who are on errands, who have other things to do, who don't have time to sit inside and eat. But when a few shiny Chryslers sit at the window, when there's an equally shiny Mustang, and one or two other expensive-looking cars, you get the feeling that there are those who believe that they are above eating at such places, who don't want to be seen there. It's bad enough that Wienerschnitzel has to be located in Canyon Country, what they might consider the dregs of the valley. They don't like the reality of others; they prefer the reality that they have created for themselves with possibly gated communities and all-leather interior and the advanced ability to ignore those who aren't them, who aren't part of their blessed lives. There's a lot of posing that goes on this valley, a lot of snobbery. To me, no one is above me and no one is below me. We're all on the same planet and we're all headed for the same exit, so why be that way to others? Why feel like you're above everyone else? I've never understood it. You'll find genuine people at Wienerschnitzel. The guys and women behind the counter are some of the nicest you'll find in this valley, and guaranteed that those who eat there are straightforward, real people. No posing, no positioning.

Today, Meridith stood over me in my room at 10:10 this morning when I woke up, asking if I was going with her and Mom and Dad to the Fry's in Woodland Hills, because Mom wanted to return the latest in a string of clock radios. She hasn't yet found one that will suit her, though she's eyeing a few possibilities on eBay.

Dad had said last night that he was thinking of leaving at 10 to go to Woodland Hills, but knowing Dad and his time spent on the computer, that's naturally delayed. So I brushed my teeth, got dressed, and grabbed a banana, a few blackberries, and Silk dark chocolate almond milk for breakfast. No time for my usual Cheerios and Silk Very Vanilla soymilk. Plus, Mom said that she wanted to leave right away, not half an hour later after I've used the computer, so no time for that either, and I understood. All I needed was my books and one of the two issues of Slightly Foxed that I received in the mail two weeks ago.

I've come to like the Fry's in Woodland Hills better than the one with the alien invasion theme in Burbank. It could be that it was nearly empty because it was a Monday, and therefore the start of the workweek (save for Dad and Meridith's furlough days, like the rest of the Hart School District), but it felt more relaxed, perhaps because of the theming being more spread out, because there was less of that feeling that if you were not technologically inclined, you don't belong there. Plus, the quarter machines that were near the exit, with Disney trinkets, and candy of many kinds (including Reese's Pieces), and other tiny toys, were vastly more interesting than the Burbank selection. I looked closely at what was offered and was thinking about a small zoo animal plush toy in one of the machines as I went to look at the DVD selection there, first seeking more Dragnet DVDs, but only finding the Dragnet 1968 and Dragnet 1969 season 2 and season 3 sets. There was nothing else I wanted to look for, nothing I need. I don't feel the pull for more DVDs anymore as much as I feel the pull for more books, which shows where my passions are now and forever.

And that pull for more books led me to the bargain book sections, which I first thought was only one side. On the left were bargain computer books which I would never read. I had my own website on Geocities when I was 14, a Calvin & Hobbes comic strip of the day page, but that's as far as I went in anything computer related. I've only always used computers, and never looked deeply into them, although, because Geocities HTML code was easy enough to use, I updated the site through that code and not with visual aids.

Then in the aisle behind that one were cookbooks and bargain science books. I realized that the bargains were mixed up within all the books. To find if you were getting a good deal, you had to look at the price on the back of the book.

After I asked Meridith to find where the music DVDs were, I found where the other books were, the novels, the biographies. And I looked at each title closely. I first found The Missing Golden Ticket and Other Splendiferous Secrets which features a missing chapter from, and the original ending of, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, along with what some characters were originally called, as well as various insights into Dahl's life related to the writing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was $4.99, and so I held onto it. And then I found Cannery Row. John Steinbeck. In hindsight, I wish I had remembered the photo and the name of whoever had stocked these shelves, because at the end of each aisle, there's a laminated sheet of paper that says, "This aisle has been proudly stocked and managed by..." and it gives a name. Maybe it was just a way to stock the shelves, but someone thought to put Steinbeck there, as well as Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, which had been reduced to $2.99, but I didn't buy it because I didn't feel like it was time for it yet.

This paperback edition of Cannery Row was $9.99, and I wondered if I should get it. The price made me hesitant at first, because I could certainly find it cheaper on, but here it was. Right now. No additional shipping cost. I could buy it and it would be mine. And besides, if I like it, that value is multiplied millions of times over the original cost. I had checked it out of the Valencia library once, but never got to it. I carried it around with me, along with the Dahl book, while Mom looked at bedside light fixtures, and I read the copy on the back, and that was it. I wanted to know more about "...Doe, a young marine biologist who ministers to sick puppies and unhappy souls, unexpectedly finds true love." I wanted to know more about this world Steinbeck clearly loved and lived.

I like to buy things from unusual places, such as when I bought Murphy's Romance on DVD for $5 during one of Pavilions' $5 Friday sales before the summer, which had Sony DVDs for $5 amidst other items. Buying books from a store known for electronics and computers and computer accessories ties into that. I didn't even notice until after I bought it that I had paid full price for both books. On the back of the Dahl book, under the Puffin logo, the list price is $4.99. $10.00 on Cannery Row. I didn't mind. These books were mine now. I would get to read them soon. That's all that mattered to me.

I Didn't Like It, But I Liked This

As soon as I spotted The Child That Books Built by Francis Spufford in the paper catalog provided by Slightly Foxed (, a quarterly periodical devoted to the pleasures of reading and the vast discoveries that come with it (It came with my order of the current issue and the second issue of its existence), I ordered it. I wanted to read about the journey of Spufford's childhood reading, what he found, what he latched onto, what nourished him, what made him curious about all kinds of things in the world. I might have gotten that if I decided to read past page 50, or I might have not, because skimming through the rest, being that I didn't want to read the rest, I found more of Spufford tangling with research he had done on the word formations of very young children, how they don't associate words with certain meanings right away, a gradual process. For many, many pages in the first chapter, he spent so much time with others, analyzing their works that explained all that, that I was waiting and waiting for him to get back to himself, to tell me more of becoming a reader. When I'm flipping the pages of the second chapter to see how far along I have until the third chapter, when there seemed to be more promise of what I was looking for, what the book seemed to have predicated itself on, that's an iffy sign.

In the car on the way to Woodland Hills today, I decided I had had enough of trying to get to what made me want to read Spufford's book, and switched to that second issue of Slightly Foxed, summer 2004. But one passage in Spufford's book remained in my mind:

"I'm thirty-two years old as I do my little performance in the bookshop, which means I've been reading for twenty-six years. Twenty-six years since the furze of black marks between the covers of The Hobbit grew lucid, and released a dragon. Twenty-six years therefore since the primary discovery that the dragon remained internal to me. Inside my head, Smaug hurtled, lava gold, scaly green. And nothing showed. Wars, jokes, torrents of faces would fill me from other books, as I read on, and none of that would show either. It made a kind of intangible shoplifting possible, I realized when I was eleven or so. If your memory was OK you could descend on a bookshop--a big enough one so that the staff wouldn't hassle a browser--and steal the contents of books by reading them. I drank down 1984 while lotering in the O section of the giant Heffers store in Cambridge. When I was full I carried the slopping vessel of my attention carefully out of the shop. Nobody at the cash desks could tell that I now contained Winston Smith's telescreen chanting its victories, O'Brien's voice admitting that the Thought Police got him a long time ago. It took me three successive Saturdays to steal the whole novel. But I have not ceased to be amazed at the invisibility I depend on. Other people can't see what so permeates me, I accept that, but why can't they? It fills me. The imbalance between what's felt and what shows means I carry the sensory load of fiction like a secret. Perhaps like all secrets it leaks in the end, but while I'm still freshly distended with my cargo of images, while I'm a fish tank with a new shoal in me, with one aspect of myself I enjoy the power of being different behind my unbetraying face."

I've done what Spufford did. Mom generally spends enough time in Target that back in June, I spotted Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain in the books section. I read an excerpt of Kitchen Confidential back in March in Best Food Writing 2000, edited by Holly Hughes, and felt like I had been violently shaken and slapped around, and I wanted more. I was hooked on Bourdain after that, picked up Medium Raw, and began reading it as we walked through that Target. On the next visit to Target, not long after, I got to within 30 pages toward the end. I decided not to finish it, hold it until the next time, since Mom and Meridith were done looking around, and I didn't want them to wait any longer. Bad timing, because the next time we were at Target, it wasn't there anymore. And not the time after that either. I was ticked because I had only those 30 pages left in that wonderful trip through Bourdain's experiences. I was entranced by his profile of the fish-portioner at Le Bernardin, who receives the fish that's going to be used in the kitchen and portions it out for cooking, in a room all his own with a metal table and equipment all his own. The touching climax comes when Bourdain invites the man to eat in the restaurant he's only served from his place below.

I doubt Medium Raw will reappear in Target, but on the off-chance that we go to Barnes & Noble again for whatever reason (and dammit, I should have thought of it when we went a few weeks ago!), I'll find it and finish reading it there. Or I'll wait until we arrive in Henderson and I get my Henderson and Clark County library cards.