Sunday, June 18, 2006

Yo Quiero Taco Bell

Since we reside so close to the border of Mexico, the other day my girlfriend and I sat in the drive thru lane of perhaps the only Taco Bell in the country actually staffed by real Mexicans. Every once in a while my hunger for quasi-Mexican food needs to be satisfied, so after a late night jaunt to Blockbuster for two hours of mind-numbing entertainment and Taco Bell so close, the choice seemed obvious. Taco Bell always reminds me, oddly enough, of my grandmother, unfortunately, though, in her declining years. While waiting for our fast food, based loosely on the Mexican paradigm of sustanence, I related the psuedo-Mexican fast food/grandmother connection to my taco-anticipating sweetheart.

***Well after my grandmother had lapsed into dementia, she told us, "Taco Bell is my favorite Mexican restaurant because they serve REAL Mexican food." Absolute proof that Alzhiemer's had irrevocably claimed my grandmother and would never let her go. My sister and I exchanged amused glances as if to say, "Out of the mouths of babes and demented old folks." Before any of us had a chance to reply to this frail, thin limbed, slumped over, wheelchair bound woman who had once been a swimmer and a fiesty little woman who completed the L.A. Times crossword in less than twenty minutes every day since I can remember, my mother, with a sneer on her face that would have scared the Devil's Dam spat, "Taco Bell does NOT serve REAL Mexican food!"

My poor grandmother could not defend herself, which hurt so much more because a sea sponge could have defended itself against my mother, she simply, meekly said, "Okay."

It had always been my mother's wont to take umbrage with just about everything, and she could not help but take umbrage with what my grandmother had just uttered, and because she could not let such a preposterous notion go unchecked, even though in five minutes my grandmother would politely ask who we all were, my mother continued in her cruel vehemence. "Have you ever even tasted REAL Mexican food before?" my mother taunted.

In her more nimble mental days, my grandmother had taught thirty years of elementary school children in the L.A. public school system, and she would have put her dauthter-in-law in her place with a remark that would have had us all smirking and snorting and leaving the room so as not to burst into laughter at my mother's expense, but in her present mental condition she could only reply, "I guess not."

Not wanting to allow my ill-tempered mother to destroy the fond memories of the shell of my grandmother--for pity's sake what would it hurt for a sweet little old lady to beleive, no matter how misguided, that Taco Bell served REAL Mexican food--I quietly said, "Well mother, it must be a REAL Mexican food restaurant," making sure that the anger did not show in my voice.

"Why?" was her terse reply.

"Because it has TACO in its name." My sister and I again caught each other's gaze as if to say, 'It's on!'

"Well, that doesn't mean..."

"And there is a cute little Chihauhau in the commercials," said my sister. "It doesn't get any more Mexican than that."

My father, usually complacent silently allowing my mother to run out of air, when she spoke her nonsense, said, "And the Chihuahua speaks spanish."

"Spanglish," added my sister.

We were having a hard time containing our myrth.

"A Spanglish speaking Chihuahua is veeeerrrrryyyy Mexican," I said.

"None of this proves that Taco Bell is a REAL Mexican restaurant or that they serve REAL Mexican food," hissed my mother.

"Well, let's look at the food they serve," said my sister.

We all had several answers ready, "Tacos," said one of us. "Burritos," said another. "Tostadas," another. "Taco Supreme," another. "Chilito," yet another. My grandmother even chimed in, "Chilito, yum!"

"You're all just ganging up on me!!!" choked my mother.

"No, Mom. We just agree with Grandma. We are just expressing our opinions on the subject, just like you," I said.

"This is a Democracy, you know," was my sister's snarky reply.

"What about quesadillas," said my father. "And the Chihuahua has a Mexican girlfriend."

"And he lives in a Mexican neighborhood," said my sister.

"Let's not forget the Gorditas," I said. I patted my grandmother's frail knee, and I said, "As a matter of fact Grandma, Taco Bell is probably the only real Mexican food restaurant in the whole United States."

"Viva, La Mexico," said my sister.

My father came around my grandmother's wheelchair and looked right at my mother as he said, "So you go right on believing that Taco Bell serves REAL Mexican food, Mom."

"Okay," was my grandmother's triumphant response. The smile on her face almost looked as if she knew and appreciated what we had just done.

The four of us looked at my mother and awaited her response.

She actually snorted before turning tail and storming out of the room.

My grandmother looked at me and said, "Who are you?"

My father, my sister, and I all exchanged knowing glances. "I'm your grandson, Grandma."

"Oh," was her accustomed answer. I could have said that I was the artist-formerly-known-as-Prince, and she would have answered the same.

"What in Hell is a Chalupa, anyway?" asked my sister. The four of us had a wonderful visit after that. We took an additional five minutes or so just to make my mother wallow in her anger.

As we approached my sulking mother in the waiting room, my sister said, "I'm hungry."

"Anyone up for some REAL Mexican food?" I asked.

My mother glared at each one of us and then calmly walked out the door. She didn't have anything substantial to say to any of us for a week, which usually suited all involved just fine.***

The girlfriend sat there in silence for a minute, and then said, "Wow! I guess your Mother really deserved that, huh. We don't have to eat at Taco Bell if you don't want to."

"That's all right. I have a burrito, sans sour cream, every once in a while, just to remember Grandma." With my best Chihauhau impersonation, I said, "Yo quiero Taco Bell. "

For Grandma Lucille (1910-1999)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Watched Pot Doesn't Boil

How many times have you heard this "old-wives tale" masquerading as a proverb? The other day I decided to make dinner for my girlfriend and her daughter. Actually, no one was making a move to make dinner, so I started it. It was a lazy Sunday, and all of us were working on puzzles of some sort. So I put my logic puzzle down, which was kicking my ass, and I started to make my famous "Pasta Putineverything." After making the sauce, I realized that I needed to cook the pasta. So I put the sauce on simmer and fixed up a big pot of water in which to boil the pasta.

Caught daydreaming, watching the pot, my girlfriend said, "A watched pot doesn't boil!"

This snapped me back to the present, and I said, "That's an old wives tale. Water does NOT obey the laws of optical illusion; or that of old bags sitting around making up silly sayings so that people can spout them, when they have nothing better to say, throughout the ages. Water obeys the laws of thermodynamics, and the third law of thermodynamics states: 'Watched pots boil, if sufficiently heated to do so, whether they are being watched by human eyes or not!' This less known law is immutable."

She snickered and scoffed at my pseudo-intellectual comment. "A watched pot does NOT boil! Old wives of yore could NOT be wrong." she came back.

What could I say because I'll be damned if I have ever been able to catch that cursed pot start boiling. Not for a want of trying. Several times I have tried to disprove this aphorism by watching the pot diligently, and I have always come up empty handed in the catching-the-water-boiling arena. But I never took my eyes off of this pot in question.

"I'm hungry. Could you please stop watching the pot so that it can boil?" asked my girlfriend almost too sweetly.

I took it as a challenge! "You'll see, I'm going to watch this pot to prove to you that a watched pot will boil."

She looked at her daughter and said, "Well, you want to order pizza tonight?"

"It will boil, damn it!" I said a little too vehemently.

"All right Einstein. Just calm down," she said. "We'll wait."

"Forever?" asked her daughter.

The challenge had become personal, and my resolve strengthened to the level of tempered titanium steel. However, standing at the hot stove, a nice cool beer sounded nice. Surely the water would not start boiling before I could twist the cap off an ice-cold beer. So I went for it: getting the beer and twisting the cap in a mere fifteen seconds. My actions were smooth and deliberate. I wouldn't want the girls to think that I must hurry to prove my point. Just then the cat started to mew and want some loving, so I reached down to scratch her neck. I accidentally kicked one of her play balls and off she went. She slid head first into the door that leads to the garage, which made me laugh.

"Mark? Do you know a member of the Rolling Stones that rhymes with "Sick Bagger"? the daughter asked, needing help on her puzzle.

So being the good Step-dude that I am, I said, "Yeah, I think that would be Dick Slagger. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's it."

"Thanks," she chirped. The puzzle, a rhyming puzzle, had several rock-n-roll groups from the 1960's that she just couldn't get, and since my girlfriend was too busy with the Nintendo DS and the Soduko puzzle program on it to pay attention to my fun, I gave the cute little cherub the other answers.

"Let's see, there was "Bingo Barr" from the Beatles. I think that must be 'Dingo Farr.'" And of course who could forget "Mavey Stones" from the Monkey's.

Just then my girlfriend finished her Soduko puzzle at "jet speed," so there were kisses and hugs of congratulations to exchange for that, at which time my girlfriend was sure to remind me that I had only attained "car speed." Well, who's competitive? Not me. (Note the self-denial.)

I started back over to the pot, and then recalled my previous resolve to catch the pot starting to boil, so I quickened my pace hoping that the girlfriend would not notice. When I reached to pot, I observed the water jumping and bubbling like a drunken leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day. Foiled again. One would think that I have Attention Deficit Disorder. Well, I hoped that the whole pot boiling incident would just be forgotten, so I poured the pasta into the pot.

"Did the watched pot boil?" asked my girlfriend coyly.

"Yep. Yes, it sure did," I lied.

"Did you witness this phenomenon?"

"Y, y, yes, yes, I did. I saw it."

"You watched it start to boil?"

"Yes, of course, I did. Abso...posi...tutely. Yes sirrie."

"Really? Is it boiling real fast, now?" she persisted. I wondered why she couldn't just drop it.

"Yep!"

"My that was fast. Are you sure you saw the water start to boil?"

"Why...ya, y, yes, I'm sure that I saw it start to boil."

"That's impossible!"

"No it isn't...why would you say...of, of, course it's possible. Part of the third law of Thermodynamics, the part I left out earlier, is that the process happens very quickly at a certain temperature, and, well...it just did."

"The first law of reality states that the pasta would have cooled the water down; therefore, you ain't tellin' the truth."

"Well...I can't believe that you would defame my scientific character in this way. A watched pot boils, a... an... and I just witnessed it in the name of all the great scientists of the world. So there! Your precious old wives tale has been debunked!"

"Liar," she muttered under her breath trying to disguise it in a cough.

"Okay, okay, okay! All right, already! I didn't see the pot boil, Ms. Sherlock Holmes. Your powers of deduction simply amaze me." Then, I looked at the child, and said, "And it's Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr from the Beatles, and Davy Jones of the Monkeys."

"Whatever!" they both chimed.

From now on, I promise I won't lie in order to prove old battleaxes’ myths untrue, but I can't promise to hold to the scientific method. And I certainly won't promise not to mess with the kid. What were these old hags trying to say, anyways? Perhaps, what they were really trying to say is, "Don't you have anything better to do than stand there and watch the pot boil?! The dirt floor needs sweeping, the dishes need to be done, the clothes folded, and you're watching a pot! Lazy slacker." I’ll prove those old metaphor-slinging tarts wrong, yet. Though, I must admit the pasta tasted divine.