Dear Dirty America


Famous Dave’s Restaurant, the Health Insurance Nightmare

June 20
16:30 2012
Fargo, North Dakota


“Ha HA!” Tiny said. He was an enormous man. He could have been a very thin man in a fat body suit. We stood in the jammed doorway of a popular Midwest eating place called Famous Dave’s. What it’s famous for is incredibly large and unhealthy human beings anxiously waiting around for their name to be called and be seated so they can then rise again and begin working at that enormous food buffet. My new friend, Tiny, told me that’s what everybody called him, and I could as well.

I was at the greasy restaurant with my father and mother to celebrate Father’s Day. They sat on a bench while I conversed with my new friend.

All right, Tiny, I said, to be honest with you, I thought I was too skinny to be allowed into an eating joint like Famous Dave’s. Kind of like not being twenty-one in a bar that checks IDs.

“Heck no,” he said, “in fact, that’s the farthest thing I ever heard from the truth right there. You’re double,” he said, and then paused, “no, triple welcome to be here because you are so skinny you need to be fattened on up. This is exact-uh-ly the place you need to be.” Tiny warmly grabbed my shoulder. He wore a sloppy white t-shirt with the neck so stretched out it looked like he’d strung it over the nether regions of a laboring horse and let her give birth to a mule through the neck hole.

If that makes sense — it was the first image I’d had at the time. But I was floored on one of those 5-hour energy drinks. Tiny was a good, old boy Norwegian. Blond arm hairs, thinning spiked dirty blond hair atop. His forearms were bigger than my legs. His eyes were dull, wet. Probably a sign of how hungry and in need he was for saturated fat and high fructose corn syrup. If I carried brochures warning about the dangers of diabetes, I would have felt compelled to hand one over to him.

On the front of Tiny’s worn, lightly-yellowed shirt was a wild picture of what appeared to be a throne. The image was a blurry set of black lines formed to make a seat with a high back. I asked him if he wore it to honor the Queen’s Jubilee. Sixty years, I said, on the throne.

Tiny gave a belly laugh and said he’d picked up the shirt at the mall, but hadn’t looked at the graphic on the front. It’s hard to miss, I said. “Just a shirt to me,” he said. If you got it at West Acres, it’s more than just a shirt, I said, because that’s a prominent mall around here. Aren’t you a fan of Elizabeth? I asked.

“Who the heck is that?” Tiny asked. He talked so loud other people were visibly leaning closer to catch more of our conversation. Two tall, very plump young boys stood beside him. Their calves were as round as hams. They blinked dismissively.

Only the Queen of England, but not the first royal cannibal, I told him. “Wouldn’t surprise me one bit if that weren’t true,” Tiny said. “Those families are always up to something. I try not to think about it too much. Bad for my health.” He rubbed the top of his head. “You don’t look like you’re from around here.”

I’m visiting, I said, from Los Angeles. But I grew up here. Suddenly, the mousy host called Tiny’s name, party of three, and they left. “I’ll see you at the buffet,” he said, and gave me a wink. “Make sure you get fattened up.” The big three lumbered out of the waiting area.

My parents didn’t comment on Tiny. I get into conversations with unsavory characters all the time. Soon after, our party was called, and we were given a prominent spot next to the buffet line. Tiny would be jealous. He and his boys were tucked away in a booth at the corner of the restaurant. Poor bastard, I thought, and his stressed knees and joints and muscles. Having to carry all that weight to and from the buffet line.

I sneaked to the food line and hoped Tiny wouldn’t be coming for Round Two already. The spread was about twenty feet long. Garlic mashed potatoes. Beef and chicken gravy. Scrambled eggs. Hash browns with modest chunks of ham mixed in. Fried chicken. Deep fried shrimp. Deep fried miniature wieners. Warm cinnamon apple slices. Caesar salad. Buttered toast. Bread pudding for desert. I’m probably missing something.

“You need a bigger scoop than that, son,” Tiny said behind me. Behind him, his two boys teetered and tottered on the balls of their feet like skyscrapers in a massive earthquake. As long as they didn’t topple, everything was OK.

Tiny pointed to the hash browns. “Why aren’t you taking those? They’re the best browns I’ve had.” I don’t eat meat, I told him. “What the heck?” he shouted. “You don’t eat meat?” The other diners close by looked at us. A middle-aged woman wearing around her neck a large purple stone on a shimmery chain glared at us while she chewed a mouthful of something. Ugly scrambled eggs dangled from her fork, in mid flight to her mouth.

“Jeez,” Tiny said. He didn’t notice that we were disturbing the people at the nearest tables. “Hash browns aren’t meat.” He thought he’d pulled one over on me. Chunks of ham in there, I shouted. I moved farther down the line, in front of a bin of chopped up fruit. “Chunks!” he scoffed. “More like minuscule slivers of ham. That ain’t going to hurt you.”

It won’t help me, I said, and scooped up a load of fruit slices. Besides, every time inspection agencies test ground meat products, they seem to find bits of human flesh worked in. The thumbs and fingers of immigrants who are paid less than minimum wage to slaughter as fast as possible the beef you eat. The meat industry isn’t pretty. Unless you’re getting it from local farmers. But at the grocery store, that stuff is far from clean.

Tiny seemed not to hear. “You can’t just eat fruit your whole life. You’ll never get any meat on your bones.” That’s not true, I told him. Brown bears are 85 percent vegetarians. I just read that on a placard at the zoo the other day. They eat mostly plant matter. Berries. Vegetables. Look how big and strong they are.

“I never heard of that,” he said. Well, I said, you also never heard that Queen Elizabeth is 85 percent cannibal, either. Or about her sharp pointed teeth. So I’m not surprised. You should get out more. Get the facts. Set yourself free. If you’re going to eat meat, why not go all the way? Eat humans. Be a cannibal. Don’t pick on innocent, stupid animals that can’t defend themselves and that you don’t give a shit about.

“You’re one weird duck,” he said, but he said it kindly. He elbowed me in the ribs. “I always like meeting new peoples from around the country.” Dear Jesus! I thought to myself, and holding back my tongue, why not cut the chicken’s throat yourself. Let it bleed all over your hands. Feel it squirm. Get on your knees and thank it for the sacrifice it gave. Thank it for its energy. Live your life with zest!

I was hopped up on Vitamin B, and about as much caffeine as one decent cup of coffee. In that heightened state I’m prone to having long-winded opinions.

I sat down with my fruits and vegetables. Mentally, I began a new tirade about how people like Tiny dramatically escalate all of our health insurance costs. With no regard to health or society, these people stuff their faces with especially fatty foods and sickly sweetened cereals, deserts, coffees, and sodas. All the simple carbohydrates and starches. The breads, potatoes, pastas, corn. In high quantities, it’s fatal.

No exercise. No thought in the world about what happens inside the body when it is constantly filled with cancer-causing, heart-attack inducing foods. Having an acidic pH level. Like a garden to grow various strains of cancer. There’s not enough insulin to break down the sugar. Our guts need time to digest any amount of food, even if it’s healthy.

And then the rest of us who worry and abstain from indulging in the onslaught of poisonous foods have to pay inflated health insurance premiums to funnel enough money into the companies’ coffers so they can shell out enough to take care of their increasing numbers of obese, sickly humans who just don’t give a shit.

My teeth clicked as I chomped on my fruit and stared at Tiny. He waved from across the restaurant. I held up my fork, with a speared chunk of cantaloupe, in return. That fat bastard, I thought. And me, acting like an elitist bastard. Yet, it’s hard to hate the guy. He’s friendly enough. He means well. Probably a good father, although I had no proof of it.



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