Saturday, January 07, 2006

Prominently featured: A Jackburger and Fried Mushroom Balls

Hello, kids. Long time no blog. I would say that I've missed it, but it would be a lie. Besides, upwards of half my readership is currently in the same house that I'm in; they're fully aware that I have spent every day for the past three weeks getting up at 11 and then either reading or advancing my love affair with Horatio Hornblower.

There have been some notable moments, most of them involving my sisters and gaseous bodily emissions, but nothing quite so...special as yesterday's mini-adventure.

M4 and I didn't have anything better to do, so we decided to drive the hour up to Vermillion, SD, to attend a bookstore that had been highly recommended. Of course, we didn't call ahead, and so when we got there we were disappointed to find that the store was closed until the 9th, presumably because the owners are lazy bastards who are out to thwart me. Or something. Anyway, it was close to lunchtime, so M4 suggested we eat, and I suggested we eat at Old Market Cafe, which we had passed on the way to the damned bookstore.

The Old Market Cafe was on Main Street; the side of the building had a mural of the sun setting over the plains. Perhaps there was a coyote and a cactus—isn't there always? This should have been my first indication of what I was getting into, but I pulled open the door, undaunted.

It was like walking into someone's grandma's basement, except that it smelled like fried stuff instead of mothballs and mildew. There were three small, often-painted wooden booths along the right side and some tables of dubious sturdiness scattered around the rest of the room. After quick consulatation, M4 and I chose the booth closest to the kitchen; when we sat down there were two worn chair cushions waiting on the bench for us, probably sewn in the 50s by the aformentioned grandmother.

I started looking around more closely as soon as we sat down, and M4 and I had to contain our laughter until after the (very nice and competent) waitress walked away to get our drinks. On the wall opposite from the benches was a large Bud Light clock and a USD football poster; all very normal. Not so normal were the eight or nine small porcelain heads mounted on a yellow board that domiated the wall; apparently there are some decapitated garden gnomes and Hummel figurines somewhere in Vermillion, probably waving their ceramic arms above their ceramic stub necks in ceramic panic. Flanking the heads were a longhorn skull sans horns and some other, slightly smaller bovine skull. A tube of red lights ran all along that wall, around to the soda machine. Or I should say, the parts of the soda machine; it was apparently in the process of being repaired and its innards were fully on display for most of the time we were there. The repair process was frequently interrupted so the repairman could help himself to another cup of coffee from the pot behind the counter.

The tables were all tidily set with silverware rolls, mismatched mugs (Christmas tree, Merriweather Lewis, State Farm Insurance, Wedgwood knockoff), and small plastic water glasses at every place. Our table was attached to the wall with only one leg supporting it, which would have been fine, except the leg was only partially attached to the floor, which was by no means level. Every time I set my elbows down on it, it moved three inches down and away from me; M4 almost ended up with a lapful of water a few times.

The menu was enjoyably limited; there were literally only about 10 options for lunch and seven of them involved the word "burger." M4 and I both had the "Phily," which turned out to be chopped up meat (chicken on mine, beef on hers), copious amounts of Swiss cheese, green peppers, and unfortunately carmelized onions, which I was forced to pick off the hoagie bun. We had onion rings and ranch dressing to complete a delicious if artery-clogging meal.

Halfway through lunch I noticed what had to be the piece-de-resistance: a taxadermied jackalope head mounted on the wall behind M4's head. If you don't know what a jackalope is, it's a rabbit with antlers; you see them on postcards and, apparently, in cafes in the West. This one had a remarkably pleasant expression, considering its final fate; its buckteeth protruded from a rather cheerful smile. Added character came from the jaunty woman's scarf tied around its abbreviated neck; apparently the grandma touch extended to all corners and details of the cafe.

After we finished eating, the waitress brought us our ticket and we left her a nice tip, mostly in change and mostly for the amusement value of the place. We paid at the counter where the soda machine repair man was putting the finishing touches on both the soda machine and his approximately tenth cup of coffee. We walked out the door, passing the proprietor, who was sticking a sugar packet under the leg of another wobbly table and greeting a mother and her son who had come in for lunch. On the way out of town, we stopped at the winery and sampled their product, finally settling on a white wine called "Cock & Hen," and then we headed home, congratulating ourselves on a successful afternoon and already planning what we'd have when we came back next week, so we could attend the bookshop and figure out what, exactly, the jackalope was so happy about.