Dearest Rachel –
Back in my relative childhood, when the local mall was actually an everything-under-one-roof-mall rather than an open-air shopping center, and bookstores were actually a thing (and the Amazon was nothing more than a really big river in South America), the place included a Kroch’s & Brentano’s that was so big it needed an extra basement floor to display much of its merchandise. I whiled away far too many hours in that basement, treating the place like something of a library – this was before Borders came up with the idea of installing coffeeshops in their stores to deliberately get people to sit around and read in their stores (heck, I think even Borders didn’t exist yet, come to think of it) – and a lot of the older volumes in my library came from those days.
One of those books is a satirical work entitled Motel of the Mysteries, which illustrates the many errors that an archeologist several millennia hence might make in analyzing the ruins of what we would recognize as an old-fashioned (even to us) roadside motel, the kind one would encounter along some deserted stretch of what used to be the legendary Route 66 that stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles, but has since been subsumed by the interstate system (itself a marvel of continent-spanning engineering, even if we find ourselves annoyed with its need for constant maintenance). Most of the humor was in the scholarly notes that suggested a religious purpose behind everything involved in the layout and positioning of bodies within the motel (although it might be understandable to interpret a bathtub, for example, as a sarcophagus, considering the vanishing nature of bathtubs in such places even in these days), when, of course, our civilization had simply been suddenly wiped out by a massive calamity, and everything was simply where it was when it all happened – essentially, more like Pompeii than, say, Giza.
I doubt you ever got a chance to read it – I wouldn’t have expected you to, any more than you would have expected me to read much of the many volumes you amassed from your various forays to this or that used bookshop, looking to complete your collection of novelisations of Doctor Who episodes and young adult fiction you remembered from your growing-up days – although it fell in line with one of the overall themes I had proposed for a YouTube channel, based on an essay I’d read in high-school about the courtship rituals of a little-understood tribe known as the Nacirema (read that backwards to get the joke), and the anthropological implications of certain activities of a stereotypical teenage couple on what used to be called a ‘date.’ I thought the concept to be humorous and worth expanding upon, whereas you didn’t see the value in doing so (or maybe, whether viewers might ‘get it.’ Perhaps you were right; not that I find any motivation for working on that concept any further these days).
Regardless, one of the curious observations of the book was the nature of the disaster that has befallen American civilization. It was suggested that the accumulated mass of junk mail and advertising papers had simply grown too big for us to deal with, and whole swaths of the landscape simply entombed cities and regions like the Collier brothers’ home written on a grand scale.
Setting aside the absurdity of how this could possibly come to pass, especially in a sudden massive crush of all that paperwork – I won’t contest that it grew to be too much for ourselves, in fact, but we weren’t in any mortal peril from it, merely inconvenienced – there’s something to be said for the fact that there’s way too much paperwork to deal with in life. I’ve begun to make a habit of discarding much that ends up in our mailbox immediately out of hand (before it gets out of hand); everything addressed to either of your parents is binned immediately, as is most of what’s addressed to you – if someone doesn’t know you’re gone at this point, they hardly care enough to keep updated about you.
Even the advertisements are almost always thrown out straightaway as well. What do I care about this or that deal at one grocery store or another? I don’t even know what I want to make into a meal half an hour before I’m likely to get hungry – planning any further in advance seems a distant dream
But I confess, I have difficulty throwing out coupons, especially for restaurants (and yes, I suppose that term is being used relatively loosely here, under the circumstances) that Daniel and I still frequent. The problem is, they don’t last all that long, and if I don’t keep on top of them, going through them regularly to send the expired ones to the recycling bin, I could very well wind up in my own little Motel of the Mysteries if I’m not careful, and have to spend time and effort digging out from under all this mess yet again.
And so it came to pass that, as July turned to August, and Kris was cleaning the house, she pointed out the sheaf of papers on the coffee table, and asked whether that was to go. I flipped through them, pulled the ones that were now a month or two out of date, stuffed them in one of several empty cereal boxes that I’d been saving to hold papers for recycling, and let her take them out.
She actually took all the boxes with her to the bin, though, whether they were full of papers or not… so I’m not sure what I’m going to use for the next couple days worth of junk mail…
However, in the process of going through the coupons (and lamenting silently about how rarely I ever use any of them), several stood out – specifically due to the fact that they were expiring that day and the next. And this gave me an idea…
Sometimes, when dinnertime rolls around, it’s not so much that neither of us has an idea of what we want, as much as it is that we just don’t have a plan. The former should generally inform the latter, true, but sometimes, it helps to have the latter to give the former a nudge. It’s like deciding by flipping a coin; when the coin is up in the air, you suddenly realize that you know which side we really want it to land on. So the coin doesn’t really decide for you, it forces you to make a decision.
The coupon expiring Monday was certainly one of those cases, as it was for the place we would jocularly refer to as His Majesty’s Hamburgers (When Daniel was growing up, rather than spelling things out to obscure our topic of conversation from him, we would use more roundabout names and descriptions like this. As a result, while not being the best at orthography, his vocabulary achieved a level that his teachers would comment on to both him and us), which specialty Daniel has not touched since our visit to San Antonio, where we tried In-and-Out for the one and only time (he actually said their burgers were “not bad,” which, coming from him, was high praise, indeed. It didn’t convince him to eat more hamburgers, though). Since I knew he wouldn’t be interested in any of their offerings – he’s even disdainful of their chicken sandwich, for which I’ve been trying to convince him to assemble a tier list of places with the best and worst ranked accordingly (I think he gives them a ‘C’ or ‘D’) – I asked him to come up with something in the area where I could stop and get him what he really wanted.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much enthusiasm from him, but there are enough places withing shouting distance that he’d be able to find adequate, if not precisely what he may have wanted. What I didn’t expect was for him to point out a place that the three of us would occasionally order from that has since… changed.
A quick aside here, honey. Obviously, during the pandemic, when people adapted by ordering in rather than going out, some places managed to adjust accordingly, while others simply fell apart. Even since you’ve gone – and those days can be numbered in the mere hundreds, rather than, say, the thousands – there have been a few favorite places that have disappeared in that short interim. It’s not that you wouldn’t recognize the landscape if you returned (and I keep saying it, but it’s just that true – I wish you could), but you might be surprised, if not shocked, as to what’s already gone since then.
In this case, it was the Mexican restaurant across the street (as opposed to the one next door to the Hamburger Throne Room, that barely managed to open before the pandemic hit, effectively strangling it in the cradle). You knew it as Grande Jake’s (and several of the Jake’s logos are still in place on the building), but now it’s El Rey de Mariscos.
A Mexican seafood restaurant.
And Daniel wanted to check it out.
I don’t know if you’re able to look across the gulf of the afterlife, but would you be able to tell if it’s snowing down there?
Actually, never mind. It’s not as if he actually wanted seafood from there (well, of course not, that would be silly); he wanted to see what other Mexican offerings were still available and of interest to him. And after going through the menu online (and looking up a few words that even I wasn’t familiar with), he settled on something called a quesabirria, which had no description in the menu, as if it should be understood by the reader as to what it was right off the bat. As it turns out, it’s a cross between a taco and a quesadilla, and it comes with what’s referred to as a ‘birria’ sauce (again, with no more explanation than that, as if you’re just expected to know) for dipping it in. He liked it, but no so much that he used up more than a third of the large cup of the stuff he was given.
You might be upset by us doing so, but we had to throw the rest out; it was clear that we weren’t going to use the rest of it at any point in time, and quite honestly, to have it (and several other moles that they sent Daniel home with) hanging around when we have no use for them is that much worse than allowing papers to pile up. At least papers don’t stain everything they touch when they’re scattered.
El Rey (I just noticed – we basically went from one King to another on Monday in our quest for dinner) also had a special on tacos for the following day (you’ll recall Daniel’s imitation of Sonata from MLP/Equestria Girls squealing about the wonders of ‘Taco Tewsday!’), so I actually thought he might want me to pick something up from there again yesterday (especially after having been introduced to the wonders of ‘al pastor’ by Jeff and Julie at their Independence Day cookout last month), but it seems that he’s okay with waiting at least another week.
Actually, it almost seems anticlimactic to settle for a fried chicken place, but that’s what was expiring. I got him a sandwich (after inadvertently misdirecting himself by forgetting there was a coupon available for that – almost had him ‘settling’ for a bowl with the chicken parmesan on a bed of spaghetti, rather than on a bun), and I got strips and sides. I briefly considered adding a bowl of buffalo chicken mac’n’cheese for another dinner later on, but decided there wouldn’t be an adequate way to heat it – the chicken would get soggy in the microwave, and the pasta would burn in the air fryer. Unless you have a better method (and could tell me about it – and don’t I wish you could!), it didn’t seem like a good idea. So that was it.
In the end, I don’t think I saved any money to speak of – the trip to El Rey necessitated by stopping at the BK Lounge actually cost about four times what I paid for my coupon-subsidized meal – but it really isn’t that I need or want to save the money in the first place. It’s more a matter of making sure that I’m not wasting all the coupons, and justifying their continued existence in the house.
At least, until they go stale. Then it’s to the bin with ’em, lest we wind up as some future archeology exhibit.
Talk to you later, honey. Keep an eye out for me – for us.