"Lights. Seen in the sky above the Arby’s. Not the glowing sign of Arby’s. Something higher, and beyond that. We know the difference. We’ve caught on to their game. We understand the “lights above Arby’s” game.
Invaders from another world.
Ladies and gentlemen, the future is here, and it’s about 100 feet above the Arby’s."
- 'Welcome to Night Vale: Episode 1 - Pilot' - *
690 Truman Blvd
On the web.
This exercise was the result of a barrage of commercials boasting Arby's 'Smokehouse Pork Belly' sandwich. At first I quivered, then my man-brain started chanting 'big bacon, big bacon . . .' Angel seemed curious as well. Angel's a very curious person, she likes trying out new things, LOTS of new things, some nice and pleasant, many too physically demanding and weird to repeat, ever, or even discuss openly again.
I was skeptical, but that's what I bring to nearly every party, rampant yet intensely articulate skepticism.
In a case like that, our two minds being of two or more minds, we like to have a backup plan. We discussed this and came up with what I just now mentally invented 'The Chinese Solution'.
Build your own buffet. Order a little of several things, some known, some unknown, bring it home, divide it up, voila! Buffet.
I would make the run, the nearest Arby's to our heavily fortified compound is, of course, in Festus, which is now four or more miles further away than it was a couple of months ago when they finally started to re-construct the crumbling little bridge between us and higher civilization.
I left early to make a couple of utility stops, Lowes for some more succulents (a new, drought resistant, hobby of ours.) and PetSmart for a siphon hose, which they did not have, and three, fourteen cent gold fish. The fish were for our only standing aquarium. (in Maryland we had as many as 28 active aquariums). Our one remaining goldfish, Dowager, has been seeming quite listless since the last of her companions were summoned to Jesus. Even the algae eater that acts as Dowager's housekeeper, seemed to be bored. So we thought an infusion of youth and vigor might be just the kick in the dorsal fin she needs. These three 'comets' were only fourteen cents apiece, as opposed to the two or three buck goldfish at Walmart, because people tend to buy large quantities of these rather simple and plain fish to use as feeders for even larger fish. I told the lady serving them up that I was rescuing these, that they would be free to romp and play for however long they wish, up until the blue, swirling waters of goldfish heaven spirit them away from their mortal coils.
At the end of Highway A, at 61/67 in Festus. Too vague? It's in front of Walmart. There, is that better?
The three new fish swam in a small bag in the passenger seat, not seeming to mind the ride much, but not overly enthused either. I tried to come up with names for them, I tried Huey, Dewey and Louie, but that seemed too dated. Shem, Ham and Japheth popped into my head, but that seemed even more dated, so I abandoned the idea.
The short drive from the pet supply store to Arby's was short and uneventful. I parked, glanced around, took a full pull of cool-ish autumn air, girded my loins (to pull up and tie one's lower garments between one's legs to increase one's mobility) and headed in. Looking above the tall sign, I detected no lights hovering one hundred feet above it. I didn't know what to make of this. Were we not worthy?
Hardly any customers, so I took a head count. There were exactly zero other customers in the place, fewer than I'd originally thought.
I had the order mostly figured out, Angel had crafted a list but I wanted to put my mark on it so she wouldn't think I hadn't given it any thought whatsoever (which is the actual case). Being the sole patron, I took my time. I told the patient lady behind the counter to prepare herself for real work, the order would be complex and full of mind blowing twists and turns.
Smokehouse Pork Belly
I spat out my order to the young, patient lady. She reacted like a pro, pushing single function buttons on her POS terminal (for sake of this post, POS stands for 'Point of sale', not the profane phrase I usually employ the acronym for.). She didn't miss a beat, she punched those buttons like George Jetson himself.
The tab came to forty something dollars, as I recall, I wasn't really paying attention. I swiped the POS slot and stepped back to welcome the thanks I so richly deserved. She asked my name, I showed her my passport, birth certificate and Radio Shack 'Battery of the Month' card. My papers were in order, in fact a little too in order, she just wanted to know whom to call when the order was ready. My bad, I get stopped and interrogated a lot, so I'm always prepared.
It didn't take so very long. Being the only customer has that as an advantage. She was bundling up the last item when she stopped, looked into the bag and pulled something out and threw it away. "Fix another Corned Beef Slider Rex!" She called to the back. This made me wonder what exactly can go so wrong with a corned beef slider that renders it completely and immediately unworthy to give to a customer.
The drive home was again, uneventful. This was fine and perfectly fitting, since I'd already decided to try to have an uneventful weekend. On Friday I about lost it when young Tim, a co-worker, said "Have a great weekend!" as I was leaving. "Stop ordering me around!" I screamed back. A 'great' weekend usually involves energy, effort and goals, I wanted absolutely none of that noise.
I handed off the bulging, undersized bag to Angel, she had met me at the door. Meeting me at the door is usually the thing one or more dogs do, but it was Rudy time and he always runs away when anyone comes to the door. Rudy has some comical fear issues. That's why we love him, his weaknesses and fears make us laugh.
She tore open the boxes and bags and lined the food up for the photo shoot. I snapped away, turning and poking and peeling away at the comestibles, to make them a little more photogenic. I reviewed the photos as Angel dutifully pulled out some plates and knives and started slicing everything, small portion, sample size.
Pork Belly. I tried this first while the taste buds were still fresh and dusty. I did not care for what they were awakened to. I had imagined it to be bacon-y or salty, but what I got was a sickly sweet, greasy bite.
The sandwich was billed as having barbecue sauce, but this taste profile was mustard-y and too sweet. I could not really taste the meat itself, just the icky sauce.
Angel didn't mind it as much, but she added that she'd probably not want to eat a whole sandwich of it because of the sweetness.
Brisket. I thought this to be a vast improvement over the pork. Slightly smoky, much less intense, though Angel called it 'smoky, but bland'.
The sliders were all problematic in a specific way. The bread to protein ratio. Both of us started popping them open and plucking the meat. Way too much bread. Angel referred to the chicken version as 'A chicken nugget pasted to a bun' and 'a waste of money'. It did look like that. The meats, especially the new and improved corned beef were quite okay, but it was really hard to be sure since there was only about a teaspoon of meat on each of the sliders.
Curly fries are curly fries, neither of us prefer them over normal fries. They tend to clump up in the fryer and have greasy and gooey spots. As far as curly fries go though, they were okay.
The huge fail here was the potato cake. Angel said they were too breakfast-y, as if that were an actual thing, but I got the idea, too much like those hash brown patties you get at fast food drive-in's. I was upset when I discovered there was no frosting or candles on my potato cake. That would have been nostalgic for me. I used to get a potato cake for every birthday. . . hang on, an internal memory error has occurred. . . . . . . Oh, I remember now, I used to get a potato for my birthday. I was not my parents' favorite child. I'm over it now.
As I sit here typing away, listening to some smooth jazz about three hours after that meal, my tummy is still queasy. It's a fried fast food thing with me. This stuff makes me sick. It's a cosmically high price I pay to inform you, my fickle fan base. I'm just not sure you are worth the agony anymore, you don't call, you don't write . . .
The service was good, the place was clean, though I'm still curious as to what went wrong with the original corned beef slider. . . Maybe I don't want to know.
In a nutshell, I will not be making that trek to Arby's again anytime soon. Nothing, especially the star attraction Pork Belly even rose to a rank of 'pretty good'. Later, we were talking about it again, Angel said the only thing she would go back to Arby's for was the good ol' original roast beef. "They should stick to what they do best."
But you shouldn't take my word for it when it comes to fast food anymore, since it makes me sick and everything. I just can't take it anymore.
"We understand the lights. We understand the lights above the Arby’s. We understand so much.
But the sky behind those lights – mostly void, partially stars? That sky reminds us we don’t understand even more."
- 'Welcome to Night Vale: Episode 25 - One year later' -
* 'Welcome to Night Vale' is a podcast. I have been reading/listening to it for about a year. As with most things new and interesting I discover, I first heard about it on NPR during my long, dismal commute.
It's certainly not for everyone.
Back when I was working toward a graduate degree in educational psychology with the University of Southern California (true story) one of the professors (a real 80's California Psychologist) offered an evaluation of each of us in the class after several weeks of classwork and discussions. She came to me, I didn't expect much, since in this class, as with almost every 'group' activity I'm ever involved with, I pretty much sat quietly in the back, avoiding eye contact and chit-chat.
"Dennis, you are a divergent thinker."
I politely thanked her, then rushed home to look up the word 'divergent'. It simply means 'different'. Apparently the professional analysis concluded that I don't think the same way other people do. This pleased me greatly. I'm not unique at all, many, many people can also be considered 'divergent thinkers', just not all in the same way.
Things that appeal to me seem to fall above, under or to either side of 'average'. You well know by now that I do not follow sports, any of them, and that I listen to music, hardly at all. So that opens up a little cerebral real estate that is often filled in with anxiety, trivia, anxiety, curiosity and anxiety.
Anyway, wordplay, sentences and phrasing also often delight me, along with a boatload of divergent - style thinking. That's what hooked me on Night Vale.
Night Vale's podcasts are presented as WTNV radio broadcasts. Cecil reads about current events, community groups, disasters, public service announcements, etc.
In a desert town in the southwest where odd matters of time, physics and metaphysics intersect, but are not quite in a way we regular people in the real world understand them. "Time doesn't work in Night Vale"
No dogs are allowed in the dog park, no people either, you may see hooded figures in the dog park. Tell no one, drink to forget. The Sheriff's Secret Police are watching you, always, everywhere, for your protection and they hardly ever kidnap children.
"All hail the glow cloud!", a giant inexplicable glowing cloud that also is a member of the PTA.
Libraries are dangerous and scary, and only actually contain a couple of books anyhow, one being an autobiography of Helen Hunt.
From Episode 15:
Welcome to Night Vale.
Ladies, gentlemen, you. Today is Street Cleaning Day.
Please remain calm!
Street Cleaners will be upon us quite soon. We have little time to prepare.
Please remain calm!
The City Council has issued a statement in 20-point all-caps type saying:
RUN! RUN! FORGET YOUR CHILDREN AND LEAVE BEHIND THE WEAK! RUN!
Probably not everyone's cup of tea, but for totally indecipherable reasons, it appeals to me greatly. I now follow a few NV groups, bought the book, etc. These people think differently.