Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.
- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du gout
Dan awoke Tuesday morning to the sound of rain pelting the window outside his bedroom. He guessed the wind must have picked up because it was raining sideways, striking the window straight on rather than at an angle. Apart from that sound, the world seemed eerily quiet. He felt clear-headed and was pleased to discover he had no hangover from the port. That delicious, yummy port. "Boy that was good." He thought. Everything seemed calmer. But it was always that way, at least for Dan, the day after he'd tripped. After a day of hypersensitivity, the return to normal sensation always left him feeling like he was possessed of an inner calm. Like a monk, he felt nothing could rattle him or make him angry. He stretched his arms up over his head and yawned deeply. It felt good. He just lay there listening to the rain, in no particular hurry to start what would surely be a busy day.
Eventually, he decided, it was time to get up. Time to go shipping and get some food. He remembered somebody telling him the grocery store, the one where Two Guys used to be, was open 24 hours a day. Dan gabbed his doppelbag and headed for the shower, taking a long, hot one, trying to wash himself away. After dressing, he poked his head around the corner knowing that Bill would not be there, but wishing he would all the same. The sofa was empty. The empty wine bottle and glasses sat where he'd left them on the coffee table between where they'd sat last night. Despite the supernatural impossibility and ridiculousness of having seen a ghost and walked, talked, laughed and drank with him for a full day, he had enjoyed it immensely. Being high and not really beliving it made it less fearful and easier to cope with. He'd just have to make sure nobody else, except for Kevin, found out about it. He had enough problems with being thought of as eccentric to add crazy or insane to the mix. Dan grabbed the dirty glasses and the empty bottle and headed for the kitchen.
When he got to the kitchen, Dan gasped and his hold on the bottle relaxed. It crashed to the floor loudly, breaking into pieces on the linoleum.
"Coffee?" Bill asked. "I just made a pot."
Dan just repeated to himself. "This is not happening. This is not happening. This is not happening."
"You gonna clean that up?" Bill said.
"What are you still doing here?" Dan demanded.
Bill just shrugged his shoulders. "Beats me."
"I was in such a good mood. Everything was as it should be. It was calm and quiet." Dan said patiently, as he heard dogs barking outside for the first time, breaking the morning's silence.
"Well don't take it out on me. I fell asleep. I woke up. I made coffee. No mystery there." Bill replied, handing him a mug of coffee.
Dan sat down in one of the antique high-backed wooden chairs that had been in the family for generations and set his mug down in fron if him on the 1950s modern kitchen table. He just sat there for what seemed like a few minutes and stared into the black liquid, thinking. At last, he spoke. "Okay, there are two ways to look at this. One. You're really here, you're really a ghost or whatever, and I just have to deal with it. Or Two. I'm still hallucinating. Wait, three. There are three possibilities. I could be completely insane."
"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition." Bill said in his best Monty Python voice. "Our chief weapons are fear, surprise and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope."
"Oh, what a giveaway." Dan continued, affecting his Python voice. They both laughed and Dan dropped his head down to the table in front of him and began slowly banging his forehead against it repeatedly.
The dogs could be heard barking again, this time more loudly. Bill peered out the window above the sink and saw three dog heads above the wooden fence of the house next door. The dogs must have been on chains because he could see them straining against something that was obviously holding them in that position. They couldn't raise themselves up any higher so all Bill could see was three disembodied heads. He turned back to face Dan. "Look, Dan. I say you go with the first one. I don't think you're any crazier than the rest of us. Is it really so terrible to have a friend here to talk to, to confide in?"
Raising his head, Dan looked over at Bill, who was leaning against the sink, sipping his coffee. "Well, no. But then again yes. Do you know anybody in the history of the world who's really seen a ghost? And not Dickens or that that piece of shit Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore movie with the unnatural attachment to pottery. Those are stories. I mean real ghosts?"
"Well, I don't know. Do you know for sure nobody else hasn't but is just keeping it a secret so they won't be called crazy? You know, like all those rape victims who don't report it because our society is so fucked up we blame the victims. Maybe it's the same thing. Somebody must have seen something they couldn't explain or the concept of a ghost wouldn't even exist. Did you know that the original word, which was German, meant fury or to rage? The way we use it now started with Chaucer. Were there no ghosts before Chaucer's time? Or did we invent it to explain something older that we now framed in different terms? Who knows?" Bill rambled.
"Wow." Dan said, impressed. "Somebody did his homework."
"Your grandmother had an O.E.D. I was bored." Bill confessed. "But the point is, I'm as confused and stuck here as you are. So we might as well work together and maybe the answer will present itself. What else can we do?" The dogs continued to bark nosily, annoying Bill. "Damn dogs." He muttered to himself.
"I suppose you're right. I mean, despite the freak out factor, I'm not in any danger. You seem to be a benevolent apparition. A little self-righteous sometimes, but that I can handle." Dan laughed, starting to calm down again.
The barking grew louder still and Bill wheeled around to see the three heads snapping at the air, barking for all they were worth. "I've had enough of that racket." He said, heading for the back door. Dan stood and walked to the window. He watched Bill cross the back yard and stop in front of the unpainted grey-brown wooden fence. The dogs all seemed to now be lunging for Bill, but he was well out reach of their tethers. "That's weird." Dan thought. "The dogs can see Bill, too. So maybe I'm not so crazy after all." He followed Bill as he picked up a handful of mud from the wet ground and threw at at one of the dog's heads, striking him squarely in the jaw. The dog looked startled, and started chewing as if the mud was peanut butter. Bill repeated this two more times and the barking stopped.
Dan turned back to his coffee, now getting cold and refilled his cup as Bill came back in the house. "That shut them up." Bill scoffed.
"They could see you. Did you notice that?" Dan asked.
"I didn't think about it, but yeah, I guess they did at that," was Bill's reply. "So?"
"So. That means I'm not crazy. If I'm not the only one that can see you then you must be real, do you see?"
"Oh, yeah." Bill's face lit up with recognition. "Cool."
Dan drained the last of his mug and set it down in the sink. "Let's go shopping."
They took the Ford Taurus rental car, which Bill had begun calling 'The Minotaur,' to the grocery store. It was called a "Giant Food" and boy was it ever. It was as big a market as Dan had seen. They grabbed a cart and started on the first aisle. Dan realized he was hungry, having eaten little the day before. As a result, everything looked good and he was surprised by the nostalgia hidden in familiar foods. There was A-Treat soda, birch beer, Lebanon bologna, and Tastykakes.
"Mmmmm. Tastykakes" Dan said aloud, imitating Homer Simpson. "These things were great. I think I ate them almost every day after school with potato chips, of course. Their slogan was 'all the good things wrapped up in one' and as far as pre-packaged pastries, they really were. The Peanut Butter Tandy Takes were my favorite." Dan said, picking up a package. "Now they're called 'Kandy Kakes.' That's weird. Unless my memory is shot. Oh, well, they look the same." They were small round cakes with a generous layer of peanut butter, which was then dipped in chocolate. Dan continued. "They were best kept in the refrigerator so the shell was hard when you bit into them. But there were also butterscotch Krimpets, cupcakes, and coffee cake, too. Those were delicious as well." He put some of each in the cart. Then they got to the potato chip aisle and Dan thought he'd faint.
Now eastern Pennsylvania is justly famous for its pretzels. According to Dan, people in other parts of the country really didn't know what good pretzels were. To most people, or so it seemed, Snyder's of Hanover represented gourmet pretzels. And while they were decent, there were at least a dozen, probably more, pretzels makers that were so much better that they weren't even in the same league. For example, Tom Sturgis Pretzels was just down the road, less than a quater of a mile away. They had been among the first pretzel makers in America and Dan went to high school with one of the sons. They hadn't been buddies, more like acquaintances, although he had married a friend of Dan's. Now they made fantastic pretzels.
But what this part of the world wasn't famous for, but should be, is potato chips. That was one of Dan's real passions. In Dan's experience, groceries in most parts of the country carried the national brands, mere food products loaded with chemicals and other unnatural ingredients, a private label brand, and one or two 'alternative' healthy or organic chips like Kettle or Cape Cod, something like that. Of course, there are the odd local chipmakers but there aren't that many of those. But nothing like Dutch Wonderland. There were maybe a dozen chips that took up most of the long aisle, including Bickel's, Gibble's, Good's in the Blue, Good's in the Red, Hartley's, Herr's, Martin's, Utz, and Wise. There were a couple missing Dan would have liked to have seen such as Uncle Don's and Tommy Dales. But he was even more surprised to see his beloved Goods in the Blue in a supermarket. When he lived in town, they were available in only one place and only one day each week: The Shillington Farmer's Market.
Goods in the Red were available everywhere but not the Blue. Apparently there were two Good brothers and they had a serious disagreement about making chips. One went commercial and used red bags. The other, Harold, who was a fourth generation chipmaker, remained true to the family tradition. His chips were sold the old fashioned way at the farmer's market. You paid a deposit for a metal can, like you would for a returnable milk bottle or CRV recycling fee today. There were two different sizes, the small can, which was 2 1/4 lbs., and the large, which 4 1/2 lbs. Each Friday from the time Dan moved into the house on State Street, he and his mother would go to the market after she got home from work, was usually at seven-thirty in the morning. Dan would go through a big can every single week all by himself. If they were having a party or if it were a holiday they'd get an additional small can to tide them over. To say Dan was obsessed with Good's Chips was clearly an understatement. He remembered the time he'd had his tonsils out at the end of first grade. When he got home from the hospital he was told to restrict his diet to only soft foods like ice cream, pudding, soup, etc. But the first thing Dan did once he was alone in the house was sneak downstairs for some potato chips.
He'd even been to the old factory in Reinholds, which was just over the border in Lancaster County. Dan also had an aunt and uncle who lived there. It was a small building behind a farmhouse on some very beautiful country in the middle of nowhere. He had been astounded that so few machines were needed to make such great chips. But in retrospect, "wasn't it obvious." He thought. "Simplicity is almost always better." Unlike the chemical laden national brands, Good's and most of the other traditional chipmakers used only potatoes fried in lard with salt added. That was it. Nothing fancy.
Now they had boxes instead of can along with bags. They did have bags in Dan's time, but he tended to avoid them since the larger quantities produced more of what Dan really liked: chips stuck together in clumps. For that, Good's in the Blue had no equal. For Dan, the biggest thrill was finding a clump of a dozen or more chips stuck together. That big crunching sound you made with a clump of chips was heaven to Dan. He still ate chips by searching for that right one, whether it was a clump or some other quality. It drove many people crazy, watching him paw through a bag but he didn't care at all. As far as potato chips went, he was a gourmand.
According to the Good's box, Lewis Good was now in charge and he was fifth generation. He had apparently moved the factory, which most likely meant it was no longer on the family farm. Also, they now had a website. That was odd, but good, no pun intended, news. It meant Dan could most likely order chips online rather than relying on the kindness of relatives to occasionally send him a care package. Anything that made him more self-reliant was a good thing in Dan's mind. He grabbed several boxes and tossed them in the cart.
They filled up the cart and were heading to the register when a nasally voice called Dan's name. Dan turned to find himself face to face with a very large, probably 400 pound, man that he didn't immediately recognize.
"Hi, Dan. It's Ed. Ed Gotschall." The big man said.
"Oh, hey Ed. How you doing?" Dan replied, although he knew the answer, really. Ed had been in Dan's Sunday school class and in the same grade. They didn't ever hang out together but had gotten along fine. Ed had always been a bit pudgy, but nothing like this. He was now huge.
"I though that was you. I haven't seen you in, geez, I don't know how many years. Did you stop going to church?" Ed asked.
"Sort of." Dan answered. "I moved to California about twenty years ago. What have you been doing?"
"Oh, not much. I've been active in the church. I now teach Sunday School. I stay home and take care of my mother. She's been sick, you know." Ed told him.
"Yeah, I think I heard that." Dan lied. "Well, it's nice to see you." They checked out and headed to the car.
"Who was that?" Bill asked. "He was a big as a house."
"Yeah." Dan laughed. "Ed was always a little big, but he's really let himself go. He never had a lot of friends so I'm not surprised to hear he's still a church nerd."
"So what's next?" Bill asked.
"Well, let's drop the food off at home and then I've got to pick up Chulkie's stuff at the Hassler Home, which is near her place. I've got an appointment to see the lawyer at 2:00 p.m. so we'll have time to get a cheesesteak at V&S before that. After the attorney, I've got to get things started at the funeral home." Dan rattled off.
They put away all the groceries and were at the Hassler Home before eleven. Dan found Dr. Arzt and signed all the necessary paperwork. They had already boxed up his grandmother's stuff so it was an easy matter to load them in the car. Her body was transferred to the funeral home on Monday so everything was on schedule. He thanked Dr. Arzt and they were on their way again.
Dan cut across Mifflin Boulevard to Lancaster Avenue. V & S Sandwich Shop was on Lancaster just past Summit Avenue in what was technically considered Reading. He parked at the top of the steep slope that was the V & S parking lot. "We can eat in the car." Dan said, hopping out of the car. "That way you can have one too. You don't want to miss this"
"Cool." Bill agreed, getting caught up in Dan's enthusiasm.
They climbed the few cement steps up into the small sandwich shop. Very little had changed. It looked just as he remembered it. Dan grabbed a number from the wall next to the door and surveyed the shop. He had been enough of a regular when he lived here that he could order "the usual" but that had been a long time ago. He doubted the same people still worked here. Surprisingly, he did recognize one or two faces behind the counter. His usual had included a quart of orange juice and a bag of Tommy Dale potato chips. Unfortunately, as he discovered at the grocery store, Tommy Dales appeared to be no more. "No matter." Dan thought. They had plenty of other chip choices, including, happily, Good's in the Blue. And they still carried O.J.
Dan's number was called and he stepped up to the counter. One large cheesesteak, hard roll, and another large cheesesteak, soft roll with no sauce, no onions or peppers, and extra cheese, please. His order rolled off his tongue like he'd said it a million times, which, of course, he had. It had just been a long time since the last time. He got Bill his own bag of chips and paid the ticket. After a few minutes, he was bounding down the stairs with his first V & S cheesesteak in two decades. It was the happiest he'd felt since arriving home.
Once back in the car, Dan told Bill. "I got you a cheesesteak the way it's normally done with a hard roll and marinara sauce. Different parts of Dutch Wonderland make their cheesesteaks slightly different. The original, Pat's in Philadelphia, for example, uses a kind of Velveeta cheese spread whereas V & S uses real cheese. The sauce variations are huge from place to place. But I never get the sauce." He handed his sandwich to Bill.
"Thanks." Bill said expectantly.
Dan opened his bag of chips and set them on the dashboard. He tore open the top half of his orange juice, bending the two sides so it popped open, and set it between his legs. Then he unwrapped his sandwich lovingly and set it on his leg under the paper wrapper. He dug through the bag until he found a clump of chips and pulled it out. "Here's a good one." He said, holding it up and showing Bill. Then he bit down hard with a loud crunch, a few crumbs dribbling down his shirt. "Oh, that's good."
"Hey, this is really good." Bill exclaimed, having taken his first bite of cheesesteak.
"Told you." Dan replied. He picked up his cheesesteak and took his first bite, as well. "Heaven. Pure heaven."