In the past year my wife has begun making crafts. They’re very cool, punk/DIY crafts. Her sewing machine has given her a new lease on life. She takes apart and reconstructs rock t-shirts. She makes purses, bags, patches, and all sorts of playful accessories. It’s all fun stuff. I’ve built her a website, and she’s joined a local craft group of like-minded younger women. They’re all pretty great people. She sells her work online and at craft fairs with the rest of them.
Yesterday she participated in a craft fair in Braddock. It was called “I Made It!” I had never previously been to Braddock, but I knew generally where it was and that it was a broken-down steel town. No shortage of those in western Pennsylvania. It’s kind of in the city of Pittsburgh, right on the edge of it. The craft fair was on a Saturday. My wife had to be there somewhat early, and I didn’t want to skip my Saturday morning leg workout. On Saturday mornings I do heavy squats. Then I come home from the gym, shower, and I’m ready for the day. Normally we go get lunch together once I’m ready, but since she was going to be at the craft fair already, I’d have to get my own lunch. No problem. We had determined that she’d go early and set up. Then I’d show up as soon as I could after my workout. Everything went as planned. I hit the gym, came home to an empty house, had a protein shake, showered, and left. Finding new places with Internet directions makes me nervous. So I decided that I wouldn’t eat lunch until after I had found the place. I’d drop my things at my wife’s booth, then strike off to find food. My expectations were low. I would have been content with McDonald’s. I left the house. The directions weren’t clear or especially accurate, and I got somewhat lost, but found the place without incident. No real problems. However, as I entered Braddock it was immediately apparent that Braddock was broken-the-fuck-down. I didn’t see so much as one fast food place on my way in. I parked and went in to see my wife. She was sitting happily at her booth. She looked wonderful, and was talking with the girls sitting in the adjoining booth. I plopped my stuff down and was introduced to them. They were all very cute, young, and nice. I quickly surveyed the room and asked my wife if there was any food to be had in the place. She said, “Cupcakes.” A few of the booths featured gourmet cupcakes. They looked wonderful, but not really like what your body needs after a crippling squat session. It was about 2pm and I really hadn’t eaten anything at all that day, other than a protein shake and a granola bar. One of the nice young girls from the adjoining booth said the vegan food booth had some sort of chili that looked and smelled very good. I’ve had some very good vegan food in my time. I don’t judge. I’m willing to give tofu chili a shot. The prospect of driving around Braddock looking for a McDonald’s, Burger King, Arby’s or Taco Bell didn’t really appeal to me. Homemade vegan chili didn’t sound too bad. Certainly it would be healthier than the cheap, greasy fast food that I would likely eat otherwise. I found the booth without difficulty. The line wasn’t long. It was being run by a tall, very skinny white girl with a nose ring and dreadlocks down to her waist. If Perry Farrell had been born a woman, this would have been her. These sorts of people don’t always respond well to me. I’m 6’ 2” tall, 210 lbs, kind of muscular, and have long hair. I look almost like a studio wrestler, but not quite big enough. Compound that with the fact that I normally dress in mostly black, in this case a Napalm Death t-shirt, and a crusty pair of ten-year-old Dr. Marten’s boots, and I really don’t look like a fan of vegan chili. I look like I should be eating raw meat and jacking off to snuff films. So I approached the hippie as gently, apologetically, and non-threateningly as possible, smiled and said, “I hear you’ve got some ferocious chili,” while eying up the Crockpot of what looked to be chili. She replied, “Oh yes, but it’s not warm yet. I just plugged it in. It’ll probably take a little while. Are you hungry now?” I replied, “Yes, quite.” You can always count on hippies to run a tight ship and fire on all cylinders. “Way to execute!” I could feel my blood sugar dropping by the second as my stomach growled, and I thought to myself that even if the chili was ready, I could easily kill the entire crock of it by myself and would likely still be hungry after I was done with it. Beyond that, I didn’t want to look like an asshole by buying all of it. She cheerfully offered, “Here! We’ve got some breadsticks and some marinara dipping sauce. You get one breadstick and one little Dixie cup of chunky marinara for a dollar.” God bless her ethical little heart. I responded, “Sold. I’ll take two.” In that moment I decided that I’d have to go food hunting. I didn’t want to just fill up on bread. A breadstick would be adequate to stave off the fainting that I knew was imminent. I gave my wife a breadstick and cup of sauce. I ate mine in a moment. It was very good. The bread was somewhat dry and stale, but the sauce was incredible, some of the best I’ve ever had. I ate everything but the cup, and asked my wife if she wanted me to bring her anything. She said she wasn’t hungry. I said, “All right, wish me luck.” I got back into my car and began driving around, hunting for something dead and cooked that I could eat. Braddock is not very big, and it didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that there wasn’t any fast food to be found there. I stopped in the only open store I could find, a flower shop, and hurriedly explained my plight (sans the part about the vegan hippie and her cold chili) to the frightened-looking women running the place. Based on the looks they were giving me, my composure must have been waning. The one who must have been their leader explained that there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken at the top of the hill. She gave me some brief and concise instructions. “Magnificent! Thank you so much!” I exclaimed and left their store with renewed vigor and conviction. Her directions were accurate, and at the top of the hill I saw a KFC. As I crested the top of the hill, the clouds parted, angels descended from the sky with horns and harps and the sung to me, my eyes filled with water, and I began to believe in god. Just beyond the KFC, I could see an impoverished, run-down little shopping plaza. I began to entertain the notion of trying for something a little better. I’m not a terribly big fan of KFC. It’s good, but not really the most portable food in the world. I drove past it into the shopping plaza and began looking for other eateries. A Chinese place! Jackpot! Quick, cheap, good, and big! I parked, ran in, and ordered a Kung Pao chicken lunch to go, while suppressing my desire to embrace the little Asian woman at the counter. My food was prepared with clockwork precision and speed. I was out of there and back into my car in minutes. After parking the car, walking back into the fair, sitting down at my wife’s booth, and explaining why it took me so fucking long to find food, I ate. It was incredible. It was probably almost 3:30, though I didn’t bother to check my watch to see what time it actually was when I finally got to eat. At that moment, it occurred to me that it would be fun to walk over to the vegan chili booth, exclaim in my best death metal growl, “I eat suffering!” and then sit down and eat my chicken in front of the vegan hippie and her fucking Crockpot of cold ethical chili. My manners and sense of restraint won out, though, and I just sat back and ate behind my wife’s booth. Then I got a cupcake and quietly read The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.