Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If You Listen Closely, You Can Hear The Banjos Strumming

“Yes, We Have Fried Tripe.”

Those were five words which cemented my arrival in the epicurean backwoods of northern New England. Not only was this crudely erected hash house of corrugated metal located on the boulevard of destitute dreams – where streets are lined with Bubba Teeth, and tag sales doom the used shit of an incestuous square mile to forever circulate from driveway to driveway – but this purveyor of roadkill was delighted to advertise bovine stomach chambers as their principal entrée. Squashed squirrel or poached possum be damned, demand for this kibble must have been inspiring enough for the posting of handmade signs promoting its re-availability; signs which, mind you, were plastered on every vertical beam holding the roof in place. One must no longer settle for the chipmunk fricassee, as the second coming of tripe has been resurrected inside these derelict walls of yesteryear’s overbites. Taste it again, for the first time. And no, we wouldn’t think of serving it any other way than from an artery attacking deep fryer, lobbing entire decades off grandpa’s life with each satisfying spork-full of intestinal anti-nutrition.

When The Bastard makes his bi-annual trips to the Maine wilds, slightly south of the Canadian border in an outdoorsman’s paradise nestled hours from any interstate highway, he does so willingly. He is not dragged by his ear, forced to abandon the comfortable trappings of suburban internet connectivity and ever-present culture, but instead embraces the opportunity to decompress. The stress of unemployment glides gently off the bone when seated in a wicker rocking chair overlooking a crystal clear lake, beachfront included. This place is a hidden treasure, a former camp which catered to moneyed urbanites during the earliest part of the last century, arrived at by railroad, and since converted into tranquil private abodes abutting a postcard-pretty landscape of pine, birch, and lupine. Flanked by two welcoming towns offering congenial gift shops and eateries, not to mention multitudes of hiking trails and water sports, this idyllic sanctuary has been rightly cherished by my in-laws since its purchase (for a song and various trinkets) in the late 1960’s. For those who remember, that period marked the zenith of the American Dream, when the middle class – less saddled with back-breaking mortgages, obscene university costs, and oppressive taxes – could afford vacation homes on (not near) the water.

After twelve years of venturing off the grid, I’ve come to appreciate the many allures of unspoiled terrain, not to mention the dustings of quaint charm and curious small town oddities. Due to the unforgiving winters (which cause severe contractions in the plumbing), I’ve also learned to defecate on a crooked toilet, steadying myself against the adjacent sink as if boarding the Gravitron ride with pants around my ankles. On this plot of greenery, drunks clumsily operate barbecue grills, uncles string tightie-whitey underwear across outdoor clothes lines for all to admonish, and gastronomes gorge themselves on cheese, beer, garlic, and fajitas, only to reek like an abominable steaming mess of noxious flatulence for multiple, unshowered days. When I put my mind to it, I can blow out concrete walls and kill small animals. Play hard, stink harder.

Pleasant aromas aside, my in-laws have been nothing but generous in their sharing of this restful patch of God’s country. Under their tutelage, my outdoor education has advanced far beyond kickball games and park fountains. In fact, over a span of years, I’ve come to appreciate that not every resident above 45° N latitude boasts a mouthful of beaver teeth and a lockbox of flannels. Nor would I any longer presume that a Ford F-150 is everyone’s dream graduation gift in that region. To my wonderment, I’m now even aware that well-adjusted white people do work at McDonald’s, and sometimes bus tables in restaurants.

While I may never fully ingratiate myself into the north woods alloy, frequent journeys offer bragging rights as more than a mere tourist. Perhaps one day I’ll have the stones to pull over en route and purchase a two legged chair or set of tarnished spoons or stained Pokémon doll from the interminable tag sales. Hell, I might even close my eyes and try the fried tripe (remember, it’s back). Next time.

Or maybe the time after that. Baby steps, you know?


Ron said...

Hey MVD...this place sounds WONDERFUL.


Like you, I SO enjoy getting out of the intensity of city life at times and decompressing. And it seems that the more RUSTIC and RAW it is, the more I enjoy it. There is a part of me that's very "backwoods."

I've never been to Maine, but the photos that people have shared after being on vacation look so appealing. However, I would have to pass on the tripe - do they serve spaghetti and meat balls?

(but I will bring my banjo)

Suldog said...

Having spent many a wondrous day in the wholly-uncitified region of Thornton, NH (as well as other mountainous places of wonder, my favorite of which is probably Dorchester, NH, because the locals I ran into talked about donkey basketball coming to town in the same way one might expect evangelists to discuss the second coming) I can relate.

When My Dad retired, he bought a place in Thornton. I inherited same upon his passing. It is now in the hands of a cousin more able to do the upkeep during flood season - 45 weeks out of the year, as I remember - but I retain visitation rights. Deer come and eat off of the apple trees, bear wander into the yard every so often, and the big entertainment each evening is waiting for the 7:10 arrival of the train that runs on the tracks skirting the property.

And, yes, there is NO good Italian food north of Portsmouth.

Jen said...

Tripe, used to feed it to the dogs when I had them on the all natural diet. Highly disgusting and rather frightening to look at. But, the Scots have Haggis and the rest of the Europeans create some form of blood sausage. Being away from the city is a wonderful thing even if it means the culinary attractions leave much to be desired. And, speaking of an F150, I've been wanting one for some time to go with a shiny new horse trailer. My husband has embraced suburban life but rural is quite another thing altogether.

Chris @ Maugeritaville said...

Screw the tripe, give me another order of the Chipmunk Friccasee!

MVD said...

Suldog - On the merits of donkey basketball...

"Critics also contend that in order to keep them from defecating or urinating on the court, donkeys are deprived of food and water for several hours before the game."

Then again, I never took a strong stance on cockfighting, nor did I much care that Mr. Ed (allegedly) had glass shards and peanut butter smeared to the roof of his mouth to elicit constant movement, so you have my word that I won't be on that PETA picket line when the circus blows through Dorchester.

MVD said...

Well, Jen, I once brown-bagged a head cheese sandwich to the office. Since it was Boar's Head brand, as opposed to sliced roadkill, I figured it was legit. But between the gelatinous, larded casing, and the hairy chunks of meat therein, I was floored after the first bite.

Bad cheese. Terrible head.

MVD said...

Hey Chris - If you drown anything in enough gravy, you can fool yourself into believing it's chicken. Chipmunks included. Assuming, of course, the buck teeth are removed prior to service.

Matt Shea said...

Gosh, nice spot Mike. Of course, the gates to paradise are always guarded by men in greasy overalls and coke bottle glasses who suffer from middle-aged acne. I hope there's a lake-dwelling monster, just to top it all off.

Theresa said...

Hey, I own an F-150. Whaddup? Yeah, my in-laws live in a small podunk town in Oklahoma. But it's quiet, everyone helps everyone and there's only one cop in town (so the odds of you getting caught doing somethin' bad are low). Nice blog!

MVD said...

Hey Matt - After 10+ years of visiting that lakefront oasis, I'm fairly adept at skirting the inbreds who lightly dot the landscape. I've also been trained to protect myself should "Dueling Banjos" waft slowly down from the mountaintops.

MVD said...

Nothing against the ol' F-150, Theresa. At this point in the game, Ford should be lucky they make anything that people continue to trust.

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