Sometimes, in life, things happen that are just too terrible to describe. During my 28 years on this planet I’ve had a lot of putrid shit go down, and I’ve been to accurately translate all of it, at least for my own personal remembrance, in a true and honest fashion. But yesterday, at about 4pm, I experienced a horror that might actually be beyond my ability to relate.
We ate a late lunch. At Kneadful Things.
A self-proclaimed “bakery and confectionery” two doors down from our hotel, Kneadful Things soon became the Alpha and Omega of our ND experience. The name itself begs ridicule, but according to Buford (aka “Pusser”, formerly “my boss”), it also churns out culinary monstrosities the likes of which the world has never seen. I dismissed his accusations as hyperbole, but Pusser persisted with vitriol usually reserved for contract negotiations and deathmatches with his cellphone provider.
“Oh my God”, he seethed, as we drove by the lot one cold, gray morning, “Just look at the SIZE of that Kneadful Things.” The tone of his voice whispered murder. A light snow began to fall.
And thus, the bakery edged into our daily lives. During long drives from place to place, our crew created improbable schemes to decimate the chronically empty eatery. Mr. Solutions claimed to have charmed the proprietor in ways that would have made even Svengali blush, finally ravishing her on a brushed steel table in the kitchen while the staff looked on. He planned to re-open Kneadful Things as a bakery-cum-massage parlor, discreetly hinting at completion and boasting an adult video shop in the basement. As a retort, I and Buckethead decided to debut Drive-Thru Sluts, a booze and sex shack where patrons needn’t even hit the brakes before satisfying all their carnal desires. Indignant, Buford and Mama (our esteemed heroine) resolved to convert an abandoned house on the edge of the lake into an all-purpose body cleansing facility, shipping their waste products back East to be used as fertilizer. Our collective plans increased in scope and magnitude, to the point where Mr. Solutions was actually trotted out in public as the financier of the demon bakery. We all dissolved into hysterical peals of laughter – the joke lasted for the next six days.
Somehow, yesterday, hours past lunchtime and starving, we all found ourselves parked front of our purported foe, the rank odor of sewage drifting into the van.
“What the fuck?” I asked.
“Seriously. We’re seriously eating here.” (Mr. Solutions: ever fond of the deadpan.)
Buckethead and Mama were silent, stalwartly preparing themselves for certain peril, while Pusser, in high spirits, leapt to battle with a wave of his arm, the rest of us trudging along in tow.
The first sign of trouble was the chalk-drawn menu – noticeably pricey, with several items unceremoniously X-ed out. The entire place was deserted, save for the five of us and one teenage girl manning the counter. As we placed our orders, seventy-five empty chairs stared back at us in silence. At this juncture, I’d like to insert that my expectations were not high. I’m a self-admitted food snob who eschews anything not to my particular discriminating taste. The debacle of this “meal”, however, far surpassed anything I could have imagined.
French Onion Soup. My first sip seemed edible, but lingered on the palate like pond scum, allowing the undercurrent of stale dried Thyme to fully assault and defile my delicate membranes. My second, more intrepid bite, yielded a taste that was unlike onion, french bread, or gruyere, but more closely resembled raw cabbage and old pumpernickel loaf. I waved the white flag of surrender and threw my napkin into the bilious mix.
Mr. Solutions took a hearty scoop of Tomato Bisque, maintaining composure for only a moment before breaking into a ridiculous grin. “I mean, it’s just barely – ” he paused for a drink, “barely warmer than room temperature!”, sending us all into hysterica. Temperature aside, he plowed his way through the entire bowl, making him the only one of us to finish (really, even to START) anything we ordered.s
Pusser, our fearless leader, had indulged in the same fateful red-tinged crock, and with the first mouthful ushered in something he described as “An enormous clump of salt… or flour… god knows what.” At that, I broke into a fit of giggles so intense I had to spit out my food and leave the room.
The last of us to test fate was Buckethead, who had been delivered some type of pumpkin puree. His reaction goes unrecorded, for as he lifted the spoon to his lips, a small pizza arrived at our table.
Imagine the worst thin-crust pizza you’ve ever had in your life. Now imagine dousing it in cardamom and rye, dipping it in lukewarm canola oil, then sprinkling it with just a touch of cumin. After our first bites, Mama hightailed it to the bathroom, Buckethead turned white, and I ejected my mouthful into a napkin, praying for salvation by vodka. Honestly – grilled roadkill would have seemed sublime in comparison.
Mr. Solutions admonished us for our rudeness, shifting uncomfortably as his sandwich arrived.
Either through incredible folly or stupefying hunger, our cameraman had ordered a Patty Melt, essentially a hamburger wedged between two slices of Kraft cheddar and Texas Toast, unceremoniously flanked by homefries and a trio of what he insisted were cornichons but I maintain were Vlasic baby dills. The texture of the meat was almost to bizarre to believe – imagine shoelace-sized strings of beef product coiled into a 1/4 pound mass. He ate almost all of it, poor thing, before biting into a piece of uncooked potato. This seemed to be his breaking point. Shortly thereafter, amid yet another group outburst of collective disgust, he left the restaurant for the confines of our rented minivan, nursing his wounds and renouncing his well-laid blueprint for the hostile takeover of Kneadful Things.
Before his retreat, however, he had the misfortune to sample what I perceive as the absolute zero of gastronomical experience: The Kneadful Things Brownie. At first glance it seemed palatable, tasty even, luring the hapless diner while leaving him completely unprepared for the geurilla warfare to be deployed. The Brownie exploded on the tongue like a scud missile, gelatinous shrapnel invading every inch of consciousness with a taste that was neither chocolate nor vanilla, but smacked of month-old pistachio pudding and Nesquick. It may have been my vehement (and exceedingly vocal) rejection of the Brownie that finally drove Mr. Solutions to the van, but I fear he was past the point of salvation.
4am found our financier in a dismal state, and although at that very hour I was just putting my insomnia to bed, his intestinal saga was just beginning. I’ll take sleepless nights over bathroom-bound mornings anytime.