Thursday, March 18, 2010

“Bologna Beginnings”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was around midnight in the Icehouse home office.

Liz, my wife, had promised to call from Wisconsin. But the late hour made me suspect that she had become too overwhelmed with her distant routine to remember that I was waiting in Ohio.

I kept busy by working on my next newspaper feature. It was a whimsical recipe roundup, centered on uses for bologna as a meal foundation.

Quigley and Riley were lazily sleeping on the floor. Our Pomeranian and Labrador Retriever seemed to have little interest in my writing project.

With ‘Coast To Coast AM’ echoing from the radio, I read through old cookbooks from the family collection.

Then, the telephone rang.

“Hello?” I answered.

Static filled my ear. Then, a familiar voice.

“Rodney?” it whispered. “Still awake, are you?”

“Of course,” I replied.

“Don’t you ever sleep?” Liz complained.

“No need for that,” I observed. “You aren’t here to make me go to bed.”

“Poo!” she hissed. “You’ve got to take care of yourself!”

I took a deep breath. “Sure, no problem. So… when are you coming home?”

“Things are still difficult here,” she explained. “I can’t just leave my family.”

My stomach churned. “I understand. How are the girls?”

“Leigh and Soccer Fairy are good,” she said. “How about you?”

“Working on a new column here,” I said. “A composition about cooking with bologna…”

“What??” she shouted.

“Bologna,” I repeated.

“Yuck!” Liz protested. “What a weird idea!”

“Not at all,” I disagreed. “Think of it as promoting alternative cuisine.”

“Who would want to read about that?” she whined.

“Anyone with a desire for dietary liberation,” I said. “It isn’t just a matter of food. The real point is to exercise your freedom…”

My wife shuddered. “Can’t you write something normal for a change?”

“Boring!” I groaned.

She sighed loudly. “Okay… whatever.”

“Just listen,” I continued. “This is great stuff!”

“Sure…” she hissed.

The manuscript was already on my computer screen. I began to read out loud:

“Bologna - the original, all-purpose meat. But wait – it’s not just for a sandwich anymore! Enjoy it chilled and cheese-filled or sliced wide and Dixie-fried!”

“You actually wrote that?” Liz sputtered.

My concentration was undeterred. “Just listen to these easy recipes…”

With a sense of drama, I continued:

1. BOLOGNA PIZZA – Prepare a traditional, thin-crust pepperoni pie; add diced green pepper, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and bologna strips. Bake according to directions.

2. BOLOGNA BAGEL – Fry two eggs, and a thick slice of bologna. Toast a bagel, and make a sandwich with the eggs, meat, and slices of American cheese. Let the creation melt gently before eating.

3. BOLOGNA FAJITAS – Slice bologna into long strips. Sauté in pan with seasoning mix, onions, and peppers. Serve in tortillas with salsa, shredded cheese, and sour cream.

4. BOLOGNA LASAGNA – Alternate layers of bologna, Velveeta cheese, cooked noodles, and marinara sauce. Garnish dish with crushed red peppers.

5. BOLOGNA SOUP – Cook sliced bologna in a beef bouillon base; add sliced potatoes, onions, corn, cut green beans, and carrots. Season as desired.

6. BOLOGNA GRAVY – Fry up diced bologna; add flour and water to create gravy mixture. Season to taste. Serve over biscuits.

7. BOLOGNA RAMEN SURPRISE – Cook noodles according to directions. Add sliced bologna, soy sauce, and an egg.

8. BOLOGNA HASH – Fry cubed hash brown potatoes with chopped onions and diced bologna. Top with shredded cheddar cheese.

9. BOLOGNA SALAD – Toss a lettuce salad of green onions, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and bologna strips. Top with pork rinds instead of croutons.

10. BOLOGNA MELT – Toast rye bread; make a sandwich with bologna, cheese slices, and Vidalia onion. Fry with butter in skillet until browned on both sides.

11. BOLOGNA GYRO – Shaved bologna, oil, diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and Greek dressing, in a pita.

12. BOLOGNA ROAST – Place an entire one-pound package of bologna with sliced potatoes, carrots, and halved onions in long pan or dish. Season with stew spices. Bake until golden brown.

“You are crazy,” she said.

“C’mon,” I protested. “You don’t think that was cool?”

“Rodney,” she said with irritation. “It sounds like you’ve gone even more wild since we’ve been away. That wasn’t the idea, you know? I expected things to calm down in our absence.”

My amusement couldn’t be hidden.

“Right,” I laughed. “Well, so much for that plan!”

Liz growled like a cat. “Do you really want us to come home after this is over?”

A wordless void filled the distance between us, for a long moment.

“Yes,” I said at last.

“Then why don’t you write a column about spring gardening? Or home decorating?” she suggested. “Something fun for people to read!”

I felt a stone form in the pit of my stomach.

“People must be tired of UFOs and bologna,” she proclaimed. “You need a change of pace!”

I doubled over in pain. Stressful emotions were taking hold.

“My mother thinks you should write about making crafts,” she said.

Now, the room was spinning. I grabbed a corner of my desk.

“Mom also thinks you need a new name for your column,” she confessed.

I covered my mouth. Disbelief made me even more dizzy.

“You might sell more papers with a fresh start!” she cheered.

The air grew stale. “But I’ve used ‘Thoughts At Large’ for twelve years…”

“There you go,” she chirped. “Isn’t that long enough?”

“What did you say?” I coughed. My legs were wobbly. “Hey, there’s too much static on the line. Better try to call when conditions improve…”

“Huh?” she said with surprise.

“Can’t hear… what? You… cutting… in and out…” I sputtered. “Bad connection…bad…”

Liz yowled forcefully. “Rodney! Are you still there?”

I knocked my phone off the desk while trying to remain upright. The battery flew into a pile of old magazines.

Quigley and Riley went running for cover. I landed on the floor.

My head cleared after a silent pause.

“Good night, Liz…” I whispered. “We love you.”

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