March 11, 2007

Times Reporter Dares to Buy Sliced Brisket

I've been thinking about this New York Times article since it came out a few days ago -- an article on the barbecue craze in New York and whether the barbecue there meets Texas standards, or has to.

But that part's not what I'm thinking about.

What I'm thinking about is this line describing Kreuz Market, the legendary barbecue joint thirty miles down the road from here (page 3 of the article, fifth paragraph from the bottom):

A friend related a story of visiting Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Tex., one of the high holy shrines of Texas barbecue. He tried to describe the vibe in the room while he was eating: a low, throbbing, violent, ready-to-rumble hum that he felt and felt part of.

Well, gosh dang. I've been to Kreuz Market numerous times, some of them with my 65ish mother-in-law, and it's about as violent and ready-to-rumble as the local supermarket. It's a big, multi-room place with almost no decor, and you wait in line to order your meat from a counter in front of a smoky pit, and it's sliced and weighed and wrapped by polite, quiet Mexican experts, and you pick up a sampling of the minimal side dishes, maybe a tomato or an avocado and some jalapenos and pickles and onions, and you sit with your family at a wood-stained formica table, eating off butcher paper and wiping your hands and mouth with paper towels from a roll on a spindle. There are kids and parents and elderly couples and young couples, black and brown and white people, and maybe some groups of workers breaking for lunch or a solitary worker at a small table thinking about his relatives on the other side of the border. (Was he the one the reporter thought was about to kill someone?) Nobody is starting anything. Nobody is looking sideways at anyone. They're just a bunch of ordinary Texans. But they've got the Times writer all aflutter.

You are not a simmering street fighter or an in-the-know sophisticate by virtue of buying a slab of pork ribs in a place listed in every guidebook, in a town where you don't have to look before you cross the street.

Why does everyone in this country have to brag about how tough they are, how hip they are, how mean the streets are down which they walk? When did it start? With Brando in 1954, vrooming through town in leather bomber jacket and shades and never imagining how he would end up? Or John Wayne, who didn't serve in World War II but could beat up anyone on the screen? Or Hemingway, who advised Midwesterners where to eat in Madrid after paying to watch other men risk their lives?

We've been copying those acts for almost a century, and it's bullshit, Americans, it's just a load of it. It's damaged the national character, all this vain posturing. It's why some of the most gifted craftsmen in the nation spend their careers making the same gangster movie over and over, saying millions of dollars' worth of nothing. It's why the most popular genre of music in the past generation, hip-hop, is based almost entirely on empty, juvenile boasts of sexual prowess. What a dead end for all that talent!

I'm in a cafe -- this was Friday, with the kids after school -- and a guy with a long graying ponytail swings his leg over a barstool cowboy-style. Starts jawing with the barista about how much caffeine the two of them have been swigging.

"Got your afternoon fix, eh?"

"Yeah, one of the perks of working here."

A low, throbbing, violent, ready-to-rumble hum drifts past the espresso machine, past the rack of alternative weeklies, past the wall exhibit of photos from a faculty member's trip to Florence, past the plastic tub where you put your dirty cups and spoons.

Ponytail orders a second espresso.

"All right, dude, go for it!" the barista approves.

"Hey, it's the weekend, it's my wild time, bro, I need to stay up, know what I'm sayin'?"

"After this one, you won't be gettin' no sleep till, like, 4 am."

"That's it, that's what I'm after."

It's pathetic enough when guys brag about how much beer they've been drinking. These guys are bragging about drinking coffee, like it's 1700 and it's the very latest from Istanbul.

Do they realize that they sound like children bragging about how late they stayed up the night they had a babysitter?

Hey, lemme tell ya how many lollipops I had tonight...

And for those of you who would like a glimpse at the menacing black hole that unnerved the Times writer, here are some photos the lads and I took at lunch today:

its deceptively placid exterior

a pair of desperadoes reading the guest book

a forbidding menu

Smile when yuh say that, pardner.

assault on a rib with a deadly weapon (photo by Agent 95)

plate-equivalents, napkin-equivalents, and utensil-equivalents

an outlaw gang planning its big heist

Was this sign what got him a-shakin' in his boots? (photo by Agent 97)

Agent 95 said, "Dad, I think the New York Times was just jealous because Texas has better barbecue than New York."

'ppears I raised him up right, then. Makes a man feel right proud.

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