I can still remember those dark days–not long ago–when you couldn’t hang out with a group of grad students at a university campus without someone saying “Let’s go get some ethnic food”–like they had just smoked a bourgeois blunt and had a bad case of the middle class munchies. Somehow, some way, we always seemed to wind up at a Thai restaurant, as if Thai food was the communion wafer of the bourgeois multicultural sect. I hated Thai food and still do, but I had a part to play on this graduate school stage and didn’t need anyone staring at me because I refused to take part in the communion of middle class white people.
Thai Food Restaurants–they were like a law of nature. Newton himself might have proposed it: objects in motion tend to stay in motion and middle class bohemian wannabes tend to go eat Thai food. If you went to a poetry reading–if you were a young bohemian–you went to the Thai restaurant. It was as true in Fat Chance, Arkansas and Slim Pickens, Oklahoma as it was in New York or LA. Wherever two or more middle class graduate students are gathered in the name of art, there is a Thai Restaurant among you. At times, these merchants of bohemian culture will make the token gesture of asking for your opinion–“You do like Thai food, don’t you?”–with a tone that sounds very much like “you do breathe in oxygen, don’t you?” But for the most part, it was a given, especially at the poetry readings or writing workshops: you read someone’s work, comment, others comment, critiques were passed around, sometimes complaints about critiques followed and then you adjourned for the Thai restaurant. I mean after all… you breathe oxygen right?
I have nothing against Thai restaurants. They all seem like regular Chinese food restaurants except they tend to have fancier table cloths and, for some reason, better egg rolls. It was the inevitability of going there that created my rancor–and the suburban white kid presumption that I must like it because “I breathe oxygen.” Oh, and the growing suspicion that somehow I lived among people for whom–no matter what their taste buds truly begged for on a given night–the Thai restaurant represented a moral decision. Pad Thai was some kind of a cosmopolitan ethical choice in a way that Frank’s all night diner wasn’t.
You’d drive right by places like Frank’s where you knew the ambrosial scent of the two by four–two eggs, two pieces of bacon, two sausage patties, and two potato pancakes– was bountiful in the air, or a heavenly portion of Frank’s blue plate special–pot roast–was crashing like a meteor into a heaping pile of mashed potatoes, or across the street at Sal’s, a deep-dish supreme pizza, heaping full of toppings all stuck together with a mixture of provel and mozzarella–a pizza fit for the gods and fresh out of the oven–a pizza searching for that cracked red pepper and grated Parmesan… and there you were, with “Love Is Like Oxygen” playing on the radio, thinking to yourself “Thai food must be like oxygen too” as you step out of the car and walk toward the doorway to the Thai Restaurant. And to think that we passed by the legendary Joe Willy’s and I had to wave goodbye to the chicken fried steak on my way to the fuckin’ Thai restaurant.
To suggest that you, the great unwashed, might actually prefer a chicken fried steak smothered with gravy became one of those truths that just could not be uttered. “I’d prefer a big hunk of meatloaf and some beans and greens tonight,” was verboten. That is the bourgeois bohemian equivalent of walking into a trailer park in High Ridge, Missouri and yelling “Walmart sucks” with a bullhorn. Truth be told, I would trade every Thai restaurant in the world for a BBQ pulled pork sandwich and cole slaw or a chili dog at the A&W. Or The Pig’s Country Fried Chicken Platter or a slab of dry rub at Cory's. And… I long for the day when the bourgeois bohemian sect discovers Trans Appalachia–the beautiful fourth world country that stretches from western Carolina to Arkansas–and wants to show its solidarity with the oppressed downtrodden people of that region. And… makes the moral choice to go eat Chicken and Dumplings after a poetry workshop. “You do like turnip greens, don’t you?”