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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Funeral Diaries, Part 5

Despite the fact that we went to Ohio for the death, and ultimately the burial, of my grandmother, the whole thing played out like a weird, surreal road trip, albeit a pretty depressing one.

Including travel time, I was up there for eight days so when I wasn't staring into the depths of madness in the form of a suit, or delving into the mysteries of the occult, I had a lot of time to kill.

Most of it I spent reading through the stack of books I'd brought along with me. But eventually, once I realized that I had a shirt and tie to wear to the funeral, but no pants to go along with it, I had to go shopping.

So it was off to Tri-County Mall. While I was there, I saw a couple stores that caught my eye. The first was a little gem called Torrid Plus Sizes Now, being that I'm familiar with the terminology used in erotic fan-fiction, that's a phrase that terrifies me. But Mom wanted to see if they had any "cute tops," so in we went.

They were playing En Vogue's classic empowerment anthem "Free Your Mind," but I only heard a few seconds of it before my brain decided to shut down all of my senses to keep me from going mad in the style of a Lovecraft story.

My own personal cyclopaean ruin was this: At the back of the store they had a rack with a sign identifying it as "Plus Size Thongs." Now while that on its own isn't a bed of roses, you don't get to my level of Buddha-like shape without developing a healthy tolerance for that sort of thing. What set me off was the giant-size mannequin ass on top of the display, complete with a butterfly-adorned pink string disappearing between its corpse-white plastic cheeks.

The other store that caught my eye did so not because it sold pimp suits (and this was the day before the funeral, in a weird bit of foreshadowing), or because the clerk behind the counter in the middle of the store was furiously lyp-synching and gyrating to a Kanye West song, but because it had the single greatest name I've ever seen on a retail establishment:

Harold Pener
Man of Fashion

Somewhere there's a guy attatched to that name who's like the Indiana Jones of the fashion world. You'll see him sneaking into an ancient crypt to get the finest silk for his suit. He's my new hero.

I did a lot of eating while I was up there--it's how us midwesterners deal with grief--and I noticed something: People up there love little food. Seriously I don't know what the deal is, but it's true. The North is the home of White Castle, where they actually have a listing on the menu for 30 Hamburgers. Even the pizza I got from Donato's was cut into 24 small slices. But the best example of this is Gold Star, the home of the Cincinnatti Coney. A coney, for those of you who don't know, is a three inch long chili-dog. I can't get enough of 'em. I've had trips up there where I've literally eaten there three times a day, shoving tiny hot dogs into my mouth with both hands.

They also have salads (complete with chili and cheese), a new feature they've decided to advertise by putting disgraced baseball player and all-around loveable shlub Pete Rose in front of a camera and having him go: "Them salads are good!" Once you see that, you'll know what true joy is.

But the best part of any road trip is the places you go to on the way to your destination. Like this gas station we stopped at in North Carolina that featured a vending machine that sold nothing but live bait. A dozen nightcrawlers for $2.50! I don't know if that's a good price, or what, but you can't beat that kind of convenience.

About 20 miles south of Knoxville, there's another favorite landmark of mine: A truly massive porn shop. It's called Adult World and it covers about the same area as your average strip mall. That's how much porn there is. It's a Porn Utopia. It's literally more porn than anyone could possibly need, and I say that as a guy who was once a 15 year-old with access to the internet.

Adult World, Exit 34.Anyway, that's funny in and of itself, but what really sets Adult World aside is that roughly fifty yards away from Adult World's front door is a massive, 40-foot tall cross made of what appears to be aluminum siding. You can see it for miles. Apparently, some concerned citizen bought the adjacent plot of land, and thought maybe he could get the people coming out of Adult World with their new copies of All-Teen Anal Gangbang 4 rethink their lives a little bit.

But speaking in terms of cultural significansce, Adult World pales in comparison to a stop I made about a hundred miles North, in Corbin, Kentucky: The Sanders Cafe and Museum. That's right, the first-ever Kentucky Fried Chicken. I saw the sign on the way up and wanted to stop there, but for some reason my mother was hell-bent on getting to Hamilton. We compromised and stopped by on the trip back.

Getting there required getting off the highway and going through a series of numbered traffic lights, before finally pulling up next door to a combination tattoo parlor and auto customizer. As we got out, I was visibly excited, and these two FedEx guys making a delivery to the Cafe got a huge kick out of it. That's one of the weirdest things about this place: For them, it's just the neighborhood KFC. But for me, it's a fast-food Mecca.

The place is actually pretty neat: There's a modern KFC connected to the original building, so you can go in and get your Crispy Strips or whatever and then go eat them where Colonel Sanders mixed the legendary herbs and spices in 1940.

It's the museum part, though, that you really need to see. It's simultaneously the most disappointing and most awesome place I've ever eaten. It's the worst museum I've ever been to, but it's so crappy as to be charming. All they really have is a room set aside to look like the Colonel's kitchen and a model of what the place looked like back in the day. There's a couple of life-size statues of the Colonel himself, but one of them is wooden and a few fingers have broken off, making him look like he's just getting back from a particularly disastrous 4th of July.

What really sticks out in my mind, though, is a glass case built into the wall of the KFC side. There's a sign on it that says: "The Colonel's Trademark White Suit and String Tie."

The case, of course, is empty.

See? It's terrible, but also downright adorable. And if you're like me, standing there staring at the empty case wondering just where the suit is if it's not in the frigg'n Colonel Sanders Museum, it adds a nice touch of mystery.

Outside, there's the best part of the whole place: An actual, Honest-to-God, State of Kentucky Historical Marker. Maybe it's just me, but seeing the same kind of marker outside the birthplace of a fast-food empire that they put at battle sites, confederate cemetaries, and the scene of the Lincoln assassination gave me a sense of comfort.

It's a crazy world.


Blogger Chris Sims said...

Here Endeth the Funeral Diaries, probably the most longwinded thing I've ever written.

Just in case you missed it, I posted Part 4 the same day I did the Interlude, so if you don't know about my brush with the Celestials and the Mysterious Green Box, check it out.

4/27/2005 12:33 AM

Blogger Phil Looney said...

I ejoyed this little epic journey. By the way, not too far from the Dragon, there is a vending machine that sells nightcrawlers as well. That Food Mart near my house? Yeah, they got that.

4/27/2005 8:36 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ridiculously good stuff, Chris. It's been a while since I've read your writing, and it has gone from solidly funny to nuanced and hilarious, even about a subject that ain't always the easiest. Might I add that in my trips home from Chicago, I pass right by those very same roadside oddities. I have a half dozen pics on my digital camera of that cross and its companion ferris wheel on a hillside that I snapped while hanging out of the window of a speeding Saturn because it was too good to let slide.

4/29/2005 12:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo, it truly take a lot for me to get interested in a blog, but this caught my eye. You are right, we as a community do take for granted the historical empire that the Colonel built. The museum is small, but to the point. I might make it an issue for the tourism board to re-analyze the "cafe".

Ryan Smith
Corbin, KY

10/28/2006 2:46 AM

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