A Redneck Eats Thai Food, essay by William Matthew McCarter

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?”

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