I wrote this a while ago for a creative writing class at Iowa State University. Enjoy!
Baby Bacon Bits
I am about to embark on a short journey of great stupidity; I’m doing a half marathon in five days, and I haven’t run but twice in the past two months. This little adventure is all for my wife and her new-found love of pounding the pavement. Faith has run to the store, the library, even to work – diligently speeding through miles of circles and squares, increasing distance and decreasing time.
I want to run with her, but work and school squeeze nearly every drop of free time, so I straggle out about once a month and pray every night for a freak October blizzard. Faith must have runner’s vision- something I don’t share. You know, bodies gracefully glistening under a bright sun. “Chariots of Fire” playing as runners cross the finish line in slow motion, chests thrust forward with pride while the excited throng of spectators cheer them on.
Well, my vision is slightly different. I see smelly, sweat stained freaks grimacing in pain and power runners trampling the weekend warriors that wilt more and more as the miles pass. The hard-cores pass all of them, not bothering with short breaks for life’s necessities, instead opting for a lower finish time by dropping dookie balls like unwanted pennies out of their shorts. I imagine myself running the course, weaving around little poop mounds left behind by the race leaders. This thought bothers me… a lot.
I ran last Sunday with Faith on a ten-mile desperation attempt to determine if I could make most of the race distance. The shape of our route was like a balloon on a string- down our street to Indianola Road, then a big loop around Principal Park and Gray’s Lake, and back to Indianola Road. It was a perfect day to run, 70 degrees with mixed periods of sprinkles and sun.
By the time we approached the big loop at the bottom of Indianola, I was looking for a diversion. My legs started feeling as if they were destined to bond permanently with the sidewalk. So, I started looking at the shops next to the road- Mary Anne’s Pies, the portable taco truck, and a barbeque joint with stains on the asphalt where the smoke oven sits during the week.
Then I remembered- the food essay!
I kept running beside Faith as Indianola Road turned north, and we crossed over the Des Moines River by Principal Park while the imagined aroma of pulled pork, flour tortillas, and pumpkin pie swirled in my mind, mixing like a wild microwave meal. Running is a good time to think, even about an essay. After all, what else is there to do?
Food – think about food. Food is good. I told myself this for another mile, trying to drown out the pain each stride produced. It worked for a while but the left, right sound of our feet pushed away all thoughts and smells. And though five miles remained, my knees were already threatening secession from my legs.
Finally, a new memory floated into my thoughts, breaking the monotonous rhythm of our feet and clearing the stale concoction. Near the beginning of our run, we passed a small blue house with open windows, and from those windows that oozed the scent of fresh bacon. That heavenly smell soaked our lungs, Faith and I both sighed at the same time.
We charged toward the Raccoon River and Gray’s Lake, a steady light rain cooling us. Bacon. Bacon. Ba-con, Ba-con. The left-right cadence fell away, replaced by thoughts, dreams, and memories of my life-long love affair with bacon.
Around this time, a little ditty began to form in my bacon, I mean, my mind:
Bacon you are gorgeous,
Bacon you are divine, and
Bacon you are best, when
Bacon you are mine.
I kept that work of art to myself (until now) but decided that the time had come to talk about bacon.
“Faith, what would you think of an essay about bacon?”
“What?” Faith had that dedicated look of a runner, so focused on “picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down.”
“A bacon essay. You know, I have to write a personal essay about food.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Tell me about it.”
And there it happened, between the west bank of the Raccoon River and Grey’s Lake, “The Bacon Essay” was born…
I can’t eat bacon unless I’m on vacation, tucked away in a small campsite just beyond the Beartooth Mountains. I love to wake up early, as the sun pokes a little morning into the Lamar Valley, fire up the Coleman stove and load my old iron skillet with bacon. The sizzle and pop of bacon cooking in its own grease- it’s a sweet breakfast symphony. The aroma of Hormel Black Label maple bacon mixing with lodge pole pine on a crisp morning- that’s a scent Yankee Candle has yet to imitate. You have to be a little careful cooking bacon in the mountains, especially maple bacon. The fragrance can draw a bear right to you just like a dinner bell calls to hungry ranchers. I sure am glad a bear has never attacked me and my bacon- that would ruin my whole morning. (A long time ago, a bear ate all of Dad’s Oreo’s while he was on vacation- the bear stuck his tongue all the way down Dad’s glass of milk, too. Kind of put a damper on his meal – but that’s another story.)
You know, I got lost there for a minute and almost forgot about syrup. I can’t eat bacon on vacation without syrup. I prefer Log Cabin Lite, but any syrup will do, as long as it’s thick. Runny syrup just slides off the bacon, and usually ends up on my shirt.
Is bacon as good on the beach as it is in the mountains? I can hardly picture that! Let’s see- imagine eating hot bacon while standing on hot sand under a hot sun… that’s just too hot. There’s no balance. Cold air compliments hot bacon the same way that a salty dill pickle enhances the sweetness of a chocolate malt (Hey, don’t knock it ‘til you try it).
That’s right; I need a cold morning, 8000 feet high and forty degrees, an icy glacier fed creek tumbling next to the tent for a little background noise and just enough level ground for my stove. Now there’s a perfect bacon location. No, a perfect vacation location to eat bacon.
Wakin’ to Bacon
When I was a little kid – about eight or nine – my family would take a 40-mile trip to Lake Red Rock for “Vacation.” Only it wasn’t a vacation, it was more like a weekend with an extra evening and morning tacked on. Before we left, my dad hooked our evergreen spray painted tent camper, made just after WWII, to the family car, an ugly white 1980 Dodge Diplomat. Despite the fancy name, our car looked more like a convict transport vehicle. And the camper – I think the camper must have embarrassed the car. It had a canvas top and bunks that smelled like moldy clothes. The thing was so small I don’t know how the four of us slept in there. Actually, my sister, mother and I shoved pillows into our ears all night; a failed attempt to deafen Dad’s asthmatic honk.
Holy crap, can that man snore! I swear his schnoze can out-blast a Mac truck’s engine breaks. Oh, I’m drifting a bit from the point, again.
Anyway, the best part about our Red Rock trips was waking early in the morning. I would roll out of the bunk and sneak over to the grandparents’ fifth wheel. I could hear the crisp crackle of frying bacon before I even knocked on their door. Our joke of a camper had a broken stove and no running water. The grandparents had a shower, toilet, and full kitchen. They even had these cool party lights they put around the outside of their trailer.
As I walked in the door, Mom realized I was out of our camper and called out something about not bothering my grandma. I didn’t hear her – the smell of fresh bacon had stopped all other senses. Grandma always made bacon, toast, and eggs at the lake. She and Grandpa loved to have breakfast early enough to watch the sunlight grow over Red Rock Dam.
I was able to get a couple pieces of bacon and some toast before Mom dragged me back to the canvas heap to eat cold cereal in the dark. I never understood why – Grandma always wanted me to stay. Mom was probably afraid that I would eat all their bacon.- And she was right- that bacon was good.
My grandparents were busy people back then. They had 5 acres in the country, a large house and beautiful gardens that sprawled through the back yard. It was full of everything from tulips and dill weed to strawberries and corn. Every time we visited, Grandpa was mowing or working in the shed, and Grandma was weeding, picking or planting.
One day, while on summer break, we hopped into the Diplomat on a trip to the country for lunch with the grandparents. I’ll never forget that day – it must have been late June. The leaves and grass were dark green, and lovely to look at through my grandparent’s picture window. They actually used their air conditioner, unlike my mother, who opened the windows at our house during the summer, declaring all breezes cool enough to leave the air conditioner silent while the rest of us sat in pools of sweat.
We sat down at the kitchen table for lunch; fresh salad from the garden and steak that Grandpa marinated in his secret way, which turned out perfect every time. I planned to wolf down the salad like a madman. I could smell fresh meat wafting throughout the kitchen. It was screaming, “Eat me now. Eat me now.”
Saying Grace became the start of a great race.
“Dear Lord, (on your marks) thank you for this day (get set) and the food you have provided for us (c’mon already). Amen.”
The gun fired and I was ready. The first pile of lettuce stacked nicely on my fork. My mouth opened wide, and just before I shoved the first load through the starting gate, my eyes regained pace with my fork hand and I stopped dead still- red flags flapping in my brain. The fork went down and horror welled up in my eyes.
“Grandma, there’s a worm on my lettuce.” He must have stuffed himself to death, clinging tenaciously to the leaf as he passed on to worm heaven.
Grandma shrieked like a stabbed banshee and snatched the salad bowl off the table. Mr. Deadworm flailed into the trash.
“The poor boy will never touch a lettuce leaf again.” I don’t know who Grandma was talking to – maybe the worm.
“Grandma, don’t worry. I’ll take more salad,” I said, “if you leave off the worms and add some fresh bacon bits.”
A new, bacon topped salad quickly appeared. Every bite received a thorough inspection just in case Mr. Deadworm traveled with gluttonous relatives, and many jokes were said at his expense. The salad, however, was worm free.
Bacon made the worm a distant memory- each bite of salty goodness pushed it farther away, until it almost disappeared. The Mr. Deadworm incident was an unfortunate accident. But bacon – the big hero of the day – diverted the disaster, while saving my taste for salad.
My life has been scarred by phony bacon, created by con artists bent on tarnishing the good name of my favorite food. I think it’s time to expose all the fake bacons that insult the real thing.
Turkey bacon, the first fraud on my hit list, is a double agent, lurking in the bacon section at the grocery store. Don’t believe the packaging; turkey bacon is full of empty promises. This stuff cooks like microwave popcorn – 5 seconds separate not done and blackened. Properly cooked turkey bacon is chewy; it has the texture of a rubber band. The only way to make turkey bacon crisp is to overcook it, which makes the fake bacon so dry it scratches your throat like a handful of tiny salt knives.
The next counterfeit on the list is bacon bits. Not real bacon bits- they’re cool. I’m talking about those rust colored kernels that look like Grape Nuts on steroids. Salty soybean clumps with red dye… yum.
I want to meet the guy who thought up this brilliant idea and punch him right in the stomach, for all the times I asked for bacon bits on my salad and instead got a handful of soybean turdlets.
Has anyone ever said, “Ooh, these fake bacon bits taste just like the real thing”? Someday I will go to a restaurant that serves fake bacon bits and pay with Monopoly money. Perhaps my arrest would spur “the people” to pass laws banning fake bacon.
The last faker is Canadian bacon. Canadian bacon is such a phony; I don’t know where to begin. Real Canadian bacon is actually back bacon, cut along the hog’s backbone. It is called back bacon in Canada, and everywhere else in the world. What we call Canadian bacon in America is actually fake Canadian bacon. American Canadian bacon is just a stupid circle cut of ham, salted and smoked to look and taste like lean bacon.
I would thoroughly enjoy blaming Canadians for this screw up. Canadians talk funny (Soorry, eh), half their land is frozen tundra, and their police force is known as the “Mounties.” Regardless, our slightly retarded Northern neighbors are not to blame.
Most likely, the name came from England’s pork shortage at the end of the 19th Century. England imported barrels of salted, smoked pork from Canada and Americans, for some bizarre reason, assumed Canada prepared all pork in this manner.
Perhaps a Canadian started this rumor to create a big national joke. I know I heard an Alberta chuckle somewhere behind us the last time my wife ordered a Canadian bacon pizza at Godfather’s.
Bringing Home the Bacon
I didn’t remember every little detail about bacon during last Sunday’s ten mile run. (Yes, I ran the whole thing.) The outline floated in and out as I ran, weaving a thin web through the knee throbs and back spasms. I had to sit down with a cup of Caribou coffee in the comfort of my office and fill in the gaps.
But it’s all true. In a few short days, I’ll be out there with the rest of the crazies, running and running while Hormel Black Label Maple bacon strips dance inside my head, mocking me for being the stupid supportive husband.
Maybe I’ll put a couple pieces of bacon in the tongue of my shoes, under the laces, for a little good luck. If I get hungry during the race, all I’ll have to do is stop.