By Joseph “Billy” Corduroy
So, you have not heard much from me as I have had the Plague. I mean COVID, of course. But I don’t want to talk about it. It just made me feel bad for awhile, not dead, like a lot of people. So, what do I have to complain about?
I have been happy to feel better because it means I can do what I most like to do when I’m not working at the Five’n’Dime. (More about that later. Maybe). Which is to get in my Cab King and hit the road. Generally, that means the West Virginia backroads. I don’t travel all that much outside the state, what with gas costing an arm, a leg and one of one’s gonads, if you’ll please excuse my French.
(But don’t you go blaming President Joe, as too many people with knuckleads for heads do, since it is more like President Vladimir’s fault. And are you really gonna vote in all these crazy folks in the midterm elections who want to put a pillow on democracy’s face because you’re paying a quarter more for gas? And that is the end of my TED talk …)
But the other day I took off for the heart of the country because I just had to get out of Dodge. Of course, living in West Virginia, you are already sort of not living in Dodge, anyway. But I’d been feeling way too COVID cooped up.
And so the first day I felt good enough to shift off my couch and start shifting my truck again (it’s a manual transmission, by the way, the absolute best way to drive snaky roads), I turned up my couch cushions for spare quarters dropped from my pants.
That’s a metaphor, as they say. I didn’t really search my couch for quarters because what’s a couple quarters going to buy you these days except, maybe, some NECCO wafers at the Go-Mart?
But I DID find the $20 bill I had hid from myself sometime last year. Placing it — it turns out — in a side zipper pocket of the emergency supplies backpack I keep behind the seat in my truck cabin, after rooting about and turning everything in that truck inside out.
I do that. Hide money from myself, so I forget I have hidden it. And where, exactly. Then, when I REALLY need money — like to pay for a fill-up that costs as much as a fancy wedding haircut — I suddenly remember.
Now, WHERE is that $20 bill hid?!
So, it was off to Greenbrier County. And, then, so far our into Nicholas County, I felt like I was coming back in. Actually, sometimes I just pick a direction. East. West. North. Etc. This time I picked South-East.
My breakfast turned out to be a bottle of spring water and NECCO wafers — they’re my traveling candy — as I drove off into the hills. But that’s because it was a Sunday. And there are absolutely not many places to stop and eat out that way, once you get to driving off US 79 and US 19, and then head off onto US-where-the-heck-am-I-now?
One of your few options, eating-wise, is the Go-Mart. Which, I tell you should be renamed Indigestion City, if you’re talking about the greasy, fried, warmed-over things they have on display for the got-the-munchies traveler at lunchtime.
Getting really hungry at one point — I dreamed of a plate of two eggs and buttered toast and do you have any Tabasco sauce, por favor? — I pulled off at the Frametown exit. Because prominently displayed, as far as these things go in West Virginia sign-wise, was a small sign promoting ‘Minney’s Family Restaurant.’
Well, you know there’s a rule of thumb about family restaurants. It’s this. If the name of the owner appears in the name of the restaurant and it’s a curious, old-fashioned one — Minney, for instance — it has got to be good.
Or at least, not bad.
This was my Grandpa Aurelio’s theory. His theorizing being that it is someone’s grandma or grandpa or uncle. Or an immigrant family name. Like, say, my Grandpa Aurelio, a Sicilian, who never opened a restaurant, but did make a legendary linguine alla putanesca.
”AAH! YOU NO SAY!’
And did you know alla puttanesca literally means “in the style of a prostitute,” because the sauces in that style are spicy and strong, served with capers and anchovies?
I read somewhere — trying to find a recipe to recreate Grandpa Aurelio’s sauce, may he rest in eternal peace — one theory is that the sauce was invented by prostitutes to lure their, well, their clients, in with its powerful aroma.
Now, I have never tasted a caper — what is a caper, anyway? But I do like the kick of anchovies, especially in a plate of spaghetti as good as Grandpa A used to make us grandkids. (He didn’t use capers on his putannesca, whatever they are. He did use anchovies, which he got in tins imported from Italy from an Italian grocery store up Clarksburg way, where you’ll find a lot of Italians.)
I should say that Grandpa, when he got really, really mad at someone who was rude to him, or would call him a wop or dago, as they used to back in the day, or when he saw Ronald Reagan on the TV (he was a lifelong union Democract), he would mutter:
“Figlio di puttana!”
Well, since us grandkids loved his linguine alla putannesca and would ask for it it by name when they invited us to Sunday dinners, it raised the question.
Were these two like-sounding words related?
Which led cousin Andy, who never could hold his tongue to die for, to ask him.
Because our little puppy clutch of cousins wasn’t dumb. We knew Grandpa Aurelio was using bad words in the Old Country tongue. I suspect Andy just wanted to get a rise out of the old guy. Or just see what he might say.
“What’s the deal with figlio di puttana and linguine alla putanesca, Grandpa?” Andy up and blurts out in their living room one Sunday.
Well, Grandpa’s eyes got big and wide. He puts his hands up in front of him and pats down the air in front of him like he’s trying to quiet down the air molecules.
“Aaaah! You no say, Andrew!” he says.
Then, his eyes crinkle up. And now he’s chuckling. He leans over and whispers in a low voice to Andy and me. (I am going to likely mess up how he really talked with his Sicilian accent):
“It means-a ‘son of a bitch.‘ There is lotsa those in-a the world, yeah? Many, many in this government,” he says, pointing a long finger at the TV in the corner.
“Don’t-a be one! You promise me. Eh?”
We both nod our heads.
“Then, I make-a you linguine for the whores. But!”
He raises one finger into the air.
“You no go to the puttanas. It’s not safe. Plus ….”
He lowers his voice another notch.
“Not all a’the puttanas are bad ladies. Some just have breaks in life the wrong-a way, you know? But they have-a to deal with all the figli di puttana. It’s a not very easy life.”
And from that day forward, we never heard Grandpa A say that phrase again.
Or, at least, in our presence.
Grandpa A was a wise old guy. I think of him and the puttanas whenever anything goes upside down and sideways in my life.
“It’s a not very easy life.”
HIGHLIGHT OF MY DAY
But I was saying about Minney’s. I am dreaming of — speaking of spicy — a plate full of fluffy, cheesy scrambled eggs, streaked with a couple red skid marks of Tabasco and a side plate of triangles of buttered toast. Preferably, wheat. But I will take white, if it is all Minney has got.
After I dash a mile and some change off the interstate, there is Minney’s. The little roadside building shows up after the usual tunnel of green trees, which is what you drive through about 65 to 75 percent of the time on West Virginia country roads in the hill country (which is most of the state, if you’ve never been).
I am dashing, also, in my truck, and probably just a white streak if you saw me go by, because I have to, excuse my French again, pee to beat the door down.
Minney’s is this little brick building not much bigger than a couple of house trailers glued together.
And, unfortunately and darn it, Minney’s is closed.
So, I will not find out this trip whether Minney is some nice grandma who can whip up a plate of eggs faster than you can say ‘West ‘By God’ Virginia.’ Or if she is some Greek immigrant and her menu has some flavors imported from the Old World on it like feta-cheese omelettes, which would be to die for way out in West Virginia.
But I did get some considerable pleasure from peeing in Minney’s empty gravel parking lot, behind the cover of my open truck door, of course.
Which was not nearly as fine a thing as a fresh plate of eggs and toast might have been.
But it was, up to that point in my day, its highlight, so far.