Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Where Did All Of The Spam Go?

Sometimes I crave things that I normally wouldn't crave. It just hits me. I could be sitting on my sofa re-watching Return To Oz for the sixtieth time or I could be on a bus to West Hollywood or even in a guitar shop pretending to be interested in buying something . . . and then all of a sudden the need for the little powdered donuts that come in a box takes over me and there is nothing I can do to avoid it. It happens. And once that craving is satisfied, I may not crave it again for years. The craving is constantly presenting itself but the thing that is being craved is always a surprise; Twinkies, Strawberry Milk, Butterscotch candy, a whole chicken from the grocery store, a Little Caesar's pizza, Twizzlers, Root Beer, Clementines, Milk Duds, Kielbasa, a Double Down from KFC, popcorn, Hawaiian BBQ, burritos and sometimes just a stick of gum. This is a short list of things I've found myself craving over the years but the other day, I was re-visited by a craving I hadn't felt since I was a kid. This was a craving that came before my knowledge of a hot dog's origin and before I knew that the world of processed meats was neither black nor white. Was I eating a cow? A pig? A chicken? Maybe all three? I didn't care at the time. Just as I didn't care then, however, the part of my brain that controls my cravings didn't give a fuck now. I was learning a new song on the banjo called "Red River Valley," and it the midst of a bum-ditty, bum ditty strumming pattern my mouth began salivating at the thought of some good old fashioned fried SPAM.
As a child, I loved SPAM. I think my family and friends were all perplexed at my requests for the slimy brick of "meat" but that's just how it was. I was never one to eat it raw though. That fell on the same level as eating a cold hot dog or eating soup straight out of the can. Something was just not right about it. My two favorite ways of utilizing SPAM was to fry it until it was blackened around the edges, stick some cheese on top and make a sandwich. Pretty normal SPAM eating etiquette. My other preferred method of consumption was to again, fry it up but then dice into tiny pieces and mix it into a pot of macaroni and cheese. I would say that either of these dishes made up for 80% of my diet between the ages of 8 and 15. At one point I entertained the thought of someday opening a restaurant that had a special SPAM menu. It was a short-lived dream but a dream no less.

Up until my revelation with a banjo on my knee, I think it had been at least seven years since I'd even given SPAM a thought. But in my head, I could smell it. I could hear it sizzling in the skillet. I could taste the melted cheese oozing all over the place and I couldn't help but fantasize about chewing the salty mystery meat that my taste buds had been deprived of for so long. Without another moment's hesitation, I put down the banjo and threw on some shoes and set off for a walk to the grocery store.

The walk to Ralph's runs the length of four blocks. In the amount of time it took me to walk, I began to let myself get distracted. As I turned a corner, I got stuck behind three girls whose pace proved to be much slower than mine. I slowed down my own pace so that I wasn't walking creepily behind them. I even pulled out my phone and pretended to be texting someone to even further diminish the stalker illusion. This kept up for three blocks and by the second, I'd almost forgotten my mission. By the fourth block, the girls had turned and I resumed my original pace. I could now see the Ralph's sign and my destiny was put back into perspective.

I walked in the store and began my search. Not sure which aisle it was in and hesitant to let anyone in on the fact that I wanted to buy SPAM, I neglected to simply ask someone. I had it in my mind that it was in the same aisle as the tuna. That's the first place I went. I scanned both sides of the aisle twice and saw nothing. So I presumed that I had been mistaken and went through the surrounding aisles. Nothing. Starting to panic a little, I started from aisle one and went all the way to aisle twelve, examining each shelf with my utmost scrutiny. There was no SPAM. I had been in the store for about 15 minutes now and decided to just ask someone. I found the nearest employee who was stocking cans of soup.

"Hi. Could you tell me where you keep the SPAM?"

"Ohh I'm sorry. We stopped carrying SPAM. It wasn't selling."

"I'm sorry. What?"

"We don't have SPAM anymore."

"You . . . you don't have SPAM anymore. Like, there is no SPAM in this store?"

"I'm sorry sir."

Needless to say, I was devastated. However, I live in Los Angeles. There are shit loads of grocery stores. Just because I happened to walk into the lamest Ralph's on the planet doesn't mean I can't have SPAM tonight.

Having found a phenomenal parking spot the day before, I decided to take the bus to a Vons that was about three miles away on Vermont Avenue. I walk in and repeat much of the process that I had went through at Ralph's. I checked the tuna aisle. Nothing. I checked the surrounding aisles. Nothing. I checked every aisle from 1 to 14. Nothing.

"This can't be happening," I thought. "What has happened to all of the SPAM? Did I miss something in the news? Did they go bankrupt? What in God's name is happening??"

I approached a worker at the deli counter for some answers.

"Excuse me, sir? Where can I find SPAM."

The worker very casually looked over my shoulder and pointed his finger behind me and said, "Aisle 12."

I was overcome with a wave or relief. The tuna aisle. Just as I had thought. I must have overlooked it. I approached aisle 12 with a skip in my step. I walked up one way. I walked back the other. I walked it again searching the opposite shelf. And walked back. I repeated the process twice more before re-approaching the deli man.

"Sir, I just did a thorough check of aisle 12 and there is no SPAM there."

The deli man, with what seemed to be a gesture of annoyance, dropped the ham he was carving with disdain and walked out from behind the counter. He didn't say anything but I got the impression that I should be following him. We walked through aisle 12. We then walked through it again. Now the deli man seemed to be a bit confused as well. He said he'd be right back and I watched him approach another worker about the matter. They exchanged a few words and he came back with words that I did not want to hear.

"I'm sorry sir. It used to be here but apparently we stopped carrying it."


When I got back home I got online and did a search: "Where is all of the SPAM?" I was apparently not the only one affected by this heinous plot to rid the country of SPAM. Many people were just as upset as I. I went from forum to forum trying to figure out where I could find it. After about 20 minutes of searching I found a thread titled, "SPAM found!" The thread contained just one post. There was nothing more to it than an address:

130 N. Sandy Prairie Rd.
Fortuna, CA 95540

I looked up the address on google maps and found it to be 10 hours away. However, the address itself wasn't recognized. I was skeptical. But the skepticism only lasted as long as it took me to once again fantasize about what a SPAM sandwich in my hands at that very moment would mean to me.

It was around 3:00 p.m. when I finally got on the freeway and close to 2:30 a.m. when I got off of it. My level of hunger by this point had exceeded extreme and moved into a new category that I had never experienced. I could have stopped somewhere along the way but I wanted to quench the hunger with SPAM and nothing else.

My GPS hadn't recognized the exact address but it did recognize the street. Once I made a turn onto Sandy Prairie Rd, I stopped at the first gas station that I came across. It wasn't a Shell or Chevron or any big name corporate gas station. It was one of those old time, hole in the wall, auto garages that has a few gas pumps outside. The kind you warn a character in a horror movie to avoid at all costs. But really, the attendant was super nice and he knew exactly where it was I needed to go. He wrote out some scribble that passed as directions and sent me on my way. I'd been driving for about ten minutes thinking I'd misinterpreted one of the symbols the gas station attendant had scribbled on the hand drawn map. Just as I was about to turn around however, I spotted a rackety shack through a thicket of trees that was illuminated by a lone street light. A sign out front read, "Luigi's General Store." I pulled into the driveway and got out of the car. I approached the front door. Just before knocking however, I realized it was almost 3:30 in the morning. They're clearly not open. A sign on the door gave the store hours. They open at 7:00. Three and a half hours. I went back to my car and reclined the seat. On the floorboard of the backseat I spotted a bag of unopened trail mix; something that must have been left behind by one of my friends because trail mix has never been a part of my list of cravings. I gave in and I ate the trail mix. This would hold me over for now, I thought.

I don't remember actually falling asleep. I had turned on the radio and was thinking about Tom Hanks for some reason. I could never decide If I liked him or not. That's as far as I remember thinking about it. When I woke up the clock on my radio read 8:17. I sat up in my seat. The sun gave the whole place a completely different vibe. I noticed a lake behind the shack and a pontoon boat tied to the dock. It took me a moment to gather my bearings. I rubbed the sleep out my eyes and yawned a few times before SPAM entered my mind again. When it did, however, there was no excitement left in me. I tried imagining the cheese oozing off of a freshly fried slab of it and if anything, I felt nauseous. Now that I was no longer driven by anything, It seemed that all I could do now was go home. But I couldn't just walk away empty handed. I had to let this trip have purpose. So I went inside.

It wasn't much of a store. There were about 5 small shelves that had the kind of food you would find at a seven-eleven. An old man with a long white beard and wearing a pair of overalls sat at the counter reading a paper, seemingly oblivious to my presence. I approached him cautiously not sure what kind of people the city of Fortuna, CA produces.

"Excuse me, sir?"

He looked up at me as if just now noticing I was there and he chuckled and hearty old man's chuckle. "Hello there, son! What can I do for ya?"

"Umm, I heard that you might sell SPAM here. Is that true."

"Why it sure is!" He bent over and picked up an entire case of the stuff and placed it on the counter.

"Have to keep in behind the counter cause we've had some break-ins lately. How much of it you want?"

Looking over the case of SPAM, seeing all of those little rectangular tin cans with the elegant SPAM sandwich portrayed on the front, it all came rushing back to me. The hunger. The craving.

"I will take them all," I said.

As if this were a normal request, the old man rang me up without any further questioning.

"Alrighty, that'll be $67.80."

Initially I felt like I was being taken advantage of but then after doing a little bit of figuring in my head I decided that seemed fair. I pulled out my wallet and handed him my debit card.

"Sorry son, we're cash only."

A sharp pain hit me in the gut. Of course it's cash only. I'm in the middle of nowhere. I checked to see what kind of cash I had and found three dollar bills in my wallet and one in my pocket.

"I have four dollars."

"Well that'll get ya one of 'em."

At that point I should have just taken the one and walked away. But I needed to have them all. What happens the next time I want SPAM. Do I drive 10 hours north to get it? No. I couldn't. I had to have them all now.

"Sir. I drove 10 hours last night to get here. And I came for the sole purpose of purchasing a supply of SPAM. I need to have this SPAM. I NEED it. Is there anything you could do to help me out. Is there an ATM somewhere? Can I mail you the money? I'll leave you some collateral."

"I'll tell you what," said the old man. "There aren't any ATM's in town and I'm afraid I can't have you mail the money. I have a kitchen in the back. What do you say I fry us up some Spamwiches, no charge, and I'll take you for a ride out on the pontoon. Supposed to be a real nice day out. Then you'll have a belly full of SPAM and you'll be able to buy a can to take home with you."

This wasn't the outcome I had planned on but it seemed fair. Plus, I hadn't been on a lake in years and the idea of it seemed strangely appealing. I agreed to the deal. He fried up some Spamwiches and we ate them out on the pontoon. I have to say it was the best Spam sandwich I had ever eaten in my life. It was exactly what I needed and finally my craving had been fulfilled.

We sat out in the middle of the lake. The old man, whose name I learned was Jasper, turned to me and said, "Sometimes, a man needs something to make him feel whole. There are things that, throughout life, we realize we're missing and we try to fill in those missing pieces with all kinds of things; booze, women, God, jobs, hobbies, etc. But isn't it just so rewarding to find out that sometimes all you need to fill in that void is a goddamn Spam sandwich?"

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