Dangerspouse Rides Again

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Garage - Track

Dec. 22, 2004 - 12:49 p.m.

Cooking For Osama


Warning! Long, painfully detailed description of my day ahead. Think "Finnegan's Wake".


"So what are you and NewWifey(tm) doing for Christmas this year, Spousey?"

Funny you should ask.

As it turns out, and despite previous plans otherwise, I may be trimming a tree inside a converted box container "cell" at Guantanamo Bay's Camp Echo prison facility as an Enemy Combatant.

(I hope the tree doesn't overhang my cellmate's prayer mat. Radical Muslims become miffed when infidel tinsel gets tangled in their nosehair as they kneel and bob like Paris Hilton five times a day.)

So why is your humble narrator about to be whisked off and chained in a fetal position for hours at a time, set upon by dogs, stripped and forced to anchor a naked human pyramid team for who knows how long?

Well you see, I had to get the Mighty WRX inspected last week.

Now anyone from New Jersey who read that last sentence is already shuddering. A trip to the NJ Department of Motor Vehicles (well, now just called the "Motor Vehicle Department" - an obvious attempt to soften their image) is akin to being trapped on the Kursk as it settles on the bottom of the Barents Sea. The lights have gone out, the temperature is dropping 5 degrees a minute, you know that many of your compatriots in other rooms are already dead, and your only hope of salvation is a faceless bureaucracy that doesn't have to answer to anyone if they get to you too late. I understand it was just that harrowing on the sub, also.

Fortunately I didn't have to go into the building this time, just wait on line in my car. It needed to be poked and prodded to make sure it was safe enough to traverse the potholes and piles of dead pedestrians that constitute New Jersey's "roadways". The lines get so long that people make all day family affairs out of having their cars inspected, setting up hibachi's and lawn chairs, sometimes small wading pools in the summer. You can miss two days of work if you wait til the end of the month rush.

I lucked out a bit. In December, Jersey-ites who need their cars inspected generally opt to put off that task until January, choosing to risk a ticket rather than possibly miss a prime parking spot at the mall. I felt safe enough that when I left work at 9am I chanced a quick trip to my favorite cookery emporium before suffering the indignity of a NJ car inspection.

See, I've had a couple of saute pans that have been my Kitchen Buddies since I was a professional chef back in, like, the 30's. They've been in constant use through my college years, several jobs, and several STD's. And they've never let me down. It's tough to kill Professional Pans. Not impossible, but pretty damn tough, especially when only facing the rigors of a home kitchen.

Four or five years ago I broke down and puchased two non-stick babies. I had been morally opposed to non-stick cookware for years, seeing it as the coward's way out. But when I saw that my favorite professional brand had a new line coated with some kinda slick ceramic alchemy, I decided to give it a try. I purchased an 8" and 10" pan and put them through their paces.

They work pretty well, although I don't prefer them to traditional pans, which when correctly used have several advantages over non-stick. But NewWifey(tm) found them to be very convenient for when she makes her famous MidWestern BBQ Tuna/Green Bean/Sausage Gravy Stir Fry. So when the SuperCeramiGuard-II-NeverEverEverWearOutCoating(tm) wore out, I decided to replace them.

Friday after work then, I rocketted the Mighty WRX down Rt.80 to my favorite restaurant supply store in Morris Plains - the place I've been going to since I was still in the business. Not that I need much hardware now that I'm a Civilian, but I still go two or three times a year just to indulge my fetish.

Imagine my dismay then when I pulled into the parking lot and saw all the windows tarped over, with a big "SHOWROOM CLOSED" sign tacked to the door.

Aaaugh! It was like coming home to find my kid stiff in a casket!

If I had a kid, I mean.

And if I actually liked it.

With numb legs I walked up to the door, hoping there would be fine print under the "CLOSED" sign saying something like "for two weeks while we do renovations". But no. Just "CLOSED".

Like an idiot I tried the door anyway and...it opened. The sign lied!

Maybe not.

It was pitch dark in there, save for a crack of light diffusing from the back office into the cutting board isle.


"Hey, we're closed! Didn't you see the sign?"

"Um...you're not open the week before Christmas? Are you going on vacation?"

"No, we're closing for good." The office door opened and the guy I'd been dealing with for years stood backlit peering at me. "Oh, it's you. Listen, I'm sorry but I sold the place. I'm just finishing up some paperwork here so I can sell my remaining stock to another store, and then I'm moving to upstate New York."

I was crushed. This place had equipped my entire home kitchen, always giving me the 25% Professional Discount even though they knew I'd left the business. And they had the best selection outside of any supply store outside of Manhattan that I knew of.

As I say, I had been dealing with this guy for years, and so I made some small talk, wishing him well and so on. In the course of this light chit-chat he happened to mention that one reason he was looking forward to moving is that his new property had a lot of land for him to ride his motorycle on.

His motorcycle!

For all the dozens and dozens of times I'd scoured his wares (sometimes for scour pads), the only thing I'd ever talked to him about was cooking and equipment. Had I known he was a fellow biker I would have had him over to the Dangerhouse for some riding years ago. Maybe he would have even given me a better discount...not that, y'know, I had any ulterior motives or anything. I'm above that sort of...

Dammit, he might have given me a better discount!

Oh well.

So we chatted about bikes then for some time, and finally he said "You know, if I had known you were a fellow trials rider I would have given you a better discount." (DAMMIT!) "I'll tell you what, I haven't finished the finalizing paperwork yet. Pick out whatever you want, and I'll give you 50% off the clearance price."

Off the clearance price!


If I hadn't had such a fucking one track mind every time I shopped there, and JUST ONCE asked him "so...what's up?" instead of just a nod of recognition and "Ya got a Chinoise strainer?", I would now own so much equipment that Paul Bocuse would be calling asking me for loaners.

Unfortunately they only take cash (unless you have a corporate account) and I had precious little on me. Still, for what I had expected to pay for just a 10 and 8 inch pan, I ended up waltzing out with the 8 and 10" non-sticks, a 12" traditional, a bain-marie full of whisks and silicone spatulas, a bain-marie, and a combo-grit sharpening steel. After I paid the ridiculously low sum for it all, he placed a 4" paring knife on top of the pile. "Take this" he said, "I know you've always liked them." He was right. These knive cost $2.99 full price and are usually sold by the gross to restaurants. They're not fancy, just a molded plastic handle and a stainless blade. But they're razor sharp and last a suprisingly long time. At home, that can mean a couple of years. I would buy one or two every time I stopped in, just because they were probably the single best value I've ever seen.

I thanked my newfound best friend, bade him good luck, then carefully tottered the clanking pile of randomly shaped gear out to my car (they were out of bags). It all fit neatly in the passenger well and seat.

A final look at my Childhood Clubhouse, then I pulled into the turgid traffic stream on Rt.10 and continued to the Inspection Station in Randolph.

Bingo! I was right - all the Christmas sheep were at the mall, leaving me within actual sighting distance of the end of the line! I don't think I listened to even one side of my "? And The Mysterians" best-of tape before being waved into the Emissions Docking Bay.

Ah, the Emissions Docking Bay....

This was the one thing that had my bowels in a knot.

New Jersey, Superfund Site capitol of the nation, has some of the toughest emissions standards outside of California (where even bicycles almost exceed the emissions limit). Seriously, it's surreal. It wouldn't be so bad if, say, the oil refineries, pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical waste sterilizers, wood pulp processing plants, chemical fertilizer companies and placenta based shampoo manufacturers were all asked to stem some of the open pipelines that run from their plants into open pits next to playgrounds. Trying to stem this onslaught of pollutants solely by requiring cars to have mutiple catalytic converters is like trying to empty the ocean with a rake.

But they all have lobbyists with unlimited graft..er, expense....accounts.

So...New Jersey cars must belch exhaust clean enough to be piped directly into a Preemie Ward. And the jack-booted inspectors at the Motor Vehicle Agency enforce the law with a zeal that would make an Al Axa Brigade martyr envious. Or maybe suicidal. Again.

And therein lay my qualm.

I had made a...ah...slight modification to the Mighty WRX's exhaust system. It's a modification that is only allowed on race vehicles, not street cars. But the 23 year old gear heads who run the performance shop will *winkwinknudgenudge* accept your verbal assurances that the fully decked out, custom interior, 2 jillion watt stereo infused cruiser will from now on only see a dirt track or closed course. Never a residential street - Heaven forfend!

So in a nutshell, it was a slim chance, but I was worried that one of these blue shirted bozos was familiar enough with Subarus to realize what I had done and tow the thing directly to the compactor. Then arrest me.

They don't fuck around here.

Anyway, I got out of my car and stood in the little enclosed area where you're coralled while they pick over your baby. There were a couple of guys discussing something very volubly in Russian on one side of me, and an older gentleman in a Porsche racing jacket, Porsche hat, and Porsche emblem sunglasses on the other.

"You drive a Porsche?" I asked.

He just stared at me.

Porsche guys. They're all alike.

Oh well, my WRX is faster than his ass-engined Nazi slot car any day. AND can claw its way up a ski jump ramp in winter. So there.

I decided to lose myself (or just lose) in a game of cell phone Tetris, at which I am notoriously inept but love anyway. (Those zig-zag pieces get me every time!) It was probably ten minutes later, and I was absolutely elated because I had just made three rows disappear at once, when a huge meaty fist clamped down on my shoulder.

"Hey, what the...."

The State Trooper who was doing the clamping was probably 6' 6" and built like the Luxor Pyramid, upside down.

And his other hand was on the holster of his gun.

"Are you the owner of the Silver WRX? Come with me please."

Awwwwww, SHIT. One of the inspectors must be an ex-Subaru employee and ratted me out. I was pretty nervous, I have to admit. For all my joking about the compactor and legal action, I really only believed that my car would fail inspection and I'd have thirty days to return it to the original factory configuration (which would cost a bundle).

But SHIT. It looked like they WERE gonna arrest me! I feverishly tried to formulate a plausible excuse about vandals breaking into my car and doing the exhaust swap while I was unaware. You think strange things under stress.

Trooper Munster led me across the parking lot into the main barracks, then to a small room with a desk and a chair, where I was motioned to sit. Two more troopers and an embalmed corpse in a suit stood against the left wall.

I sat and waited to hear what fate awated my darling Stanley. (Yes, I named my car. Shut up. I got him right after the Devils won the Stanley Cup in '03, and he's Stanley Cup Silver. You would have too. I said SHUT UP. Jesus.)

Instead, the guy in the suit tossed my new paring knife on the desk.

"Mr. Spouse, is that yours?"

"Um...I think so. Did you get it from my car? Then it's mine. I just bought it. $2.99!"

He didn't seem impressed.

"Mr. Spouse, the inspector testing your car spotted the handle of this knife under a pile of junk in your front seat. Do you realize that it is illegal in the state of New Jersey to carry a concealed weapon into any state government agency? Like the Motor Vehicle Agency? And you could be charged under federal anti-terrorism laws for doing so?"

This had to be a joke. I could imagine NewWifey(tm) setting this up as some sort of twisted prank, but she is still in Charlotte visiting her sister. She had no way of knowing I planned to get my car inspected that day, so that ruled her devious mind out. I looked around the room. None of the other hulking storm troopers were smiling, so if this was a joke then the accomplices were playing their parts to the hilt.

"I wasn't concealing a weapon! I just purchased that knife an hour ago, along with all that cooking gear you call "junk". Look at it - there are three pans, spatulas, and all sorts of other things that should indicate to you that a cook was driving that car. And...cooks use knives! That's a 4-inch restaurant grade paring knife, not a weapon."

Mr. Corpse pulled a sheet of paper from his breast pocket and looked at it.

"You spent the first half of your life in Wayne, did you not, Mr. Spouse?"


I had indeed grown up in Wayne, New Jersey. It was a nice, quasi-rural area, although by the time I graduated high school it had started to become Yuppi-fied and overly developed, with malls and multi-lane thoroughfares. It was home to lots of upper-middle class families and professional types.

And also to many of the 9/11 hijackers, who stayed in local motels during the latter planning stages of their insidious operation.

They also used 4" box cutter knives to carry out the deed(s).

I had a funny feeling I knew the conclusion Mr. Stiff was leaping to.

"Hey buddy...sir... I grew up in Wayne, but moved out early, way early. Like right after the sinking of the Lusitania. I swear, I'm a cook!"

"What restaurant do you cook for, Mr. Spouse?"

"Well actually, I've been out of the business for a few years. But I cook a lot at home and like to purchase professional equipment at the shop down the road from here, so I stopped by on my way over -"

"Mr. Spouse, that shop closed last week. Are you trying to tell me that you purchased a knife and several cubic feet of cooking gear last week and still haven't taken it out of your car? Because you certainly could not have purchased all that today, not from a shop that does not exist any more."

"Yeah but you see, the guy knows me and let me grab some last stuff before he barred the doors for good. Here, give him a call." I handed him the receipt I had in my wallet with the phone number.

He flipped open his cell and dialed.

A minute later he flipped his cell closed. "The answering machine says the store is closed as of December 5. Please come with me."


Two troopers each grabbed me by an arm and we followed the Corpse's back down the hall into a processing room. There I was fingerprinted and propped up for a mug shot. Hey Jersey residents - I betcha didn't know that all NJ DMV offices have temproary holding cells for customers who go ballistic waiting in line! Very, very efficient. And often packed to the iron bars, although not this time. I guess everyone really WAS at the malls.

So they gave me my one phone call and I rang up the lawyer who had worked NewWifey(tm)'s dead Santa caper (previous entry). He doesn't live far from the DMV so he scooted right over. I explained I was cast as the lead in a modern version of Kafka's "The Trial", and he told me he'd see what he could do. He disappeared down the hall to talk to the Desk Sergent.

I took my first ever pee in a steel prison toilet! Wooo! I didn't even really have to go, I just wanted to say I've done it.

An agonizing hour later he returned with one of the troopers.

"I managed to convince the judge that you're not an Al Quaeda operative living in deep cover, but he still has to cover his ass when it comes to terrorist charges, which is what they're considering upgrading your concealed weapons charge to. So you get to go home for now, but if they decide to go ahead and upgrade, you may find yourself being escorted to a federal holding pen until your case comes to trial. But I wouldn't worry too much about it. I'm pretty sure that no prosecuter in these parts would want to argue a case like this on such flimsy evidence. It would be bad PR, frankly. And I'm pretty confident we can have these concealed weapons charges dismissed soon too. Just...don't leave the state until they do, ok?"

Don't leave the state? I was thinking of leaving the country. But I nodded, so the goon with the shield unlocked my cage and I was (relatively) free.

I walked out to my car with a wild mix of emotions churning away in my gut. The whole thing seemed so nightmarishly bizarre that it was funny. But I was also angry, not least of all because they wouldn't give me my new knife back (evidence). I was relieved that my lawyer seemed to think that this would all blow over without any serious consequence other than inconvenience (and the potential embarassment of having friends/family/employer find out I was charged as a terrorist). But the overriding emotion was FEAR. Teeth baring, bladder filling, feral fear that the lawyer *might* be wrong and I could be deemed an Italian American enemy combatant. How would I explain that to NewWifey(tm)? I wonder if she would bake me a Koran and a bomb belt into a cake and mail it to me?

Anyway, after not sleeping much the past 72 hours, I finally did get good news this morning. Around 10am my lawyer called and told me all charges had been dismissed. He had tracked down the Kitchen Shop guy who gave a deposition that I had been in his shop the morning in question, and he had given me the paring knife. To cook with. The "tainted by living in Wayne" line of logic was shot down. And best of all -

Stanley passed inspection!

Those clowns never spotted my illegal mods!

Thank god. The penalty for that in New Jersey is harsher than for convicted terrorists.

Well, time for dinner. Gotta whip something up with my instruments of terror, praise Allah. May He strike all the Porsche owning infidels down!

G'night kids. Don't play with knives.



Since I can never resist extending a post past the "ad nauseum" goal line:

I just got a phone call from NewWifey(tm). While she was down visiting her sister - in Charlotte, you might recall - her Aunt in Arkansas died over the weekend. So she was "volunteered" by her family to accompany their aged father to the funeral which was held today. In Arkansas. They flew from Charlotte to Memphis - the closest airport - yesterday, and drove to the service this morning. The plan then was to drive back to Memphis this afternoon for a night flight home. But...

There is an ice storm going on at the moment in Arkansas and surrounding states, a situation not unheard of there in the Heartland in December. As a result, NewWifey(tm)'s flight has been cancelled and she and her dad are holed up in a dive motel until the storm breaks and their crappy rental Kia can make it to the airport.

Things do not look good for her making it home by Christmas.

Shit. I hate opening other peoples' presents on Christmas morning. The g-string isn't even in my size.

At least I won't have to share the chocolate!

Anyone wanna invite a loud Italian accused terrorist to their Christmas feast? I'll bring my own knife....

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