End of the Line

Food for Thought

Finding wisdom on the walls… and in the sides

Photo: Barry Blitt

“It’s a good thing snakes and dogs don’t interbreed. Nobody wants a loyal snake.”

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. But don’t let him soak too long.”

“Go ahead and ‘live in the moment.’ As long as you show up on time.”

That kind of thing. Would be all over the walls in my restaurant, if I had one of my own.

My inspiration, in that regard, is Wintzell’s Oyster House, in downtown Mobile, Alabama.

Excellent oysters, award-winning gumbo, and so on, but don’t look for pearls in the oysters, look for them on the walls. Pearls of wisdom collected by the late J. Oliver Wintzell, the cigar-loving (judging from a photograph) founder of the place. Here, a couple of pearls: “When stretching the truth, watch out for the snapback” and “Many of us have an excellent aim in life, but no ammunition.” Each one on a little placard.

I can do my own pearls:

“People give advice the way they give a present: something they could use.”

“Most things aren’t symptoms. But you better see somebody about that.”

“Give a man a fish and he’ll have to clean it. Try teaching him how to fish and you’ll really piss him off.”

I just need the right medium. Not Twitter, that’s too transitory. Walls. Where people can savor chestnuts along with the oysters. (“A shucker is an oyster ouster.”) Going viral sounds unhealthy. I want to go mural.

“If somebody’s buttering you up, watch out—they’re fixing to take a bite.”

“A coward dies a thousand deaths. A brave man dies younger.”

“Money can’t buy happiness, but maybe somebody will lend you some.”

My walls would be family-friendly:

“Adultery: nothing to write home about.”

Yet there would be room on my walls for some outmoded but still tasty marital sniping: “Never point out anything curious to your wife. She’ll want you to fix it.” On the one hand. And on the other: “She who insists on talking things out with her husband is hard up for company.”

We could fit in a playlet:

“Life’s like that.”

“What? Like what? Huh?”

“Yeah, like that.”

And verse:

You may be hot, but that
Don’t mean you’re in control.
The jelly said to the butter pat,
“Hey, we’re on a roll!”

My wisdom could get cranky: “If a bat could sing, it would sound like Bob Dylan.” But not cracker-barrel, not this sort of thing: “Hit don’t sca’cely seem nachul, the way some fokes carry on, but then too I reckon that air the mos’ nachullest thang about it.” None of that.

And no haiku. If you ask me (and by accepting a table in my restaurant and looking around, you have effectively asked me), English words and Japanese verse forms don’t do much for each other. English wants more elbow room—and I am the kind of restaurateur who sees no point in haiku unless it strictly adheres to the traditional five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third, while alluding, however obliquely, to a change in season:

Frost on the punkin
Not just as a metaphor
Well I guess it’s Fall.
See what I mean?

What would make for great fusion, in my eatery, would be the wall wisdom and lots and lots of sides. My inspiration regarding sides is Sammy’s, on Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans. Juicy burgers, pork chops, and so on, but what most impresses me about Sammy’s is this: It is a meat-and-fourteen. Say your main course is seafood-stuffed shrimp (and you’ll be surprised how much seafood can be stuffed into a good-sized shrimp). With that, you want potatoes? Okay: creamed potatoes, parsley potatoes, potato salad, or fries? Or, if you’re just looking for sides that are good and not green, how about coleslaw, baked macaroni, white beans, cornbread dressing, or rice and gravy? Or, not very green: creamed spinach. Or in the yellow-to-orange-to-reddish-to-maroon spectrum: corn, baked beans, candied yams, glazed baby carrots, or jambalaya. Then too if you do want green, Sammy’s has collard greens, green beans, sweet peas, and side salad.

I love sides. Once for lunch at Sammy’s I had six sides. I was a hexagon.

Sidetarians would flock to my restaurant. As would philosophy majors. “Are there two sides to every question? Yes and no. And sometimes. And more. And succotash, Brunswick stew, fried okra…”