"i'm a little hungry," i say. my dinner of an amy's matar paneer and about 12 hersey's cherry chocolate kisses has evaporated.
"me, too," chuck agrees.
we whiz past blue signs: taco bell, burger king, subway, shell stations, bps, marathons ... and each sign increases the ratio of empty space in my stomach. it's like elementary school when i would eat the contents of my sack lunch on the bus on the way to school -- chips, oatmeal cream pie, white bread with sandwish spread, capri sun -- and then four hours later, spend my time in the cafeteria making anemic, emaciated faces at my classmates' baggies filled with oreos and doritos.
"now i'm super hungry," i say.
"me, too," chuck agrees.
we spend 20 minutes deconstructing white castle's menu:
"i think i could probably, at most, eat five jalapino cheese burgers," i say.
"yeah. that's about what i could do, too," chuck says.
"although ... i could go for an order of cheese sticks. or chicken rings," i muse.
toby's is closed. white castle is closed. what follows is a stretch of highway void of truck stops. what ever happened to truck stops? sassy waitresses wearing blue eyeshadow, agreeable to a whack on the fannie, and their clientele of chain smoking coffee drinkers?
"i want an omellette," i whine.
"i want a sliced turkey sandwich," chuck dreams.
we off-ramp in st. paul and head to mickey's diner. the streets of our capital are empty, per usual. this is always confusing to me. i've hit traffic jams at 3 a.m. in minneapolis; in st. paul i've cross major streets at midday without even bothering to look both ways. and at 2 a.m., the desolation is even more obvious. i make u-turns with the understanding that if no one sees me abusing traffic laws, then i didn't do it. damn i love st. paul.
the diner is moderately busy: a few men at the counter; a woman alone, singing christmas songs, dancing, a strand of gold ribbon tied in her hair; two men squeezed into a booth, stoned, pupils like cartoonish bowling balls; two college girls -- one from st. ben's, the other from nebraska, sharing french fries and catching up.
the man who is sharing my booth bench is a real leg shaker. jittery. a bobber. i'm bouncing by proxy, my words vibrating, i'm convinced this man could rock this trolley car off its foundation. send us rolling through these empty streets. i hate him.
i order a ham and cheese omellette and hash browns.
st. ben's is rattling off the accomplishments of the past semester. it is a litany of "hooking up," text messages, nights spent at st. john's and house parties. "oh! then what happened ... did i tell you about the guy from st. cloud?" she asks. her friend, who seemingly has a boyfriend back in lincoln, shakes her head. and another story.
i can't get enough. i want to scooch over and join their table.
"whatever," st. ben's says. "i'm sure that if you didn't have a boyfriend, you'd have this much fun, too."
"i feel like i'm watching 'the hills'" chuck says.
he's right. from him, this is not a compliment. to me, this is the ultimate form of entertainment.
leaving, the woman with ribbon in her hair cackles drunkenly as i walk past.
"what're you, ugly betty?" she slurs. "you might be actually cute if you weren't wearing that hat."
i laugh heartily.
meanwhile, our waitress doesn't seem to care that we've skipped out on half of our bill. when i return to fix the situation, she seems pretty ho hum about the whole almost-shoplifting that has just occured. she is laughing with another waitress, turns to me and blows a gusty wind of booze in my direction.
ah. i see.
we arrive at my parents house in rochester at about 4 a.m. chuck settles into the den on a pull out couch. i'm assigned couch space in the living room, far, far away from any sort of out-of-wedlock spooning and blanket sharing.
this isn't really that big of a deal. so what if i haven't not shared a blanket with chuck since like march. on the other hand, i actually remember when my parents were my age. this makes me feel old enough for the comfort of a version of a bad, rather than a stiff and decorative piece of furniture where my feet dangle freakishly over the arm.
i am an ogre.
we wake and open presents.
i find a new area of trivia strength: encyclopedia brown cases. if you, for instance, say "the case of the happy nephew," without even reading the story i can tell you that leroy "encyclopedia" brown solves the mystery when the man's nephew runs across the hood of the car, proving that the man did not just return from anywhere because if he were telling the truth THE HOOD WOULD HAVE BEEN TOO HOT!
give me another one.
my neice wins the christmas loot competition. i wish i'd thought to put some of her gifts on my list. she segues easily from educational reading to a robot dog to "i spy" books. she's more entertaining than a battlestar galactica marathon.
chuck and i are charged with grilling shrimp. we hunker over the grill in the laundry room, trying to turn these mini, veiny parenthetical urchins into something edible. making sure they are thoroughly cooked is very important to me.
we invent a reality tv show called: hey, who's watching the shrimp.
on this week's episode of "hey, who's watching the shrimp," the cast of allie mcbeal is in charge of grilling.
"i'm not watching the shrimp," calista flockhart complains. "it makes me feel fat."
"i just gained 3 pounds smelling the marinade," courtney thorne smith adds with her finger down her throat.
we eat crab legs, shrimp, potatos, salad, rolls. my family has taken to calling me "ugly betty." i find my high school letter jacket in the basement. there are gloves, a quarter and a granola bar in the pocket. the lining has been autographed by one of the more successful lourdes girls basketball state championship teams. the signatures are smudged.
i grab the coat for the road, suspecting there will be a reason to wear this at some point.
traffic is a bitch. at some point near cannon falls, minnesota, my speedometer indicates that i am traveling at a speed less than 0 mph. we continue to roll slowly from there, through st. paul and beyond forrest lake. finally near pine city i am able to drive the speed limit. almost.
this entire trip back takes approximately 6 hours, requiring bold chex mix, bottled water and gas station coffee.
we are barely into duluth city limits when we veer toward superior, where liquor stores know no holiday. we purchase captain morgan, coke zero, a leinie's lodge. a digiorno's pizza from the ghetto spur.
we play wii: mario and sonic at the olympic games until my wrist feels the exhaustion of a thousand homecoming queens in a thanksgiving parade. around 2 a.m. we begin a game of monopoly. we tie, agreeing that while he has more money, i will eventually win at 8 a.m. if we continue this game.
we close the night with back-to-back episodes of scooby doo where are you and the pizza.