Salt Mines

We drove to Danville, AR yesterday, where we met friends for lunch at a tiny Lao/Laotian restaurant called Vientiane Cafe. Our friends had suggested we meet “halfway” between their home and ours, in one of three towns: Russellville, Booneville, or Danville. I picked Danville somewhat at random, then searched online for a place to eat. As one might expect, the scope and range of luncheon options in a tiny (less than 3,000-population) town in Central Arkansas are limited. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a Lao restaurant among those options. It was an obvious choice.

We arrived just after 11:00 a.m., before the doors had been unlocked. The place looks old, decrepit, and quite frankly on its last legs. From the looks of it, it’s an old, decaying gas station that has suffered too many poor paid jobs, too much time and neglect, and not enough investment of money and heart-felt interest. Inside, an abandoned buffet-station and a few Formica-topped tables scattered around a haphazard few unused display cases contribute to a look of desolate disregard. It was obvious to me that the décor of the place has been on no one’s mind for a very long time.

The young chef/owner was in the midst of preparing lunch, we learned, for a group of high school students who soon would be let out of class. He also was making lunch for a few other people who either had phoned in their orders or were “regulars” whose lunch requirements automatically went to the top of the line. Our orders, we soon learned, would become priorities only after everyone else was fed. If we had been in a hurry, we would have been disappointed; even angry. Fortunately for all involved, we were happy to have time to simply sit and talk while meals were made for and consumed by the locals, while the tourists (we) cooled our heels. After sharing some egg rolls, having soup from the soup station, and watching hungry high-schoolers come and go, we were served a nice lunch. My IC engaged in chit-chat, as she is wont to do, with the waitress and the chef/owner and we learned a bit about the background of the owner and his family. The owner, a first-generation American, was born in San Antonio, as was the waitress (a cousin, if I recall correctly). I believe his parents arrived at Fort Chaffee, AR as refugees after the fall of Vietnam. The restaurant had been started by, and had belonged to, his mother; she had suffered an injury or illness of some kind and the young man had taken over and, shortly thereafter, was given ownership of the restaurant. COVID-19 took its toll on the business, but hard work and perseverance apparently has paid off and the tiny place is doing reasonably well again. The young guy told us he plans to change the name of the restaurant from Vientiane Cafe to Wok-Man or something like it. I think it would be a mistake to drift so far from its Lao roots, but then maybe my understanding of the preferences of rural and semi-rural Arkansans is not as clear and clean as the owner’s understanding of his customer base. I wish him and his family well. I wish, too, I could feel confident that he will maintain a close connection to his cultural and ancestral roots as he wades through Central Arkansan assimilation. But for some reason, I doubt those root will remain strong.

Yesterday was an interesting day. I already miss my friends. I long to sit with them in the evening, sipping a glass of wine or a bit of Scotch or whiskey, and talk about whatever is on our respective minds. When we’ve done that in the past, I have felt exceptionally part of an exclusive and loving “tribe.”

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My taste in music always has been quite eclectic, but in years past I listened without knowing who or what I was listening to. I could not have told you which artist sang which song, nor could I have recited lyrics to most of the songs to which I listened. Lately, though, I’ve begun listening more intently, I guess. And, in the car at least, I can see the name of the artist and the song displayed on the Sirius/XM device. Inside the house, I can ask Alexa to tell me what’s playing when something of interest pops up.

My IC and I both have noticed that we like music by groups we once essentially dismissed. Groups like Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chile Peppers and The Flaming Lips. That is not to say that I have become a devotee of those bands, but I like some of the music they have recorded. Recently, I’ve found myself enamored of some more recent music by groups that, in the past, I might have dismissed out of hand. For example, I find quite interesting a rather new release by Foo Fighters, Making a Fire. But, although I love the sound of the music, the lyrics make almost no sense to me. If I extrapolate and make a thousand assumptions, I can make the music make sense, but it takes real work. Yet simply listening, I love it! Odd, isn’t it, that music can so thoroughly capture one’s emotional attention? I think one of the best ways to verify that is to listen to appealing songs sung in a foreign language with which one is unfamiliar. The words need not be understood for the emotional impact of the music to be felt.

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Once again, I got out of bed this morning just after 4. I had been awake for a good hour or more—thrashing about and coughing and otherwise behaving badly—when I finally gave up the battle and rose for the day. Fortunately, we went to bed early (about 9:30?), though my IC stayed awake until much later, I think, eyes glued to her glowing electronic device. I slept, off and on, for much of the remainder of the night until I just couldn’t stay in bed anymore. I have an imaginary dream that I go to bed at a reasonable hour and sleep comfortably and soundly for a solid seven hours; it’s a fantasy is what it is. A stinking fantasy.

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Last night, for a good hour or two before we went to bed, I was in the mood to drink an Irish coffee. Unfortunately, I have no Irish whiskey in the house; plus, we’ve both sworn off drinking alcohol for a while, intent on retreating in size and weight to a time before, when we were svelt. The real way to do that, of course, is to get more exercise. And I can’t get much more exercise until I solve my problem with stamina. Some days, I feel strongly that I should abandon efforts to look like and be like someone else and simply allow myself to be me—the decadent, corpulent, passionate, food-loving gourmand that I am. Deep down inside me. But abandoning those efforts could lead me to outgrowing clothes at a record pace; that’s too damn expensive.

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I spent an obscene amount of money on new glasses recently. I should have the new lenses in my old frames and the two new identical pairs of sunglasses soon. Prescription eyewear for people whose vision is like mine is more than a little expensive. It is like buying ten-carat diamonds instead of lenses. It is like investing in hundred-pound blocks of crypto-currency (yeah, I know that’s absurd…deal with it). I will not look different. I will simply feel different. And, especially in the car, I will be able to see better when driving in the direction of the setting (or rising) sun.

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I could go on, of course. But I won’t. I won’t touch on my unhappy and unsuccessful experience with Walgreen’s yesterday. I don’t write about my displeasure with myself for continuing to put off “putting things away.” I won’t address a thousand other crinkly things that make me feel like crumpled aluminum foil has been stuffed inside my brain just to annoy me. Instead, I’ll stop writing for now. Back to the salt mines.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Salt Mines

  1. John says:

    Thanks, Meg. I am glad you’re improving, thanks in part to our mutual friend. Kim is a whirlwind of energy, isn’t she?

  2. Meg Koziar says:

    Morning John, I enjoyed your lunch story. Thanks. That rural Arkansas HS students are eating “ethnic” food is real progress! Hope you have a good day. Mine are getting better, withvmuch thanks to our mutual friend.

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