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January 18, 2006

The deep-fried truth.

This is a little story bout a man named Jed, poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed. Then one day I was thinking about some food, and ... no. Wait. Turns out Jed is named "Laurie" and works at a bank. But still. Thinking of food!

Actually, this is a story about a group of programmers who got together and created some software that was really REALLY ugly. And then they sold this ugly software to the banking industry, who on the whole are not as concerned with color-coordinated tabs as I am, and eventually someone on the 20th floor asked me to help make Ugly Product pretty, because that's what I do, and I agreed and forms were filled out and banking was happy.

Except that I had to work directly with the outside firm who had created the software, and my contact was an allegedly cranky Project Manager we'll call Trish. And Trish had a reputation for being "difficult." Maybe that's true, I don't know. What I do know is that as soon as I called the reputedly difficult Trish on the phone, I heard her voice and I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that she was Southern.

I introduced myself in the appropriate telephone manners ("Hi, this is firstname, lastname...") and before launching into the business at hand, I asked about her accent and where she was from. Turns out she grew up not far from where I had once lived in The Great Stet Of Loosiana and thirty minutes later we had passed judgement on all things Californian (Los Angeles manners? nonexistent! SoCal accent? painful! City driving? horrendous! The weather? paradise! and on and on.)

And then, finally, we settled upon the subject closest and dearest to a Southern heart. We talked about food.

"Girl, what I wouldn't do for a decent plate of cornbread!" whispered my newfound friend Trish. And I agreed wholeheartedly, adding that "I haven't seen a well-fried chicken since I've been here!" "Hey, girl, do you eat sushi?" "Lord no, girl! Now, you bread that sushi crap and deep fry it, and I might eat it!" "Amen, sister!"

I don't know if this happens to people from other geographic and cultural regions of the US. But if you put two Southern expats together in conversation, within ten minutes we'll be talking about food. She and I got wistful over images of red-eye gravy and fluffy biscuits and hush puppies and creamed corn. We talked about Sun-Drop and snickers bars in the freezer and homemade ice-cream. There was crawfish etoufee followed by fresh pecan pie... or cobbler. Never turn down a cobbler. It's a cardinal sin.

Are Southerners the only people in the country who get religious about food? It's so much a part of my childhood and identity that I can't separate the food from the event and vice versa. Southern food is conversation, comfort and kindness. When we walked into that funeral home last weekend, I instinctively felt I should be holding a pie or a pan of homemade macaroni and cheese. Everyone knows funerals have the best food.

Are we the only ones who do this? Do people from New England, upon meeting in a strange part of Los Angeles, immediately begin to reminisce about baked beans and lobster suppers? Do Minnesotans find themselves sharing a love of ludefisk that bonds them for life?

I can't imagine being from any place else in the world but the South. We may all be crazy as damn bedbugs, but we have an appreciation for food that transcends religion, age and prediliction.

Trish and I finally got around to discussing the project I had called about and she was accommodating and sweet as pie. (Coconut cream pie, or maybe lemon merengue?) My boss thought I was wasting time talking to this "difficult" woman about fish frys and potato salad. When I got four stylesheets modified three days earlier than expected, I walked into his office, triumphiantly waving a confirmation email. "Take that, you nonbeliever! This is what a love of hushpuppies will get you, Mister! Four stylesheets and perfect tabs! Fish fry THAT!!"

He thinks I am crazy. But somehow shockingly resourceful.

I know it was all about the food.


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Posted by laurie at January 18, 2006 9:15 AM