Still Here

May 22, 2011

Can’t resist a jibe this week. The headline from the Nation/World section of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser this morning reads: “Planet Earth survives ‘Judgment Day’.” I’m sure both of my regular readers are much more hip to this jive than I am. Everyone from Doonesbury to David Letterman has been joking about the predictions of a Southern California preacher who was expecting the rapture yesterday. For all I know he was right, but the newspaper article attests that some who were expecting to be gone are still here.

However, eschatology was never my strong suit, so I leave this topic. I was always much more comfortable with plain old scatology. Burning question: Is scatology to eschatology as cargo is to escargot?

I’m eating pancakes this morning at a place called Cheeseburger in Paradise. They are pretty good, but the ambiance is sensational, from the breeze blowing in off of the Pacific to the sound of a hyped-up-tempo Beach Boys style rendition of the tune “Handy Man” by Jimmy Jones and Otis Blackwell. Most people probably know the laconic version made popular by James Taylor, but this one rocks. I don’t know who does it. Comments, anyone? And then there is the eighty-year old hostess in her grass mini-skirt that really completes the picture. All the wait staff wear grass mini-skirts regardless of gender or, as my affable hostess proves, general sex appeal. But she’s friendly and seats me at a table by the open window where the sea breeze is especially nice.

Thankfully, this place has absolutely no connection to Jimmy Buffet. My occasional references to Buffet songs aside, the man’s commercial presence is becoming oppressive. Buffet does not even have the best cheeseburger reference in rock music (kudos to the Steve Miller Band for “Livin’ in the U.S.A.”). My son Walker and I did have some volcano nachos at the Waikiki version of the Margaritaville Café earlier in the week, and we enjoyed looking at the classic surfboards on display. But from a giant gift shop to the signature rums and tequilas, the marketing division has run amok. Give it a rest, man.

It’s been a heaving dip into commercial culture this week, though we did enjoy one unassuming luau meal with poi, steamed rice and roast pork courtesy of the food service people at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Perhaps consistent with my double letter theme and the exit of food, Hawaii does not seem to be riding the wave of artisanal food and local production. All those planeloads of tourists and those container ships full of iceberg lettuce and Spam just knock it back, I guess.

That said, the cheeseburger I ate last night at Cheeseburger in Paradise was the best I’ve had in a decade. This may be less impressive than it seems. I haven’t eaten more than two or three cheeseburgers a year since the last millennium. But this one was very nice and here’s why: It was incredibly ordinary. The meat was good, but it was not Kobe beef or some gigantic hunk that dripped redness and soaked the bun. The bun itself was good old sesame seed white bread. The cheese was a fine Colby-jack, but it was an ordinary 4by4 square. The lettuce and tomato and slices of raw red onion set off the not too heavy dab of 1000 island dressing, and I was able to eat all but the last few bites. The guy next to me sent his back. It was not the fantastically singular experience he was hoping for.

The moral of our story? Cheeseburgers are not supposed to be fantastically singular experiences. If you flew to Hawaii and ordered a cheeseburger in paradise expecting the rapture, you may find yourself disappointed to still be here.

But I’m not.

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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