Eight Things There Are To Say About Mealtimes

Mealtime. It’s a great-sounding word. It pairs together two great syllables. Well, the first syllable is great. The second syllable is that thing that reminds us we should have got this all done before. Still, “mealtime” together? That’s some nice stuff. Even better if the stuff includes, like, a gravy of some kind. Less good if the mealtime includes one of those Very Internet Persons who wants to argue about whether chili is a sandwich or hot dogs are soup.

How much do we really know about mealtimes? Not as much as we could, surely. The average person knows only about 95% of everything they might care to know about mealtimes. This could be improved, one way or another.

Mealtimes may seem like traditions fixed since time immemorial. It turns out that “time immemorial” usually means something a lot closer to 1956 than people admit. Also it’s not so much “fixed” as it is “it would make someone else’s life easier if we tried a little harder”. That person also deserves a lunch sometime they could predict.

Still, meals have been a lot more flexible in their scheduling and content than we realize. This until we notice that we’ve been “a couple minutes late” on dinner every day for the last six years. Also that by “a couple minutes” we mean 95 minutes. Also that by dinner we mean “two items taken, at random, from the freezer and heated up”. This most recently included a chunk of orange juice concentrate dating to the 2008 Financial Crisis. That usually makes people aware of what they’re doing with mealtimes, momentarily.

Still, there are common patterns in the times of meals. Dinner, for example, used to be a midday meal, had somewhere around noon. This shifted in the early 19th century, when the busy residents of New York City found it was too much bother to get home at that hour. Dinner moved first to 2 pm, then to about 8 pm, then back to 6 pm. In 1934 it moved back to 11:30 am the next day. This had the neat side effect of ending the half-day of work on Saturdays, since otherwise Saturday dinner would interrupt Sunday brunch. And thus the modern weekend was born.

Dinner kept moving later and later, though, and people reasonably got fed up having to wait so long. Oh, that exciting day in 1955, though, when the whole population started to say, “you know, I am fed up with waiting for dinner” and then heard themselves say that out loud. So they started having a quick, supper-like meal, eaten at dinnertime. Dinner as we originally knew it faded away, except for historical reenactments. It’s currently estimated to be around 3:35 pm, two days after.

Lunch has often been around noon. The trick is when noon happens. Yes, we think of noon as being at that 12:00 that has a morning just before it. But that’s just the chance result of the French Revolutionary Calendar. What noon is supposed to be is “nine”. This is not necessarily nine in the morning, nor in the evening. It’s supposed to be nine hours past the moment that’s nine hours before noon. How that ended up at 12:00 remains a mystery. Anyway I usually eat lunch late myself.

Breakfast is an interesting meal to time. In the old days, sure, people were fasting all the time. It added some panache to the famine going on. But even when food was plentiful there were problems. You could see, for example, religious prohibitions against eating meat on Fridays or Tuesdays. Or against eating milk on unseasonably warm days. Against eating eggs that haven’t been kept in a pot of water. Against eating things with the letter “r” in them before the Apocalypse. The trouble with finding a thing to eat was resolved in the 13th century, when a series of church councils came around to the idea that when the letter “r” appears in “breakfast” it is serving as a kind of devotional bread. Happily these councils got the matters settled first thing in the morning, first day of the meeting. And so we have breakfast right at the start of the day.

Will there be new mealtimes yet invented? It’s hard to say. Most of us have settled into a modern pattern where we kind of keep grabbing small things and ingesting them. And we don’t have any time to do anything properly anymore. But what if research projects to inject new hours into the day, such as the experimental R o’clock, works? We might get something good yet.

Robert Benchley: Keep A Log

In my occasional travels I have not taken the advice of Robert Benchley in this piece from My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew, but I should have. Also, while this whole essay is a buffet of funny meaningless syllables, the thing Benchley reports finding at Lurding — itself a great name — is one of my favorite nonsense phrases. Made-up funny words are difficult for the writer, and harder for the reader, but Benchley shows off his deft touch from East Mipford on.

Keep A Log

In planning that automobile trip upcountry this Summer don’t forget to consult those notes you made last year when going over the same route. They’re in that combination log-book and Japanese fan that you took along for just that purpose.

These notes, most of which were jotted down en route, seem to have been made with the wrong end of the pencil. They are part lead-markings and part wood-carvings. It would be fun to dig up that pencil today, just to take a look at it and see where the lead stopped and the wood began.

To make things harder you apparently made the notes while taking part in a hill-climbing contest, when the car was at an angle of forty-five degrees. They are the work of a man in rather desperate straits to keep himself in his seat, to say nothing of indulging in the luxury of writing. You couldn’t have been as drunk as that.

The first one, jotted down with great difficulty, was made opposite the name of the town, East Mipford, fifteen miles from your starting place. It says, as nearly as you can make it out, simply “East Mipford.” This would seem rather silly. Presumably you already knew the name of the town, as it was right there in the map in plain letters. Why jot it down again in that round, boyish hand of yours? Possibly you were just practicing handwriting. God knows you needed practice!

Anyway, there is “East Mipford” and, opposite it, “East Mipford,” so East Mipford it is. It’s a good thing to know, at any rate.

The next bit of puzzle work was jabbed into the paper at Orkington. Here you saw fit to write “No sporfut.” Either this was meant as a warning that, at Orkington, one can get no “sporfut” or that it is dangerous to “sporfut” in or around, Orkington. If you had some clearer idea of what “sporfut” was you would know better how to regulate your passage through Orkington this year. The lack of “sporfut” last year must have been quite a trial to you, otherwise you wouldn’t have made a note of it. Well, better luck this time!

At Animals’ Falls you had what was designated as “lunch,” which is pretty easy to figure out. After it, however is written “Gleever House—Central Hotel—Animals’ Falls Spa.” It must have been a pretty good “lunch” to have included all three restaurants, and, as you made no designation of which was best, the only thing to do is try them all again this time.

Perhaps you will remember, after ordering at the Gleever House, that it was the Central Hotel which was the best. Perhaps you meant that all three were rotten and that you should go on to the next town before eating. The only way to find out is to try.

From then on you are confronted by such notations as “fresh cob” at Turkville (which may mean “fresh cop” or good “fresh corn on the cob”), “Emily” at North Neswick (which may be where you left Emily off), and “steening chahl” at Lurding, which obviously means nothing. You arrived at your destination, according to the log, at “27 o’clock.”

That is the value of a log-book. It makes the second trip seem so much more exciting.

What You Missed, At Lunch

Here are some of the things you missed at the fast food place during lunch:

Karen-with-a-y (we don’t know either), the cashier, is explaining the new Reuben sandwich to Craig, who’s never liked Reubens, although not to such an extent that he’d volunteer to jump into an alternate timeline where he sandwich was never invented. Actually, sometimes he gets a Reuben just because he enjoys how much he doesn’t like the taste or the texture or anything about it, especially grilled. Karen-with-a-y is explaining that their particular Reuben substitutes a chicken-based bologna-like substance for the corned beef, and uses cheddar in place of Swiss cheese, and the sauerkraut is replaced with a very dry cole slaw, and they’re making it with bleu cheese dressing. At this point Craig is just dragging out questions about what else is substituted because as far as he can tell the only actual part of the Reuben left is the rye bread, and he’s about to learn they’re serving it on a kaiser roll instead. Neither knows why the billboard out front spells the sandwich “Rueben”.

Underneath the ventilation system pumping enough heat to melt the styrofoam cups, the Books We Were Supposed To Read In School literary society is going over this month’s text, E M Foster’s Howards End, to correctly rank the order in which each character needs to be punched senseless. Mary-Lane, trying desperately to remember any of the characters from the book she’s spent the last two weeks reading, nominates “the fellow who’s starting a little automobile factory”, which draws general support as definitely deserving to be in the top five at least. A careful examination would reveal that they seem to be bringing a character from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons into the book, and not really fairly at that, but then Helen-with-an-e (no idea) is still sufficiently angry at Alec Clare from back in Tess of the d’Urbervilles that this drives the entire conversation, and everybody agrees he’s the most punchable character even in the eight books they’ve read since that one. While agreed to this point, Jack finds he is completely unable to deploy the trivia he found instead of reading the last quarter of the book, that the words “here”, “our”, “thought”, “through”, “Tibby”, and “why” all appear in the book 126 times each. James-with-a-j (as you’d expect) meant to agree to all this more prominently but found that a little too much work and settled for putting slices of lemon in his Diet Coke.

Carol is repeating to her group the story of how she went out of her way to warn the person watching over the self-service check-outs at the supermarket that someone, not her, abandoned a bag of frozen shrimp by the start of the check-out lane, and something should be done about that. She expects her friends to be more in agreement that the ages she spent at this — others would estimate it at about ten seconds — are probably why she’s been running behind schedule all month. While her heroic acclaim is slow to come everyone does agree that the shrimp shouldn’t have been abandoned like that and certainly somebody ought to have done something about that.

Vladimir, who had been staring at an empty table with a pile of napkins atop, has noticed that a button’s popped off his winter jacket. He’s never buttoned his jacket, not even when he tried the jacket on in the store, because he’s always afraid of buttons popping off and now to have it just come off by itself feels like a particularly unnecessary insult on the jacket’s part. He buries the loose button in the jacket pocket, which he never uses because he’s always sure he’ll forget whatever he’s put in there, and discovers the button that came off the other side of the jacket last winter that he resolved to get sewn back on just as soon as he thought of it. On reflection, he can’t figure where either button should go.

Pamela, taking her order out, crossed the street not because she needed to but because cars in both lanes of the road opposite saw her and came to a full stop. Given this attention it was too embarrassing to keep going where she actually meant to be.

Overall it was probably less awkward to bring lunch today.

Jokes You Can’t Play Anymore

So, all you people who’ve done that joke where you’re hanging out with a rhinoceros, maybe getting something at a White Castle or something, and you tell him he has something on his nose? And he keeps trying to wipe it off, but the thing you’re talking about is his horn, so obviously he can’t wipe it off however many napkins he grabs, and he finally goes into the bathroom to wash it off and sees? Yeah, real funny, guys. You know because of you there’s no way of telling a rhinoceros when he has got something on his nose? Why, the one I had lunch with today even took one of my jalapeno cheese burgers as payment for the inconvenience. So, good one all around.