Food for Thought
Death and Pancakes
A Village Inn-trospection
John Sumrow / johnsumrow.com
A fourfold leaflet from Village Inn arrives in my mailbox. I haven’t thought about V.I. for years. It’s not that I lie in bed at night willfully not thinking of Village Inn the way some people lie in bed willfully not thinking of shark attacks. V.I. is just another franchise sign on a stick that rolls by like telephone wire.
But something happens when I gaze at the flyer. A family of four—flaxen-haired, fun-loving—is taking their morning repast in a V.I. dining room. On the table and in the background, breakfast awaits and many things sparkle: shimmering pitchers of syrup, gleaming glasses of orange juice and milk, a pie case aglow with golden crusts, haloed meringues and stage-lit creams. It’s like paradise. Everyone in this breakfast idyll, server included, seems happy. And everyone but Dad is blond. Dad has brown hair.
It makes me feel funny, their happiness.
Could it be that each of them has, in his or her own manner, attained Carl Jung’s five elements of well-being? Physical fitness, good relationships, mindfulness of beauty, satisfactory work and a philosophical answer to suffering and adversity?
It’s hard to say, really, without more to go on.
Shimmering pitchers of syrup, gleaming glasses of orange juice and milk, a pie case aglow with golden crusts, haloed meringues and stage-lit creams. It’s like paradise.
I open the flyer.
Inside I find more Nordic types pointing at the pie case and dining family-style. But who cares? This is all Dullsville now next to the eye-popping pictures of V.I.’s offerings—lustrous sausage-shaped sausages; strawberry-red strawberry crepes; bacony Marcel waves of bacon; clip-art-perfect eggs—all in German farmhand-sized portions. Waxen and beautiful.
Hunger passes to alarm passes to hunger. I am alarmed at the soullessness of this soul food. It has become otherworldly, characterless in its idealization. Still, I want to devour it. What is happening? I go to the V.I. website—to learn more, to learn why I feel this way—and am greeted by four mysteriously levitating, swirly twirly pies. How that’s possible, I don’t know. But it torments me. I click on “About V.I.”
Three claims catch my eye:
1) Village Inn pies won 45 ribbons at the 2008 American Pie Competition. (Easy enough to prove, I guess.)
2) The Local Yokel Burger is an “eggstravagant experience.” (Could be true depending on your access to the finer things in life, such as eggs.)
3) V.I. provides “Good Food and Good Feelings at a reasonable price.” (The most sensational claim of all and one I dearly want to believe and discredit at the same time.)
What is V.I.’s game exactly? And why do I so badly want to go there?
If I’ve eaten there before, I don’t remember it. American diner mega-franchises merge in my memory, like one fever dream of colossal laminated menus, tall stacks and clinking cutlery.
I think about those four levitating pies. To mystics and numerologists the number four denotes stability, predictability and fulfillment. Conversely, it can symbolize stagnation, paralysis, intransigence.
Something is coming together now—we seek stability, security, predictable environments and menu fixedness to feel some sense of control over a dangerous, debauched and changing world. We seek four pies. We seek sparkling clean tabletops. We seek material and social order (of the golden-locked family variety).
The avoidance of change is ultimately avoidance of time moving forward. The inevitable result of time moving forward is death.
Could all of the funny feelings I’ve been having relate to my fear of dying? Or rather, my temptation to give in to a lotus- (read: pancake-) eating oblivion? Rather than face the messiness, the whiplash, the uncertainty of life (which a person would do if she realized we have just one brief crack at it), should I burrow my face in a coconut cream pie?
“50 Years of Serving America What America Wants,” the leaflet says, which may indicate that Village Inn is nothing more than a collective projection of the insecure, death-dodging American psyche—and the leaflet-writers know it.
I click back to the swirly twirly pies.
I don’t know how it happened, but I’m sitting in a booth at the V.I. on Yale by the Sunport. I look around. The staff is ethnically diverse, as is the clientele. Not many blonds to speak of. Isn’t this odd, I think. I have stepped into Village Inn, yet remained in Albuquerque.
I see a wisp of pocket lint on the floor and notice that the restaurant, though clean, is not immaculate.
I stuff my maw with hash browns, bacon strips, strawberry crepes and two eggs over hard. The hash browns are overdone and papery; the crepe, too, is slightly overcooked. The bacon is twiggy and black in spots. What I sense is this: It matters not. It’s still bacon. At least it’s authentic. Rather than disappointment, I feel relief: Village Inn is real and marches forward in time—despite what the flyer would have us believe. It will not deliver us from death.
I wish someone other than Village Inn would send me mail.