No Doubt Cayenne Pepper

My rib shack will feature Voodoo Sauce and other hot stuff.

So I was telling Dogpark Gary, who frowns on drinking, that bourbon is like an herbal cure for me, that I keep it in the medicine cabinet next to the Robitussin and the skin creams.

He scoffed, for Dogpark Gary scoffs at most everything I say, because it’s mostly conjecture and speculation…there are no facts to it, and I give only a passing glance at the truth.

Like when I told him that bourbon makes the chambers of your heart grow bigger, that it generates warm thoughts and good intentions. He shrugged: “Where do you come up with this stuff?”

Still, Dogpark Gary believes in me as a person. For that, I am grateful.

Otherwise, I seem surrounded by goofs and wise guys who take nothing seriously. Last night, my son Smartacus laughed so hard at his own stupid joke that I had to Heimlich him…hug him from behind and lift him off the floor, till the choking laughter passed and he could fully breathe again.

Or maybe he swallowed a fork? Who knows the way he eats…

In any case, there we were in the kitchen, hopping around like kangaroos, him laughing and me assuring him that “I GOT THIS! YOU’RE JUST CHOKING ON YOUR OWN STUPID JOKE!” which just made him laugh all the harder.

Then White Fang joined in, jumping happily about…assuming we were having some sort of dance contest, and we all wound up on the floor in a big heap of sweat and convulsing laughter.

We hadn’t even finished our salads yet. I knew then, it would be one of those silly dinners, absent good behavior and serious concern.

So you see now why Dogpark Gary’s faith in me means so much. He sees in me great promise, though I have done little to earn that. Mostly I blow off responsibility and defer to tomorrow what I should be doing today. The only things I finish are free drinks.

“Maybe you should open a rib shack,” he told me the other morning, as our dogs romped in the park.

I was flattered by that…by the very notion that someone thought I was the sort of individual who could make a real go of a full-service rib shack.

We have a lot of amenities in our little town – a hundred nail salons and 400 dry cleaners, a few dozen liquor stores for the countless Chardonnay Moms. But no rib shacks, not a one.

If you want ribs, you have to drive 10 minutes to Pasadena, which no one really wants to do. The freeways there are like pretzels and it’s easy to get turned around. You go to get on the 210 and suddenly you’re on the 134 to Glendale, and no one really know why, or how that works. And no one really wants to go to Glendale either. Even less so.  

Anyway, I told Dogpark Gary that I would serve a combo: ribs and chicken and little else, since the biggest mistake most rib shacks make is to serve too many items, like brisket, “which takes forever and life’s too short.”

“I understand,” he says.

I would also serve Jalapeno cornbread, which requires taking two cuisines – hillbilly and Mexican – and blending them together. The hipsters call that “fusion,” so technically I could go on Instagram and tout my little rib shack as, “LA’s hottest new fusion joint. Get here quick before it catches fire, or the health department shuts us down!”

It would help, if you ever decide to eat at my new rib shack, to have several large and elastic stomachs: one for the ribs, one for the chicken, one for the Jalapeno cornbread. That way, you could get the most out of the daily combo – ribs-chicken-cornbread – that would come in a red-checkered box with moist towelettes, like in the ’60s.

My food is the kind that gets between your fingers and never leaves. Nor would you want it to. Turpentine helps but there is always that stickiness, that residue, that keepsake.

Like everyone in LA, I’m looking for investors. Buy-in is a cool $50k, but that includes free parking and bottomless Mountain Dew. Other than that, you get no preference at all, except for maybe a toot of bourbon from under the counter.

I suspect a lot of stuff will be passed “under the counter.” Smoked dog bones, since I like dogs. You could pull up, and I’d give you a nice beef bone for free. Your dog would just have to lick at my knuckles a moment, something I really enjoy, don’t know why.

If you were an investor — or a nice Chardonnay Mom (nice ones are kinda rare) — you could get that toot of bourbon, which would have a smokey flavor like the ribs.

You could also buy a jar of my Famous Voodoo Sauce, which is the roux I make for gumbo, a muddy primordial gravy that you can use on anything – cuts, bruises, abrasions.

Voodoo Sauce will restore the finish of your car and rid your trees of aphids. Delicious over rice, too, with a few shrimp or some shredded chicken. Surprisingly even the kids like it.

No one knows what’s in the Famous Voodoo Sauce – not even me — but there might be a splash of bourbon, and no doubt cayenne pepper.

I think that was a Neville Brothers song, wasn’t it: “No Doubt Cayenne Pepper.” If not, it should be. It would fit nicely with their other hits, “Mojo Hannah” and “Hey Pocky Way.”

Our stuffy and annoyingly successful little town could use some Neville Brothers music, just as it could use a rib shack. I would blare their songs from the speakers at the drive-thru. The more enlightened parents would be thrilled to expose the kids to the Nevilles. Talk about fusion. And stuff that’s good for the heart.

Anyway, I told Dogpark Gary that I liked his idea for the rib shack, though lately my ribs have been a little chewy, and I seem to have lost my touch with chicken as well.

I trace it to my attempt to take a rack of ribs to Pastor Gary, in a poorly veiled attempt to sneak my way into Heaven through the slappy screen door in the back.

To be honest, I’ve missed a bit of church, and I don’t tithe like I probably should. So I see these ribs as my last shot at a comfortable eternal life. A Hail Mary, so to speak, a big looping throw into Heaven’s end zone, where I’d like to one day keep a condo.

This seems almost an allegory, the poor villager whose only shot at Heaven is an aromatic dish he’s forgotten how to make. As if God spots this duplicity and robs him of all hope, decides it’s some sort of “teachable moment” for duplicitous folks everywhere.

I hate those more than anything — teachable moments. Really, they’re just opportunities for know-it-alls to lash out and feel better about themselves. There’s no altruism to it.

That should be the lesson God is giving. I mean, what could be more relevant to today —  a smackdown to know-it-alls?

Is it no wonder I’m never serious? There’s really no future in it, and when I do get serious and responsible, it’s as if God herself (or himself…if you insist) intervened and said, “NO! NO! NO! I know that little dude. He’s a wise guy. That’s why we make pool halls and race tracks and dingy little dive bars with lousy bathrooms, all for men like him.”

“Sure, he’s an idiot,” an archangel will say. “But have you tasted his ribs? I mean…”

“I know, I know,” God will say. “But lately they’re a little chewy.”

Which is how I know God is a woman.

I’ll show you how to make Voodoo Sauce at our pre-Super Bowl Bash, Saturday, Feb. 6, at 6 pm. Please  email your RSVP here and we’ll send a Zoom link to the first 100 households to respond. Also, how about a Valentine’s hike Feb. 13? No RSVPs accepted yet, but please stay tuned for details. Meanwhile, please support us, enjoy past columns, sign up for stuff, at: chriserskinela.com   

11 thoughts on “No Doubt Cayenne Pepper

  1. Did you ever enter Mike Royko’s Rib Fest at Soldier Field? That scene was crazy.
    We have a Food club called “Swine and Dine”. Feed us dinner and you get a murano Glass Pig from Venice.

  2. Today’s column was the best. I couldn’t stop
    laughing. I really enjoy your stories something for me to really look forward too.

  3. Atta boy Chris…. just like the Nevilles… Tell like it is!!
    Mean Chardonnay moms wilt under a nice Buffalo Trace toot!
    Bring on the ribs!

  4. Have been remiss this week in responses to your wonderful epistles. My Mom fell Monday morning 4am and this week has been doctors,nurses and physical therapists. Not to mention the pain she’s been suffering. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. But she’s sleeping now, and I am simultaneously reading your two books. As I said a while back , your words are a balm for the soul, a tonic for an exhaustive week. Even though we have never met, your writings are like comforting letters from a treasured friend. Yes to snowy eastern winters, California sunsets, ribs, (my late husband made killer ribs with my secret sauce.) My favorite line from ‘ Lavender’ “Daughters are the heartbeats Mothers leave behind.” I nominate you for Poet Laureate of these United States of America!

  5. The usual suspects chimed in with aves, I note. But my sycophantic appetito did a worm turn at the mention of those ribs. You should be the target of every unaligned babe on the block for your culinary stirring around, not to mention the gustatory enthusiasm of the writing. I can’t wait to share my recipe for turkey chili with you on a hike, sometime. Real West Texas Chili aficionados have told me it compares favorably with the flamethrower original sans the lava, but with the spicy wriggle of a border queen on steroids, and the expansive warmth of wintered country soul with its feet to the fire. Anything evoking such extravagant hyperbola might be worth a try for a becalmed midwestern Irishman with a bent towards culinary mayhem. The Jameson Old Fashioneds about to be unleashed here tonight are lofted to you, oh! gourmet troubadour. The aromatic riffs you entertain would be more than enough to get any ersatz wolf to hang around the kitchen, their nose humming along to the bubbling music of life playing there. As has been said many times…

    “Rock and Roll will always fly,
    The beat of its wings in eating,
    The whole this brings will never lie,
    As there is love in its repeating, Refrain it’s encore of control,
    A kitchen concert of the soul”.

    Alas, I’m quoting myself. Bon appetite !!

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