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Midlife Crisis Crossover Celebrates 2,000th Entry with Gratuitous Food Metaphors

Indiana State Fair 2009!

Portrait of the author at the 2009 Indiana State Fair.

At times blogging can be like State Fair food science.

You stake out your square footage at the fairgrounds and set up your booth. You decide what sort of items you’re pushing. Booths come in a variety of cuisine specializations. You could stick to the classics like many of the other concession stands around you. It’s not hard to attract an audience for ice cream, cotton candy, elephant ears, lemon shake-ups, tenderloins, burgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, barbecued meats, or basic soft drinks, which will never go out of style.

Do what they do. Serve what they serve. Earn what they earn. Smile like they smile. Assuming you can cook and your booth isn’t hidden in a remote corner behind the reeking animal barns. But you get into a rhythm and repeat it for years and years and years until your need to do it passes. Until then you’re happy, your clientele is fed and keeps coming back, and you have no reason to break the cycle.

Some entrepreneurs get an itch to try something different. Some chefs tire of cranking out the norm. Some dabblers in the culinary arts don’t cotton to conforming. Fairs and carnivals have grown their own cottage industry tailored to foodies who want frivolous foodstuffs that are bad for them but not the same old bad-for-them. They want all-new, all-different bad-for-them.

So experiments happen. Uncommon ingredients. Unusual prep procedures. Unheard-of combinations. Flavor profiles are created or modified or damaged in head-on collisions with each other, for better or worse.

Sometimes you get chocolate-covered bacon. Salt and sugar. Meats and sweets. Breakfast and dessert. Forty years ago you might have been branded a heretic who wasted some poor pig’s life for the vain sake of tampering in God’s domain. Today, though, you might see customers forming a steady line for that indulgent privilege of a few slices of Hershey-fied hog.

Other times you wind up with elephant ear pizza. You ditch all the sweet and go fully savory. Maybe it sounds like a good idea at the time. Pizza is a beloved idol of millions, and elephant ear dough and pizza dough aren’t too distant from each other on bread’s family tree. The components. by themselves on the pantry shelf, have solid track records. But then you slather the pizza sauce on the freshly fried elephant ear, toss on a bit of cheese, and watch would-be consumers scrunch their nose at you in confusion and walk to the stand next door for a funnel cake instead.

You realize, hopefully sooner rather than later, there’s a reason elephant ear pizzas aren’t on menus worldwide, nationwide, statewide, or even on fake restaurant menus in Hollywood comedies. It’s not because no one ever considered the idea and you’re the first maverick in the universe to add two plus two and get “pizza ear”. Quite the contrary, you have sinned against fair food. You can keep cranking them out to satisfy yourself and the one or two loners tuned into your same wavelength, or you can cease that misfire and find a better use of your time and resources.

Once in a blue moon, you find yourself holding a donut burger.

Donut Burger 2010!

Portrait of the author at the 2010 Indiana State Fair

It’s another, bigger date for the winning couple of sweet-and-savory, holding hands. The name is self-explanatory. Grilled red meat meets Krispy Kreme glaze. The eater wanders the street in a thousand-calorie haze.

Some gaze upon this work, ye healthy, and despair. Some swear it glows like the Pulp Fiction briefcase and they simply must have it at all costs. The pro-donut-burger and anti-donut-burger factions don’t get each other. They fight, and fight, and fight and fight and fight.

Meanwhile, the donut burger man keeps flipping those burger patties and keeps declaring it’s time to make the donuts. You’ve found your fairground niche. Imitators are possible but extremely unlikely. You’re aware that maybe you’re strange and definitely not the fair’s biggest or most beloved attraction. On the best days you’re curiously happy anyway. In your weaker moments you worry one day it’ll just be you and the donut burgers and no takers, leaving you alone to build a donut burger fort.

Then better days dawn, and you hope you can keep cranking out the donut burgers for as long as that satisfaction sticks with you, until they wrest the spatula from your greasy hands, drain the shortening from your fryers, unplug your grill, foreclose on your booth and tow it away to make room for corn dog stand #52,006.

I mean, corn dogs are okay. They have their place and their appeal. But in a Creation sprawling with countless ingredients and recipes from a multitude of lands and cultures, sometimes it’s invigorating to stray from the old, narrow menu.

That’s kind of what blogging has felt like.

Seven years across 2,000 entries. A smattering of 200-word quickies. Quite a few entries in the 3000- to 5000-word range. A handful nonfiction novelettes. Somewhere in the 1000- to 2000-word range is the mode, as my averages go.

Sometimes it feels like I have to put up an awful lot of elephant ear pizzas before I find another donut burger. But when it happens, I can feel the difference and all that grease was worth it.

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