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Of Love, Crown Royal and Swedish Meatballs

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Roach stirred the drink with his little finger and then sucked the finger.

"Go ahead," I egged. "What happened then?"

"So we're in the grocery store and we're wearing overcoats even if it's July because we are shoplifting steaks. Only as we get in the check-out line, the cashier hits the register and ­ BINGO! ­ a little red star pops up. Dane is a 'Red Star Customer,' and he wins $500. So the store manager comes out and someone's got a digital camera and they want to take a picture of Dane, their little Red Star baby. And he's got the steaks under his overcoat, and he's sweating like he's having a melt-down 'cuz the meat's starting to drip and there's blood running down his leg all over his khaki pants."

Roach shook his head in shaggy disbelief and stirred and sucked some more.

"Dane's what, your sister's kid?" Yogi asked guilelessly. "He's a darling child. He starts you thinking along the lines of a vasectomy."

"Don't get too personal about kids who call you uncle," Roach reminded. "Even now I am gazing at your sister's kid and she looks as hard as Army chocolate."

"She looks pretty good in that chartreuse pants suit," I disagreed. "And she'll look even better in a bridal gown."

"Sprinkling sugar on a toad don't make it a Danish," persisted Roach, looking around for another drink.

"Watch your dirty mouth," warned Yogi. "Especially when it's wrapping around my niece's Crown Royal and Swedish meatballs."

"And fine additions they are to my weekend, too," I pointed out. "I like that engagement parties are a great way to bring families together."

"Why would anybody wanna do that?" theorized Roach, using his lower body to block the retreat of a waiter with a tray full of drinks with little umbrellas in them.

We quickly emptied the tray and surveyed the surroundings. It was a veterans' hall of some kind, so there were a lot of photographs on the wall of P-51 Mustangs and old guys with festooned overseas caps.

"Why do they wear those caps with all that stuff sewed on?" wondered Roach.

"Because they served their country and were proud of it," The Professor asserted. "Did you ever do that before the penal system interfered?"

"Yeah, some judge gave me a choice," Roach wistfully recalled while picking his teeth with one of the little umbrellas. "Into the Army or back into jail. I picked the Army. For six and a half days anyhow."

We sipped our drinks, which tasted a lot like oatmeal without magnolia milk. Our attention went to a young man whose impressive girth was only partly contained by a Hawaiian shirt.

"Jeez," murmured Jimmy Chimichanga. "The last thing I seen that big had planes on its decks."

"I recognize what's on his shirt," The Professor explained. "It's the island of Kauai. Although the actual island of Kauai is somewhat smaller, I believe."

"Easy, easy," pleaded Yogi. "There stands my niece's soon-to-be husband."

"I hope he's a pizza chef," noted Jimmy.

"Did you read that Bill Clinton said American obesity is costing the American taxpayer millions of dollars? He said we've got to change our culture," contributed The Professor, who stays abreast of developments like this.

"He's got a nerve," opined Roach. "Has he looked at his wife lately? No, scratch that. Why would he do that?"

"He ain't gonna hurt the economy," reasoned Yogi. "In a few more years, some escalator's gonna bust in some mall and he's gonna croak climbing the steps. And the American taxpayer's gonna save a lotta bucks on Social Security and Medicare."

"Yeah, but you gotta give Clinton credit," insisted Jimmy. "He's a great actor. If he had a glass eye, he could get it to shed tears."

Someone noticed that the waiters with the food trays were coming around about as often as mailmen do now. Roach worried that I was looking a bit glazed.

"OK, I was having a fantasy," I confessed. "No, not another about actually hearing Paris Hilton speak English, but one involving plates of Oysters Alvin and bread pudding in whiskey sauce from the Bon Ton Restaurant."

"Cut it out!" sharply directed The Prof. "You're starting to sound like one of those professional New Orleanians, name-dropping relentlessly and worrying what's to become of our culture, which they've studied firsthand for some months now."

The band started warming up. I could see a clarinet, a tuba, a drum, a dobro and an accordion, so my natural optimism waned somewhat.

"The price of Crown Royal and Swedish meatballs goes up by the minute," contended Jimmy as the band struck its initial notes.

"You couldn't see this many white people in Germany," Roach maintained.

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