Like a ghost on a stormy night, the question arises: “Was your first baloney sandwich story, which you made to sound like the beginning of all creation, was that story real? Did it actually happen? Or did you just make it up whole cloth? Were you just funnin’? That’s what we want to know.”
“Only some of the names were changed to protect the guilty,” I reply and go on about the business of whittling a favorite stick of cedar.
I recall, as if it were only yesterday, but it was roughly 50 years ago, Joe Creason was sitting sideways at his desk against the wall on the fourth floor of The Courier-Journal building in Louisville. I’d come down from the sixth floor where the WHAS radio and television newsroom was located.
“Joe, I’m going down to Barkley County (there is no Barkley County in Kentucky, I’m just protecting the guilty) to do a little documentary, need some contacts, thought you might help.”
“Frolic Fain at Caninesville,” said Joe, who knew Kentucky like the lines in the palm of his hand. “Ask him for one of his baloney sandwiches and he’ll set you in the right direction.”
If there was anything that stood out about Mr. Fain and his grocery store it was the spit-polish shine on his meat-cutting machine. Mr. Fain’s meat-cutting machine was clean as a hound’s tooth. For miles around there might be unspeakable littering—everything from beer cans to abandoned refrigerators, junk cars to busted bedsprings—but inside Frolic Fain’s store, the meat-cutting machine was enough to have made the poets proud. If you looked at it too long it would make you blink. You could part your hair by what you saw in the surface of the meat-cutting machine.
“Mr. Fain, I’m from Louisville. Joe Creason said I should look you up.”
“Yessir, he did. You see, I’m doing this television documentary on the hydroelectric project. Joe said you have the best baloney sandwiches between here and Louisville.”
Mr. Fain turned to the refrigerator, reached inside and took out a long tube of baloney that looked like it’d been made in baloney heaven. He walked to the meat-cutting machine and threw the switch. That meat-cutting machine hummed like the sweet juice of glory. The blade turned in anticipation that it was about to do what it was meant to do since the coming of the Industrial Revolution.
Frolic Fain’s sure hand eased the tube of baloney toward the blade. When they touched, it was divine consummation. “Scrooommm,” they touched, and one slice lay over like a ballet dancer touching her toes. “Scrooommm,” and the second slice joined the first, a pas de deux (dance for two) to have made prima ballerina Dame Fonteyn proud.
Frolic gathered the two slices, married them between two slices of light bread, and laid the critter on the counter. He stood back and smiled. I bit into the sandwich and smiled back. Of such encounters do lasting friendships take root and grow with never a backward glance.
A few weeks later, I returned to Barkley County to do some clean-up work on my forgettable, one-man television documentary. I made several of those during my time at WHAS, and none cried out for Pulitzers or Emmys.
It was a hot summer day in Caninesville, and when I arrived at the crossroads I was more thirsty for a soft drink than I was hungry for another baloney sandwich. Wouldn’t you know it? Frolic Fain’s store was closed. There was a sign on the door, “Back in 30 minutes.” There was nothing to do but wait. I looked for some shade on the side of the building, and that’s where I came upon a sorry dog, an ugly dog, sleeping and snoring as if there were no tomorrow.
To Be Continued—next month the saga of the flea-bitten dog, the baloney sandwich, and Frolic Fain’s meat-cutting machine.