A few weeks ago I ran across an old manila folder containing a collection of columns I wrote for the Jacksonville Daily News more than 20 years ago — 1997 in fact. Because I still like a few of them, I’ll share one or two over the next few weeks.
Today I’m offering one first published on April 27, 1997. Some columns are simply about memories. This is one about a funny showdown I witnessed first hand from my childhood — only mildly exaggerated for comedic effect, mildly.
Here goes …
He wasn’t “The Kid,” not yet. It would take finesse, time, and some tears to become “The Kid.”
But it was coming. Everybody could see it. After all “The Kid” even in-waiting had all the signs. His determination was more steely than a piston. He had the glare of a pickpocket at a street festival.
And he had a slouch. He was no slouch at slouching this “Kid” to be.
What he lacked was a reputation. There was a question about his moxie. Most didn’t know if he could cut the mustard, or the mayonnaise.
But it would happen — and in an episode so ugly it would be recounted later and earn comparisons to the “Checkers” speech by Nixon or any random scene from movies by Adam Sandler. In fact he became “The Kid,” better known as “The Potato Salad Kid,” at the age of eight. I was a witness. “The Potato Salad Kid” is my brother.
Thus I knew the kid before he became “The Kid,” and even then his temper was already legendary even though he had yet to take up golf.
But no one thought that he would have the guts to call out the High Sheriff of Food Cops, the Marshal Matt Dillon of the range, and oven and spatula. She was also known by an alias — Mom.
House Rule No. 1 in those days started with “Don’t fool with mom.” It was especially foolhardy to challenge House Rule No. 2: All consumers must sample at least one bite of any item placed upon a plate.
Thus the battle line was drawn. It was potato salad at a table-length.
“Don’t like it,” my brother mumbled into his chest.
“You haven’t tried it,” Mom said. “You couldn’t possibly know if you like it or not.”
“Then you WON’T leave this table UNTIL you do.”
There it was. My father and I acknowledged this dreaded impasse and did the logical and safe thing — bolted to the living room, but still within earshot. We had to hear this go down.
“I’ll throw up,” my brother warned as he held a fork applied with a dab of rapidly aging potato salad.
“So throw up,” my mother countered from across the table, arms folded.
Clang of fork on plate.
“Sniff, sniff, waaaaaaaaaa …”
“. . . waaaaaaaaaaah!”
Gak, gak, ak-ak,” he moaned and attempted to place the now antique yellow goo on the back of his tongue for rapid and painless entry.
“Good, ” mom said, clearly exasperated with the entire ordeal.
Four seconds later “The Kid” ran to the bathroom for a quick deposit, the logical outcome of swallowing potato salad exposed to room temperature for the amount of time it takes to watch a 12-inning Major League Baseball game.
My brother was bruised but hardly broken by the ordeal. It did give him a big reputation briefly among the other kids in town who for months called him “The Potato Salad Kid.” Not sure he cared much for it in retrospect.
Twenty years later, long after everyone stopped calling him “The Potato Salad Kid” even though he still won’t touch the stuff, we discussed the episode and whether it ranked with the gunfight at the OK Corral or the third bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
“You know, mom apologized for that,” he said.
“Really, when?” I asked.
“About a month ago,” he said.
“The Kid” cut the mustard after all.