“Fish tacos that you’ll never forget” he promised me. “Oh ya?” was my suspicious response. It was masked, but I left a touch of cynicism hidden in laughter. Just enough to get a rise. After all, we were inland. Very inland for my seafood taste. In Bentonville, Arkansas, specifically. I grew up on the coast, so the touch of cynicism was more out of respect than subtle doubt. Of course the plate of Ozark mountain oysters I had the night before wasn’t helping in my disbelief either. Still, I was intrigued to see what “the sea” had to offer here. If anything It’d be a good excuse to poke fun and laugh, or on the off chance…be as advertised and never forgotten. “Man, just y’all wait and see what Arkansas has to offer tomorrow” came out in a horrid accent that came from being from outside of Boston and inebriated, kicking off the all so familiar banter back and forth. This is what the trip was all about – just old friends catching up.
Local brews and local moonshine blur the night’s reunion, but I’m sure it was imaginary state pride that drove the humor for the night. A yank and a transplant masquerading as a hick all in character and telling one another why the other was backwards could sum up the night. The backdrop of the light humor was far more somber though, and would end up being far more ironic. As the night drew on and we caught up, the movie Zero Dark Thirty, which had been playing in the background, slowly pulled our attention into seriousness and into conversations like “that day I was…” and “I’ll never forget what I was doing…” and of course “Enlisted and never deployed? You were a lucky bastard. A stupid one, but a lucky one.” Each memory of that time was punctuated by a playful slight. For some reason that made the seriousness of the conversation bearable.
The next day found us at the Frying Fish. We entered through the doorway under the “lent central” sign.
“Forgot we were bible belting. You’ll be saying grace, right?” I asked while holding the door open.
“This ain’t bible belting y’all. This is marketing central for corporate U.S.A. ‘Merica.” was the reply, and the truthful one.
As we stepped in and ordered I took in the surroundings. Green and white checkered the tablecloths, while photos of best catches, and fake singing fish checkered the walls. This seemed gimmicky enough that it might actually be good.
At that point a phone was pulled out, a message was read, reread, and the words fell out. “Boston was just bombed. At the marathon.” Then long silence.
We ate quietly with eyes on the television perched in the corner. Somberly, wanting to be home. A sarcastic “thanks for ruining my trip” helped us smile briefly. Was it OK to laugh?
Roll call slowly came through breaking the mood. Texts came from all over, from people near and dear to those almost forgotten. “Saw the news…are you OK?” “Thinking of you and those you know.” “…and you thought tornados would be the only thing you had to worry about this week.” “We’re all OK.” “Just found them and they’re safe.”
Funny how something so horrible can make you feel so homesick. It would certainly be an interesting trip home too.
But was the food good?! It very well could’ve been the best I’ve ever had, but I’ll never be able to tell you how it tasted. The forewarning still holds true though – a year later now, and those were fish tacos that I will never forget for the rest of my life.