Sunday, August 07, 2005

Please Help You Elf

It's interesting to me that part of this "Intelligent Design" debate is actually going on in my state, Pennsylvania, which I prefer to think of as semi-civilized. After all, as a state we didn't go for Bush, we went for Kerry.

But, as the wife often reminds me, Pennsylvania consists of Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other end, and Alabama in the middle.

We're also the state that gave the country Rick Santorum and that has been host to a growing racist and Aryan Youth presence.

All of which can be easy to forget when you live near Philadelphia.

About a hour away from us, though, lies the Amish Country of hex signs, horses and buggies and Shoo-Fly Pies. Not to mention some rather obscenely large all-you-can-eat buffets. At the moment there's even a television commercial running here touting a "Witness Tour" that tries to recreate the ambience of the Harrison Ford film by taking you through Lancaster County.

There's one buffet there that we like to visit every so often. It's one of the more reasonably priced deals and features what can only be described as a staggeringly enormous variety of combestibles, from sausage and meatballs and veal parmagiana to salmon and strip steak and salad. An endless corridor of consumption that makes the mind reel, the heart beat faster, and the stomach grow fuller.

The only thing about going there is that, from the minute you get off the turnpike exit, you go from Blue State to Red State awfully quick.

For every scenic fruit stand or horse and buggy, there's a billboard advertising a Christian radio program with a hand-painted pair of praying hands.

Similar signs and sentiments appear more frequently the further you travel until the flags become ubiquitous and you get the strange feeling that you zigged when you should have zagged.

So by the time you arrive at the buffet, you're not fazed by the enormous plaque of the Ten Commandments in the Dining Room, or the free Christian literature available by the door.

One of my favorite displays is the little pamphlet holder that sits between the Men's and Women's restrooms, like a referee between Adam and Eve. The rectangular plastic container for the pamphlets, decorated with individually gummed letters intended to spell out "Please Help Yourself" but now missing some consonants, sits in this wooden model of a dinosaur that resembles the one from the sign at the old Sinclair gas stations. It's painted green and hanging from its head is a small piece of wood that's been cut into the shape of a question mark.

As your eyes travel down to the pamphlets, they're met by the title, "What Really Happened To The Dinosaurs?" A skimming of the contents makes plain that the author has got a bone to pick with evolution. Several ancient bones, in fact. The main problem seems to be that we've been brainwashed by the secular society into believing in Darwinism, when we should be using The Bible ("The Ultimate History Book!") as our bedrock of belief and proceed from there.

And all this is only an hour away from my house.

A rainbow of assorted puddings and desserts quickly helps to take the sting out of this sort of thing, however, although there was an incident that once prompted us to complain.

There was this one time that we went when, halfway through our meal, we noticed a party of folks come in, one of whom was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a large black swastika.

There was something very surreal about this. Here, in the middle of a roomful of Norman Rockwell Americans picking at their mountains of food underneath a giant copper plaque of the Ten Commandments, sat this beefy looking skinhead with his Nazi t-shirt and everyone was behaving as if it were perfectly normal.

We got up and complained to the manager, who seemed confused and eager to get rid of us. She explained that there had been times when they'd asked diners to turn shirts inside-out when people found them offensive. She promised she'd look into the matter, but by the time we were finished eating he was still sitting there, cramming food into his mouth.

I don't blame the manager for not knowing what to do, though. After all, she's still trying to work out the whole dinosaur thing.


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