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August 4, 2011

From Fly Creek: Selling, Fly Creek style

A loyal Fly Creeker, I always try to tout new hamlet businesses. One has recently popped up, and maybe you’ve already noted it. The Kantor family of Portabello’s, after adding a great new lunch menu, has now spun off a subsidiary.

Third-generation Logan Kantor, aged nine, is manning a handsome homemade lemonade stand at the front of the Portabello’s parking lot, and he’s offering a great product. Logan’s lemonade has a secret ingredient suggested by his chef dad, one that makes for a really fresh flavor.

And besides the lemonade itself, it’s worth a stop just to enjoy Logan’s high seriousness about his business. In time, this kid’s going to own the whole operation.

And, on the subject of entrepreneurship, it’s happened to me again: I’ve been stricken by inspiration at the Fly Creek General Store.

Maybe Tom Bouton is slipping something in the morning coffee there since, besides me, it’s getting to other customers, too.

The other morning I saw a woman leaning over the ATM, scribbling feverishly on a scrap of paper, pausing, then scribbling again. Maybe she’d been suddenly hit by inspiration--a sonnet, or at least a haiku. And I saw another customer, a man, take a few sips of his coffee and walk slowly to the far end of the store, where he just stood staring at milk cartons and packets of cream cheese. What  was shaping up behind hisglazed eyes?

I’m just waiting for Gordy Robinson to stop short in midpolitical commentary, stare fixedly ahead with one raised hand, and begin declaiming lines from “The Iliad”: “Son of Atreus, what manner of speech has escaped the barrier of your teeth?”

My own inspiration struck me on a weekday morning, sitting at my usual corner table, watching people come and go, reveling in the rich, varied culture of Fly Creek. (Some say that our “culture” should be understood, not through social science, but in the Petri dish sense; but never mind them.) That morning the deli counter was especially pressed by customers ordering breakfast muffins and, from the big overhead menu board, lunch sandwiches to go. I could see that the store’s pleasant staff was harried, trying to prepare and wrap earlier orders, and at the same time take down the details for the lunch sandwich orders--kinds of meat, cheese, and bread; combination toppings of lettuce, tomato, onion; optional condiments like pickles, mustard, ketchup, etc. Of course I am an empathetic sort, and so I sat wondering how to help that harried staff.

Then, as I sipped Tom’s coffee, my caffeinated gray cells leaped onto the problem like a cat onto a hapless dog. I fixed eyes on the crowded menu board. If the standard sandwiches up there were numbered,  I thought, a patron couldjust ask for “Number seven, extra mustard.” That would certainly be more efficient. But then it struck me--a far better way!

Not numbers, but NAMES.

And not just cutesy names like “Snap Dragon” (really hot chili) or “ Rescue Dog” (wiener with sauerkraut). I mean PEOPLE’S NAMES, names of the regular customers whose quirks and vagaries give the General Store its special energy and panache.

Why not, for instance, a sandwich named for Reid Nagelschmidt, whose barbershop shop is just across the road from the FCGS? Reid is arguably the world’s tallest barber, so why shouldn’t a customer call out, “I’ll have a ‘Nagelschmidt’ with extra mayo,” and get in return a triple-decker club sandwich, any style? Why can’t one order an “Ed Hobbie with hot sauce?” That would be anything from the menu board’s far left side, chopped up and pounded flat. Or a “Bob la Duke,” anything on the menu’s far right side, similarly treated.

And why not a Tom Bouton— thinly spread Crisco on day-old bread heels, lightly salted, other condiments extra? Or a Gerry Selan—braised squirrel and gravy over biscuits? Or an Adrian Kuzminski—razor-thin slices of hard cheddar and dried beef on melba toast? Or a Rev. Tom Pullyblank—roast lamb and bitter herbs on matzo?

And this scheme should honor some great characters of the store’s past, too: Our late, beloved Mary Anne Wiloughby, whose attitude towards “outsiders” calls for smoked tongue with horseradish and hot mustard.

And Arrie Hecox, honored with road-kill mixed meat. And for the genial, legendary Duffy? Welsh rarebit, I’d say, the cheese sauce heady with dark lager.

And for Higgie? Let’s recall his steady faith in the lottery with a “luck of the draw” sandwich.

So many more! Tight-lipped Jack Aufmuth, and dear, sunny Dotty Aufmuth, so recently gone. And Rastus Bouton and Florence Michaels. And Ed Jesienowski, whose own joy in his awful jokes made us laugh right along with him. Oh, and George Turner, lover of all things edible! George, who, with help from Douglas McArthur, won the war in the Pacific.

If you like my idea, reinforce it, please, with the Fly Creek General Store’s owner/manager/ ringmaster. And you could hint that I might like to be a named sandwich, too—though I’m uneasy about leaving its contents to Tom’s imagination. I’m guessing he’ll say a combo of tongue, headcheese, and mostly ham.

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