As a follow-up to our birthday post on George HW Bush, we present this 1988 newspaper column by writer Calvin Trillin, who recently caused an uproar of outrage with his New Yorker poem on Chinese cuisine. Here he takes on the peculiarities of the WASP diet. It was sent to Ivy Style by reader CW, who penned the last Tales From The Twilight essay.
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Poor George: Pork rinds are preppie, too
By Calvin Trillin
I realize that I was expected to take a stand on pork rinds right away. Last month, when George Bush mentioned his love of pork rinds as an example of why he has been unfairly typed as a rich Eastern preppy, it was my role as a columnist to say something like, “That does it: anybody who eats pork rinds is a regular guy,” or, if I had remained unimpressed, “Pork rinds served in silver bowls that have been in the family for generations don’t count.”
Before I discussed the matter, though, I wanted to consult an old college friend of mind who’s a rich Eastern preppy. I guess I wanted to find out from the viewpoint of rich Eastern preppies themselves whether a rich Eastern preppy who was caught eating pork rinds would lose his certification. But my friend, Thatcher Baxter Hatcher, was away on a yachting trip.
I might as well admit that Thatcher Baxter Hatcher is not the only rich Easter preppy I number among my acquaintances, even though I’m a regular guy who enjoys nothing more than a package of barbecue-flavored corn-nuts washed down with a six-pack of Grain Belt. I know several rich Eastern preppies, all of whom have three last names, and the sort of nickname you might give a hound dog — Brewster Barton (Pudge) Brewton, say, or Thorton Horton (Mutt) Houghton.
But I decided to wait for Thatcher Baxter Hatcher, because he’s a particularly authentic example of the type. He has three last names, of course, and a nickname (Tush). He wears pink buttondown shirts that he bought in 1954. He talks with his teeth clenched, in an accent most scholars of the American vernacular refer to as Locust Valley Lockjaw. He plays a game called court tennis, which has rules so complicated that you can understand them only if your grandfather understood them.
A long time ago, not many years after he bought his pink shirts, Thatcher Baxter Hatcher took me to some parties at the fancy clubs he belongs to. I sure didn’t see any pork rinds. I would have noticed if there had been any, because, considering the food I was given at those parties, I would have been grateful for the appearance of a package of stale Cheese Doodles.
I discovered that people in a truly fancy club eat food that has no taste at all; I later realized that they associate spices and garlic and schmaltz with just the sort of people they’re trying to keep out of the club. The standard hors d’oeuvres in one of those places is a piece of processed cheese on a day-old slice of Wonder bread, with the crust cut off for a touch of class.
Anyway, as soon as Tush Hatcher returned from his yachting trip, I dropped by to see him at his place in Long Island. He looked about the same except that his pink shirt was a bit more frayed and his teeth had clenched up a little more, making me think that by the time he’s Social Security age he won’t be able to be understood at all. He brought a tray of drinks out to the porch, and I was astonished to see that what he brought for us to nibble on was a bowl full of Doritos jalapeno-flavored taco chips.
“I didn’t know you folks ate this sort of thing, Tush,” I said.
“They’re my favorites, except maybe for smoky bacon-flavored potato chips,” he said.
“Well, I’m amazed, Tush,” I said. “I just assumed that what you would have with a drink was some of those finger sandwiches that taste like balsa wood.”
“Then you remember the food at our clubs,” Thatcher Baxter Hatcher said. “Well, boarding school food is even worse, so all of us get hooked on packaged junk. We all ate so many of those little packages of crackers with peanut butter that some people think that’s why we can’t separate our teeth when we talk.”
“I never knew, Tush,” I said.
“Beer nuts,” he said. “Beef jerky. Corn chips. Cheese-flavored popcorn.”
“But surely not pork rinds,” I said.
“Oh, sure,” Tush said. “Remember Parsons Peyton Perkins?”
“Exactly. How do you think he got that name? Eating pork rinds at the St. Paul’s School.”
I guess George Bush is going to have to come up with something else to eat if he wants to get de-typed. I suggest that he reveal an addiction to Frito Pie, a Texas specialty that’s made by pouring chili — canned chili in the absolutely authentic versions — into a package of Fritos and shaking vigorously. I’m sure it’s safe. Thatcher Baxter Hatcher had never heard of Frito Pie, and when I described it to him he just shuddered.
Shirt by Mercer & Sons.
This is quite good. Thank you for posting as I have not seen it before. The backlash from Mr. Trillin’s poem on Chinese food is to me quite telling of the times in which we live. Most everyone wants to play victim and few can take a joke.
And speaking of taking a joke, that documentary on that very topic comes out later this summer.
10/10 – reads like a White Stillman short.
Reminds of Boston’s Tavern Club where the staple is New England clam chowder and only served with Pilot Crackers. Does anyone know where Pilot Crackers can be found in New York?
On the way back from California in 1975, we had orders for seven cases of Coors, unobtainable east of the Mississippi. At the liquor store in KC, I notice a canned beer with the blandest label I’d ever seen, and felt compelled to try it: Grain Belt, best canned beer I ever had.
Not just trust-funded preppies, but anybody who lived in dorms eventually developed tastes for a wide variety of semi-exotic junk food.
Thanks, Christian. Very funny. It reminded me a bit of Chris Buckley’s “Three Martini Debate” (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1992/10/12/the-three-martini-debate). Trillin’s so-called Tummy Trilogy and Travels with Alice are also personal favorites.
Grain Belt – “The Friendly Beer with the Friendly Flavor”
CC, you’re making my week with all these GHWB concatenations! My mother is appalled at all the “trash” I eat. I tell her it’s from years of eating her ersatz Julia Child concoctions. That and all the cheese/PB and saltines.
Very funny. I was raised in New England, never saw a pork rind until I went to school in the South. I did have a couple of roommates who would eat these disgusting hot sausages that came in a giant gallon jar in some sort of brine….barf.
Those “disgusting” sausages are Penroses, and they, Sir, are a pure delight. Especially when accompanied by pickled eggs, and washed down with a sufficiency of beer.
@NCJack – I’ll be doing my level best to stay well upwind of you as you indulge in those snacks
@Cameron, I once ran myself out of my own bedroom after such a banquet