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A Bird in the Hand 

Plus, two in the Busch

There are certain advantages to working for a weekly alternative paper. A writer can luxuriate in a story, spend a few days on it, and deliver it in a descriptive, lively brand of language that the daily papers might not be able to use, thanks to cultural timidity and a phalanx of editors larger than our entire editorial staff. We have less corporate meddling as well, so one is given free rein to produce very lively stories, as long as the facts and figures are there to back it up. And who's kidding whom? Sometimes we can even cuss in print!

BUT -- as Pee Wee Herman said, "Everybody's got a big "but'" -- there are certain disadvantages to working at a weekly. Like when you're told on a Thursday morning that due to Thanksgiving deadlines your little column, usually due by 11am Monday morning, needs to finished in little more than 24 hours. Hey, thanks for the great advance planning and communication! Damn mother-#$^$%&$ deadlines. See? Another altie advantage is we can, um, critique our own publication.

Thursday Evening, I visited the Levine Museum of the New South to see John T. Edge, the author of a new series of books on iconic American foods. Edge's books aren't cookbooks, per se, but rather impassioned treatises using food as a jumping-off point to discuss all manner of things like class and race and the American Experience.

As part of Edge's appearance, the museum decided that any talk on fried chicken damn well better have some basted bird available, and had the whole thing catered by the fantastic Coffee Cup restaurant. Hungry as hell after skipping lunch (rushing through that new, improved deadline I mentioned earlier), I loaded up a plate with macaroni and cheese, green beans, cornbread, and two or three big pieces of golden-brown fried chicken. I tried to write down in my little reporter's notebook what it was like, and came up with this: "Oh...my...God." The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender, with crispy skin and a minimum of excess grease. The mac-and-cheese came with the requisite browned crust and more gooey cheese than Wisconsin turns out in a week. The cornbread was equal parts moist and sweet, but firm enough to sop up the juices of whatever you had left on your plate. Which, in my case, was absolutely nothing.

If you've ever heard Edge on NPR, you know he has a skill with adjectives that a porn writer would envy. As he discussed eating his way across America, people listened with rapt attention, sating their intellectual curiosity after stuffing their gullets. At one point, he related a story about how most people never take the Southern food race card much farther than (paraphrased here) "Mary, our maid, used to make the most incredible fried chicken." Edge paused for emphasis, and pounded his hand on the podium. "To which I ask, what was Mary's last name?"

After the talk, another local writer and I accompanied Edge to the local bar/restaurant Zink, named for the 20-foot French-made zinc bar top, which is said to be the largest in the world. Noshing on buttermilk-basted calamari, hot-pepper martinis, and a charcuterie plate, it wasn't the most classically Southern meal I've ever had, but then again, that's probably Edge's whole point.

If you're a fan of local music and also a devotee of Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton, do yourself a favor and check out the next Songwriter's Night at the Evening Muse. Hosted by the irrepressible, Jay Gatsby-doppelganger Vance Carlisle, last week's installment featured brother/sister duo Todd and Tara Busch, bearded balladeer Benji Hughes, and a chap named Trent Dabbs, who recently got off the road after a series of dates opening for R.E.M.

As on the infamous TV show, Carlisle fields questions from friends and fans throughout the previous week, which he then feeds back to the artists in a 10-15 minute interview section before letting them take the stage. Nothing is off limits: one's cats, one's drunken escapades, one's romantic escapades, or one's owning of an Escalade.

Benji Hughes seemed to be an easy enough interview, having had most of the above (except for the SUV). Bored with being the center of attention, he did some research of his own, asking Carlisle about the nickname "Poodle" and his attachment to a friend's cat. Those familiar with Hughes and Carlisle laughed loudly. Those who didn't stared blankly (thus is the problem with interviewing people not everyone knows).

Carlisle had particular trouble with the not-quite effusive team of the Busch siblings. Sister Tara answered questions with devilish glee, while brother Todd couldn't have been deeper in the couch had his name been Todd Sparechange. Once the duo took the stage, however, both Busches were positively burning.

And that -- again, due to our phantom deadline we've been bitching about -- is all, folks.

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