Karl the Curmudgeon Meets a Jolly Stranger

Karl the Curmudgeon Meets a Jolly Stranger

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

"Man, I'm tired of the TSA," said Karl, my friend and part-time curmudgeon. "The groping, the full body scans, the loss of personal freedoms."

We were sitting at Njáls Saga Bar & Grill, an Icelandic bar, after a particularly hectic day of Christmas shopping. Harold, the bartender, had just set two mugs of Egils Premium, an Icelandic beer, in front of us.

"You're telling me," said a stranger sitting nearby. "It's getting to the point so I can't do my job without a big hassle."

"I don't even like traveling anymore," said Karl, raising his mug of Egils to the stranger.

I don't even fly when I can help it, I said. If my destination is six hours away or less by car, I might as well drive.

"I've at least got my own transportation," said the new guy, tugging at his beard. "But even so, I still have to go through security."

"Wow, that is a pain," said Karl, shaking the guy's hand. "My name's Karl. This is the Kid."

Erik, I said. My name is Erik. He just calls me Kid.

"Nick," said the guy.

What do you do, Nick? I asked.

"I'm sort of a blue collar entrepreneur. I do a lot of shipping and distribution in the winter, and mostly contract manufacturing throughout the year."

"We're writers," said Karl. "I'm a former newspaperman and I write novels now, The Kid's some kind of humor writer. Plus he writes nonfiction books."

"Oh, I've heard of you guys," said Nick. "I've read both of your stuff. It's pretty good."

Karl and I both ducked our heads with an "aw shucks." Even though we've both been writing for years, it's always a little humbling to meet someone who knows us.

"Can we buy you a beer, Nick?" said Karl.

"Oh-ho, I can't say no, now can I?"

Harold, another Egils for Nick, please, I said, waving at the bartender. And a couple orders of smoked puffin nuggets. Harold nodded and hollered our order back to the kitchen before pouring Nick's beer.

So why is the TSA a problem for you, Nick? I asked.

"Every time I land in a new city, it's the same thing: empty my pockets, put my bag on the conveyor, and they always insist on pawing through it like a bunch of little kids. Now they say my belly's too big to go through the full body scanner, so they keep groping me to see if I'm hiding anything. One guy found a candy cane in my pocket once, and I thought they were going to throw me in Guantanamo."

"Luckily I only have to fly a few times a year anymore," said Karl. "If I ever go on a book tour, I just make it a driving tour and my wife and I just tool around in the camper van."

With your little dog, too, I cackled.

"Who are you, the Wicked Witch of the West?" Karl said, plonking his beer on the table.

If I am, you're the flying monkey.

Harold brought out our orders of smoked puffin nuggets, and we took a few minutes to tuck in to the Icelandic delicacy.

"Tastes like chicken," said Karl.

It's a bird that's been breaded and deep fried. Of course it tastes like chicken. I had some gator tail recently, and even that tasted a little like chicken.

"Eww, gator tail?" said Karl.

"Oh, that's nothing," said Nick. "I travel all over the world, and have tried nearly every delicacy or dessert you can imagine. Some of the people I visit share stuff with me that you could never imagine eating, but since I'm their guest, and they're trying to be nice, I have to just eat it without complaining."

What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten on your travels?

"I had rattlesnake kebabs in New Mexico once," said Karl. "I was on a book tour, and Gail and I stopped by some nouveau cuisine restaurant in Santa Fe. It was some fusion between Tex-Mex, Asian, and whatever they found in the desert. I was sick for three days."

"That's nothing," said Nick, popping another puffin nugget into his mouth. "I've had lutefisk, pickled herring, squid sushi, tripe, and oatmeal raisin cookies all in one night."

Eww, oatmeal raisin, I grimaced.

"Tell me about it," said Nick. He looked at his watch. "Well boys, I'd better go. I've got some last minute manufacturing orders to fill before I have to load it all up and get it to its destination."
We shook hands and wished him well. And we heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, "Hey, can you boys pick up my tab?"

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