Potato Chips

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Potato chips come in a variety of brands and flavors and textures and prices.

There’s national brands like Lay’s and Ruffles. There’s local brands, like around here we got Husman’s and Mikesell’s and Grippo’s while other places they got Jay’s and Utz and Wise. And there’s store brands like Kroger or Walmart’s Great Value. And premium brands like Private Selections and Kettle and Cape Cod.

There’s different flavors: plain, BBQ, sour cream and cheddar, sour cream and onion, buffalo wing, sea salt and balsamic vinegar…even rosemary and feta or smoked Gouda and garlic when you get to those real fancy brands.

There’s different textures: traditional, rippled, and kettle cooked.

And prices range from $7 for a bag for Patatas Fritas Torres Black Truffle Premium Potato Chips to $1.79 for the Kroger brand or 99 cents for Save-A-Lot’s J. Higgs brand.

My father liked potato chips. He preferred Husman’s regular. Most days he had a bag in his pickup for breaktime snacking. My father could have purchased a store brand at a cheaper price without noticing much of a difference in quality. But Husman’s is a local brand and it somehow made him feel better to be supporting a part of the community when he didn’t have to. Or maybe it wasn’t just a petty act of working-class philanthropy.  Maybe it made him feel nostalgic, since Husman’s coulda been the chip of the Reds once. I don’t know.

He was a blue collar guy, doing roofing, mostly residential, his entire life. Early on he began running his own crew. But then the big companies started underbidding all his jobs by subcontracting to their Hispanic crews. So my father couldn’t afford his own crew anymore. All he could offer was 15 bucks an hour to a helper and still make any money for himself. But for 15 bucks he mostly got crackheads, which then became methheads, who had no integrity or reliability.  He’d pay them a day’s wage and then they’d be off and loaded for the next three days. So, as he got older, he couldn’t afford to do whole roof jobs. His body couldn’t take all that work by himself, 50 to 65 pounds per bundle of shingles slung over the shoulder and lugged up a ladder in temperatures well above 100 on a sizzling roof in the summer. Thousands of pounds, including his own weight, up and down those clanging ladders every day. And those roofs get so hot you can blister your hands in seconds. So then he took mostly to doing odd jobs, patching spots where shingles had ripped off during a storm or repairing and cleaning  gutters.

His brother was a union electrician, working new construction – stadiums, university research centers, hospitals, parking garages, condos, business high-rises and casinos. As a union guy, I know now he mustuv been making a pretty decent wage. And even though they were both proud laborers, my father always drove a beat up, piece-of-shit Ford, sometimes a F150 , other times F250, always with ladder racks, while his brother got a new, scratchless and dentless, extended cab diesel Ram 3500 every few years. You see, my father’s truck was the kind you’d be embarrassed to be picked up at school in. My uncle’s truck was always brash and bold. New and big and shiny and white. Its utility was less in how much it could haul than in the statement it made. The cost of new tires alone were equal to the value of my father’s truck. My father said that Randy’s truck was like owning a yacht when all ya really need is a bass boat.

My father liked to say that since his brother was union, that’s why he was a Democrat. And I don’t know whether or not it was partly or maybe even mostly because the Hispanics took most of his work that my father was a Republican. He liked to make snide remarks about union guys having it easy, saying you only work 4 hours a day on a union job and how there wasn’t no threat of the beaners taking your job when you’re “one of the brothers”, meaning a standing member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

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Whenever there was a family get-together, my uncle always had or brought some fancy style of potato chips. He knew my father liked potato chips, even buying him one of those antique metal buckets they used to sell bulk chips in – like to restaurants. I think Randy got it at a flea market and my father kept it in the basement where he threw his spare change in it. Anyway, whenever the family got together Randy was always putting some fancy new brand or flavor in his face. I remember once it was dill pickle. My father would usually try one or two, saying something like, “not bad” just to be polite, but not eating any more. Randy would usually reply with something like, “you need to broaden your horizons” to which my father might rebut, “if I want something that tastes like pickles, I’ll eat pickles”. That argument seemed fair and sound enough to usually keep my uncle quiet until the next holiday or reunion or party when he’d seemingly forget – again –  that my father’d prefer trying some real pad thai to Lay’s Thai Sweet Chili Premium Chips.

On the ride home one time my father said to my mother, “Randy’s always trying to show off with those fancy chips. Well, I don’t need that. I’m a regular guy with plain old tastes.”  The words “fancy pants” and “hot shit” may have been used as well. Either way, there was an inference that his brother’s taste was mostly a matter of pretense that my father didn’t possess. Any of that – my father’s self-analysis or inferences about his brother – may or may not have been true.

My father had mentioned a few times how his cholesterol was “sky high.” Then he died a coupla years ago of a heart attack. He was 55. I don’t know if the cholesterol from all those Husman’s caused it or not, but it probably didn’t help.

His brother just died of a heart attack too. He was 56. His wife said he had high cholesterol. I don’t know if it was those Sweet Southern Heat BBQ or Sea Salt and White Truffle chips that caused it or not, but they probably didn’t help.

And it didn’t seem like being union or non-union or Ford or Dodge or Republican or Democrat helped much either, though some of it did help bury Randy in a nicer suit and the casket with the walnut, not poplar, veneer.

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