Pot Pie Express
Hot Pockets (Nestlé - 2003)
The mere fact that I maintain a website that posts longform reviews of frozen foods shouldn’t have me trying to figure out other reasons why my parents might be disappointed in me. Nonetheless, I always wonder if they feel like failures for never experiencing the absolute most crucial moment in raising a teenage boy: finding his porn and then mercilessly shaming him. See, even from an early age I realized I wasn’t really turned on by the sort of woman who’d take off her clothes for direct payment, for the same reason I never indulged in that time-honored teenage past time of whippets: the high couldn’t possibly match the one I get off the most pointless forms of elitism. But really, the biggest problem is that I imagine that your dad actively searches under your mattress or inside your TV (via “A Grand Don’t Come For Free”) or wherever your older brother’s Hustler is best concealed because that allows the easiest conceivable segue to having the birds and bees talk whose ancillary purpose is to promote abstinence via planting the image in your brain of your parents having sex. So how did mine go down? Shit, all I can say is that I know for a fact that it actually happened, and I thankfully cannot remember a single detail about it other than that I just held on for dear life, sorta blacked out and once it was over, slinked away, thanking God I never had to go through that again. Not coincidentally, that’s exactly how losing my virginity felt like.
But the above wasn’t to suggest that I felt myself to be above anyone else that fucks with BangBus to this day- I just hope they acknowledge that the BangBros have really been slipping with their continuity problems. But really, all the girls in every girlie magazine (via Death Cab’s “A Lack Of Colour,” but I shouldn’t have to tell you this shit), didn’t trigger the thought of what my sexual future might hold as much as the many, many college guides I ended up buying. This isn’t some sort of weird fetish where I find descriptions of rolling green hills particularly erotic, even if they suggestively used the word “quad,” but rather a sign of someone who had to get his priorities in order. You see, in order to maximize the potential of my lovelife, it was imperative that I get into a school with a high enough SAT score, and in turn, enough of an Asian population so I stood a fighting chance of being one of the relatively attractive ones.
Beyond that, every member of my family went to either Temple or Penn State, so my knowledge of what else was out there was limited to the teams that made Bill Walsh Football any given year. And plus, if I yearn for anything about being 18 it’s that I was blessed with the sort of
retardation romanticism to think that living in Houston or Providence was something to be considered a thrilling product of wanderlust.
Rice University: grippin’ grain and switchin’ lanes into the world of tomorrow
Of course, the most common thing that the student entries end up saying is that they “work hard and play hard” (with the possible exception of Arizona State, who are at least honest about it), which is a snappy way to concisely sum up the best advice anyone can give an incoming freshman about the goal of the next four years, give or take two: do enough studying to get the kind of grades that can land you a good job and also abuse enough substances to ensure your brain is incapable of remembering anything you learned. In actuality, the budget cuts that happening across the board in education are actually a market correction, because the requirements to be functional in something like 80% of the jobs that ask for a college degree are knowing how to use computer and competent conversational skills. And is there anything that can derail a decent conversation quite like something you learned in a classroom in college?
Now, in 12th grade, I was taking something like 5 AP classes and working at the Gap at night (the 18 year-old me abused the shit out of the 50% discount), so naturally the weekends were for all the deferred enjoyment that didn’t involve JetMoto (though there was still plenty of that). And I would figure that would carry over to college, because, well…that’s not the time you’re supposed to make up for all the fun you missed out on in high school, right? We some cultured motherfuckers who spend Wednesday night going to school-sponsored readings, maybe meet one of them “I like art”-type girls, basically anything other than figuring out the only way Tekken 3 could be better is if the loser had to do a shot of Bacardi Limon.
I’ll admit: my knowledge of the financial sciences are limited. I leafed through a copy of Freakonomics at Bob Hope Airport in the off chance it was a how-to on properly financing a strip club, and I don’t remember much of my introductory Economics class other than that the first thing our professor said is that “this won’t teach you how to get rich in the stock market.” Had the next thing he said been an explanation of why he couldn’t bother to put on something a little classier than a T-shirt, that would pretty much answer the first two things on my mind at the outset. But nonetheless, I think I have a fairly good grasp on what drives the engine of a college town economy. Gonna need your full attention here because shit’s about to get deeper than rap at Icy On Purpose.
Look, we all know that a college town’s lifeblood are kids still receiving money from their parents, but now the transfer of funds and spending of such are done under a blind eye. They say a fool and his money are soon parted, and I think we can all agree college freshmen are the most foolish motherfuckers on the planet. But the problem local watering holes face is that fraternity parties rule the weekend, supposedly their prime earning period, and the possibility of making out on a sticky dance floor to the sounds of “Party Up” is just something no promotional acumen will be able to compete with. So, the solution is to offer irresistibly unethical drink specials during the weekdays to lure them in, because only underage drinkers can still get fucked up off Coors Light. Years later, when they all move to the city and buy their first beer at a decent bar, they’ll realize, “I used to get an entire pitcher for the price of this,” thus triggering the nostalgia required for them to come back for football games and alumni weekends. And now that they have their own money and almost certainly have moved onto liquor and are desperately trying to revive a happier time by packing in weeks of partying into a few days, they can and will pay weekend prices for the more profitable stuff, earning you more on the back end than you would’ve got the first time around.
Now, I know what you’re thinking and, yes, the obvious follow up question is “where does the Illuminati come in to play?” Glad you asked- you see, they put the squeeze on the Department of Motor Vehicles in a number of states spaced strategically through the US to distribute licenses that are remarkably easy for an amateur to fake. New Jersey and Oklahoma have been identified as cooperators, but while it may appear to the untrained eye that the West Coast has been noncompliant, Gumby’s operatives were able to forge a compromise with California to loosen marijuana laws, thus ensuring sky-high sales on Pokey Stix, the one food both stoners and drunks can agree are incredible to eat in an altered state. And now, flush with cash funneled through the city’s chambers of commerce, our most prominent universities are fully operational in the capability to advance the Illuminati cause amongst our nation’s best and brightest.
I understand the codes these hackers can’t crack
That basically explains 1998-2002 for me, but initially as a law student, I felt if I was going to continue at that pace just because I had no fucking clue how I wanted to spend my mid-20s, I probably should’ve joined a band or something, rather than in reverse like Criteria (via reference to obscure Saddle Creek band). And that’s how the last time I was adamantly against drinking on weekdays coincided with the last time I regularly played Ultimate Frisbee. I can’t decide which of the two looks sillier in retrospect.
I’ve always tried to involve myself in organized sports, but at least since 1998, I don’t think I’ve had more than four friends at any given time with even passable athletic capabilities. The other options are intramurals which offer structure, but their own set of unique problems: softball’s always been good to me in large part because I’m the only plus-fielding catcher in the history of IM leagues and in terms of team sports that are meant to move at a pace casually enough to disguise the fact that it’s just time-lapse drinking, it’s even slower than ironic kickball (which I don’t believe was around at the time). Problem is, when you get a group of at least ten people together with the drive, however minimal, to play in a competitive softball league, surely there will be at least one person with the kind of out-of-whack priorities to think playing at-bat music isn’t worth the sportsmanship infraction. But let’s be real, is someone who doesn’t think I should be escorted to the plate by “Pretty Boy Swag” a guy you’d be ready to go to war with?
And then there’s IM football, which is too much of a wild card because it doesn’t have the comfort you get in softball, namely that if you don’t prepare at all beforehand, you can still win. What’s fascinating to me about flag football is how the sport is totally recontextualized once the sort of skills required to stuff some kids into a locker are almost completely negated: the sport that draws the line upon which social scenes are broken (via “Forgiveness Rock Record” actually sucked) in high school is actually a chance for revenge. I remember reading in SI how the Jewish Pi Lam fraternity at UF is a fucking juggernaut, and before you crack wise about their overbearing offense and stingy defense, the fact is, if you gather a group of fast, skinny kids who are willing to run the same plays over and over again until they’re perfected, you’re pretty much unstoppable.
Of course, two problems in my view: I’m not willing to put in that much effort into some craft that’ll never pay me (I’m not being ironic by saying that on this blog, of all places. Not when I’m clocking mad bank for my thoughts on Sheek Louch), and then there was the time I witnessed that guy in KA tearing his ACL, and if you could even see and hear what that’s like to happen, let alone experience it yourself, I doubt you’d ever call a professional athlete a pussy for not playing hurt. Then again, I could do my job on a torn ACL, but too much wine at the Cable Guy Comedy Central roast had me listed as “questionable” and day-to-day.
But fuck it, when you’re just starting school in a place where you don’t really know a soul and you wouldn’t mind meeting some athletic women but fervently believe the only person who should be able to talk to you at the gym ever is the person you came with, well, you gotta be a joiner when asked - even if they’re the kind of people to play ultimate frisbee, which pretty much combines everything you’ve tried to avoid in other sports to this point.
And by that I mean constant running, a wide disparity of skill despite such relatively simple mechanics and pretending I was impressed that the woman who ran the Summer Public Service program was married to the manager of Widespread Panic. Not for nothing does that resemble soccer, because at a non-competitive level, those who are just looking to kill some time can easily hide their deficiencies. And since as we all know, ultimate free is the most sexual of sports, I generally abided by my same principles, outside of drinking heavily beforehand: go with the flow, smooth but purposeful motions and try not to ejaculate in your pants.
And you know what? It felt pretty good to feel like the kind of person whose face shows up in the school’s promotional materials and you think, “bet this fucker trains all week to play ultimate frisbee.” Of course, relying on such holistic methods of inducing pleasure wouldn’t last the next few hours: the first couple of weekends at law school would involve activities including, but not limited to, UGA home football games and Drive-By Truckers concerts, and it’s a known fact that anywhere from 18-21% of all attendees die of cirrhosis within the span of three hours. Patterson Hood is the fucking alt-country Pol Pot.
Dead, drunk and naked
So in order to properly segue towards that kind of silliness, it was logical that I made a habit of having Pot Pie Express for dinner on Friday. Because everything about Pot Pie Express is deeply, deeply silly. Someone of my means at the time almost certainly couldn’t afford to eat ironically, but I just found something so fascinating about the dichotomous nature of this thing: trying to increase the portability of a food typically made for the most immobile of our population. Beyond that, the typical preparation of pot pie seem to go pretty far out of it way to make it clear this is not something meant to be handheld. I had restaurant-made pot pie last week and for some reason forgot my training that you must wait a minimum of a half hour before digging in- right now the roof of my mouth still feels like my worst fears when I went to the Temple Dental Clinic and watched a second-year Ukrainian student handle questionable tools while her professor looked on with a visage of grave concern (thanks for the hookup, big brother).
Nonetheless, in the Wal-Mart frozen food aisle, my curiosity got the best of me that one faithful Sunday, and in retrospect, the fact that the promise of a future involving the consumption of a handheld pot pie could somehow be a cog in the perpetual motion machine that got me through the week is once again part of a romanticism of my younger days that I wish I could replicate: these days, it takes something monumental, like a new Uncle Murda mixtape on datpiff.com just to get out of bed.
But besides the actually quality of the product, I’ll always owe a debt of gratitude to Pot Pie Express for not only being my prison nickname, but the inspiration for the single most crucial moment of my Lean Pocket history, its “Dylan goes electric,” its “Knute Rockne discovers the forward pass,” its “the Deftones discover cocaine”: you simply have to cook these in the oven.
Now, I don’t judge anyone for not taking the extra step. In this fast-paced world of the internet , sometimes doing it now is preferably to doing it right. But let’s be honest: if you’ve even gotten through half of this, let alone this far, you’ve got some fucking time on your hands (via “Touch, Peel & Stand”). It should’ve been obvious from the get go, considering even someone with the most rudimentary, “I can only make spaghetti on a dinner date, I just hope she doesn’t realize it’s Chef Boyardee” cooking skills knows that microwaving as opposed to baking generally results in a softer product, not unlike dating Erykah Badu.
I’m gettin’ tired of your shit
And with pot pie, that’s even more pronounced, since I know plenty of people who don”t get their sandwich toasted at Subway and don’t like thin crust pizza, but I’ve never heard anyone wish for a less flaky crust: a doughier pot pie is essentially a primordial version of KFC’s Famous Bowl. A microwaved Pot Pie Express held up just fine, and its innovative hexagonal structure allowed a more methodical eating process, ensuring that one errant bite would land the nuclear innards on your hand and thus requiring you to tell your friends and loved ones you got injured by pot pie.
But the potential was there: the crust had a pleasing gravitas, and the bedrock frozen vegetable array of peas and carrots gave textural contrast. The latter part is crucial since it’s sorta like Freekey Zeekey: it’s not really necessary, but you notice when it’s gone. Referring to the previous restaurant experience, I ordered a steak lager pie, and the only thing more painful than feeling the roof of my mouth cave in on itself was that there was no frozen vegetables. At all. I had the urge to send that shit back and tell the dudes “I don’t care if it’s 10,000 degrees. IT’S NOT FUCKING DONE. I paid my $10 to get a motherfucking pot pie, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Ralph’s to get a bag of frozen vegetables so you cocksuckers can learn how to cook.”
Carrots, peas, chef, knife, WOOP!
Anyways, to belabor a quote, “sometimes you gotta say ‘fuck it’,” and by the way, it’s been five and a half years and I still haven’t gotten over Al Groh saying G-rated version of that after his derring-do secured a ranked UVA’s win over a shitshow Syracuse team. Much like how I haven’t gotten over how it’s been that long since I haven’t trudged throw a Virginia football season without a mix of indifference, custodial concern and just a flickering remembrance about actually being excited about these things, as if were a new R.E.M. album.
But it was that cavalier attitude (oh, lord!) that led to my revelation: and immediately, SHIT. DONE. CHANGED. It was a crucial fulcrum in my culinary experience because for perhaps the first time, frozen food tasted like something I might actually leave the house to consume. Had I wisely stocked up on them before they went out of circulation, well…I probably would finished them all before the end of the semester, or failing that, the week.
But I’d like to think that the entrepreneur in me would be inspired to hold on to these precious jewels, knowing full well in advance that in seven years. a: I’d be in Los Angeles, b: during the food truck explosion, c: be out of a day job, d: thinking about operating a food truck even before I got fired because said day job made driving around in L.A. traffic and then sitting completely stationary sounded like a desirable alternative and e: couldn’t think something better to serve from the potential truck outside of grilled cheese and tomato soup. You see, all three of these items are associated to me because that was pretty much the extent of what was prepared for my fraternity’s lunches for damn near a year by a paid cook who couldn’t think of anything better because “had a long night, guys.” Yeah, you really gotta burn the midnight oil to think of how to feed fraternity members.
I dunno, maybe I need to campaign outside Lean Pockets HQ to protest this miscarriage of justice, see if any of the organ traders on Craigslist happen to keep some of them in their freezers or maybe just get a Kickstarter account to hire a crack team of scientists to reverse engineer it. Seriously, I miss these things more than I miss some of my actual friends at the time, mostly because unlike them, Pot Pie Express never quietly judges what I decided to do post-law. It was portable and yet provided a great measure of comfort usually associated with a couch you just want to kinda daze out in all day, much like the sauce inside. Mocked by outsiders as a limp reminder of better times, but loved by users for feeling they have some sort of stake in it. And you know what, despite what people seem to think, I never want it to go away. And that’s how Pot Pie Express invented chillwave. You’re welcome.