# # The After School Special

Brother, I Can See Your Skull.

Brother, I Can See Your Skull. - The Coreyshead Blog

The After School Special

When I was growing up there weren’t a lot of snacks in the house and what there were we weren’t to eat. We didn’t have much money and my father didn’t hold with snacks. You ate at mealtimes and that was that.

Unfortunately, when you’re growing, there are times of nearly constant hunger. You’re satiated for so little of the time and then the gnawing comes back, a sympathetic vibration of your metabolism stretching your bones and tissue to fill your DNA’s incontrovertible requisition form.

The solution to this uncomfortable situation came from my older brother. I can’t imagine being attracted to the multicolored, bone-shaped biscuits on my own. My tastes ran more towards the stale marshmallows stored above the fridge, beef bouillon cubes, which my friend Travis taught me to eat with tiny, salt-savoring nibbles, or spoonfuls of cocoa mix that you could cough out great billowing clouds of while eating. Still, when my brother wandered into my room, crunching away on a dog bone, I was intrigued. “They’re not bad,” he said, putting one in my hand, “but avoid the green ones.”

They really weren’t too bad, if you ate them slowly. Big mouthfuls turned grainy and dirt-like in your mouth. If you took small bites, however, you could almost understand why the dogs ate them and, before we realized it, my brother and I were in direct competition with our pets for their favored treats.

Our dogs were none too pampered. Oh, we loved them, played with them, took them on trips and to the vet when they were sick but we didn’t regularly buy them expensive treats, so boxes of dog bones were few and far between; usually reserved for Christmas and such. Once these were gone, graduating from them to dog food seemed a natural progression and soon, sneaking a fistful of kibble between meals became routine.

Some dog foods are definitely better than others, though. My parents bought whichever was on sale that the dogs could stomach, and our dogs, being dogs, would eat most anything.

I remember one brand that looked all the world like that reddish-brown, lava rock people use around their front walks. It was crumbly, like a brittle styrofoam, and tasted terrible; we hardly ate any of it and rejoiced when the 50 pound bag was gone and a more toothsome brand was back in the house.

We also learned that any kibble with a hole in the middle was inedible, tasting more like cat food than dog food. Were the manufactures trying to make it look like cereal or something? Luckily our dogs hated it, too, and our regular fare was back in the house in a matter of days.

I remember one particular time when, due to a sale of some kind, a more expensive brand of dog food known as “saucecubes” made it into the cabinet. We only ever had that one bag but it was in such a contrast to all the other dog foods that I remember it fondly to this day. You were supposed to add water to it so that the outer coating would melt off to form a kind of gravy. “Just add water, makes its own sauce,” the commercial promised. Our dogs wouldn’t touch it wet, however, so we just dumped it in their big, galvanized bowl dry. My god it was delicious; the outer coating was almost sweet and flavored the nugget within delectably. Instead of chewing them, we would suck until the outer coating was gone, then moosh the remaining glop against the roofs of our mouths with our tongues.

We would occasionally dump canned food in with the kibble for our dogs but never tried any of that, ourselves. The smell and look of it was enough to keep even brave, hungry souls like my brother and I at bay. At least I don’t think my brother ate any …

Cat food proved unappetizing as well. I called it spicy, then but, thinking back, realize what I meant was tangy. Cat’s tastes run quite different from dogs, apparently and, though the dogs would eat cat food, the cat wouldn’t touch the dog food. It is a little embarrassing to admit that, as a child, my taste was less discriminating than my cat’s.

The only cat food I could ever stand was this brand with semi-soft kibble called “Crave.” The marketing people were having a heyday at the time with the breakthrough of permanently soft baked goods – Soft Batch cookies debuted around then as well – and I guess they thought it was such a good gimmick that they should try pairing it with pet food, too. Our cat certainly seemed to like it and, though I could never be said to actually “crave” it, it was less tangy than other cat foods and a little bit of it served as a nice adjunct to the dog food – like a mouthful of peas help to accentuate the flavor of a steak.

The few, close friends that I admitted this snack habit to were appalled: “They make that stuff from horse meat!” they would cry.
“The French eat horses.”
“But you’re not French!”

There was a troubling similarity between the flavor of the ground beef used in our school’s hot lunches and the dog food I was eating at home. This was especially noticeable in any dish that used bigger chunks of it, such as goulash or pizza. While the children around me would happily gobble the stuff right down, I found it unpalatable and would leave said offerings untouched, stating: “This stuff tastes just like dog food!” My closest friends began to refuse it as well.

Is it odd that I would happily snack on dog food at home yet eschew its flavor-twin in my school lunches?

I later came to discover that if ground beef, once browned, is frozen, it takes on the flavor of the kinds of dog food we tended to have in our house, which says something sort of good about the quality of the dog food we gave our dogs while at the same time posing a cautionary tale about the handling of certain foods.

Finally, there are two important influences in my appreciation for dark beers, bourbons, cognacs, and scotch: chewing tobacco and dog food.

I started chewing tobacco in the 4th grade out of peer pressure. Yes, I grew up in rural Colorado. I learned very early on that I preferred the juicier, more naturally flavored leaf variety chewing tobaccos found in a pouch or plug to the harsh and grainy types marketed in cans. Grain chews are typically stuffed in a front lip and get all over your teeth. A person using it looks like a 3rd rate redneck. Leaf chew, on the other hand, is secreted in your cheek. Baseball players are famous for packing a whole wad of the stuff into their faces and end up looking like they’ve got the puking mumps; I used to daub in an invisible thumb-sized chunk and, after a few priming squirts, gut the rest. Totally stupid, I admit, but I loved the flavor. The sweet, rich, vegetable tones of the moist and sticky tobacco leaves taught my tongue early on to appreciate complex flavors, and I continue to find similar tones in most brown alcohols, though I’ve not chewed tobacco in nearly twenty years.

Further, certain dark beers, particularly European varieties with their spicy, aromatic hops, and rich, heavy, old world malts, finish with a flavor directly reminiscent of many of the dog foods I enjoyed as a child. Ayinger’s Celebrator Dopplebock is a perfect example of what I am talking about. It makes total sense when you think about it: cereal grains.

I’ve not eaten dog food since I was a little kid. Somewhere, somehow, I lost the taste for it and, thankfully, I haven’t been tempted by an open bag of the stuff since hitting puberty. I wish I wasn’t bald so I could make a crack about it having a direct effect upon the glossiness of my coat but there you have it.

Whenever I hear about the elderly, reduced by poverty to eating cans of moist cat food, I want to tell them: “Hey, dog food’s a lot cheaper and tastes better, even if you’re not French.”

This post has an addendum, located here: UPDATE: The After School Special


13 Responses to “The After School Special”

  1. Roger says:

    “Somewhere, somehow, I lost the taste for it..”

    You know, you really shouldn’t have had a taste for it in the first place.

  2. KJT says:

    You. Are. Insane.

    This sentence nearly gave me an aneurysm:

    “Further, certain dark beers, particularly European varieties with their spicy, aromatic hops, and rich, heavy, old world malts, finish with a flavor directly reminiscent of many of the dog foods I enjoyed as a child.”

    Pure genius. I think you should offer it to some of the Microbrewers as the next big marketing ploy.

    Unbelievable. Snickerpickle, indeed.

  3. cae says:

    What can I say: my childhood was RUFF.

  4. redwithenvy says:

    i’m particularly stupefied by this entry. so overwhelmed in fact, that it should have come in segments for your readers to better digest (no pun intended)in portions.

    i mean, i eat slim jims, whose 2nd ingredient is “mechanically separated chicken”, but dog food that makes its own gravy? DUDE! what the eff?

    and so, i will leave this with a song:

    “my kitty cat craves chicken, my kitty cat craves milk, my kitty cat craves tuna, so my kitty cat craves CRAVE, oh – my kitty cat CRAVES CRAVE!”

  5. cae says:

    There was a short period during which, contemplating the sagacity of clicking on the “publish” button, I hesitated somewhat but the temptation to give in to fear passed, thankfully.

    The behavior of the larvae, while leading to, does not describe the adult.

    I am (almost) as baffled by these facts as you are, folks – I just deliver them to you via my unblinking eye.

  6. KJT says:

    I’m sorry.

    I just cannot get this out of my head:

    “…with a flavor directly reminiscent of the many dog foods I enjoyed as a child.”

    That is, quite possibly, the FUNNIEST CRAZIEST WEIRDEST phrase I’ve ever heard/read/seen.

    I can’t read it without laughing out loud.

  7. cae says:

    Just don’t laugh with your mouth full …

  8. redwithenvy says:

    hey, guys! have you ever laughed so hard, dog food came out of your nose?

    i haven’t.

  9. cae says:

    That would smell terrible (trust me).

  10. cae says:

    A good friend of mine (who, for obvious reasons would prefer to remain anonymous) just sent me this:

    “When in middle school, my sister was given an assignment to write a short essay on a specific case of false advertising. Her essay concerned a certain brand of dog biscuits which, while advertised as having multiple flavors, actually had multiple colors with identical flavors. Her teacher inquired about her research, and she outed me.”

    I replied:

    “If this fact held true with the brand we were eating -er- giving our dogs, then the placebic (if that aint a woid it otter be) effect of the coloration proved strong enough to convince us otherwise. As dogs are purportedly colorblind, or at least restricted in comparison to humans, it is clear that the colors are there for those of us tossing them to the mutts but, I’ll tell you, I liked the dark brown ones the most.”

  11. Vern says:

    And it has nothing to do with doghouse – er – schoolhouse rock!

  12. tdnarb says:

    his bro.
    I believe the red lava chunks were in the gravytrain brand, they wernt as good as the sauce cubes but they were mighty tasty. those were the days CAE.

  13. cae says:

    I dunno – I remember a singular bag of food that neither we nor the dogs enjoyed. The mists of time, though: I cannot deny they may be playing a role in this case.

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