Monday, February 09, 2015


Note: this is NOT a review of FedEx, nor is it about a restaurant named FedEx for some reason. In fact, it's not a review at all. So don't fucking read it if you're going to bitch.

Sincerely, Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

I got a call from FedEx, asking me to look into a claim a customer made about a shipment he didn't receive. Which is really fucking weird because I've never worked for FedEx in any capacity. But in the spirit of being a good Samaritan, I thought I'd try to help.

I was told to head out to the customer's house to meet the delivery driver who was supposed to have dropped off the missing shipment. The customer's residence was a rustic houseboat floating on an idyllic pond in the woods. It looked like a Bob Ross painting, with happy little trees and a meandering stream and the houseboat itself was lopsided. I parked my car, crossed the rickety pontoon bridge out to the boat, and knocked on the door.

A grizzled gold prospector answered the door.

"Hi, sir," I introduced myself. "I'm here on behalf of FedEx to investigate your missing shipment."

"Yeah," he grunted, "I ordered a 25 pound bag of Russet potatoes and they didn't deliver it. The tracking number said it was delivered but it definitely wasn't."

"Did FedEx give you a reason why it wasn't delivered?"

The old prospector gestured blandly towards the lake. "No, but I figure the guy tripped on the bridge and dropped it into the water. It's happened before."

I turned and went back out to the pontoon bridge. It really was a shitty bridge, with no hand rails, and some of the planks were missing. I peered down through one of the gaps and sure enough, I could barely make out a cardboard box, half rotten, a mossy Styrofoam corner poking through. The barely legible label of the box said “Pioneer.” Or “Pione,” rather, since the “er” had been faded off from years underwater.

“That was a DVD player I ordered. Guy tripped and dropped it right into the gap there.”

I turned to the prospector. “Have you ever considered fixing this bridge?”

“It’s not my problem if the delivery man can’t cross a damn bridge,” he sneered.

I glanced back down into the water, but I couldn’t see anything resembling a sack of potatoes. A mechanical rumble encroached on my reverie; I looked up just as a FedEx truck pulled into the clearing. The delivery driver had arrived.

I carefully traversed the dilapidated bridge and met the driver in the meadow on the shore of the pond. He was a tall skinny kid with a lank wave of tawny Justin Bieber hair, an extra medium black and purple FedEx shirt clinging to his skinny chest. “I’m Kevin,” he said.

“I’m sure you’ve been asked a million times by now, but what happened to the potatoes, Kevin?” I asked him.

He looked suddenly bashful. “You’ll never believe me,” he replied, “but an alien zapped it.”

“You are absolutely right. I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true!” Kevin insisted. He’d arrived at the prospector’s houseboat around five o’clock. The sun was getting low in the sky, though it wasn’t quite sunset. As he lugged the bag of potatoes out to the pontoon bridge he heard a rustling noise in the grass near his feet. The weeds parted and out stepped a small crimson man.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Kevin told me. “He was an orangey red, with greasy, wrinkled skin and beady eyes.”

“Was he gross or was he cute?” I asked.

“He looked like a gingerbread man made of meat or something.”

“Sounds like he looked more like a sun-dried tomato than a meaty cookie to me.” In truth I felt sorry for the alien: stranded millions of miles from home on this planet of giants, who keep trying to either crush him underfoot or toss him into a bowl of pasta, where he would bump uncomfortably against artichoke hearts before being chowed down upon by someone whose next stop after dinner would be a Yanni concert.

“I was so scared I dropped the sack and ran!” Kevin told me. “The potatoes almost fell on him.”

Kevin darted back to the truck where he watched in terror as the sun-dried tomato alien, who had jumped back to avoid the descending potato sack, aimed a Lilliputan death ray at the bag and fired a bright red beam, instantly obliterating the entire potato shipment. All that remained, Kevin insisted, was a pile of fine ash which quickly blew away. When the alien turned angrily toward Kevin and aimed the laser, the driver threw the truck into gear and tore off.

I had Kevin read and sign the statement of his account that I’d written, then he got into his truck and rumbled back down the road. I went out to the edge of the clearing. Cars were coming. Fancy cars: Ferraris, Mercedes Benzes, an Alfa Romeo. Each one turned onto a gravel drive that wound into the forest. What was going on here?

I hiked up the driveway, which went up into the hills. It was about a ten minute hike up the long and winding path, during which time another Alfa, a Maserati, and even a Lamborghini drove past. The occupants eyed me curiously as the cars went by.

Eventually I reached the end of the driveway. Hidden in the woods were a number of charming Tudor cabins with whitewashed stucco walls and dark beams framing stained glass windows. The fancy cars I’d seen going up the driveway were parked all over the front lawn. In the back was a larger building in the same Tudor style as the cabins. I could see people going inside, so I followed them.

This was a large banquet hall. Rows of tables were set up, though almost no one was sitting down. Most people were milling about, drinking red wine from highball glasses and laughing and talking. This was quite a party. “What are you DOING here?” a familiar voice accused me. I whirled around: it was my friend Drew, holding an almost empty wine glass.

“Holy fuck Drew!” I laughed. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“This is my family’s place. It’s a vacation compound. And it’s my party! I got married last month.” She pulled up a charmingly scruffy guy. “Let me introduce you to my new husband Jacob.” I shook hands with the groom as he grinned wildly.

“Great party,” I told Drew. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the wedding; my gorilla costume was at the cleaners.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “But you’re here now so have a drink!”

“I can’t. I’m working.”

“Working for who?”

“For whom. And it’s FedEx. I’m investigating a claim of an undelivered shipment for them.”

“Is that what you do?” she asked. “That’s not what you do. You’re some kind of scientist.”

“You’re right. I’m just trying to help FedEx out.”

“Why would you help FedEx?”

“Good question.”

“Well stop helping them and start partying!” She downed the rest of her wine in one smooth gulp and barged past me, towing Jacob by the hand. “Come on! I’ll show you all the fucking delicious food we’re cooking.”

I followed Drew and Jacob into the banquet house’s kitchen. Two old women were rolling gnocchi, deftly flicking the little loaves of dough off the back of a fork with their thumbs, then tossing them onto floured sheet pans.

“That’s a LOT of gnocchi!” I was amazed: there had to be at least twenty sheet pans, lined up on a rolling rack, each one full of gnocchi.

“Yeah it is!” Drew said as she refilled her wine. “30 pounds! We’re having eighty people here! This is a real Italian party!”

“You’re Italian?”

“They don’t call me Drew Zandonella-Whatever for nothing. But look at this,” she directed me to a handsome young man stirring a giant cauldron of stew. “This is my cousin, Stefano Zandonella.”

Stefano turned to shake my hand. “What are you making?” I asked him. “It smells delicious.”

“Braised lamb shanks,” Stefano told me. We peered into the pot, where a big pile of lamb shanks swam in a rich brown broth. He grabbed one of the shanks with tongs, then tore off a small piece of the meat with a fork and handed it to me.

The lamb was tender and fragrant with spices “Wow! What’s in it?”

“Garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, a few chopped anchovies,” he said, his soft Italian accent blunting his vowels and rolling his r’s. “Braised in red wine. ” He pointed to the rack of gnocchi. “We’ll serve this over gnocchi.”

“That’s fucking great, Stefano,” I told him. “Thank you.”

Just then three drunk assholes barged into the kitchen. “Stefano, that shit smells AMAZE!” one of them yelled. He was a greasy New Jersey douchetard in a suit with no tie. With him were two other dbags, virtually indistinguishable from the first except one of them had an earring and one of them sported frosted tips. The three guidos crowded around the pot, pushing me and Stefano away as they rudely grabbed spoons and started slurping broth directly out of the pot.

“Hey!” Stefano objected.

“Get the FUCK out of here you bitches!” Drew raged at them, pulling them away from the pot one by one and shoving them out of the kitchen. “It’s my party! Jacob, get them out of here.”

Jacob escorted the unruly barbarians out of the kitchen. “Fuck you Drew!” frosted tips spat as they pinballed back into the party.

“Who were they?” I asked Drew.

“My cousins Tony Toni Tone.” She leaned in close and whispered in my ear. “They’re mobbed up. I’m not even lying.”

“All three are Tony? Which one’s which?”

“Does it matter?”

“I suppose not. And besides, I guess there’s nothing to see here so I should get back to work. Thanks for the tour Drew!” I turned to Stefano. “Nice to meet you.”

I left the compound and walked slowly back down the winding driveway. What the actual fuck. How was I ever going to solve this mystery? I didn’t want to let FedEx down but I was super hungry. All I could think about was how delicious Stefano’s lamb stew tasted. I bet that would be fucking killer served over some of that gnocchi. Potato gnocchi.

I’d reached the bottom of the driveway. I was too lazy to go all the way back up to the compound so I fished my phone out of my pocket and called Drew.

“What’s up Surly?” she answered. “You forget something?”

“Yeah I’ve got a weird request.”

You?” she laughed sarcastically. “Have a weird request? Never!

“Yeah, yeah, you fucking comedian.”

“What do you want?”

“Where did Stefano get the potatoes for the gnocchi?”

“Hold on,” she replied. “I’ll go ask him but he’s still in the kitchen and I have to go back there.”

“Okay I’ll hold.”

I could hear the noise of the party as she wove through the crowd. She gave a periodic “Thank you!” and “I know! It’s so great!” to well-wishers as she made her way back to the kitchen.

“You know,” I told her, “You could have just called me back. Besides, who even answers their phone at a wedding party?”

“Your mom answers her phone,” she spat back.

“Your mom’s a lesbian,” I snarled.

“I know,” she laughed, and I could hear her nodding over the phone. “Both of them are.” Finally: “Here he is. Hold on,” she told me, “He’s making like a million gallons of gremolata. Hey Stefano,” she asked, her voice becoming echoey and distant as she held the receiver away from her mouth while she talked to her cousin. “Where’d you get the potatoes for the gnocchi?”

I couldn’t hear his reply over the kitchen din, but Drew seemed interested. “Oh really. That’s unusually generous of them.”

“Where’d he get them?” I asked her.

“From the Tonys!”

“I knew it! Thanks Drew.”

“No problem.”

“One more favor? Do you think you could get the Tonys to meet me down at the clearing in front of the prospector’s house?”

“No, but I’ll try.”

“Thanks again. Send them down here in 20 minutes.”

I hung up with Drew and made a few more phone calls. In a half hour this whole thing would be settled. I’d reached the pond, so I sat down on a stump in front of the prospector’s house boat to wait. It was sunny, at least, but it was completely still. The pond was as flat as a mirror. The trees didn’t move. It was quiet, except for an occasional creak as the rickety houseboat bobbed upon the water. The prospector’s truck wasn’t parked out front. I was completely alone out here. Suddenly I got spooked: what would happen if there really was an alien? What if he reappeared now, in this remote area? If he turned his wrinkled crimson sun-dried face toward me and pointed that mini death ray at me I’d have no choice to defend myself and chop him up and put him into an arugula and goat cheese salad with a balsamic vinaigrette.

I was starting to get scared when the FedEx truck finally rumbled into view. Kevin shut off the engine and jumped out of the cab. He sauntered over to me.

“Thanks for coming out here again, Kevin,” I told him. “I’m almost done with the investigation but I just have a few more questions.”

“No problem,” he answered.

“I’ll be direct: we know an alien didn’t vaporize the potatoes. You lied.”

Kevin’s face went pale.

“Why didn’t you just say you’d been robbed?”

Before he could answer, another car pulled into the clearing: a black Escalade. The Tony with frosted tips was driving. The Escalade stopped and the three Tonys jumped out, followed by Drew. They made a beeline over to us.

“Hey, thanks for coming down here guys,” I told the Tonys.

“Drew said you were going to smoke us out, so let’s go,” Tieless Tony told me.

“Oh Drew said that, did she?” I looked over to Drew, who shrugged. Luckily I did, in fact, have a bunch of weed on me. “First thing’s first,” I told Tony. “Do you know this guy?” I pointed to Kevin.

None of the Tonys gave any trace of acknowledgment to Kevin. “Nah, we don’t know him,” Tony said, but the FedEx driver turned completely ashen in fear. The implication was as clear as the pond behind us. “And he doesn’t know us. Right?”

Kevin nodded shakily. I dug in my jacket pocket and tossed Tony a bag of weed. “Thanks guys.” They turned wordlessly and went back to the Escalade.

“And thank you Drew,” I told her.

“No problem,” she replied. “Come up to the party whenever you’re done doing whatever the fuck it is you’re doing here.”

“I will!”

She joined the Tonys in the Cadillac and they drove off.

More cars were arriving: the cops. A police officer with wraparound Oakley sunglasses and a buzz cat ambled over to us. “What’s going on, fellas?” he sneered.

“Officer,” I started, waving to Kevin. “This gentleman would like to change his statement about an alien zapping his potato shipment. Isn’t that right Kevin?”

“Okay!” Kevin stammered. “I admit it. It wasn’t an alien. A leprechaun stole the potatoes!”

I facepalmed as the cop quizzically cuffed Kevin and led him away. The Tonys would never face the misdemeanor charge they so desperately deserved. Kevin, meanwhile, would go to jail for filing a false police report, and would pay the ULTIMATE PENALTY: 24 hours of community service and a $300 fine.

Another car was pulling up. It was a white stretch limo with the orange and purple FedEx logo painted on the sides and hood. The limo stopped and a chauffeur hopped out. He opened the limo’s back door and a distinguished gentleman in black and purple tuxedo tails emerged. The gentleman came out to me.

“Inspector Surly!” he greeted me in a rolling baritone, and extended his hand. “I’m Jackson Woodruff, Inspector General for the FedEx Corporation.” We shook hands. “I hear you’ve broken this case.”

“Well, yes and no Inspector General. Kevin admitted he lied, but he didn’t point out the Tonys as the potato thieves, so while we know that an alien didn’t in fact incinerate the spuds, we’ll probably never bring the real culprits to justice.”

Inspector General Woodruff adjusted his Pince-nez glasses and laughed. “That’s quite all right, Inspector Surly. As long as we can pin the loss on Kevin, our insurance company will gladly pay! Ho ! Ho! Ho!” he roared. “But do tell, how did you break the case?”

“It’s simple, really: when Stefano mentioned he was making 30 pounds of gnocchi, I did a quick calculation. A 30 pound yield of a typical gnocchi recipe would require about 25 pounds of potatoes and 5 pounds combined of flour, eggs, and microplaned parmigiano reggiano. And when Stefano said that the Tonys gave him the potatoes, it all clicked into place: who would be arrogant enough to steal $40 worth of potatoes, just because they could? The mafia, of course.”

Inspector General Woodruff contemplatively twirled his neatly trimmed handlebar mustache. “I see! Kevin feared violent reprisal from the mob, so he concocted a ludicrous story about his potato shipment being destroyed by a vengeful extraterrestrial!” “That’s pretty much it,” I told him.

The Inspector General slapped me on the shoulder. “Well done, my boy! Well done! Your tenacity and dedication set quite an example for our other inspectors! I’ll never regret hiring you!”

“About that: with all due respect, I don’t even work for FedEx.”

The Inspector General pulled off his Pince-nez and fixed me with a twinkling glance. “Perhaps the $15,000 bonus you’re due will refresh the memory of your employment with our firm!”

“A fifteen thousand dollar reward for solving the disappearance of a bag of potatoes?” I was incredulous. “I’ll take it, of course.”

Inspector General Woodruff laughed his uproarious laugh again. “Of course you will! Of course you will!”

Ultimately, I spent the fifteen grand on the world’s biggest white truffle: 18 ounces! I shaved it over a SHITLOAD of pasta. And eggs. And your mom.

Drew felt really bad about serving stolen food at her wedding celebration, so she brought all the leftover gnocchi—six pounds of it!—over to the prospector. Unfortunately, as she was walking up to his houseboat to deliver the pasta, she tripped on the bridge and dropped the bowl of gnocchi into the pond.

Kevin lost his job at FedEx and hanged himself.