When I’m driving the school bus on an excursion it does not seem to matter how far the intended journey – Coonamble, Sydney, Kwazululand, Riems Cathedral – it’s a given that first stop will be Walgett Road House.
The Ridge’s lack of franchised fast food outlets means that the kids have a fixation for deep-fried tat of any kind, and the road house seems to provide the next-best experience of driving in (if not thru) and getting some scalding hot saturated fat.
We were off to Dubbo the other week and pulled in around morning tea time. The glass cabinets were filled with rows of those yellow paper cups with hot chips and wedges and bits of chickens’ limbs. It looked like an installation and I’m sure if there’d been a artist’s statement next to it the National Gallery would have acquired it.
There were also rounded food-like objects in those yellow cups, about six of them to a serve. The kids told me they were “garlic balls”. They sounded delicious! I handed over my money and scampered back to the bus, like Gollum with his ring.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I got. I sank my teeth into the crusty breadcrumb coating and I hit a spongy layer of … huh? Chicken? For some reason I’d thought it might be a vegetarian dish, like deep-fried balls of garlic bread. Oh no! Oh very no! How wrong was I! It was chook, all right, followed by a molten core of gooey garlicky … stuff.
It was really hard to work out what that middle bit was made out of. A mate came up from Newcastle this weekend and I tried to explain it to him and it was impossible. It defied my every attempt to describe it, even when I brought up the picture on my phone and we zoomed in.
Is it even a food? Maybe it’s something else, like a colour or a half-remembered dream or the strange nostalgia you have for something that happened not all that long ago, like when I think of the nights I spent this cold winter when I didn’t have a telly, sitting in bed and working my way through Game of Thrones and House of Cards on my laptop.
I think that’s it. I think garlic balls are not a food, they are a feeling. They’re a material representation of the sense of remorse and nausea-inducing anxiety you get when you make a Bad Choice. That and the dark, lonely sadness of knowing that not only have you taken a wrong path but that you’ll continue on that path until you’ve finished, no matter what good sense and bitter experience tells you.
This I know to be true because, in spite of everything my body told me, I finished all of my garlic balls. All six of them.
I do not want to have that feeling ever again.