It’s a fearful age, and this past week a host of new frights descended on us here in the heart of the country.
1) Last week the town in Southern Illinois I’m writing about, and others around it, were hit hard by what the National Weather Service (evidently) mistakenly called an inland hurricane, with winds to 100 miles per hour, large hail, 3.5 inches of rain, and 4,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in a given 15-minute period. A friend was in a car dealership at the time and said the plate windows around the showroom appeared to be breathing, while in a nearby field a long line of power-transmission poles snapped one after another in a domino effect. Power is still out for 10,000 Ameren customers, and towns still have curfews from dark to dawn.
According to this blog  at the University of Wisconsin, the proper term for the storm is a “derecho.” (Looks like it has an eye and rotation to me.) For a more detailed and highly technical explanation that only you, Professor Bob , will understand, see here . Things are getting weird enough that soon I expect to have seaside property, which will become a popular spring break destination. Frisbeer , anyone?
Here in east-central Illinois we got nothing that day, but Wednesday there was tropical rain. I tried to drive out of town to do an interview but all the underpasses and low places were flooded, holes in the streets blew air and water like geysers, and the basement of our 138-year old house started taking on water, so I turned around and came home. (Standing under the waterfall from one of my rain gutters, during the height of the storm, while laying a plastic tarp to divert the flood actually made me a little nostalgic for my diving days.)
Up in Chicago, Crazy Larry has developed ancraophobia , he’s decided—a fear of wind. He compares the stressful experience of trying to walk in the strong straight-winds off the lake and the crazy gusts to being exposed to solar winds. He says the body registers the exposure as being robbed of its vital essences.
2) No one seems to know what will develop with the H1N1 virus , and what I’ve heard about the high number of reported cases  in the state of Illinois is that our medical facilities merely use a more sensitive or faster-reporting test than other states do. In any case, on Wednesday, the Director of the University Health Center sent an e-mail to everyone suggesting we not shake hands at commencement if we have symptoms of upper respiratory infection, such as fever or cough. Tubs of disinfectant gel will be provided for those who wish to lather up before and after receiving their diplomas. While academic regalia is required, condoms are optional.
3) Wednesday night, my acquaintance Rory held forth at the local crêperie about his project to define what it means to be a working-class writer.
4) Today, he said we should have lunch. He said he’s going on a diet. He said he wanted to go to Fat Sandwich , which opened recently on campus. He ordered the Fat Cowboy—chicken cheesesteak, onion rings, French fries, blue cheese, and hot sauce on a bun. In deference to his forthcoming diet, he had them hold the blue cheese and add barbecue sauce.
I got the Burger Donut—a bacon cheeseburger on a glazed Krispy Kreme bun. The general manager allayed my fears by praising the sandwich’s mix of savory and sweet. (Let’s face it, ketchup, which we slather on everything, is mostly high fructose corn syrup anyway.) It was odd—really odd—but delicious.
Needless to say, Fat Sandwich Company depends on the after-hours crowd from campustown bars—who don’t always remember coming in the next day, the manager said—for its business. Consequently they sell everything a wrecked undergrad could find room to put in their bodies: Beer, cigs, blunts (regular or chocolate), Swisher Sweets, Life Water, garden salads, mini-corndogs, Mac N Cheese bites, jalapeno poppers, and sandwiches such as the Fat MILF (cheesesteak, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, bacon, mayo, ketchup). The Drunken 3-Some is two Fat sandwiches and a 12-pack for 22 bucks.
The manager explained the restaurant’s claim to fame, The Big Fat Ugly, to me. It’s two amoroso rolls filled with four cheeseburgers, double cheesesteak, chicken cheesesteak, gyro meat, grilled chicken, bacon, sausage, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, chicken nuggets, Mac N Cheese bites, fried mushrooms, jalapeno poppers, pizza bites, onion rings, hash browns, American cheese, mayo, and ketchup.
This thing is the kind of sick you’d get if Mayor McCheese, Colonel Sanders, the Burger King, and all the “flair”-wearing servers of all the TGI-McSniffy’s and Crapplebys in the world shacked up in an abandoned Hilton in the Philippines for two months to do nothing but keg stands and play beer pong.
The restaurant has a standing Big Fat Ugly challenge for lone diners: Eat the six pounds of food and 21,000 calories in under 15 minutes, and the store buys it for you and gives you a t-shirt. When I wondered aloud if the human animal can do such a thing and live, the manager said they’ve been trying to get the Man v. Food guy  from the Travel Channel to come out and do a program on them.
Be careful out there, I told Larry when he called today. There’s some serious stuff going down right now. I could tell he was distracted by the wind, which made his voice nearly unintelligible, when he agreed that a cheeseburger in a bun made of Pop-Tarts was a great idea.
“You’ll want to stay away from the fruit flavors,” I said.
“Right,” he said. “A bun made of Paydays  then. I feel better just thinking about it.”