The last time I had a fast food hamburger was in Fuddrucker’s in the 1990s. My kids called it “Funrucker’s” so I did as well. On inside marketing material the chain referred to itself as “Fudd’s” way back in the beginning of corporate self-nicknaming. Even if you’re not familiar with the place, you’re familiar with the concept, the high-end McDonald’s knockoff. Diners order from the counter, wait for their order and schlep along a Fixin’s-style bar, piling salad items and condiments on their burger. A person (who is totally not a waitress) brings and tops-off drinks. The Fuddrucker’s in Salisbury also sold ostrich and bison burgers. They were fine. I guess.
What always amazes me about restaurants like this is their decor, which is a mix of faux-antiques and the kinds of things your uncle puts on the walls of his rec room, Three Stooges pictures, vintage advertisements, “stolen” parking and street signs. The notion of kitsch in a box, that there exist design companies that collect and distribute these things, always fascinated me. The decor was carefully chosen and even more carefully displayed as if both the selection and its place on the wall were completely random. “Fudd’s” really was your cool single uncle’s rec room.
Among the Americana was an I Spy-style picture that hung above the urinal in the men’s room. Back in the 1990s there was a book series called, I Spy… It was a kid’s book that had elaborate photographs containing hidden objects. The men’s room picture intrigued me because it was kind of like a low-rent I Spy. Everything was pretty easy to find, even during the short time it took to pee. One feels as if the head Fuddrucker’s designer at Kitsch-In-A-Box chose it specifically for that purpose. I do not know what the artist had in mind.
Sometime after the turn of the century, Fuddrucker’s closed. I had long since stopped eating fast food (or meat, really) in any meaningful way so I barely noticed. Plaza Tapatia replaced Fuddrucker’s and staked out a claim as a local restaurant among a sea of box stores. It took them awhile for the new place to get a liquor license, so it took me awhile to stop in there for Happy Hour. With the sole exception that the fixin’s bar had been replaced by a proper bar, very little about the place had changed. The Americana kitsch had been replaced with the somehow less tacky Mexican kitsch and the walls repainted in more southwestern tones and styles. The only thing that remained was the picture above the urinal.
The first time I noticed the picture, I brushed it off, thinking it was an oversight but its presence wore on me more with every visit (it is an excellent place for a cheap happy hour). It eventually occurred to me that the bathroom was repainted, which means the Plaza Tapatia folks removed and replaced that picture and that picture alone. At first I thought it was a stop-gap measure, but it has been a decade and each time I use the bathroom in this restaurant, I am at least a little surprised that this last-remaining piece of Americana still is there.
Holy Christ I hated that sign, it gave me a really low opinion of whatever cretin lived in the house before me. For one reason or another (probably because I didn’t use the back door often enough) the sign remained in place for a couple of years. Eventually I removed it only to discover that it concealed a hole in the wall, Sit-Com-style. I returned the sign to the wall with every intention of replacing it, but it has so become part of the house that I don’t notice it at all anymore. In fact, only after writing that sentence did it occur to me that the hundreds of guests I’ve entertained over the last 20 years have no idea that I didn’t choose that sign. I’m now experiencing 20 year’s worth of retroactive embarrassment.
We like to think that our home decor and fashion choices fall someplace between representational and aspirational, but because there is a distance between our choices and the people judging them, that can’t always be the case. I don’t mind if people think I’m forgetful, just like the previous owner of this house didn’t mind if people thought he was tacky. In both cases, though, the result isn’t one to which we aspired.
Maybe there’s a hole in the wall behind the sign at Plaza Tapatia or maybe it just fits their sensibilities. My guess, however, is that eventually the picture just fell off their radar and the only one who even sees it anymore is me.