“What’s for tea, Mum?” The Countess Penelope of Arcadia asked in the delightfully disarming diction of a late 19th century Dickensian street urchin. “Mum, what’s for tea?”
The fact that I am not actually her mother is irrelevant, as is the fact that she is neither a Countess, a street urchin, nor, in fact, British — a sad truth that she laments on a nearly daily basis.
“Mum, what’s for tea?” The Countess repeated, and would continue to repeat, I knew, until I gave her the answer she expected.
I couldn’t just say, “Lasagna,” though I could really go for lasagna. I couldn’t say “Cajun Chicken Caesar Salad”, which was what we were actually having for dinner. No, thanks to Penny’s tendency for fixation and my outrageously large record collection, the only answer that Penny was going to accept was:
“Beans,” I sighed, because sometimes it’s easier to play along with Penny than to try to re-direct her mostly harmless insanity. “Heinz Baked Beans.”
Penny had been thumbing through a thick stack of records I was re-acquainting myself with — a relaxing Sunday morning amusement of mine — and had come across an album called The Who Sell Out. The album cover features guitarist Pete Townsend applying a giant deodorant stick on one half, while on the other half of the cover, singer Roger Daltry is literally bathing in a tub of Heinz Baked Beans.
“This!” Penny declared immediately upon seeing it. “This! This! We’re listening to this! I don’t care if it’s an all pedal steel band featuring Yoko Ono on lead vocals — I have to know what this is all about!”
I put the album on and tried to explain to Penny about the history of it — how it was a sort of tribute to pirate radio station Radio London, and how it was kind of The Who’s response to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I gave her a primer about how the band used actual radio jingles as well as making up their own, and how it was all supposed to be tongue in cheek irony — the band laughing at themselves because they had been making commercials to promote themselves at the time.
But for all the encyclopedic knowledge that I was attempting to impart, all that Penny focused on as we listened was the jingle for Heinz Baked Beans. And so, for the rest of the morning, I had been hearing: “Mum, what’s for tea? What’s for tea, mum?”
The only answer the persistently pertinacious Penelope permitted was, of course:
“Beans, darling. Heinz Baked Beans.”
After answering this question in this Penny-approved manner about 37 times (in a row), Penny finally diversified her demands.
“Do we have any?”
Find out if Penny and I actually did have Heinz Baked Beans after this word from our sponsors.
Migraines. They can really ruin your whole day. When I have a migraine, it’s like someone’s put my head in a vice and is stabbing me repeatedly in the eyes with a rusty screwdriver that’s been dipped in iodine while playing Nickelback at full volume on one radio and Skrillex on an infinite loop on another. That’s when I turn to Madvil Liqui-gels — and sometimes it even works!
But there are some headaches that even Madvil can’t touch. Some headaches are caused by Internet related bullshit — bullying, slacktivism, and other the ever growing illiteracy of the general populous. Symptoms include excessive swearing, nausea, localized pain in the hindquarters, and a growing misanthropic malaise.
When I experience this kind of pain, I turn to Vodka — the deep down, sleepy-headed, fuzzy tummy, drink-til-your-vision’s-blurry-and-your-speech-is-slurred, apathy inducing, ah, who gives a flying rat’s ass medicine.
Vodka — making bullshit more tolerable.
Even though I had chicken marinating in Frank’s Hot Sauce and pepper encrusted bacon fried up nice and crisp and drying out, and even though I’d gone out and bought a wedge of Parmesan cheese for shaving, and fresh Romaine lettuce for breaking up into salad, Penelope insisted (quite insistently, I might add) that we rectify our Heinz Baked Beans shortage immediately. Right away. Post haste, even.
So we found ourselves in the canned goods aisle, looking for the iconic blue Heinz Baked Beans can, which we eventually had to look for in the International Foods aisle, because Penny wasn’t satisfied with the Canadian Heinz Baked Beans — it had to be the British can from the album cover.
Not content to buy one can, the Countess began filling our cart with every can on the shelf. When the shelf was empty, she turned to me with a mischievous grin, which I recognized as the one she usually gives me when she’s up to what most people would call no good but what I had come to refer to as story fodder. Without her saying a word, I knew that we were probably about to do something terribly scandalous, much to the embarrassment of total strangers.
We arrived at the checkout with eighteen cans of Heinz Baked Beans, a package of foot long hot dogs, three boxes of laxatives, half a dozen English Cucumbers, a roll of duct tape, a package of condoms, a box of garbage bags, two tubes of KY jelly, and an old Hannah Montana DVD we picked up in a clearance bin. As the cashier — a girl only a couple of years younger than Penny herself — scanned each item, Penny stared at the girl, making full eye contact and asked her increasingly suggestive questions.
“How long are those cucumbers guaranteed to stay firm?”
“How quickly do those laxatives kick in?”
“How safe are those condoms if they come in contact with hot tomato sauce?”
“Do you know if this is the Hannah Montana episode with the wardrobe malfunction?”
Stay tuned for the answers to these and other questions after these important messages.
“Mmmm… Mum, these tatties ur amazin’! Whit did ye dae differently?”
“Och, it’s th’ newest hin’, Seamus. They caa it salt an’ pepper.”
“Whit dae ye hink, Dad? Doesnae it taste sae much better?”
“Mebbe sae. But Ah dornt loch it a body bit. Mah mammy ne’er used salt an’ pepper, an’ we liked it jist braw.”
“Och, gie th’ pickle it ay yer crease. Ah hink it’s brammer, an’ we’re gonnae use salt an’ pepper frae noo oan.”
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“Um, I don’t know,” the confused checkout girl said, looking more uncomfortable by the second. “I’ll have to ask my manager.”
“Penny,” I said through gently clenched teeth so I didn’t break into laughter. “Penny darling, maybe we just let the nice lady ring us through so we can get home and untie the boys. We’ve been gone quite some time now, and you know how hanging them upside down sometimes causes circulation problems.”
“Oh, dear, yes,” Penny agreed, winking at the cashier. “The last thing you want when you have an evening of debauchery planned is problems with blood flow.”
And so we left, sparing the poor girl any further embarrassment or trauma, and went home and cooked up a couple of cans of Heinz Baked Beans and made some toast.
I watched in bewilderment as Penny scraped the actual beans off of her toast, leaving the sauce behind.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Yeah, I really don’t like the beans all that much. It’s really the sauce I was after.” She replied sheepishly.
“But I’ve seen you eat beans a hundred times,” I said.
“What can I say?” Penny shrugged. “I’m fickle. And I don’t like having the farts. Maybe you should slow down. The last time we had beans, well, you know.”
I didn’t know.
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, you know. Beans, beers, Good Will Hunting. You befouled our apartment, Helena. Befouled it.”
“I did no such thing!” I protested.
“Whatever,” Penny said dismissively. “I get it. A woman your age needs lots of fibre.”
“A woman my age? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, Helena,” she replied, shaking her head sadly. “It hurts me to watch you lose your mind like this.”
“You know, you think you’re being funny,” I said, “but just wait until you’re changing my diapers. I’m going to save these boxes of laxatives and eat nothing but Heinz Baked Beans all the time and brew up something special for you.”
Penny cringed in horror, and looked at the sixteen remaining cans of beans sitting on our counter.
“So,” she said in sweet supplication, “I feel like I’ve been a bit evil today. I mean, that poor girl at the checkout, and now I’ve been ever so cruel to you — what do you say we erase a bit of my karmic debt and take these cans down to a homeless shelter or something?”
I felt a rumbling in my tummy and began rounding up the extra cans.
“Sounds like a plan, darling,” I said, and then, as an afterthought, added: “But it doesn’t change anything. If I lose my mind, I’m going to shit my pants at every opportunity. Hell, I might even dig it out and throw it around a bit. Maybe play with it like marbles.”
“OH MY GOD, Helena, you’re disgusting!” Penny shrieked. “I was just a baby! You’re never going to let that go, are you?”
“Never,” I grinned wickedly. “Not if I live to be a hundred.”