after Sebald
M.T. Fallon

In the autumn of 2006 I traveled from Idaho to Nebraska in a borrowed car to visit friends who had recently experienced a profound loss. It was not long after beginning my journey when, after stretching my legs at an interstate rest area, I noticed several french fries in the crevice between the driver seat and the console. I had not consumed a fried potato in several years, not since a gastric bypass and the loss of over a hundred pounds during my battle with middle-aged obesity, and I assumed the fries had been accidentally dropped by the corpulent owners of the car. There in the parking lot, I struggled to insert my unadept fingers into a narrow and blind space, if only to tidy the small cockpit of the vehicle, but I failed to extract these withered slivers, and so I continued my journey with my thoughts turning forward to the somber occasion that awaited me. It was only minutes later, however, while driving south on I-84 through Glenns Ferry where green rows of potato plants roll endlessly over a dark volcanic soil, that my thoughts returned to the lowly yet remarkable food that is the potato. Idaho, a state whose chambers of commerce long ago yoked its erstwhile reputation to the tuber, was in fact a relative latecomer to its production. Mormons seeking fallow ground pushed west out of Utah in the 1870s to establish the first viable potato fields in southern Idaho. It was not long before those industrious Latter Day Saints were exporting several million tuberous pounds to the teeming hordes of settlers gathering in San Francisco and vicinal communities along the California coast. Culinary practices at that time included the baking and boiling of potatoes with a simple dressing of vinegar and salt. The immersion of blanched potatoes into a vat of hot fat was certainly known in continental capitals, but such preparations were hardly viable on the American frontier. As night fell, I drove through the abject Wyoming expanse with solemn thoughts for my friends and their adolescent son who had so tragically passed just a week ago. I stopped once or twice for coffee at fast food restaurants, eating only the fruit and vegetarian sandwiches I had packed for the journey. I probably would not have given another thought to french fries except that once in Nebraska, in the morning, I was met with the curious sight of overweight road workers toiling on a stretch of I-80 that bisected the most enormous soybean field I had ever seen. It occurred to me that fried potatoes did not become a ubiquitous staple of the American working class until the latter half of the twentieth century, at which time the commercial production of soybean oil ensured a cheap and stable medium for the fast food fryers suddenly appearing across the prosperous postwar continent. Later that afternoon when I arrived at the home of my good friend Luther Burbank, he had not yet returned from whatever affairs were keeping him, and so I sat conversing with his wife Helen and watching his young daughter Elsie arrange and rearrange the facial characteristics of a toy that resembled a large potato. Helen poured diet sodas and set out of a bowl of chocolates, explaining that the dearth of the one allowed the excess of the other. Just as the light failed and we'd switched on the lamps, Luther burst through the door, his deep baritone resounding in the chambers of his portly form. Being pressed for time, he had returned with a fast food value meal, and we sat to a dinner of fried chicken parts, french fries, and buttery biscuits. It was a difficult meal for me to ingest, not entirely because of my dietary restrictions, but knowing that their child had died from complications associated with obesity, it seemed altogether inappropriate, though I did not share this opinion with my hosts.