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Nashville Scene Nightly Rounds

The cooling of hot doughnuts

By John Bridges

SEPTEMBER 28, 1998:  People in New York already had bagels. I can't imagine why they wanted Krispy Kremes. I cannot imagine why eight million people with knishes and foot-wide pretzels and dried-up beef-jerky kebabs available on every street corner would have any possible interest in a fluffy little sticky-glazed dough ring. You would have thought their cops could have been content with hot dogs and pre-sliced pizza. You would have figured a slice of pepperoni with double cheese, ground beef, mushrooms and extra jalapeños contained all the fat grams any NYPD police officer could ever possibly use.

You would have thought women in New York would have been worried about the sticky glaze getting all over their little black stretchy pull-over dresses. You would have thought men in New York would have been concerned about getting gooey crumbs all over their goatees. You would have thought that everybody in New York would have been worried about getting their glaze-tacky fingers caught in their nipple rings. You would have thought they would have wondered what effect prolonged exposure to confectioner's sugar and water might have on a $795 multicolored tattoo.

After all, a Krispy Kreme doughnut looks like something only a Southerner would eat. Even when it is a day old, slightly dry, and too long out of the oven, it still glistens, as if it had grown dewy, like the neck of a lady on a verandah in Mississippi at 3 o'clock on a late summer evening. It is, at all hours, sweet and tingling to the teeth, like a biscuit drowned in cane-sugar syrup but still, underneath it all, greasy with lard. It is soft, almost as if it had no consistency, the perfect food for fretful teething children not yet capable of chewing Double Bubble, an even better food for middle-aged people whose own teeth have been traded in for too many mid-morning snacks of greasy biscuits, gummy with syrup, washed down with too many glasses of oversweet, sugar-thick tea.

This is not supposed to be the kind of food that captures the Yankee imagination. This is food typically eaten by white people whose parents were born speaking English; even more disturbing is the fact that it is probably cooked by white people too.

It is not as if a white, sponge-textured doughnut had any sense of challenge, oddness, or curiousness at all. It does not come from the South of catfish, chitterlings, and bitter-tasting mustard greens. It does not even hold the mystery of vidalias or pecan sandies or mint juleps. It is not as inexplicable as a slice of chess pie or a pickled pig's foot. It is not food from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or Faulkner or Tennessee Williams. It is not even from the pages of Southern Living. It is the sort of food that is advertised in the football program at a high-school homecoming. ("Go Bulldogs! Half-dozen Krispy Kremes free with this coupon. One order per customer. Does not include jelly-filled. Support your sheriff's department.") It is the kind of food that is given away when somebody opens a used-car dealership.

And yet, the other day in The New York Times, there was a 2,500-word article about Krispy Kremes; about how people line up for them after the theater or after the clubs close, about how people are eating them and not worrying about getting fat, about how people in $11,000 Prada slacks are pacing the sidewalk, smoking cigarettes and waiting for the "Hot Doughnuts" sign to flip on.

You would think people in New York had seen this kind of food before. Surely, you would think, they have tasted Hostess Twinkies. Surely, you would think, they had seen a Little Debbie Snack Cake. Surely, you figure, sometime after drinking a lot of ouzo and smoking something that made them very, very hungry, they have stopped in at a Korean market and bought a day-old Hoo-Hoo, which they have consumed, complete with cellophane wrapper and USDA warning label, right there on the street.

But they have come to think of Krispy Kremes as night food, the food of people who prowl in the hours after the hot dog vendors have put their carts away. Because this is food that is hot and sticky and available for less than a dollar at times when small children are supposed to be sleeping, the people in the Prada pants think they are eating food of the city, food of the angst-ridden, the sleepless, the understandably agitated. They are amazed to taste a bread-type product that is not made with olive oil and pine nuts. They are enchanted by the experience of washing it down with coffee that does not taste like cappuccino at all. ("What is this stuff?" they ask one another. "It's really not like a latté at all.")

What they do not know is what anybody Southern could tell themthat it is only the lonely who are driven to the desperation of eating doughnuts at 3 o'clock in the morning. At such hours, anybody in the South could tell them, a waitress behind a Krispy Kreme counter becomes a bartender with no closing hours posted. At such hours, it does not seem strange to see a cop feeding an iced cake doughnut, with sprinkles, to a German shepherd in the back of a patrol car. At such hours, it does not seem odd at all to see a guy in a hard hat asking a drag queen if she would mind passing him a packet of Sweet 'n' Lo.

Any Southerner can explain that the only reason for anybody to eat a doughnut at that time of the morning is simply to have something to do, something that is better than going home, something that you do not have to do alone. There is nothing daring, nothing exotic, nothing worth noting about such a moment. The waitress works the counter, filling coffee cups before she is asked to, but not because she cares whether anybody leaves her 15 cents or a couple of quarters. She takes the drag queen's money and does not ask why her dollar bills are always wadded up in tight little knots. Every night she asks the guy in the hard hat, "Honey, ain't they never gonna finish with that sewer pump?" She hands the cop a chocolate-glazed cream-filled and says, "Bet a dog like that could take hole out of somebody's butt."

Nobody smiles because nobody has heard anything worth noticing, just as nobody has particularly noticed whether the doughnut glaze is still drippy or not. Outside, the streetlights are beginning to flicker because it is not really night anymore. What it really is is morning. The "Hot Doughnuts" sign is blinking. Nothing remarkable about that at all.


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