Notes on Sausage Gravy

I have eaten more sausage gravy than any man should. I am sure there are men who could eat more sausage gravy than me. That would be a decidedly bad idea.

Sausage gravy comes in as many shades of brown as a paint color manufacturer could imagine. I have seen sausage gravy in woodland snow, winter sky, candle white, driftwood, smoked oyster, barren plain, cement gray, stormy Monday, and sea life. In case you wanted to follow along, those were all Benjamin Moore paint colors. I am sitting on a dirty hotel bed with a pile of paint chips fanned in front of me, scratching my head and trying to match my memories to the proper sample.

Good sausage gravy does not disintegrate into a pasty liquid on the tongue. Chunks of sausage distract the mind from the sensation of swollen starch granules, still gritty, swimming along like sperm. Bad sausage gravy forms a skin when left to languish on meatloaf or mashed potatoes. Then, you have to stir it with a fork and break up the skin, which wiggles as though a real epidermis, complete with moles and just sprouting hairs. The skin gets caught between the tines. And then, you’re stuck with the one-handed scrape, a slight slap and drag against the plate’s chipped china lip that dislodges the mucus. At the John Brown Wax Museum in Harper’s Ferry, I saw a mannequin with a motorized chest that heaved up and down as though breathing. Nothing else in the diorama moved. The slap and drag is likewise disturbing.

The best sausage gravy, the kind of sausage gravy that a diner aficionado encounters only once in a lifetime, maybe twice if he is exceptionally lucky, tastes like meat and pepper. Most sausage gravy, I report with the greatest regret, comes out of a can. Sausage gravy out of a can tastes like tin and salt. The consumption of canned sausage gravy happens in the passive tense, in the dreary pre-fabricated diners found along ex-Interstates. In a sardine can of a pre-fab diner, it is difficult to practice good posture. Even when joined by reliable friends, the variety of companion who asks for a third refill on coffee instead of checking his watch and excusing himself with a half-squinting smile, “we should get together again soon, good to see you, but I have an important meeting with our distributed product team in Thailand,” the shoulders slump. Everyone sits in a huddle of one.

For breakfast this morning, I had sausage gravy on pancakes. I prefer maple syrup. In Virginia, it is called “hot cakes and gravy.” Enough calories to power a nine-mile hike, but the salty-sweet taste belongs more in an Applebee’s ad or a hipster’s wet dream than my breakfast. A salty-sweet breakfast depends on a buttery palate, more yellow than gray. Hot cakes with maple syrup and salted butter. Now that would be delicious.

For dinner today, I had sausage gravy on everything: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, pickled beets, whatever. Very whatever. At least dessert, a vanilla frozen custard, did not come with gravy. I think I would have cried and crashed my car into Hans Frozen Custard. I never would have made it to this hotel, where I am already considering tomorrow’s lunch options. I see that sausage gravy is on many a Pennsylvanian menu.

Perhaps, I have saved room for another serving. After all, tomorrow could be my lucky day; the day of great sausage gravy. That is why we go on: for the promise of better sausage gravy, tomorrow.

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