The Limburger sandwich rested on the bar. Stink waves rose from it like heat off a barbecue. The bartender had served many of the sandwiches to weak-kneed gastro tourists, the modern term, or simply Not Locals at Baumgartner’s Tavern. He didn’t need to watch the color leave their excited faces or listen to them gasp and gag. He trusted they’d do what they had to, with most of ‘em asking to have the better part of the sandwich taken away. The decent ones left a good tip out of respect for the cheese that undid them.
The two women sat at the bar with their sandwiches on folded butcher paper in front of them.
“Oh my god. My eyes are watering.”
“It smells like ass. It’s an ass sandwich.”
“Did you mean “a nice” sandwich?”
“Did you see the bartender’s shirt?”
“No and now I can’t see anything through my tears.”
“It says, “Pull my Finger.”
“And here we are with an ass sandwich staring us in the face.”
“Is that? No.”
“Is that guy behind me smoking?”
“I’ll be damned! He is. There’s a fucking ashtray on the bar!”
“Lean back in your chair. I’ll get a picture of this—the last bar in civilization to allow smoking AND serving ass sandwiches.”
“Hurry up. I need to get the bartender to take this nasty ass sandwich away.”
Vern nodded to the bartender and took the cigarettes out of his breast pocket. A clean ashtray and matches instantly appeared. Damn good bartender.
The smell of the Limburger sandwiches on the bar wafted over to him with every pass of the oscillating fan. The sweat trickled down his chest and over his flat white stomach. He’d been teaching his grandson how to make Limburger all morning. Hardly any competition in that market, he was proud to say. Shipped it all over the world. It made a real nice sandwich, but Christ, don’t forget a thick slice of onion.
Sue and I had enjoyed an impromptu road trip to find a kinda famous “dented goods” place run by Mennonites in the middle of “I’m Lost” Wisconsin. Because of getting lost, we got there a half hour before closing, and discovered that we didn’t need more time than that. My primary purchases were corn remover pads in every configuration. It’s been 5 years and I still have stock, but what a deal!
We found roadside attractions to take turns posing beside. I felt like a true American standing beside the big ass upright cow statue that was wearing a chef’s hat and holding a big raw slab of sirloin.
Our last “official” destination before heading back to Illinois was established: Baumgartner’s in Monroe. It is one of a kind, so far as I can tell. The walls are covered by a battle between wine and beer, which I understand is symbolic of a battle between the Huguenots and the Catholics. In Monroe, the beery Protestants win.
Note that the beer steins are loading catapults with limburger while wearing clothespins on their noses.
Years earlier in our friendship, when Sue lived upstairs from me, we had gotten drawn to Monroe by their rotating festivals—one year it was the cheese festival and the next an accordion festival. Fortunately a girl never had to choose between them.
We’d almost come to blows during the Cheese Festival parade that honored families of cheese makers—seriously there were flatbed trucks with a bunch of old German farmers sitting on chairs. It was cute and funny, but the people of Monroe are serious about their cheese. They set up chairs days in advance, we later learned, to watch the parade. When I stepped out to take a couple of pictures, a wave of seething hatred washed over me from behind. Soon the grumbling began and we moved along, hoping not to have drawn the short straw in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” re-make.
On this day in Monroe, we were bound to try a local cheese of lore: limburger! We knew of its stinky reputation, but we’re fans of stinky cheese! Until our sandwiches arrived, we didn’t know that limburger actually smells like roadkill that has been in the sun for several days. We laughed and cried and cried.
I don’t think I was able to eat more than this. I can still smell this sandwich.