It sticks to your ribs.

There are some guaranteed laughs in life.

A child falling. Animals biting one another on the nose.

And a waifish musician from Los Angeles sitting down, sight unseen, to the country breakfast special at Monell's in Nashville.

The food at Monell's is not for the faint of heart, in that it could provoke a coronary at any moment. They don't take reservations or orders. You sit down at one of their large tables and food is brought to you, to be eaten family-style.

Heaping bowls of corn casserole, fried chicken, biscuits, gravy, pancakes, and at least 3 different kinds of salted or sugared meats are put down with the instruction to "pass to the left first, then it's a free-for-all."

I went to Monell's the minute it opened on a Monday morning and was the third person there. I got sat alone at a big table and pulled out a book as battered as the chicken, waiting for the unknown others to arrive.

To my surprise, a thin young man with floppy blond hair was placed next to me. He had no idea what was going on: he was staying up the street and asked a passerby where to get breakfast. They pointed him to Monell's.

Oh, honey. Oh, no.

I explained what he was in for and he looked bewildered. Not excited, not bemused, but legitimately afraid of the food and forced fraternity.

Soon the table filled up and so did its occupants -- everyone except the boy. He nibbled at some eggs -- the leanest protein he could find -- and took a few bites of a pancake. He skipped the grits and wrinkled his nose at the country ham.

He was the first to leave, and the nice young woman to my right said to me, consolingly, with a light Nashville twang, "Well, he seemed nice."

"Yes, sure," I blinked at her.

"Do you think he'll call?"

...

Oh, honey. Oh, no.

It took me a second to realize she thought we were on a date. I couldn't have corrected her fast enough. Everyone else at the table was from Atlanta or Nashville, and knew how to talk to strangers the way Southerners do, and the way gaunt musicians from Los Angeles do not.

That's with gusto, with sincerity, and with an extra helping of grits.

It was time for me to go. In less than 24 hours, I had done everything I wanted to do: smile too much at Robert's Western World and eat too much at Monell's.

A cover band was at Robert's Western World (Nashville's best honky tonk) the night before, playing Waylon Jennings, the Statler Brothers, Johnny Cash, and the rest.

I took pictures of strangers who bought my drinks and then a stranger took pictures of me. Some locals invited me to the next round of bars but I decided to leave early: I wanted to work out before eating three days' worth of meals in one sitting.

I'm sensible that way.

I left Nashville for Chattanooga, feeling full of as many memories as carbohydrates. I'd been there different times with different people -- but none of them had the staying power of sawmill gravy.

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