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Shut Up Juice

It’s a beautiful, sunny day in East Hickory, Georgia. At the Pig and Whistle Down Home BBQ, Earl Bodine tugs on his John Deere cap and gives the sparkling counter its third polish of the morning with a damp dishrag.
| Nov 15, 2011 | No comments |

It’s a beautiful, sunny day in East Hickory, Georgia. At the Pig and Whistle Down Home BBQ, Earl Bodine tugs on his John Deere cap and gives the sparkling counter its third polish of the morning with a damp dishrag. The door opens to the tinkle of a tiny brass bell, and a portly fellow in bib overalls enters the restaurant. He settles himself on a stool at the counter.

“Mornin’, Earl.”

“Welcome back, Mort!” Earl tucks the dishrag into his back pocket, then picks up an order pad and a ball-point pen. “What can I get for you?”

Mort strokes his chin. “Hmm. How’s about a pulled-pork sandwich, side of slaw, and a large sweet tea?”

Earl jots down the order and hangs it on a carousel in the kitchen window. “One Zuckerman’s Famous Pig, Raylene! Slop it!”

“Yeah, yeah. Number Six comin’ up.”

“Haven’t seen you around lately.” Earl fills a giant plastic tumbler with iced tea and sets it on a coaster in front of Mort. “Where’ve you been keepin’ yourself?”

“As good as your barbecue is, Earl, I require some variety in my diet. I’ve been doing a little restaurant hopping.”

“Yeah, I understand. Find anything good?”

“There’s this new hash house on the other side of the tracks called Loco Larry’s. He claims to have the hottest barbecue sauce in town.”

“Does he now? Well, sir, I reckon it’s time to break out the Shut Up Juice again.”

“Shut Up Juice? What’s that?”

“Order up!” Raylene hands Earl a plate through the kitchen window, which he delivers to Mort.

“Here, let me show you.” Earl rummages around beneath the counter and emerges with an eyedropper and a large plastic mayonnaise jar with the initials S.U.J. scrawled on it in thick black marker. “I got tired of all them young upstarts disrespectin’ my barbecue, sayin’ my sauce didn’t have enough heat, and so on, and so forth. So, I invented Shut Up Juice. Blended into my top-secret regular sauce base is the essence of ’most every hot pepper known to man, plus a few cultivated only by denizens of the underworld. It is guaranteed to silence any smart-aleck fool who thinks he knows barbecue better than me.”

Earl cuts Mort’s sandwich in two and dispenses a single drop of rusty, murky fluid from the jar onto one of the halves. “There. Give’er a taste and let me know what you think.”

Mort takes a bite. “…”

“Dang hot, ain’t it?”

“…” Mort clutches his throat. His face is turning beet red.

Earl smiles. “So, whatdya say? Give me your honest opinion.”

“…” Mort chugs the entire contents of his glass of tea and waves frantically at Earl for a refill.

Earl serves him another glass, which Mort drains twice as fast as the first one. “See what I mean? That there is the hottest sauce in the world, and will render any loud-mouthed braggart speechless who dares challenge me. It has saved me untold hours of listening to drivel, nonsense, and tomfoolery, and it has won every argument I deemed to be in need of swift and decisive termination. I usually apply a full tablespoon, but you’re a good friend, and I didn’t want to ruin your appetite.”

“Mer…wheeze…mercy goodness, Earl…you could…strip paint with this.”

“Hmm. Hadn’t considered industrial applications.” Earl pulls out his order pad. “Let me jot that down. May be some profit in it.”

Mort mops his face with a blue polka-dot handkerchief. “There’s one problem, though.”

“You don’t say. Looked pretty effective to me.”

“The thing is, it stopped me from talking, but I couldn’t taste the sandwich. The sauce totally blotted out the sweet, savory smokiness of the meat. Seems to me, the sauce should complement that flavor, not overwhelm it. Don’t you want your competition to recognize the superiority of your barbecue?”

“I mostly want them to shut up.”

“But once they recover from the Shut Up Juice, they’ll start trash-talking your food again.”

“Maybe…after two months of blessed silence!”

“It doesn’t solve the problem. Here, I want you to try something.” Mort produces a tiny bottle from the front pocket of his overalls, unscrews the lid, and taps it twice over the other half of his sandwich. “Now, take a bite.”

“What’d you put on that?”

“Oh, just a little something my grandma came up with a long time ago. Family secret. Try it.”

“Mort, if I find you’re going into business against me, it may put our friendship in jeopardy. Just sayin’.”

“Mm-hmm. Eat.”

Earl takes a bite, then another…and another. “Well, I’m…I’m speechless. I’d never have thought there was a way to improve my barbecue, but I have to admit this tops anything I’ve ever tasted. Your grandma wouldn’t be interested in sellin’ me the rights to that there family secret, would she?”

“You’re welcome to it. She won’t mind.”

“Gimme that bottle. What in blue blazes is this stuff?”

Mort hands Earl the bottle, grinning from ear to ear.

Earl looks at it, frowns, and shakes it twice. “It’s empty!”

Mort nods. “Read the label.”

“‘Less is More.’ Is this some kind of joke, Mort? It ain’t very funny.”

“That’s my grandma’s secret. Your barbecue doesn’t need Shut Up Juice to prove your point, Earl. It’s plenty good as it is. Let the food do the talking.”

“Let the food do the talking. You know, it makes sense. Why didn’t I think of that?”

Raylene’s voice rings out from the kitchen. “Because you are a nitwit, Earl Bodine!”

“I love you too, Sweet Pea!”

Mort tugs on Earl’s sleeve. “You can start right now. I believe you owe me a sandwich.”


This is a follow-up of sorts to my post last week on controversy and conversation in online forums, including Speculative Faith. Perhaps illustrating the maxim, “be careful what you wish for,” we had a deluge of lively discussion on several topics after that. We do pretty well keeping it civil around here, but as any conversation expands, it’s easy to veer off into angry arguments and personal attacks, forgetting that the point of the discussion lies in the exchange of ideas and information, not “winning” the debate.

In argument, as in barbecue, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to silence critics with some kind of extra-spicy “shut up juice”– a well-timed zinger, witty insult, or even a “proof text” from Scripture. It may feel good, for a minute or two, but it rarely settles anything, is a great way to make enemies, and is much less productive than letting your case stand or fall on its own merits. What you were trying to say gets lost when everyone’s attention focuses on the Shut Up Juice.

So, stay cool, fight fair, remember there are human beings on the other side of that screen, and read your comment two or three times before clicking Submit.

Here’s a report on the original Shut Up Juice, which you can find at The Mean Pig BBQ in Cabot, Arkansas.

Fred was born in Tacoma, Washington, but spent most of his formative years in California, where his parents pastored a couple of small churches. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1983, and spent 24 years in the Air Force as a bomber navigator, flight-test navigator, and military educator. He retired from the Air Force in 2007, and now works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, providing computer simulation support for Army training.Fred has been married for 25 years to the girl who should have been his high school sweetheart, and has three kids, three dogs, and a mortgage. When he's not writing or reading, he enjoys running, hiking, birdwatching, stargazing, and playing around with computers.Writing has always been a big part of his life, but he kept it mostly private until a few years ago, when it occurred to him that if he was ever going to get published, he needed to get serious about it. Since then, he's written more than twenty short stories that have been published in a variety of print and online magazines, and a novel, The Muse, that debuted in November 2009 from Splashdown Books, which was a finalist for the 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award for book of the year in the speculative genre. Speculative fiction is his first love, but he writes the occasional bit of non-fiction or poetry, just to keep things interesting.

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Patrick J. Moore

Thank you Fred,
I guess I got a little carried away. I wondered why it was that you seemed to be in agreement with me for much of it, but you didn’t say much. You didn’t have to. What you said was just right, and I tried to douse the thing with Shut Up Juice- it seemed anyway.

Honestly, I grew up with a “gifted” know-it-all younger brother, and I seem to get some twisted pleasure out of pushing buttons whenever I detect that sort of attitude directed at me. I don’t get angry about it. I rarely claim to be right- I only try to point out when I don’t think someone else is right. Assumptions presented as fact are what jab me the most- and it really gets to me when I’ve realized that I did the very same thing (sorry, DD). I really don’t care if I’m right or wrong- I’d like to know if I’ve gotten something wrong. But you have to show me I’m wrong with facts and not condescending insults. The word “Prove” is a nasty word in my opinion. It’s like a drop of that Shut-up-Juice, but I recognize it as that and refuse to swallow until I’ve said all I have to say about it.

All that to say- I’m sorry if I’ve hurt anyone here or made anyone uncomfortable. 

I like to argue. Just last week I was saying how it rarely gets ugly here, and then I go off and making the ugliest fool of myself that’s been here yet… But I want the depth. I want to know the details under your argument. If I’m wrong I want the facts that show me to be wrong- not just a continuous flow of vagueness that only restates what has already been said, but more defensively this time. But it just seems like depth sometimes isn’t possible in the comment’s section of a blog. Things aren’t read in the tone or with the meaning the writer intended. Eventually nerves get frayed and it degenerates. 

I need to put my just-right offerings out there and leave it be.  Thanks again, Fred.

Maria Tatham

Patrick! My sympathy for having such a sibling! Being refined and polished by the Lord in such a situation would be really difficult. But it made you who you are, and that is a good thing. I didn’t follow the dust-up last week, because my debating days are mostly over. Not much shut-up juice left, though I’ve been known to tap the top of a bottle of the stuff and splash a few drops on points of view that bother me. 

Brave what you just did here, and humble.




It reminds me of a (justified) incident in the novel Beyond the Summerland where a woman disrespects a prophet and as a result, is unable to speak for three days.  There have been times I’ve wanted that power just to make things quiet–mostly on my brother, but sometimes on other people too…

Maria Tatham

Fred, I enjoyed this! Truth dressed in a John Deere ballcap.



A few good ad hominem attacks and zingy one-liners are part of literary criticism’s long and illustrious past. Polite debate is so boring! 😉