Pork opera

Mama's Royal Cafe


CHEAP EATS Earl Butter was drinking rum and I was drinking whiskey. Earlier that day he had composed a song on the sidewalk, a sidewalk song, and it was perfectly pedestrian and wonderful. Guitar on lap on edge of bed, he figured out the chords and taught me my part.

He sang, deeply and feelingly, with an operatic, incrementally building pomp, "I want / To / Have / A pork sandwich!" And I went, in a fluty falsetto, "Lu lu lu."

Between sips we practiced and perfected our presentation of these two brilliant lines, or one brilliant line with an enigmatic postscript. And when I thought we'd gotten it down I said, "OK, I feel comfortable with it. What's the next line?"

He said there wasn't one, and what was I talking about? "'I want to have a pork sandwich.' What more need be said?" he said. Lu lu lu.

Ah! It was a song about longing, a longing for pork no less, and it was over. Complete. Perfect. And downright farmerly in its simpleness. Perhaps more than anyone I know — except maybe my old friend Bikkets, whose greatest imaginable worldly joy is to stomp on a cookie — Earl Butter is tuned to the simple pleasures of life, the two simplest of which are, arguably: (1) a pork sandwich and (2) a one-line opera unambiguously expressing one's desire for same.

Does it get any farmerlier than that? Oh, I would have liked a bigger role ... what leading lady wouldn't? As if reading my mind, Earl Butter came up with one. His face lit up as he hammered into his guitar. Clearly, this was an inspired moment. In addition to "Lu lu lu," I would now accompany him on the word "have."

So the song was reperfected thusly: "I want / To / HAVE / A pork sandwich! Lu lu lu."

I shouldn't be letting you in on our creative process, I know. Earl Butter and I are both respected, published troubadours, with bands and albums, music publishing companies, BMI registration, and, every 10 years or so, a royalty check.

Another thing we have in common is a freezer full of soup. All poor people have one. Right? Well, assuming homefulness and electricity they do. Between my shameless scavenging skills and Earl's all-out general charm, we are the recipients of more bones and meat scraps than most of the dogs in California put together.

A typical phone conversation between us goes like this:

Me: What are you making? Him: Soup. My neighbors gave me their turkey carcass. You? Me: Oh, soup too. I had a babysitting–refrigerator-cleaning gig yesterday.

Or another thing I'll do is, I'll go into a foofy food store and appear at the meat counter, barely visible under armloads of designer macaroni, p.c. coffee beans, free-range organic drinking water, imported small-press napkins, etc. I'll ask after their Neiman Marcus beef, and then, while I'm deciding how many pounds of it to buy, suddenly remember that I also need chicken giblets, necks, and backs for some alternative-weekly performance piece I'm working on.

While they duck into the butchery to secure these to-them throwaway ingredients, I decide against the beef — "for now" — but they still don't charge me for the scraps, because I'm such a good customer. "Next!"

Next-in-line steps forward, and I step around the place putting everything else back on its proper shelf, then check out with an onion and a carrot. This saves me the inconvenience of having to pick my soup out of their dumpster after hours, in the dark.

I told Earl about the ham bone I'd scored from a holiday party cleanup and the gallons of split pea soup I'd made with it — did he want any? Sure; did I want to take home a carton of frozen turkey soup? Sure!

But I was too dark and it was too drunk to drive. Earl was in the kitchen. I made my bed in his closet but didn't lie in it, because South Park came on.

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