Carne, carnival

Clowns, meat-eating girlfriends of tank aerators, and Rafael's Shutter Café
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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS I fell in with some bad people. One was a clown. You don't expect to even like clowns, let alone fall in with them, but this one was brilliant, in a Charlie Chaplinish way. Or early Woody Allen, meaning: all you have to do is look at him and you pee your pants.

And that's when he's out of character. In character, on stage, forget it! You're going down. This actually funny clown works with a couple of other actually funny clowns, one of whom I talked to for a long time about food because she lives — like me — in San Francisco.

We were sitting around a campfire in front of the stage, after the show. Behind us, a lot of musicians were playing a lot of songs, but not me. I didn't feel like jamming. I felt like making new friends. Fun, fucked up, and circus-y friends.

They call it a chautauqua, but in addition to the music, storytelling, and political humor, there were these clowns, a contortionist, a slack-rope walker, and a one-ball contact juggler — which, if you've never seen contact juggling, you should probably go see you some.

It's beautiful.

My own role among this talented riff-raff was very, very background. I played bass in a three-piece band for a 25-minute micromusical about sea monkeys. Still, everyone hugged me backstage, or at least patted me on the back, and admired my hot water bottle.

The third night was more than sold out. More than a couple hundred people huddled together in the west-county, wine-country redwoods, oohing and ahhing and laughing our asses off, and afterward the resident pyro lit another careful bonfire. The musicians and nonmusicians among us jammed. I stayed until at least 1 a.m., talking mostly to the girlfriend of one of the sea monkeys. Or I guess technically she was the tank aerator. I hadn't actually had the pleasure of seeing much of the play from the orchestra pit. Which wasn't a pit so much as a platform or tree house.

Meat, was what me and the tank aerator's girlfriend talked about. Her girlfriend, the tank aerator, was a vegan. A lot of the people were vegetarians. The two meals a day they made us in the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center kitchen were always delicious, but in a meatless, meatfree, where's-the-meat kind of way. So we missed it, me and the tank aerator's girlfriend, and we discussed this missing, our preference for meat over dessert in general, and where one might could find bacon cheeseburgers, for example, at 1 a.m., in Occidental.

"Rohnert Park," she said. She was thinking of an In-N-Out Burger, but that was 30 minutes away.

Which is, admittedly, closer than Brazil.

My own personal new favorite restaurant is in El Cerrito. Has anyone ever been to Rafael's Shutter Café? You have to go way up San Pablo, past the Hotsy Totsy, past Albany Bowl, and then, I don't know: keep going. It's on your right.

They have live jazz on weekends, but when I was there, on something like a Wednesday, there was opera playing on the stereo. Which went perfectly with my sausage omelet, potatoes, toast, coffee, coffee, and more coffee.

I was sitting at the counter, waiting for the traffic outside to die down so I could cross the Richmond Bridge and go up and fall in with bad people, such as clowns and meat-eating girlfriends of tank aerators.

After I drank too much coffee there was nothing left to do but chat up the guy who runs the joint. "Where do you put your musicians?" I asked him.

He said I reminded him of his sister-in-law. He said, "Are you French or Spanish?"

"Italian," I said.

He said he was married to a French woman.

"Me, I'm waiting," I said. His phone rang. I said: "Traffic."

RAFAEL'S SHUTTER CAFE

Mon.–Thu. 9 a.m.–4 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat. 9 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun.

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